June 2, 2010

Dream a Little Dream... And Send It to Me

An Interview with Artist, Illustrator and Convertor of Dreams Jesse Reklaw

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
Click on any picture to enlarge

I wasn’t really sure how to approach Jesse Reklaw at first (whose real name – if you believe his
Wikipedia page – is apparently Aka Walker... the Walker I get, but the Aka I still haven’t figured out). No, its not that I don’t appreciate the work he does, which encompasses on-line and print comics as well as a set of really fine paintings using watercolors, inks and acrylics. It’s good stuff all around for sure even if several of the images have managed to creep into my own dreams since we started our conversation.

No, it has to do more with the whole uncomfortable feeling of inviting – well how do I put this – you know, sort of inviting a psychologist to a dinner party. The reason I say this is that Jesse has been publishing for the past 15 years or so a fantastic comic strip by the name of
Slow Wave both online and in syndication. What he does is take reader-submitted dreams and adapt them into a brief (usually four panel) comic strip format, with often bizarre yet familiar – if by familiar you mean dream-like or even bizarre again – results. He’s even released a hardcover of these dream comics, ‘The Night of Your Life’, full of people’s deepest and darkest and, gasp, weirdest phobias and fantasies and more!

So I had this kind of feeling that by essentially inviting Jesse into my ‘home’ if you will, he’d just sort of stare and analyze me all Freud-like, even though I don’t typically give out such details during polite dinner conversation (I’m much more of an embarrassing-body-functions conversationalist in that regard). But in the end, not only was our exchange a lot of fun, but I got to learn a lot more about this very bright and exciting illustrator. Ladies and gentlemen, it is our pleasure then to introduce Jesse Reklaw:

Welcome Jesse! I hope the input I sent you was okay.
Hi James. Thanks for the interview questions... they were fun. Hope you are feeling better!
(ZN: you see - I just couldn’t help myself. I had to share some of my most recent bodily defects! It’s just my thing I guess!)

Jesse, it’s indeed a pleasure to meet you. If I can buy you an extra large mocha with a double espresso shot (oops that’s what I want, I guess I should ask you, too), can you tell me a little about yourself in a sort of casual ‘hey, we just met at Barstucks for the first time’ kind of way?
Hey Ziggy, I fancy myself a social chameleon, so I'll get one of those XL mochas with the 2X espresso shots too. Though make mine soy (or almond milk if you got it), since I am vegan.

I've been a cartoonist for the past 15 years (mostly weird, non-commercial, arty stuff), though I am a reformed computer scientist (studied computer vision and artificial intelligence at Yale).

Okay class, Ziggy is going to briefly interrupt here because I did have to look this up: ‘The difference between a vegan and a vegetarian is that a vegan eliminates all animal products from his or her diet, including dairy. Those following a vegan lifestyle generally do not wear leather and avoid products made from animals such as wool, silk and down.' For more, see
Vegansaurus, with a convenient link here to their terrific interview with Jesse!

I first learned of your endeavours through a former Ziggy Nixon blog victim and fellow awesome comic creator – Shaenon K. Garrity – who posted her own dream that you featured in ‘Slow Wave’. Too cool. How did you come up with the idea to start this unique and always changing strip?
Around 1995, right after I finished my undergraduate degree (at UC Santa Cruz), I was fascinated by dreams, comics, and the web. So I started a weekly webcomic about dreams, and it's been going ever since.

I have to admit, that after I saw this featured by Shaenon, that I really wanted to send something in. But I get the feeling that my dreams – well, the ones that you can feature on public web-sites at least – are too complex for a webcomic.

Do you run into that situation often and if yes, how do you approach it? (If need be, I can provide a number of recent examples, thanks to some great pain killers for my back my Doctor put me on!!)
Chemically-induced dreams are pretty great.

I'm a decent editor, so feel free to submit anything you like. I can chop it down into four panels.

When I look at the three main ‘focal’ points on your web-site - from ‘Slow Wave’ to ‘Ten Thousand Things to Do’ to finally your paintings, I get the feeling that these stretch across a pretty wide spectrum, the latter of which strikes me as being very much different to the other two. Do you see them being more similar in their approach or does each reveal a different part (personality) of you?
That's insightful of you to notice the difference.

I feel I'm always searching for the right style for each of my projects, and always falling short. Luckily (?), I have a compulsive tendency to finish things whether or not I think they're perfect. So I manage to push a lot of stuff out into the world.

To answer your questions more directly, I see all my creative projects as being integrated with who I am... but maybe an outsider won't see that until I finish everything that I will ever do...?

How do you wind up trying to get your different works and styles ‘out there’ (Facebook,
Flickr, etc.)? Has one approach seemed to be more successful for you in terms of on-line methods?
I'm still seeking the best method(s) for distribution.

I like Flickr for comics because the interface is so clean and unencumbered with sidebars and ads and icons and doodads. But I don't think I've gotten the best exposure that way.

Facebook seems to be quite popular now. But I can't avoid comparing the social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc.) to the "browser wars" of the 90s (and even the "portal wars" circa 5 years later).

So I'm standing back and waiting for the next big wave to ride I guess. iPhone and other PDA distribution methods seem to be the next big thing.

How does this compare to the exposure you get from the cartoonists / comics show circuit? Or do you see both as an essential part of your ‘career’ or even if you will for keeping your sanity?
Going to comic book shows and networking with cartoonists, editors, and publishers directly is definitely more valuable as far as a career goes. Getting recognition from one person in the business feels like the same as having 100 casual readers online.

I talked with Shaenon many moons ago about the web-comic phenomenenomena (sorry, I never know how to stop spelling that word). How do you view the growing exposure of web-comics vs. the smudges of ink* we see in our daily newspapers (for those of us that still buy daily newspapers)?
It makes sense to me that ephemeral media like newspapers and magazines will migrate to the web. So I could see an emerging market for short strips online.

I imagine they will be encapsulated within some content distribution entity, such as an online magazine (like
Salon)... or a search portal (like Yahoo)... or a social networking site (like FB)... or something else.

But ultimately I don't think webcomics will survive as entities on their own.

*noting that I apologize for the size of some of the strips featured here, but you have to paste either 'small' or 'medium' or you can't enlarge them. A weird tic of 'blogspot's' service, go figure...

Is the tide turning for the on-line artist or is it business as usual namely if you don’t get a Garfield or Dilbert established complete with desk calendars and plush toys you’re pretty much hanging out at the soup kitchen to make ends meet?
I think initially there were great opportunities for online artists to establish themselves independently (Achewood is a great example of this for a webcomic), but in the future I think business-minded people will make it harder for artists to get noticed if they're not part of some syndicate or publisher/distributor.

It also seems to be a bit of a Catch-22 situation in the markets today. Cartoonists need newspapers to help establish their work in the ‘mainstream’ yet push more and more of their work on the Internet. Still, the success has not seemed to be overwhelming via this route either, and as you yourself know, when one of your own print ‘employers’ goes belly up, it hits your cash flow pretty hard. Any thoughts to same?
Actually, I've noticed that until now for the most part there hasn't been much money made selling content on the Internet. It seems like artists put work online for free, hoping to get a book deal or a record contract.

But it's still been totally possible to get noticed and to become established just by putting work online.

Continued in Part 2

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