Interview with Jim Kettner
Jim Kettner’s contribution to As You Were: Living Situations provides readers with a glimpse of life at the infamous Philly punk house Book House. But these days, Kettnerd calls Portland his home.
Read more to find out about his recent nuptials and forthcoming book, tips for giving your punk house a good name, and what exactly a “cool bag” is.
Interview by Natalye for Silver Sprocket
What have you been doing since we last talked to you?
Well, I’ve been super duper busy the past couple of years. Some of that has been professional and some of it has been personal. The biggest craziest most life altering things were that I got engaged on Space Mountain, got married a few months later, found out that I got a book deal with my wife while we were on our honeymoon, and then relocated from Oakland to Portland. This was all between January and August of 2015, so it felt really non-stop. I definitely felt like I was living several years of big events in just a few months.
And in that time, I was also privileged to continue teaching comics classes at a few Bay Area colleges, and I attended a great comics residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts with A.D. author/cartoonist Josh Neufeld. So yeah, all of that. Plus drawing some short comics for magazines, illustrating the cover for theTørsö record, and getting started on this new graphic novel. Whew… I’m tired just typing that.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kettnerd also contributes to two podcasts, Galaktacus and Adult Crash.)
You got married! Hooray! Celebrating love is awesome. Tell us more.
My wedding was pretty nuts. Like, geez. I dunno. Getting married might seem like the least punk thing ever. I’ve been to so many dumb weddings, I mean… not that getting hitched is inherently dumb, but there are a lot of aspects to traditional weddings that I think we can all agree are pretty bogus. But hey, celebrating love and hanging with your best homies is great, so it was really important to me and my wife (still getting used to saying that) Lacy that we create a fun day for us and our friends to remember.
I had a couple of very specific requirements. I had always thought that weddings were backward, you know? Like there’s this ceremony that’s supposed to be the important part, but then on the day, I’ve seen it sort of rushed through just so we can then worry about getting grandma to the buffet. So I wanted to flip it and have things that were still surprising and spontaneous. It was basically a field day event/BBQ hangout at a picnic site. We had a bounce house and a high striker (you know, the ring-the-bell-with-the-hammer thing). I had designed a bunch of game events like bocce and croquet, and a sack race, and had all of these custom trophies made up for all the events. AYW contributor Ramsey Beyer actually won the bounce house competition for “Most Brutal Bounce.”
Lacy and I didn’t know when the ceremony was going to take place. We entrusted our best friend Monica with the “wedding horn,” which sounded at a random time of her choosing—at which point we dropped what we were doing and raced to the mystery spot lookout point where we said our vows. All our guests were led up to this mystery spot and we improvised our vows. It was so fun and silly. Great vegan food. We had a DIY YouTube karaoke afterparty at our gym and sang Gorilla Biscuits and Bikini Kill. It was excellent.
So now your first big task as a married couple is writing a book together…
The book was a long time coming. It was a project that had been in development at one publisher. So there had been a pitch with sample pages I had drawn and it had moved along quite a bit, and then the editor who was working with us left the publisher and it flatlined.
Months later, I was contacted by a friend who was working for New Harbinger Publications. They were looking to get into the graphic novel game and he was contacting me about potentially being an illustrator for a project if they found a good one, and “Oh by the way, do you know anyone who writes about health and wellness issues?” And I was like “Well… me and Lacy already have a pitch book of her memoir about eating disorder recovery…”
So from there we had some meetings. We made another revised pitch book with new sample pages. The process of making art just to show to publishers is its own special pain in the ass, because as you’re working on them, you are almost positive that the work won’t be in the final book. But anyway, we put that out there and then moved on to the craziness of planning the wedding. It was easy to not worry or obsess about it because, again, planning and prepping for a wedding takes up a lot of brain space. And it wasn’t until we were on our honeymoon in Kauai, where we are already at this level of insanely happy newlyweds in paradise stoked, that we got the email with the green light for the project. Their only real note: Make it MORE PUNK.
It is pretty exciting, and right now this book, tentatively titled Ink In Water, is my full-time job. I have an October deadline for a 224-page project. Lacy only finished her full draft around the new year, and since then, I’ve been trying to stay on a page a day schedule. I started the final art on January 7, and I’m currently closing in on page 50. So it is a pretty nose-to-the-grindstone life from here until October. But hey, can’t complain. Dream Job.
Since you seem to be the As You Were expert on punk houses, what would you say is the criteria for choosing a good name for a punk house?
Ha! I don’t know if I’m an expert. There were so many good contributions and experiences represented inIssue 4. That being said, I feel like a good punk house name just has to come out of its personality. You shouldn’t force it. Take into account the personalities of the housemates, the aesthetics of the place, the location. These could all be good cues to draw from, but for the most part, I feel like you should live someplace a couple of weeks before you decide on a nickname.
What is the “cool bag?”
Oh my gosh… I just sort of realized that it is only inferred in my AYW story and maybe not very explicit. OK. So, a cool bag is a silly as hell, fun, and cheap way to cool down on a hot summer night. All you need is a garden hose and extra durable industrial strength Hefty bags. Climb in the bag. Tie it close around your neck. Insert hose. Turn on faucet. Chill the eff out. It is super fun, just like a person-sized pool. It’s sort of like a kiddie pool, but more like a pod. A swimmy pod. OK, maybe I’m not selling this super well. But trust me. On a super hot sticky August night in Philly, it was pretty awesome.
You mentioned in your last interview that studying writing helped you a lot when it comes to trimming the fat and narrowing in on the narrative in your comics. For this newest contribution, are there any things about Book House or memories from there that didn’t make the cut? What were they?
Yeah, gosh. That story was really tough because I wanted to include so much, and looking back the narrative feels so crammed, but I so didn’t want to leave anything out. But yeah, I did omit a few of the other silly things we did. Like, for a while, we had a season-long couch surfer named Craig. He basically spent a winter on our couch… which I should note, we called the mom couch, because it was made of the kind of denim you usually see in mom jeans. Anyway, Craig made a blanket fort that lasted for seriously three months. It was big enough for most everyone in the house to get in and watch TV together. I don’t know if you know this, but Philly houses have notoriously bad heat. So winter hangs are all about bundling. That was pretty great.
If you had to choose one artistic piece of output of yours (comic or otherwise) that would be representative of who you are to show someone who is not familiar with your work?
This question is tough. Really, I guess it’s another fire under my ass because it doesn’t exist yet.
I sort of think, in terms of visual art, I’m making the best work of my career on the book I’m drawing right now. It’s definitely the comics work I’m the most proud of in terms of visual storytelling/illustration. But while I definitely am helping write it in terms of editing and adapting it to a comics format, ultimately it is Lacy’s writing, and readers will get a much better sense of her than me when they read it.
I have another graphic novel project (that is on the back burner right now) about my time working answering phones for an escort agency. That is a comics project that is in many ways the most personal auto bio kind of thing that I’ve made. I also have a draft of a prose fantasy novel in progress. Neither of these works are published (yet), but I do share them with friends and colleagues looking for feedback, and every time I am aware of how close the work is to me. Like, “Hey this is me, I hope you don’t hate it.”
But out of the work that is actually out in the world, so much of it is either super short or freelance/collabs with other writers, so I don’t know how much of me is in it. The stuff in AYW is a decent representation in short chunks though. I would probably hand someone AWY #2, ’cause I just think that mosh story is really funny, even though I wince at some of my poor lettering and sloppy drawing.
What makes you excited about comics / making art in general?
When it comes down to it, I really just love telling stories. I get excited about it almost every day. I mean… part of me has to if I want to make deadline. But often I sit down at my tablet (I made the switch to all digital work last year, so that happened too), and I see the given challenges on my next page. And I might have to do a tricky bit of character acting with my drawings in a scene, or draw a big crowd in an establishing shot and make all the people seem real and unique. I’ll read something funny my partner wrote that I get to draw and feel inspired.
I also try to pick my head up from drawing every once in a while. And when I see other folks, artists, or whoever crushing their goals and making good things, doing good work, I feel stoked and inspired to bring my best to what I’m making. That could be the novel I’m listening to (I Audible non-stop when drawing), or the latest demo I downloaded from Bandcamp, or seeing other cartoonists doing very good work.
How do your life and your comics inform one another?
Real life and comics are constantly informing one another. Sometimes it’s the content that seeps into stories. Sometimes it’s how I work. For instance, since Lacy and I are both super busy workaholic types who are freelance… basically we could live life never taking breaks until we drop from exhaustion, so we try to keep pretty strict rules about calling it quits by a certain hour and making sure we spend time together chilling out.
Your past two contributions to AYW have been autobiographical. Do you think that one day you will make comics about this period in your life?
Absolutely! I mean, there is always the instinct to look back, especially for AYW and depending on the theme of the issue. But I think there’s storytelling potential everywhere. I mean… I don’t know if I would ever write a 200-page graphic novel about this time where I am intensely illustrating a 200-page graphic novel, but there are definitely funny moments and stories that are worthy of short strips, and the story of planning our wedding could definitely make a fun short story.
Off the top of your head, who are some artists whose work you love that fans of your comics should check out?
Oh boy. Paul Pope and Jaime Hernandez always and forever. Ursula LeGuin. Jessica Abel. Walt Simonson.Nate Powell. Kelly Sue DeConnick. Alan Brown. Greg Rucka. Liz Prince. Joe Abercrombie. Michael Chabon.Brian K. Vaughan. I could go on and on. I don’t know how much of me you’ll see in these folks’ work, but it is a big melting pot of influences that inform my work all the time.
What question do you like to be asked / wish you were asked but never were… and what’s the answer?
Hrm. I feel like… it’s really tough for an artist to make a living, and generally I wish people were more aware about this stuff when requesting work from illustrators and cartoonists. People are generally clueless about how long certain projects take/what fair compensation should look like. I guess I’d like the average person who asks about my work to be a little more aware of that. People who don’t draw look at work and think it’s magic. Like you snap your fingers and it happens, and why should they have to pay for it. This is probably just some saltiness from freelance gigs showing through. But I wish more employers/clients asked about it.
Also, does your drawing hand hurt? And Yes. Yes it does.
If you haven’t yet seen Kettnerd’s contribution to As You Were: Living Situations, get yourself a copy straight away.While you’re at it, check out his website. For a sneak peek at some pages of Ink In Water, you can also follow him on Instagram.