As we're about to head into a new comic convention in just a few weeks, many local creators are gearing up to have their work exhibited in the artist area. One of the more prominent names from last year's conventions was Adam Koford, the illustrator behind the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats cartoon strip series, as well as a designer for Avalanche Software where his work shines through several Disney video games, like the Disney Infinity series. Before Koford makes another appearance later this month, we chatted with him about his artistic career, working in gaming and the popular online strip. (All photos courtesy of Koford.
Gavin: Hey Adam, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a story artist at Avalanche Software in Salt Lake City. We're owned by Disney and we made Disney Infinity. I also do some freelance work, and I've got a webcomic called the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats
that I've been drawing since 2007. I grew up in Southern California,
and spent several years freelancing full time in Florida before moving here in 2008.
Gavin: What first got you interested in comics and where were some titles you loved growing up?
My hometown paper, The Press-Enterprise
, had two full pages of comics when I was a kid. That was probably my first exposure—and MAD Magazine
. I saved every issue I could get my hands on. I discovered superheroes later, and classic comic strips (like Rube Goldberg and Walt Kelly) via library collections. I worshiped John Byrne's Marvel work, then branched out and figured out what was so great about Jack Kirby and the other founders of that whole industry. In high school, my mom went back to college, and I'd go with her and pore over the library collections of illustration annuals and comics. I tried to cast a wide net, and I tried to learn anything I could from lots of sources.
Gavin: When did your interest shift to making comics and what were the major influences behind that?
Very early a friend of mine and I created a whole bunch of superheroes in elementary school. We had dozens of characters we'd name and design and figure out rudimentary story arcs for. I kept making comics all through middle and high school. I drew for the school paper, and some friends and I had a couple of ongoing comics here and there. I eventually became more interested in making people laugh than sticking with superhero stuff, but I kept drawing them on the side as well.
Gavin: What was it like for you creating early on and learning the style behind the art?
My early comics were not very good, but I was lucky enough to have people around me who encouraged me. Like a lot of cartoonists, I was inclined to solitude, but I also liked the feedback from drawing things. There's something fundamentally interesting about watching someone draw, no matter their skill level. I also had a couple of good art teachers in high school, and my dad, who made sure I tried all sorts of media and techniques.
Gavin: Did you seek any formal training as you got older or were you primarily self-taught?
As a cartoonist, I'm primarily self-taught. I have taken lots of art classes, though, especially life drawing. Life drawing from a live model and sketching from life are the best things for someone who wants to learn to draw can do.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the industry and finding work as an illustrator?
Very difficult. It's a shrinking field with lots of aspirants. It wasn't until I started sharing my work on the internet that things warmed up for me.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new design, from concept to final product?
With comics, I try to have a backlog of ideas. At least a page or two of potential gags or situations, and then I build from there. Some ideas sit around forever and never become anything. For the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats
, I usually draw them the day I post them, so there's an element of urgency to them. Once in a while I have a backlog of a week or two, but I guess I prefer to keep myself on my toes. With things like t-shirt designs, I try to always have a sketchbook with me to capture even rudimentary ideas. maybe even as short as a couple of words. Some designs are just a matter of drawing and coloring, and some need to be thought out and reconsidered over and over. Most everything I do
is drawn in ink on paper first, then scanned and painted in Photoshop.
Gavin: Do you find yourself messing with the artwork a lot while making it or do you stick to what you intended?
If I'm working in color, I tend to work fast in the beginning, and then slow down and worry things towards the end of the process. That said, I do work fairly fast. I like to get things over with and move on to the next thing once I'm happy with a drawing.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about to work with Avalanche Software and Disney Interactive?
I had friends there, Casey Nelson and Bryan Lefler, on the story team. They were ramping up to work on the Toy Story 3
game and needed more story artists, so they called me. I ended up doing quite a bit of concept work on that game as well as storyboards.
Gavin: What's it been like for you having a hand in the games coming out over the past few years, including Disney Infinity?
It's been great to be a part of the process, from conception to brainstorming design to actual implementation. Every project I've worked on
has become something better through the process of iteration and constant examination. I'm lucky to work with some incredibly talented veterans of the field at Avalanche.
Gavin: A few years ago you launched Laugh-Out-Loud Cats. To start, what was the catalyst for the idea?
In the beginning I did it to make money, and I had no idea how long it would last, or if it would. I set up a store on my blog, and people would buy original drawings of the cats from me. Or I would draw a few dozen and put them up for sale, and they'd sell out within a day or so.
Gavin: What was it like taking those characters and developing it into a daily strip?
I didn't even realize what I had on my hands until a few weeks into it, so I went into it with a lot of half-formed ideas. As I kept going, the characters (and their secrets) started to emerge. Kitteh, the big one, has a past
that I allude to every now and then. Pip, the little one, has a big secret that's known only to the members of the fan club, and amazingly it's remained secret. Drawing a single panel comic is a unique undertaking. There's not a lot of time or room for exposition, so I have to parse things out slowly. I like to think the comic rewards people who are paying attention. It's really easy (and understandable) for people to dismiss the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats
, but for those that stick around and get to know the world I've made for these two wandering cats, I try to have something warm and welcoming for them.
Gavin: Since launching it, you've turned them into a popular online series and published a few books. How has it been for you seeing the series grow?
The most satisfying thing for me is to hear from people who like what I do and are actually paying attention. I've heard from some really nice people from all over the world and a variety of walks of life who care enough about these cats to write or thank me or send me things.
Gavin: Where do you plan on taking the series over the next few years?
Before the new year, I was at Laugh-Out-Loud Cats
number 2,699 and I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I sent Kitteh and Pip underground. They're still there and I've put their comics on hold while I work on another strip (although I am still posting comics from the archives on HOBOTOPIA.com
). They'll be back. There's another book in the works for later this year, and a few other surprises that I probably shouldn't talk about just yet.
Gavin: What have you got in the works, both from Disney as well as your own personal creations?
I was the story lead on the Spider-Man Play Set for Disney Infinity 2.0
, and we've got a Green Goblin figure coming out this week. He was fun
to write and help tune. He's a fun character to play as. I'm really excited to see what people do with him. The other comic I recently started
is a four panel strip that began as an April Fool's joke in 2009. It's called the Lowell Cats
, and basically it's about the world's worst felines and their hapless owners. I've been posting them for a couple of weeks now on ApeLad.com
. I plan on doing a hundred or so, and then letting Kitteh and Pip come up for air
Gavin: What do you have in store for the rest of the year, and what would you like to promote?
I'll have a booth later this year at Salt Lake Comic Con, and maybe doing a panel or two at FanX in a few weeks.