Josh Kramer is a comics journalist – "a cartoonist and journalist" – and publisher of the Cartoon Picayune, an annual(ish), nonfiction anthology of cartoon journalism that features his own work and that of contributors across the country. If you weren't able to catch Josh at last month's DC Zine Fest there are a veritable t o n of online places to view his work (including, to our great delight, a Tumblr dedicated solely to his Seinfeld viewing), and – as of last week – you can buy his watercolors in miniature from the Guerrilla Vending machine at Maketto.
I work at Boundary Road a couple shifts each week and really love it there. I've worked in food jobs the whole time I've been in DC, mostly having to do with cheese. I do food blogging for DCist and that includes Drawn to Flavor, a monthly column where I do a watercolor and write-up of a dish that I like at a restaurant. It's fun and I got to go on the Kojo Nnamdi Show because of it, which was so cool. I also teach a comics class at Montgomery College in Silver Spring. Go Raptors!
How do you describe what you do? Because you do a lot! I call myself a comics journalist, or a cartoonist and journalist. I draw longer comics stories about real people that are kind of like drawn documentaries. I self-publish my own minicomic anthology of this stuff, called the Cartoon Picayune, and I also freelance as much as I can.
In the last year or so I've been lucky enough to work on pieces about space debris, homelessness, and Alaskan marijuana law among other things. I've worked with some amazing editors at places like The Atlantic, which has been awesome. That stuff all lives on my portfolio site.
But to really answer your question, I do a bunch of other different things for two reasons: 1) my comics journalism takes forever and doesn't pay enough to be full time (yet...who knows, fingers crossed) and 2) I really like shifting gears and having different kinds of things to work on. I think that's the way to never get bored and avoid "writer's block." I crave structure.
via the Treasury Blog:
"The Cartoon Picayune is my self-published, printed nonfiction comics anthology. Let me unpack that.
Self-published: I edit it and lay it out on the computer and pay for a commercial printer to print about 400 copies. I sell them online and in person, for $4 each.
Printed: It’s important to me that I can just hand it to someone and have them understand it immediately. It lives out in the real world mostly, and online secondly.
Nonfiction: Everything’s true. All the characters are real people and every speech bubble is a quote. Not everything is strict journalism, but it has to be real.
Comics anthology: I don’t draw everything, and sometimes my work is barely in it. Artists from all over contribute. I’ve published everyone from experimenting students to New Yorker cartoonists."
What's the most rewarding part about finishing an issue? And about how long does each one take? I've slowed down a bit and now I'm happy to put out one issue a year. For a while The Cartoon Picayune was my only creative outlet and so all my energy went into it. I still enjoy putting it together, it's just harder to find the time. I have to wear all the hats that would be performed by different people at a real magazine: editor, designer, publisher, marketer, distributor, retailer. I'm better at some of those than I am at others.
When an issue is done, once I've come out my trance, the most rewarding part is putting an issue in someone's hands and watching them read it. Websites are great, but "comics journalism" can be a confusing, abstract concept. Like I said above, if I just hand you an issue, it's a whole different experience. Anyone can buy copies on the site or Big Planet Comics.
And why nonfiction? I've always been most interested in true stories and real people. Joe Sacco is the real master of this stuff, and he really opened my eyes to the possibilities. But I always wondered if there was a place for the journalism I really loved, like This American Life, in the medium of comics. And there are a ton of advantages to comics as a storytelling medium. Shooting a documentary about space? That's hard. Drawing a comic about space? Less hard.
How did the Guerilla Vending partnership happen? I started talking to them about what I could contribute, and we landed on the idea of creating original art. One of my favorite artists is this guy Steve Keene, whose paintings are super affordable and accessible. So for the vending machine, I'm doing tiny (2.75" x 3.75") colored pencil drawings that I watercolor on top of. These are one-of-a-kind. They aren't reproductions. The idea is that you don't have to be rich, or have a ton of wall space, in order to start your own collection of handmade original art. You can support a local artist and brighten up your place at the same time!
Tell us about Six Months of Seinfeld! OK, so I have this really silly thing where I decided that I would watch all of Seinfeld by the end of the year and blog my gut reaction to each episode. It has been a total joy so far. Completely painless. It's this show that everyone loves, and everyone has seen a ton of it. But what's it like to rewatch it from the beginning? There are all sorts of things that I'm noticing for the first time that just fascinate me for some reason.
Lastly - advice for aspiring illustrators + cartoonists? Draw. Take the pressure off yourself. Buy the cheapest notebooks you can. Read Lynda Barry. Bringing it all around: listen to Jerry Seinfeld's advice. Don't talk out loud about your creative aspirations too much. Become part of the community and know what's out there! Both online and at events like SPX coming up in September.