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By Tim Leong
Even though critics can’t stop talking about his new book, Kazmir Strzepek can’t find words for it. “[I] sorta dread describing Mourning Star, because it always sounds so cliche and generic.” Well, we can. The Mourning Star collects the first three issues of Strzepek’s mini comic epic about survival in whimsical post-apocalyptic adventure story. Ahem, “cool” adventure story.How did you come to decide on a square-page format?
And how does that affect the story’s visual narrative flow?
Ha, ha. Oh man, I’m busted! Okay, I have to admit, part of the reason Mourning Star is square has to do with me being a bit of a cheapskate. But first off, odd-sized comic books have always been appealing to me. Half of the fun of mini comics is having these little handcrafted pieces of art that are built with love. My older stuff was usually the traditional half folded piece of paper size, and I really wanted to make Mourning Star a little smaller. The idea was to have a mini comic that someone could just flip into their pocket, say at school or at work, and when the teacher or boss wasn’t looking, could just whip out and read with ease. You can’t do that with most normal or minis without folding them into halves and quarters (and looking like a giant perv with a wad of comic in your pocket).
Originally I considered going for a more manga-shaped book, like 4 1/2 x 6 inches, but nixed that idea since I felt a bit guilty for wasting the paper I’d be cutting of at the top. So when planning it out, I figured 4×4 was the best size, because I’d be small, but I could fit four double-sided pages on one piece of paper. It accommodated my pocket mini scheme and made selling them not as painful on my wallet. Once Bodega picked it up, I decided to make it 5 1/2 x 5 1/2, which is closer to the original art size for image clarity. It no longer fits in pants pockets, but does in jackets and under most hats.
At this present time, I actually feel more comfortable working in the small-square format than in the traditional rectangle size. I blame habit. For me, fitting the narrative into small square pages wasn’t hard. There are some disadvantages, such as limited composition and balance. And I guess it can look a bit busy and cluttered (which can be a pleasing aesthetic in my novice opinion). A strange phenomenon I experienced was after solely working on a 5×5 comic for two years then switching to drawing a comic that was 9×12, I had a difficult time getting used to so much room. Initially my panels seemed stretched out and didn’t fit in the page right. I was overcompensating the size I was used to by laying-out tall, elongated panels. I also ended up automatically sketching huge borders between the panels to take up space. Thank god, after a while I got used to it, the pages started looking normal again. But yeah, that whole moment of readapting was fairly odd.
You have a tendency to use a lot of diagonal lines to create your panels. Why? What effect does that have?
To my knowledge, it seems like a normal technique used in manga. I took a break while thumbnailing sketches for the second chapter to try and examine what needed improvement and I kinda felt like my fighting sequences lacked something. Flipping thought books I’ve collected, I noticed Japanese artists such as Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki and Takehiko Inoue would occasionally skewed panels during action and fighting sequences to heighten the action inside and make it more dynamic for the reader. It’s a little tricky, but hopefully I’m doing it correctly. I’m still learning.
How did you go from selling your own minis online to getting a collected edition printed through Bodega?
I seriously lucked out. I met Randy Chang, the big boss at Bodega, at the Alternative Press Expo in San Fransisco a few years ago. That was my first time tabling at a convention. Highwater Books had just ended and Randy took the surplus to continue distribution and selling to kids online. In the long run, I guess he’d eventually run out of the Highwater and other cool books, and would have to resort to the dirty business of publishing, himself. I think he had the first two chapters/minis of Mourning Star. He said he might be interested in doing some kinda business with the series. When I got back to Seattle, I saw he had e-mailed me about selling my minis on the site and asked what my future plans were with the MNS. We talked about it, and the idea of having a fat collected book sounded nice. He also said it would be a paying gig, which is always a good tactic in luring starving mini comic artists. We talked about the direction for Bodega and titles he had in the pipeline (such as Brian Ralph’s Daybreak and Dave K’s Last Cry for Help), and I was stoked to be asked. I worked on the third chapter and rushed it off to the printers for the SPX. It came in like a day before the convention. Like I said, very, very lucky.
How does your art process work?
I’m still working out the kinks of my comic making procedures. Sometimes I have a few false starts. After trying to plan out a page I need to rest and play some Tetris or go to a bar with friends to guilt trip myself back into in the mood. This sounds weird, but a lot of my brainstorming happens on the road. I tend to bike or walk around the city and just focus on the story and plot lines. I swear I don’t talk to myself. I’m not one of those guys (yet). Then I usually rough thumbnail a bunch of pages on Xerox paper or in a sketchpad. Lately I cut and fold the Xerox paper to the size of the comic so I can plan things more accurately (such as panel placement and timing of scene transitions). After that I do pencils on Bristol. Normally I ink four to six pages at a time, so I can jump back and forth if I’m not confident about a panel or page. While penciling and inking I also do side notes of additional character sketches and future plot ideas in the outside border of the pages. And then I just repeat the drawing steps with those notes and such. Once the interior is done, I work on the cover. I volunteer as a screenprint tutor/lab assistant at a local non-profit art organization for youths, so I’m able to use the facility to burn screens for covers and then after cutting and collating the Xerox pages, I bind them with string.
Before Bodega printed this, you were selling at conventions and through your site.
Are you a good salesman? What was your pitch?
Oh, geez. You’re asking the wrong person. I have no idea if I’m good or not.
And probably my lack of a straight answer is evidence how unprofessional a salesman I am. Ha, ha, ha! I think I have some kinda peculiar charm or quality that’s working for me. Naturally, I’m a shy person, but when at conventions I kinda get pumped up full of energy from being around friends I haven’t seen in a while and all the awesome talent and comics around. For me, trying to be as real and friendly as possible seems to work. Like the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated.
This is probably not the best thing to admit, but I also sometimes indulge in an occasional alcoholic beverage. I usually table with my good friend Gabby (aka, Ken Dahl), who is an extremely awesome artist, by the way. A combination of a few drinks and the comic con adrenaline pumping through my body does make me more gregarious — in a good way. When that happens I start giving out more and more high fives.
I don’t really have a pitch, and sorta dread describing Mourning Star, because it always sounds so cliche and generic. Especially to non-comic book people. I used to say it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy story. But it’s not really sci-fi. If anything, I’d categorize it as ‘adventure.’ And maybe throw in the word “cool.” “Cool adventure.” Lately I’ve given up and just try to string along as many qualities as possible. “It’s a cool pseudo-whimsical post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy adventure with sword versus scissor fights and ghosts.” Then follow up with a high five. And I like to encourage the idea that it’s a fun book. It was fun for me to make, and from the feedback I’ve received, it seems it’s transferred well to the reader.
How did you approach the typography throughout the story in Mourning Star? Any inspirations?
For the title and text used in the introduction, I was going for a gritty old typewriter kinda feeling. Strong and confident, yet mysterious. Which is funny, because I’m not very confident with typography. I *ahem* kinda failed that class in college. But only because the teacher was a jerkface dick and it’s so early in the day, I’d opted to sleep in. I’m sorta regretting that now. But I did graduate; Stay in school kids! Anyway, a friend of mine who designs posters for local concerts has instilled in me that artists should always hand-draw their type. Computer generated text has always felt amateurish and cold to me in comics. I know some artists design font sets with the computer, and most of those are cool. I can barely run Warcraft 2 on mine, so I just stick to the old fashioned way, which is fine by me.
I guess the gritty old typewriter text conjures up the feeling of the video game Resident Evil, although that’s not originally intended. Now that I think about it, I do remember a font I had in Photoshop on my old computer. I used to use it for art projects. I can’t recall the name, but I think it’s something like “Sissy ramero.”
Do you prefer working in B/W?
Yeah, I suppose I do. I feel more comfortable, since a majority of my work is in black and white. But I do enjoy coloring and it’s fun seeing my stuff come more to life with color. Since I don’t practice much, I’m not entirely confident about it either. I was experimenting with coloring my strips, back in the day when Jordan Crane was hosting SPAZ on reddingk.com. He was nice enough to give me a few pointers to play with. Jordan, for the few that don’t know, is not only a drawing god, but coloring god as well. Again, I lucked out and it was great to have him edit MNS and design/color the cover. A lot of people ask about the awesome choice of colors, and I just say, “Jordan Crane picked them,” and they always “ahhh” and nod in strong agreement. Dude’s rad!
Do you still plan to continue the series via mini comics after this? Or are you going to wait to collect them?
This isn’t 100 percent, but I’m leaning towards making the rest of the main story come out in collected book form. This is just so friends and people I meet at conventions won’t have to choose one from the other, or spend on buying two versions. That of course would prevent me from having minis in the meantime. A solution could be making supplemental side stories, like mini-minis about character backgrounds and such to just have something at shows till the next bodega book comes out. At the SPX and Stumptown Fest two months ago, I put together a sketchbook that was all extra bonus stuff. On the other hand, I’d be happy to take a break and make non Mourning Star minis too. I’d like to avoid being pigeon-holed into just the MNS universe.
Dirk Deppey, on his Journalista blog, said you were, “a rising star in the world of minicomics.” How does that feel?
Really? That’s awesome! Spending day after day at the drawing table, sometimes I worry readers won’t like my work. That’s very cool news, thanks for telling me that!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since your first mini?
I’m not sure if I’m going to articulate this well… it’s easier to show in person; but If you’re planning on making a mini where you fit four 4×4 double-sided pages on one piece of Xerox paper, make sure you give yourself a lot of border leeway to match all four page centers correctly so your panels don’t get cut off when you use the paper cutter. Ack, that’s a mouth full. As much fun as it is to manually make small comics, if it’s not planned right, you can end up spending a lot of time at the copy shop realigning your images, and even more time cutting and collating it. Personally, I enjoy the process. Especially when I can trick good friends who can endure monotonous torture to come over and help. But it can be extremely nerve-wracking if you’re running out of time for a comic convention. Just plan your layout well and however long you think you can finish putting together your comic, add two days.