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Kody Okamoto clocks in with KEEPING TIME

Updated: Apr 23

Kody Okamoto joins Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, to discuss Keeping Time. Illustrating in collaboration with other creators for years, Keeping Time represents the first solo outing for Okamoto as a creator, and here at Comic Book Yeti, we're happy to have an in-depth look ready right as it goes public!

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Kody, thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave to discuss your new project, Keeping Time. How’s everything going back stateside?



KODY OKAMOTO: Hey Andrew! Thank you so much for having me. Stateside, Daylight Savings Time just ended this morning so I just lost an hour, which means I think I’m in for about a week of feeling like a total zombie, haha. 



CBY: Now, unlike most of the interviews I do, which are a product of the industry press approaching Comic Book Yeti (with the coolest indie books around), I asked if you wanted to be interviewed based upon an awesome panel of yours I saw on social media with a very familiar perspective of the Chicago skyline. For our readers, can you share a bit about Keeping Time, and how you selected both its locale and the zeitgeist in which you’ve set the story?



KO: Absolutely! So Keeping Time is a webcomic I’m starting about two guys who had a nasty falling out in high school who come together to be in a rock band some six years later. As their new relationship as bandmates in the present stumbles towards romance, we also unravel their memories, progressing further and further back until we see what exactly tore them apart. I lovingly (and only semi-jokingly) refer to it as “a huge bummer”!


As for its locale, it’s set in Chicago around 2006. I knew Denver and Daniel’s story had to take place in one of the great North American cities, but it was only after I took a trip to Chicago in 2020 that I knew I’d found the right setting. 


I’m originally from Hawai’i, so all North American cities remain sort of a novelty to me, but man, I instantly fell in love with Chicago. The more research I did into Chicago’s culture and history, particularly its great history of punk bands, the more things fell into place for me storywise. I also had some great guidance from a Chicago native, the editor of Keeping Time’s outline, comic book writer Frankee White (20 Fists, Eat My Flesh Drink My Blood). Frankee helped me flesh out Denver and his family as from the south side, living somewhere around Bridgeport, which is the scene that caught your eye! Coincidentally, Bridgeport is also the neighborhood Frankee took my partner and I out drinking in when we visited in 2020, and where my partner underwent what Frankee called a ‘Chicago rite of passage’ of drinking Malört shots, ha!



CBY: You mentioned “trying to walk the fine line between expressing truth in setting, while leaving yourself the freedom to let time and setting influence the narrative, rather than making the narrative beholden to it.” I fully agree that you have to draw the line somewhere, or you’ll never settle into the world and get on with the story.  Seeing this panel brought back a rush of memories, from my first day skating down from my cousin’s studio in Roger’s Park to the Flameshovel office over the Empty Bottle, to years later living down a few blocks of 18th and Halstead, which near where you’d find the view from your illustration. In our prior correspondence, you mentioned Illinois native Ray Nadine has suffered readers nitpicking the timeline in his book Light Carries On (which I definitely need to read) about the punk scene in Chicago during the 70’s (featuring the Empty Bottle!). You said your approach will involve nods and Easter eggs that hint at neighborhoods in both Chicago (and Seattle) without putting you under the microscope of the most scrutinizing scenesters. I think that’s sensible - you mentioned flip phones and burned CDs - what typifies the era for you, and what can readers expect to see on full display?




KO:  Yeah! I care a lot about doing justice to whatever I’m representing in a comic, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right. In Keeping Time, this anxiety manifests itself as me agonizing over choosing the right music equipment for the era, or, like you mentioned, getting things about Chicago and Seattle right.


My goal with the setting in Keeping Time is producing exactly that feeling you had when you saw the panel with the Chicago skyline! Which, thank you by the way! But yeah, I want the setting of Keeping Time to feel familiar enough that it brings up feelings of nostalgia for the reader’s own experiences - especially if they’re familiar with Chicago - without me having to represent the city perfectly. So I’m taking a sort of generalized approach to drawing Chicago. I’ve done a lot of research into the architecture you’d see around the neighborhoods like Bridgeport that I’m hinting at, and I spend a lot of time in Google Street View taking screenshots for inspiration, but I’m not out to draw any neighborhood blocks exactly as is, because that’ll just set me up for a Chicago reader to be taken out of the story, like, “Hey, there’s no way you could take that L line from X to Y without encountering the problem of Z.”


Like you mentioned, time and the era are the other big parts of the comic. It’s set in the early- to mid-2000s, because that’s when I came of age. For me, those last few years of the old internet was an era that led itself to a certain kind of loneliness. I’ll lovingly be drawing all the old tech from those days, like Motorola Razrs and iPods, but some things I’m pretending just flat out didn’t exist, like extremely low-cut jeans for women, haha!



CBY: As the basic premise of the comic is two young men who grew up playing music together reuniting in the wake of a personal tragedy, and falling in love as their sound coalesces. I understand the dynamic of creation and passion intermingling in relationships - I’ve been in love, in Chicago, with a partner whose art was intertwined with mine, so Keeping Time hits very close to home, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. What sort of comfort zones does Keeping Time explore, and what boundaries and assumptions does it push in exploring the nuance of relationships?



KO: For a while there, there was a push with queer stories to be “wholesome,” to the point where some audiences decried any queer narrative that didn’t meet that criteria as harmful or problematic. I think we definitely needed - and still need - stories about queer joy, but as a creator, I’m much more interested in exploring queer mess. The characters in Keeping Time are all flawed in ways that I’m not out to romanticize. I’m not trying to include any moral instruction in my story, nor am I out to condemn the ways the characters behave. I just want to tell the story I want to tell.



CBY: After spending the last decade raising my kids in Fiji, with family and friends across the ocean, I’m keen to hear more about your experience growing up in Hawai'i, particularly as things differ so distinctly from island to island. The Pacific, with its tremendous diversity, has dominated my creative output for a huge chunk of my life, and the lag time of cultural drift growing up in a remote island community twenty years ago is something I can begin to understand. What do island time and ocean spaces mean to you, intrinsically from your Hawaiian upbringing, and in relation to your continental American experience?



KO: I feel an instant kinship with anyone familiar with living a life on an island! There’s so many positives to it. I wouldn’t trade my childhood on the Big Island for anything in the world. But I think what folks from the mainland struggle to understand is how isolating growing up on a rural island can feel at times. Even if you’re from a small town from the mainland, theoretically, you could get in a car or a bus and leave your town and find yourself somewhere else. As a teenager in the islands, you drive around your island and find yourself right back where you started. To get anywhere else, you’d have to get on a plane, and because Hawai’i is such a travel destination, airfare to and from the islands is prohibitively expensive, especially for a state with the highest cost of living and with some of the lowest wages. I know folks who have never been able to afford leaving their island, let alone the state.


I deeply love Hawai’i and will always call it home, but that longing to escape has really shaped the trajectory of my life and still fuels my art.



CBY: Speaking to your prior experience, you’ve worked on Rubber Match with Elizabeth Brei and Demon Boy with Mark O. Stack and Jodie Troutman. You’ve been carving out a well-honed sensibility for male romance. You mentioned Ai Yazawa’s NANA and even moreso, Paradise Kiss, as a narrative influence, which both deal with transformative, urban coming-of-age tales. One of my daughters enjoyed the anime and live-action adaptation of NANA, I know, and my other has explained a bit of the male romance genre than I otherwise would’ve learned. What other key influences on both your narrative and illustrative style can you share with us?



KO: NANA is wonderful!! Ai Yazawa is a huge formative influence on me because Paradise Kiss fell onto my lap exactly when I needed it in middle school. My cousin, comic artist and professional letterer, Kyla Aiko, tracked down the font from the TokyoPop edition of Paradise Kiss for me, so I bought it and you’ll see it in Keeping Time!


As for other influences, I can actually trace the first versions of Keeping Time to this early 2000s manga I picked up at a Japanese used bookstore when I was about 14 or so. It’s called Howling by Takeshi Hinata. I couldn’t read or speak Japanese when I bought it, but I recognized a lot of the songs that the Howling chapters were named after, like “HYBRID RAINBOW” and “Let’s see, if that’s true or not” and “Paper Triangle”, all by The Pillows. I’d put on those songs as I looked at and copied the art from Howling, trying to learn how to draw. I tried to make a comic about the characters that would eventually become Denver and Daniel inspired by the Howling art, but it was very bad and I abandoned it quickly, haha.


It was only a year or two ago that I found my old volumes of Howling, and now that I’m armed with a whole degree in Japanese, I could read it for the first time! Only the second volume, though. The first volume I own seems to actually be a Chinese translation. The second volume has my favorite instance of a comic licensing song lyrics I think I’ve ever seen. There’s a scene in which the protagonist and deuteragonist play a song to cheer up the love interest, and the song they play is “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, and it’s just an incredible comic sequence.


CBY: Speaking to your illustrative style, you’ve delivered an intense array of incredibly well-rendered scenes that wouldn’t look out of place as animated feature film stills. Can you share with our readers a bit about your technique, tools, and creative process? How do you take things from concept to finished page?



KO: Thank you! I think my brain is very film-oriented. I tend to think of scenes and compositions in terms of a camera looking at it, which sometimes works out well, and other times makes for some weak comic layouts, haha! But over the years I’ve learned to lean into my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses. Like, background draftsmanship is one of my weaker points. Knowing this, I found it easier to sculpt and model whole 3D sets in Blender of the locations of Keeping Time, which also lets me actually move a camera around in the space so I can recreate the vision in my head! From there, I take 2D screenshots and move them into Clip Studio Paint where I ink over them and add all the characters.



CBY: Also, the first installment of Keeping Time is available to fans through Patreon, with the comic launching to the general public in April, 2024. How did you arrive at utilizing this preview model, as opposed to running a Kickstarter campaign, for instance? What sort of opportunity to “beta test” the story and get feedback from your supporters proved most useful, and what lessons have you learned in preparing for the full public release of the comic?



KO: I landed on this Patreon-slash-webcomic route out of necessity, really. I knew from the jump Keeping Time was gonna be a 400+ page, years-long endeavor, so Kickstarter or the direct market weren’t gonna be viable for me. The cool thing about having folks willing to support it on Patreon ahead of its launch is that I’m getting passively paid to make a thing I wanted to make anyway, and I can’t understate how grateful I am for that. Now that we're launched, I’ll be following in the footsteps of other great webcomic artists like Lacey of Lies Within, where you can read pages ahead of the rest of the public on Patreon!


I don’t try to purposefully use my patrons as beta testers though, so to speak. They’re getting what I believe is the final product every time. Of course, the same way you only notice a typo in a tweet after you’ve hit send, I’ve found a lot of things about my comic pages that weren’t successful only after having shared it on Patreon. I think it’s real neat to be able to have that opportunity to fix things like that ahead of the public launch.



CBY: Returning to our discussion of your Hawaiian upbringing, Nikkei heritage and the diasporic nature of island life and migration, how did the avenues of exposure to various media shape what you sought out when you left? I grew up on the cusp of the rustbelt, in college town farmland as a Midwestern emo kid/indie rocker - a “Hüsker Düde” - and I can trace my socio-cultural trajectory through DC++ music sharing servers and indie rock webboards. What was the core character of the scene you grew up within? What misconceptions do you see people hold about Hawaiian life, and what misconceptions were dispelled for you when you left Hawaii?  



KO: Yeah! So the punk scene I grew up in in the mid-00s is hugely influential on me and Keeping Time. I almost hesitate to call it a scene though, especially compared to like, actual scenes on the mainland, because it really boiled down to maybe 40 to 60 of us who met up once a month because a bunch of the bands would pull their money together to rent out this bandstand that normally was reserved for folks playing Hawaiian music, haha. There was just one sound guy for the entire “scene” who was always in charge of all the equipment. No venues to play at, or to dream about playing at. No record labels to hope to sign with. There was literally no chance to “sell out” because there was no avenue to sell out to. 


Looking back on it, there wasn’t really any actual end goal of the Big Island punk scene. It was a dead end, which is really how a lot of us felt about our lives in the islands because job prospects are super bleak over there. The bandstand was a pagoda with a big supporting pillar in the center, so we could only do circle pits, and if a bunch of kids thrashing as they run around a circle because there’s nowhere else to go isn’t a perfect metaphor for both my adolescence and the scene, then I don’t know what is.


And when I say kids, I mean, I think there were some folks who were up to maybe their late-20s around, but there were no elders, no one who had actually ever been around any of the mainland punk scenes. I think that’s the biggest difference between experiencing that rural island scene and the scene up here in Seattle. I went to a Black Flag show at the start of this year, and seeing these old guys in their 60s who were talking about how they were around to see Black Flag back in the Rollins era makes me realize there’s so much more history and continuity up here. I think that’s rad as hell.



CBY: So this is your first outing as a sole creator after a few collaborative efforts. Do you have subsequent stories planned for other characters? Also, if you had the opportunity to do what you’d like with any title from across the comics landscape, which existing comic would you like to take out for a run?



KO: I haven’t had any spoons to think about working on anything other than Keeping Time recently, and it’s also made me fall out of keeping up with a lot of comic run unfortunately. But I think I’d still like a chance to do variant covers for Batman Beyond. I’ll always want to draw my boy, McGinnis!



CBY: Now, I know we covered some of this in our preparatory correspondence, but for the benefit of all our readers, beyond Keeping Time, what comics and other media has been catching your attention and inspiring you lately?



KO:  I actually bought all the volumes of Scott Pilgrim recently. I’d read some of the comic when it first came out and of course I saw the movie when it was released, but I never had any strong opinions on either. But recently I watched Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, which made me want to revisit the movie, and watching the movie made me think, “How the heck did Bryan Lee O’Malley pull off these music scenes in the comic?” It’s funny that I couldn’t appreciate Scott Pilgrim at all when I was ostensibly its target demographic in the 2000s, but I really enjoyed it now as an adult, haha!



CBY: Kody, thanks for making time to share more details about Keeping Time and provide insight into your creative process. I know I’ve linked to a few of your previous titles above, but if there are any links I missed out that you’d like to share, please let us know what to check out.



KO: Thank you again for having me. I think I’ll end with just hoping folks will check out Keeping Time at keepingtimecomic.com


139 views2 comments

2件のコメント


Sarah Lison
Sarah Lison
5月07日

looks like a debate but the content is quite good bob the robber

いいね!

Steele Nickle
Steele Nickle
4月24日

I think I’m in for about a week of feeling like a total zombie, haha.  geometry dash lite

いいね!
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