by Kevin Czap
I was reading the new James Kochalka book, Fungus #1 (from Retrofit Comics) and it struck me how complete Kochalka’s drawings were. He’s developed his cartooning to a point where he’s able to strike that perfect balance between black and white on the page. The simple imagery, however, disguises just how hard it is to get black and white drawings look this good.
The world of comics is not lacking for monochromatic work in the slightest, and anyone who’s seen any number of them can call to mind the typical qualities. More often than not, black and white comics are identifiable as black line drawn onto white paper (or sometimes vice versa). With Kochalka’s work, however, there’s a completeness to the entire image that one value isn’t overpowered or subordinated by another.
Kochalka’s of course not the only master of these kinds of compositions (Jaime Hernandez comes to mind immediately), but I’m interested in how graphic his cartooning is. Over the years, James’ comics have been moving towards a kind of abstract harmony. In his diary strip, American Elf, the members of his family have attained a standard look while background characters have become blobby shapes. This economy of detail is invigorating to see, a good motivating push away from the tendency to overdraw.
I was thinking about all this stuff while I was surfing the comics links the other day when I happened upon word of Ron Rege Jr.’s forthcoming book, Cartoon Utopia. I know Rege‘s work much less than I do Kochalka’s, but I can still see clearly how impressive his comics are as well (if not more so – open to debate). Ron’s drawings are much busier than Kochalka’s, full of crackling energy, but they’re no less balanced. Whereas the latter sets calm scenes of solid patches of color, the former divides the ingredients into atoms spread out to fill up the page.
The result is the same – equal amounts of light and dark that work together in harmony.
Seeing great work like this, again, just helps me strive to get away from the crutch of hatching and really own the page. Both Kochalka and Rege have been in the game for long enough that they have gotten a pretty strong handle on their style, and thus make it look easy as pie.
PS –Fungus #1 is great. An exciting kickoff to Retrofit’s ambitious project of reviving the periodical for indie comics. I feel like I can’t support this idea enough. In fact, Retrofit is only one of the many new publishers that I’m very excited about, but that’s probably a post for another day.