ISSUE Magazine

I Feel Like a Pizza With Everything On It: an interview with artist Kazimir Lee by Syar S. Alia

Kazimir Lee for ISSUE 18 SKIN

Back in January when Syaz and I were in Cepronia, the loft hangout of local band Shh…Diam!, Syaz picked up a tote bag with an awesome illustration of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and we wondered aloud about who had created such a kickass thing. A few days later Farah sent me a link on Facebook that led me straight to the kickass creator himself.

Kazimir Lee‘s blog is filled with sharp, cartoonish portraits and caricatures, comic erotica (or is it erotica comics? Eroticomics?), and animatics and character studies for actual moving cartoons. Did you see the posters for Cooler Lumpur Festival last June? Along with posters for that nifty The Last Polka ice cream tie-in around the same time? Kaz did those. The man makes a lot of awesome things, is what I’m getting at.

He was one of the first people I thought to approach to submit some work for SKIN. I figured he had a daring, unique and “cool” (lord help me for using that outdated word, but it applies, okay?) style and sensibility, and this issue (of ISSUE) would benefit from that. We traded a few emails with no more than a short paragraph total about all the abstract notions connected to skin, and touch, and connection, and barriers, etc etc etc. Then he sent us back this beauty, which I found sweet, subtle, colourful, and just a pretty clever mix of innocence and the erotic. Perhaps some of our readers can relate to the experience/emotions/nostalgia the whole thing evokes.

I sent him a few questions about the illustration, his art-making process, and himself, and the replies he sent back were so delightful I may have done a seal clap behind my computer. Read on to see how drawing characters is a little like Pokémon, how that one scene in Pulp Fiction has influenced musical loyalties, how drawing makes you feel like a sandwich, how living makes you feel like a pizza and how much Googling of the name “Kazimir” I did.

In an interview you did a few years back, you state quite clearly that you’re “an animator dabbling in comics,” and going through your blog there’s a lot of mention of your animation work from school, and cartoons. What was the first cartoon you fell in love with? Are you one of the types to have come out of the womb doodling?

I was definitely a doodler as a child. Lots of dinosaurs, Ninja Turtles, and really flagrant Calvin and Hobbes ripoffs turned up in my early work. My taste in cartoons as a child sucked for the most part, with some notable exceptions. I was a big Real Ghostbusters fan, there was some My Little Pony watching (though I do not currently identify as a brony), lots of Ren and Stimpy and a weird Dutch cartoon about multiculturalism called Alfred J. Kwak, which had a huge impact on me as a kid.

I wanted to make cartoons, but eventually I realized that’s not necessarily the same as working in the animation industry, and while I still have huge appreciation for animation, the sheer scale of it scares and intimidates me. It took me almost two years to make a seven minute animated film by myself. Call me lazy or a student of instant gratification, but in my heart I thought, “Wow, I could make a 200-page comic in the same amount of time.” Much respect to people who stick with the industry and rise through its ranks, like Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the new Cartoon Network smash hit, Steven Universe. The kids who grow up on that show are going to be really cool.

What was the process of the illustration you did for SKIN? How did you come up with the idea, and what did you want to convey/draw? Why fish? Why a cat? Why 11:03? What’s that ventriloquist dummy looking guy on the shelf?

It’s basically when I realized that… skin is… just a figment of mortality, man. It’s always dying, being scraped off, it’s the little pieces of decay that we clothe our eternal selves in. Because for our… eternal selves (ashes a cigarette into a Heineken beer can) skin is just one of the many f*kin’ little death masks — memento mori, whatever — that we wear for the world, pretending we can ACTUALLY feel, we can ACTUALLY touch others, that ANYTHING ACTUALLY has an end. But nothing ever ends, man, not in a conclusive, universal sense, and if you wanna believe that lie then you’re livin’ wrong.

Ha! Actually I just came back from a snorkelling holiday and I saw a lot of fish, hence the marine theme.

With your work, how long does it take from conception to completion? Do you work on something continuously, or in bits and pieces, or both? What are your preferred methods of procrastination?

There’s definitely a lot of podcast listening and Facebooking in between spurts of work. I have a terrible habit of getting into political Facebook disagreements with people who are a million miles away from me. Actually coming up with a piece of work is tiring. In many ways, refining the work and whittling away the deadwood is the most therapeutic part, but actually creating the concept for a workable piece is like bashing my head against a brick wall sometimes. With the illustration I did for SKIN, it felt like I cycled through about 30 concepts, ditching each one about 2 to 20 minutes into it. I always feel like eating a huge sandwich afterwards.

What do you always end up drawing when you’re doodling idly? What are your favourite things to draw, and how do you challenge yourself when it comes to drawing or animating?

Since I consider myself a character animator, I’m very interested in faces and bodies; things I can exaggerate or simplify to best communicate another sentient thing. In some ways, it’s easy to capture a likeness that people can identify as familiar — glasses, a big nose — but it’s much harder to capture some fundamental nature, a slump or a pursed lip that makes everyone yell “YES! You totally got him!” It’s a little like catching Pokémon. You have to want to be the very best, like no one ever was, to catch them is my real test, etc.

Are you aware that your name means “someone who destroys opponent’s prestige/glory during battle” (derived from the Slavic element kazic “to destroy” combined with mer “great” or mir “peace”)? Do you think this has any bearing on your personality — now, or when you were younger?

Turns out I was aware of this meaning from a reasonably young age. I destroyed a lot of my parent’s prestige when I was born. A lot of baby name books actually try to soft-sell the name as “bringer of peace” or “proclaimer of peace,” which was brought to my attention when I was a teenager. Needless to say, “destroyer of peace” appealed much more to my unkind teenage mind, which was going through all the violent, fragile self-discovery native to the male ego. That’s a fancy way of saying I listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails and watched a lot of gory, misanthropic Italian movies.

I only got more annoying when I realized that “Iskander,” my surname, was what the Persians called Alexander the Great, a conqueror many of his subjects believed to be the devil. You can imagine how many dates that got me in high school.

That’s right. None.

Do you have any thoughts on Sufjan Stevens’ song Casimir Pulaski Day? (It’s genuinely one of my favourite Sufjan songs, but if you hate it you can say so, don’t worry)

You know that whole scene in Pulp Fiction where Mia Wallace says you can only ever be “a Beatles or an Elvis man”? I have the same feelings about Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart, and while I don’t have any hate in my heart for Sufjan, I am much more a fan of Devendra’s pretentious yowling. Casimir Pulaski Day is a super sad song and I have way too many friends who have lost a parent to cancer. Personally, I cannot recommend the music of local queerpunk band Shh…Diam! highly enough. They should cover more Sufjan Stevens. (Agreed!)

Last question on names: are you familiar with Kazimir Strzepek’s The Mourning Star? I’m looking at the Google Image search page and this guy seems like an alright artist to share a name with.

Before this, the only other Kazimir I was aware of was Kazimir Malevich, the founder of the suprematism school of modern art, but this interview is really broadening my awareness. A brief Google search shows me Strzepek’s work is wonderful and detailed a sort of like a post-apocalyptic James Kochalka. I am proud to share the glorious name with him. There’s also a comic book artist named Kaz who does storyboards for Spongebob Squarepants.

What’s your relationship to your own skin? How do you treat it and how does it treat you? Of these three phrases, which one do you relate to most and why?

  • Comfortable in my own skin
  • Crawling out of my skin
  • Shedding my old skins

Crawling out of my skin seems immediately relatable to me because I’m an escapist — it’s why I create fiction and watch TV and all that junk. I like the reptilian idea of shedding skins, and I’m sunburnt and gross nowadays so there’s a fair amount of shedding, but there is no symbolic resonance to shedding skin for me. I feel that skin is a porous membrane; it provides the illusion of individuality for me, but it’s hardly a fortress. I let other people’s dreams, their words, their chemicals and their anxieties in all the time, there’s no border patrol. Maybe that’s the way it should be. I feel like a pizza with everything on it.

What’s next for you, Kaz? Are there any projects (personal or collaborative) you’re excited about in 2014?

As the three loyal visitors to my blog will know, I am embarking upon a series of collaborative pornographic comics, where I get friends who have never written erotica before to create scripts of their fantasies that I can illustrate. It’s a project I have a great personal affinity for, because it’s the work that has drummed up the most emotional reactions from readers.

Mostly people’s reactions to my work comes in one of three flavours: “Wow, looks good,” “That doesn’t look like him at all,” or “So weird lor, how did you think of this?” Which is fine, I’m happy with that. Since my smutty comics though, I’m getting: “That’s gross, you went too far,” “Is this really what you want to do with your life?” (thanks parents) and “It really turned me on, I can’t believe someone else has this fantasy!” I’ll take the second camp any day.

* Featured image by Abby Tai

This entry was written by Syar and published on 13/04/2014 at 03:00. It’s filed under Artwork, Interview, ISSUE18, Syar S. Alia, Visual and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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