A.L. Kaplan is a comic book artist currently living in Reno, Nevada, waiting for the aliens. Their work can be seen on Tumblr at: alkcomics.tumblr.com and Tapastic: tapastic.com/alkcomics. They provided art for this week's story, "Bull of Heaven," by Gabriel Murray.
This interview was conducted by email in July 2016.
Heather McDougal: Your personal art, such as your comics, and your graphic design work both tend to be very strongly stylized, using flat colors and clean lines. Where do you look for style inspiration, and are there any historical art styles that you love?
A.L. Kaplan: Blank canvasses and an open range of possibility give me a certain anxiety that I’ve learned to control through deliberate organization and limitation of space, process, and medium. Whether it’s marking off my bleed margins, dividing the plane of the drawing board into panels, or confining forms within line-art, I get a lot of satisfaction from this organization and am able to be more creative within its limits. Working in screen-printing professionally compliments this process by having such specific restrictions in terms of color, shading, size, and texture. Screen-printed design and artwork in my opinion excels with bold, flat, limited colors and graphic lines, and I’ve taken these aesthetics to heart in my ink and digital artwork as well, since those restrictions translate to most artwork meant to be reproduced. Looking back, the artists I’ve always admired and have been inspired by have worked within the limitations of reproducible artwork: Golden Age illustrators, comic book artists, and woodblock printers.
Heather McDougal: Your webcomic, Full Spectrum Therapy, is extremely well-written. How do those two aspects of craft (art and writing) interact, for you?
A.L. Kaplan: Thank you! Art and writing are inextricable from each other for me -- in comics, especially, every aspect (the pictures, the negative space, the text, the size of the panels, etc.) all work together to form a vocabulary and grammar unique to the story being told.
Heather McDougal: Full Spectrum Therapy reminds me a lot of the very beginning (science fiction part) of Love and Rockets. What inspired you to write a teen “supernatural body-horror drama set… 30 years after an alien invasion?”
A.L. Kaplan: A lot of “alien invasion” stories focus on the calamity of the invasion itself and its destruction of our way of life, which I find to be a dangerously xenophobic narrative. What if aliens invaded and we had to learn how to accommodate them? What would change politically, socially, culturally, linguistically? I wanted to develop a world to explore those ideas, and a story to explore characters shaped by those ideas.
Adults have the power of hindsight which allows them to analyze the present and predict the future, setting them apart from their world through that analysis and reflection. Teenagers, however, tend to be self-involved in a way that leaves them more immersed in and more completely at the mercy of their setting. Having the story follow teenagers instead of adults gives me the ability to show the effects of the alien invasion on their lives, instead of having characters tell the reader about how it affects them. I also think that teenagers are surprisingly resilient, a trait that is interesting for me to explore.
Heather McDougal: "Heart of Gold" seems different than most of your work. How did it come about as a piece?
A.L. Kaplan: I like to experiment with more open-ended painting, employing stream-of-consciousness techniques, as a form of mental calisthenics. My comfort zone is in my style, and it is important both for artistic growth and mental health for me to break out of those rituals.
Heather McDougal: What other artists inspire or interest you?
A.L. Kaplan: Throughout my life I've admired a mixture of early 20th century illustrators (Dulac, Rackham, Beardsley, Clarke), bronze-age/modern comic artists (Vess, Pini, Miyazaki, Sienkiewicz, Shurei, Moebius, Druillet), and graphic artists (Escher). I'm also very directly influenced by my family, my friends, and the other contemporary web comic artists whose work I follow online.
Heather McDougal: What would you like to see more of in contemporary fantasy and science fiction art?
A.L. Kaplan: I would love to see more fantasy and science fiction art that is non-Eurocentric, and also more queer representation!
Heather McDougal: What's your dream project?
A.L. Kaplan: I'm lucky to have friends who are talented musicians -- I want to work on a project, most likely a comic or animation, where I am able to employ their musical collaboration somehow with my artwork.
Heather McDougal: What's next for you?
A.L. Kaplan: Right now I'm preparing for Small Press Expo. It's my first time selling at a convention!