Josh Farkas: Escaping the waiting Rooms
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2005
By: Darren Schroeder
The graphic designer, author, illustrator, font designer, and head suit of Water Media made a splash with his graphic novel Nothing Left to Lose at SPX in 2004. I decided to find out what all the fuss was about.
Darren Schroeder: What is your full name?
Joshua Roy Farkas
DS: What was the first comic you published yourself and how did that come about?
JRF: Nothing Left to Lose is actually my first self-published comic.
I've always made comics, and printed them up for friends, but was never interested in doing the mini-thing to start. I love minis, but it seemed like too much work for no payoff. So when I went my sophmore year of college I decided I was ready to make a debut book on a large scale.
It needed to something daring - something that even seasoned professionals had trouble with. A graphic novel that made people wonder "Where did this guy come from?". And I wanted it all to debut at SPX.
Last fall, Nothing Left to Lose was a suprise hit at SPX and from then on out I've been learning the ropes firsthand.
DS: So what sort of handy hints for the self publisher have you picked up?
- Do your research. Everything about printing, distribution, & promotion exists out there somewhere, either online or in a bookstore. Ask if you have to. It is your job to find it and put it into action.
- Don't jump in until you're ready. And when you do, don't ever half-ass anything with your name on it.
- Learn how to design. It will have a profound impact on the decisions you make. The best comic artists are storytellers and designers first, then artists. If that isn't enough incentive, it will save you lots of cash.
- If you build it, they won't necessarilly come. No one cares about another book from someone they have never heard of. In order to sell enough to make it worthwhile you'll need to learn about the book industry. Talk to distributors. Learn how to promote on a shoestring budget. Putting something on a website and sitting back is what hundreds of millions have already done. You need to be different. And if you don't pursue distribution & marketing with the same passion you created your book with, you'll be in for some hard times. Printing is where your battle begins, and then it gets harder.
- You're selling yourself as much as your work. Keep this in mind with everything you say & do.
- You can be better than the big boys because you can move twice as fast. Use it to your advantage. Strike hard and leave them wondering what you'll do next.
DS: What was the weirdest thing you saw at SPX?
JRF: Lots of great stuff there, but it would have to be the 7 foot tall high schooler walking around in homemade chain mail. He let me try it on, and the thing was like 50 pounds! Then he had comic artists deface "high art" in one of his books from class.
That guy ruled.
DS: How did you get interested in comics?
JRF: Instead of holding me back from buying comics, my mom would pick up anything to make me excited to read. I loved them, but lost interest as I got older and kept reading the same thing.
I would never have thought of pursuing comics for a career if it wasn't for my local library. They were caught up in the early 90's graphic novel craze and weren't afraid to pick up underground titles. I was a teenager, and thought I'd seen all comics had to offer - instead I found comic stories for adults.
I'd never seen anything like them before. Stories with people's real lives playing out on paper. Comics that didn't need to rely on flashy design or color, but were just as compelling in anything in the mainstream.
And I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
DS: How well patronised was the comics section of the library?
JRF: I know that it must've been pretty popular, because for a few years they bought nearly every new alternative graphic novel. And finding a hot title within the first few months was pretty difficult. (Even indy!)
DS: Any individual titles/creators that stand out as having made an impression on you then?
JRF: Adrian Tomine's 32 Stories
Daniel Clowes? Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron
Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library
Dave McKean's Cages
These were all revelations to me. Each one had its own clear voice & style that went beyond what I thought was possible in comics.
DS: What does the term small press mean to you?
JRF: Freedom. Hapiness. Control.
Bad things come up too, but you have to respect anyone who is willing to risk their hard earned cash on a dream.
DS: You mention on your website that while a Sophomore in High School you were diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder. What effect did the disorder and the diagnose have on you at the time?
JRF: It really turned my world inside out. I just assumed my life was over.
Being a teenager can be hard by itself, but learning that in ten years I may not have control over my thoughts was terrifying. After finding alternative comics, and knowing this is what I was meant to do, it was doubly painful.
Eventually I saw therapists and took anti-psychotic medication, because I thought these doctors had the answers. But in retrospect, I was too young to make those choices.
The drugs eventually caused my drawing hand to shake. I had to decide which was worse? My hand shaking or the possiblity of me going over the edge.
All in all, it sobbered me up. Once I came to and took an honest look at the situation, I realized my condition was very mild. I shouldn't have been placed on heavy medication to begin with. The treatment was a thousand times worse than the cure.
It knocked some sense into me, and I learned I needed to think for myself from now on. I also knew that I needed to make the most of my life from then on.
DS: How hard was it convincing the Doctor you were stopping the treatment?
JRF: Not as hard as you'd imagine. They basically felt they'd done their job and played a part in silently "curing" me.
In my opinion, most folks who go into that profession (psychology/psychiatry) do so because they have something to prove to themselves. They could care less about their patients - you're just a puzzle waiting to be solved.
DS: Why don't doctors ever have anything worth reading in their waiting rooms?
JRF: Ha! As a secret HMO form of torture? Who the hell reads Better Homes & Gardens anyway?!
DS: What picture (Photo, painting, drawing etc) if any has had the greatest impact on you?
JRF: I've really been so influenced by many artists, I can't really point to one in particular.
DS: Where do you live?
JRF: About 25 minutes outside Chicago in Lombard, Illinois.
DS: Is there much of a local comic scene there?
JRF: As far as I can tell locally - no.
Chicago is a really thriving scene at the moment though. With the stunning work of the Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, John Hankowitz, and Anders Nilsen, mixed with the legendary Chicago shops, it is the perfect setting for upcoming artists.
DS: Is there a strong network of creators there/ Regular meeting/get-togethers/fights?
JRF: For the gentlemen above, I know there is. I think the area around Quimby's and Chicago comics is filled with thousands of similar skinny, 20-somethings doodling their fantasies in some form or another.
I tend to work on comics alone, hiding the story from only close friends until it is finished. Comics are such a personal and cathartic act for me that I wouldn't feel comfortable in a group setting.
DS: What work have you been doing recently?
JRF: I'm working on a 32-page comic called Q W E R T Y which is about the sacrifices people are willing to make for family. This will debut for free on Refreshingcontent.com in the Spring 2005 with a print version to hit independent stores shortly after.
Also working on a book with the really pretentious name The Everlasting Effects of a Butterscotch Smile. It is made up of funny short stories in an attempt to show that I'm not always a bitter asshole. It should be ready by Fall 2005.
But the one I'm most excited about is Welcome to Pixleton. I've had the idea sitting around for years, but I'm still terrified someone will do it before I have a chance. It is unique in it's format, style, and content. And that isn't even mentioning the coolest part
but it will debut in some form this year, with the rest coming in 2006.
Oh, and then there is a an Action Fetus mini-comic, and another 24-hour mini in there too.
(WHEW! And no sleep apparently!)
DS: Care to elaborate on Welcome to Pixleton's format?
JRF: I would love to but since I've never heard of a comic like this before, I'll have to hold my cards close until the fall. It is really something completely opposite what I have done before. It is light-hearted, full color, and completely interac....oh wait I've said too much.
DS: What's was appealing about the 24 Hour comic process for you?
JRF: It helped me build confidence, because you can't second-guess any decisions, or redraw any pages. It also give me a gauge for what I can produce in one day which I help to use as a measure when planning out stories.
DS: Would you do it again?
JRF: I'd love to do one a month if my schedule wasn't so odd.
DS: What sort of distribution process do you use for your books?
JRF: I work with a very talented sales representative by the name of Tony Shenton. He supports many independent comic artists across the nation, and does a wonderful job of spreading new work to comic stores at next to nothing.
The sad truth is - the amount of stores that are interested in items that aren't published through Diamond is dropping by the year.
But new work is also always available on my site or conventions.
DS: What makes you buy a comic?
JRF: It needs to be unique.
Whether an original concept, or format, or style - I love books that feel like only that person could have created them. There is nothing cooler than having an approach that is recognizable from across the room.
And I'm not a big fan of artists sitting on their laurels. If you win acclaim, you now need to work twice as hard to keep it interesting for fans and for yourself.
DS: What sort of formal art training, if any, have you had?
JRF: I graduated with an associates degree in Advertising, Design, and Illustrtaion but my experience has been largely in the field.
Starting in high school through college I worked as the lead illustrator for a children's book company. By the time I graduated I had 11 complete books to my name. I went from there and interned for a local indy comics creator, where I was production assistant in order see what goes on in the backend just to be safe I hadn't missed anything.
I think the best art experience you can have is being driven and working hard until you find your rhythm.
DS: Interning - a learning experience or slave labour?
JRF: A healthy mixture of both!
I can honestly count the important 'art' lessons I learned this way on one hand, but that said, I wouldn't have given up the experience for anything. It is a great opportunity to see firsthand why a person is succesful.
And it is learning how to deal with the everyday situations that are invaluable. Best of all, if you can see ways to use what they did and make it more efficient then you skip a lot of the tedious labor that can get in the way of making cool comics.
DS: What are the differences you found between illustrating a childrens' book and doing a comic
JRF: The main shock was finding a voice using panels.
In kids books all you have is splash pages. You take the main idea of the page and translate it fairly literally. But in comics, there is much more room to let the illustration have a voice of it's own. Instead of one large idea, you can break an image up into a sequence where the image will decide the story's emphasis. It makes for a much more personal read.
DS: Describe your comics workspace for us.
JRF: I have a neon green office with my Dual Monitor G4 at one side and the drawing table with materials across the way. Hanging on the walls are a few framed copies of the campiest comics I could find. I just adored this stuff as a kid, and they help me remember why I'm doing this.
I've learned that the space plays a big part in how often I work, and how I feel when I'm do it. So I try to keep lots of toys, and fun crap in there, so when I'm up at 4 in morning trying to get stuff right it keeps me distracted.
DS: Which campiest comics are there?
JRF: At the moment, Super Mario Bros #1, The legend of Zelda #1, and Sonic the Hedgehog #0. They're inspiration for Welcome to Pixelton.
DS: What is your favourite piece of drawing equipment, and why?
JRF: Pigma Microns! They are some sort of unholy super pen that snuck their way into the public for only $1.99. The brush ones rock too.
DS: I googles for images of Pigma Microns and got...
Ever draw any furry animals yourself?
JRF: That is some creepy stuff. I'd be afraid to.
DS: So where does the G4 fix in your comic creation process? I'm guessing you use it for lettering...
JRF: I actually do a lot of my art in the computer once it gets scanned in. From retouching panels to completely redoing pages - there is a great bit of flexibility that ink and paper don't have. With a Wacom tablet and a decent computer you can tweak a good page into a great page in little time.
From my experience there are quite a few comic artists who feel that this is cheating, or that it lessens "real" ink and paper art. In my opinion, it is now necessary to rely on this as another tool to keep up with the speed and quality seen in other forms of commercial art.
With Welcome to Pixelton, I'm giving an entirely digitally created comic a try. Creating a lush and realistic world this way took a bit of time, but I'm really excited with results. And because I have a consistent library to draw from, the speed in creating an impressive page is about 1/4 the time.
DS: What made you decide to create your own font?
JRF: I have horrible handwriting and honestly this would just help save me a ton of time. Plus, I could change text up until the last minute without it being a big pain. It just seemed like a good thing to do.
Once I learned how easy it was it also seemed like a great way to add another unique incentive to check out the site.
DS: If you saw someone stealing a copy of your comic from a shop what would you do about it?
JRF: Probably let them take it...then I'd go and pay for it on my way out.
DS: Could you turn a spoon into a comic?
JRF: If the spoon paid me enough money, then yes.
DS: Do have your stories fully scripted before you begin drawing?
JRF: Yeah, I find this works really well for me.
On NLtL I learned how daunting it can be when you write yourself in a corner when you don't script an entire story. Though I had an idea of where it was going, it would've been much better had I sat down and just wrote the whole thing out.
Using QERTY as an example, I've probably completely rewritten it five or six times. Everytime I'm able to pull an idea or scene out that I think worked well, and compress it into this 32 page story.
DS: Would you give a copy of your comic as birthday present?
JRF: Unless somebody expressed interest in it, I just wouldn't feel right about it. Or maybe if I hated them. :)
At this point Josh ceased replying to my e-mails. Hope he's okay. If you see him in a comic shop near you tell him to get in touch.
You can check out more of Josh's work at: http://www.refreshingcontent.com
If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me