Jul 032014

James KochalkaCartoonist James Kochalka

Sydney LeaSydney Lea & his grandson Arthur

At NC hybridity is a meme; cross-pollination is an artistic genre unto itself: books & art, artish books, art made of books, cross-genre books & text/art thingies we might not wish to categorize in the name of aesthetic license. This time Contributing Editor Sydney Lea (who also happens to be the Vermont Poet Laureate and a former Pulitzer Prize finalist for poetry) combines with cartoonist James Kochalka to produce poetic cartoons or maybe poetoons or maybe just poetry and images, nostalgic, whimsical, and touchingly comic.



The team-up project began during James Kochalka’s term as Vermont’s (and the nation’s) first Cartoonist Laureate. Sonia Rae of the Vermont Arts Council’s people got chatting one day to James Sturm, director of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, and they wondered how a collaboration between the Cartoonist Laureate and the Poet Laureate might go. It would be, at least, unique. I knew and liked James, whose band is one of several that my son Creston plays in– I call its music faux naive– but cartoons? And yet I decided, Nothing ventured…etc.

The team-up proved a highlight of my tenure. We both enjoyed it (and so have more collaboration in progress as I write this). We started with my sending James a poem from my book Young of the Year, one that remembers some Yankee old-timers I knew and loved. A native Vermonter, James remembered some of his own, and I was floored by how closely his renderings matched the sort of people I had in mind.

So we were done, right? Not so fast, James told me. Now it would be my turn. He sent me the panels of Squiggle that you see here. I was to compose a poem suggested by these deft drawings.

I won’t vouch for any high quality in this collaboration besides James’s; but I can tell you how confirmed I was in my belief that gratifying artistic endeavor may come from the most unexpected places!

Sydney Lea

Garnett and Leon in December



Squiggle: Tonight’s the Night



—Cartoons by James Kochalka; Text by Sydney Lea

Sydney Lea is Poet Laureate of Vermont and a Contributing Editor at Numéro Cinq. His tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is now available from Four Way Books, his collaborative book with Fleda Brown, Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives (some of the essays appeared first on NC), has now been issued in e-book format by Autumn House Press, and Skyhorse Publishing has published A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. Other recent publications include Six Sundays Toward a Seventh: Selected Spiritual Poems (Wipf & Stock) and A Hundred Himalayas (U. of Michigan), a sampling from his critical work over four decades.

Kockhalk self portrait

James Kochalka is a comic book artist, writer, musician, and video game designer from Burlington, Vermont.  His comics have won four Ignatz Awards, the Harvey Award in 2006, and an Eisner Award in 2012.  His notable works include the diary comic strip American Elf, the Glorkian Warrior graphic novel and video game, and the SuperF*ckers graphic novel and animated cartoon series.  In 2011 he was named the first Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont.


  3 Responses to “Tonight’s the Night: Cartoons & Poetry — James Kochalka & Sydney Lea”

  1. Oh, brilliant! Both art and poetry. This takes a place on my list of Favorites from Numero Cinq.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful! Humorous, gay, and brilliant!

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