The Cute Shall Inherit the Earth

Columbus Alive | August 17, 2005
Given all the deep thinkers, opinionated would-be philosophers and outright cranks that make up the field of comics, humorous humanist James Kochalka is one of the last guys I’d have expected to come up with a manifesto. While Kochalka can get serious and heady at times in his work, he’s still the guy best known for Monkey Vs. Robot.

Well, Kochalka’s The Cute Manifesto (Alternative Comics) is indeed an artistic and philosophical manifesto, with all that charged word implies. It’s also clearly his—from the little square book design to the familiar sight of Kochalka’s elfin avatar of himself to the handwriting style that lettered his other works, this is classic Kochalka.

And it could maybe even change your life—or at least cheer you up and on for a few hours after reading it.

Particularly if you’re a comics creator (or wannabe comics creator), like Kochalka is (and at one point was).

Collecting two letters to The Comics Journal—the comics magazine that’s chockfull of the types of writers and creators who seem like the sort you would expect to write a manifesto—and autobiographical comics in a variety of styles espousing Kochalka’s aesthetic theories and one of the most important decisions he’s ever made, The Cute Manifesto is comics, comics criticism and artist’s statement all in one.

In his (thankfully brief, this being a comic book and all) prose letters—entitled “Craft is the Enemy” and “Craft is Not a Friend”—he argues that “What every creator should do, must do, is use the skills they have right now” to tell the stories they feel they have to tell, and quit worrying about making masterpieces or sharpening their skills to the point of sophistication, as quality is so relative that it’s essentially counterproductive to even dwell on it.

A similar point is made in “The Horrible Truth About Comics,” an essay told in traditional comics form, with Kochalka’s elf-self wandering in and out of dreams to lecture like he’s Scott McCloud or something. Also included is a story about the nature of the universe (honest) in which we see a more realistic rendering of Kochalka (so that’s what he looks like!) and a touching story about how the September 11 attacks helped solidify his decision to finally have a baby with his longtime girlfriend.

The title piece is the beating heart of the book though, a half-comics/half-prose essay in manifesto language: “Cuteness is simply a pure and rarefied form of beauty. Nothing is more beautiful than the cute because the cute is untouched by any foul thought or deed.” And so on like that.

So if you ever wondered why Kochalka always draws himself as a cute little elf in his autobiographical stories rather than the stubble-faced, long-haired, sunburned man that he appears as in one tale within volume, well, now you know there’s a damn good reason for it.

For artists in general and comics creators in particular, The Cute Manifesto isn’t just a good read, it’s an important one.

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