“I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how, and comics were so accessible that I latched onto that.”
It may be a fine line between comics and art, but Karl Stevens‘ fine line crosses effortlessly between them. Karl & I talk about how his realistic drawing style and watercolors treat comics as fine art, and how that visual style complements his naturalist stories, especially in his recent collection, The Winner (Retrofit Comics). We get into his gateway from superheroes to art-comics, his recent commission to make comics that accompanied a Botticcelli exhibition at the Gardener Museum in Boston, his work as a guard in that same museum, the challenge of drawing his wife, the challenge of getting paid as a freelancer, and whether he regrets his his teenaged decision to devote his life to comics. We also talk about his upcoming book of cat comics, drawing gags for the New Yorker, being WAY too high to meet your idols, visiting the Words & Pictures Museum in ’90s Northampton (a.k.a. Comics-Mecca), his road not taken with Dave Sim, how short strips and gag panels have made it tougher for him to write longer stories, and plenty more! BONUS: You get the origin story of my friendship with Tom Spurgeon AND my recent crisis of faith! Give it a listen! And go buy The Winner!
“The way light hits objects is part of the story.”
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could make a comic that took the techniques of the dead painters I’d been studying?'”
About our Guest
Karl Stevens is a graphic novelist and painter. His first book, Guilty, was published in 2004 with a grant from the Xeric Foundation. He is also the author of Whatever (2008), The Lodger (A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, 2010), Failure (2013) and The Winner (2018). His comic strips appeared in The Boston Phoenix between 2005 and 2012 until an incident with an advertiser resulted in the strip’s cancellation. The realist comic artist has also co-produced the Phoenix comic “Succe$$” with Gustavo Turner. In 2016 The Village Voice began running his cat comic strip “Penny”. Stevens’s work appears in select art galleries and he has published numerous cartoons in The New Yorker. He was recently commissioned to produce a comic to celebrate the Gardner Museum’s Botticcelli: Heroines and Heroes exhibition.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Karl by me. They’re on my instagram.