Kochalka, James 1968-

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KOCHALKA, James 1968-

PERSONAL:

Born 1968; married; wife's name Amy.

ADDRESSES:

Home—P.O. Box 8321, Burlington, VT 05402. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Comic-book artist, writer, musician, songwriter.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Ignatz award, for "Sketchbook Diaries" series; nominated for and/or winner of many awards, including Eisner award, Firecracker Alternative Books award, and the Harvey award.

WRITINGS:

Magic Boy and Girlfriend, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 1991.

Paradise Sucks, Black Eye Books, 1997.

Tiny Bubbles, Alternative Comics (Gainesville, FL), 1998.

Quit Your Job, Alternative Comics (Gainesville, FL), 1998.

Kissers (includes CD), Alternative Comics (Gainesville, FL), 1999.

The Perfect Planet and Other Stories, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 1999.

Monkey vs. Robot, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2000.

(Editor, with others) Expo 2000, Oni Press (Portland, OR), 2000.

Sunburn, 2001.

Pinky & Stinky, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2002.

Fantastic Butterflies, Alternative Comics (Gainesville, FL), 2002.

Monkey vs. Robot and the Crystal of Power, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2003.

Magic Boy and the Robot Elf, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2003.

Fancy Froglin's Sexy Forest, Alternative Comics (Marietta, GA), 2003.

Peanut Butter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever, Alternative Comics (Marietta, GA), 2003.

American Elf: James Kochalka's Collected Sketchbook Diaries, Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, GA), 2004.

Contributor to comic books, magazines, and anthologies, including 9-11: Emergency Relief, Alternative Comics (Marietta, GA), 2002; creator of series and strips, including James Kochalka Superstar, Peanut-butter & Jeremy, Little Moon Pig (for Nickelodeon magazine), and "Froglin"; cocreator, with Tom Hart, of "Monica's Story." Compact disc recordings include Carrot Boy the Beautiful, Sudden Shame Records; The True Story of James Kochalka Superstar, Dot Dot Dash; Monkey vs. Robot, Tarquin Records; Kissers, Highwater Books; Don't Trust Whitey (self-released); and Danger Force Five Singles Club, Dangerfive Records.

SIDELIGHTS:

James Kochalka is a Burlington, Vermont-based cartoonist whose main character, Magic Boy, is an elf. Kochalka began keeping a comic diary based on his life in 1998, and his strips can be viewed at his home page. Top Shelf Productions has published periodic collections of his "Sketchbook Diaries" series, for which Kochalka was awarded an Ignatz, as well as and an up-to-date and complete five-year collection in 2004, titled American Elf: James Kochalka's Collected Sketchbook Diaries.

Kochalka's whimsical and usually autobiographical work features his friend, Jason x-12 (a former robot and now a depressed talking dog), his real-life wife, Amy, and her friend, Josh. Although most of his work is aimed at adults, he has created a smaller body of work for children. The characters of Peanut Butter & Jeremy are a cat and a crow who demonstrate the value of friendship.

Monkey vs. Robot demonstrates the link between nature and technology. In the black-and-white panels, Kochalka draws a robot factory that is encroaching on the natural habitat of a monkey community. The monkeys frolic and play until contamination from the factory spoils their forest, and the robots are dismayed when a robot is destroyed by the monkeys. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book a "charming little fable."

Kochalka writes and draws an occasional strip for Nickeldeon magazine titled "Little Moon Pig." The characters of Pinky & Stinky are also pigs who crash on the moon while on the way to Pluto. Once there they meet the indigenous moon people and discover some disturbing facts about the American space program. Pinky is the serious half of the duo—efficient, serious, and cynical—while Stinky is trusting and naive.

Jennifer M. Contino, who interviewed Kochalka for Sequential Tart online, wrote that Pinky & Stinky "wasn't just influenced by any one genre or theme, but rather an eclectic mix of medias helped foster these characters and situations within the mind of Kochalka." Kochalka told Contino that he was inspired to write Pinky & Stinky by such varied films, characters, and events as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Pokemon, Vietnam, and the events of September 11, 2001.

A Mars Import writer commented that Kochalka's stories have "universal appeal" and felt that Magic Boy's "iconic charm and personal shortcomings made him identifiable as a comic book Everyman." The writer noted that with books like Sunburn, Kochalka explores deeper issues and remarked that his collection of diaries "is a beautiful exploration of daily life that lends insight into the artist's life and creative process."

Adult output includes Kochalka's strip "Fancy Froglin," available at Modern Tales online. The character is a cartoon frog who goes through life with a permanent erection.

Dana Tillusz interviewed Kochalka for Comic Readers online, asking him to name his influences. He replied, "Well, real life of course! And various half-baked philosophies that I've formed over the years. And television, movies, books, candy, toys, fast food, video games, conversations, and stuff like that. Actually, the number one influence on my work is the weather. The weather of a particular day will get my mind rolling and inspire a graphic novel, easy."

When Tillusz asked him to identify the high point of his career, Kochalka said, "I was very proud to win an Ignatz award this year for my 'Sketchbook Diaries' series. I wanted to win so bad! But when I did win I got a wrenching pain in my gut, some kind of muscle spasm or something, that lasted about a half hour. The moral of that story is: if you want something too badly, you might not be able to handle actually achieving it. But it was great to win for the diaries, because my diaries are my most personal work."

Although now best known for his comics, Kochalka has long been a musician, recording albums and touring the East Coast, and he is popular on the college radio circuit. Kochalka's net album, Hot Chocolate Superstar, is available at the Web site of Dangerfive Studios in Burlington, Vermont, to which, according to the site, Kochalka walks approximately once a week to record his songs on four track or computer. Dangerfive notes that Kochalka also records at home on his own computer, "using video game soundtracks stripped out of old Nintendo roms."

A reviewer for Silver Bullet Comic Books online called Fantastic Butterflies "intoxicating," and "a beautiful song of love and friendship." The story includes Magic Boy, Amy, Josh, and New Guy, who loses a testicle when he is hit with a softball. Birdy, a tall bird who loves New Guy, takes him to the hospital while Amy and Josh bake a cake. Other sad threads run through the story, such as a cancer sufferer who defends the right of his tumor to exist.

Stephen Whitworth reviewed Fantastic Butterflies for Comic Readers online, saying that the book "shares stylistic affinities with two earlier quasi-autobiographical Kochalka works, Tiny Bubble and Kissers. Together they form a neat trilogy, representing some of the artist's best work. Read as a whole, these graphic novels show that the characters James Kochalka is most interested in writing about are based on the people closest to him. Here's hoping he'll continue using his wife and friends as characters."

A Publishers Weekly critic felt that ultimately, "The book's Zen comes through as Magic Boy tells Jason x-12 at a bar, 'the world is pure nonsense. Accept that and enjoy the silly ride.' If life's a silly ride, Kochalka is selling the tickets."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2000, review of Monkey vs. Robot, p. 87; May 12, 2003, review of Fantastic Butterflies, p. 47.

ONLINE

Comic Readers,http://www.comicreaders.com/ (January 2, 2004), Stephen Whitworth, review of Butterflies, and Dana Tillusz, interview with Kochalka.

Dangerfive Studios,http://dangerfive.com/jks/ (January 2, 2003).

James Kochalka Home Page,http://www.americanelf.com/ (January 2, 2004).

Mars Import,http://www.marsimport.com/ (January 2, 2004), biography of Kochalka.

Modern Tales,http://www.moderntales.com/ (January 2, 2004), "Fancy Froglin" strips.

Sequential Tart,http://www.sequentialtart.com/ (April, 2002), Jennifer M. Contino, interview with Kochalka.

Silver Bullet Comic Books,http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/ (January 2, 2004), review of Fantastic Butterflies.*