[Editor's Note: James Kochalka is the writer/artist of American Elf 3
, Johnny Boo
, and more
I just celebrated the 10th anniversary of my daily diary comic strip, American Elf. For ten years I've been drawing a little comic strip every day about something that happened to me that day. In the beginning it existed only in my sketchbook, and then eventually there were book collections, and now it appears online daily on my website AmericanElf.com.
Working on the diary has completely transformed my life. I expected that I would learn a great deal about the human condition, and slowly amass a portrait of my life strip by strip... and I guess I have. But it's been so much more than that. My life has actually become art, and my art has truly become me. This blurring of reality... at first it seemed kind of like going insane, but after ten years it feels quite the opposite. It has made me whole. Art and life is one thing, not two separate things... it's very clear to me now.
This of course should be enough to keep me busy. Drawing a daily strip is a huge endeavor, especially one like mine. Traditional daily-strip cartoonists build up a reserve of strips and work several weeks in advance, so if they need to go on a vacation or deal with some family crisis or catch a cold they have a buffer of work to support them. My strip goes up on my website in real time. The events occur, I draw about them the same day, and then I post them on the site. If I'm sick I still have to draw the strip. If I go on vacation, I bring the sketchbook with me (and continue working even though I can't actually post them online until I get home).
In the early years of working on American Elf, this intense work load with no letting up was crushingly difficult to maintain. But somehow over the years I've gotten very used to it, and find myself piling more and more and more work on top of it. And it seems like the more work I do, the more energy I have to do even more work. During the time that I've been working on the strip, I've also drawn and had more comics and graphic novels published than I can count. Maybe twenty? I don't even know, I really have lost count.
For the last month I've been getting ready for an art show of Little Paintings at Giant Robot in Los Angeles. I've done around 130 or so little 2 x 2 inch paintings for this show. I've been playing rock shows with my band. I've been composing chiptunes on my GameBoy, and will perform some of that music at my art opening at Giant Robot on November 15. And simultaneously, while working on these tiny little paintings, I also painted a huge one... a mural at the Living & Learning Gallery at the University of Vermont. I think it's like 10 x 22 feet or something. I don't know what this creature is exactly. I think it's a sexualized tumor:
Look at the painting, and listen to this song I made on my GameBoy.
And I've been drawing a lot with my two boys, Eli (age 5) and Oliver (almost 1). A favorite thing that Eli likes to do with me are what we call Battle Drawings. I draw a guy on one side on the page and he draws his guy on the other and then we draw our attacks against each other:
So... yeah, I'm busy. But I'm having a great time, and I have a lot more work to do. And you know what would delight me? I'd love to see you get busy too. Draw a comic, write a song, invent a new dance, or even just do something silly like talk in a funny voice of your own creation. It makes life better.