September 17, 2007

Interview - Adam Koford

Adam Koford is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist who gained internet fame with his contributions to the 700 Hoboes Project and more recently his Laugh-Out-Loud Cats. He's done work for American Greetings, Recycled Paper Greetings and King Features Syndicate. He's married with children and currently lives and works in "Cloud City" Florida.

Adam, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.

First off, as many people know already, your net handle is "Apelad." How did you get that name?

Mark Frauenfelder first suggested cartoonists should draw Hodgman's hoboes and then post them to flickr. I signed up, but needed a handle. I'd been living in Florida for a few years and I would tell friends my phone number was 407-APE-LAD1 (which it really was) sort of as a gag and so they could remember it easier. I decided to go with that since it coincidentally happened to be a relatively accurate description of me. The phone number preceded the nickname. We've since moved and our new phone number is complete nonsense.

If you can recall, describe the moment or event that you realized you wanted to be an artist.

I was never really the class clown in school, but I remember being able to make my close friends laugh. At some point when I was very young, maybe 4th grade, a friend told me I should either become a stand up comedian or a cartoonist. I remember that moment like it was yesterday and haven't looked back. Besides, I was way to young for the Improv's open mic night back then.

Would you describe yourself as a classically trained or self taught artist? If you studied, where and was it a good experience?

I am a mixture of both. I have a degree in illustration, but I was learning to draw from comics and golden age illustrators long before that.

What would you like to accomplish with your art?

My aims are pretty simple: I want to give people a bit of joy and a smile, if only for a second. And hopefully support myself and my family for the next thirty or so years doing it.

Who were your biggest influences when you were starting out and has that changed?

The first library book I ever laid my hands on was a Rube Goldberg collection. From a very young age I tried to immerse myself in as many different influences as possible--from comic strips to comic books to art history in general. My mother went back to college when I was in high school, and I would go with her and hang out in the library for a few hours discovering N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, as well as whoever was in the Society of Illustrators annuals like Brad Holland and Bernie Fuchs. Since then, I don't really follow what the SI is doing, the illustrators I look at are in comics and online.

I know you make a living with your art, how hard do you work at it?

I can always work harder at it, but the trick is making the work amount to something. There's an interview with Orson Welles where, at the end of his life, he talks about movie making being one big hustle: always trying to make money and work on another project. I feel the same way about what I do. Many are the months when the prospects dry up and all of a sudden the civil service test looks like the best option.

If you could change something you do while creating, a habit or crutch, without any effort, what would it be?

I could be better at thinking things through as I do them. I often look back at my work and wonder what I was thinking, technique-wise.

Are you a hard set solo artist or would you like to collaborate more with other artists?

Collaboration can be fun, and on lots of projects it's the rule. Whether it's an art director or client, there aren't too many opportunities to create in a vacuum.

Artists are generally not happy with what they've done or how accomplished they are, but if you had to label it, what would have to happen for you to consider yourself successful?

A steady reliable income creating something I love working on forever till I die an old man at the drawing board. Is that so much to ask?

What media are you most comfortable using and why?

I'm pretty comfortable with most anything as far as traditional media goes. I don't have as much of an opportunity to paint as much as I'd like and I miss it sometimes. I also really enjoy experimenting and discovering things in photoshop. Illustrator not so much. Vectors leave me cold for some reason.

Would you rather push yourself to get a lot of work done or push yourself to perfect one piece at a time over a long period?

I've never been very good at staying interested in one physical piece of work for a long time. I tend to work quick and dirty at times, but I'm trying to find a balance.

When you look back on the choices you made as an artist or becoming an artist, what - if anything - would you do differently?

I would have done a lot more life drawing from a live model a lot earlier. One summer I went to weekly life drawing sessions at the University of Utah and it improved my work in very noticeable ways.

Do you think it's easier to be an artist today than say twenty or thirty years ago?

It always has been, and probably always will be, difficult to make a living as an artist.

What's a typical day like for you?

It all depends on what I'm working on and when it's due. Some assignments have a quick turnaround and some are drawn out. Missing a deadline is the number one cardinal sin for a freelancer.

In the meantime I work on writing and drawing things that are ordered through my blog, or devising other ways to generate interest in my work.

Your recent work on the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats has a satirical tidbit about your grandfather Aloysius "Gorilla" Koford being the original creator before becoming a seaman. In reality, are you a product of an artistic family?

Reality is entirely relative. But yeah, my father went to art school and would draw for us quite a bit when I was a kid. I have a son who has an almost visible need to draw, especially if he's around comic books.

You're relatively close to Disney World. Has that been an influence on you as a cartoonist? Have you ever tried to work for Disney?

The themeparks are extremely inspiring artistically. The amount of detail and artistry that goes into most of them is often what keeps me upright if I'm there in the Summer or on a busy day.

I lived in Burbank in 95-96 when apparently everyone was getting a job in animation simply by asking, and I applied to Disney and several studios then, to no avail.

I dropped off my portfolio with the Disney animation studio here in Orlando as they were wrapping up production on Brother Bear. Shortly after that they closed their doors.

John Hodgman's book, "Areas of My Expertise," seems to have had an enormous impact on your work. Why do you think that is?

I've always had a soft spot for absurdity I guess.

Have you thought of trying to work on something with him, a collaboration?

At this point I'm resigned to the fact that I'll never actually meet him (let along collaborate with him on anything), even though several other hobo artists have seen him at readings and such. Did you know Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott met only once in their entire lives? Two men who defined the look and flavor of comics for the next several decades only met once at a convention, had a few words, and went along their ways. I'm no Joe Sinnott, but maybe I'll meet Hodgman when we're very old men, at the annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa.

You and two other 700 Alums (myself and Jawbone Radio's Len Peralta) have set up sort of a cottage industry of small, quick, cheap and customizable art. It seems to have done quite well for you, but do you feel it's taken away from other things you'd like to be doing?

No. I like drawing, and it allows me to draw.

You've been involved in more than a few online groups, Neatorama, the 700 Hoboes, Illustration Fridays to name a few. Which has been or is still your favorite?

The 700 Hoboes project was a very fun time for me. I never had to wonder what to draw next, and I was always on the lookout for weird and new things to incorporate. I look forward to the 700 Molemen, and really should do more about the other 700 Things projects going on.

Do you have anything you'd like to say to your fans and fellow artists?

Only this: thank you.

Thanks for your time. Good luck with your work!

And thank you, too.

You can see more of Adam's work on his blog, Hobotopia.


Anonymous said...

Very nice interview. I always assumed "Ape Lad" came from his knack for monkey drawings.

Mr. Austin said...

I'd originally thought that too. Or maybe that he had been raised by chimps in a secret Air Force experiment. One or the other.

Mike said...

I am the proud owner of seven of Apelad's work!

Love them


lco said...

thanks for the interview, <3 pip and kitteh. but adam's blog is at instead of, right?

Mr. Austin said...

It is, thanks for the find. redirects there. I knew that and just confuzzled myself.

Halcyon said...

Great answer to the "success" question, although I think caplock-yelling could be justified for "Is that so much to ask?"