Sunday, August 28, 2011
Presenting Tommy Kovac…A very talented man
I would like tot introduce you to Tommy Kovac, one of the most talented individuals I know. Tommy is a writer and an illustrator. The way he weaves a story is fabulous. His art work challenges the heart and mind. And his imagination…just WOW. Here’s your chance to get to know a little about the one and only (I think) TOMMY KOVAC
How long have you been writing?
I’ve written stories as long as I can remember, from the time I first learned how to write. Creative writing was my favorite thing to do in school, when they’d just let us be free to make up our own stories. Luckily for me, I’m not one of those people who gets intimidated by a blank page! I love it
What inspired you to start writing?
I guess it must have been the fact that my parents read to me so much, and created an atmosphere at home that was “rich in print material.” That’s a phrase that springs to mind from working in public education, because usually if a child struggles with reading it’s because there’s nothing at home to read. I have many idyllic memories of sitting right between my mom and dad and us reading a book together. I was a lucky only child.
I started making up my own stories at a young age partly because I enjoyed READING stories so much, and partly because my brain was always taking off on its own path and imagining what the story would be like if it went in a different direction. I’d be slightly dissatisfied and start re-directing the story in my head.
Tommy, you’re also an illustrator. Do you ever struggle between writing and drawing?
All the time! I love both processes, but finding the time to devote to each of them is tough. Especially since I work full time, and have a wonderful husband and awesome family and friends. I’m sure you know how hard it is to find the time for everything you want to do creatively while not ignoring your family!
I also sometimes struggle with new story ideas, trying to figure out whether it would be best as a novel, or an illustrated book, or an actual comic book/graphic novel. That can be a tough call sometimes. I think it’s very important to leave certain things to the reader’s own imagination. It’s also a time issue, because if I decide a certain story DOES need illustrations of some kind, it’s going to take me a lot longer than if it were just prose. And I mean a LOT longer.
How did you discover your ‘voice’?
I have no idea. I think it’s probably a very good thing that I was writing and drawing at such a young age, decades before I ever joined any kind of writer’s group or attended any writing workshops. If I had heard the term “writer’s voice,” and had to THINK about my own, I probably would have struggled with it a lot more. Over-thinking anything creative can be very dangerous.
Having said that, once I DID start learning about the actual “craft” of writing, it helped immensely. It’s great to be able to identify the different aspects of what you’re doing. Now that I’m familiar with the concept of a writer’s voice, I feel I can use it more to my advantage. Know what I mean?
Why did you choose to write for children?
I like creating stories, and some just end up being appropriate for children, or for an “all ages” audience. There are tons of things I want to do creatively, at different times!
When I was fresh out of high school and looking for a job, I had no idea where to focus my efforts. My mom suggested thinking about what I enjoy personally, and finding a job that suits that. I thought, “Well, I collect beautifully illustrated children’s books like Sendak and other classic children’s illustrators,” so I looked up “children’s bookstores” in the yellow pages. I called the first one I found and they just happened to be hiring. I got the job, and it was a great experience that solidified my interest in children’s publishing. (Incidentally, that’s where I met Julie! She was doing story times there.)
Some of my co-workers also worked part-time at a public library in the children’s room, and when the little independent bookstore closed, I got a job there.
When I eventually found a publisher for my comics, the first 3 series I created were very edgy and had lots of mature humor. People became familiar with me as a NON-child friendly creator. But my publisher knew I had it in me to change gears and do something different. He asked me to write “Wonderland,” for a project with Disney Press, and some people were very surprised at the results. They assumed it would be twisted and dark, coming from me, but that would have been so wrong for that project. I’m a big Lewis Carroll fan, and wanted to honor his original work. We were going for a “timeless” feel, and I’m very proud of what we created.
Then that same publisher asked me to write an Oz-related series, and although “The Royal Historian of Oz” is a little edgier than “Wonderland,” it is still all-ages appropriate. The main character is a 15-year-old boy, though, so because of the viewpoint it’s probably best for junior high and high school.
Which is your favorite age group to write for?
By the time I’m done with an all-ages project, I’d say writing for adults is my favorite because by that time I miss it. By the time I’m done with something twisted, dark, and dirty, I’d say writing for kids is my favorite because by that time I miss THAT. It all has to balance out, in this continuing rotation.
What media do you prefer for illustrating?
Black ink on white paper. My favorite pen is a pure black double-tipped Zig Memory Writer. I think they’re intended for scrapbooking because they’re archival quality pigment ink, but they’re perfect for what I do because they’re non-bleeding and waterproof, and the fine-tipped end is plastic and keeps a very sharp line for a long time. My favorite paper to draw on is vellum cardstock. It took me many years to find that pen and that paper!
If I need color I’ve become pretty comfortable with Copic markers (used a lot for Manga, but the color range is amazing), and pastel pencils for shading. I can use them with that same lovely vellum paper and my Zig pens.
What are you favorite children’s books? Authors?
I love Tove Jansson’s “Moomintroll” series, originally written in Finnish and translated. She also did newspaper comics about the Moomins, but I prefer her illustrated chapter books. They’re so charming and full of quirky little characters that have very bohemian attitudes. She also did all of her own stylized black & white line illustrations, and that had a big influence on me.
Also- Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (both of them), the Oz series by Baum (all 14 books!), and Maurice Sendak’s illustrated picture books (Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Outside Over There are my faves). There are more, of course, but those are my core favorites!
If you could have an author as your mentor, who would you choose? What about illustrator?
Wow, that’s a hard one. I don’t know if I could come up with just one for each. I don’t think any one creator has all the answers.
How do you keep going when you get an industry ‘no thank you’?
That’s when I usually write or draw something totally hideous, that’s so wrong and obnoxious I don’t think anybody would ever publish it. The kind of thing that makes ME giggle hysterically. It’s usually a parody of something I think we see too much of in publishing these days, so I can get my bitter rage out by lampooning the crap publishers say YES to, when they could be publishing MY crap. I guess the core of that impulse is to get back to creating just for the sake of it, for my own enjoyment in the process, not because I’m focused on what I think may get published.
Have you ever been offered a contract that you knew was not in your best interest? How did you handle that?
No, I don’t think I have. Mostly because I’m not very good at protecting my own best interest! And because I haven’t had a whole lot of offers. You could definitely make an argument for the Disney partnership project (Wonderland) not being in my best interest, but I did it anyway! I just really wanted to write about Wonderland and those fascinatingly crazy characters.
I did turn down an opportunity to write a Peter Pan series for my comics publisher. That was NOT one of those books I read and loved as a child. I love the Disney movie, I love the ride at Disneyland, but I don’t feel I have the familiarity with the original material that would be needed to do it justice. My publisher even asked me again, and maybe a third time later. I went as far as getting a copy of the original book and doing some research on the history of the story. It’s pretty interesting how J.M. Barrie did several incarnations of Peter Pan in book and play format. But I knew one of my fellow comics creators with that same publisher was very passionate about Peter Pan, so I kept suggesting to my publisher that he have THAT guy work on it. He finally did, although it probably had nothing to do with what I said. Anyway, that other creator showed me some of his work on it at Comic-Con in July and it looks totally AWESOME.
Do you participate in a critique group? Why/Why not?
Yes, I do! When I can work it into my schedule, that is. I belonged to an online critique group for a short time, but just didn’t click with the other members. Then a friend (Julie) helped get me an invite to my current group, and it’s totally awesome. I mean that! I’m not just saying that because you’re in it, and because they’ll probably read this! Seriously, it has been the best experience and I feel I’ve grown immeasurably as a writer. Because of the process of being in a critique group and having to read your work out loud to a bunch of people you’re not related or married to, and because these people happen to have a great deal of talent and good advice.
I’m just frustrated that I don’t have more Saturdays when I can make it to the group. Sometimes it’s a very hard call to make, whether to go to critique, or to stay home and use that time to actually write or draw on my current projects. Sometimes I have copying, assembly, and mailing to do, as well. (Because of my indie self-published zine works)
Do you have a Social Media presence? Why?
Yes. I started out with a website and a “LiveJournal” account, mainly because I really get a lot out of the interaction with my readers and fans, and wanted to make sure they could find me if they wanted to. I truly believe if what you’ve created has made a real positive difference in ONE other human being’s life, then it’s worth it. Even my raunchy stuff has a definite viewpoint and real opinions, and I’ve felt incredibly energized by fans who have taken the time to contact me and tell me that it meant a lot to them. Having that boost has made ME take the time to contact other creators who have affected me in the same way, to let them know. I didn’t realize before how important that could be, to get that feedback.
Now, as you know, we creators are constantly bombarded by the “need” for a social media presence. I guess I feel that it’s important to be able to interact with your fans, to make yourself accessible to them. You both get a lot out of that. But you have to be careful not to spend all your free time keeping up with all the social media blathering, and not actually creating!
Where can we find you?
library-themed blog: www.smellslikelibrary.blogsot.com/
everything else-themed blog: www.tommykovac.blogspot.com/
Amazon’s page for my upcoming graphic novel release (October 11, 2011)
My comics publisher’s online shop with my stuff
What is your dream writing related event? Illustrating?
Right now I really want to finish writing a middle-grade fantasy chapter book with one illustration per chapter. It’s called The Weirdling Woods. I originally created the concept as an animated series for a Nickelodeon producer who was interested in working with me. She liked the concept a lot, but although we spent a lot of time working through it, it just never panned out. The good thing is that I retain all the rights to it, and can still use it! It’s about a gentle little boy named Clayton who is transported to a fantasy world, where he becomes friends with a good little witch named Thistle.
Before I really get to work on that, though, I’m trying to wrap my head around the eBook revolution and get a few stories listed with Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thank you for taking the time and interest to interview me, Stephanie! You’re the best.
Thank you Tommy for spending this time with me and allowing me to share you with the blog world.