Interview with Kevin Budnik

At SPX this year, I was super lucky to get granted the opportunity to sit down and talk with some of my favorite creators. It was a pretty awesome experience, and I’m excited to be able to share our conversations with you, my adoring public.

Kevin Budnik is the creator of Our Ever Improving Living Room, Dust Motes, and has his new book, Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists coming out soon. His work consists of diary comics that he uses to examine himself and the world around him, often focusing on his experiences dealing with disordered eating and anxiety. Kevin’s comics are easy to relate to, and both funny and sad – in the way life can be. I got to talk to Kevin about his inspirations, reasons to make comics, what’s next, and all sorts of fun things in between.

Guy Thomas: Why do you make comics?

Kevin Budnik: I make comics because it gives me a place to belong. I can’t not do it, because I just like the feeling of creating something, drawing something, which occupies my mind and gets thoughts out of my head quicker or more simply than I could just by talking about them. Once I put things out and I get feedback from other artists and other people who read it - it is the most rewarding thing. It’s the quickest way to get a feeling of family, sort of. People I’ve met through comics have been the most supportive and cool people I’ve met in my entire life. Once you get that little feedback you want more of it, so you keep doing. It just keeps feeding itself.

Thomas: You mostly do diary comics. Obviously there’s some catharsis there, but are there reasons beyond that?

Budnik: Self-absorption. Sometimes I get really worried that diary comics are this narcissistic exercise, so I try to temper them with humbleness. I mean, catharsis is a huge thing, because so much of my writing, especially now, is about how I process events that happen to me that make me uncomfortable… it’s the bad stuff and the anxieties, but it’s also the good stuff. So there will be moments where I feel overwhelmed by something beautiful, or this really great moment of personal reflection, so I need to put that into comics as well. I need to draw that.

Thomas: Diary comics are an important thing, and they’re important for a lot of reasons. Why do you think it’s important for someone else to read your comics?

Budnik: The most rewarding thing I’ve heard from someone, and I think it’s why it’s important in general… a lot of people have read my work and said that at one point they thought they were alone, and they see they can associate with something I wrote, and it makes them feel less ambivalent, or less like they don’t have a voice. They identify with something I made.

Thomas: Do you want to tell fictional stories as well?

Budnik: I would love to, actually. I’m just not that great at writing fiction. I’ve tried before, but all of it ended up coming out as a bunch of different characters all writing with my own thoughts. So I had problems writing different characters, and I still do in my current comics, like writing my friends and stuff. It’s harder to put things into other people’s voices for me, cause it’s mostly just coming out of my brain. I would like to try it more, and I would like to pitch other stuff some day.

I think I’m working my way towards that. I’m getting to a point with journal comics where the stories are still different, but… I’m trying to keep the humor in it and I’m trying to keep the balance between really dark stuff and really light stuff.

Thomas: I imagine it’s really difficult to write that really dark stuff, especially with it being so personal to you. Is it worth it?

Budnik: Yeah, it’s crazy worth it. Like I said, when I hear feedback from anybody who picks up a book – or even like, a strip I thought was just bad, something I didn’t feel comfortable putting out but I did anyway just because it filled that urge, that need to create, and then someone will turn around and say they got something out of that particular strip. That gives me more confidence in my work. Cause part of comics, and I think a lot of cartoonists can relate to this, is that you always sort of feel torn, or not as confident in your work.

I don’t want to make blanket statements, but I get a weird insecurity out of myself, and this is why I’m saying this, because I know it and I recognize it in a lot of my friends. A lot of people put their stuff out there and they’re not confident in it, or they think like, “this is crappy.” Maybe it’s just because I’m a nervous person.

Thomas: What really influenced you to make comics?

Budnik: I felt like I wasn’t started. I felt like I was waiting to draw, like I was waiting to have a career in art or in comics and I realized that the only thing you can do is to start making stuff if you want to get noticed. If you want people to read your work, you just have to start making it. So I made it at such a high volume, I started doing daily stuff. I grew up reading comics. I grew up reading a lot of newspaper stuff, like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts and stuff, sort of the more quiet comics.

I went to school in Chicago, at Columbia College, and Ivan Brunetti was my teacher. He held that stuff to a really high level, and I admired him an intense amount. He was showing us all these different artists. Like, he was showing us Kolchalka and Jeffrey Brown, and so I was like, I can write stories about myself. The challenge was to make it not like their work, but also not like every journal webcomic that you see, where it’s “oh I couldn’t think of a strip to draw today, so he’s me not thinking of a strip to draw today.” Stuff like that is like checking a box and saying okay, it’s done, and walk away from it. So sometimes I will feel that need to draw and do one comic, and say “okay, I’m done for the day, I did my job.” Then when I think back on it, a lot of times I think I did a shitty job, I need to do the better the next day.

A lot of it is self motivation and feeling crappy about the work you’re putting out, so you want to make it better. So there’s a lot of self deprecation and burning yourself in your brain about it. And of course I grew up watching cartoons, I’m obsessed with early Nickelodeon cartoons. Like, Doug and Hey Arnold, some of those things, were my favorite. And still are, I’ll still go back and watch them. I feel like I haven’t watched a new TV show that wasn’t a cartoon in a long time. I’m into what’s going on in kids TV right now, but also I have no idea what’s going on in regular television or film.

Thomas: I personally found your work inspiring; it made me want to try to make my own daily comic. I found a lot of catharsis in making a diary comic. No one will ever see it, it’s hiding in my room, I need to do that today, still.

Budnik: Thanks! I think that’s the coolest thing. It does, it really helps you, even if you don’t use it. It’s just journaling, even if you just write down the things that happen to you, it’s a way of purging them from your system. It’s a way of getting thoughts that sound irrational out of your head and putting them away from yourself so they don’t just sit around in your brain.

Thomas: For someone who wanted to make a journal comic, how would you say they should go about doing that?

Budnik: Think about what makes them really happy, and think about what makes them really sad, and write about that. Try not to use a lot of exposition. If you’re gonna limit yourself to a certain amount of panels use the least words you can and don’t worry about building characters.

It’s not an ongoing cartoon strip, it’s your life. So, you can have a situation implied by setting, or by the dialogue that’s happening, but try not to have all of the words be like “and then I went to do this, and then I went to do that.” Don’t make it a laundry list, just make it a reflection. Put as much emotion into as you can and try and withhold certain exposition.

Thomas: You just finished up your Kickstarter for Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Budnik: Sure. I’m putting out a new book of diary comics, that’s coming out in October. It was drawn between October, 2013 and July, 2014. Up until now, every year of my life, since 2010. has been sort of represented by something I’ve put out. So my first year was a daily comic that I drew, a 4 panel strip every day, in that sort of traditional break your back doing comics thing. Then I started exploring anxieties more, and I put out my book Dust Motes, which is sort of about eating disorders and stuff like that.

This new book I’m putting out is sort of a change in style for me, and it’s also… what do I do now? How do I make comics now, returning to them after a sort of breakdown? I finished drawing that book and now I’m back to drawing daily strips, posting something every day. But now they’re more in tune with like – I found a bunch old journals that I had written when I was going through therapy, so now I’m trying to build those into my comics now. So there’s a dichotomy between like, past Kevin in the cartoon and present Kevin.

Thomas: Do you know what you want to do next?

Budnik: I’m not sure. I’m going to keep doing more shows. When this book comes out, I was able to do a sort of back up book with the kickstarter money. So I think trying to get more people to see my work, would be something cool. Every opportunity like this is just crazy. As a student, drawing comics, I never thought I would be interviewed by anybody, ever. So, it’s cool.

Thomas: What’s your favorite David Bowie song?
Look at these handsome fellows.

Budnik: Life on Mars?

You can (and should) find Kevin at his website, his Tumblr (one for comics and one for portfolio), his Twitter, and the Yeti Press website.