Interview with Kriss Stress
In case you missed the big announcement earlier this week, As You Were, Volume Four is now available for pre-order. The theme this time around is Living Situations, and we’re stoked to feature cover art by Chicago-based Kriss Stress, whose stuff we dig because of its intricate ink work and stark use of black and white.
But Stress is into more than just comix. For starters, there’s the vegan peanut butter cups and the spoken history of Chicago’s music scene. Have we piqued your interest? Read on…
Interview by Natalye for Silver Sprocket
You went to culinary school in Chicago… if you had to introduce yourself and what you’re about to readers who aren’t familiar with your work via a meal, what would you prepare for us?
It wouldn’t be a meal, but a snack! I make vegan peanut butter cups and sell them under the name Peanut Butter Wars to a few coffee shops around Chicago. I do a ton of different varieties and include everything from Dandies Vegan Marshmallows (from Chicago Vegan Foods) to crushed up jalapeño chips to vanilla birthday cake frosting. I sell them a fair bit at DIY shows and it often throws people off, and then they’re surprised when they try them and find their new favorite treat!
Earlier this year, you did an IndieGoGo fundraiser for your book, “Blank Expressions.” How did you go about deciding who to use for that?
“Blank Expressions” was a project that I did where I drew a portrait of a Chicago resident every single day for the entirety of 2014. Most of the people who participated are various musicians and artists within the city’s creative community. It was a really rewarding project to do because it stretched me and gave me discipline to carve out a few hours every single day to work on art and build consistency, but it was also extremely exhausting and I was pretty happy to finish it when time was up in December.
The process of putting together the book has been really slow going—much slower than I expected—as cleaning up and scanning nearly 400 pieces of art is its own project, and I’ve had a really difficult year with various things, including the end of a decade-old relationship that I was a part of. I plan on having the book out in the coming months, though!
Tell us about your Notes and Bolts podcast. Where did the idea come from? How did it work out logistically (the way you chose participants, how the interviews occurred, what level of production went into them, etc.)?
Notes and Bolts was a project that I did from 2012-2014 that spanned interviews with 300 different bands, musicians, artists, and labels in Chicago. The point of the whole thing was to document the spoken histories and thoughts of all of these people in an attempt to archive them, and while I got a pretty good swath of activity documented, this city is so huge and so wide reaching that I don’t feel like I really scratched the surface.
Because I’m constantly swirling around with projects, I put the podcast on hiatus last August, but I have a few dozen backed up that I want to release at some point in the future before resuming with fresh recordings.
In terms of production and such, it was really simple. I just used a Tascam tape machine to record the interviews and then spliced the interviews with the music in GarageBand. As for the recording and scheduling, I would often do interviews with six to eight bands every Monday and did that for two years. I didn’t want to do them daily and have them take up my life, so I just compacted them to one day a week and marathoned them.
How did you come to be involved in As You Were?
Mitch asked me to do the cover a little while ago and I was super excited to do so. His comic, “Nothing Nice To Say,” was my first peek into webcomics and, really, things beyond the Big Two (Marvel and DC -ed) when I was in high school, and [it] played a huge role in getting me into punk-based art and showing me that I could do more in terms of being actively involved in the culture outside of just simply playing in a band.
What other kinds of things are you working on or do you plan to work on? Any projects you’d love to undertake? Any specific goals you have (for art, or for life in general)?
Right now, I’m starting up a new project where I’m going to try to draw 400 days worth of weird and oddball character portraits and would like to get those published at some point when I’m done. I’m also working on a few comics projects and have a couple (like the “Blank Expressions” book) that I’m waiting to get scanned and cleaned up before I’m ready to put them out.
It’s weird; I feel like I have a decent-sized body of work finished but nothing physically to show for it since I’ve not done any substantial print stuff yet, aside from one-off things like covers for records and tapes or magazine features. Hopefully I can change that in 2016!
What kind of art do you like to make the most? Is there a preferred medium you like working with? You use a lot of black and white; is that what you prefer or do you see yourself experimenting more with color? Additionally, some of your older stuff is full of textures and patterns but you’ve more recently done some sequential type art—is this a new direction?
I’ve tried experimenting with color here and there throughout the years, but I’ve never been satisfied with it because my work is so detail heavy that the color tends to just wash it out and obscure it all. All of my favorite artists are folks like Charles Burns, Jaime Hernandez, and Gary Panter, who all make great use of heavy, deep blacks, and that’s something I’ve been moving more toward. Texture and patterns are a huge thing, for sure, and I still use those, though the influence of those doesn’t come from art; more so they come from music because I enjoy listening to a lot of ambient and electronic music while drawing, and the elements that inform those genres tend to be things I try to funnel into the visual stuff I’m doing. All of the tiny lines and things that go into my work are really just me trying to make a visual version of all of the Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze records that I obsess over.
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, what would it be and why?
I would likely show them a newer comic that I’ve been working on that features a lot of the elements I’ve really been growing comfortable with—that combination of heavy black inks with lots of tight texture and pattern work—because I feel like that’s the best stuff I’ve come up with. My opinion on that will change next week because I tend to not like any of my art, and that’s one reason why I’m constantly drawing, so that I can some day come up with something I actually do like.
What makes you excited about comics / making art in general? How do your life and your art inform one another? More specifically, how does gender identity play into your art / the punk rock lifestyle?
I’m not honestly sure how to answer this because I’d imagine tons of other folks have come up with an answer to this before me who can convey what I’m thinking way better. Really, I guess my art gives my life definition in so far as I just do it constantly and tend to live for it more than anything else.
Relationships come and go, and so do scenes and cultures, but I know that I’ll always have art, and that means a lot to me. There’s a real catharsis in having a frustration and working that out with some pen and ink.
In terms of my gender identity, I tend to not necessarily downplay that element of myself in my work, but I don’t exactly run toward it. Again, I think there have been others who have been better equipped than I in their storytelling abilities to put that across in the comics medium, and I figure it’s best to leave it to them. Gender is a huge part of my day-to-day experience, but it’s something that I tend to be fairly private about.
Off the top of your head, who are some artists whose work you love that fans of your work should check out?
Anya Davidson, who does a comic called “Band For Life”—she puts out a new installment every week and that’s consistently great! Edie Fake, who does some really great stuff with more silent storytelling. A lot of the usual suspects like Michael DeForge, Box Brown, etc.—really, just anything that has good pacing and flow to it while also maintaining really sharp and clean line work. The art tends to attract me to comics more than the actual story when I first become acquainted with something.
What question do you like to be asked / wish you were asked but never were… and what’s the answer?
Why do I love the B-52s so much? Because they’re some of the only weirdos to come out of my home state of Georgia totally deformed and strange and odd and that was a huge encouragement to me growing up as a teenager in a small, conservative town where I often felt like I was the only one who was listening to punk rock that wasn’t on MTV.
To keep up to date with Stress’ goings-on in 2016 and beyond, be sure to check out Facebook. And don’t forget to secure your copy of As You Were: Living Situations!