Interview: Grigoriy Kogan

Conducted by Aaron Alexander

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Grigoriy Kogan is an accomplished gag cartoonist and founder of GagCartoons.com, a site dedicated to helping grow income for humor cartoonists. (Note of full disclosure: conductor of this interview, Aaron Alexander, has some of his own cartoons licensed with Greg’s site.)

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Aaron Alexander: Hi Greg. Let’s talk about your cartooning career. When did you start and how did you get into it?

Grigoriy Kogan: I started drawing cartoons in sixth grade. I was building websites with Geocities, and they had a widget that let you add a “Cartoon of the Day” to you website. The widget displayed gag cartoons by Randy Glasbergen. That was my first introduction to single-panel cartoons, and I immediately got into it.

AA: What tools do you use and who are your biggest influences?

GK: The tools are simple. I sketch on basic printer paper with soft mechanical pencils, ink with a .5mm or .8mm Micron pen, and shade with Prismacolor warm-gray markers. For color work, I scan the inked cartoon into Photoshop and finish on the computer.

Since my first introduction to gag cartooning has been through the work of Randy Glasbergen (and one of his books, How to Become a Successful Cartoonist), I consider him a major influence. Later on I started picking up styles and techniques from many cartoonists, especially from the New Yorker, until I arrived at my own consistent style.

AA: How would you characterize your work and style?

GK: I’m not sure, really. My style evolved over time, and I never made a conscious decision to draw in this style or that style.

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AA: Now let’s focus on the GagCartoons site. Can you tell everyone the history with Cartoon Caddy and the new site, GagCartoons.com, and what your plans are for it?

GK: Although I’ve been drawing cartoons for a long time, I’ve also been involved with creating useful Web applications. When I ran into a challenge in cartooning, I immediately thought whether I could solve it using the Web. One such challenge was tracking cartoon submissions. When you have hundreds (or more) cartoons and dozens of markets, keeping track of what’s been sent where, when, and the outcome, gets messy, and spreadsheets only help a little. Cartoon Caddy was the first tool I developed, which made all that tracking very easy. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining Cartoon Caddy was growing at a faster rate than the growth of users, so I made the decision to shut it down.

Another challenge — and I think a much more important one — was finding companies who wanted to license cartoons. Traditional markets have been declining for years. Meanwhile, there are businesses and individuals who would pay to license a cartoon for their presentation, newsletter, blog post, social media account, etc. But nobody is mailing them batches of cartoons. So those companies and individuals turn to the Web to search for cartoons they can use.

The problem GagCartoons solves is it makes it easy for cartoonists’ work to be discovered and licensed by those companies and individuals. It helps cartoonists earn money from their cartoon collection, which otherwise would have been collecting dust in some dark desk drawer. Thankfully, GagCartoons continues to grow, the cost of maintenance is low, and I’ve heard very positive feedback from both cartoonists and customers.

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AA: What do you think is the essential function of the gag cartoon? What’s more important: entertainment or social critique?

GK: They don’t have an inherent function, they’re just a medium for the artist to say or evoke something. Good cartoons, in my opinion, evoke something interesting to the reader, and that’s very subjective. That something could be almost anything. But it’s almost never a pun.

AA: Further, what do you think is more important to gag cartooning: “good drawing” (i.e., skilled draftsmanship) or drawing “funny”?

GK: Continuing the previous thought, what matters is whether you can say or evoke something interesting through the medium. If you can do that with sloppy scribbles, then great. If you prefer to do it through meticulous illustrations, then that’s great, too. This is what allows for such a wonderful variety of drawing styles among great cartoonists.

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AA: Is your ultimate goal primarily to make a living solely with your cartoons, or do you like having a “day job”? In other words, how do you see the day job vs cartooning balance?

GK: It’s difficult to make a comfortable living through cartooning alone. I’m hoping to make it easier for others with GagCartoons, but my primary source of income is and will continue to be Web consultation.

AA: What advice for making it as a cartoonist (i.e., finding your place, both artistically and economically) would you give someone starting out, particularly those starting college or just graduating?

GK: Get a good sense of the profession before making a full-time commitment. I started selling cartoons even before university, so I learned early that to have the lifestyle I wanted, I would need to have some other full-time profession. Getting early experience will help you choose the right path, more than any advice.

AA: What do you think of the cartooning programs and schools starting to pop up around the country?

GK: If they’re helping promote and spread the medium, then they’re great. I’ve never participated in those programs, so I don’t know much about them.

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AA: Have you had any interest or involvement in other forms of cartooning, like comics? Why or why not?

GK: Webcomics were interesting to me at one point. I really enjoyed Penny Arcade, for example. As my interest in gag cartoons grew, my interested in webcomics waned, until eventually it disappeared entirely. It’s more a result of my passion for gag cartoons, and not anything about webcomics.

AA: Where do you see the future of gag cartoons going artistically and economically in the future? Do you think they will become more a multimedia item as time passes? For instance, including animation or sound? Does this still qualify as a gag cartoon if so?

GK: I think it’s a wonderful medium in its current form, it just needs wider adoption and awareness. And I’m hoping GagCartoons will help with that.

AA: Thanks Greg!

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Get your copies of the works mentioned in this interview, as well as other books on cartooning:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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