Thick: So, I just learned about your illustration work for periodicals, tell us about how that developed.
M.K. Perker: I started as a comic book artist back in the late ‘80s in Turkey. I was sixteen years-old when I became a professional artist. The illustration came later to me. I was doing lots of short stories and comic book projects but then I started to realize there is a way to do illustrations but similar to the comic book work. I started doing a little bit; some stuff for MAD Magazine mostly. It really got my attention and I started gravitating toward that type of illustration. Then later, like mid-‘90s, I discovered Society of Illustrators Annual books. So, I was really, really into those books and then (I) started to do some editorial illustrations, which were really, really different than the comic book work. I am really happy to be a very versatile artist. I can use different styles, different techniques. And before Photoshop, I used the traditional (colouring) methods, but for the last ten years I started colouring digitally. The difference in my styles, being versatile, really helped me. I discovered those editorial illustrations mostly from the New York Times. Artists like Brett Hollins and C. F. Payne, and then I realized that there is another way I can do and I was really enjoying looking at. So, I started doing lots of illustrations like that. When I came to New York in 2001, I wanted to do comics to do begin with but I didn’t know how to approach the editors or the comic book publishers. So, the first thing I did was get an appointment from the New York Times because my English was not good in the beginning, I cannot claim it is good now, but still in 2001 it was really bad…
T: Your English is very good.
MK: …I’m also a (comic) writer, so I decided to skip that part and do only illustrations or do only comics as an artist. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to do comics without being able to really speak the language. And also I knew the difference between European comics and American comics…illustration is mostly similar. So, in European illustration you can’t see much difference from the American illustration, but the comics are completely different. I wanted to get an understanding of the American comics, while making a living from my profession. So, I started working for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and many magazines and newspapers as an illustrator. At the time, this gave me some time to understand the American comics, the art technique and the story-telling techniques. And still today, many people cannot believe I am the same person from those illustrations because they were really different…like as if that person has never seen a comic book in his life. Editorial art directors pointed this out too. And in a way, this became my strength too because I was able to look at illustration and comics from the outside. I have a very funny memory, I was doing cover illustration for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine…those little magazines, (do) you remember those?
T: No, I don’t think so.
MK: Like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (EQMM) and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (AHMM). I think Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine was in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Secret Window. So, I was doing cover illustrations for those magazines and once an art collector approached the magazine to ask them if a specific cover is for sale. They said, yes, it is probably available, we can put you in touch with the artist. The potential buyer says, oh, is he alive, I thought he was an old illustrator from the ‘40s and he died. This is one thing that I really enjoy, working in different styles, different techniques, and different art forms.
T: We were big fans of your comic series with G. Willow Wilson, Air, and that looks quite different from your new comic Todd the Ugliest Kid On Earth with Ken Kristensen. So, how do you decide on style?
MK: So, the most important thing for me, and it should be the most important thing for artists that have multiple styles, is to be consistent while you are being versatile. That is very important. So, my hero and the artist that I always look up to is Moebius, Jean Giraud, the late great French artist. He really affected me when I started working in the field. I really enjoyed looking at everything that he did. And I was really, really blown away with his approach to his work, that every time he does something it is really different but they’re all consistent. If you look at his Western comics, they are completely different from his science fiction. And in science fiction comics he has multiple styles. Sometimes he does very humourous science fiction stories, sometimes he does really realistic science fiction stories. It’s not looking at a catalogue and selecting one style. It comes with it. You start sketching first and then you start moving toward a certain direction. So, the story takes you to that style. With a couple of sketches it evolves because it’s coming from you. It’s not like you decided to have multiple styles, you already have it. So, it’s like being a schizophrenic a little. You are not trying to do it, you are not imitating somebody, it’s in you. In certain situations, you become that person. So, with multiple styles it is the same thing, I’m not trying to have those styles, it’s coming from me and when I start working on a project that approach comes naturally. It evolves with a couple of sketches and then, bam, it’s there! So, I don’t really have to try to do something deliberately. So, yeah, it comes from the story itself. For example, Air was a very serious book with lots of political ideas and lots of machinery like planes, airports, imaginary airports, lots of serious people, terrorists, hijackers. So, it had to be that way and it had to be a fast paced story. Although it was a very serious, very politically driven story, I felt like it was not like an action story, but when the reader starts reading it, they were expecting that action. So, I wanted to do something serious but at the same time very quick pacing. Like a sketch maybe.
T: How did Todd the Ugliest Kid On Earth come to be?
MK: A few years ago Ken was working for film auteur Todd Solondz. Ken knew I was a big fan of Solondz’s satirical masterpieces Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness. Films that deal with the ugliness of human behavior in suburban America. One day Ken invited me to the set to meet the director. The three of us talked for a long time. We talked about the kind of things you talk about with Todd Solondz - comics, film, and anti-psychotic medication. The next day I was inspired to draw this kid with a bag on his head. Underneath it I wrote: "Todd the Ugliest Kid in the World. We eventually changed the title to "on Earth." It has a nicer ring to it. I showed the sketch to Ken and we both agreed it was a character that demanded attention. We both wanted to give it life…at the time we had no story and no personality for this little guy. It was just a sketch on a piece of scrap paper. A day or two after I drew that sketch, Ken's 4 year-old nephew, came for a visit in New York City. His nephew had a knack for interpreting all the terrible stuff you see on your average stroll through Times Square in the most innocent and beautiful way. He saw a homeless man lying in a pool of blood and he pointed at the scene and said, “look, that guy tripped and spilled cranberry juice all over himself.” And when we looked we saw this homeless man sitting there with blood spattered all over him, and nearby, about five feet away, there happened to be a cranberry juice bottle lying in the gutter. That kid's brain took the most beautiful approach to the world based on the clues he had.
Those two experiences, Ken's nephew visiting NYC, and meeting Todd Solondz, were integral to creating the character of Todd, an innocent kid caught up in the ugly realities. Once we had our core character it was a matter of pushing the boundaries of his world to the extreme to make it funny and heart-breaking.
T: Tell us about your Turkish comics, specifically, Fairy Tale Mafia caught my eye.
MK: Fairy Tale Mafia is a compilation of my short stories, mostly crime stories. Some of them are real crime stories I heard from people from my neighborhood or some of them happened while I was in my neighborhood. Some of them are the result of my interpretation of some of the interesting chapters from my neighborhood and from my family. I grew up in a very dangerous neighborhood in Istanbul. I wanted to take those aspects and turn it into a little bit metaphysical stories. Fairy Tale Mafia was one of the short stories in that compilation. In Turkey it’s mostly the European comics way, like French comic book magazines or Franco-Belgian comic magazines that publish your work first and then they do compilations. If it’s a long story they run them in the magazine first and then they turn them into a book. It’s the same thing in Turkey. In the States it is a little bit different to this. There are comics similar to the European comics but they are done directly as a book or a series. The way of doing it is different. So, in Turkey it is a really small market but it’s a big tradition that we have those comic magazines and humour magazines similar to MAD Magazine for a long time. The first one was published in 1890. So, the tradition of comic magazines is older than the country itself, the republic itself.