Interview with David Malki

March, 2012
VanCAF webcomic interviews

David Malki! is the cartoonist behind Wondermark, a black-and-white collage comic of Victorian-era artwork, as well as the communications director for Topatoco, the net’s leading webcomics merchandise firm. He is 31 and lives in Venice, California.

On your site you mention some of the images in your comics come from a “personal collection of old books.” How big is that collection?

Looking at my shelves right now, I probably have close to 60 hardcover volumes published between 1850 and 1912, plus miscellaneous stacks of magazines and newspapers in boxes and file drawers. Most of the books are huge bound collections of periodicals — six months’ worth of a magazine, that sort of thing — but some are storybooks, or just strange books I thought looked interesting.

My most recent acquisition is a correspondence template book from 1900; it shows you how to write all sorts of letters, from settling business and leasing a room, to proposing marriage to a wealthy widow, to addressing the president. It doesn’t have many images in it, but that’s long since become only one of several reasons for the continued growth of the collection.

Do you think you would have made a good Victorian?

I don’t think even the Victorians made very good Victorians! The preoccupation with class and propriety seemed to leave everyone kind of messed up and repressed. That said, it’s possible that the class-consciousness of society became the engine that drove the innovation of the Industrial Revolution. But my skill set is so heavily computer-based nowadays, I don’t know what I would have done back then. Made jokes on the telegraph?

What kind of education do you have?

I have a degree in film production! I was an illustration major for one year before realizing I was uninterested in pursuing commercial art as a career. After I finished school, I worked as a movie trailer editor for several years before going full-time with comics!

Where’s the name Malki come from? What’s your family history?

It’s an Arabic name! My dad was born in Lebanon and came to the States in the 50’s. He met my mom when he boarded a Dutch freighter in New York, and they got married when the boat arrived in Beirut six weeks later! It was TRUE ROMANCE.

And for how long have you been doing the exclamation mark thing?

It’s been… twelve years now? I REMADE myself for the new millennium. Seems to have worked out okay so far.

You’re the head of PR for Topatoco. What does that entail?

TopatoCo is a publisher that works with independent artists to create and sell merchandise, such as books, t-shirts, art prints, etc, based mostly on comic strips (although there are some musicians, fine artists and podcasters on the client list as well).

TopatoCo has a very firm “no BS” policy, so in fact the marketing we do is very minimal — most of our marketing takes the form of “make good things that people want; be nice people that folks want to patronize.” I help out in a number of ways at different times — right now, in fact, my main duty is book design and art direction, interfacing between artists, printers and manufacturers, and TopatoCo itself. If an artist wants to make a book but has never made a book before, I’m the person they talk to.

Where’s all this Topatoco stuff made?

The TopatoCo HQ is in Massachusetts. The T-shirts are printed in Connecticut (and are mostly American Apparel shirts made in the US); the art prints are made in-house; the books are printed mostly in Canada; and the plushes and stuff like that which have to be made in China are manufactured whenever possible in certified ICTI-CARE facilities.

How would you describe your political views?

I would describe them as “reasonable,” but I suppose everybody would say that about their own set of views. My BS detector is pretty sensitive, though, so in the comic I tend to poke fun at any view I feel is intellectually vacant, regardless of its politics. I would rather relate to people as human beings than through a lens of political views.

Your strips are mostly collages. Do you like to draw?

I do like drawing, but I don’t have a lot of patience with it. When I started doing Wondermark I realized that I could be the millionth-best cartoonist in the world, or the very best at doing something different and unique. I still do sketches and commissions, but I like not having to rely on my own technical drawing skill for the comic to work.

Will Wondermark ever be in color?

It is, on rare occasions, and in all the recent book collections I’ve included 10-12 color versions of favorite comics. I’d love the strip to be in color regularly, but I’m not a very fast or good colorist so it’s never been a priority. I usually have other people color the strips that make it into the books; I love seeing different colorists’ takes on various strips!