Losers United: My collaboration w/ Michael Kimber
I’ve been collaborating with Michael Kimber since a chance messageboard meeting this spring brought us in touch with each other’s work. I contribute illustrations to his website Colony Of Losers more-or-less monthly, with three drawings so far.
Michael is a young writer from my home city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Colony Of Losers is his blog. It’s a massive writing project, bringing two storylines (The Cure and Colony Of Losers) gradually together to form a strikingly honest autobiographical narrative, taking in the lives of some of his closest friends and most interesting associates. As Michael puts it: “It describes the twists, turns, trials and tribulations of trying to find your future and falling on your face in the process.”
The first piece I drew for Michael was ‘Empty Nest’ and I like to think of it as a kind of summary of Colony Of Losers, almost a Coat-Of-Arms. Inspired by his ode to his favorite all-day breakfast joint, the central image is a fried egg. Placed on top of a bird’s nest, whites dripping down the sides, it takes on another meaning: leaving the nest before you’re ready, and getting cracked open and cooked on the hot pavement of the Real World.
As a fledgling illustrator grappling with the challenges of the self-employed artist, I can relate to Colony Of Losers immediately. I’ve fallen on my face and gotten back up time and again since graduating school. There is a lot of familar territory for me in what Kimber relates in Colony. I asked Michael about his approach to our collaboration, and how it feels to trust someone you barely know to interpret some of your darkest and most personal experiences.
“For me collaboration is about two artists doing what they do and complimenting each other. Pete has found a resonance in my work that allows him to create some of his best stuff in collaboration with my writing. Which is lucky for me. This question is an interesting one for me as I have to worry about everyone’s interpretation of my work. My extended family, girlfriends past, present and future get to read about the most fucked moments of my life.”
The deeply personal nature of Michael’s writing sets up a particular challenge for me as an illustrator. It calls just as much for free interpretation as it does for sensitivity to the original material. To boil it down to a worn-out metaphor would belittle the original work. On the other hand, to fly off the handle and do whatever I fancied without due deliberation would undermine the very serious voice behind the writings. I try to use my own artistic vocabulary to empathize with Michael’s writing, expressing my own experiences at the points they intersect with his, in such a way that I hope others will be able to empathize with the both of us. I would hate to illustrate his stories literally. After all, what would that look like? Michael Kimber feeling anxious? Michael Kimber not sleeping? Michael Kimber in counselling? I can’t see how I could bring anything of value to such images.
My favorite piece, and the first to take on the heavier material of The Cure stories, is ‘Treading Water’. The starting point was his account of trying to learn to ride a bike as an adult, and a comparison of his breakdown to a sudden malfunction of life’s mechanisms. I brought in elements of my own experiences with frustration, paranoia and confusion in my darkest times. The result is chaotic, absurd, and confusing but there is an underlying strength, and it’s not hopeless.
With ‘Champions Of Breakfast’, a second take on the same ode to breakfast, empathy was easy. The Canadian All-Day Breakfast is close to my heart. I tell more about that piece here.
Colony has been taking off in recent months, with its readership growing steadily from one week to the next, and Michael’s output has been prolific. He is also a journalist and an aspiring novelist, and has recently penned a comic strip called ‘Birds’, drawn by Mike Holmes. He is looking for a publisher for Colony Of Losers, pitching his screenplay ‘Sick’, and working on making a steady home for Colony Of Losers in Halifax Magazine. He has recently been interviewed by Background Noise and mindyourmind.ca, and his writing is due to appear in the Dalhousie Gazette’s Mental Health Issue, with my piece ‘Treading Water’ on the cover.
With all the hubub about the sea change in the publication business and a few yahoos crying ‘Illustration Is Dead!’, the question of illustration’s validity comes up often these days. It’s always good to hear its value espoused by people other than illustrators:
“There are many different advantages to having a talented illustrator on your side. A picture holds a thousand words is true in regards to spatial reality. More questions and answers can be crammed into an image–more than in an explanatory paragraph because so much more is left open. For getting people to stop and stare at your work, an illustrator is one of hell of an advantage.
…For future branding having Pete on my side is like having Bruce Lee as a bodyguard.”
In closing he had this to about The Cure:
“A lot of my work concerns mental health, especially the Cure. The motivation behind that is both therapeutic and political. Right now only one third of people suffering from mental illness get help due to stigma. I’m trying to provide a human face so that people won’t be ashamed of shit that isn’t their fault. Because I know what it’s like to feel alone and scared. I want to give my experiences to help that road feel a little less lonely. Too many of our best friends, brothers and sisters live in stress in secret. If you are one such person check out the Cure and you might get a sense that a lot of people are just as fucked up as you. ”
You can check out the messageboard thread where I discovered Michael’s work here.
My posts can be identified by the spinning Vancouver Canucks logo and the juvenile username.
I’ve posted the full text of my interview with Michael here