I recently got to sit down and chat (via email) with Kevin McGovern, the artist for Scott Allie’s newest project, Exurbia! Haven’t heard of Kevin? That’s because Exurbia is his big debut – working with Scott Allie, for the third-largest comic-book publisher in the country, Dark Horse Comics.
Exurbia is a crazy-unique comic, and it’s gotten some positive response from folks like Gilbert Hernandez, who wrote, “Exurbia boldly continues and transmogrifies the type of lunatic stories that only comics can do with any justice. Try as films and TV might, here is the real stuff. Bravo and yikes at the same time.”
Read on as Kevin takes us through his 13-year journey of bringing Exurbia to print!
TFAW.com: Hey Kevin, thanks for taking some time to talk with me today!
Kevin McGovern: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
TFAW.com: So how did you get into drawing comics?
KMc: Like a lot of enthusiasts, I grew up with them. My parents kept our house well-stocked with cartoon collections: Peanuts; Charles Addams; Doonesbury; Bloom County and the like, plus we had a huge box of Marvel and DC comics. I didn’t really start drawing until after I got out of high school and rediscovered comics in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But it was Scott Allie’s Sick Smiles project that really got me going in earnest.
TFAW.com: How did you meet up with Scott Allie?
KMc: At the time – this was in the early ’90s – I was looking for any writers who needed artists to render their stories, so I checked in at a comic book shop in downtown Portland to see if the owner knew of anyone. Luckily, Scott had stopped by earlier that week to set up a meeting for anyone who wanted to work with him on Sick Smiles.
TFAW.com: What was Scott’s Sick Smiles project about? Was this before he was at Dark Horse?
KMc: Sick Smiles does predate Scott’s career at Dark Horse. It was his self-published foray into the horror genre back in the early ’90s. He came to Portland, Oregon from Ipswich, Massachusetts with an armload of stories and the gumption to see them in print. It was pretty cool stuff, too; some of it very Lovecraft-esque, some of it straight-up horror. And, to his credit, he employed a lot of local, unknown artists to get the book out. It was a lot of fun to work with him on that project.
TFAW.com: What did you do for Sick Smiles?
KMc: I did the artwork for a few stories, the first Exurbia story being one of them, as well as a longer one later in the series. There were a couple of others I worked on; one was a vampire story, and the other one was about a girl who finds out that she’s about to become her new landlord’s main course.
My personal favorites were our “Men of the World” collaborations, which were about actual, sometimes very surreal, encounters with folks on the streets of Portland. I still get a laugh about the first one we did (which has some dialogue that’s unsuitable for a general audience, otherwise I’d regale you with a ripping good anecdote).
TFAW.com: Can you set us up with an intro as to what Exurbia is about?
KMc: Gage Wallace, the main character, is mistakenly fingered as a terrorist who is blowing up buildings around town. He spends most of the story running around the city trying to clear himself, during which he runs into a host of Exurbia‘s eccentrics. Sort of like After Hours with a Terry Gilliam twist.
TFAW.com: Who is the Rat? What part does he play in this story?
KMc: The Rat is a wonderful character – he is Exurbia‘s holy fool; a spouter of drivel, which everyone thinks is the word straight from God’s mouth. The key to Gage’s salvation lies with the Rat, regardless of whether or not the Rat wants to be a part of it. For me, he was one of the most fun characters to work with.
TFAW.com: What is the setting of Exurbia? Is it in the future? Why is this town so crazy?
KMc: Scott wrote the most of story when I was still living in Portland, and because of that, it’s tied to a very specific time of my life, so I decided to use my hometown as an inspiration for some of the key scenes. To me, Exurbia is sort of an alternate, early-to-mid-’90s version of Portland.
We never really discussed any specific time that the story takes place, although there are some clues that might put it somewhere around the turn of the century. For instance, not everyone has a cell phone or a personal computer, and Gage’s television is definitely not a flat screen.
The craziness you mention is a result of the fact that the town itself about to fall apart at a sneeze, and that, in turn, affects the citizens’ mentality. Sort of, “eat, drink, and go nuts, because tomorrow you may buried under your four walls.”
TFAW.com: Exurbia is really different than anything Scott has created or edited – it’s really different than anything I’ve seen lately, really. How would you categorize it?
KMc: Scott and I had a discussion one time about how Gage’s character would fit perfectly into an Alfred Hitchcock movie; an average guy gets thrown into a situation that’s way beyond his everyday experience and has to prove his innocence without much help from anyone. So, that would put it in the, what, thriller genre? Suspense?
If you know anything of Scott’s career in comics, this story is really something very special. I think his audience is going to be greatly surprised by this facet of his storytelling talent.
TFAW.com: Exurbia is a comic that’s been a work in progress for 13 years! Can you tell us about its evolution?
KMc: It has taken a while for this project to get where it’s at, and a lot of that had to do with me and my comfort level with the artwork. This is actually my third (and, obviously, most successful) attempt at finishing the story; the direction of the artwork in the first two versions just did not sit well with me, so I stopped right at page 11 . . . both times. True story. That sounds a bit, I dunno, heavy handed, but it was very important to me to get it done right.
I’m extremely fortunate that Scott had the patience of a saint with me, because he rightfully could have given the project to another artist after my bailing on him twice.
TFAW.com: When did Exurbia come to Dark Horse Comics?
KMc: I remember Scott and me pitching it to Bob Schreck at the San Diego Comic-Con, but I’m a little fuzzy on the date. I want to say it was ’94. Bob was still with Dark Horse at that time and very supportive of our endeavor, but it wasn’t picked up at that time.
TFAW.com: Your artwork has undergone a major transformation since Exurbia‘s debut in Sick Smiles. Can you tell us about that?
KMc: When I first started drawing pages for Sick Smiles, I was incredibly naïve about what all goes into comic book illustration. I liked to draw, but had no formal training – I didn’t even know what materials to use. I was on a steep learning curve, so a lot was on me to go out and find the tools to improve my illustration skills.
After I moved to Seattle, I went to design school, where I learned more about composition, layout, character design, etc., and that was sort of the last piece of the puzzle to fall in place. I’m still learning, but I now have a few more tools in my bag to help me tell a story.
TFAW.com: What are your artistic influences?
KMc: How much space do you have in this blog? There’s so much I can list. I really try to look at all types of media for influence; movies, cartooning, fine art, and literature as well as comics. I love Modernist painting and the New Yorker-style cartoons from the ’50s and ’60s, and I am finding a lot of inspiration in contemporary Chinese illustration, since many of those artists still use traditional ink and brush techniques.
TFAW.com: Exurbia has such a unique look to it – kind of like a postmodern Dennis the Menace or Calvin & Hobbes. How would you describe it?
KMc: When I began working on this version of Exurbia, I was showing the early pencilled pages to a group for critique, and many of the participants said that Gage had a Dennis the Menace quality about him. I can’t say that I’m a big Dennis fan, but I love Calvin & Hobbes, and since we are the sum of our experiences, I’m not too surprised that that influence is there.
Gage is supposed to be a failed rebel, so his design was to have certain hallmarks of other rebel icons: for instance, he wears a white t-shirt and red jacket a la James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. I guess his hair could fall into a Dennis or Calvin category, but that wasn’t a conscious decision. I just wanted Gage to a have distinctive hairstyle.
TFAW.com: I noticed that the buildings in Exurbia look like dominoes, and in the book, the city is on the verge of collapse. Was that an intentional allusion?
KMc: That was Scott’s concept. He wanted a city that looked like it was going to fall apart at any give moment, which, in turn, had an affect on its citizen’s collective psyche. The dice and domino structures captured the sense of something that would easily fall or tumble. It was a lot of fun to draw those decrepit, heaped-up modular buildings that have no architectural integrity.
TFAW.com: The Rat has a very distinct look – where did that come from?
KMc: The Rat came from a drawing I did for a friend’s band that was putting out a 45 single back in the early ’90s. Scott took one look at the sketch and exclaimed, “It’s a rat . . . and he SMOKES!” which became our byline for the Rat. But where the floating ears and nose came from, who knows? I wanted him to physically be distinctive from the rest of the Exurbia cast.
It’s weird enough he’s a large, talking, rat ( . . . and he SMOKES!), but he’s also a loner, an outsider, so his appearance really had to set him apart from the rest of the population.
TFAW.com: In many ways, this is your big debut title – what’s that been like?
KMc: It’s been a wonderful learning experience, especially having an industry pro like Scott for a creative partner. I’m a lot more comfortable with how I draw and what I’m capable of accomplishing. I’ll be really excited when I’m holding the book in my hand. I can’t wait!
TFAW.com: Do you have any advice for would-be comics artists?
KMc: I had an illustration instructor in school who told us to simply follow our passion and everything else will fall into place. I can’t think of any better advice.
TFAW.com: What are your future plans? What would be your dream job in comics?
KMc: I think it’d be fun to put together a comic of all the little stories and sketches that I stashed away during this project. I’m also planning on taking some more art courses – I want to try my hand at painting again, which I’ve neglected while working on the book.
My dream job? To create the kind of books I enjoy reading; the ones where you discover something new with each reading.
KMc: Thank you. I enjoyed our chat.
Make sure to check out our 13-page preview of Exurbia, as well as the exclusive preview pages in this post! Are you folks looking forward to Exurbia? Are there any prospective cartoonists out there? Post your questions and comments below!