Feeling chipper? Well, we’ll soon take care of that! Local artist Lev Yilmaz has perfected the craft of gloom in his comics and videos; he has a new book out, and he’s presenting a dramatic reading tonight and tomorrow. We’ve been fans since before his work started appearing on SFist, so we’re delighted to have an opportunity to interview him. Or at least, we’ll try to be delighted. It’s hard when life can be so brutal.

The shows:

Friday Aug 14th, 6:30-8PM at Comic Relief,
2026 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA

Saturday Aug 15th, 6:30-8PM at Al’s Comics,
1803 Market St @ Octavia, San Francisco, CA

So just give me a little background on the “Sunny Side Down” book — how did it come about, whose idea was it, did you have any reservations or was it definitely something you wanted to do from the get-go?

Basically, I was doing my “Tales Of Mere Existence” series, comics & short animations. I was just going about on my merry way posting them & doing a low-key little zine. Then, sometime in 2007, Dr Shit hit Professor Fan with my animations on Youtube. They started getting an insane amount of views. I had always wanted to do a proper book, but had been rejected left and right. By the end of 2007, Simon & Schuster had contacted me to do a book, and that was it. I didn’t have any reservations I don’t think, but I remember the phone call. After it was over, I drank a bottle of wine and looked out the window for a little while.

Also — something I’ve always wondered about compilations of comics: how did you decide what order to put them in?

Do you remember the Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown kicked the football and kissed the Little Red Haired Girl? Neither do I.I had an arsenal of maybe 100 comics that I thought were good enough, S & S wanted a 200 page book. It took a little while to figure what I wanted to do with it, even though the answer was relatively obvious: I had comics about childhood, comics about adulthood. I figured out how what I had could work sequentially, and then came up with 100 more pages of comics to make it into a semi-narrative piece. The thing is, I never read a comic collection front to back anyway, so I didn’t worry too much about the narrative. In fact, I made a lot of references to the fact that the book doesn’t really have one.

The character of your work is generally pretty hapless and resigned — what is it about sunny-side-downness that interests you?

Well, the character is called Lev, I guess I never bothered to name him anything else. Anyway, I think I just get amused at how easily I can fall into that pattern of thinking. I thought that way for many years, and I still regress from time to time. I understand it pretty well I think but… when was the last time someone told you “Look at the bright side of things” when you were depressed, and you actually paid attention to them? Maybe some people do, but I sure as hell don’t.

It seems like the kind of thing that a lot of comic artists steer clear of; or at least try to diffuse by balancing it with cheer. Do you feel as though pessimism needs to be avoided at all, or balanced so that it doesn’t overwhelm the reader?

When was the last time someone told you “Look at the bright side of things” when you were depressed, and you actually paid attention to them?I don’t personally try to balance my work because I operate under the assumption that anyone reading or watching my stuff isn’t having a particularly balanced day anyway. But negative attitudes just amuse me more than positive ones. When you get down to it, at it’s root, Comedy is truth, absurdity, and pain. One of my little mottos is: “Do you remember the Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown kicked the football and kissed the Little Red Haired Girl? Neither do I.”

Do your comics confront pessimism, or celebrate it, or something in between?

I think it’s more of a presentation, and maybe exploration of pessimism, but that’s only part of what the series is about. I really think it’s more about alienation and self-destructive thinking. Took me a while to realize that actually.

How do you feel about optimism?

Even in a gleefully negative comic, there is optimism, although it’s slightly hidden: It comes out through a comic character’s sheer tenacity. He keeps going and trying to find some sort of fulfillment regardless of his perpetual failure record. That’s a form of hope, a form of optimism. Really hokey I know, but it’s true.

What are the shows?

I’m going to be doing two slide presentation & reading shows this Friday & Saturday with Keith Knight of the “K Chronicles” & “(Th)ink”. He’s my closest friend in the Comics world, still haven’t forgiven him for moving to LA, but he’s doing good there.

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  • Richmondsfblog

    Nice interview, thanks for posting. I do love his videos! What does it mean that I can laugh at a character’s doom and gloom? 🙂