Updated: Apr 22
Perhaps you knew him first from illustrated comics for SLG Publishing, Tinto Press, or Modern Drunkard Magazine.
Maybe you're a natural Denver trendsetter and saw his artwork years ago in Adrift Tiki Lounge, album covers for Barstool Messiah, or illustrations in Daniel Landes’ 2015 short story, Revolt to What?
Or you're among those of us who have been reading his weekly comic series The Denver Bootleg in Westword for some time now, that introduces readers to our city's most interesting bands' weirdest moments ... featuring iconic illustrations which meet this respected local paper's exceptionally high standards for cool.
If any of these are true, you immediately recognized Karl's distinctive artwork last winter on panels that adorned Colfax Avenue as he brought eight iconic Denver haunts to life in beautiful, colorful banners for an inspired Business Improvement District project, which rightfully got the attention of a lot of people (including Kyle Clark and 9News)
— COLFAX BANNER ARTWORK, DECEMBER 2019 —
No matter where or when you jump on this uniquely Denver bus, one thing is certain: A growing number of locals know, love, and relate to Karl's work and look forward to experiencing his illustrated adventures. For better or worse, today that includes The Lighthouse in The City, an eerie, sometimes funny, always deeply personal daily comic dealing with the realities of social isolation in the age of Covid-19.
Karl Christian Krumpholz agreed to sit down with me for a few minutes to talk about art, life, current and upcoming projects. Learn more about this smart, thoughtful and eclectic East-coast native ... whose art is getting a lot of well-deserved notice by a quickly growing metro audience, for very good reason.
While Karl may chronicle urban life in our beloved city, he is not a Colorado native and far from one. Karl is originally from Philadelphia, lived in Boston for a long time, and is a proud East-coaster at heart. He is the oldest in his family and has two sisters.
In early years, Karl had a complicated relationship with his father whom he matter-of-factly describes as a"straight-laced jock from North Philly." In contrast, Karl describes himself more as a "punk smart ass." It was his uncle Bob who inspired Karl to become an artist.
His uncle Bob was a kind, easy-going, vivid soul, very different than Karl's father, who created oil paintings in his home studio. Bob loved wearing Hawaiian shirts and refused to wear black because "it's the color of death."
As a younger man Karl attended Temple University in Philadelphia where he was a Communications major and studied radio, television, film and photography and minored in history. Karl later moved to Boston for a much needed change of pace where he worked for Pearson Education as an Editor and Account Coordinator.
In 2002, Karl began doing artwork on the side yet professionally. He exhibited some of his first comics at an expo in New Orleans. At the table next to him sat a woman named Kelly from Denver. The two didn't talk for a long time afterwards but eventually began an online friendship, which led to much more.
Kelly was the person who invited Karl to Denver for the first time in 2004, and the two began dating long-distance. That led to Karl eventually moving to Denver, and the pair getting married.
They now live happily together in Cheeseman Park with a large collection of odds and ends, good whiskey, dark beers, and a pair of gorgeous cats that stalk them for food and make difficult times ... easier.
Today, readers await Karl's daily diary comics as he illustrates and makes sense out of the place he calls home: The City ... no matter where it is. And right now, his home and his city are living under Stay-at-Home orders that are new and strange for everyone.
— DAILY DAIRY COMICS IN THE AGE OF COVID-19 —
Karl sees Denver through an outsider's eye and vividly captures the weird, wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking stories of local urban life. His drawings and publications are raw, vulnerable, smart, and observant. Karl has a courageous way of saying things that desperately need to be said, to an environment that doesn't always want to listen.
That's what makes his art so special.
With no further ado, let's hear directly from the artist himself on art, life, and what makes a good place to get a drink.
Your tagline is that you're "always looking for a better place to get a drink." So that begs the question, what makes a place a 'good place to drink'?
KCK: First and foremost, the bar staff and community. I like places that reflect the neighborhood around it and where a cross-section comes for a drink and be social. A place where I can see some 21-year-old sitting next to someone who's been drinking there for 30 years.
The strength of the bar's pour is probably second, and general atmosphere of the place comes in third.
I’m looking for an interesting place, perhaps with some history. That said, in general, sports bars are right out. TVs in a place are fine but if I can’t find a corner to have a quiet conversation with someone, I’m leaving.
You grew up in the city watching, relating and if I read correctly, even rebelling, through sports. In your experience, how does a city's sports teams affect its identity?
KCK: That’s an interesting question. I’ve had a weird relationship with sports and teams. Growing up in Philly every one was Flyers, Eagles, and Phillies fans, especially my father. So my rebelling was to say to him and the kids I grew up with, "Hey, I’m not like you, I’m going to follow different teams!" The thing I hate about sports is the tribalism of it all. I love sitting down with another sports fan and talking about things, but more times than not loyalty overcomes everything and people cannot talk reasonably. They simply want to see another team destroyed. That is weird, off putting, and kinda scary to me.
Over the last ten years there has been increasing interest in comic books and culture. To what do you attribute the growing appetite in this genre?
KCK: There has been in increased interest in the superhero-side of comic book culture due to all the big films. However, comic publishers and shops have been struggling for years, especially independent publishers and creators. The focus on films hasn’t translated into people seeking out the source material, or really anything non-super hero related. This has been a bit difficult since I do not do superhero comics.
Does your work help you understand yourself or other people better?
KCK: More myself. I can get the nonsense cluttering up my head out of it and onto a page. However, being from the east coast, I sometimes view the way people naturally act out here in Colorado with confusion, like a dog being showed a card trick.
I also really want to get these stories down, like an oral history. I like the idea that people in 50 years can look back and say “So, that’s what it was like living in the city five decades ago!”
How do you think the availability and increasing ease of self-publishing helps or hurts artists?
KCK: It’s a double-edged sword. It is a lot easier to self-publish and get books online, but due to the ease, anyone can do it. It can be hard to bring any sort of notice to your work. Also, with the ease of digital, there is a bit of a backlash. A lot of people prefer the tactile experience of holding a book rather than reading digitally. I know I prefer holding a book in my hand than to a device.
But because of the ease of the internet, there has been a decrease in independent distribution system for physical books. It’s simply hard to get books out and into people’s hands. There is literally only one corporate distributor for all comics! And if you don’t play by their rules, you're out of luck. There are a few smaller independent distributors, but their resources and space are understandably limited. I think this is the biggest problem with comics today.
What are the projects you are most excited about implementing in 2020?
KCK: I’m working on a book with Tinto Press collecting all my illustrations of places around Denver. I’m hip deep in that right now, having done about 60 illustrations of iconic places around the city and now starting to color them all.
At the beginning of the year I started doing a daily comic, posting a page every day on social media to document my wife’s upcoming surgery and recovery. I continued the comic afterwards as we seem to be living in the worst year ever, and there was no shortage of material to illustrate about.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been doing stories about dealing with the shut down and social isolation. SOLRAD PRESENTS, an imprint of Fieldmouse Press, just started featuring weekly collections of these comics at their site as The Lighthouse in The City. The title comes from the idea of that even in a crowed place like a city, we are all still dealing with loneliness.
Once I finish the Tinto Press book, I’m going to be working on a comic project with local musician and documentarian Heather Dalton. That is still in the planning stage though.
Lastly, hopefully another 30 Miles of Crazy! publication and another a third collection like One Minute to Wonderland featuring single panel comics about life in The City. Of course, all this can change at any moment. It is the nature of the work.
As an artist how do you define success, and what advice would you give to others who are inspired to live a life creating art?
KCK: I'd like to say it’s the satisfaction of finishing a project, or the joy that it brings to a reader, but how do you measure that? Real success would be the ability to create everyday and build an audience while making enough to survive in the city. Do it out of love for the craft and the happiness it can possibly bring to others. Don’t do it for the money. There isn’t any.
Follow Karl, build his audience, and stay apprised of all his future projects on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To check out and order print publications drop by his website or Birdcage Bottom Books which exclusively distributes his comics.
Want to WIN A FREE autographed copy of one of Karl Christian Krumpholz' publications? It's easy! Read on ...
Cosmic Comic Contest!
On Valentine’s Day I promoted my annual giveaway of the best lip balm on the planet. When you received yours you might have noticed that Félicette had a cool, new look. I couldn't be more thrilled to announce that Félicette 2020 was created by, yes, the one and only Karl Christian Krumpholz.
To celebrate, SCHWINGSTATE wants to give away 6 autographed copies of Karl's work, including 30 Miles of Crazy, One Minute to Wonderland, An Introduction to Alcohol, Another Round, and Revolt to What?
It's EASY to win yours! Just fill out this form telling me how and when you found Karl's work, and what you love about Denver. I'll have your FREE, AUTOGRAPHED copy mailed to you next week ... along with a few tubes of the best lip balm on the planet and maybe a beer coozie or three. And if you're wondering how and why a cat ever become a real estate mascot (because let's face it, it's a legitimate question) ... you can find out, right here. #schwingstatelovesartists #movingforward #socolorado
Michelle Schwinghammer is a REALTOR®, Certified Negotiation Expert® and Pricing Strategy Advisor® who helps people move forward in Colorado.
I HELP PEOPLE MOVE FORWARD.
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