UL has quite a few large initiatives that rely on cartooning: LITE, computer animation, video games, the Film Studies program, a volume reprinting the Bec Doux comics coming from the Center for Louisiana Studies, the research of Fabrice Leroy in Modern Languages, and efforts from local government to land a film production company in Lafayette. From all of these, cartooning is becoming a critical industry. We spoke recently with UL alum Kody Chamberlain, a local cartoonist who has been successful selling his work and concepts to both film and the graphic novel.

Kody Chamberlain, Comic Artist, University of Louisiana AlumniHow did you get involved in cartoooning?

I grew up in Thibodaux, and as a senior in high school I started drawing.  A friend, Patrick Miller, started showing me his comic books.

You hadn't seen comics before?

Certainly they were around, but I didn't pay much attention to them. But Patrick was into things like the Conan comics by John Buscema. Conan was black & white, and I hadn't seen much of that... everything else I had seen was full color, candy-colored, but this was edgy. So it was a new discovery.

How did you end up at UL?

I started at Nicholls and studied there for about two years, where I was majoring in Art. Somewhere along the way I started focusing on graphic design.  I knew that college couldn't make be a better artist, only time and practice would.  But I had heard about [graphic arts professor] Dutch Kepler at UL; his program was so strong it was even known at NSU. So rather than Art, I decided to get a 'practical' degree, and transferred to UL in 1993. I studied for four years in Dutch's program, and I was graduated in 1997.

You're well-connected in the comics community. How did that start?

I attended my first comic book convention in San Diego, Comic-Con, maybe in 1994? I met a bunch of cartoon artists for the first time. It was my first contact with professional artists, but they were all very friendly, very accessible, and I made some friends. After that I was 100% committed.

There are some really good artists out there. How did you break into the industry?

Sitting at the drawing table for years isn't exciting, but when you look back at a year's worth of pages, you can see the progress. So after about a year of drawing, I could see real growth, I could see some progress.

Then about that time I found a site called digitalwebbing.com. It's a comic-book creator resource, a message board where the professionals hang out and share knowledge with one another. One of the problems with comics is that there's not a lot of literature on the subject.  Books have started to pop up in the last 10 years, but at that time there were only two good reference books. So the Internet helped spawn a whole generation of comic producers.

Somewhere on the way, there were enough creators on the 'net, and they decided to make comics,.. and along came digitalwebbing presents, a printed comic anthology, basically a collage of graphic short stories. At the time I had a writer, but he disappeared, so I missed the first few issues. My first piece is in issue #13 of that series, so I was finally published.

And all that came from that one website. From there I've continually worked on projects.

What are your recent publications?

My first creator-owned book is Punks The Comic. It's unorthodox in that it's entirely photo-collage, not a traditional drawn comic. The big thing is that we're not trying to be punk rock, it's our reaction to what happened in the punk rock movement. So it's more of a response to the movement, than a member of it.

You recently published a graphic version of Beowulf.

Beowulf, for HarperCollins. It's actually very interesting because the big guys, HarperCollins, Random House, they're all starting to get into the graphic novel, trying to create the same interest here that comics attract in Europe. But this is new for America, it's a big step.

For Beowulf, did you get a chance to talk to the original author?

We called his people, we couldn't do lunch. It didn't work.

You've also had some success in the film industry.

I kind of stumbled into that, I never had a real interest in it. I approached BOOM! studios with a story idea for a miniseries, The Foundation.  It was just a one-paragraph story.  Ross Richie is the publisher there, but he's also a Hollywood guy, I guess you'd call him a producer. I had pitched it to him as a comic series, but he thought it would make a great film, so he said "Let's pitch that."

So we started working on the outline, the story points, putting everything together. He mentioned the project in a few Hollywood meetings, and we sold the option to Paramount, before the book ever existed. But then everyone went home because of the writers' strike. The strike is over now, maybe we'll get some motion on it. The book is already out, but I hired other people to produce it.

What are your other recent projects?

I recently finished Pretty, Baby, Machine.  It's a 1930s crime drama, black & white, with Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly. The story was written by Clark Westerman, a screenwriter and producer. This was a script he was working on, but he decided to do it as a comic instead of a film. So it was the first comic I'd done from a script.

So did he direct it?

I showed him rough sketches, if he saw it differently, we'd have to decide if different is better, or just different.  If his suggestion was an obvious improvement, I'd change it. Otherwise I put up a fight. He's a cool guy, he knew I'd fight.