Sit Down with Cary Polkovitz

One of the cool things about working at Nrdly is the time we get to spend talking with some really cool people. I’ve spoken to people from Star Wars, famous game designers, and now…I can add an awesome comic artist to the list. I got the chance to speak to a wonderfully cool dude named Cary Polkovitz last week. He’s got an indie comic coming out soon (you can find the Kickstarter here), and as soon as I discovered it, I knew we had to have him featured here at Nrdly. Stay tuned after the interview for some more info on Cary and how you can grab a copy of his new comic, Ukiyo/ Genius Loci.

Geof: Sweet. Let’s go ahead and get started, I guess. You want to tell me your name and what you’re doing with the comic?

Cary: My name is Cary Polkovitz. I’ve got a comic book being Kickstarted right now, called UKIYO/Genius Loci. It’s an existential cyberpunk story told from various points of view, and associated GLPOSTERwith it is also a web comic called Who is the That one focuses more on some back story for the main character, who is this unnamed character, The Girl.

That’s basically what I’ve been up to lately. I put up the web comic every Wednesday. It’s been going really great. In fact today we hit our Kickstarter goal, which was really exciting.

G: Congratulations!

C: Thanks! But, of course, as with anything, you don’t count your chickens. We’ve got about 21 more days left to the campaign (as of the time of this interview). The money can go in-or-out at that point. We’re hoping to get more so we can hit our stretch goals. That’s what’s going on.

G: Sweet. What was the inspiration behind UKIYO and the Who is the Where did that whole concept come from?

C: Actually, a long time ago, when I was in college, I had come up with a comic book concept, because I was very interested in entering the comics field, basically for most of my adolescence and growing up. I got inspired by a friend of mine named Brent Ferguson, who put out a comic book called Terminal Drift, while we were in college.

We got to talking. I came up with this story called Nau Headhunter. He and I worked that up and put it out independently with a small company called NeoTech Iconography. It was these three characters: one was a girl, one was like this inspector character, and one was a soldier character. It was a very straight forward story. They were hired to bump somebody off. It was standard dark future, surfing through cyberspace sort of thing. We did it back in ’93. It was in the birth throes of the cyberpunk, which of course is reality now.

I always liked the characters a lot. I loved the dynamic of the three. Three is always such a great number to work with. You always have three acts in a play, that sort of thing. I always wanted to do something right by those characters. We did pretty well with the book, considering that we were up and comers. We didn’t know what we were doing.

I always had a soft spot for them (the characters). For years, while I was doing other things, always in the back of my mind was this idea of, “How can I write a story that will really, really give a maturity to the characters that I originally created?” It was funny. I started doing a lot of reading of other things. I’ve lived life, because we’re talking about when I was maybe 19, 20, when I did this. Meanwhile now, it’s 20-some odd years later, and life has happened. The ups-and-downs. All the great stuff. I’ve been exposed to so much more film and literature and also comic storytelling has evolved over the years.

I finally started thinking, “I really could launch this thing and really get it going.” I was very happy with the way that the story, even though it’s a very strange meandering story, I liked the way that it came out for these characters. I thought it gave them a lot more depth. That’s where that came from.

G: That’s really cool. You came up with this idea right around the time that William Gibson was finishing what’s called the “Sprawl Trilogy”, which is the big seminal work of bringing cyberpunk to the mainstream. I guess Johnny Mnemonic was coming out right around that time as well, around the early ’90s …

C: Absolutely.

•geniusLoci11G: … which, unfortunately, was not anywhere near the greatness of the original short story.

C: Unfortunately, it wasn’t, although there was one moment that I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the room service monologue. That was like, “Oh my gosh! Wait, that’s actually some decent acting.”

G: I know, right? So is this your second comic book, or have you done other work in the comics industry in-between?

C: Actually, after I did the first book, Nau Headhunter, I graduated college. I went off and did a proposal piece with a television producer. Then, I fell backward into working for Penthouse Comics, when that was around in the ’90s. I actually drew. I was blessed in a weird sort of way to draw Miss Adventure in Penthouse Comics for George Caragonne and that crew over there. It was a lot of fun. A lot of work, a lot of fun.

But it was almost like too much success all at once, as a 23-year-old. I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was like, “Oh my gosh! My goal of being a professional comic book artist has come to fruition right off the bat.” It was great, except for of course, you can’t just rely on that.

I don’t know if you know what happened with Penthouse. The magazine itself had to declare bankruptcy years ago. That put the kibosh on my pornographic cartooning career, but it was a lot of fun for the 3-some odd years that I worked on it. This is my return. This is, for whatever it’s worth, me coming back to my love of sequential storytelling.

G: As I’ve perused Who is the, I am such a huge fan of the artwork.

C: Thank you.

G: The artwork is detailed, yet raw. It reminds me a lot of Production I.G’s work with the anime sequence in Kill Bill.  Mixed with what Scott Snyder and Jock are doing on Wytches. You throw in a little bit of The Animatrix vibes in there with the whole cyberpunk style…it’s just awesome. It really scratches that itch for me. I love it.

C: Thank you so much. Not that I’m encouraging anybody to go back and look at the old stuff I used to do, but way back then, I was looking at people like Adam Hughes and stuff like that, who were my idols at the time. It was that era. Not that I don’t love their work now, I still think they’re tremendously talented gentlemen, but I started getting back into painting.

I used to do that in college. I moved away from the drawing for a long time. Then, when I came back to storytelling, I was like, “You know? I would really like to incorporate …” Instead of trying to have this finished, polished look, which I don’t think would necessarily work with the storytelling, why don’t I do something that’ll just be quick and dirty. I was looking at people like Jock and … Oh gosh, who else? Jason Alexander and all those guys. Really enjoying the rawness and the spontaneity of the work. I thought that that spoke more towards what I wanted to say. It was where my artwork had gone after all these years. It was nice to see what I enjoyed doing had an audience again.

panelExamplesG: Another work. Are you familiar with the Monocyte Comic?

C: No, I’m not actually.

G: I would check it out. The art style’s kind of along the same lines except it’s a lot less defined. It’s a very interesting story. It’s a fantasy/horror story. The art’s done by Menton3. When I first saw UKIYO, that was one of the first things that popped into my head was that comic. Then, after I had read through the first season of Wytches, I was like, “Oh my God! This is brilliant. If you took Wytches and you put it in cyberpunk. Done.”

C: I just actually looked it up online. Lovely about doing this on the computer. I really do like this work. It’s dark and it’s … Wow! It’s very foreboding. I like this.

G: It’s really, really cool. It’s been one of my favorite comics for years. It was an independent comic. I mean, on the Podcast, we talk a lot about comic books and we’ve talked a lot about the big 2. DC, Marvel, and then Dark Horse and Vertigo and all the imprints and everything. It’s no secret to our audience that I’m a huge independent comic fan. I much prefer indie comics, for a lot of the same reasons that hipsters prefer indie music. Man, I love using things like Kickstarter to really bring these things out there.

It’s really cool to see how the industry has changed and shifted with technology. What is your experience having gone through some of the industry up to now with using Kickstarter for UKIYO? What do you think about all that?

C: Obviously, the nice thing about Kickstarter is that you have such tremendous independence. You don’t have to deal with any sort of…if somebody says, “I really want you to change this in the storyline.” It’s, “No, this is my baby. I’m going to do what I feel is right with it. I know the audience that I want to appeal to.” The freedom is the best part of it, I think. Not that I’m saying that the big companies are not wonderful and enjoy reading a great Batman tale now and again.

The fact that you can tell an independent story, there is no greater universe that you’re…

G: You’re a slave to.

C: Exactly. It’s really openness and the idea that you can go, “I want to do this story. I want to tell it. I want to see who’s going to be interested in it.” That’s why Kickstarter is so great. Plus, if you’re budget, you can really put out the product that you want. On the right kind of paper, and if you want to do a specialized size. You’re not constrained by any of the industry standards, which is really, really nice. The trick, of course, is getting the distribution out, getting comic shops to be interested.

In today’s world with the internet and social networking and all these wonderful platforms like comiXology and Tapastic and all those things, where you can really just get your stuff out there. Whether you make money or not is not … It’s great if you can, but I think when you have a good story that you want to tell, you just need to tell it. This allows you to do it without any constraints.

G: That’s awesome, man. I’m really excited to see it…you said you hit the goal already?

C: We just hit it today (as of the time of this interview). Of course, with Kickstarter, the good and the bad of it is that a pledge doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get that. Until such time as the curtain comes down on your deadline, you have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that everybody’s still happy and flush, of course. The other thing is, it’s nice to be able to hit your stretch goals, because then not only can you bring more things to your audience, but it allows you to play a little bit.

You don’t have to sit there and go, “Well, I can only print ‘x’ number of copies and, therefore, I can only distribute them to places that I know are going to sell them or whatever.” This allows you to send it out to more reviewers and things like that. You’ll have a larger base that way.

•geniusLoci21G: What are some of the stretch goals?

C: Currently, actually, one of them is at $4,000. What I want to do is send a pdf version of the original comic, Nau Headhunter, to the backers. It was a 3-issue … Gosh, I can’t remember. I think it was like 36 pages each, a black-and-white book. I think it would be fun for people to see the genesis of these characters. It’s almost the nascent version of them. I thought that’d be a fun thing to give to everyone who gave, no matter how much they gave. Whether it was $5 or $100, you get the pdf of those 3 books once we hit one of our stretch goals.

G: Sweet, man. Well I’m going to back it for sure. I am so incredibly stoked.

C: Thank you, man. I really appreciate it.

G: Is there anything else that you would want to say to our Nrdly audience? Anything about getting into comics or being creative for a living or anything like that?

C: I used to teach art, and I used to tell my students this: “There’s nothing wrong with doing something else while you’re doing your art in order to back it, but if there’s nothing else you … If you can’t do anything else, if you’re an artist, it’s the one thing that’s calling to you, then just do it. Don’t sit around on your butt if you’ve got a good story to tell. Tell it. Just do the deed. Don’t hold back. It’s much more fun and it’s much more rewarding when you can really, really push your ideas, your stories, your vision out to the world and see what they have to say about it.”

G: Awesome. Thank you so much, Cary. I really appreciate it.


You can support UKIYO/Genius Loci on Kickstarter now (just click the pic).



“Intriguing and heartfelt, with great feeling and atmosphere.” 
 – Jock, Wytches, Batman, Hellblazer, Judge Dredd, Daredevil, The Losers, Comic Book Tattoo

“Very impressive. A serious and sophisticated piece of work.”
 -Dave Elliot, A1, Sharky, Heavy Metal, Weirding Willows, Monster Massacre

“Cary Polkovitz’ UKIYO is the most contradictory story I’ve read in years. Sexy as hell; except the sex. The plot at first seems random, yet it’s the only truthful way this story could be told. Even the art. Cary’s work is most beautiful when presenting life in its true, dirty, struggling form. It is at its ugliest when presenting the pristine world of the soulless corporate ad.The contradictions pass from creator to reader. I labored while reading UKIYO. I finished exhausted. I loved every second of it. “

– Kevin Joseph, co-creator of Tart

By Geof

Geof started life as a scrawny little nerd. His first experience with Star Wars was at age 6 with Return of the Jedi, and he never looked back. He’s a fan of indie comics, anime, Pokemon/Zelda/Nintendo, JRPG’s, hard scifi, the occasional fantasy, metal/video game soundtracks, and Tim Burton films. Fall is his favorite season, due in no small part to Halloween and Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

  • Elyse Salpeter 03/17/2016, 2:21 pm

    Your work is really amazing, Cary and I was so moved by your last few pieces of advice you wrote… “There’s nothing wrong with doing something else while you’re doing your art in order to back it, but if there’s nothing else you … If you can’t do anything else, if you’re an artist, it’s the one thing that’s calling to you, then just do it. Don’t sit around on your butt if you’ve got a good story to tell. Tell it. Just do the deed. Don’t hold back.” It’s so true – the concept of starving artist is overrated in my book – we need to eat and have a roof over our heads! Good luck with your endeavors – great interview!