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23 March 2009

The FUO interview with Josh Latta.

Josh Latta is an illustrator and the cartoonist behind the Rashy Rabbit series of minicomics.  I met Josh through Brad McGinty back when I lived in Georgia but before I met either of them I was reading their comic strip Brad N' Josh in one of the free alt papers.  I've been a fan since the first time I saw one of their strips.  Josh was nice enough to answer a bunch of email questions I've sent him over the past few months and I've finally cobbled it all together into what I guess you could call an interview.  I'll note that I have left much of the grammar and spelling as it was typed because I feel that it is truer to the way Josh and I speak than perfect grammar would be. 

Not to get into the cliche' of "tell me your life story in one paragraph" but can you talk a little about how/when/where you came from and how you ended up becoming a cartoonist?

I grew up a little outside of Atlanta in Stone Mountain.
It's a heavily wooded area with lotsa trees,wildlife and creeks right there in our neighborhood. I've never been a particular outdoorsy or sports type but I remember wondering around the woods and playing in the creek by myself.
I wonder how many kids still do that today?
I always loved animation.  I remember I was particularly fond of Disney cartoons and features.  (Which, by the way, were hard to find on television pre-VCR's.) I loved Looney Tunes, Woody Woodpecker, Hanna-Barbera cartoons and pretty much any crap that they were showing at the time, like the Smurfs.
I've always liked cartoons more than most I suppose. I remember that my father used to pick me up at daycare on the bus and once while walking home we found a desk that was being thrown out along with some one's comic book collection. I remember there being some Donald Duck comics and an issue of Scamp.  This was before I even knew how to read but I treasured that stack of comics and took them home. (My dad carried the desk.) So, I guess you can say it was because of animation and funny animals.
Anyway, I've always enjoyed drawing. My parents always told me that I've draw all my life. You'd think I'd be better then!
I never had much interest outside of drawing anything but cartoons and comics.
I've been drawing comics or "sequential art"  since before I could even write. I'd just fill in the word balloons with letters and call it a comic.
I guess when I really got serious about it was in high school when I met and befriend a really clever and funny cartoonist named Dave. He was really light years ahead of me in drawing and his ideas were very clever and funny. I guess he really got me thinking about comics in a new way.
I gotta confess, I wasn't drawing as much as I should in high school until I met him.
Really thanks to him,and his subsequent death, I started to work hard on my art instead of coasting on being better than average. Dave committed suicide and I started to draw more for whatever reason.

I too remember drawing a lot less in high school and looking back I 
think a lot of that was because the support totally disappeared.  In 
grade school, drawing was applauded by teachers and parents but by 
high school it was discouraged if not flat out condemned by teachers.  
As if it got in the way of more important activities such as sports or 
socializing with the other sex.  Were your parents and teachers 
supportive of your drawing as you got older?  Do you feel like you have any support now?

Well, yeah the support in school was totally gone, or worse yet, never there to begin with. One hard thing for any one to deal with is learning that you aren't a child prodigy, or worse yet, that you never were a prodigy. I found high school incredibility humbling in more ways that one, but it was hard when you realized you were no longer the best artist around. I think I coulda used a little less support as a kid. My head got too big. I do feel like I have a good support system, then and now.

Were you into any boy’s adventure stuff as a kid or teen?  In my day, 
it was kind of one or the other without a lot of middle ground.  It 
was Star Wars, GI Joe, Transformers and superheroes or it was Care 
Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie.  There was not a lot of humor 
stuff other than HB and WB re-runs.  I guess the Teenage Mutant Ninja 
Turtles were somewhere in the middle but I was already buying skateboards and rock music by that time.  Did any of that have an impact on you?  Were you ever a fan of the Marvel and DC superhero stuff?

Yeah, my earliest influence on life in general were The Smurfs, Disney and Warner bros. cartoons, but of course I was susceptible to the whole "collect them all" mentality and got into boys action stuff. I loved He-Man, GI Joe, M.A.S.K, Ghostbusters, TMNT... you name it. I collected action figures as a kid fer sure.
But yeah, I too got into skateboards (the art on skateboards as well as Rat Fink, all those decals are what made skateboarding so lurid to me).
Yeah, I was into Marvel and DC. I got into super hero comics as an adolescent and I was embarrassed by liking "funny" comics. I was a teenager. I liked serious things. One thing is for sure, there was a lotta super heroes that took themselves seriously in the late 80s/ early 90's... I dug Batman and The X-men, Spider-Man and, uh not much else, really. I liked whatever Art Adams or Jim Lee drew.

What was your gateway into adult/indie/alternative/underground comics?

I got into Robt. Williams paintings so I was kinda familiar that there is this underground stuff going on and I always heard the name "Crumb" being passed around so I saw the documentary and fell in love with his work. Coming from a politically correct sensitive boy era, Crumb was quite a revalation for me. I wouldn't be surprised if more cartoonist say that was their introduction to Crumb.
But you know what? I think I bought Milk & Cheese before that so that coulda been my first indie. ..and to think, I bought it because David from Roseanne wore a M&C t-shirt on an episode.

Was there any event or situation or inspiration that pointed you in the direction stepping beyond being a fan and starting to make comics?

Well, meeting Dave.  He was doing his own comics in high school just for fun and I thought they were great.  Brad McGinty too.  I met him and he was always drawing comics without knowing what to do with them. He was just doing it to get stories out and I felt that was admirable. 

What were the first comics you made and what were they like?

Discounting the ones I made as a kid,  I did painful to look at comics that were full of leftover teenage angst and pop culture references.
I 'm really embarrassed by them.
 The first comics I saw of yours were the Brad N' Josh strips that InSite ran.  Can you talk a bit about how that came to be?  How you and Brad got together and how it ended up in the paper?  Was that a positive experience?  What did you learn from it?

Brad N' Josh came to be quite organically. I met brad through an old acquaintance, well, this guy used to do murals for a local pizza chain and Brad and I both met him individually and kinda became his assistants. Which meant he'd scribble out a design and Brad and I'd do all the work. We both felt grateful to get professional work, but there was a lot of resentment and passive aggressiveness that came with it. To let off steam, I suppose Brad and I would draw crass comics about each other then we'd start to draw ourselves in these comics interacting on the page. We did a whole lot of these on scrap paper and in sketchbooks and they 'd come out pretty funny. Actually, you have to step up if you wanna hang with Brad on the page.  His art was always great and he'd come up with such clever stuff.  Well, I learned a lot working with him. I learned that making comics could actually be fun!
I was doing a strip for the local paper and I was working with a script. This is the worst way to do a comic. The comics were stiff and belabored.  I was still coming up with the plots but I farmed out the script to a friend of mine. Well, the relationship started to dissolve and I wasn't interested in continuing without him, so I just ended the strip and slipped B&J in it's place without announcing to anyone.
B&J was pretty much hated by the editor, the owner of the paper and the staff.
It didn't discourage us though, Brad and I knew we'd created something ahead of the curve.
I guess you can say it was a positive experience just due to the fact it forced us to do the comic because we had a deadline. I work better with deadlines.
I learned a lot mostly working with Brad.  It's not really anything tangible, but I learned to improv on the page which I'd never even attempted before.

What other experiences have you had with papers/websites/anthologies etc. running your work?  I know there was at least one Zounds strip and that other strip, was it just called "Comics"?  What are your feelings on running strips in papers or magazines and is it something you will pursue again?

Anthologies are good at reaching new audiences however, I don't really like doing them.
I hate to reinvent the wheel every time I do a new comic. I'd rather just do Rashy comics.
Before Zounds, I did a comic called Suicide Funnies. That was my first real strip. It's ultra embarrassing to look at now. But technically, that was my first minicomic. A Suicide Funnies compilation.  I was a little disappointed in minicomics, mainly because I didn't know that copiers couldn't do full bleed!
I continued with minis because Brad was doing them and I was really impressed.
Suicide Funnies turned into Zounds. Zounds was Suicide Funnies with a script writer.
I won't pursue the free monthly and weeklies anymore, because the people who run these things don't like comics, they don't care about comics and if they had their way the comics would be replaced with ads.
Plus, they never pay.


What other artistic work experience have you had?  Animation, design etc. and how has your comics work informed that and vice versa?

I've done a ton of hack work; graphic design, animation clean ups and inks, flash animation spot illustration.  You name it.
I was pretty awful at inking in animation. My lines are never very clean. It was a real struggle to keep up. I never moved past that stage.
The animation is very helpful. I learned about construction, which sadly, I didn't learn about earlier in my career or life.
Animation made me a stronger artist, I guess learning some fundamentals about graphic design helps, but overall, I don't enjoy that kind of work in the slightest.
These days I mostly do flash animation.


I remember you worked with a writer on the political piece for the 
Creative Loafing.  How did that process work for you?  What kind of 
response did you get from that?

It was pretty fun, I liked the writer, but ultimately, I don't really enjoy working from a script. It got a good response, but this was right before the crash n' burn of the alternative weekly.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing in general?  Is it something you enjoy or a means to an end?

I enjoy the freedom of self-publishing but I don't necessarily love to layout a book, fold and staple n' all of that.
However, if you are self-publishing anything you are already ahead of the curve.  Most people never get past the stage of wanting to do comics and not knowing how.  It's not so hard, you just start!
Why wait for DC and Marvel? If you got a story, tell it!

What kind of commitment does it take on your part to sell the books as a self-publisher?  Conventions, mailings, online sales, retail sales etc.?  How much effort does it take to get the book out there and do the rewards justify the efforts.

Selling the books is the hard part.
Conventions are fun and good for networking but I never sell much at them.
I'd avoid retail mainly because most comic shops won't buy them outright and want to do consignment.  For the most part, they just sit on the shelf until both you and the comic shop forget they have them.  Even if you do sell them, you only get half which is a loss because most mini comics are sold at cost. I seem to sell them online, but that's due in large part to reviews and online networking.
I feel it's all worthwhile when I get a nice email from someone that enjoyed the book.

How much importance do you put on social networking?  Facebook, 
MySpace, blogs etc.?  Does it help to generate commissioned work and 
find new readers?

Yeah, both! I don't know about comics really, I think most of those sales are because of reviews, but yeah, I do some commission stuff for people I met or only know online.
Plus, it's nice to hear a kind word about your art or whatever, especially from women.

How did the work you have done for Brian Jonestown Massacre come 
about?  Or, how did they find you?  Was that the result of social 
networking?  Does work on posters and things like that ever translate to comic sales?

I'm a huge fan of theirs, so I just sent Anton a drawing of him as a Simpsons style character, and he liked it and wanted me to draw the whole band in this style. Now, this is before that Simpsons avatar thing, so a lotta people thought it was from a real episode and I don't think the band did much to dissuade it. Anyway, that just opened the door for me.

Can you talk about how Cute Girl Demographics came to be?  I'm interested in how a publishing partnership like that may have advantages over being a one man DIYer.  Has it opened any doors?  Are there any bigger goals with it?

CGD came about when Brad, Jennifer Young and I were all working on comics at the same time and thought we'd have a better chance of getting noticed at cons, online and retail if we had more than just our one book.
It kinda came out of necessity because we didn't have that many books under our belts. (Well, with the exception of Brad.)  CGD's was picking up steam to the point we had an intern and quite a bit of buzz, then Jennifer, who really did most of the work, left.  (Hint never start a business venture with a couple.) And after that, it was just Brad and I. We both still put the CGD label on everything, but ultimately, it only exists in name alone.
Brad and I both have some books under our belts and careers apart from each other so it's not quite as important as it was four years ago.
It'd be nice to put out other peoples books, but we have no capital.

Also, I should mention meeting J.Chris Campbell and his posse kept me on the minicomic track.

Can you talk a bit about the Rashy Rabbit series?  What inspired it and what inspired the changes from issue to issue?  What is next for Rashy and where do you see the comic going.

It's about a character named Rashy Rabbit.  Stories about me and other people I knew growing up. They usually involve sex and drugs and other various debaucheries. It stars a rabbit, who's basically my stand-in, and reacts much the way I would or did.
Rashy started off as a semi-autobiographical story one shot, under the name Anxiety, Sleep Problems and Depression.
I guess I picked a Rabbit due in large part to the fact I didn't feel like drawing myself page after page, and due to the fact funny animals are my favorite strand of cartooning, so to speak.
Once we kicked off CGD I realized I needed to keep working and I went to work on another Rashy story, based on prior work experience but arranging several things that happened years apart in one
story.  But by issue 3, I pretty much stopped writing scripts and improved on the page blurring the line of reality and fiction more.
Then by issue 4, it's pretty much just a work of fiction.
I guess the style changes are mainly from my taste changing and my art getting better.
Also, some changes come out of the necessity of the storytelling. I guess that's why classic cartoon characters and comic characters changed so much in the early years.
Now ah'days you don't see much of that, because of licensing so that's why like, Adult Swim crap or whatever always looks the same, it doesn't evolve.

Rashy 4 was a pretty big departure not only from the way the first 3 
books were executed but from the way most people today are making 
comics.  What can we expect from Rashy 5?  Is it a conscious decision 
to make an effort to mix things up?

Thanks! Yes, I feel like it's a conscious decision because I learn from drawing Rashy what works in his design and what doesn't. I change it accordingly. I think cartoon characters should be organic and change in the direction you need to tell a certain style of story. Plus, I'd like to think my drawing gets better each issue.
Rashy 5 is the cartoonyiest of the bunch. It's more funny animal/wacky adventure this time around. Sure there's still some pot n' tits, because I can't turn my back on that, but I want it to feel like Asterix.
I have an idea for the next one too, and I plan on getting started, uh any day now.

What are your longer term goals?  Obviously to make good comics and to sell lots and lots of copies but, do you seek to have any of your existing work like Rashy published by a bigger publisher?  If so, would you still self-publish other ideas?

Ultimately, it'd be very nice to be published by someone else and let them worry about the marketing and the grunt work of the book. It doesn't really matter, I will continue with or without the support.

How do you see the state of self-publishing?  What potential does it have and where can it go?  Do you think it is possible to sustain a series like Rashy in this day and age without a publisher 

I would like to think so.
I think that Rashy would appeal to people outside of the comic shop.
I can never understand why there are so few humor comics. Comedies are being pumped out from Hollywood daily and people go and see them, but people won't read something that's funny? I don't buy it.
Maybe I should take it online, webcomics seem to be thriving.

What are your thoughts on the state of minicomics at this time?
How has it changed since you started making them?  Are they getting better?  

I think there certainly are more people doing them, which is good, but mini comics by in large are a conservative medium. No one is really telling daring stories or taking a chance on humor.

Do you have any thoughts on where minicomics could go?  Could money be made?  Is there a way to get the types of short stories or episodic stories like you do into the hands of a larger audience?

If you are selling something, anything, you can make money off of it. I doubt I could, and most people I know can't, but if you are a shrewd marketer and a nice person that people wanna be around, you can.

However, that's not taking in account the sheer amount of man hours it takes to draw a comic.  That money is lost...

Josh Latta will be debuting Rashy Rabbit #5 a.k.a. Redskin Rashy published by Wide Awake Press at the Fluke Mini-Comics Show in Athens, GA on April 4th.  I assume that the comic will be available for sale in the near future either at Wide Awake Press or Cute Girl Demographics or both.  Go bookmark Lattland to keep up to date on all the Latta goodness. 

Further reading:

Shannon Smith and Josh Latta at HeroesCon 2008. 

Thanks Josh!

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith

p.s.  This is just a thought that came to me as I was editing this but, folks from Georgia will probably be able to guess which pizza chain Josh and Brad did work for.  Living in Virginia now I can testify that said chain is one of the things folks from here mention when they come back from a visit to GA and they all remember the cool art.  It's a small world after all. 
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