Through writing for this site and being employed by its publisher, I occasionally am lucky enough to get sent books in the mail. None of them have floored me quite like one I received a couple weeks back called Qoberious Vol. 1. It was completely striking, yet familiar; esoteric, but entirely personal. I read it, reread it, and shared it enthusiastically with everyone in reach. After that internal response, I knew I had to contact the author, referred to as D.R.T. on the back cover, for an interview. What I learned was that this is someone who is not only pushing themselves artistically, but also mentally and physically, and creating odd and extraordinary comics.
RJ CASEY: Your book has no name on the front, no synopsis on the back, but the work inside this book was so singular that, after I finished, I immediately jumped on my computer to attempt to do some research into you. But there’s nothing online but a bare-bones shop selling the book and that’s basically it. Was it your intent for this book to have an air of mystery around it?
D.R.T.: Thank you! Yes, I am naturally wary of the internet and don’t post anything that I can’t easily take down. I prefer to use the Jaws approach, where you just see a glint of teeth and maybe a rough outline of a head and your imagination fills in the rest. I don’t know if that approach is sustainable in 2018 though… It’s a push and pull between getting my art out there and still keeping my privacy at a level I am comfortable with.
Your book says on the back, “Created by D.R.T.” Is that what you go by?
I go by Daniel. I started signing my initials on my “fine art” about seven years ago.
The book I received contained a letter inside written by “LH.” Who is that?
That is my wife, Lori, who lived through most of that with me.
By that, you’re referring to what the letter speaks of. Can we discuss it?
Yes, I don’t want you to feel like there’s anything off limits.
You had a major health issue. Can you break down for me what happened?
I had a hemorrhagic stroke when I was 27 due to an AVM [Arteriovenous malformation].
What is an AVM?
An AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels that bypass the normal flow of blood to the capillaries. There can be a lot of stress on these blood vessels and sometimes they rupture. AVMs are rare and not all of them rupture. I lost a significant part of my left brain. So much so that the right side of my body was paralyzed, and I couldn’t do any of the most basic things like swallow or think with language. I had to start over. With incredible help from my family, my girlfriend (now wife), and therapists, I relearned how to walk, speak, read, write, do math, etc. I still have no functional use of my right arm or hand, so I have to do all of my drawings with my non-dominant left hand and a container of pennies to hold the paper in place.
How’d the container of pennies process come about?
I don’t remember exactly. I think that when I first started drawing on bigger pieces of paper that wouldn’t fit on a clipboard, I scoured my apartment for something heavy, small, and clean to weigh the paper down so it didn’t move every time I made a mark.
Is a stroke like this unusual for someone so young?
Strokes are infrequent in someone as young as I was. There are different levels of recovery and survival.
Were there any prior symptoms or did this just happen suddenly?
I have never had a seizure or any sign that there was something wrong. I met with the surgeon who cauterized the AVM and she said if they would have taken a brain scan just a day before my stroke, they probably would not have caught anything. One of my therapists referred to is as a ticking time bomb.
How long ago was this?
The stroke happened in the beginning of 2009.
How long did it take for you to relearn how to draw?
I don’t think that the artistic part of my brain was affected by the stroke, so it was just a matter of teaching my left hand the skills I already knew. It was years before I got to the same level as I was pre-stroke and everything still takes a lot longer.
So you had a background in the arts before your stroke?
I got my BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago; I focused in film and animation. When I was a third-year student, I got a freelance job at an animation studio. I feel like that is where I learned all the technical skills and the level of craftsmanship I know and use to this day. In fact, I still am using pencils from that place.
Your animation experience might explain the heavy ’30s Fleischer cartoon vibe I got when I read your book. You definitely play in those tropes.
That’s some of the art I love. Some of the time it is a struggle to capture that 1930s cartoon feel and still make it my own. I try not to look at those cartoons to copy from, but keep the idea of them in my head when I am drawing. I also want it to be different enough to no conjure up those insensitivities of the 1930s we all find appalling in 2018.
I’m glad you brought that up because I was going to ask about your crow character. That animal has been problematic in that sense in the past. Is that something you have to keep in mind or attempt to maneuver around?
I honestly didn’t think about the problematic past of the crow when I was drawing that character. We have a ton of crows in our yard constantly, which was my main influence for including a crow in the comic. It wasn’t my intention that it be viewed as racist at all. I was trying to create my own world, populated by my sheep-tree Sims (influenced by old cartoons and Kinnikuman), that didn’t carry the baggage of American history. I’m realizing that’s fine for just me, but when my comic is out in the world, the baggage of history is there too, and connections of that style I’m drawing in, and that time in history are bound to come up. I think it is because of my white privilege that something like that could slip by me. Because of my privilege, I was able to just see it as artwork devoid of meaning. I’m still learning how to be a better human.
Fair enough. I think we all hopefully are. Can you tell me about the title of the book and the smaller comics inside the book? It’s called Qoberious and you use the title Kvorious on some other the interior cover pages. What’s the definition, or at least the significance, of these words?
I wanted to make it an encapsulated world with no direct ties to our own reality. In this universe, comics are the reality and I am the creator. Qoberious and Kvorious are not necessarily supposed to be pronounceable names so much as they are to create the feeling of a cohesive reality. Qoberious is a name I thought up in the early 2000s for the first draft of my comic book, however the only things that have not changed are the name and that my character’s legs were cut off.
Your character Nalu also goes by Qoberious in one story?
Which story are you referring to?
I think he’s introduced like that in the first story on the “order of appearance” page.
That is the actual Qoberious in the first story. There is a time jump to Qoberious #1, as if to say this short story leads to the series. I separated the book into smaller comics to give me leeway in art styles and to manage possible issues with consistency. Rather than try to keep the same drawing style throughout, which I wasn’t sure I could do, I focused on consistency in each separate issue. This took the pressure off of me to remain in the same style through the whole book.
Circling back a minute, you had always planned on cutting your characters legs off? I thought that that might have to do with your ability to walk being taken away from you.
Originally it was a plot device that started off the story. It was just something I thought was meaningful to build the rest of the story around. When I started to work on it again after the stroke, it had a different meaning to me.
You also constrain your characters quite a bit and use a lot of bondage imagery. Did those ideas come along after your stroke as well, or is that something else altogether?
Those ideas are definitely related to my stroke in my mind, but they can be taken as broader metaphors too. Nalu’s mind has been so conditioned by all those years of “appearing humble before the gods,” it is ever present in his mind and he can’t think any other way. It is difficult to say much more without rooting the metaphor in my personal experience, which I don’t want to limit it to.
Your work can be difficult to decipher at times and is serialized inside the book into smaller comics, like you mentioned. What do you think the best way to read your book is?
Ideally the reader would find something new each time that they read it. I hope that people will be intrigued by the art enough to read up until it starts to make sense and then read it all over again. I hope that readers enjoy the mysteries of the story and enjoy the visually unexpected things, like the sudden color on a page.
The color stands out because you switch from black-and-white to color frequently, like you said, but also include pages that are just the color flats where the linework is removed. Are these decisions and color choices preplanned?
Not for the majority of the book. When I’m coloring, or arranging a scene after it’s drawn, I sometimes think there should be a pause or a landscape to, in a sense, stop the reader and insist it be processed in their brain differently. I heavily edit the work and there are a lot of drawings that don’t get used. I think I am constantly trying to slow the reader down. Also, I like the feel of those newspaper cartoon collections where there are six days of only black-and-white drawings, and then there is the most vivid color on the Sunday page.
The terms dodecahedrons and oblongs are used prominently in this comic and your backgrounds, even your endpapers, feature three-dimensional shapes. What is your interest in geometry?
I find geometric shapes aesthetically pleasing. Also, the mathematical meaning that is inherent to geometry is equally as pleasing to me. Math is responsible for the way our universe works, from quantum mechanics to something as simple as 2+2=4. It is a universal truth that if you have two things, and add them to two other things, you will have four things. Why is that so? And why does math work so well in our universe? In the universe that Qoberious takes place in, math has the same roll and these geometric shapes symbolize that. Every time I write a scene with the Keepers, I spend days researching different mathematical concepts and when I’m all done, I think this isn’t funny, and why am I trying to prove? I end up cutting it out.
You can always recognize your two main characters in the book, Nalu and Neeja, but occasionally they will be in different costumes or carry themselves a bit differently than the previous story. Do you consider them more like stand-ins or actors in the stories you want to tell?
I don’t think of them as actors, although they do play-act to break up the monotony of their lives. I would say that they are stand-ins in that I make the characters illustrate the things that are important to me and the things that I want to drive the narrative forward.
Like what kinds of things?
I’m having trouble putting my finger on it. I think that the relationships between the characters, themselves, and gods are the real backbone of the story. So, I try to tell that from the perspective of a disabled man. The Sim Theory as it relates to us, and internet culture as it relates to us and to our avatars, are important to the story in my mind. But I don’t know how much that comes across yet.
What is the Sim Theory?
The Sim Theory, as I understand it, is if the universe is quantifiable, and so far, all signs point to that it is, it stands to reason that it could be contained in a super computer. The theory goes that one of the three options are true: 1.) It is not possible or technology doesn’t advance that far before humans are wiped out. 2.) Humans choose not to generate Sims because of moral and ethical reasons. 3.) It is possible, and we may be living in a simulation already.
Do you believe any of this?
I believe it is possible. Furthermore, one cannot disprove that we are actually living in a simulation.
Has creating this book, and art in general, helped at all in your healing process, which I assume is still ongoing?
For the first couple of weeks after my stroke, I experienced a silent mind. I didn’t have thoughts running through my head. It is what I imagine the goal of meditation, to silence the chattering monkey. I achieved that peace of mind involuntarily and gradually thoughts returned to my brain. After a while came the frustration of scattered thoughts, not being able to verbally express what I wanted to, and move the way I was used to. Inside, I began to feel like myself again, but externally I was a different human. I certainly didn’t consider myself to be an artist anymore. I couldn’t even pick up a pencil in my right hand. It was upsetting to remember the abilities I had lost along with a large part of my identity. Later, I made my first attempt at a left-handed drawing. It was a small and shaky drawing, but it was a start. Art has given me a purpose in life. It would be so easy to watch TV all day and not to progress (which I have done my fair share of). It would be easy to get caught up in all of the things I can’t do anymore and not to think of all of the things that are now possible. Art, along with family and friends, is one of the consistent things that make life worth living for me. It is an ongoing struggle to live with my disability, but I feel like it gets more manageable as time goes on.