It became clear to me early on that I wanted to write and draw my own stories. I had the fortune of working in the comic book world for five years, but sadly I didn’t have the speed, persistence or talent to make a career of it.
Still, my love affair has lasted as a reader of illustrated fiction in the years that followed and over the past 6 months I have been able to return to comics in a different capacity with our Wumpyre strip here on EmbraceNiagara.com
The thing that I learned from my years of dabbling in comics is how hard it is to write and draw a story as a professional and to find the discipline and consistency to focus your talent on a regular basis.
Any time I get a chance to see an interview or sit in on a panel that is about the process and learn more about the career of an accomplished storyteller who has chosen to craft their tales with words and pictures I will take it.
Last week the Niagara College Welland campus was the venue for a great conversation with Jon Klassen and Karl Kerschl hosted by William Thomas. This was part of the scheduled events associated with Niagara’s Cultural Capital of Canada designation.
For those who don’t know, Jon Klassen is a native of Niagara Falls. The Sheridan College graduate worked on a number of major motion pictures as part of a successful career in the animation industry but has recently gained tremendous success as the author and artist of the children’s book I Want My Hat Back (this #1 NY Times Best Seller was also recently chosen as one of the New York Times’ Best Illustrated Books of the Year).
Karl Kerschl was raised in Welland and has enjoyed an extensive career working as an artist in the comic book industry on iconic Marvel and DC characters. Despite Kerschl’s success in the mainstream, it was by immersing himself in the challenge of writing, drawing and producing the weekly webcomic Abominable Charles Christopher that has earned him multiple nominations of the prestigious Eisner Award for best digital comic. He won the award in 2011.
Klassen lives in Los Angeles now and Kerschl in Montreal. Both men share some recollections of growing up in Niagara — Klassen remembers the bike rides along the Niagara Parkway and Kerschl reminisces over missing the nature that was outside his door in Welland.
When asked about when he started drawing, Kerschl, the cartoonist replies, “Everyone draws when they are young, some people don’t stop.” Kerschl went to art school for a year, but his fixation on working in mainstream comics proved to be too much distraction from school and he returned home to focus on beginning his career.
Everyone draws when they are young, some people don’t stop – comic artist Karl Kerschl
Klassen explains that the technical part of drawing didn’t come easily to him, but he enjoyed drawing so much that he kept at it. His desire to keep drawing brought him to Sheridan to pursue a career in animation.
Both artists clearly stated that they went after their dream with focus and without a backup plan.
From that point the two artists took very different paths to get to their destinations. In Klassen’s case he had to move to LA and traveled from studios to get the kind of professional animation work he wanted. Kerschl began to get freelance work as an artist in the comic book industry and was able to do that work from his home in Niagara.
Both artists enjoyed great success in their chosen careers, but both were working as a key member of a creative teams on projects that they neither owned or controlled.
Both creators made a similar bold move to get into creator-controlled work that they could single-handedly write and draw.
Karl Kerschl responded to the challenge of some artists in the Toronto professional community to create a comic strip one episode at a time, once a week while he still maintained his commitments as an artist for the mainstream print comic industry. This strip was Abominable Charles Christopher and it was posted to a website where it could be read by the audience for free.
Jon Klassen began working on I Want My Hat Back in his evenings and spare time around his day job as an animator and concept artist. He only presented it to his agent when the book was complete and he didn’t know if there was a market or buyer for it.
In both cases these creations were projects of passion, work that the artists chose to do not knowing if there would be a paycheck or even an audience interested in reading their work.
The risk turned into reward for each of the creators.
Jon Klassen’s agent had 4 publisher offers within the first couple of days and the book I Want My Hat Back was received with great critical review and tremendous sales and transformed his career.
Kerschl’s Abominable Charles Christopher has won numerous awards and the graphic novels that reprint his collections have sold like hotcakes (Book Two now available).
In both cases, Kerschl and Klassen recognize that their original work is more personal than any of their other work and speaks to truth of who they are.
I asked both artists if growing up in Niagara had impacted their creative work they both admitted that their stories and art center around the natural environment that was such a big part of their childhood.
As someone who lives in Niagara it was a delight to see these two creative stars return home and share their stories with us.
On a personal level, as an artist and publisher it was great to discover the work of Jon Klassen (I don’t have any children in my home and hadn’t been exposed to his charming artwork and whimsical sense of humour).
In the case of Karl Kerschl’s work, I always enjoyed his mainstream work but have been loyal follower and champion of his webcomic Abominable Charles Christopher, which is the strongest example of nuanced storytelling, charming characters and beautiful artwork being published on the web today.
Have either of these best-selling author/artists impacted your life?
JUST THE FACTS about the Cultural Capital of Canada Designation:
The Cultural Capital of Canada designation is awarded on the basis of a candidate community’s achievements and its ongoing commitment to culture. Designated municipalities must also propose a series of projects that celebrates culture and integrates it into overall community planning. The program’s objective is to stimulate sustained community support for culture.
For more about Niagara as the Cultural Capital of Canada with the Niagara Culture website
For more about the author of I Want My Hat Back (and other great books) visit Jon Klassen’s website
For more about the author of Abominable Charles Christopher (and other great comics) visit Karl Kerschl’s website here