Dirk Burhans — featured creator
We recently caught up with local creator Dirk Burhans. After a 30 year absence in drawing comics he started up a daily webcomic called Epiffany Jones back in May. He’s done various things over the years which includes writing a book on the history of potato chips called CRUNCH. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
What are you working on now comics-wise?
I’m working on a webcomic called Epiffany Jones in the year 2012. The comic is based on the adventures of a young woman named Epiffany, who is telepathic; her birthday is on December 21st, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar, and she believes the world is coming to an end on that day. The title was my attempt to duplicate the grand old pulp/serial titles like “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” The strip debuted on May 7 this year.
How’s your comic output been the last year? What’s helped or hindered your output?
My output has been excellent, especially considering I haven’t drawn any comics for over 30 years! I started Epiffany in February, trying for a May 1 debut; I missed it but got pretty dang close (May 7), and was already ahead by 30-some strips at that time. Aiding my output in the beginning was a cut in hours at one of my part-time jobs; hindering my output soon is going to be the fact I’ll need to be paying the bills. The strip is a daily comic (Monday-Friday); as you might imagine, it’s fairly demanding.
After not having drawn comics in 30-some years it’s taken some time to get my drawing chops back, especially the inking. You might think it’s like riding a bike, but that’s not been my experience; the first few strips I tried to ink were so awful that I had to do them in pencil and scan the pages in at low threshold. I’m finally almost back to where I was in 1977, inking-wise. I’m starting to build some speed after four or five months.
Read any good comics, webcomics, or graphic novels lately?
I have been enjoying some reprint books, especially two new books on Mort Meskin (“Out of the Shadows” and “From Shadow to Light,” both by Steven Brower, Fantagraphics); the series on Al Williamson’s Secret Agent X9 (IDW Publishing), and a great book on Noel Sickles (also on IDW). My heroes tend to be be artists from the 1st and 2nd generation of comics – Williamson, Krigstein, Toth, Meskin, Bernie Wrightson, etc.; I just love that stuff.
I mostly stopped following comics after the Henandezes and after Frank Miller remodeled the scene, but I’m sure there’s some good newer stuff out there – there’s a beautifully-rendered strip by a fellow Missourian named Scott Quick (“Camden Bottoms”) that I enjoy. But one of the problems with current comics, IMHO, is that they rely so much on comics themselves for inspiration. I know I’m missing some things, but honestly I don’t really want to know what’s out there; partly, I’m afraid it might mess me up! Heck, I have enough problems as is using the likes of Meskin & Williamson & Gil Kane as my muses; at least those guys looked at film and the classic illustrators for their ideas.
The comic scene has been uprooted and transformed and grown x 1000 since I left; people who wouldn’t have looked cross-eyed at a comic 30 years ago now regale “graphic novels” like it’s some new hip thing. But Gil Kane and Will Eisner were doing graphic novels in the 1960s and 1970s; Gil Kane could barely get his stuff published. Today, it’s like anything else; some of it’s good, some great; but over the test of time, most of it will likely measure out average, right? I don’t mean to come off as negative, but that’s just the way it is. Anyway, I do try to keep it fresh by life sketching at public events, farmer’s markets, horse shows, etc., as I can find time. I sketch my animals at home for daily warm-up.
How about other media anything good you like lately? (video, music, books, etc.)
Well, I hooked my TV back up, and have been enjoying re-runs of Cheers, Dick Van Dyke, Green Acres, Perry Mason, on one of the channels… I’ve had a lifetime of enjoying “classic” film (noir, screwball comedy, Kurasowa, etc.) and playing music… but you asked “lately,” so lately I guess it’s been TV!
What inspired you to create Epiffany Jones?
Well, the original idea was a takeoff on the “Cathy” strip, but supercharged with the character’s telepathic powers, which would add further to her neuroses. It’s worth remembering that in its prime Cathy was actually very good, until, like a lot of things, it became formulaic… but you have to give the strip credit for breaking ground on women’s issues in 1976 – geez, that’s before Carol Lay, before Lynda Barry, even before Nicole Hollander’s “Sylvia.”
My prototype strip even had a name based on “Cathy” until I started to cogitate on potential copyright/lawsuit issues… anyway, instead of the sweet, smothering mother in the kitchen baking muffins, I made mom a beer-drinking crank who can’t cook and smokes in their trailer; instead of a boyfriend named “Irving,” Epiffany’s boyfriend is named “Bovine,” replete with horns. And I don’t know about you, but I always wondered whether Cathy and Irving had sex, and if so, why they didn’t talk about it; so pretty early on, I had Epiffany and Bovine both having sex (although not depicted) and talking about it, etc.
But that all seems like ages ago now. There are a couple of strips in the first few weeks that people have told me reminded them of “Cathy,” but Epiffany is very much her own person who writes her own strip, thank you very much. She’s taken the strip to places I never could have imagined five months ago, and while I might have some ideas about where it’ll go this year, she always has a way of re-writing it herself. I read once where Bill Watterson (creator of “Calvin & Hobbes”) said something along the lines that simply creating the character(s) will allow the strip to write itself. I’d never presume to create anything as good as Calvin & Hobbes, but I’ve found that character is very much the key with Epiffany as well. She makes it easy for me; all I have to do is draw.
Posted in: Featured creators