KAPOW!by Sean O'Toole / 16.02.2011
Here are some facts not crammed into Cape Town cartoonist Joe Daly’s two-line Wikipedia profile. His graphic novels are a riot, especially Scrublands, his first US published book. His debut graphic novel Red Monkey, was first serialized in SL, then under the editorship of Mahala’s publishing impresario, Maximum Davis. Um, what else? He smokes blunts, pretty much everyday, a fact that has lent shape and texture to his stoner narratives. His draftsmanship is compelling, especially when it lets go, becomes experimental and oddly psychedelic, as in his remarkable and wordless story Prebaby. More? His male characters do “hugsies”, but also beat up their enemies with baseball bats. Last year he won the jury prize at the 2010 Festival International de la Bande Desinée d’Angoulême (think of it as a best supporting actor prize) for the French edition of Dungeon Quest, the first installment of his four-part adventure featuring Millennium Boy, Lash Penis, Nerdgirl and, of course, stoner Steve. If I had to venture a speculation, I’d say that there’s a vague relationship between Steve and Daly, although the cartoonist doesn’t sport Steve’s “flab vest” – Daly is super skinny. He also wears glasses. In person he is kinda shy, but really a genial conversationalist when you get to that point, part Jesse Eisenberg circa The Squid and the Whale, and Jeff Lebowski, well, long before the Coen Brothers and that epic magic carpet ride.
I presume you read all the standard texts as a child: Tintin, Asterix, Luck Like, Marvel and DC. Of these ‘foundation texts’, which left the most enduring impression of you?
I did read those comics, although not much of Lucky Luke (which was somewhat more obscure in South Africa, I think). The Adventures of Tintin was my favourite from the beginning, and is possibly objectively the best comic when viewed in retrospect also (although that’s not an inarguable statement). Whatever other influences effect my comics worldview, I always end up coming back to Tintin. It’s an impeccable foundation text in terms of characters, story telling and artwork. I also appreciate the fact that it’s written and drawn by one person, George Remi aka Herge (although I know he had studio assistance later in the series). It’s a complete creation, in that way, there’s a deep level of cohesion between the drawing and the narrative. I deeply admire other works besides Tintin, however Tintin could possibly be seen as one the most useful foundations for a student of comics.
My first encounter with you was with the Red Monkey serial in SL. Was that your first published strip?
Yes. Besides primordial comics I’d made for the school magazines/newspaper that was my first ‘real’ publication. You can see that I was still getting my shit together on that one, which features excessive use of digital airbrush, unattractive computer lettering, too much dialogue, stilted drawings and so on. It also took way too long too produce. So I somewhat want to excuse myself on that one, however I’m still quite fond of aspects of it. For people who wondered what happened to the Red Monkey (locally), I somewhat remastered the colour in that original 32 page story and created another, entirely new Red Monkey story. It is over 70 pages in length, all the lettering was re-done professionally for both stories and they appear together in a full colour book called the Red Monkey Double Happiness, published in 2009 by Fantagraphics (US). It’s quirky, it’s retro, it’s quite detailed, and subtle in parts, it took me longer to produce than any comic I’ll probably ever make in the future and it’s currently my most underrated book (in my ‘humble’ opinion).
How did the French and American publishing gigs come about?
In a nutshell: I submitted the first Red Monkey material to Fantagraphics in 2001. After a long wait, they showed some interest in it, however, one year later they decided to pass on it, so I moved on to working on the Scrublands material for my own satisfaction. Then out of the blue, about a year after they passed on it, they contacted me to say they wanted to publish the Red Monkey if I expanded the project into more material so it could be published as a graphic novel. I showed them my Scrublands material which interested them immediately, so they ended up publishing that book first (in 2006), while I got to work on creating a new much longer Red Monkey story. Around this time I attended a comics festival on Reunion Island (French) with the Bitterkomix crew, and managed to show my work to JC Menu, who’s the big boss of L’Association publishing house in France. He was already planning a Bitterkomix publication and my material interested him too, and thus began my relationship with L’Association and the great world of French comics. I make this all sound neat and easy, however, there were actually a lot of ins and outs along the way, which were somewhat torturous sometimes. All the while I was also working on commercial and education illustration jobs (from time to time) to make rent. I wasn’t given big advances for my graphic novels. I still don’t get them. It’s just not that kind of business most of the time.
You won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Festival International de la Bande Desinée d’Angoulême for your new book, Dungeon Quest. What does that actually mean?
It means temporarily my work gets highlighted to the European (particularly French) comics buying public, which I regard as my first true stroke of absolute luck. At least it feels that way, even though perhaps I totally deserved to win a jury prize. I think it temporarily increased my books sales, although perhaps not as dramatically as one would assume. There was no prize money involved, and I wasn’t there (in Angouleme); my publisher accepted the award statuette of my behalf, which they’re keeping for me on their shelf, because it might get broken if they ship it to me. It hasn’t really changed my life, but it’s a freaking HUGE honor and a very good thing, I think.
The Bitterkomix crew featured in Scrublands. How important is/was Bitterkomix to you, as a comic book artist and storyteller?
They were the first and only underground, art-based South African comics publication that I’d encountered. That in itself was hugely influential in that it marked a point where now this COULD be done. Additionally the work was pretty mind-blowing back in the 1990’s. It’s still powerful now, but back then it had this truly dangerous, forbidden, Promethean energy to it. And in addition to that, I got to meet Conrad (Konradski), Anton (Joe Dog) and Marc (Lorcan White), and discovered that they’re wonderfully civilized, gentle, intelligent, helpful human beings. You could say that they kicked the door open, through which I was able to pass, even though I’ve taken a different course.
There’s a Big Lebowski sub-plot to some of your comics. Got to ask, have you ever been arrested for the possession of marijuana?
What me? Smoke marijuana? Never! Okay, that’s not quite true. No, I haven’t been arrested for possession, which is somewhat mysterious and magical, since I’ve smoked much marijuana in our great land. I’ve smoked marijuana responsibly and in moderation almost every day of my life since I was 19 (I’m almost 32 now). I also drink coffee and eat breakfast cereal in moderation almost everyday of my life. My marijuana smoking doesn’t slow me down or lead me to be de-motivated, I drew well over 200 pages of comics last year.