Interview with Ajax (The Napoleon Blownaparts) March 2003

The following conversation/interview was compiled by Ajax Garcia. I was contacted by Rene Ruse (The Napoleon Blownaparts P.A.) who enquired as to would I be interested in publishing two conversations/interviews (this is the 1st), the second will be a treat no one will want to miss. So remember keep watch and tune in!

When I sat down to figure out the questions I wanted to ask Kevin for this interview I asked my self what would I want to know? as always my interview/conversations are edgy, after all I am an edgy kind of guy right? (ha!) anyway buckle up and enjoy your ride as I interview one of the most prolific artist of today Mr. Kevin Conrad - Ajax Garcia

SUBJECT: Kevin Conrad
OCCUPATION: Inker/Artist
CREDITS: SPAWN, KISS PSYCHO CIRCUS, GUARDIAN ANGEL.

SUBJECT: Ajax
OCCUPATION: Inker, busines man, touring musician, street fighting man.
CREDITS: KISS, MOST "BIGKIDZ" PROJECTS, SUPERSUCKERS #1 & #2, FASTER PUSSYCAT#1.

Notes: "Kevin is one of those guys. A true workhorse who continues to excel each year over whatever artist he is inking. Inking is sometimes glanced over and if you enjoy it you probably give most of the credit to the penciler. But take a good look at Kevin's work. I think you will see more detail there than you might expect." - Todd McFarlane

Ajax will be make it big one day because he is not afraid to work. - Jason Newstead.

CONVERSATION BEGINS:

(Ajax) So, Kevin how the hell are ya man?

(Kevin) Couldn't be better.

(Ajax) Do you ever get discouraged or become bored while in the middle of a job and if so what do you do to keep focused on the project?

(Kevin) Never discouraged, but boredom does settle in now and then. If I'm working on multiple jobs, I'll just work on something different for a bit and then go back to the previous job when I'm energized again. If I have nothing else to work on, I stick with it until it's done. It's times like this when it does become a job - you have to get it done no matter how you feel.

(Ajax) What has been your very best project to work on and why?

(Kevin) To date, Kiss - Psycho Circus has been the pinnacle of my career. At the time the book came out, I was a huge Kiss fan for nearly 25 years. Being able to be a part of Kisstory because of Psycho Circus is probably the coolest thing about it for me. I have never been more proud of any series that I ever worked on before. It was and probably is my best work to date.

(Ajax) How do you think Todd McFarlane got famous off of being a comic book artist?

(Kevin) Well, the history is there to tell it itself, but he simply had some sort of connection with the fan base while he was at Marvel and sold huge numbers of books which in turn made him a very rich man. This gave him the power to call his own shots and blaze his own trail.

(Ajax) Do you think Todd's fame has anything to do with maybe him having the talent to exploit him self and his ideas? like, for instance, Todd puts photos of him self and his signature on just about everything he does. That is smart to me what do you think man?

(Kevin) He does promote him-self and his company well, but publicity, good or bad, seems to benefit him or follow him around.

(Ajax) So what tools do you use as far as paper, pens and ink?

(Kevin) The company I work with usually supplies the paper, but it all is basically Stratmore Bristol 500 series. I use hunt 102 and 103 crowquill points and Windsor Newton series 7 no 2 and no. 3 brushes. I'm using SpeedBall super black India ink right now, but I also like Higgins black magic and FW acrylic based India ink.

(Ajax) Kevin do you have any special secrets when it comes to inking that you might want to share with us?

(Kevin) Now if I told you, they wouldn't be a secret anymore, would they!

(Ajax) When you go to ink, where do you start on an image (middle, top, bottom) and why?

(Kevin) I never really thought about it, but I guess since I'm right handed, I start at the top left and work my way down. I'm always spinning the page and I'm constantly changing up my starting methods to keep it interesting. Sometimes I block in my blacks first; sometimes I ink all of my hard line stuff first. I'll ink backgrounds first at times to break up the monotony of the job too.

(Ajax) With BigKidz I wanted to do something more with comic book style art work, I wanted to go a step further and present bad ass art work on something bigger than the standard comic book and it's 10x6.5 inch pages. I wanted to see great artwork on a platform that was larger and louder than the standard comic book. From what you see Kevin, can you see a sudden explosion of interest in retail stores for the "Big kidz" product?

(Kevin) I certainly think they have potential with the right marketing to the bigger bands.

(Ajax) What do you think (as far as art goes) there is left to do to make an unusual item like this jumbo poster art comic kit blow up?

(Kevin) Target the 'big boys' (or girls) of the music industry and get them to sign on for a kit. Some of the more visually oriented groups or people with highly recognized faces, ie: Kiss, Metallica, Rob Zombie, and God help me for saying this; Britney Spears, Pink, N*Sync among others. Get some big name comic guys to do some posters for you and market them in the comic industry also.

(Ajax) As you know Kevin I just did an interview with Mr. Derek Fridolfs, which by the way you can read this awesome interview conducted by my self by logging on to www.blownaparts.com and clicking the "Big Kidz" box, ok enough self-promoting ha ha ha. Derek Fridolfs as you know is the current inker for the new awesome "KISS" comic book series by "Dark Horse" comics; in my interview we talked about the legendary rock band "KISS". I asked Derek if he was a "KISS" fan. Derek went on to tell me that he was not a "KISS" fan. Now to me Derek Fridolfs is just a great talented artist, and wonderful person for granting me the time to talk with him but as a "KISS" fan my self man, I just think that it would have been cool to see a "KISS" fan inking this cool "KISS" project, after all I know there is in no shortage of "KISS" fans currently working in the comic book industry. I bring this up because I know you are a long time "KISS" fan so what do you think? Is there any advantage for the fans who buy these "KISS" comic books if their inker and penciler is a "KISS" fan? or am I just being a sentimental weirdo?

(Kevin) Maybe a bit sentimental, you can be Kiss fan and an artist and not be the right artist for the job. From a fan's point of view though, having Kiss fans involved with the comic can make the book that much more appealing knowing the guys working on it are putting their love for the band into each page. I know I did while working on KPC. The writer of KPC was also a huge fan. I think I even was able to recruit Clayton Crain to the 'dark side' to some degree!

(Ajax) What kind of music do you listen to Kevin while inking?

(Kevin) Mainly metal, but I also listen to blues, big band jazz, swing, and movie scores.

(Ajax) I personally like to listen to "AC/DC", "The Napoleon Blownaparts", (ha ha ha), "The Supersuckers", or "KISS". When I am inking I really like the music to rock!

(Kevin) I have probably 600 cd's or so. As far as metal or rock goes, I listen to just about it all; Kiss, Priest, pre Hagar Van Halen , Sammy on his own, AC DC, Down, Pantera, Testament, I'm hooked on the Rock Star soundtrack right now, plus tons of other metal bands. I'm still waiting for my Napoleon Blownaparts cd, A terrible way to live kicks ass!

(Ajax) Highlights in both my art and music careers came when I had the chance to draw for "KISS" in 1996 when we did those "KISS" icons, and again four years later when my band "The Napoleon Blownaparts" got the opportunity to open for them on their huge farewell tour. We did like 8 dates across America opening on their first stage. It was amazing. I'm curious; can you share with me any of your highlights Kevin and what made them so special?

(Kevin) Probably the earliest highlight was back with Kiss' Crazy Nights tour. In 1988, Kiss was touring promoting their Crazy Nights album. My local radio station was giving away a Kiss Platinum Express Card, which looked sort of like an American Express Card. The card was supposed to enable the lucky recipient great seats and backstage passes for life. Well, I 'won' this card from my local rock station probably by default. A month or so before the promotion, I sent a cassette to the station with my picks of kick-ass Kiss cuts from all of the post Frehley/Criss Kiss albums up to and including Crazy Nights. I always felt that the singles that were released from all their albums were usually their weakest material, or at least their mellowest. To this day, the only two Kiss songs I ever hear on the radio are Rock and Roll All Nite and Lick It Up. Back then, the station had a weekly show called metal shop, and these were the only two songs you would ever hear. So I got pissed off and sent this tape off to the station with a letter explaining that I wasn't a nut-job but a professional commercial artist who was fed up with the lack of rotation that KISS was getting on their station. About a week later I got a call from the station manager who asked me to write down ten questions for a phone interview with Gene to promote their upcoming local concert. My name was later 'randomly' picked to win that card and meet the band at the upcoming show. Things got messed up with the meet and greet, and I missed out on meeting them at the local event. But I had the card and used it I think three times during that tour and got to meet the band. Paul was untouchable, but I got a couple of pics with Gene, and also with Eric Carr (my absolute favorite Kiss drummer - he resurrected that band!) and Bruce Kulick. Good thing I did go to these other shows, because the card was no longer valid after that tour; so much for free tickets and passes for life!

(Kevin) When I was working on Spawn, I got to meet Ace during his and Peter's Bad Boys tour. This was just a couple of weeks after the MTV unplugged thing. Because I worked on Spawn, Ace's management - Carol Kaye, told me that tickets and backstage passes would be available for me when I got to the show. I got the tickets, but no passes. I brought my younger cousin with me who was just the biggest Ace fan, so he could meet him. I was given the run-around and was told by Carol that I probably would and to 'look for the BIG guy with the mustache and he would take care of it'. I did and he did, and I got to meet Ace. It wasn't the best experience of my life; he was disinterested and not very hospitable; he never got off the couch and barely looked up at us, he hardly said a word either, just one word replies to our questions. At least I got his autograph.

(Kevin) I never did meet the band while I was on Psycho Circus, but because of it, I did get some great seats (5th row floor) for the Psycho Circus tour. I was still working for TMP on Spawn the Dark Ages and got some pretty good seats for the farewell tour also.

(Kevin) I just think that it was a pretty amazing ride being a huge fan of the band and having it culminate with working on KPC. Kind of strange how all these 'breaks' sort of led to me working on the book and connecting me to the band.

(Ajax) So where do you see yourself in the comic book industry in the future?

(Kevin) Hopefully working! Seriously though, penciling would be my dream.

(Ajax) Do you have any interest in moving on to a different level in the art world?

(Kevin) I did the commercial art thing for ten years prior to breaking into comics, so I think if I could make a living penciling them, I would be a happy man.

(Ajax) Here is a good question, and I hope I don't get into trouble with this question or that it gets taken the wrong way ha ha, but what is the difference between Kevin Conrad, and Derek Fridolfs?

(Kevin) Probably around eight years and four thousand pages of artwork.

(Ajax) I will even put my neck out a bit to show a sign of good faith dude, by telling you the difference between Ajax, and Gene Simmons, HA! Now lets see...the difference between me and Simmons is I am more handsome, ha ha ha ha ha, I have much respect for his great body of work, he probably has great respect for mine as well because with a job I couldn't buy all his "KISS" merchandise, ha! In a book called "The Making Of A Super Group", Gene gives out a ton of great tricks as to how he made it. A rule of thumb for me, never show your hand.

(Ajax) So hey man do you consider yourself famous?

(Kevin) 'Famous' is subjective. People know who I am all over the world because of the distribution of my comics and the web. It still amazes me when I go to conventions and people come in from Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico, you name it, and ask for my autograph. I get fan e-mail from the farthest corners of the world, but ask the average joe on the street who Kevin Conrad is and see what they say. Then ask that same person who Tom Hanks is. See what I mean about it being subjective? So I guess in the very small world of comics, I'm somewhat of a Tom Hanks, but in the real world, I'm just another meaningless speck on the face of this planet.

(Ajax) What is one thing you would like to change about yourself if you could?

(Kevin) My inability to get my taxes paid on time!

(Ajax) What did you do before you became an inker in this industry?

(Kevin) I was a commercial artist for ten years. Mostly, I worked on food product illustration, technical illustration of farm and garden equipment and spot illos for brochures, magazines and such. Not very creative stuff, but it paid very well. Occasionally, I would get a very sweet, very creative national job that made it all worthwhile.

(Ajax) In detail, how does one break in to the comic book industry?

(Kevin) Generally, it's done with constant submissions and badgering on your part until they can't stand to look at another package and finally give you a short story to pencil or ink just to shut you up! Seriously, it's all about the constant submissions. Editors need to see a consistent level of expertise with your submissions. They want to see an improvement with each submission with no backsliding on ability. There is a huge amount of young, extremely talented kids looking for work. And the competition is fierce with little or no work to be found these days. Or, as in my case, it doesn't hurt to know a respected someone who's already in and gives you a plug. It got me in with my first submission, but I had to prove I had the goods right from the beginning. I inked all of four pages in my entire life and then was thrust into the high profile X-Men titles while being very green behind the gills. Pretty damn scary.

(Ajax) If you are the owner of a major comic book company how do you keep your readers interested?

(Kevin) Kick ass artwork and stories and get the friggin' books out on time.

(Ajax) Dude, give me your definition of a ghostwriter.

(Kevin) A guy dressed in black leather with a flaming skull for a head who rides a motorcycle…..oh, you said ghostwriter! A ghostwriter is someone who is paid to write for someone else under the guise that he is that someone else.

(Ajax) Man back in 1978 I was in the 6th grade I think and I remember all I loved to do was bring my "KISS" comics, or my "KISS" special magazines like Grooves or something to class, anyway I would rap a lame ass math book around my "KISS" mag and every time I got busted, I used to draw "KISS" in class all day! oh my god how I hated school. There were some other "KISS" freaks but for the most part me and my best friend Dion Fernandez were the biggest "KISS" heads in school and all the other kids would poke fun at us, I even got beat up for wearing "KISS" make up, ha ha ha, I look back at all the pushing and shoving and all the humiliation I was forced to go through just because I was a "KISS" fan. That is what drives me now. I feel like I have something to prove. So what drives Kevin Conrad to push forward in such a competitive industry?

(Kevin) Ever since I can remember, I was drawing superheroes. There was nothing else that I ever dreamed of doing as a career until I went to college and was inspired by my illustration instructor. I came out of school with a new dream of becoming an illustrator, painting of a sort, but in the commercial field. National campaigns, Norman Rockwell kind of stuff, but it never took off in that direction. I took a leap of faith and changed careers midstream nearly ten years ago and never looked back. I guess what drives me is my complete love for the genre, whether I'm inking or penciling, it's what I love to do. How many people can truly say they love their work?

(Ajax) Are you into sports at all? I am a long time Oakland Raiders fan.

(Kevin) Nope. I'll occasionally watch a big boxing match and I watch the Super Bowl, but that's about it.

(Ajax) In 1996 I thought "KISS" and "Image Comics" were a match made in Heaven. And when they finally came together I was extremely happy and could not wait to see the merchandise out come. Now days? Man I would love to see Todd McFarlane and his crew take on Jack Skellington and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" gang. What do you think about that?

(Kevin) I think it could work.

(Ajax) Ok Kevin thanks a lot for taking time out to chat with me and do this interview.

(Kevin) Not a problem, it was my pleasure.

(Ajax) Oh! One more question dude. Peter Criss or Eric Singer? Ace Frehley or Tommy Thayer? For me it has to be Ace, and Peter.

(Kevin) This is a two parter for me. If you are going stick with the make-up, it's got to be Peter as Peter and Ace as Ace. I could excuse Eric in Peter's make-up because he was a long time member of the band, but Tommy Thayer as Ace? Puhleeze. When I saw that American Bandstand 50th anniversary with 'Kiss', I wanted to puke. They've become nothing more than a glorified circus or nostalgia act. Christ, even Ace has had enough and wants to get on with his own band. (Kevin) If they're gonna continue putting other musicians in the band masquerading as Peter and Ace, it's time to hang it up or most definitely time to take off the grease paint once and for all. These guys are in their fifties for Christ's sake. Peter and Ace are now only hired guns and there has clearly been friction right from the beginning of the reunion. Psycho Circus was supposed to be a reunion of the four original members, but except for vocal tracks and Ace's Into the Void, Peter and Ace were barely on that album. My point being: Have Peter and Ace be at least equal contributors with the recordings, or if they are not happy with Peter and Ace as musicians, don't pass them off as major players on the album. Gene would probably disagree with me here, but get back to your most solid line-up and continue where you left off with Carnival of Souls. You'll re-earn the respect of at least this one fan.

(Kevin) I've always said that I have been one of Kiss's biggest fans, and I am, but I also happen to be one of their biggest critics. I don't like being duped by anybody, and to me, if it was going to be Eric as Peter and Tommy as Ace, all they are doing are milking every last cent out of their name and fans. To me, this is where they cross the line as a glorified circus or nostalgia act. If they can't get the original members to portray themselves, they either need to take the grease paint off entirely or give the other guys their own persona. I had no problem with it when they did it in the 80's with Eric Carr and Vinnie, but I definitely have a problem with them blatantly passing off these musicians as somebody they are not right under our noses and expect us to accept them as Peter and Ace. Like I said before, If you have to wear the grease paint, give them their own persona.

My thanks go out to Ajax, Kevin and Rene