If you’ve visited Zuda.com, you may have noticed the dearth of all-ages titles. One of the few featured Zuda artists to go the kid-friendly route is Josh Alves, creator of the adventure series “The Araknid Kid.” After a strong showing in two rounds of Zuda competition, “The Araknid Kid” was picked up by the Sugary Serials website, where you can catch the entire “first season” before it makes the transition to print. Josh was gracious enough to speak to Good Comics for Kids about his work: his background, his inspirations, and his thoughts on what makes for a great all-ages title. You can find out more about Josh and his work by visiting his website.
Josh Alves: That’s a big question, and I guess I should begin in the beginning… I grew up in Bristol, RI and have been drawing for as long as I could remember. All through school I enjoyed art classes and doodling on every available piece of paper (my high school math teacher gave me “points for creativity” on a test where I illustrated the word problems).
Along with drawing, I’ve always been a fan of the comics page in the newspaper, The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes were my two favorite strips. I really enjoyed the outside-the-box approach that Gary Larson had with the gags and Bill Watterson’s imaginative, whimsical comic inspired me. The comic book I liked most was Spider Man (nerd with super cool super powers… and funny wisecracking personality… I could relate in ways).
In high school I began experimenting more with animation as I began planning my education course to become a “special effects guy” for movies (my goal was to work in Stan Winston Studios). My plan was to take a visual communications course in Providence, RI (for the 3D animation) head to Canada for animatronics (robotic puppetry) training and then out to California for more 3D… I ended up going with the first part of that where I fell in love with graphic design.
The course I took in Providence taught everything from typography to photography, print design to web design, 3D animation to video editing… it was a jam packed course… and I loved it.
I never had any formal art training, but the various other classes I took, I feel, contributed to where I’m at artistically.
Non-comic influences include Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, The Tick and Big Guy & Rusty. My more recent art influences are folks that I’ve come across online. Dan Schoening, Javier Burgos, and Sean Galloway are a few artists whose work really spark and inspire me.
KD: How did you come to create “The Araknid Kid”? Who do you think the audience is for such a story, and how do you reach out to them through a site like Zuda, which features such varied content?
JA: Long story short… “The Araknid Kid” was the result of a progression of characters beginning with my character “Bug Boy.” After winning a Spam molding contest, mild-mannered Brigg Brown receives a mysterious crate. Once home, he opens the crate to find a super-powered bug costume which he uses to fight crime. (This was created back in high school.) The character had always been a “mysterious quiet type” which eventually evolved into a character who communicated with pictograms (rebus puzzles), a trait that also has shaped who the character is and where the abilities come from.
My hope is that it’s an all-ages story in the complete sense of the term. As for reaching out to an audience, the Internet has truly made the world a smaller place. The people I’ve been able to connect and talk with, the feedback and critiques I’m able to get are very valuable to me, so it was a natural progression to explore web publication.
Last summer I read a press release about DC Comic’s new online imprint, Zuda.com, which offered anyone the opportunity to submit their comic, and then have the chance to get paid to create it! Seeing this as a possible way to do what I love while earning money for my family I started preparing a one-shot, eight-page (screen) introduction to the character, the abilities, the picto-speak and one of the villains from the rogue gallery. The editors liked it enough to give it a shot in December 2007′s competition where I competed against nine other comics for a shot at a paid contract. While I didn’t win, it did provide me a chance to get my work out there, get some exposure and give me great feedback for it. Through this I was introduced to Jerzy Drozd’s project SugarySerials.com… a FANTASTIC place chock-full of all-ages comic fun. The “Saturday Morning cartoon” approach and what Sugary Serials was all about really connected with what I wanted to do with my comics and after talking with Jerzy, “The Araknid Kid” was added to the lineup for the first “season.”
I was recently invited back to Zuda for a second shot in July’s Invitational where eight new screens were submitted, starting the first full-adventure. While I didn’t win the contract this go around either, it’s been another great experience and exposure for the Kid. Things have a way of working itself out, though, as I don’t think Zuda is the best home (the audience skews older and the comics reflect that… it’s not very kid friendly). So even though DC Comics won’t be cutting me a check to continue “The Araknid Kid” there, I’m very happy to say you can catch it on SugarySerials.com and once it “airs” there it’ll be available in comic book form.
KD: From your website, it seems like you have some ambitious long-term plans for “Araknid.” What is your ultimate goal for the series?
JA: *smiles* Yeah… I like to dream big. Ultimate goal? I’d like to see it span multi-media. Comic books, cartoons (TV, mobile devices), video games, action figures… you know… the usual “big-kid-dreamer” goals.
KD: What do you find appealing about writing and drawing for an all-ages audience? What are some of the challenges?
JA: I love creating work that can be enjoyed by my four year old and my grandfather. Anything that can be enjoyed together is a big deal for me. I personally enjoy that type of work and want to reflect that. Some of the challenges are connecting with the wider audience. There’s that stereotype that “all-ages” means “kid stuff”, but I think that it’s slowing beginning to shift, I think, a large part, thanks to Pixar.
KD: You mentioned that Pixar has played a big role in re-defining the concept of an “all ages” animated film. How so? Are there any equivalent publishers or creators who are having a similar effect in comics?
JA: I’m not quite sure I can pinpoint it, but I’ll try. Ultimately, they tell really great stories. The kind that work on multiple levels. They engage the imagination of the young and not-so-young… as for their publishing equivalents, I’m not quite sure. I really like what “Kids Love Comics” have been doing and recent announcements from Boom Studios (who will be, ironically or not, publishing Pixar comics) is encouraging as a creator (feeling like there’s a trend toward all-ages entertainment).
KD: Who are some of your favorite all-ages creators? What is it about their work that speaks to younger readers?
JA: Definitely the guys at Blindwolf Studios, Patrick the Wolf-Boy is fun-tastic and the work they’ve been doing for DC’s Tiny Titans is great. Their work has such a fun wackiness to it. Ben Avery’s Armor Quest is a great adventure series. John Gallagher’s Buzzboy is superhero hilarity. Mike Kunkel’s work has a certain magical whimsy to it that is just plain cool. And to bring it back, the work I’ve seen from Jerzy Drozd and his passion for creating comics really re-energizes me.
KD: What other projects are you working on at the moment? Would you like to continue writing for such a broad audience, or do you have other kinds of stories you’d like to tell?
JA: Currently I’m working on syndicating my panel comic “Tastes Like Chicken” (currently self-syndicating online and in local papers). I have a short story being published later this fall in the Parable anthology and I’m hoping to self-publish a collection of comic strips that were published in the Bangor Daily News called “Zeek And Dent.” I’d like to continue telling (and collaborating in telling) stories that are aimed at a broad audience.