Cartoonist Gideon Kendall has been waiting his entire life to be a published comic book creator - and at the age of 50, he did it. December's MegaGhost #1 from Albatross Funnybooks was the Brooklyn artist's first printed comic book - but certainly not his last.
"I wanted to do comics starting at age 10, but drifted away from it when I went to 'fine art' school," Kendall told Newsarama. That detour took him to a failed career as a New York City fine artist, and then a successful run in animation working on everything from Codename: Kids Next Door to Saturday Night Live's Saturday TV Funhouse. But the itch to write and draw his own comics persisted, and after an admitted midlife crisis he re-discovered his love for comics.
(With some encouragement from his wife.)
Now he's found his place in the comic book industry. In addition to MegaGhost, Kendall recently completed drawing Harvey Kurtzman's Marley's Ghost for comiXology, has become a regular contributor to MAD Magazine, and is working on a serialized OGN for IDW Publishing and his own comic strip.
Newsarama spoke to Kendall about his auspicious (but indirect) path to making comic books, his current projects, and what he'd tell other would-be comic creators looking to break into comic books at this age.
Newsarama: Gideon, what are you working on today?
Gideon Kendall: What's on your drawing board? Multitasking! Pencilling MegaGhost #4, finishing up the cover for #5, inking the second chapter of The Underdream (a fantasy adventure graphic novel written by Josh O’Neill being serialized in IDW’s Full Bleed magazine), finishing up the latest episode of my comic strip DOOMmates (also with Josh), doing some stuff for MAD Magazine, working on a book of recipe comics, and polishing up my syllabus for the drawing course I’m teaching this spring.
Nrama: You are relatively new to comics, and come to us from fine art and illustration. Can you tell us what you've been up to professionally before comics?
Kendall: After art school I briefly tried to make it in the New York City fine art world. I got a gallery job and tried to suck up to the gallerists and collectors. I was terrible at it. The main skills you need to be a gallery employee are to be clean, organized, and nice to rich people. I suck at all of those things.
I became a bit lost creatively and got more into music. I was in a band you’ve never heard of, made lots of indie records and did a fair amount of touring. In the midst of all that I fell into working in animation.
I got got my first gig in that field as a background painter in the pre-digital days. They needed people who could paint realistically. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about animation. It turned into a 20-year career. I got to work with really great people and sometimes it paid pretty well but churning out endless episodes of TV shows I wouldn’t want my own kids to watch became kind of soul crushing.
Simultaneous to all that I was trying to be a children’s book writer/illustrator, and although I got to illustrate a bunch of books for several publishers, I never had a “hit” or got one of my own stories published. I love kids books, and cartoons, but I am comfortable admitting that in the end those weren’t the genres for me.
Nrama: And how did it come about that you wanted to do comics?
Kendall: I wanted to do comics starting at age 10, but drifted away from it when I went to “fine art” school. Then, as I said above, I just drifted into other creative pursuits. It was in that first animation job that some of my coworkers showed me the work of people like Charles Burns, Joe Matt, Julie Doucet, etc, and I was like “wow, there’s some cool stuff going on in comics…” but it wasn’t until about 7 years ago, when I was very discouraged with the work I was doing, and in a bit of a midlife crisis, that my wife suggested I start making comics.
Nrama: You revealed to me that you're doing all of this just after you turned 50. What's that like for you?
Kendall: Well, I’m 51 now, but I took the plunge back into comics at 45. Sometimes I feel like a bit of an imposter around all these amazing artists who have been steadily working at it for decades, but overall I feel very welcome in this community. In fact, of all the “scenes” I’ve been a part of or tried to be a part of (fine art, indie rock, animation, illustration, and now comics) this is the place I feel most at home.
They say the most important part of any creative career, or any career i suppose, is networking. But networking is stressful and it sucks. Fortunately, when I’m hanging out and having fun with other cartoonists it feels like exactly that: hanging out and having fun. I don’t even realize that I’m networking. It just feels like a good time.
Nrama: December's MegaGhost #1 was your first single issue comic - before that you did the digital-first anthology Marley's Ghost, and some self-published work. This idea of a late bloomer coming into comics is great... but how is it for you?
Kendall: Well, I wish I was where I am now when I was 25, or even 40. Comics is the most labor-intensive medium of all. I wish I had the stamina I used to have. On the bright side, if I had been doing comics since the time I graduated high school I’d probably have burned out a long time ago. So it's nice to be a cranky jaded middle-aged guy who has something new and exciting in his life that won’t lead to divorce. Although I suppose it could…but my wife is an artist too so she understands.
Nrama: What would you say to others breaking 50 who are thinking about working in comics?
Kendall: Don’t do it! Think about your family! Seriously though, I do wish I had started sooner. There’s so many books I want to make…
Nrama: What are those big goals with comics?
Kendall: I want to get all my ideas, and the ideas of my collaborators, out there into the world. I want to make as many cool books as I possibly can. I look forward to someday soon seeing a big beautiful hardcover version of Marley’s Ghost. Same for The Underdream.
Someday I’ll maybe even finish Whatzit, my sci-fi epic about aliens that invade the earth thru the pimples of human teenagers. That’s the self-published series that was the first comic I made when I re-entered the field and it led to many of the opportunities I’ve had so far. I’ve got four out of 8 issues of it complete, but work on it has slowed with all the other projects…I’m not complaining! but it would be nice to finish it someday.
Big picture: It would be great to be able to support myself doing this, but I know that’s a tough one. But hey, If i can keep it up for another 15 years or so I can get social security, move out of this insanely expensive town and then make comics until I croak! A MegaGhost movie or TV show would sure be nice. Any producers or agents out there?