Talk about art with heart, illustrator Travis Millard boasts both artistic talent and intellectual insight. His aesthetic spans a number of styles, from lone sentences to elaborately constructed scenes. His subject matter runs the gamut, depicting politics satirized, personal strife, aggressive violence, fabricated characters, ordinary objects magnified. The list goes on and on, as do the canvases upon which his sketches and drawings appear. He has designed album artwork, fashion patterns for well-known clothing brands, skate decks and skin. Thatâ€™s right, his imagination has inspired tattoos, and not the kind that wash away with soap and water. Face it, this creative cartoonist is here to stay.
In addition to his indisputable hip appeal and product presence, his work challenges the definition of fine art; while a sheet of lined notebook paper often portrays his handiwork, sometimes what begins as idle scribbling ends up decorating gallery walls. Format caught up with the inventive and diverse Travis for some insight into his creative being.
â€œWorking with kids is fun because I can openly plot to rip off their wild stylings and thereâ€™s nothing they can do about it!â€
Format: When did you first begin drawing? I know your mother had an artistic influence on you (talent runs in the family) so how did that play a part?
Travis Millard: My mom used to do a lot of crafty toll painting things and small oil pieces with folksy sayings. Sheâ€™d always encourage my brother and me to draw or make a cardboard fort or anything else to get us off the couch and keep our hands busy. I donâ€™t know when it started, itâ€™s just always been around.
Format: When did you first realize that drawing, doing what you clearly love, could pay the bills? What was that like, discovering that a natural ability and enjoyable activity could support you?
Travis: Iâ€™ve learned that drawing to pay the bills isnâ€™t what I thought it might be like when I was starving for a shot. Thereâ€™s a lot more involved than just gleefully jotting off goofy doodles and cartwheeling to the bank like Iâ€™d always planned on. Seems like the biggest trick is not getting too caught up in all the busyness that goes along with the business of it.
Format: You collaborate with your brother Brett frequently right? Has there ever been a rivalry, like when you were young? How about now? I read somewhere that at least this sketching kept you two from strangling each other. Is he your only sibling?
Travis: Brettâ€™s my only brother and good buddy. Heâ€™s a funny guy and great drawer, so passing a page back and forth over a table is a good way to spend an evening when we get to hang out. I guess we strangle each other occasionally over dumb stuff, but nothing a joke canâ€™t fix afterward.
Format: Speaking of youth, I noted that you did some collaboration projects with children, as young as five years old! What were those experiences like and how did they come about?
Travis: I used to teach a cartoon class to K-6 graders at the Art Center in Lawrence Kansas about 15 years ago. We would all sit around a table, and sometimes pass our drawings around the group, adding to them until it came back. I donâ€™t know if the kids were as excited about it as me, but I was stoked. Working with kids is fun because I can openly plot to rip off their wild stylings and thereâ€™s nothing they can do about it!
Format: You have this penchant, and knack, for breaking things down into miniscule parts â€“ your eyebrow, or your mustache, or the Oscars. What fascinates you about these unseen but present pests and elements?
Travis: I used to work at a desk by an open window above Sunset Boulevard, and was noticing the build up on the corner I just cleaned a couple days earlier. Or Iâ€™d take a walk to the beer store and notice the barrage of odors all fighting to burst into my nostrils at once. I think about how much Iâ€™m able to ignore whatâ€™s plainly in front of me and it makes me want to try harder to be better aware of everything else.
Format: You have a few themes throughout your work, from the microscopic motif, the man versus man motif, man versus himself motif and so on. What else can you tell me about your oeuvre?
Travis: Itâ€™s pretty schizo. Iâ€™ll have an idea for a drawing or little comic and try it out, and might get an idea for another as itâ€™s going, then try again, and end up with a little series without intending to get that far with it. I usually just go in a direction until it feels like itâ€™s getting tiresome and move on to something else for a while and see what happens.
Format: Your work is very visceral. It has this intense physicality to it, very bodily, exposing flaws and unseen details, magnifying things unnoticed by the naked eye. It seems like your process would be an arduous one, filled with perspiration and deep grunts. Have you ever become so fed up with the direction a piece was taking that you had to tear it up or crumple it up and begin again?
Travis: Oh yes. There is much perspiration and deep grunts. If you were listening in the other room you wouldnâ€™t know if I was drawing or bench-pressing a file cabinet. Honestly though, it all depends on how itâ€™s rolling, sometimes it comes easier than others. I rarely crumple anything up and toss it for good. It just gets put aside for another time. Unless the drawing really sucks, in that case, I torch it in a naked bonfire ritual.
Format: Why Fudge Factory Comics as a title? Is that supposed to be an unsavory connotation? It would be keeping in line with that visceral themeâ€¦
Travis: Sometime around 1996, I was doing several comics, and Fudge Factory was the title of one. My friend was urging me to get a website, and I just went with Fudge Factory Comics because it sounded like I was the boss of something busy. I didn’t really have a big plan for it, and still kind of don’t. It’s just a name I’ve been lurking around for a while that anything can pump out of.
Format: Youâ€™ve worked on many mini-books. What was the most rewarding for you? The most challenging?
Travis: I like everything about â€˜zine making. Itâ€™s exciting to get the impetus for a book idea and see it through the whole process without any outside input. I think the most rewarding thing for me is just letting them drift wherever they go after that.
Format: Speaking of drift, ever miss New York? Iâ€™ve only just been introduced to you, but Iâ€™m pretty sure Manhattan misses you.
Travis: Gosh, Manhattan seems like it already has enough to worry about. I think itâ€™s getting along just fine without me barfing on her sidewalks. My move to LA was kind of an unplanned accident, but Iâ€™m glad it happened. It led me to wind up in this rustic little termite buffet, which isnâ€™t a bad place to be.
More Info: http://www.fudgefactorycomics.com