Friday, August 19, 2011

Jesse Blake Interview

Self Portrait by Jesse Blake - featuring his characters Koo-Koo and Luke

Last week, I finally got the chance to catch up with Jesse Blake - creator/writer/cartoonist for Koo-Koo and Luke, one of my favorite online comic strips. Do yourself a favor and read the interview (after the jump) - and be sure to check out his archive of comics over at the funtronics website. 

Jesse! So glad you could make some time available to talk. So first things first - why don't you introduce yourself to our readers that may not be familiar with your work.

Thank you having me for this live interview; I feel if we did this over e-mail correspondence, people would feel I had time to prepare the wittiest answers, instead of being naturally funny. But, as I stated already, this is definitely a transcript of a live interview.
So my name's Jesse Blake, and I'm the artist and writer for a web comic called Koo-Koo and Luke. I still have a regular day job, but my dream is to become rich and famous without much effort. I'm hoping I can achieve this with my comic.
Koo-Koo and Luke involves a bird, a worm, and all the wacky situations I can picture them in. There are currently 251 comics in the archive, three story lines, and several printable greeting cards for people who love their friends and family too much to spend money on them.

When did you first start getting interested in comics? Do you remember the first comic (or series) you read?

I was exposed to comics at a very early age because my dad worked in comic book distribution. And even before that, he read comic strips to me from large collections (I was spoiled: he used to be an actor). The first comic series I remember getting into was Ranma ½; it was a style of Japanese comic called "manga," which you might not have heard of-- I don't think the genre took off here in the States. Anyway, the series had a lot of slapstick and great characters. I enjoyed it immensely.
Ha, to be honest, never heard of Manga until I heard Lupe Fiasco shout it out in "Gold Watch" a couple years back. And when did you start developing your own comic strip?
I created Koo-Koo and Luke comic strips as early as middle school and posted a few of them on my web site Mr. Groovy's Multi Reviews. But my heart wasn't into creating comic strips then like it was for reviewing things as a fictitious disco stud. But Koo-Koo and Luke stayed with me: in drawing books, on my homework, scribbled on paper dinner napkins at Italian restaurants...
It wasn't until college, in the middle of day-dreaming in class, did I come up with a real Koo-Koo and Luke comic strip idea. The inspiration made me so content and proud that I knew I had to get it on paper and shove it under someone’s nose. It only got better from there: my brain started processing all my jokes, punch lines, and silly observations as four panel funnies. Too bad Mr. Groovy O.D.'d in ’99 and is not here to see this…
Tell us a little about your characters, Koo Koo and Luke.

Koo-Koo is a lovable but slightly intellectually dull kookoo bird who can never keep himself out of trouble. Luke is a cynical and intelligent book worm who plays (what I like to call) the "straight man." It's an original and funny character relationship I invented for this comic. (Yeah, right!)
Where do you gain inspiration for these characters?

Way back in 6th grade, our school divided everyone into different colors as a way to encourage healthy competition and animosity. During our "pep" period one day, we were asked to design posters for our team, and I ended up drawing a crazy-looking bird standing next to worms of our rival colors (sick burn!). I can't tell you why I decided to draw a kooky bird; the only thing I remember is Koo-Koo's crazy eye was inspired by Laverne from the PC game Day of the Tentacle.
From there, I refined Koo-Koo's look on class notebooks, all in my favorite art classes like History and Biology. Very early on I gave him a worm best friend named Luke, perhaps subconsciously knowing that a bird and worm pairing is comedic gold; it might also have been a nod to the many odd cartoon animal pairings.
Speaking of design contests, my elementary school had a mascot design contest when I was attending, and I submitted a drawing of an alligator. And even today, almost 20 years later, the students are still known as the "Center Street Cougars."
Do you have plans to further develop your strip in to a comic book?

More than likely I’ll stick to storylines that exceed no more than 20 comic strips. The problem with a comic book is that it requires a structured plot, character development, and rising and falling drama, and KK&L is more about a quick punch-line delivery, neatly wrapped up by panel four. I’m not saying a comic book is out of the question, but I’ve yet to work out a storyline that would work for a full-blown comic book.
I recently finished reading a Walt Disney biography, so the topic is fresh on my mind. Have you ever thought about expanding to animation?

I've considered doing Koo-Koo and Luke animated shorts, and even had a good friend offer to do the grunt work-- so there's a good chance it will happen one day. It would be a fun challenge to adjust my humor to fit animation. The only major hurdle would be getting Morgan Freeman to voice both characters.

What are your ultimate goals with your comics/website?
My ultimate goal is to sell my creative integrity to the first buyer and live on a private island in a bamboo mansion while Koo-Koo and Luke peddle greeting cards and life insurance.

Ha! Respect. What are your 3 favorite animated cartoons and why?
DuckTales, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (late 80s to mid-90), and the Simpsons (also from the same time period). 
What really makes DuckTales for me is Scrooge McDuck, who the richest Duck in the world, but still looks for his next adventure in newspapers he fishes out of the trash can (because he was too cheap to pay for one). Early Simpsons episodes are great, and I think they form a good portion of my generation’s sense of humor.
I like TMNT because I watched it when I was 8 years old, so giant turtles with ninja weapons became awesome to me.

I still have my Bart Simpson tank top from middle school (and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pillow cases, but that's neither here nor there). Who are your top 3 comic 'strip' series and why?
Number one is definitely Calvin and Hobbes. The strips are funny, well drawn, deep, and always very imaginative. In short, Bill Waterson is a genius. Number two is the Farside for being… the Farside. It’s hard to exactly pin down what makes the comic so great, so I recommended just reading it. I don’t closely follow the Sunday paper, but I have yet to see a newspaper comic (or even a web comic) come close to the greatness of those two strips since they ended in the mid-90s.
For my number three, I’ll say PvP-- not because I regularly read the strip, but because I have a lot of respect for Scott Kurtz and all the hard work he puts into his web comic. You can tell he really has a lot of love for his characters and creates an amazing amount of quality strips each week. After doing Koo-Koo and Luke, I can tell you that type of dedication to a web comic is astonishing. 
Since our site is generally fashion driven - I need to ask the question. What is the favorite piece of clothing in your closet and why?
I’ve recently gotten into ties, so I bought this rad striped blue one. I didn’t know how to tie a tie for the longest time, but I found that I’m strangely addicted to the process. 
I’m also fond of a Karate Kid headband I have hidden in my closet; I’m waiting for the day when I’ll need to pull it out to train and overcome an overaggressive antagonist.

Alright Jesse. Thanks again for your time. Really appreciate it. Any last words? 
Cookies and silly puns make me happy.
Also, I've always been anxious unless I’m doing something creative on the side to offset the daily grind, and since 2004, Koo-Koo and Luke has been it. If you're one of those people who reads my stuff, I'm honored you're investing time in my comic over all the other distractions on the Internet. If you are not one of those people, I hear they just put Madmen on Netflix...

A creative outlet outside of the daily grind? Now that is something I can relate to. Thanks again Jesse for taking the time for this interview. Looking forward to hearing more big things from you in the future!