As an aspiring cartoonist, zine maker and comic book illustrator Kalah Allen began creating images for the I, Anonymous column which runs in the Portland Mercury in the summer of 2000. With demands on her time from family and work, she appreciates having an outlet for her creativity. Kalah retains a bit of her cartoonist identity with the weekly publication of her work. She’s recently streamlined her illustration methodology which has brought new life and personality to recent drawings
Portland Orbit: So, when you get the I, Anonymous submission, how do you sum up the image in an illustration, is there something you have to go through to get that initial burst of inspiration?
KA: So it’s interesting sometimes I receive a bundle of them like in a little file package and I’ll skim through all of them and I don’t really focus on any particular one, I’ll just take them in. My habit is usually Sunday night, it’s the last thing I do before I go to bed is to finish the I, Anonymous. So maybe before that if I’m stuck I’ll give it a really good read again and I might read it a couple times and I think about what’s the most visual thing that’s also the most important in the text. A lot of times lately there’s nothing particularly visually interesting in the text to illustrate and I really have to think about it. Some things that are the most difficult are things that are ideas, like for instance a recent idea was, it was about goals. Those things are difficult to draw and so I’ll look through the whole text and see if there’s a theme. Because you don’t want to be too easy, you want to make something kind of weird and different and make it interesting.
Portland Orbit: I think the other part of that was trying to get that inspiration.
KA: Yeah, sometimes inspiration is hard. Sometimes I’ll scroll through, I’ll just google a thing like “guy pooping” and see if there’s an interesting angle that I can draw a guy pooping from.
Portland Orbit: That is so perfect because that goes right into my next question. Because it seems like you are often dealing with potentially gross stuff. That seems to be a job requirement so I’m wondering if you’re okay with that.
KA: Yeah, I’m fine. I’m really sick inside. I’ve always, from my childhood, I’m always three years old in my mind. All the body stuff is hilarious. Right? I did get banned, when I first got started a lot of them were about dicks or about fucking or pissing or whatever. Sometimes it’s like what do you draw? So I draw the thing and they said, “Kalah, you can’t draw dicks anymore. Sorry, it’s just too much.” I drew one that was flying or something and they said, the ladies who advertise, on the page that used to face I, Anonymous, who were like escorts, don’t want that on the other page.
Portland Orbit: They were pretty racy back then. I think they’ve driven those people away. I remember when I first got here I was like, whoa.
KA: I know.
Portland Orbit: Have there been any of the I, Anonymous letters that have been challenging to illustrate?
KA: Like I said the ones that are more like ideas rather than things can be difficult, it can be a challenge to think of something that is not a total cliché or if you choose to draw a cliché totally knock it out of park and make it over the top cliché so it’s funny.
Portland Orbit: So that can be the challenge of just trying to find that over the top kind of angle on it.
KA: Yeah, I always forget what I’ve drawn like the next week if you ask me what I’ve drawn, I’m like, “I don’t remember.” If we looked at a bunch of them I could probably point out, “this one was particularly difficult.” They’re starting to do two in a theme. There was one about goals one week and I was like, “oh that was such a pain to draw. How do you show that?” And then the next week it was about goals again. It was like “ugh,” here we go.
So I just used some of the, I used a generic person crossing the road illustration like that kind of road sign style and I just took what I’d made the week before and changed it. And they did it again the next week with bag pipes so I hope that’s not a theme. It was funny, a couple of weeks ago I did one about this guy who was playing bag pipes. He played the same song over and over and someone was complaining that they had to listen to him all day at work and then the next week it was another one about that guy. After work one day I went to meet a friend for dinner and guess what I heard? I heard that guy! I was like “yeah, this does suck.” I couldn’t image listening to that all day.
Portland Orbit: It’s almost like a theme if two people are complaining about the same thing.
Portland Orbit: So I have a lot of the images, I’ve been reading it for at least the last nine years, looking at it and I’ve tried to think of the ones that were really memorable, one, which I couldn’t look at, was the toenail collection.
KA: Oh that was so gross.
Portland Orbit: That was really gross.
KA: That was so fucking gross.
Portland Orbit: One that I recall that was funny because it was about someone farting in Powell’s and then I guess you had a line of books and you came up with all these book pun titles.
KA: That was one of my favorites. My friends helped me come up with the names for that and I wish they could all be a little more interactive. But I’m generally too lazy to do that kind of stuff, like ask everybody, I just want to get it done.
Portland Orbit: Also to me, it was interesting, the one about old goats, somebody was complaining about old men in the bar, kind of like a generational gap thing and even the next week somebody wrote a letter to the editor defending the old goats. So my question is really which ones, maybe more in general, not necessarily coming up with the idea, which ones have been memorable to you?
KA: Ummm, gosh I don’t know there’re are just so many, 17 years of that.
Portland Orbit: I know, I know.
KA: The one that makes me laugh every time I see it, there’s like a cat with a condom in his mouth. It’s just so over the top funny, just the idea of, you know what animals love, what they find attractive and will bring home as a trophy.
Portland Orbit: Yeah, combines a little bit of that grossness too.
Note: I met Kalah over 20 years ago on the first and only US Tour I made with Charlie McAlister. (12 shows in a month) We ditched a show (actually an open mic night in Kansas), but Kalah was able to get to the next show, in Omaha, and hung out with us at a casino named Harvey’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa where she drew on the roof of my car. Possibly before that, and certainly after that, we communicated through letters that highlighted Kalah’s gift, a zany off-the-cuff sense of humor.
All illustrations by Kalah Allen.
See more of her work in bright, bold computer color: http://www.portlandmercury.com/i-anonymous/2017/08/02/19206700/this-weeks-featured-i-anonymous
Next Week: Those pesky and ubiquitous owls.