Q & A with Alex Joon Kim

For this installment of Q & A, I spoke with indie creator Alex Joon Kim, whose most recent work, Night Machine, is one of the most intriguing comics of the year. Alex was gracious enough to answer some questions:

Jeffrey Hayes: In reading Night Machine, it struck me initially as a commentary on stress related illness. Did such an idea come about in creating the piece, or are there other aspects of society you were commenting on and trying to communicate?

Alex Joon Kim: The idea of stress related illnesses did play a part in the creation of the comic. The idea for Night Machine first came about when I lived in an apartment that had rats (I remember them being the size of my forearm, but that’s probably an exaggeration). I eventually caught some and stopped the rest from coming into my place, but for a few weeks I could hardly sleep or would wake up at the slightest noise (could be a rat!). It was a studio apartment in New York City, so when the rats came in, we were in the same room and there were lots of noises for me to get paranoid about. I also did take to walking around with a broom just in case. Anyhow, those sleepless nights started the idea, and from there it sort of turned into exploring the idea of someone turning inward to deal with exterior stress. Not very profound, I know… but there it is.

JH: The idea of sleeplessness, the subconscious world breaking through into the conscious world begins to unfold quickly in Night Machine. It seems that the narrator becomes more attached to the world he creates, this sort of apocalyptic version of the city, in which he puts himself on a quest to find “the thing that did all the burning.” Do you perceive a lot of dissatisfaction amongst people about “society,” or the way things are structured? Have our dreams become our only place to find meaning? I ask because the narrator seemed to slowly withdraw more and more as the story progressed ultimately preferring the fabricated world.

AK: I think the narrator is definitely dissatisfied with his place in ‘society’ and ventures further and further into his ‘dreams’ as a result. And he does become very attached to the world he’s created. I like to think it’s a world that he’s very familiar with and one he’s been going to for a long time. I think the bus is his ‘safe place,’ the place he would imagine when he needed comfort, and the apocalyptic city grew around that. The more he feels he needs to escape the real world, the more time he spends in his bus and the more attached he becomes to that world.

JH: A lot of your comics work posted on your blog, including Night Machine, seems to showcase themes of despair and undefined, or intangible, forces wreaking havoc. Are these conscious decisions or does it just come out in the creative process for you?

AK: It’s mostly conscious decisions that bring out those themes. I like putting characters in extreme and desperate circumstances and seeing where the story goes from there. I’ve gotten more deliberate about it, having a fully fleshed out story thumbnailed before penciling and inking, but it started out a little haphazard. I’ve also been adding more physical/supernatural elements to those forces rather than keeping them more emotional/internal. Night Machine was an experiment in combining those two, and hopefully I’ll be able to explore it further in the future.

JH: What kinds of art, or artists, have had the greatest impact on your work?

AK: I went to undergrad for architecture, and modernist architects and designers are a huge influence on me. It’s not always evident, but I think the most obvious way it comes out is in how I like to see ‘space’ in my comics and how I work out page layouts. I also think that impact is getting more and more subtle as I try to focus on keeping the story the driving force in my comics. I’ve also been looking at a lot of Asian prints and calligraphy lately. Jim Lee’s X-Men run in the early ‘90s made me love superheroes and Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth got me back into comics after many years (since that X-Men run).

JH: You currently run a website/blog (http://www.alexkimcomics.com/) to showcase your work, so I wanted to ask, where do you see webcomics, or even web based art, as an influence in the next five years on comics culture? Will it continue to expand?

AK: I think it will continue to expand. It’s a great and immediate way to get your work out there.

JH: I know you are very busy, so I will wrap up with this question: What is up next for you on the website? Are there any print collections of the work we can look forward to?

AK: All the comics on my website are available in print, though in black and white. I draw and self-publish my comics first and take them around to comic conventions, and then work on getting them colored and put up on the internet. I really need to be more attentive to my website, but sometimes it feels like a choice between working on new comics or posting stuff. I think that’s a bad way of looking at it, and I’m working on finding a more balanced approach. I’m currently working on a story called ‘Dumpling King’ for Oily Comics and an adventure comic series that takes place in feudal Korea (well, sort of). I’ve also been thinking about starting a personal anthology type comic, but there’s only so much time in one day. I’ll hopefully also add a small and modest store to my website soon.

My thanks to Alex Joon Kim. Check out Night Machine and other work at his blog/website http://www.alexkimcomics.com/ .