Today’s cutest news of the day ever: superstar comic artist James Kochalka, of American Elf fame, has just been named the Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He is the second Cartoonist Laureate in the United States; the only other state to have one is Alaska. Random? Yes. Awesome? Definitely.
If you don’t know him from his daily diary comic American Elf, maybe you’ve heard of him because of his books, or his music. Not only has James Kochalka written and drawn a whole bunch of comic compilations, including Super F*ckers, Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher, he also plays in a rockin’ band and wrote Hockey Monkey, which became the theme song of Fox’s The Loop, as well as Pizza Rocket, which anyone born in the 80s will recognize from Nickelodeon (but I sadly can’t find a video of).
According to the state’s press release, “the cartoonist laureate is a person whose primary residence is Vermont, whose work manifests a high degree of excellence, who has produced a critically acclaimed body of work, and who has a long association with Vermont.” Well, Kochalka was born in Vermont, went to the University of Vermont and now lives in Burlington. I’d say he fits the bill.
Kochalka deserves the award, though, because he is a genre-changing cartoonist. American Elf is consistently cited as the first serious diary comic; he began the epic work in 1998 and plans to continue it for the foreseeable future. I have no doubt that historians or alien civilizations will some day encounter Kochalka’s work and use it to study our era and culture, it’s that good. An entrancing writer as well as a great draftsman (and colorist, seriously) the artist’s comics chronicle every-day adventures with the eye and ear of a poet, occasionally rhapsodizing over nature, veering off into weird dreams or writing from the perspective of his cat.
In an interview on Vermont Public Radio, Kochalka explained his interpretation of the post: “in the same way that a poet can explore the depths of their humanity, a cartoonist can explore the depths of their humanity in comics.” No one explores the depths of an incredibly human existence quite as well as James Kochalka, and for me, that’s more than enough to make him laureate of pretty much anything.