The Dina Kelberman Interview (Part Two of Two)

Posted by on December 1st, 2010 at 12:01 AM

  Rob Clough concludes his interview with multi-media artist Dina Kelberman. 

From The Moon (2002).  Click image for larger version.

 RC: To what degree are your strips autobiographical?

DK: Completely. 360 degrees. Well, maybe like, 340. They are totally autobiographical, but not necessarily literally, as in I may change who said what, or things may be taken to a conclusion based on my feelings about myself or someone else rather than something that literally happened. But basically it’s just me talking about my life all the time. What a megalomaniac.

RC: What is your philosophy on the use of color in your strips? You seem to have a dissonant but highly expressive approach.

DK: Something I felt pretty strongly about when I first started reading comics in college was that they all looked the same. I found it really frustrating that this art form that could be ANYTHING, the way “fine art” is seen as an opportunity to do anything, was just all doing the same thing, the same way. It was the kind of thing where I felt like I wasn’t finding anything that I liked, so I started making stuff for myself.

A lot of that was about color, and I think that’s something that immediately attracted me to Chris Ware’s work as well. He uses color in a pretty specific and well-thought-out way. I mean, he does everything that way. Color is something that’s just always grabbed me, always been really important. It’s just everything to me. I could just stare at some colors forever. I couldn’t really tell you why.

I’m into dissonance in general in my artwork. I think literally anything can be seen as totally beautiful if you just look at it long enough and convince yourself “I think this is beautiful.” Eventually, you will realize the things about it that really actually do make it beautiful to you. I think that’s an amazing and wonderful thing. That’s probably not everyone’s experience, but it’s definitely true for me. So I like to employ that in my art process. I like to sort of think of what would be beautiful, then go against that, maybe just start making marks at random, making something ugly. Then I look at it and appreciate it. It’s more interesting that way to me. I prefer art that starts off seeming ugly, I guess.

From A Boring Time With Daffy (2004);  Click image for larger version.

RC: Your comics fall into what I would call the “immersive” camp, in that you integrate visuals and text in an unusual way. The text/lettering has a decorative and not purely functional quality, while the visuals are almost a kind of “handwriting” unto itself. What prodded this approach to making comics?

DK: I’ve always had a certain interest in writing in combination with art. I’m (obviously) not too concerned with plot, but I really like the way people talk, or the way prose can have a real individual voice to it in the way it’s written. Recently I have realized this means I should be into poetry, which I am now trying to get into. I think my comics are basically the comic version of poems, if I can get away with saying that without sounding like a total douche.

So because of all that, and a general appreciation for hand-drawn lettering, I started concentrating on that aspect of things and just really enjoy it. I actually usually begin a comic by drawing out an arbitrary word (which can sometimes change to a different word in the middle of drawing it) and then draw the comic around it. Often I don’t even consider the implications of the “start” word and the comic in conjunction until I read it at the end.

Click image for larger version.  From Kelberman’s Play Sometimes (2009). Photo by Joe Perez.

 RC: Why has comics become your primary focus as an artist?

DK: I don’t know. I guess because of what I said earlier about being interested in the poetry of things as well as an interest in drawing, and also I really love producing editions of things. There is something about comics, about how anyone can make them really, you only need simple reproduction techniques, not much money, and you can make an edition of books. Other than that, I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about ’em.

Click image for larger version.

 RC: “Found art” seems to be another area you’re interested in, especially the repurposing of old objects/images in new ways. What attracts you to these objects, and how did you decide to use them in the way you have for your Regular Man series?

DK: I mean, there’s the well-known attraction that many people have to found things, to start. The story that’s behind them, the speculation. Often, the contextlessness of them makes them something much more fascinating and meaningful. That is definitely something I love about found objects, or garbage, or song poems, or other bizarre anonymous recordings, or whatever.

A larger reason for it though is that I try to work as impulsively as possible. It’s great about drawing, you can just do it anywhere on anything, wherever you are. And it’s interesting to see drawings that result from that. It communicates the sense of urgency to make something that is for me a huge part of what’s moving about a lot of artwork. The art I love most is the stuff that comes from people because they just can’t hold it inside, they HAVE to spill it out in absolutely whatever way is available.

The Regular Man was made in a different way than that, however. That was more like, “I like designing fake book covers, [so] I think I will.” I really like making replicas of “real” things. Pulp novels, board games, advertisements, etc. I was recently complimented [in] my achievements in this field in case you were wondering.

Cover of The Regular Man #14 (2010).  Click image for larger version.

RC: What inspired this monthly, four-page (one two-sided sheet folded over, really) series featuring a loosely connected set of strips? How many subscribers do you have?

DK: I have a pretty paltry number of subscribers, to be honest. Although I receive more and more subscriptions pretty consistently, so I imagine the number will grow to a non-embarrassing number at some point. The embarrassing number is 12.

I started The Regular Man in an effort to force myself to make work more regularly. I tend to get caught up in a multitude of projects and never draw lately, so this is my way of making myself do something at least once a month. It’s also nice to accumulate a body of work that’s not just random comics, but something with a bit longer narrative that has to be sustained. In summary: it’s my exercise program.

From Kelberman’s City Paper Comic (2009).  Click image for larger version.

 RC: Given that color is such an important part of your approach in Important Comics and The Regular Man, how do you approach doing a black-and-white comic for the Baltimore City Paper?

DK: OH man, that was hard at first. It’s sort of still hard. My work is pretty all over the place, and the City Paper is maybe even MORE all over the place because I’ve had to struggle with trying to figure out how to work in grayscale. In a way it’s been it’s own fun experimentation process. But sometimes I just look at that stuff all together and think “this looks absurd.” I want to put out a book of that work soon, and I’ve been contemplating how to break it down. The entire first year I had a very formulaic approach; the comics are all structured the same way. Then the second year I started working more how my color comics are, which is utterly different, and they are their own crazy experiment. At first I tried to treat it like my color work, using different shades of gray in place of color. However, when reproduced, it just doesn’t work the same way at all. So I’ve gradually been moving closer and closer to just using black. I also started messing around with using a brush and ink occasionally, just to give myself something different to play with. I still have no idea what I’m doing in black and white, it’s just like a totally alien world to me.

From Aperiodic Comics (2010)

RC: Do you consider yourself to be an artist that writes, a writer that draws, or neither?

DK: I consider myself an artist who can’t settle on any one medium but mostly draws comics.

RC: To what degree is comics a way of exploring your own contradictions?

DK: Oh yeah, that’s basically what it’s all about for me. So many comics are just conversations between me and myself. Me telling me what a moron I am. Me telling me that I’m right. I have been described as “diplomatic to a fault,” which basically means I guess that I have a hard time coming down on either side of any issue because I feel like I can see where everyone’s coming from. Also, I am unbelievably, decisively opinionated. I think most people are pretty much made up of contradictions, and I like to see that in someone’s work and relate to it. Everyone’s an impossible person.

Click image for larger version.

RC: Speaking of contradictions, you seem to have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. Is this a further manifestation of misanthropy vs. social connection, or something else?

DK: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I live in this bubble, and it’s for good reason, and the Internet makes it so easy to do that and still have so much information coming in and going out. But it is absolutely not the same as interacting with people and the world in real life, and all the unnameable things that make it different are the things that are most important to being a happy person, I think. But the Internet is so addictive. And it’s so fun. And there is a lot of interacting with people that is particular to the Internet, and there are realms that only exist on the Internet, and I’m fascinated with that. But it’s something that needs to be kept in check. And I’m bad at keeping things in check.

RC: To what degree (if any) has Dada been an influence on your career as an artist? In particular, do you draw any inspiration from Marcel Duchamp?

DK: I have a lot of respect for that work, but to be honest my knowledge of art history is pretty embarrassing. I remember being young and seeing the pipe painting and being pretty impressed with that, and maybe it had more of an effect on me then than I can remember now. It probably did. But I never really went through a period of like, researching Dada. I have been more personally influenced by the work of Claes Oldenberg, Ed Ruscha and Jessica Stockholder, all of which I think have similar things going on and are also related to Dada. Oldenberg and Ruscha really blew my mind when I was a teenager. And Stockholder blows my mind forever, she’s the ultimate. There’s some kind of simple honesty to the objects and how they work together.

From Aperiodic Comics (2010)

RC: What inspired the weekly podcast interpreting your City Paper strip?

DK: The podcast was basically an idea I had when I was drunk that I thought was hilarious. My friend Brian has this incredibly dry sense of humor and he’s just really soft-spoken and basically is exactly the opposite of me, and I thought he would do a great job at describing my comics. It’s also a real experiment in the whole thing of people interpreting them in their own ways. Often, Brian will come up with things that I never would have thought of, and that’s great. Also, it’s hilarious to me because it seems like it’s basically just immediately become a huge pain in his ass that he has to do every week for no reason and that cracks me up.

RC: You obviously have a strong community of artists in Baltimore that you feel some connection to. Do you feel connected to the larger community of cartoonists? Do you feel like a part of the community or an outsider at shows like MoCCA or SPX?

DK: Oh man, a complete outsider. Although that is actually changing. I started working at our local awesome comics shop, Atomic Books, about a year ago, and that’s really helped me meet people and just know more about what’s going on so that I don’t feel like such an alien moron. I still kind of feel like one, though.

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