Fran Krause

Fran picFran Krause is a comic writer, illustrator, animator, and educator based in California, U.S.A. Krause began as an animator and director on television, and has worked on a number of online animated shorts and series, such as James Kochalka’s SuperF*ckers.

Now, he is most widely known for his online comic series Deep Dark Fears, which began as Krause chronicled his own irrational fears and posted them on Tumblr. The series has grown and now Krause illustrates fears submitted to him from internet strangers with their own irrational anxieties. His first book, Deep Dark Fears, premiered as a New York Times bestseller for hardcover graphic novels in 2015. It includes many favorites from his webcomic, as well as a few new and original pieces. His second book, The Creeps, published September 26th, 2017, draws more from his well-known webcomic.

What is your art background? I’m aware you went to art school, but what about writing?

 I went to undergrad at Rhode Island School of Design, but before I did that I grew up in a little town in upstate New York called Utica, and there wasn’t a lot of good art programs in my high school, but luckily there was a local community college that worked through an art school called Munson Williams Proctor Institute that allowed people in high school to take college class at night. Once I could drive I could start taking college classes, and that really helped when I was applying to school later on. I could just use my portfolio from that. After that program I went to Rhode Island school of design for four years though their animation program and studied some freshman foundation classes, and sculpture, and graphic design, but I also went through animation there. Maybe fifteen years later I went to get my MFA. I went to Queens College for a semester, then transferred to a place called Goddard College in Vermont and got my grad there.

As far as writing goes I’ve never really studied writing. I’ve read about it. I’ve read some books about screenplays, and I’ve read a lot of narrative books, but I’ve never taken writing classes outside of grade school and high school. I figured it out by thinking about it a lot, and reading a lot of books.

I want to move into your work on Deep Dark Fears, a series I really love. What drew you into comics, outside of the animation you had done previously?

 I wasn’t really interested in making comics very much before I was working with James Kochalka on SuperF*ckers, but it was really fun seeing him write so quickly. In animation it takes so long to make anything. Even if you want to tell the simplest story you need months to do it. Working with James he would have a quick little story idea, and he would just make a comic of it whenever we needed to do a storyboard. He would spend half an hour to an hour, and come back to us with a ten page comic. It was very, very simple as far as he’d approach it design-wise, but he was able to tell the story so quickly. It was definitely something I was jealous of. Definitely something I found inspiring, because it made it seem so simple and accessible. It made me think if telling a story is really what I want to do, then why am I not making comics?

You have a very consistent tone throughout Deep Dark Fears. Some are funny and some are very dark, but they seem to keep a cohesive voice to them despite coming from strangers on the internet. What about each fear draws you to it, and how much do you consciously curate them?

 The curation is very conscious, but I do think it’s also partly taste. Because I have to like them, and I have to draw them, that ends up being a self directing thing a little bit. And also because at this point I’ve seen so many of them. I’ve gotten thousands and thousands of fears. I usually have to spend at least two hours a week just reading submissions.

How many submissions do you usually get in a week?

Maybe anywhere from one hundred to five hundred, and if it gets onto a big website I might get a thousand. It’s really like reading a book that’s just submissions every week, and that really helps narrow it down, because I don’t want to repeat myself.

I know it’s something I’m going to have to read and have a new image pop into my head. I’ve really slowed down on fears about having their eyes poked out, because I feel I’ve covered that ground a lot. I’m skeptical every time I get a mirror fear, because there’s a lot of fears about mirrors that I’ve already drawn. I want something new. I don’t want something that for the most part exists only on one level. The one about getting a spider in your shirt when you put it on that’s mostly just a comedic one, but for the most part I like ones that people can read twice and see a different thing each time.

For the most part that’s how I pick them. It has to be something new that I haven’t covered before, and it has to be something that when I read it I start getting pictures in my head of what I might like to draw. There’s certain ones that I’ve gotten many times, and each time I get I it I think, “Yeah, that is a scary thing, but what does a drawing add to that?” There’s one that I get a lot that’s just,“if you’re in your house alone and you sneeze and you hear someone say ‘god bless you.’” That’s definitely scary, but what does that look like? Is it just a character sitting alone in a room sneezing and a word balloon coming from offscreen saying “god bless you.” It’s better off being something you think, than something written down.

How do you approach illustrating each fear, and how is that different from how you approach your other comics like your Adventure Time short?

 There’s not much of a difference between the Adventure Time and the Deep Dark Fears stuff in set up, because in both cases I start with text, and I’ll write out all the text before I start drawing. I shut off all the music and I just sit there in silence and try to get the text figured out. Then I start the illustration. Sometimes it goes through a draft or two, but usually I do a rough pencil sketch of the illustration, then an ink pass. I use waterproof ink so when I erase all the pencil lines I have something I can watercolor over top of without smudging.

With the Adventure Time thing I was trying something a little different. I roughed it out on my computer, and my computer tablet was working weird so all my lines turned out wrong. Then, when I had the rough pass of that with all the lines messed up I cleaned it up with pencil. That was really fun because I had all these messed up drawings that I couldn’t get perfect. I was trying to make good versions of bad drawings.

Do you ever work in scripts or thumbnails at all?

 Well, my comics are basically thumbnails already. So the comic is the rough sketch that way. I work with a pretty quick timeline. I only have about three or four hours to do each one, then I have to put it up on the internet. I don’t really have time to do thumbnail passes that much. Sometimes I’ll do a little scratch on the side of the page if I’m really nervous about the composition, but that’s about it.

 A lot of your work is very collaborative. You work in animation, television, and your comics are often based on other people’s voices. Jow do you think that helps and informs your process?

 It’s nice to have some surprise. It’s easy to think there’s no ideas left in the world until somebody comes up with an idea right next to you. If you don’t have a source of extra ideas popping out every once in awhile it can feel like there’s nothing else left.

I was doing a film class earlier, where everyone’s making their films, and they’re each responsible for their own film this year, and we actually played Dungeons and Dragons as a warm up to doing our stories, and it was really fun! Everyone in the room thought it was going to be a mess, myself included, but eventually you get a good story out of it. That’s partly because everyone in the room is trying to do something a little different. They’re all on the same page, but by everyone trying to do something slightly different you end up with wonder, some surprises, and everyone has to think the whole time they can’t just go into autopilot. I think that’s a helpful way to go about things.

It’s fun to work alone. I like to be a hermit every once in awhile, but it’s good to have some surprises.

Your most recent book The Creeps just came out: congratulations! Was there much of a difference between publishing each book?

Well, the first one (Deep Dark Fears) was all big surprises. I had never made a book before. I’d never written anything more than a few pages before, and they said okay you should make a 144 page book, and it was a little overwhelming, but I basically just approached that as making a bunch of one-page comics. There’s only a few three or four page comics in there.

The publisher was very nice they were very supportive of letting me basically do whatever I wanted to do. One of the nice things was first it was 144 pages, which since it had one hundred comics in it already, there was hardly any blank space put together and felt very overwhelming. I asked if we could add more blank pages without making the book any more expensive. And they were nice, they put about twenty more pages into it without making me draw anything new. It had a little more space too breathe. They submitted it to awards and things. It got nominated for an Eisner, and it was on the New York Times bestsellers list.

This next one, we’ll see how it does. I think it’s a better book. I worked on it harder, and I was able to do more with it, but at the same time it’s my second book. I’m not sure how it’s going to sell. I did the pre-sale campaign and did an extra zine to hand out with that. I think I put more into this one than the last one, and I’m really happy with how it turned out, but I have no idea what the response is going to be. All I can really do is make something I’m proud of and keep my fingers crossed.

Social media is a huge part of your work. Deep Dark Fears started on Tumblr. Do you suggest young writers try and cultivate an online following?

 It really depends on what you want out of your writing. Some people are happy just writing and never showing it to anyone and keeping it for themselves, but I don’t think there’s much of that in our world now, people making something and not sharing it immediately. There’s definitely a value to that, and I’m really proud of people who don’t need the constant encouragement of everyone in the entire universe. I also think it’s becoming rarer to find people who know if their work is good without showing it to anyone. I’m lucky that I grew up before the internet, so I spend time with my work before I share it with people and I decide if I like it or not. Every once in awhile I’ll make something that I think is wonderful and everyone will love it and something happens, one famous person doesn’t retweet it, and suddenly it doesn’t have many likes. I wouldn’t want that to reflect on me, and tell myself “this is crap,” when really it’s the luck of the draw.

I think it is a valuable thing to have a following if you want to convince people who don’t necessarily follow you directly that you’re worth following, and you’re worth putting some time and money into. I think ten years ago if you wanted money for a project you needed to somehow prove it was going to be a success without actually showing it to people. That was a scary thing. Now if you want to show something’s success, you have all the power to do that, you just put it up anywhere online, and if it’s successful great, and if it’s not no one sees it so it’s not a big deal.

It’s definitely a mixed bag. I don’t like the internet in a lot of ways. In my more lonely times in New York I would be walking around the city a lot, the thing I always knew was the the people that most wanted to return eye contact were the people who were walking with their partner while their partner was on their cellphone. No one likes being with someone who’s on their phone, and I think everyone knows that, and yet everyone’s on their phone. It’s some weird disconnect.

I don’t like cellphones in a lot of ways, but I do like the art that’s on them, and I do like what’s being made with them, I think they’re a tool. But I do wish there was some way they could be moderated in certain parts of society. Like, I have to tell my students to take them off their desks, and stop messing with them. But at the same time it’s a wonderful tool for artists to prove that they are worth while. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag.

Do you have any advice for beginning artists, writers, or people going into television?

 Get a job as soon as you can, and don’t worry too much about artistic purity and making something perfect. I think what you get out of a job is you get a lot more professional experience, and you get experience working with people, and you get a lot of good life memories. You also figure out how the business works which is very valuable. If you’re looking for artistic fulfillment, you can get that on your own for free. I think that if you connect what you do for fun in order to feel good about yourself with money really soon, it’s just a recipe for sadness. If I wanted to make a living off of comics I would hate comics so much at this point, because there’s no money in it. I like making comics and I like writing my books, but there’s no way this could’ve paid my rent at all. Unless I lived in a car. I think that having a job on the side and doing this means this doesn’t have to support me, and when I get a check for comics it’s like extra bonus money to put in my savings account.

If I was doing this to support myself for one thing, it would look like a totally different thing, like Game of Thrones fan art. Like, “click on this! Please follow me on Patreon,” and it doesn’t have to be that. It can be something that I would like if I saw it online.

I think comics are sort of like poetry, in that in America there are probably only two or three people that make a living on it, and to everyone else it’s a hobby.

Any future plans for your work? Obviously you’re just finishing up a book launch now, but any future plans?

I’ve started outlining a sci-fi book about time travel. I’ve never written a novel before, but I’m hopefully going to start that this weekend. I’m still publicizing The Creeps, I’m going to do a couple comic shows for that. As long as there’s an interesting idea out there for me to do I’ll still keep on doing Deep Dark Fears every Monday at about 7:00 pacific time. I still teach at CalArts, and that keeps me busy most of the week. And I still do freelance animation in LA, sometimes I’ll work on shows a little bit, but my schedule at CalArts does make that a little difficult. I’ve been trying to learn how to make guitars, and I try to run as much as I can. So that’s kept me busy so far.

Camille Mousseau is an undergraduate student in the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia. She specializes in in television, screen, and graphic novels, and is currently working on a sci-fi television pilot. She makes a mean cherry pie.

%d bloggers like this: