The Cartoonist

In an effort to be more transparent to you, the discerning comics reader, Falling Rock National Park is lifting the curtain on our secret operation. Josh Shalek, cartoonist extraordinaire, has generously agreed to answer a few questions about himself and Falling Rock. We cannot call them Frequently Asked Questions, as there have never been questions asked with anything approaching frequency, but hopefully they will prove illuminating.

Why set the strip in the Southwest, in a National Park?

I lived in Arizona and Colorado for most of my life. I only started writing about the Southwest when I left it. This seems to be the case of my writing. I need some time and distance to think about what I have to say about a place. I live in Oregon now; maybe in ten years I’ll be writing about the Great Northwest.

I love open space, and I think there is a peculiar culture that exists within every National Park. It’s an alchemy of park rangers, scientists, volunteers, hardcore nature lovers, weekend road warriors, locals, and more. I think it’s wonderful. All these people make the outdoors a destination. A rock can be your destination, or a tree, or a waterfall.

Do you use computers in your drawing?

No. I draw everything on good old-fashioned Bristol board using good old-fashioned brushes and India Ink.

I will color a comic, or a cover, on the computer. While I love watercolors and paint Friday Robots with them, I find they don’t reproduce well.

What are your main themes when writing?

As readers of Falling Rock and my previous comic, The Family Monster, can attest, I like Pirates, Robots, Zombies, and Dinosaurs. I try to fit them in as much as possible. Also, I give myself extra credit for oblique Beatles references.

I don’t use situations from my life in my comic. This helps stave off debilitating litigation. Really, I just like to make stuff up. It’s more fun than telling the truth. If I wanted the truth, I would have been a Buddhist monk.

Why did you end Falling Rock as a comic strip?

I wrote a whole post about it! Right here.

Since last May I’ve been happily producing Falling Rock as a quarterly comic book. I never thought I could find happiness outside the world of daily comic strips; fortunately I was dead wrong. Drawing Falling Rock as a comic book has allowed me to open up the world in ways I couldn’t have in four panel increments. I’m looking forward to all the new ways I can tell stories with this format.

What influences you?

Everything. My family. My wife. My teachers, my gurus. The Beatles. Bob Dylan. Raymond Carver. Bill Watterson! Wes Anderson. Jimmy Carter. Ed Abbey. Hours of the Discovery Channel when I was a kid. Urban legends. Folk tales. Looney Tunes. Every lecture I’ve ever attended. The statues of Easter Island. Squirrels. Clean, dry desert air. Old men with beards. Old women with hats. Everything.

The best comic strips are pure fun. Look at Calvin and Hobbes. Look at Pogo or Krazy Kat. Every panel is enjoyable as a piece of art, even before you read the dialog. When you do read the comic, you do so with a sense of anticipation. You know there is a joke coming – you can see the last panel your peripheral vision even as you begin to read the first one. Sometimes the trip is the best part. The funniest panel might be the second. A character might be doing something hilarious in the background. There’s more to a comic strip than a punchline, just as there is more to a pop song than a hook.

Comics are so energetic. They’re like a revolution; they violate the laws of physics, math, storytelling. The best comics stay with you longer than your morning coffee because you can relate to something a character said or did. Maybe something happens at work that reminds you of an interesting phrase from the comics. Maybe you remember, opening the paper or turning on the computer, that there’s a story that is going to be resolved today and you wonder how it will end. Comics are a powerful medium. Comics continue to live because people still love them. They love the idea of a good drawing and a funny story. I love that idea, too.

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