Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with John Kinhart

John Kinhart is an autobiographical web cartoonist, and in addition to drawing comics, John has done some short documentary-type videos about cartoonists: Kim Deitch: The Search For Smilin' EdBB&B Special Feature: The Archive of Jay Lynch, and Kelly Froh.

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

JK: I have been drawing a collection of autobiographical comics called Sorry Comics that I have been posting online since 2009. In 2006, while I was going through a tumultuous break-up, I read an autobiographical relationship graphic novel. I liked it, but I remember feeling that the storytelling was weak and that I could do better. So, I started keeping a Moleskine sketchbook. I started writing down my thoughts and scenarios that were going on in my life and relationships. Soon I was regularly drawing comics, but I kept them almost completely a secret for years. In February 2009, I started posting them online. The first couple of months I did it anonymously, just to see if anyone cared. After a few months I was getting interest, so I kept posting.

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

 JK: I have two types of Moleskine-style sketchbooks. One has low-weight paper and I use that to sketch out ideas and write and rewrite my stories. The other has heavier stock paper. This is the sketchbook that I draw my final comics in. I like this method because it allows me to be easily mobile, but also a hardbound sketchbook is excellent for archiving. This method also originates from the time when I was keeping the comics a secret. I draw the comics first in blue colored pencil. For a long time, I solely inked my comics with Micron pens, but recently I have started drawing with a brush and India ink. In fact, I decided to switch to India ink while I was working on my most recent comic, Cars are Bugs, which is about how I ponder if cars are actually bug-like lifeforms that humans co-exist with symbiotically. While inking the comic, I wondered what gave the ink its glossy finish. The ingredients indicated that it contained shellac. What is shellac? I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that shellac is a resin secreted by a bug.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

 JK: I was born in Weisbaden, West Germany in 1979 on an American military base. My father was in the Army. When I was 18 months old my parents divorced. My mother, sister and I moved back to Harford County, Md., where my parents grew up. I lived there until 1998, when I moved to Baltimore City to go to college.

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

 JK: I moved to Silver Spring to work in D.C. in 2006, which is also when I started drawing autobiographical comics. I lived in downtown Silver Spring for several years. Recently I purchased a house in Silver Spring, where I live with my wife and infant son.

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

JK: I don't have any formal training in cartooning, but I have a Bachelors in Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I have drawn cartoons for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I made a comic titled Adolescent Karate Salamanders, inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And in high school I was writing and drawing a comic narrative about a hidden Atlantis existing in the present day.

WCP: Who are your influences?

JK: In my current work, life and memory are my greatest influences. Documentary film is huge, too. Constantly watching, filming, and editing documentaries has been excellent training for autobiographical storytelling. I love Gabrielle Bell's work. It's spellbinding and mysterious. Also, Harvey Pekar, David Heatley, Daniel Johnston, Charles Bukowski and the TV show Six Feet Under.

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

 JK: I feel like my comics are my way of dealing with regrets that I wish I could do over or change. When I take a negative memory from my life and make art out of it, I feel like I turn it into something positive. Or perhaps I haven't been cartooning long enough. Truthfully, I have more regrets about my first documentary, Blood, Boobs & Beast. BB&B is about low-budget Baltimore horror/sci-fi filmmaker Don Dohler, who was also the creator of the underground comix character Pro Junior (made famous by R. Crumb). I started making the film at age 24 and finished it at 27. It was certainly the best film I could make at the time. And it did have its success. It showed at 22 film festivals, won six best documentary awards, and was even released on DVD in 2009. But because it's my first film, I look back and see its many mistakes and amateurishness. My regret is compounded by the fact that Dohler died of cancer while we were making the film. Dohler and I became friends during the filming and I miss him a great deal. The combination of missing him and wishing I could go back and improve the film is sometimes too much to bear.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

JK: I think I'm still very unknown, but my comics about Peak Oil are definitely some of my most popular. They have been posted on several online energy blogs, including The Oil Drum and The Energy Bulletin. I was even quoted from one of my comics in a Salon.com blog titled, "Stoners and energy secretaries unite." All of my comics get posted on Reddit, which brings in a huge amount of traffic. Every time a new comic is posted, I'll get a handful of messages from people saying that they just discovered my comics and read through all of them in one sitting. I appreciate every message and comment.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

 JK: It's tough to pick one comic that I'm most proud of. I'm really proud of Sorry Comics as a collection. One of the things that I'm extremely proud of is that I have varied the subject matter. I didn't want to be overly repetitive and I didn't want it to just be about me lamenting the loss of a girl. By telling a variety of stories from my whole life fragmented and nonchronologically, I wanted the experience of reading them to be similar to how you might meet and get to know someone. Often when we first meet someone, we get random details in no particular order. The longer you know them, the deeper the details that will emerge.

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

JK: Right now, I am developing 12 different comic story ideas. Sometimes I sit on a story for years until I finally feel the time is right or think of a way to solve a difficult story problem. There are several comics that I want to do that goes deeper into the story of my childhood mentor who committed suicide. But it's a heavy story and I want to make sure I do it right. I'm also planning a story about my first porno magazine, which I found on the side of the road. It's an epic little story that spans many years. However, the comic I think I want to do next is about my grandfather and I'm thinking about calling it The Rise and Fall of Sonny Morrison.

Also, my comics have only been published online and in a few anthologies, like HIVE and Stranger Than Fiction Comics. I would like to publish a collection of my comics soon, but know so little about publishing.

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

JK: Make a list of potential ideas. Write stream of consciousness. Try a new tool or medium. Think out loud. Abandon ideas and come back later. Constantly write down ideas and thoughts. Flip through old sketchbooks. Think of your art as revenge. Go to a place with no internet and write or draw. Always pursue the idea you're most interested in.

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

JK: I don't know, but it's going to be pretty exciting seeing what people come up with!

WCP:  What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

JK: I try to attend SPX in Bethesda, Md., whenever possible. It's such an amazing convention. I feel lucky to live so close to it. But I have never had a table at a convention. I considered doing SPX this year, but then it overbooked. Maybe next year.

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

JK: The inspiring people. And I'm not just talking about the artists. Get drunk with a lawyer and talk about politics and the economy. WOW!

WCP: Least favorite?

JK:  The shallow people, but they're everywhere.

WCP: What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

JK:  The Toynbee tiles scattered about. Google "Toynbee tiles DC."

WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?

JK:  The Quarry House Tavern in downtown Silver Spring has been my favorite place to drink and draw for years. In fact, many of my comics were drawn and inked there. If you don't know about it, it's this amazing divey basement bar that was a speakeasy in the '20s. It's got a great jukebox and a huge beer selection. I love going there and getting so into my drawing that I barely even realize anyone else is there. Try the fried pickles and the Old Bay tater tots.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

JK:  You can find my comics at www.sorrycomics.com and my film work at www.johnkinhart.com.

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