In a global pandemic, the topic of mental health has become so much more important for young people all over the world. Cartoonist, freelance illustrator and Lancaster native Joshua Kemble released “Two Stories: Book One” in mid-December as a memoir and a source of inspiration for readers facing mental health issues. He discusses trauma, suicide and finding his faith in a 122-page long graphic novel with the intent of being read by any age group. The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer was able to sit down and discuss the new novel with Kemble.
MH: Tell me a bit about your experience with cartooning and how the idea of Two Stories came about.
So I am a cartoonist, I’ve been a professional illustrator and graphic designer for over 15 years. I am mostly known for T-shirt art and stuff like that. I’ve been an art director for about six of those years. I also do graphic novels and comics. A part of why I like “Two Stories” is the fact it’s a graphic novel about faith and mental illness that I felt compelled to create. I wanted to try to tell a story about a slice of life. I wanted to tell a story that would deal with issues of mental illness and struggles with depression and anxiety, more head-on than a lot of other comics, or books, have done. So that’s kind of roughly what that is.
MH: With the book being a memoir, discuss how you grew up and how you ended up where you are today.
I grew up in the Antelope Valley, in Lancaster, Calif. Growing up there was a Christian school that I attended and I was a little shocked by some of the hypocrisy of some of the people I went to school with. I was shocked by the ways the Christian school system kind of emphasized and kind of exalted hypocrisy. I ended up losing my faith and this book is kind of about my journey back as well to belief in God.
I always liked comics. I got into comic books because my mom was an English teacher and my dad was a graphic designer, so I grew up as a pretty heavy book nerd who read a lot. Reading comics just made sense to me. I liked the idea of art and English sort of intertwined in one medium. One of my favorite things is writing and one of my favorite things is art; I found that the two things mixed together really interchangeably.
I ended up going to Antelope Valley College and then I transferred to California State University, Long Beach. I majored in illustration in order to focus more clearly on learning how to draw and how to do sequential storytelling. From there, I built my career doing comics. I ended up getting a thing called the Xeric Grant for my first comic, which was a pretty big deal in comics. It’s a grant that the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gave out in order to help you publish your first book. That launched my career as an artist and I spent a good 15 years doing freelance illustration for T-shirts for books [by] various clients from Random House to Scholastic.
MH: You released “Two Stories” in the midst of a pandemic, did you face any obstacles with releasing and marketing your book due to COVID-19?
On one hand, it’s perfect timing to release the book because one of the hardest things to cope with when people are going through depression or anxiety is that mental illness tends to have a common thread where it isolates people. I think the advantage with a book like the one I released and the importance of it is because it deals with the subject head-on and is truthful. I’m hoping that I can provide people a window into showing what it’s like for people to struggle. I also want people to have the feeling that they’re not alone.
On another hand, there were struggles due to COVID-19. The general way to market an indie book is to do conventions and local bookstore signings. Especially in comics that’s the usual route to be able to market. Trying to release the book when half the bookstores are closed and you can’t really do signings or conventions has been a really interesting challenge.
This has definitely been different than any book release I’ve ever been involved with.
MH: What’s next for you? Are you focusing on marketing now or have you already found another book idea?
The first book was released last month and I am working on the second book. I’m about 89 pages done with the rough stage. I’m hoping to have that done in about a year and a half.
For more information about Joshua Kemble and his graphic novels visit joshuakemble.com