Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Illustrator Paul Zdepski
The Trickster anthology that Matt Dembicki put together has a lot of local cartoonists in it. We'll be running interviews with them over the next few weeks. First up is illustrator Paul Zdepski.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Paul Zdepski: I'm currently working on my first children's book with the "dogBabies," a group of characters I've developed over the last five years. I had tried to break into comics in the early '80s when fellow PCA illustration classmates Joe Matt (Peepshow) and Matt Wagner (Mage and Grendel) were busting it wide open. I didn't have the storyline, and my style wasn't polished for comics... If I was in LA or NYC, I would have had the underground scene, but Philly had a second-city mentality, and I didn't know how to build an audience. I kept my cartoons in my flat file and sketchbook.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
PZ: I was born in New Jersey during the Cuban Missile Crisis, ushering in world peace with my entry to the scene.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
PZ: I came to the NoVa region to work on the Web as a designer and illustrator. I'm way outside of the beltway—at the terminus of I-66 and I-81. I live in a development of homes that look the same, but have different junk in their backyards.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
PZ: I have a BFA in illustration from the University of the Arts in Philly (formally the Philadelphia College of Art). I'm two months from obtaining my MFA in illustration from the University of Hartford, Conn., under Murray Tinkleman.
WCP: Who are your influences?
PZ: My major cartoon influences are George Grosz (Dadaist), Bill Maudlin (WWII combat illustrator), Tex Avery (Tom & Jerry), John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy), Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), and Willem De Kooning (painter), Robert Henri (painter/teacher)... many others. I'm not unlike a sponge... only different... with bones.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
PZ: I would get a backbone earlier in my life, taking initiative to create and self-publish, rather than waiting for someone to knock on my door... because the only one that will knock is the sheriff's department serving eviction notices.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
PZ: I have a few individual illustration pieces that have gained popularity. Back when everyone wanted a piece of Wall Street's pie in the 1990s, I won a national award for a piece called "Bull Market." I had won a silver in the last Illustrators Club of DC juried show for children's book illustration, Vincent Van Toad. Van Toad garnered a center page spot in the Washington Post Outlook section.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
PZ: My last piece... I cringe as I look back on much of my early work, seeing what I could have done differently. I believe I'm better now, and will get better than I am today with the next piece. Keep on learning, keep on pursuing... If I'm going to fall on my face, be sure to fall forward. Right?
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
PZ: I would like to get my latest pieces in a tight package for marketing as a licensed product. I am working on figurines of many of my "dogBaby" characters. I met Real Musgrave, the creator of Pocket Dragons, in March, and was inspired to break out my Sculpy and get to work. I already create many sculptures for illustration reference, so there's no learning curve.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
PZ: I carry a sketchbook everywhere I go. I have three going right now. I use a Moleskine or hardbound Canson/Strathmore. If I don't have any ideas, I start drawing what is in front of me. That usually begins free association in my head. That's enough of a well-spring to generate a new piece.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
PZ: Online: iPhone, iPad, Kindle, HTML5, self-initiated, self-published works... Side-stepping the established gatekeepers.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
PZ: The people that have chosen to make it their home. I know many through the Illustrators Club of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and via online interactions with the folks of the DCConspiracy and ArtDC.org.
WCP: Least favorite?
PZ: The streets... the traffic is hell – there's no way for a person that drives with a manual transmission to get in and out of town without cramping a calf.
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
PZ: The old Smithsonian Castle. I love that place... so old-school science... very steampunk.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?