Pencil Head: Comics From The Inside Out [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: PENCIL HEAD is described as a "mostly true" series on the cover of the first issue, and "semi-autobiographical" in the solicitation copy. How close are you hewing to real life in this series? Is it more of a thematic thing, or are you drawing from actual encounters?

TED McKEEVER: The little beasties that pop up throughout the series and the police investigations, aside...the series is based entirely on actual events that I personally experienced, although the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

As far as the story's pacing goes, I took some creative liberties and overlapped timelines, since certain scenarios happened months apart. But the facts remain the same.

IC: The cover design is striking, with bold text that—unless I miss my guess—loosely summarizes each issue and an illustration of Poodwaddle to bring it all together. Can you talk a little bit about your design process for the covers?

TM: Yeah. You guessed correctly. It's kind of a rebellion-to-my-rep result. Dana Moreshead and I were kicking around ideas for the cover design, and were joking about how we should have the cover be only solicitation text...just one big block of type explaining exactly what was in that that the readers would know exactly what they were in for, and wouldn't have the WTF reaction they usually do to my work. Y'see, I'm fully aware that the books I create aren't the most easy to decipher, and that has always been with conscious intent. I like a challenge. But, with PENCIL HEAD, I wanted it to be unlike my past works, and have a much more transparent and immediately understood first impression. So, by using a sort of synopsis on the cover, the reader knows exactly what they're getting into.

IC: What kind of person is Poodwaddle? Are you drawing from people in addition to yourself to create him?

TM: Poodwaddle is 100% me. His inner voice, and creative struggles, are mine. I figured, if I'm going to do this thing right, I need it to be honest. And honestly, it's gotten to the point were I have no idea anymore where I fit into this industry. I mean, I've done super-hero books, but I'm not in the mainstream consciousness. I've done horror titles, but I don't exclusively subscribe to that genre either. I'm kind of the bastard step-child of comics. And that's fine by me, as I honestly don't really want to fit in. Ever. I like it out here. There's a lot more room to muck around with. And so, that's who Poodwaddle is. A guy working in comics who never has a stable hold on where he belongs. He's kind of a vagabond freelancer who travels the industry, consistently working, and finding himself in circumstances that would be considered way too weird, even for fiction. Trust me, I've seen some really bizarre and hilarious stuff. Actually, there've been some experiences I've had that are so twisted, I can't even put in this series. But I'm pushing some serious envelopes with what is.

IC: What is it about comics that made you want to create this series? Has this idea been kicking around in your head for a while now?

TM: Actually, I've had it in my head for years to do. I kept thinking how I should write a biographical novel about all the stuff I've been through. So, while I was working on THE SUPERANNUATED MAN, I began jotting down notes, documenting all the experiences I'd had. It all started to feel totally unreal, with how many weird-ass moments there were, that it made me think, "Hey, this shit could work as a comic. Why the hell am I thinking of writing it as a book? I'm a comic book artist. Draw the damn thing."

Upon completing the physically and mentally exhausting SUPERANNUATED MAN series, I decided to wipe clean any desire to do anything so heavy again. I needed something that made me laugh. Something darkly funny. And what a better comedy than my 30 years of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, that I'd just spent months scribbling down in my notebook?

Like they say, write what you know. And if there's one thing I know, it's the ups and downs, and ins and outs, of this whacked-out world we call comic books.

IC: You've worked alone on comics for a while now, handling all the creative duties. What do you get out of working solo that you might not get out of collaboration?

TM: The plus side to working alone is that I don't have to deal with any backtalk.

Well, not any that I'm going to admit to.

Seriously, I'd like to have some kind of esoteric reason about how it's because I have a deep spiritual connection to my individual inner voice. But, that'd just be a load of crap. The fact is...I like to draw what I like to write. And I like to write stories that keep me visually jazzed. I've had moments thinking about what it would be like to write something and let someone else illustrate it. But, I work in a very odd process. And I don't know if anyone would be able to make sense of that process. Maybe they would. I have no idea. Besides, no one has ever expressed interest in drawing something I wrote anyway. Maybe they're scared. (Laughs) Or, maybe there's some assumption out there that I don't play well with others. I don't know. Truth is, I've worked with some fantastic writers, and with them, produced some of my more favorite projects to date. So, I've enjoyed that aspect.

Then again, maybe the reason that I work alone, is as simple as...because I can.

IC: Your past few projects have been with Image Comics and Shadowline. How'd you first connect with Jim Valentino? What keeps you coming back?

TM: My first connection with Jim was one of immediate respect. I mean, c'mon. The man is one of the few people in this industry who's done it all. Writer. Artist. Editor. Publisher. And that's just the titles I know of. He's probably a really good cook, too. Seriously, anyone who's been in this industry for as long as he has, and worn so many hats, you'd be a fool not to listen to what that man has to say.

As for what keeps me coming back, I've worked with pretty much every comics company out there. And with Jim, and Shadowline/Image, I can honestly say I've never worked with a publisher who allows me such complete and total freedom to explore and develop whatever ideas I have floating around in my head at the time. Obviously, my work is not of the mainstream, and has an audience that's looking for something outside the norm. Jim gets that, and gives me a platform to reach my audience, unobstructed by fiddling fingers and opinionated limitations.

I mean, why would I want to go anywhere else?

Ted McKeever's PENCIL HEAD #1 is available today, and PENCIL HEAD #2 arrives 2/24. You can find McKeever on Blogspot and Twitter.