Ken Bouthillier: Zindagi Comix and Second Chances
Ken Bouthillier: You’re very welcome, and it’s a huge pleasure for me to be one of your first interviews!
I’ve got two incredible boys in high school, and I’m married to the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Personally, I’m as boring as they come. Really. I had been into comics and drawing in a big way when I was a kid, but gave it all up after high school to focus on work. I’m one of those idiots that only identified myself with work and career. I ran manufacturing and warehouse operations all my life for some pretty big companies. Seven days a week, never relaxing, always on call. Out of the blue in 2018, my ticker decided to give out. I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and I was put out of work. I’m juuuuust above that line that separates folks who need heart transplants vs. those that do not, so I have to be careful. Not working 80 hour weeks any longer, I was losing my mind, and my wife, whom I was driving bananas, suggested that I take up an art class at a local college. So along with playing Mr. Mom and being there for my wife and kids, I started taking drawing and painting classes—and I got the art bug back in HUGE way. Art has brought me out of my deep blue funk, and I’m now self-publishing comic books and selling my artwork. I’m showing my kids that when life kicks you in the nuts, you can still accomplish something. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, and my goal each day is now cooking a good breakfast for my wife and boys, vs. meeting some unattainable production goal for a soulless corporation. Who knew?
1st: What were some of your comic book influences?
Ken: All the silver age Marvel stuff by Lee and Kirby for sure. Such a creative time, when there was so much less out there in the medium, and this list could be ten pages long with artists and writers of that era. Groundbreaking stuff in the 70s and 80s are probably my biggest influences. Artistry—John Byrne certainly and Frank Miller, Al Williamson, Michael Golden, both Buscemas, Neal Adams. A friend recently told me he sees a lot of Ditko influence in my stuff, which hadn’t occurred to me until he said it. Writing- Claremont, Miller again, Marv Wolfman and an array of authors (TV-Stephen J Cannel, JM Straczynski, Books – Arthur C Clark, Clive Cussler). I’ve recently realized how big an influence Jim Shooter was to me. If you listen to any of his lectures, or read his stuff, he is the absolute guru on storytelling structure, and I think of his lessons every time I start a new issue of Zindagi. There’s a reason why Marvel was at its creative zenith when he was Editor in Chief at Marvel. Not long ago, I messaged him letting him know this. I didn’t expect a response, but he actually took the time to message me back and have a conversation. As a fan, that was pretty awesome.
Ken: Kirby, for sure. I wish he’d been around to finally see his stuff on the big screen like Stan Lee had a chance to do.
1st: Are you a writer, artist or both?
Ken: I do everything on Zindagi, but let’s see if I can give you a more convoluted answer…I can write well, professionally in the career I had, and creatively with stuff I’m passionate about. It would be harder for me to write constant different issues of comics like you. I need to write what I’m familiar and intimate with for it to be good. Zindagi flows from my noggin very easily. The entire story is in my head and I can’t get it on paper fast enough, which is fun in a way. All because it’s based on an amalgam of topics that are very personal and interesting to me.
As an artist, I again have to be passionate about what I’m doing. My technical skills are mediocre in my opinion, vs. all the incredible artists I see every day on social media. I’m not the type to draw something every single day to just hit a goal, even if that exercise could improve my technical skill. My absolute goal is NOT to do the same thing that every single person out there is doing with superheroes, zombies, transformers, sword n sorcery, teen drama, post-apocalyptic, etc, etc, and I cannot stand violence for the sake of violence. There are fantastic creators who can do all those things very well. Personally, I’m always driven to do something different and original. That applies to my comics as well as my paintings.
Ken: Yes! You are one of my six fans around the world, ha ha! Self-publishing digitally does not afford a huge audience, but I think it’s very cool that I have folks who seriously like the book in the UK, Japan, India and Canada as well as the US.
When I starting dabbling with comics last year, two folks mentored me on self-publishing/creating modern indie comics: Comic Book veteran James Hachey and Lucky Comics publisher, John Michael Helmer who thought my stuff was unique enough to take the time to teach me the ropes and help edit, of which I am forever grateful (which is why I have the Lucky’s Clover on my covers, even though I self-publish under Zindagi Comix). The Lucky Comics model of smaller books is a good fit for me, and forces me to put as much as I can into 8 pages. Fluff/filler drives me nuts when I read a comic book, takes me right out of the story. I like concise, tight storytelling that you have to pay attention to.
Zindagi is a sci-fi story with Hindu mythology mixed in, about an artificial life form who is unexpectedly freed from the task she was created for, allowing her to follow a new destiny. I’ve always loved sci-fi stories where there is a social message inherent in the story. And, I prefer serialized story telling. My favorite books as a kid always left me wondering what the heck was going to happen the next month. In a nutshell, that’s the structure of Zindagi. The meat of the story draws heavily on Hindu Mythology and, let’s just say, NON-western philosophy. Shamanistic concepts will be part of the story, and by the end of the ten issue origin story arc, everything will come together in a holistic, satisfying way.
I’ll be adding material to the story when I publish the ten chapter arc in Trade Paperback format. There’s technically a chapter zero that is pretty topical and current in our world right now.
Ken: I’m completely blown away that someone said that. Starlin is amazing and unique—the whole package. One of my favorite books of ALL TIME was ‘The Death of Captain Marvel.’ That was so groundbreaking when it came out. I remember reading an interview about him where he talked about the death of his father by cancer pretty much framing the story of that graphic novel. The story MEANT something to him. It was not just a job. The result was a gut-wrenching story for me to read as a young teen.
Ken: Zindagi is up digitally on Drivethrucomics.com. The first four chapters are Free. Chapter 5 was a special double sized issue, with a wraparound cover by Joey Mars. That is offered at cover price on Drivethru. Print on demand hard copies are available at IndyPlanet for cover price and shipping cost. I’m more than happy to provide signed hard copies if folks want them at cover price and shipping cost, and anyone can email me (see my website for contact info).
Ken: Zindagi will end at the ten chapter mark, and the story has a very specific conclusion. I’m leaving a window open, however, to continue the story/characters in new directions—all in a sci-fi vein, which I love doing the most. I recently completed a page for the Lucky Comics 5th Anniversary Beetle Girl book, which is sort of an Easter egg for Zindagi.
I may possibly do a western. Since I had a lot of time on my hands after the ol’ ticker incident, I was going through stuff my parents had left me. Unbelievably, I found a journal of an ancestor, who in the mid 1800s, left Canada for the California gold rush. Years of entries read like an epic adventure, and could make a pretty interesting comic book that would challenge my art skills.
Ken: Besides my family of course, I really can appreciate artwork of all kinds. Certainly, Abstract and Impressionistic painting. Last year I took my first painting class ever. It was an ‘Introduction to Acrylic Painting’. My 80 year old teacher, an amazing woman and pretty famous painter, told me she actually enjoyed comic books, so I gave her copies of Zindagi. She suggested strongly to me to take Abstract painting, so I did. I’ve taken every class I can with her and it’s a whole new world for me. I love it. I was so stuck in realism for so long, but now I can’t get enough of the freedom that abstract and impressionism offers.
Ken: For me, no. I find I can’t just draw a panel to draw a panel, or paint just to paint. I need a spark, something that I’m interested in and then I go for it. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. No stress. Artwork in my opinion is all about joy and zen. I see so many folks get frustrated, when there is no reason to. Think like a child when you were finger painting—not a care in the world. Just do it and don’t give a crap what anyone thinks. I wrote a ‘mission statement’ on my web page right from the beginning – “If I can inspire just one child somewhere in the world with story and art, as I was inspired as a boy, then I’ll have done okay. Love what you do.” I mean that wholeheartedly.
Ken: Just one story about not getting frustrated—after I had published the first three issues of Zindagi, I did a ‘book signing’ at my local town comic/game shop. I was pumped, had a great set up in the store and was ready to have a great day! Not one single person showed up the entire day. I couldn’t even give a comic book away free. What did happen was I met some really nice folks who were big DnD gamers. They took my information and one of them later on contacted me about drawing/painting some maps for his DnD adventures. He paid me VERY well for my original paintings for him. Windows open at the most unexpected places, so for any new folks getting into these sort of things, especially Indie comics, don’t get frustrated. Do it because you love to.
Ken: Ha ha, that’s funny. Yeah, it’s a tag I have on my FB page. Cats just get me. I’m as easy going as they come, but I’m not a social butterfly. Any cat can come along and ignore you. The point is to ignore them back. I see any cat and I’m like, “Hey.” They look back and shrug, “Yo.” I’m good with that. Later, they always find me and hang out. This works out well for me as my wife is someone that rescues every animal she finds. I live in Florida and I’m just waiting till she brings an alligator home, sigh.
Ken: thezindagi-comix-company.com – my website dedicated to Zindagi, and all my artwork. It’s got everything you want to know about the comic book, and has my contact information as well.
Ken: Thanks for having me!
I’ve just hooked up with an online business called “The Merchant of Bradenton.” The owner has started a new feature on his website, showcasing local artisans and their stuff. I’m the first one (yay!) and most of my designs are now available on t-shirts, tote bags, phone cases, etc. It’s a ton of fun to see folks wearing my stuff. Check it out for some cool gift ideas for the holidays.