Up & Coming: James Callahan - Barf and More

Up & Coming: James Callahan

The artist and his creation

While some of us may be delighted by the biggest and the most popular in the world of comics, we all realize that for every popular book, writer or artist there has to be a beginning. While there are many ways to success with each story finding its own route, there is one attribute that can be found in each one: talent. Up & Coming is a regular feature at Newsarama.com that seeks out the next generation of comic creators and profiles them today.

Today's initiative into the "Up & Coming" pantheon of creative comic creators is cartoonist James Callahan. Brought to our attention by AdHouse Books publisher Chris Pitzer, Callahan has done a variety of works in the small press outlets and a backup story in last year's Fear Agent #23. He recently self-published his own Barf Comics #1, which serves as a dynamic example of what's going on in this cartoonist's head.

For better or worse.

For more, we talked with Callahan by email.

Newsarama: James, thanks for talking to us. What are you working on today?

James Callahan: Today I'll be working on art for t-shirts for the bands Municipal Waste, Strike Anywhere, and Constrictor. I usually take at least one day a week to work on freelance jobs that aren't comic related. It's refreshing to do a job that you can finish the same day, as opposed to long-term comic projects. There's the instant gratification of a finished job and a quick check. It really keeps me motivated and moving.

NRAMA: You recently did a 48-page comic called Barf Comics #1. What is it about?

JC: This book is the equivalent to taking all of the weeks leftovers, adding a few fresh items, cooking it up in a greasy pan, and making a delicious burrito. I do a lot of freelance work that I think is high quality, but doesn't get a wide audience. So I collect these album covers, band shirts, skate decks, and the rest, and compile them with some new material in full color freshness for your eyeballs. It makes a great venue for doing whatever random nonsense is on my mind, very much in the spirit of Daniel Clowes's Eightball, Mad Magazine, and other amazing publications I can only hope to pale in comparison to.

NRAMA: And where can someone pick this up?

JC: Right now only a few retailers are savy enough to carry this book, so it's mostly only available in the Nowhere Skateboards online shop.

These books are in going to be limited runs of 250 per annual issue.

NRAMA: You originally entered comics working on the Oddgod Press series Strange Detective Tales with writer Jesse Bausch. Do you plan to do any more of these, or have it collected?

JC: Right now we are working on an animated pilot with this title, which should be finished by this summer. Jesse and I are waiting to see the finished product on this, to see how it will effect the perception of these characters and future stories. Then we'll decide how and if they will return in another comic miniseries. I really hope it all comes together, because I would love to do some more work in this world. It's got everything I love drawing: monsters, classic detectives, 1950's aesthetics, the living dead, aliens...I'm getting all worked up just talking about it!

NRAMA: In our conversation prior to this interview, you mentioned doing some work for the textbook company McGraw-Hill. What's that?

JC: McGraw-Hill is a textbook publishing company that has gotten on board the comics craze. They have begun to incorporate comics into elementary and middle school level textbooks to expand on subject materials for history, math, and science. The idea is to reaching out to kids in new ways to get them excited about learning these subjects, and to get them to think about the material in new ways. I think it's great and I hope it sustains interest. I love the idea of getting kids interested in comics and learning at a young age, and I get to work on subject matter I wouldn't usually have on my drawing table, like the Theory of Relativity and the 13th century Mongolian invasions of Japan.

NRAMA: What else do you have planned in comics for 2009?

JC: I'm working on a six issue mini series by Rick Spears called Die Pumpkin, Die, I've started compiling work for Barf Comics #2, and I'm just starting art direction for a bi-monthly skateboard magazine that is in very early production but will also include a lot of comics and comic elements. I also did a mini comic through Team 8 Press called Booyah the Oblitorator, about a sword-wielding barbarian on an impossible quest to find death-metal despite living thousands of years before the dawn of man harnessing electricity.

NRAMA: Can you tell us what you do when you're not doing comics?

JC: Geez, is there anytime left after comics? I guess I spend the rest of my time skateboarding, traveling around the country to skate parks, and hanging out with my dog, Pizza. I live in Richmond, which I think is the real capital of underground music right now, so I end up going to a lot of shows to watch friend's bands play. My band, Stink Eyes, is also in the process of recording . So, I guess to answer my own question, there is a lot of time left after comics. I definitely am never bored.

NRAMA: You also have a skateboard company called Nowhere Skateboards. Can you tell us about that?

JC: It's my excuse to make skate decks and print t-shirts. Like the band work, it's a way to focus on single image art to contrast my comic work. I find that having a variety of types of work to do really helps in how much more I can get done. It's labor of love for sure. I actually just got my first full color decks in the mail the other day.

I've also been filming local skaters for the past two years and hope to put together a home video of sorts this year.

For more on Callahan's work, you can visit his website www.barfcomics.com.

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