Meet a Local Comics Writer and Filmmaker: A Chat With Joe Carabeo
Joe Carabeo is a multimedia machine. He's a filmmaker, a photographer (especially of beautiful women with tattoos), a comic-book writer, and half of Curls Studio. I caught up with him before the convention season starts up again.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Joe Carabeo: I'm a writer and creator for Curls Studio with fellow creator and illustrator Carolyn Belefski.
WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
JC: As a writer I have a pretty short and simple answer to that question, but I'm not gonna go down that route. I'm also a filmmaker AND I also love to read and watch interviews, these interviews through the years have basically become my teachings.
I remember recently just watching an interview with one of my biggest inspirations, the director and writer Billy Wilder, in which is he talks about how writing to him is hard work, coming up with the idea is fun and exciting and it's like the first time you fall in love, but then having to sit down and flesh it out and make it real, is hard damn work, just like any real relationship.
I even remember Gerard Way talking about writing and describing it as ripping your own guts out and spreading it out on the table and trying to find something from your insides that you can make into a story. I've always found those descriptions of being a writer the closest and the most relatable to me.
I do in fact use a [combination of] pen, ink, and a computer...when it comes to writing. You can find inspiration anywhere, not just the medium you're in, so a lot of times having something on you to scribble little notes, or comments, or questions, is the best thing. I'm actually a big believer in the idea that if you don't write something down and remove it from your thoughts and make it into something palpable that it's not real yet. So having a little book and a pen or even the notes section of a smartphone is something that's perfect to have for a creator. In fact, I think it even inspires more ideas because of the reality that now you have a place to put all your thoughts instantly. Which, the majority of the time really I never end up using anyway, but it was what kept the inspiration alive.
When it comes to actually writing a comic-book script, I've gone through a whole bunch of different processes. In the beginning everything used to look like a screenplay 'cause that was the world I came from. I didn't know that was a comic-book writing format. Then it shifted to these grids and boxes with words 'cause I thought it would be easier, but it really became too much math. Today I've settled on a basic page count and how many panels on a page, the descriptions, and who's talking.
But when it comes to the actual writing, I've adapted a technique that I actually learned from watching the first Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute Film School. Basically before I write anything into a script, I'll sit and look at a blank screen, close my eyes and just envision everything from page to page, panel to panel. I'll let it play in my head as if I was already reading it. Then I'll get dirty and start typing. I don't know why I do it that way, 'cause sometimes I just end up falling asleep and the story merges with a dream, but it's how I do it.
WCP: When and where were you born?
JC: The super early '80s.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
JC: I'm in the Washington, D.C. area now because it’s on the rise creatively. There are a lot of great movements happening and I feel like it's starting to become a great boiling area of happenings. The lava is just starting to flow, but it hasn't erupted yet. And it’s a great midsection of travel if you wanna go north or south on the East Coast.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
JC: Technically, I've taken an art class every single year of high school and into college, but I focused more on filmmaking and photography for my college degree at Virginia Commonwealth University.
WCP: Who are your influences?
JC: I have inspirations in so many mediums, but I'll just limit this to the top ones in comics and film. Comics:David Lapham, Grant Morrison, Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Darwyn Cooke, Will Eisner. Film: Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, Joss Whedon, Bruce Timm, Orson Welles, Coen Brothers.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
JC: I would change the way certain people just look at comic books as only superheroes.
WCP: What work are you best known for?
JC: I believe at this point in my comics career I'm known for writing and creating the most fun and most antiestablishment characters, Roxy and Dean, for the Curls Studio book Black Magic Tales.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
JC: Anything that gets done.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
JC: I would love to continue working on my and Carolyn Belefski's creator-owned books for Curls Studio (Black Magic Tales, The Legettes and Kid Roxy). But it would be fun to see what happens if anyone at Marvel and DC would give us a run on any of their characters and see how we can flip them upside down. I mean what would happen if DC or Marvel lets us run crazy with all their animal characters. Carolyn loves to draw animals. We were even hatching an idea that would be super insane for the two specific animal characters in DC. Hell, give us Jubilee, The Question, the strange afterlife of Gwen Stacy, Plastic Man—I think we can wreck havoc with any of the misfit toys from the big two.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
JC: Be honest.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
JC: Everything will soon go paperless and formless, then somehow the manufacturers will try to emulate paper, and the smell, with digital projected solid form in the absolute smallest box that you've ever seen, that will then be inserted into our very own skin, plus a GPS. That will eventually lead to the world looking those Apple ads where everything is white, 'cause why would we actually need to have anything real and physical to touch if it can just be projected?
But that's way in the future. Let's figure out how artists can make a real solid living first when everyone can get everything for free.
WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?
JC: I believe Curls Studio does as many cons as we humanly can: Awesome Con, Baltimore Comic Con, Small Press Expo, New York Comic, etc. And again, being in the D.C. area, we actually are surrounded by a lot of conventions. There's a bunch in Virginia, Maryland, and Awesome Con in D.C. So all of a sudden I turned around and there's a whole bunch of conventions going on.
But as a guest I'm a huge fan of going to conventions and I love interacting with cool people and feeling the positive energy. It's cool to be in a place where everyone is there 'cause they love the characters and the culture and are not afraid to show it, and I think that's what its all about. I dig seeing people not being afraid and having harmless fun.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
JC: Late at night, when there's barely anyone in the city and how the Capitol Hill/the Mall/monument area looks with their cool blue lights. It always transports me to this futuristic neo-Egyptian time.
WCP: Least favorite?
WCP: What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?
JC: It's funny, only for the past couple of years I've realized how awesome the museums are in D.C., and I've been in this area the majority of my life! It all started because I also work as a freelance photographer. In the beginning I would be hired to do shoots in certain museums with my clients who work with the Smithsonian, and that's when I came to realize how awesome of a space these museums are. I would be in before the doors open or sometimes after hours when no one is there and I would be able to just soak it in. I love big empty spaces. Also, majority of them are free. That's pretty amazing, especially since the Smithsonian does an amazing job with their museums, they're not kidding around. I do wish we had a grander aquarium.
So if the weather was good, we'd walk the whole Mall, going to each museum, when the sun goes down eat at Hill Country, then visit the Lincoln Memorial at night. 'Cause that Lincoln Memorial at night is a must.
WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?
JC: Right now it's Hill Country. It’s the closest to Texas BBQ I've had in this area. The taste sticks with you the whole day and I love it.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
Curls Studio's next con appearance is Smudge Expo on March 8 at Artisphere.