Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat With Josh Kramer

Josh Kramer does cartoon journalism in minicomic form. His "A Day in the Life of a Milk and Cookies Food Truck: What's it like being Captain Cookie?" appeared in Washington City Paper this spring. Kramer is launching the latest issue of his Cartoon Picayune comic Friday with an open house, and took some time to answer our questions.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Josh Kramer: I write and draw long-form comics stories that are nonfiction and journalistic. I also make shorter pieces as freelance work for publication in magazines and newspapers. Most everything goes online.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

JK: I draw with a dip pen and speedball ink, as well as brushes, Rapidograph pens, and other tools. I scan everything in and often do my coloring in Photoshop with a tablet.

WCP: When and where were you born?

JK: I was born in 1987 near Philadelphia. I'll be 26 on Monday.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

JK: I went to American University for undergrad, and I returned in 2011 to live with my girlfriend. We live near Adams Morgan.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

JK: My education is unusually formal. I graduated in 2011 from The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. I got my Masters of Fine Arts in cartooning, and more importantly, I was nurtured and instructed in the best cartooning community I could have asked for.

WCP: Who are your influences?

JK: I have three kinds of answers. There are writers who influence my journalism (John McPhee, Lawrence Weschler, Rob Walker), cartoonists who influence my drawing (Carl Barks, Jeff Smith, Chris Ware), and writers/cartoonists who do both (Joe Sacco, Josh Neufeld, Harvey Pekar). There are multitudes in each group, and probably some influences that I wear on my sleeve but that I’m not aware of.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

JK: I think it’s a little early in my career for me to be taking this question seriously. But I think everything cartoonist probably has regrets about certain faces or hands in every published drawing, and I’m getting better at dealing with that.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

JK: I self-publish and distribute a mini comic called The Cartoon Picayune. Every story is nonfiction, and ideally, journalism. The first few issues have a lot of my work, but the contributions just keep getting better and I'm taking more of an editorial role, which was the plan from the start.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

JK: What’s great about making journalistic comics is that you have both the social aspects of reporting and the quiet, personal time it requires to make art. My favorite thing is hearing back positively from the sources of my stories. One little boy brought my newspaper story about his family into school to show his friends, and I’m pretty proud of that.

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

JK: I would love to do more freelance work, especially for websites. (What a cheap way to publish color!) That said, I’d like to do some longer, multipage work and have it published in traditional media. Large, broadsheet pages are really fun to work with.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

JK: I just keep trying to draw something. I copy a lot of fashion models out of the catalogs that come in the mail.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

JK: I think that the market for handmade minicomics is expanding as readers continue to appreciate them as art objects as opposed to just amateur comics pamphlets. I also think we're just seeing the beginning of comics and journalism coming together. A lot of non-comics readers have a hard time imagining "comics journalism" when they understand it once they read it. I'm talking about real stories and real people in a visceral, visual medium, and that makes for really good storytelling.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

JK: The food scene is real fun, and rapidly evolving. It's something I'm passionate about, so I feel really fortunate to be around now and able to eat such delicious things from markets, food trucks, and pop-ups.

WCP: Least favorite?

JK: It's got to be the cost of living and rent.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

JK: Probably the Portrait Gallery or the Hirshhorn.

WCP: Favorite restaurant for same?

JK: Definitely Ben's Chili Bowl.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

JK: www.cartoonpicayune.com The new issue is out now and the release party is this Friday, June 21 at my study in Penn Quarter. It's free and open to the public, with free drinks!

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