Today Black Ship Books will be sitting with Kevin Learn, creator of the upcoming graphic novel, Sacco. Originally hailing from Madison, WI, Kevin is a finance analyst in New York, NY who doubles as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator.
Black Ship Books: Kevin, what inspired you to make Sacco?
Kevin Learn: My inspiration was two-fold. One, I was a freelance illustrator trying to find work in the magazine industry. However, after a few years of studying the field and putting my work out there, I realized that a large portion of the jobs were going to a small group of established illustrators. Surprisingly a majority of them began their careers making indie comics, and most still do today. So I felt that maybe this was an important step I needed to go through myself.
The other push came from an unsatisfied feeling I had from creating one-off illustrations. I like stories and it’s difficult to tell one in a lone image. The few jobs that required several illustrations presented in a linear nature were the jobs I enjoyed the most. After I received a script for a graphic novel that I wasn’t too keen on I realized I didn’t want to tell someone else’s story. I wanted to tell my own.
BSB: In five words how would describe Sacco? And in three words how would you describe your art style?
KL: American Beauty meets Breakfast Club. Clean cartoon-like lines.
BSB: Sacco is more than a story about a school shooting. What are the major themes behind it?
KL: Sacco’s main theme focuses on the misconceptions we have about randomness. Since my day job deals with numbers I’ve read a lot about statistics. And the shocking thing I’ve learned about randomness is how prevalent is in our lives and yet it remains hidden. Our brain disguises it by placing things in a linear order and then it goes and applies meaning to that order. In reality the order at which things present themselves is arbitrary but it’s so hard to convince our mind otherwise. Even more so when it applies meaning to traumatic events, such as a school shooting.
Our brain also has the ability to recognize patterns. We use it every day to accomplish tasks, problem solve, and basic survival. But patterns contain randomness disguised too. For example, in Sacco, the main character has a few minor traumatic experiences and at every one a horse is present. He connects horses to some type of path he must follow in his life. But in reality his brain has thrust inconsequential meaning on these situations.
Another aspect I touch on is how humans are addicted to narratives. We love telling stories, hearing stories, seeing movies and reading books. We use them to pass on information, to get our points across or share our feelings, and of course for entertainment. But certain narratives can send us down the wrong path. And when is there a more impressionable time for that to happen than during our teenage years?
BSB: Do you usually prefer reading and drawing stories about more serious subjects, such as campus shootings, or do you prefer lighter toned stories?
KL: I do prefer more serious subject matter. Not necessarily tragedies, but more where there is room for personal growth.
I have largely finished writing Sacco and hope to finish drawing it within the next two years. The story I’m crafting now is serious in nature too and deals with issue of identity where two friends decided to create a person out of thin air.
BSB: What has been the most memorable comic or novel you have read and what impact did it have on you, personally and in your art?
KL: That’s a hard one. One of my favorite graphic novels is Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. Most people know him as the artist for Batman: Year One. But this is his masterpiece. It took him over ten years to make and the depth of this book is ridiculous. I aspire to tell a story with so many levels as Asterios has. Whenever someone questions the value of comic books or sequential art I tell them to read this book.
And if you’re looking for a book with serious subject matter check out “Daytripper” by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. The story and artwork blew me away. I think I read it five times in a row when I first got it.
BSB: Do you aspire to only self-publish or is there a major publisher you would prefer to work with?
KL: I’m kind of split on this topic. I’d like to work with a publisher so I can focus on the work. But now, more than ever, it’s easier to self-publish and not to have the hassle of contracts or schedules a publisher might place on you. Both sides have their pluses and minuses.
BSB: What has been one of your greatest challenges in creating your comics?
KL: Finding the time to draw. Working a fulltime job, being a supportive family member, pretending I have a social life, attempting to stay healthy—it all takes precious hours away from drawing. I’ve had to breakdown everything I do to make my life as efficient as possible to maximize the hours I’m at the drawing desk. They call me Superman at work because I can get so much done in such little time. But it’s because I’m always thinking “How can I do this faster and better?”
BSB: From your portfolio, it’s obvious you’ve done illustrations for several creators, but who has challenged you the most?
KL: Obviously, myself. I push myself hard to meet the quality I want to produce and I am the worst boss in the world. I’m never satisfied.
But outside of that, one of my favorite stories I tell to aspiring illustrators is when I was hired to draw a pillow for an advertisement. I drew this pillow to perfection. It looked exactly like it, spot on. I was proud of it, it looked great. But the client was like “That doesn’t look like our pillow at all. Change this, change that.” So I did what they wanted and sent it back to them. “No, this still isn’t right. Try changing this and changing that.” Eventually after several editing sessions my pillow drawing was just a rectangle with rounded corners. I turned it in. “Amazing! Perfect! That is our pillow. Wonderful!” Had they told me they wanted a soft rectangle at the beginning I could have easily given it to them.
BSB: If you could collaborate with any mainstream creator who would it be and why?
KL: Craig Thompson. He’s from Wisconsin, like me, and I’ve met him once and he’s very down to earth. I love his stories and just looking at his inking gives me carpal tunnel. So to see him ink in person would be amazing.
BSB: Where do you generate the most inspiration for your own comics?
KL: Same as where Einstein generated ideas, the three B’s: Bed, Bath and Bus (though for me it would be the subway). When I’m in/on one of these my mind wanders in a way that allows creative ideas to thrive.
BSB: What words of inspiration would you offer to a young, aspiring comic artist?
KL: Draw, draw, draw. And when you’re not drawing—read. Read everything.
Thank you for your time and words of wisdom, Kevin! For those who want to know more about Kevin and Sacco, please visit the website saccographicnovel.com! And for our readers out there, continue to do as Kevin does and create new and inspiring works of your own!