Bob Levin talks to J.T. Dockery, the cartoonist behind In Tongues Illustrated

Posted by on November 30th, 2009 at 9:04 PM

LEVIN: Tell me about your family.

DOCKERY: I come from a large Eastern Kentucky family. I know all my mom’s first cousins and my great aunts and uncles. Jackson County, where I mostly grew up and consider “home,” is a largely agricultural community — as opposed to coal mining, which is more the norm there — settled post-Civil War by folks mostly trying to either get away from the law or from Reconstruction. My mom took off in the late 1960s and was the first in her family to go to college at the work-study school, Berea College, and returned as a high-school teacher. She met my dad, a Memphis boy, by way of Hanging Dog, N.C., there. I was raised by educated parents who encouraged reading and learning in the middle of hillbilly land.

LEVIN: And your education?

DOCKERY: Jackson County High School, but graduated from Berea Community HS, transferred my senior year: then Berea College, University of Kentucky, Morehead State, studying art and English. I always had the sense, despite some wonderful professors, that my art came contrary to my education. I often feel like a failed academic.

LEVIN: What’s your work history been like?

DOCKERY: I’ve had lots of dead-end jobs, from the mundane to the absurd, with working in a porn store deserving special mention. I’ve ended up as a shift manager at a “casual cajun” joint in Lexington, at which I feel treated like family — OK, maybe dysfunctional family — by the “mom ’n’ pop” owners. I hold onto my schoolgirl dream of making extra money on top of that from art. And music. I’ve been playing in garage bands for 15 years, in addition to being a disc jockey at the local college radio station, WRFL.

LEVIN: What got you into reading comics?

DOCKEY: Growing up in Gray Hawk, Ky., a neighbor in his teens, who lived down the hill, gave me a box of comics, including the first issue of Star Wars, which I recall “reading” before I had learned to read or seen the film — I was born Feb. 5th, 1976 — as well as a grab-bag of other late ’70s drek, and I was hooked. Of course, it was all Marvel and DC at first. The black-and-white boom, which gave me a sense of self-publishing, took me to the late ’80s, and I cultivated bad taste up to the point of being indoctrinated into the Fantagraphics/Drawn & Quarterly school. That was when my mind turned toward the history of the medium and sussing out more interesting contemporary and historical work. But comics have always been with me. I couldn’t separate them from my consciousness if I tried. Hard to beat the childhood influence of “reading” things before you could read.

LEVIN: What led you into creating comics?

DOCKERY: My first comic was called Superly Stupid. I drew it in 4th or 5th grade. It featured the title character and was a superhero parody. My mom made a few copies on her school mimeograph machine, with the blue ink. I drew four issues, one of which survives. After that, I created a Spider-Man clone, The Incredible Insect, of which I obsessively did 15 or so issues, a few of which were photocopied and sold to my cousin’s class. My cousin, who was a year or two behind me, sort of acted as my publisher/distributor, since his father would copy them at his insurance office, and he could lay them on his classmates, who were more impressed than my own were. I heard that one of the girls, who now teaches elementary school, held onto a copy and to this day shows it to her students as something a kid can do. I mention this to illustrate that drawing comics is more or less in my blood. Even the drawings I can recall doing as a child prior to drawing comics were mostly narrative in nature. I ain’t no Johnny Come Lately.

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