411 Politics Interview: August Pollak
Posted by Shawn Struck on 02.16.2007
411 Mania sits down with August Pollak, liberal political cartoonist, and talks about his artistic influences, Garfield, and the 2006 George W. Bush Dead Kitten Survey.
Shawn Struck, for 411 Mania: For those people who don't know, how did your work in political cartoons start?
August Pollak: I always wanted to draw cartoons; I made little comic books with stapled computer paper as early as six years old. I started a comic strip in college and it turned into a political strip around the fifth or six installment, mostly because the 2000 election season was starting. Politics tended to be a lot more interesting to do weekly topical strips about than generic college life/dating/sex/drug humor stuff anyway.
411Mania: Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Pollak: I went to animation school, so I'm inspired by a lot of animation pros as well as print cartoonists. I'm also influenced both by writing and drawing from certain people. Tom Tommorow was of course my first major political writing influence, along with Garry Trudeau and Ted Rall, all of whom I discovered my freshman year of college. My writing was also heavily influenced by Steve Purcell (Sam & Max) and I think it shows anytime I had XQUZYPHYR & Overboard talking to each other. As for long-form writing, nothing was a greater influence than Douglas Adams. And every morning I wake up wishing I could have the freeform thought patterns of Stephen Notely (Bob the Angry Flower).
For drawing, I love Bruce Timm [of the Batman animated series] and Bill Amend [of Foxtrot] because even though they're both very different in style they both incorporate a concept of incredible detail with as few lines as possible. Timm is the greatest cartoon character designer of my lifetime, closely followed by Steven Silver [who designed the characters for Kim Possible and the Clerks animated series] and I analyze both as much as I can.
At very root of it all, the two comics I remember reading as a small child were Garfield and Pogo, probably because I couldn't read and liked the funny animals. I learned to draw through Garfield and I guess the more I learned to read the more Pogo took over.
411Mania: If you could collaborate with any political cartoonist, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?
Pollak: I'm already involved with Cartoonists With Attitude as far as getting together to do shows and talk about politics, and the fact that our styles are all so different is actually what I think makes us great. I think if I did any collaborative project with someone it wouldn't be a political strip. I'd love to work with bunch of other cartoonists on some kind of story series that all revolves around a central plotline; like a Sin City but with multiple writers and artists.
411Mania: Do you have a particular comic you're proudest or most satisfied with?
Pollak: My first year of the strip, back in 1999, I did a strip where Overboard drank an entire gallon of maple syrup while singing songs by the Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's not up on the site anymore because like all the early strips the lettering and artwork was atrocious and I'm embarrassed to let people see it, but I still laugh every time I think about the dialogue for that one. I'm also very proud of the original "Some Guy With a Website" cartoon because it was something I really wanted to get off my chest for years. My favorite strips are the ones where I can be wacky and political at the same time, like the one with the Soylent Green analogies or where a guy's appendix explodes and the strip is about Fox News.
Tim Krieder once said "why would you want to draw guys in suits all the time if you have a medium where you can do anything you want" and since the nature of my strip is often guys in suits, I find the occasional panel with something as far from that as possible very enjoyable.
411Mania: How have you leveraged your blog to promote your views, comic, and career?
Pollak: That's pretty much why I made the blog in the first place. It's pretty much a living resume and portfolio. Adult Swim, call me. Please.
411Mania: Even with what some might call an embarrassment of riches in the current administration, do you ever run into any creative droughts, and if so, how do you break out of those?
Pollak: I try to keep a notepad to scribble ideas before I forget them and I have an ongoing Word document of half-finished ideas. Unfortunately I'm one of those people who simply can't work unless he's on a deadline, even a self-imposed one, and I find myself thinking of ideas at the very last moment.
Pollak: I mentioned once that during the Iraq war startup there were way too many people, especially warbloggers, who could watch Bush kill a kitten with his bare hands and still love him. I was also annoyed at the same time with left-wingers falling over themselves to say Kerry would still be okay if he supported a gay marriage ban and I thought the idea was funny to incorporate that. So that's when the first strip came up in 2004. After the election it re-focused just to Bush.
I don't plan on revisiting the actual survey because the first one was, honestly, a dismal failure. Only three people responded, only one of them seriously. I'm sure I'll use the theme in another strip, though. Just not sure when.
411Mania: Late last year, you changed the format of both your website and webcomic strip: XOVERBOARD became Some Guy With A Website, and you shifted from a multi-panel format to a more traditional 3- panel setup. Can you explain your reasons behind thse changes?
Pollak: After the first CWA event, I was talking with my fellow cartoonists and there was almost a unanimous agreement that two of the things seriously detrimental to the strip's appeal to editors was the size dimensions and the title. Even Ted Rall's first question in my interview for Attitude 3 was what the hell XQUZYPHYR was all about and to be honest, after so many years and so little use of the characters I was tired of dealing with that for no reason. The problem with comics, especially political ones, is that you have to be smart and simple at the same time. Figuring out what the hell the black thing in the weird hat and the illegible name was all the time distracted from the actual issue of the cartoon. I also found that I was really leaning toward shorter panel lengths, from 6 to 4, and there was a lot of empty space in panels that could be cut anyway.
XQUZYPHYR & Overboard, the characters that is, will show up somewhere sometime in the future. My hope is to do it whenever it's least expected.
411Mania: Does making a political cartoon nearly week after week get deperessing? How do you counteract that?
Pollak: It can be tiresome, to be honest. All the pros say to be a good cartoonist, you have to draw every day, sketch every day, etc. I have a lot of trouble doing that even though I love the cartoon once I sit down and start drawing. The biggest counteraction is honestly the devotion to the commitment. I said years ago I'd have a new strip at a certain time at certain intervals and I've just accepted that as part of my life now.
The biggest counteraction to and depression or boredom is honestly the reaction from readers. Seeing an uptick in site hits or an e-mail from a reader complimenting the latest cartoon makes it all worth it. That sounds really Miss America but it's true.
411Mania: Finally, any messages to the 411Mania.com readers?
August Pollak's webste is www.someguywithawebsite.com. In addition to three self-published collections of cartoons, Pollak's work appears in Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists, published by NBM and edited by Ted Rall.