Copyright Zachary Cavaluzzi
By Nicolas Palermo | Posted Friday, May 4, 2018
For decades, comic book art was considered “low brow” -- that is, the artwork used in comic books, no matter how beautifully drawn and inspiring, is not “real art.” This mindset has (sort of) changed over the years, largely in part due to authors and artists like Allen Moore, R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman who displayed the brilliance of telling stories through the medium of comic books, or graphic novels. Still, art historians constantly ignore the importance of comic book art in the grand scheme of art history. To these art snobs, I say: your loss!
Something tells me local comic illustrator/author and multi-media artist Zachary Cavaluzzi would agree. Being able to tell a story -- a GOOD story -- through both words and art is not an easy task, but to Zac, it seems to come naturally. I spoke to Zac about his creative process, his inspirations and what we can expect to see from him next.
Where are you based in New Jersey? Does that particular area inspire you or are you eager to relocate?
Middletown is a low-key suburban commuter town that has frequently influenced my art. I see lots of really interesting stuff happening in Middletown, like a growing art and music community and a pop cultural vibe that fluctuates between love for Kevin Smith movies and Bruce Springsteen. In my comic, Exodus 420, I used Middletown as a motif to emphasize the characters' current situation of being in the "Middle." The story is a coming-of-age horror slasher reflecting on technology and drug dependency. I might relocate to the city eventually but until the graphic novel is done I don’t plan on leaving. Exodus 420 is part 1 of 4, and I’ve just finished up the inks for part 2.
Talk a little about your comic creating process. What is the first step after you come up with an idea? What comes after that?
The idea usually starts as a demented joke that goes way too far and develops arms and legs and learns to walk on its own. Eventually, it learns to talk, and that’s when I start to see things. First, I like to start with rendered character designs/style pages, then structure/rough-write a story and draw. After that, it’s a dance with Photoshop.
I tend to get turned off by comics that are overly text heavy -- but funnily enough, reading comics can get boring if they rely solely on the artwork. You work has a great balance of these two elements. Is this a conscious decision? Do you prefer the writing process or creating the illustrations?
Thank you, it was something I was very conscious of. I never really considered myself a writer until I started drawing comic books. It has made me very conscious of integration of text and image because it's arguably the most important part. While drawing out the main inks, I usually leave out the speech bubbles but leave breathing room in the panels. This allows me to fuss with the positioning of speech bubbles while not locking me into a must-follow script. Once the first writing draft is done, I begin writing a visual narrative that follows the writing based on structure, but the dialogue is mostly separate and changeable. I so much enjoy the drawing/coloring part more than writing, but when they come together, that’s the best feeling.
I remember reading MAD Magazine as a kid and thinking “this is so weird, and funny, and gross.” That was my “light bulb” moment. I had never seen artwork like that, and I was immediately hooked. Did you have a similar moment growing up with comic books? What were the first comics you became engrossed in?
Mad Magazine is a monumental influence on me. In many ways, it was also a light bulb for me as well. Mad introduced me to pop-culture through movie satire strips and political criticism, in addition to structural themes of duality in Spy vs. Spy and existential crisis gags in the Lighter Side/Darker Side strips. Those Mad compilation books were the first comics I became obsessed with, followed by Calvin and Hobbes and The Tick. In middle school, to better understand the comic’s flow and develop my visual eye, I would rip off funny miscellaneous strips from Mad, draw them out, and put them in the school newspaper. It wasn’t until I read the works of Allen Moore and Frank Miller that I understood the strength comics can have with storytelling and how similar it is to cinema.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently in the midst of the first illustrated/word draft of a series (to be turned into a graphic novel) called Tales From My Dad’s House. The title is a spin-off of Tales From The Crypt, another huge inspiration. I released part 1 (Exodus 420) in October of 2017 and will release part 2 (Void) in October 2018. I’m also working up new large-scale tape art pieces to be displayed. I will be showing my work at the Restart the Arts Festival on April 21st, Ocean Academy.
Where can we find your work online?
I have an online comic and a gallery viewer of most of my tape art on my website as well as a 5-page preview of Exodus 420. Thanks for the interview, Nic.