Jared Cullum brings gorgeous watercolors to his graphic novel ‘Kodi’

Jared Cullum became fascinated by comic books because of comics like Blankets, but he also got really into watercolor painting. 

“I got totally absorbed in art history and painting, and then it just sort of became an obsession,” Cullum said. 

As he delved more and more into studying and practicing watercolor painting, he pursued how he could “explore that stuff and really get lost in it and discover something,” he said, “or find something I can bring back to comics that might be a bit different.” 

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Just last month, Top Shelf Productions published Cullum’s first graphic novel, Kodi, a stunningly beautiful young adult graphic novel about a lonely girl and her friend bear that merges conventional cartooning with watercolor painting. 

Cullum, who moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania about two years ago with his wife and two young children, has made a career for himself in comics, painting and teaching. He teaches cartooning and painting at Sweetwater Art Center in Sewickley, Pennsylvania and runs a YouTube channel and Patreon page with drawing and painting tutorials. Alongside all of this, he creates his own watercolor pieces and comic books. 

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Kodi caught my eye as soon as I saw its lovely, colorful cover depicting a cute little girl and a huge, cuddly bear. Cullum used watercolor paint for every page in the book in addition to traditional pencils and inks for the characters. He plays a lot with light in his images, creating really complex and wonderful images. So many pages could stand alone as awesome posters or computer wallpapers. I made one into my iPad wallpaper. (I’d show you, but it’s the last page, which I don’t want to spoil.)

The penciled and inked cartoon characters pop off the page, contrasting nicely with the watercolor backgrounds. This is very intentional, Cullum said. He drew inspiration from 1950s and 1960s Disney movies like Robin Hood and Jungle Book, which animated its characters onto painted backgrounds. 

“It ended up being a thing I went full circle on,” Cullum said. “In studying painting, I kind of came to background painters of that era, and those background painters drew directly from that same era of painting that I’m talking about. I saw a lot of parallels in that.”

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Kodi started in Cullum’s head as three disparate ideas that he brought together into one cohesive story. For Cullum, writing is a process of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, he said. 

“I’m not very well-read. I struggle to write things,” Cullum said. “I don’t have a very articulate mind… I tend to see things really clearly in picture. And so, I had three very clear pictures of stories I wanted to do.” 

The 176 pages in Kodi took about six to eight hours each to complete, Cullum said. He works entirely physically, which he figures may actually save time. 

“It is nice to be able to undo in Photoshop, but I almost worry if that kind of thing is more time-consuming because you can be a little bit more precise, where with watercolor you can’t be,” Cullum said. ‘So you’re either all the way in or it flops, so you have to commit to it. I don’t undo because I can’t, and it doesn’t make good watercolors.” 

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Cullum signed a contract to do Kodi back in 2016. Now that it’s finally out, Cullum finally gets reactions to the book. Cullum’s two children, a three-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy, really enjoy Kodi, he said. The three-year-old can’t quite follow the story but loves to find parts she finds funny. 

“My son likes to read it. He really likes to read it,” Cullum said. “He’s just getting to a point where he understands comics and is able to read sequential images and understand that they’re sequential. He loves it, he’s gotten into it.” 

***

all images courtesy of jared cullum and top shelf productions. you can buy Kodi by clicking here

this blog is supported by generous patreon supporters! here is a list of the blog’s current patrons: 

Vali Chandrasekaran

Josh Farkas

Eddie Trizzino 

Vali, writer of the comic Genius Animals?, contributes $5 a month, which means he gets some sweet doodles from me. He wanted Genius Animals? fan-art. I posted his first for this month last week, and this week, I decided to use digital watercolors, in keeping with the theme of today’s post, and draw this sweet, genius octopus from the comic.

you can access the blog’s patreon page at patreon.com/sequentialstories.

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