Canadian cartoonist Joshua Barkman's False Knees came to GoComics earlier this month, bringing a veritable ark of animals along with it. The comic's birds, raccoons, and other hybrid country/city creatures are a welcome addition to a site that's already home to a host of cartoon cats and dogs. Unlike the stars of some of our more anthropomorphic catalog, however, Barkman's beasts are decidedly more scientifically illustrated. It's a style that stands in brilliant contrast to their personified dialogue, which frequently shows that the critters we share our space with have just as much -- and often, as little -- on their minds as we do.
How does Barkman strike just the right balance of realism and absurdism to delight readers? We got in touch to find out.
GoComics: You've been drawing False Knees for just about six years. What inspired you to create the comic and what's kept you going all this time?
Joshua Barkman: A friend of mine was working for a student-run newspaper and told me they were doing a call for submissions. I had never done a comic before–other than tracing Calvin and Hobbes as a child–so I had no idea what I was doing. The first few comics took far longer to make than I will ever admit and are objectively pretty awful to look at now. Though it is encouraging for me to look back and see how some things have improved.
That's part of what has kept me going. I'm rarely totally satisfied in my comics, but I think I'm headed in a good direction. Also, peer pressure is a great motivator. People have been so supportive of False Knees right from the beginning and I am not ready to let any of them down.
GC: Over the course of its run, False Knees has undergone a shift from largely following humans to immersing itself in nature and animals. What prompted this evolution? Is it here to stay?
JB: Animals are way more fun to draw than me! It also gives me a chance to play on people's expectations of common North American city animals. We share our space with these creatures who go largely forgotten (or worse: deemed 'pests'), and I like the idea of giving them a voice. Even if it's the voice of a 20-something, white, human man.
I think I'll stick with animals for a while, but maybe I'll eventually transition from birds to crabs or trilobites to stay relevant.
GC: Much of False Knees is rooted in the natural world. Are you an outdoorsy kind of person? What's your connection to nature?
JB: In reality, I spend all day inside. In hyporeality, which occurs in my head, I am in a dense forest lying face-down in a heap of moss. Most of my adult jobs have involved trees; either planting, pruning, or removing them. I grew up in the countryside and I love camping and traveling to see forests in other parts of the world.
GC: False Knees contrasts accurate drawings with cartoony situations. How did you arrive at this stylistic juxtaposition?
JB: It's just the way it comes out, I guess! I really believe that comics are a phenomenal visual art form and it strikes me as such an opportunity to produce something visually appealing. I don't think there has to be a compromise between style and content.
I want the animals of False Knees to stay as animal as they can (while speaking English). I don't want them to become pants-wearing, humanoid hybrids.
GC: False Knees seems to blend black line art with a mix of traditional watercolors and some digital flat color. Tell me about your comic creation process and how you've refined it over time.
JB: I used to make comics over several sheets of computer paper so that I could trace the background from one to the next using a homemade tracing table. I now make each comic on one piece of multimedia paper and I no longer trace. Most other things have remained the same. I transitioned from fine-tip pens to using dipped ink nibs for most line work, but I still do entire comics in pencil first. I've learned a few rudimentary things to help me edit digitally (whoever invented the clone tool should receive a Nobel prize), but I prefer to do things by hand.
GC: What kind of comics and other art are you attracted to as a reader?
JB: The artwork of Teagan White is astonishing and inspiring, the comics of Dakota McFadzean and Anders Nilsen are wonderful and bizarre, Alex Noris of Dorris McComics and a few other great series has really impacted the way I understand webcomics and timing, I really love Gabrielle Bell comics too. My favourite book of the past few years is called Ravens, Crows, Magpies, and Jays by Tony Angell. It's the most beautiful reference book for bird nerds that I've ever seen.
GC: Summer is wrapping up and we're on the road to autumn. Should readers expect a coinciding seasonal shift in False Knees?
JB: I will never pass up an easy excuse to draw tree leaves.
GC: On top of False Knees, you do other things (likely involving real knees). How do you balance your daily life with comics and your other art?
JB: I'm still trying to figure out a balance. Time management is a real skill that I continue to not have. Despite that, I always keep a good hour every day to wrestle with my cat and another couple hours for lying on the floor to cope with reality. There are so many things to do!