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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: James Kochalka

Hulk out with the indie cartoonist--and indie rocker--as he once again tackles Marvel's Green Goliath

By Sean T. Collins

James Kochalka is no stranger to Bruce Banner.

Sure, he may be better known as the creator of the modern diary comic with American Elf, the mastermind of the potty-mouthed super hero parody series Super-F*ckers, or the force behind kids' comics like Monkey Vs. Robot, Johnny Boo and Squirrely Gray. And as if his prolific career in comics didn't keep him busy enough--he's got a slew of titles coming out over the next year, including a Super-F*ckers collection and two new Johnny Boo books, all from indie publisher Top Shelf--he also rocks out under the moniker of James Kochalka Superstar.

But Bruce beckons, and Kochalka, a favorite of famous folks from Frank Miller to Moby, has done three stories featuring the Incredible Hulk. And all three--"The Hulk Squad," "Hulk vs. the Rain" and "The Diary of the Hulk"--will be collected in the STRANGE TALES hardcover, arriving in stores this Wednesday.

We asked the writer/artist about his previous outing with Ol' Jade Genes, the rainbow of Hulks he lined up for his Hulk Squad and the traumatic experience he had with the character as a kid.

Marvel.com: James, you created "The Hulk Squad" specifically for the STRANGE TALES series, but you'd actually done a Hulk comic before.

"Hulk vs. The Rain"
James Kochalka: Yes. I did a comic called--well, the title on the comic is just "The Hulk," but the comic is known as "Hulk vs. the Rain." I think it was in the 2001 INCREDIBLE HULK ANNUAL. Basically, it's the Hulk being rained on, cursing the rain, slipping in the mud, thrashing about and being cranky. One thing that has always appealed to me about the Hulk as a kid, or really made him different than other characters, is that he was always persecuted. The Army was always chasing him or something like that. But in "Hulk vs. the Rain," you have to make him feel persecuted by the rain. It's Hulk vs. the whole world.

Marvel.com: I really do love that comic. I think it's my favorite Hulk story ever, because it's funny, but it's also strangely sad.

James Kochalka: There's definitely a lot of emotion in it, and the Hulk is a very emotional character. I mean, very few of the super heroes have any deep sadness. Hulk is always very lonely and sad. But of course, he kicks butt too, which makes him awesome. I think Wizard magazine named my Hulk comic one of the five weirdest Hulk stories of all time.

Marvel.com: So what's he doing this time around? Is he still fighting the elements?

James Kochalka: The one I did for STRANGE TALES is called "The Hulk Squad." Basically, the Army has cloned the Hulk, and has created a team of Hulks to hunt him down. The cloning process was flawed, so the copies are not exact. There's a Red Hulk who is very strong, but too foolhardy and too quick to anger. There's a pure White Hulk, who is the smartest one in the group, but doesn't have the battle lust necessary to really fight. And there's sort of a bloated blue one that is basically a little baby. It just goos and gaas and gurgles. And they fight the Hulk. I actually pitched this to Marvel as a straight series a couple years ago, and when I was offered a chance to do something for this book, I basically just revised the pitch I made to them several years ago.

Marvel.com: When you pitched it originally, was the intention to be a straightforward super hero comic, or was it going to be a humor thing?

James Kochalka: It was going to be as straightforward of a super hero comic as I am capable of drawing!

Marvel.com: Are you a Marvel fan going back to your early days?

James Kochalka: Yeah, I was a big Marvel fan when I was a kid in the '70s. One of the early comic book shops was a couple towns away from where I lived. We would go there occasionally, and I would always buy the back issues. I was buying '60s comics and early '70s.

Marvel.com: Did you have a favorite character or series?

James Kochalka: I liked them all, I guess. I remember one collection, BRING ON THE BAD GUYS was the name, which had the origins of all the villains. My grandmother wouldn't let me get BRING ON THE BAD GUYS because it was about villains, but it actually looked a lot cooler than the one about the heroes. I have a funny story about the Hulk from when I was a kid. I was buying HULK, and I was pretty young. I don't remember exactly how old I was, but maybe like six or seven or something like that. I was looking at them, and in the '70s the art style is a little grittier looking than the '60s style art. I suddenly realized it was drawn really scary. And I realized Hulk was a monster! When I suddenly realized he was a scary monster I could not bear to look at it any more. I had to give them all away to the neighbor kid.

Marvel.com: Isn't it funny how when you're a kid you categorize things in your mind in that way? That realization that the Hulk is a monster completely changes your view of him.

"The Hulk Squad"

James Kochalka: Yeah. At first he was just a character, and I didn't think anything of it. But then suddenly I realized he is a scary monster. A similar thing happened to me reading Tintin as a kid. One issue he goes on an island or something and in the jungle he finds a pile of skulls. I just had to put the book down. I couldn't finish that book.

Marvel.com: Are there any other Marvel characters you'd like to tackle some day, in addition to the Hulk?

James Kochalka: Well, I really want to just draw more Hulk comics. I love Spider-Man, but the costume's too hard to draw. I'm not sure if it's something I would want to do, just for that reason. Just having all that webbing all over him!

Marvel.com: I've talked to artists who have drawn him for years, and even they have a hard time with it.

James Kochalka: They have to redesign Spider-Man so maybe it's got nothing to do with spiders. [Laughs] This is one I would do: I'd do a pink Spider-Man for girls. He could have a pony. Maybe it's not late for me to really do that. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: What else have you been working on lately?

James Kochalka: I've always got new Johnny Boo books coming out. It's about a little ghost named Johnny Boo and his pet ghost, Squiggle.  I'm trying to put out two a year. It's secretly a super hero book too... Johnny Boo has Boo Power and Squiggle has Squiggle Power. It's a wildly fun kid's book, absolutely insane with a sort of loop-de-loop narrative. The two next ones out are Johnny Boo and the Happy Apples and Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy.

I'm also working on a graphic novel titled Glorkian Warrior. It's a science fiction adventure, about delivering pizza.

As James Kochalka Superstar I just released a new CD of songs called "Digital Elf."  Until now my music has been pretty rock, but for this one all the music was created on the Game Boy Advance using its wonderful 8-bit sound chip. It should be available on iTunes, and the physical CD should be available in comic book stores. There's some awesome songs on it: "Dragon Puncher," "Robot Shark," "Bacharach Galactica"...15 new songs in all. Right now the CD is available exclusively through our local mom & pop independent record store Pure Pop. Scroll down on the front page... you should find it over on the right. Dragon Puncher is also the name of a new comic that I have coming out in 2010.

Marvel.com: What do you recommend that readers of STRANGE TALES check out next if they're looking for more of your work?

James Kochalka: Well, a Marvel fan would probably really love the Super-F*ckers series. I don't even know if you can mention that title by name...

Marvel.com: I'll put in the asterisk.

James Kochalka: The asterisk is really part of the title! Super-F*ckers is about a teenage super hero team that all live in a clubhouse, a sort of co-ed dorm type situation. All the stories have involved hanging out in their clubhouse, playing video games, worrying about which members might be gay, trying to hook up with each other. It's not a parody book--it's the real deal. It's also loosely based on my own college experience, and the local rock scene and that kind of thing, and inspired by books like X-MEN and Legion of Super-Heroes. There's a book collection of the series from Top Shelf.

Or they could check out Monkey vs. Robot, which is about a colony of monkeys and a robot factory in the jungle. And they fight. It's probably old enough to be called "a classic" now. Or perhaps even my daily diary comic strip American Elf, which we serialize at AmericanElf.com. All the archives are free, so it's a great time to check it out and see what it's all about. Yeah, I've been doing that daily for 11 years. That's mad. I can't believe it. Can you believe it? What's wrong with me? [Laughs]

Pick up your copy of the STRANGE TALES hardcover, on sale March 3, 2010!


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