Patt Kelley’s “What Am I Going To Do Without You?” was the topic of this morning’s “Off the Cape,” and since he contacted us directly, I took the chance to ask him a few questions about himself and the book. I had a little fun with some of the questions, and Patt gave me some good answers, so I hope you enjoy the interview. For more Patt Kelley goodness, feel free to purcase his book digitally from Top Shelf.
There are really four stories intertwined throughout “What Am I Going To Do Without You?”–the dying Apatosaurus, Florence and Murray dealing with cancer, Jeanie the Goth trying to fit in at home and in school, and Katrina and her dog, Lilly. What inspired you to write it this way, and how difficult was it to juggle all four? Are any of the characters more “you” than the others?
Patt Kelley: The way I see it, the dinosaur is kind of the backdrop for the events that are about to unfold. It’s on the newspapers and on TV. People are gathering around watercoolers, all talking about the dinosaur, but life goes on. I wanted to show that even though we live in this huge world, we’re all kind of going through the same things.
It was a lot of fun writing from so many different views. Up until now, I’ve only done short stories pretty much from a single vantage point, so it was cool to branch out and approach it from different angles.
None of the characters are intrinsically “me.” I base my stories more on the weird ideas in my head as opposed to personal experience. I incorporate my own thoughts and feelings, but never base any given character around myself. They’re all kind of me in some respect.
My personal favorite storyline is that of Florence and Murray, and how they both cope with his terminal illness. It was a very touching, personal look at the passing of a loved one and how that affects those who survive. Are these characters based on a loss you experienced personally?
PK: The Murray and Flo storyline stemmed from a depressing thought I had. I’d met my wife, my one true partner in this world, and I thought, what would happen if one of us died? How does somebody keep going after that? Especially after 30-40 years of marriage. So I tried to take that really depressing idea and give it a little hope.
I loved Jeanie’s teacher’s exposition on the apatosaurus vs. brontosaurus debate. Wikipedia redirects “brontosaurus” to “apatosaurus,” but my Hotmail spellchecker wants me to change everything to “brontosaurus.” Does this sort of thing bother you as much as it bothers me? Are there any other semantic/nomenclature-related errors that bother you, or are you just a big fan of dinosaurs?
PK: It does kind of bother me when people call tissues “Kleenex.” I find a lot of older people do that. I understand that Kleenex is a brand of tissue, but calling all tissues “Kleenex” isn’t fair to other brands of tissues….Yeah. Although, I think primarily I’m just a big fan of dinosaurs. When I was little (12-13 years old), I would read dinosaur books and take notes. Not for school work, just for fun. I recently came across a folder filled with like 30 pages of random notes on dinosaurs. I was a weird kid. Kind of a weird adult, too.
What’s your favorite dinosaur, and why?
PK: I don’t even know how to go about answering that question. They’re all pretty dope. I think the reason I’m into dinosaurs is because nobody’s ever seen one, and unless some crazed billionaire decides to go all Jurassic Park, nobody ever will. They’re puzzles that can be put together, and theories can be made, but as far as knowing what they were really like, it’s all kind of a mystery. When I was little my favorite was a T-Rex, but that’s kind of an obvious choice. And it turns out he wasn’t as bad-ass as everyone thought. A lot of paleontologists think T-Rex might have just been a scavenger and not a predator at all. At this point I don’t know if I have a favorite. Although the Apatosaurus is pretty cool.Continued below
Katrina does not bag Lilly’s business, even when it’s left on some old lady’s lawn as she watches from inside her home. Do you clean up after your own dogs? Why doesn’t Katrina? Her parents would be ashamed.
PK: From all of the feedback I’ve gotten about this book, people are always asking me about the dog poop. It’s kind of my legacy. Funnily enough, my day job is as a dogwalker and I ALWAYS have poop bags on me wherever I go. When I got married five years ago, I had poop bags in my suit pocket. Never leave home without them. So yes, I pick up.
The reason I made Katrina a non-picker-upper is because sometimes people do jerky things. We all cut corners, we all do things that we know we shouldn’t. I kind of felt that if I gave her a flaw she’d she’d come across as real. She’s not a bad person, just a real person with real flaws. And yes, her parents would be severely disappointed.
The interior of the book is illustrated in ink and watercolors, but the covers are photographs of clay sculptures. What made you choose to mix mediums like that? What is your favorite medium to work in?
PK: I was originally just going to paint the cover, but I’d been messing around with some 3d work and realized that I could just duplicate the scene with the dinosaur in the woods and really make it stand out. I usually prefer to use watercolor and ink. I did a writeup on the making of the cover here.
The interior art is much more on the cartoony side of comics art than the hyper-realistic stuff superhero fans are used to, but as Scott McCloud pointed out so well in “Understanding Comics,” cartoons are much easier for us to relate to and can make a story much more personal and easy to relate to. What made you choose this style for “WAIGTDWY?” Were you consciously going for that effect, or was it something else?
PK: As far as the style goes it’s just the style that I’ve adopted over the years. My work used to be pretty realistic, but I didn’t want my stuff to look like everything else out there, I wanted to make it stand out. My own recognizable style.
Which writers and/or artists have influenced you the most, inside and out of comics?
PK: When I was young, my mother raised me on a steady diet of Stephen King and “The Far Side,” which I’m eternally grateful for. One of the first non-super books I picked up was an issue of “Dark Horse Presents” with Shannon Wheeler’s “Too Much Coffee Man.” At the time, I barely understood any of the jokes, but something about it stuck with me. It’s even funnier now that it makes sense. I read a lot of Jason, love his books! Luke Pearson’s work consistently blows my mind and makes me cringe with jealousy. “Everything We Miss” is quite possibly one of the best comics I’ve read in years.
What are you currently reading?
PK: I’m currently making my way through Anders Nilsen’s 450lb book “Big Questions” which is really awesome so far but it’s really huge. I imagine a smaller person really struggling with it, possibly getting pinned beneath it and screaming for help. I also just pre-ordered Gabrielle Bell’s new one “The Voyeurs.” I love her stuff, can’t wait to check it out.
This is your first graphic novel, so a lot of our readers might not be familiar with your work. Could you tell us about your career and how you got in to comics?
PK: I’ve been working as an illustrator for a while. I’ve done two issues of a series called “Parasitic Twin.” It’s a bunch of short stories about circus freaks (which is another one of my obsessions). I worked on an exhibit with Vermont’s Shelburne Museum called “Circus Day in America” in 2010, for which I made a series of circus posters and a couple of sculptures. I’ve done a bunch of anthologies, most noteably SLG’s “Fat Chunk” series put together by “Bear” and “Ubu Bubu” creator Jamie Smart. I currently do a weekly strip that’s in the vein of The Far Side called “What’s for Breakfast?” for a local paper, DigBoston.Continued below
What was the hardest part in putting your first book together? Do you have any advice for those of us hoping to put our own work out there?
PK: The hardest part in putting the book together was just all of the work I put into it. It took me about a year to make it, but it’ll take the average reader about 20 minutes to read it. Comics are a labor of love.
As far as advice, I’d say that if you’re working on a comic or graphic novel just pour your heart into it, and be as sincere and honest as possible. It’ll definitely show through when the work is finished.
How were your experiences with your publisher, Top Shelf?
PK: Working with Top Shelf has been amazing. They consistently put out great books by some of the best people working in comics these days. When my book first came out I’d look at the creators list on their website and couldn’t believe the other names I was listed with. I’ve been reading Top Shelf for what has to be almost ten years now. The first thing I picked up was Michael Slack’s “Land of O,” and have been a Top Shelf fan ever since, so having them put out my book is really a dream come true.
We spoke before about our preference for print, but “WAIGTDWY?” is exclusively digital. What made you choose a digital release, and can we expect a print version in the future?
PK: I’ll admit I’m someone who loves a printed book. I have a library full of books, and when I was offered the Digital deal I was hesitant at first. Time passed and I saw what Top Shelf was doing with digital comics and it’s really a beautiful thing. They’re way ahead of the curve as far as indie publishers go and so I figured it was time to embrace the future.
At this point there’s no print version planned. If you want to see it in print, let Top Shelf know about it.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should keep an eye out for?
PK: I’m currently working on my next graphic novel. It’ll be called “Fedor” and it’s a fictional biography of famous circus freak JoJo The Dog Faced Boy. I also plan to release the second collection of “What’s for Breakfast?” strips in late September/early October.
As far as the style goes it’s just the style that I’ve adopted over the years. My work used to be pretty realistic, but I didn’t want my stuff to look like everything else out there, I wanted to make it stand out. My own recognizeable style.