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Interview

Creator of All Over Coffee, Paul Madonna – Page 2

Comics artist Paul Madonna talks about living in San Francisco, note taking, and drawing All Over Coffee...

READERSVOICE.COM: What kinds of magazines do you like to read?

PAUL MADONNA: I’m an avid New Yorker reader. An occasional reader of Harper’s, The Believer, Artnews, All-Story, The Paris Review. I’ll page through anything, though. At my parents’ or a friend’s house, or in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, I’ll flip through whatever’s laying around. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by magazines.

RV: How much of an advantage has it been for you to have come from outside San Francisco, ie. Pittsburgh, when drawing and painting the city?

PM: Tough to answer. I could say that because I’m not from here I can see it more clearly than those who’ve spent their entire lives here. But the same argument can be made for locals, that they know a San Francisco in a way no transplant can. So I’ll say that it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you see, how you look at things, no matter where you are, or where you come from.

RV: Can you give a bit of a list of some of the abodes you’ve lived in since moving to San Francisco 14 years ago?

PM: I’ve lived in a lot of places over the past 14 years. The second place is probably the most important, in that it was really my first home in San Francisco.

For the first three months here I lived in a random apartment on the outskirts of town. After three months I ran out of money and crashed with a friend. He lived in a flat with six other people and had only his one room so it became awkward fast. I started sleeping in the little room off the kitchen, that was 6×9 feet. It had a water heater and was the passage to the back steps to take out the garbage. I convinced everyone to let me stay and paid only $150 a month, which was ridiculously cheap, even for 1994.
Within a few months everyone else moved out and I was the roommate with seniority.

I got more housemates and stayed in the back room for cheap, built a loft (the ceilings were 13 foot) and had a 4×6 foot drawing table underneath. The table was the room, but that was all I needed.

After I foolishly moved out of that place with nowhere to go I eventually got more stable places. But it took another year of couch surfing for that to begin.

Now my wife and I share a flat that is as big as that first one I shared with seven people, and I have two adjoining rooms as a studio, that is easily five times the size of that side room I lived and worked in. And she and I still have the rest of the flat to live in.

RV: On your website you said you have always been an obsessive note-taker. I was wondering what sorts of things you’ll note down and how these have ended up in cartoons?

PM: Thoughts, observations. One or two lines that are strings back to an idea, so that when I’m flipping through later I can quickly read a note and peer into a larger concept. By seeing it quickly for the first time again one eventually jumps out at me and I know what I want to start pushing. Coming up with ideas for a piece is about developing ideas that have come spontaneously from experiences or watching people.

Later, when I’m setting out to create a piece, I look back on those initial reactions, waiting for one to invigorate me as an idea, after the event, to see where I can take that.

RV: I saw one photo of you where you were creating a picture on about an A4-size page. Do you do all the pictures this size and reduce them for the San Francisco Chronicle and your website? How do you add the lettering?

PM: Drawings for aoc [All Over Coffee] range from 9×12 to 26×40. I scan and layout all the pieces myself and send them ready for print to the Chronicle. Early on I laid out the text first electronically to use as a guide for spacing, then hand wrote and scanned to compose the finished strip digitally.
Now I hand write the text on many of the original pieces, so when I scan, I’m just scanning the final piece for print.

What you see online or in the paper is how it looks in life. It’s very important to me that these pieces look even better in life than in print. Print is a medium that adjusts and distorts in its own way. I sometimes use that to my advantage but always the original needs to be striking and engaging.

These aren’t illustrations where the original looks like a dud because the print allowed it to shine. I see these as works of art first, which get distributed through other mediums of print: newspaper, books, fine art prints, magazines and online.

RV: I was interested to see you don’t do drawing first in pencil, kind of like Robert Crumb. How much of an influence has he been in your fine art cartoons?

PM: Crumb was one of my first comic influences for merging art and comics. In college I discovered underground comics like Zap and all the solo Crumb stuff, which led me to alternative cartoonists like Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt.

As for drawing straight to ink, that’s more my sense of artistry and need for immediacy. Drawing for me is fluid. It’s like a musician playing live versus being in a studio. Sometimes you want a studio to lay down multiple tracks, to redo parts, to really create a tight and organized piece, but that doesn’t give the same satisfaction as busting it out in the moment on stage. And really, the studio stuff will reflect how good of a performer you are.

So occasionally I’ll do a real cartoony piece—a non aoc comic strip—that I’ll pencil and redraw two or three times; but that will be because it’s the aesthetic I want for that piece, and the rules for creating and interpreting that piece, allow for it.

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