10 Questions with Joshua W. Cotter

This month we have the pleasure of chatting with one of the most talented cartoonists to emerge in the last dozen, or so years. Joshua W. Cotter exploded onto the small press comics scene in 2004 with his self-published, Isotope Award winning mini-comic Skyscrapers of the Midwest.

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AdHouse Books would go on to publish 4 issues, and a hardcover collection of the series. Cotter’s stories of adolescent struggles, and limitless imagination are occupied by anthropomorphic cat characters, and giant robots. After completing Skyscrapers, Joshua would go through a difficult period in his life in the late 2000’s, and he bravely exorcised his demons for all to see in the surreal, emotionally taxing Driven by Lemons, also published by AdHouse.

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Today, you can see Cotter hitting his stride as a storyteller with his current project Nod Away. New pages are posted every week on Study Group’s website. The character-driven, science-fiction story stars human characters, instead of the aforementioned “cat people”. Also, Cotter is working on another comic that will be included in a future printed book of Nod Away.

So, let’s all grab a snack, and enjoy these wonderfully revealing answers by a true cartoonist’s cartoonist, Joshua W. Cotter.

1. Calvin or Hobbes?

I’ll go with Hobbes.  Since I have to choose, faced with a choice between reality and imagination…

2. Do you ever drink and draw? If not, any other vices(food/drink/drugs/other) you partake in while making art??

When I was younger.  Not anymore.  The comic making process is essentially a continuous series of decisions, and I’ve found even the smallest quantities of alcohol can muddle my thinking and impair my ability to ink at my desired level of detail, as well.  I quit smoking after my son was born, so my only current vice is caffeine.

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3. Currently, you’re posting pages each week of your new comic Nod Away on Study Group’s website. I love it. It’s an engrossing sci-fi drama, and it’s great how you take your time “fleshing out” the different characters. I understand that this will be included in your next book, along with another story. Can you tell us more about that other story, and how(or if) it’s related to Nod Away?

Thanks.  The second story is independent of the first and is kind of a post-apocalyptic, last man standing type scenario. I’ve always been fascinated with post-apocalyptic stories, and while I do realize a lot of books and film have been produced in that particular sub-genre over the years, I don’t feel it’s necessarily over saturated or tapped out.  With Nod Away I’m interested in working in these preexisting confines, utilizing genre archetypes… kind of starting out with traditional storytelling and then bending the framework along the way.  See what happens.  If that makes any sense.

4. What was the last good movie you’ve seen?

My wife and I had a kid a couple years ago so we don’t get to see as many movies as we’d like.  Or at least when we’d like.  Plus we moved to the country and the nearest theater that plays anything decent is 90 miles away.  Fortunately they come out on blu-ray fairly quickly any more.  So. while my new favorite movie may be Boyhood, Birdman or Interstellar, I won’t know for a while.  The recent one that’s been sticking with me is ‘Take Shelter’.  Directed by Jeff Nichols.  His other films have been really strong, too, but ‘Take Shelter’ is on my mind a lot.  Not only is he an excellent storyteller, he develops strong, believable characters. Honest depictions of Midwestern working class people without a reliance on stereotype. (I just looked up ‘Take Shelter’ on IMDB and saw it came out in 2011.  I guess it’s really sticking with me.  More recently I’ve also enjoyed ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘Under the Skin’.)

Woo-hoo! Another Under the Skin mention; one of my favorites, along with Birdman. -AY

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5. So, I read that you had to ditch your old website about a year, or so ago, because it got hacked. Now you have a tumblr site, where you post art, and talk about your process. On one hand, you can’t feel too bad about being hacked, because it seems to be happening to just about everyone(Sony, Target, etc.), but on the other hand, it had to have been a traumatic experience to go through. Has that ordeal changed you in any way, or changed your view of technology/internet?

I wouldn’t say it was really traumatic.  I was fed up with maintaining the site but the time it happened, anyway.  Websites aren’t really a necessity like they were a few years ago.  For artists, at least.  It’s a whole lot easier to just throw something on Tumblr/Facebook, write about it a bit, and move on.  More fitting for the current collective short attention span.

6. What other comics do you like reading(if any)? Do you collect comics, and/or anything else you can share with us?

I had extremely limited access to comics growing up… besides the Sunday funnies and whatever I could find at the grocery store there wasn’t much else.  I developed more of a taste for reading strips as a kid, and that’s carried over to adulthood.  The only things I collect regularly right now are the Fantagraphics Peanuts, Pogo and Mickey Mouse collections.  If I go to a con I’ll usually pick up a book or two so I can get it personalized. Recent books that I’ve really liked are Sam Sharpe’s ‘Viewotron #2′, Eleanor Davis’ ‘How to be Happy’ and Farel Dalrymple’s ‘The Wrenchies’. I’m sure if I lived near a comic shop and had expendable income there would be more.  I realize there’s internet shopping, but that’s a slippery slope.  Most of my comics are read online any more, in bits and pieces. Noah Van Sciver, Laura Park, Daniel Spottswood, Dustin Harbin, Jim Rugg, Mike Dawson, Trubble Club.  Etc.

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7. I’ve heard you talk about the difference between comics being for personal artistic expression versus being for escapist entertainment. As a reader, I feel your work accomplishes both. How do you see your own work, in this regard, and does the public’s expectations ever affect how you approach your comics? Also, if you could work on any mainstream comic, and could have complete creative freedom, which one would it be?

Finding a balance between art and escapism is what I’m usually going for. If you go too far into personal artistic expression it can become overly esoteric and you lose the reader.  (Unless you’re not really concerned about an audience.  Which is fine.) ‘Driven by Lemons’ was more esoteric than not, but after five years of working on ‘Skyscrapers’ I needed to allow myself a little indulgence for the sake of mental health.  I’m working for a balance with Nod Away… there will be sections of stream of consciousness and abstraction.  But story relevant.  Not abstraction for the sake of abstraction.  On the other hand, I don’t want to give in too much to an audience’s indulgence.  We live in a disposable society and I have no desire to play enabler.

As far as public expectations or who my audience is, I try not to think about it too much.  It’s definitely something I’m aware of, but I try to keep it in my periphery.  It could be crippling creatively if you give it too much thought.  I think Vonnegut said he wrote for his sister.  I try to do the same, entertaining different people in my mind with various characters and scenarios.  My brother, my wife.  And so on.

I don’t really know any current mainstream comics.  I haven’t read any for twenty-five years, probably.  I read a lot of the Jim Lee drawn ‘X-Men’/’Uncanny X-Men’ and the Eric Larsen drawn ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, but those characters have been done to death by now.  I used to read a lot of MAD.  Is MAD mainstream?  I’d like to do work for MAD.  But I don’t think that’s what your asking.  I don’t have a problem with mainstream comics…  I do find it interesting that characters that were developed over half a century ago are becoming even more popular today.  With a little help from Hollywood, of course.  But for whatever reason, I just don’t really care.

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8. Describe your worst dating experience.

I haven’t done much dating.  More of a low key, hanging out kind of person.  Always ended up being with people I already kind of knew…proximity friendships morphing into proximity relationships.  Um.  I can’t think of anything.  Probably repressed it.  Plenty of awkward experiences.

9. Have you ever had any funny, or embarrassing moments at a public appearance(conventions/art shows/etc.)? Any cartoonist feuds/brawls to speak of??

Maniac Cop cornered me at a con in Kansas City once and talked to me for half an hour about strippers.  I don’t remember the story specifically… I was kind of terrified the whole time.  And I was literally cornered in a corner.  Just search engine the guy.  Let me look up his name… Robert Z’dar.  Seriously, look at him.  He’s like eight feet tall.  Four feet wide.  80% jaw.

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10. What’s on the horizon for you in 2015? Will you still be adding items to your online store? I saw that you were closing it soon. Is that  permanent, or are you just updating some stuff?

In 2015 I’ll be finishing up the first volume of Nod Away.  There’s a possibility it will come out towards the end of the year, but more likely 2016.  I’ll take a week off, cut my hair and start on book two.  The store isn’t down permanently.  I’m leaving for Japan for a few weeks and won’t be able to mail stuff out.  When I return it will go back up in a condensed, non-holiday state.

Thanks for the questions, Andy.  I said a few years ago that I wasn’t going to do any more interviews, but what the hell.  I lied.

Well, thank you, Mr. Cotter,  for crawling out of your cartoonist cave and playing along!

*Pictures of Joshua W. Cotter, and his artwork borrowed from the intranets. Thx!

**Also, special thanks to my friend Jon Vinson for turning me onto Skyscrapers of the Midwest, back in the day.

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