Thursday, July 27, 2006

Q&A: K.J. KOLKA: The Cardinal

Today, we interview cartoonist K.J. Kolka, creator of Cardinal Adventures, the long-running Christian comic. K.J. has been producing adventures of the high-flying superhero since 1990.

In the latest issue, Cardinal Adventures #16: The Cardinal sees a U.F.O.while foiling a robbery! Is it for real? Is an alien invasion imminent? Hold onto your masks as the Cardinal investigates! Plus, more action with Erica Well’s "The Miller Sisters" and G. Raymond Eddy’s "Galen the Saintly."

New Parable Films is also producing a second direct-to-video Cardinal movie. K.J. supplied the script, based on his story "The Cardinal and the Wrath of the Warthog" (from Cardinal Adventures #8, 1998). In it, an abused teen is transformed into a monster through use of experimental steroids and seeks revenge on those who abused him.

Check out TheCardinal.org for more info.

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Are you an "entertainer" or a "minister"?
Neither. If anything, I’m a teacher. I like to communicate. There’s so much misinformation in the world, especially about the Christian faith and Jesus Christ. I hope that what I write will help clarify that.

But in another sense, to be a Christian writer, you need to be able to entertain the reader as you are educating them or ministering to them. No one wants a boring story.

Who are your literary influences?
Ernest Hemingway. Frank Peretti. Ralph McInerny who writes the Father Dowling mysteries. Lee Falk, creator and writer of the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician comic strips.

Hemingway had people in complex relationships, where there was more going on beneath the surface. You often felt as if you were reading a mystery, trying to assess what was really happening with the characters.

I like Peretti because he has issued in new genres in Christian fiction. Who’d have thought we’d be able to read a book like "Monster" we purchased at a Christian book store? That was one great thrill ride. I couldn’t read that book fast enough.

McInerny writes books about murder. Yet, he writes about his characters with compassion and understanding. He turns his armchair-detective readers into amateur priests in confessionals where we hear first hand how sin has ruined lives and led to desperate moments. And because his main character is a priest, McInerny can talk about controversial moral issues in books which are sold to the general public.

The late Lee Falk is one of the unsung heroes of comic strip writing. His name may not be as recognizable as Charles Schultz or Lynne Johnston, but he has written two of the most enduring adventure strips. Especially if you go back to the 1930s and ‘40s Phantom tales, there were great cliffhanger moments and witty dialogue between characters. Often when the Phantom and his girlfriend parted ways at the end of some wild adventure it was because of some tragic incident which left their relationship itself in a cliffhanger moment that might not be resolved for months. Falk knew suspense.

Who are your spiritual influences?
Currently, Martin Luther, Michael Yaconelli, Bill Gaither. There’s an eclectic lot.

It amazes me how after hundreds of years that Martin Luther’s words on faith and its application still ring true. A very wise man. I think he got his priorities right. We’re saved by faith, but without works how will others know of our faith? We often confuse their importance.

I’ve also been reading Yaconelli’s "Messy Spirituality". It’s about how we often see only one side of people in church. Too often people seem to be so with it, have their spiritual life together and lack troubles in life. It’s easy to think, "Gosh, what’s with me? Why can’t I be that together?" Yet, as we look through the Bible, we see many examples of people who didn’t lead perfect little lives and yet were used of God.

Bill Gaither isn’t exactly a spiritual leader in the traditional sense of the word, but I’ve been reading his autobiography. He talks about the development of his Homecoming concerts and how they are more than about music. It’s about bringing the family of Christ together. Not everyone in his gatherings sings the same type of music, but they find a place for them within the performance. It’s about a spirit of inclusion. Too often we don’t see that today. Christian media and even churches are often aimed at traditional people who are married and have their 2.5 children. Are we even trying to reach beyond our comfort zone and embrace our distant cousins?

What is the best thing anyone said about one of your comics?
I received one email from a young, single mom who was making ends meet by prostituting herself. Evidently, something I wrote touched her heart. She gave up prostitution and said the story gave her "hope."

What is the worst thing anyone said about one of your comics?
"No thanks. I’m not interested."

How many books do you read a month?
I don’t know. I’ve never kept track. I read every night before I go to sleep. My routine is just start a book and read until I’m through. Although, I often mix reading time up with a chapter or two of a good book and then a dose of either a graphic novel or a short inspirational story. If I’m really tired, it’s just the latter.

What are your writing habits?
When it comes to creating a story, first I choose a theme or subject. Which is something I never run out of. I read newspapers and watch the TV news and documentaries for ideas. I have files of news clippings and ideas I’ve jotted down that’re just bulging. As well as some that are lying around on desks, dressers, book shelves. I’m a clutterbug of information.

Then, I get on the Internet or go down to the library and spend some hours researching the subject matter. Sometimes I’ll go out and take photos of places to use as settings for the scenes. I try to draw as much from real life as I can. Then, I sit down and go through everything and decide what can be used. From there, I begin to develop a plot.

Are you an "outline" writer or a "make it up as you go" writer?
I’m an outliner. I have to be. My mind hops from one thing to another otherwise. My train of thought is constantly derailing unless I’m focused. And I get stuck in these tangents.

Having an outline doesn’t mean knowing how a story will end for me though. I often work that out as I get closer to the end. In the most recent Cardinal story I developed four possible endings. I went back and forth among them several times. I even considered drawing up two different endings and blindly picking one and stuffing it into the envelope for the person who scans the artwork, so even I wouldn’t know the ending until it printed. In the end, I simply chose the ending which seemed to fit the story and the direction I wanted to take the Cardinal in in the days to come.

Are you a full-time cartoonist?
I wish. That would make my life much simpler. But then, from what I have read, few comic creators are full-time.

What is your day job?
I’m a proofreader for a local newspaper. I get to make other writers look their best. Actually it’s a good job. I get paid for reading the newspaper from front to back. Who wouldn’t like that? My wife refers to me as her own Gary Hobson, because I do get to check out the "Early Edition."

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Forget about the other aspiring authors around you. Don’t compare yourself. Concentrate on you and your strengths and weaknesses. Work on both.

I had a friend from high school who was extremely talented in writing. The work he did back then was fiction on a deep, philosophical level. He awed the teachers. My work couldn’t even compare to his. I always felt second rate. I caught up with him recently, twenty-some years later. He had stopped writing years ago and didn’t get anything published. It was a sad experience. Meanwhile, I had kept working on my skills and was getting work published. Potential means nothing without dedication.

What one aspect of God do you most hope your readers will take away after reading one of your books?
God is a God of love and mercy. He loves and accepts you just as you are. And he offers you his gift of mercy and forgiveness. It’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. Who doesn’t want that?

What about writing do you wish non-writers understood?
Writing is a lot of work. It’s not all fun and games the way writers are often portrayed in movies and on TV. You don’t just sit down and write a final copy off the top of your head. There’s various stages you go through before you get your final product.

What about writing do you wish other writers understood?
Stop using the word "said"! That has to be the most overused word in the publication field today. Think thesaurus!

For the writer with a new publication, what do you consider the BEST thing he or she can do to promote it?
Make a costume of one of your characters and run around in it. Or does that only work at comic book conventions? [laughs]

What has really worked for me is getting the media involved. You have to let people know your product is out there and what it is about. I created a very brief press release for the local newspaper when I released my first Cardinal comic. The paper called me back and asked for an interview. I ended up being on the front page of the feature section. Someone at the local Christian radio station read it and asked for an on-air interview. Within a few days of the radio interview, book stores were calling me up for more copies. All that from a press release that might have been a half page long, double-spaced.

BONUS: "The Munsters" or "The Addams Family"?
Definitely the Munsters. I like my monsters traditional.

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Many thanks to our guest, K.J. Kolka, creator of Cardinal Adventures. Visit him online at TheCardinal.org. Read an early adventure of the Cardinal online, or find more info about the first Cardinal film here.

Related links:
Read THE CARDINAL comics free online!
Read GASOLINE ALLEY comics free online!
Read the REX MORGAN, M.D. comic strip online free!
Read the BRENDA STARR comic strip online free!
Read the DICK TRACY comic strip online free!
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