Kitchen's cooking


POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cartooning comes easy to Alexa Kitchen—most of the time.

When Alexa was just 7 years old, she put together a book she titled “;Drawing Comics Is Easy! (Except When It's Hard!)”; It was so good that her father, Denis, a longtime comic book creator and businessman, put it out on his own publishing imprint.

Then something rather unexpected happened. More grown-up readers were finding her work to be more than “;cute”; drawings by a precocious girl. Alexa Kitchen was, and is, truly a developing talent—so much so that she was nominated for two of comicdom's prestigious prizes in 2007: a Harvey Award for Best New Talent and an Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Younger Audience.

Now “;the youngest award nominee in comic history”; has become “;the world's youngest professional cartoonist.”; After signing with Disney Publishing Worldwide, Alexa's new book, ”;Grown-ups Are Dumb (No Offense)”; (Disney-Hyperion Books, $8.99, recommended for children 8 to 12), arrives in stores on Tuesday.


The small book collects the cartoons Alexa drew when she was between 9 and 11 years old (she's 12 now). The girl has an excellent grasp of storytelling, pacing, composition and spatial perspectives. Some of the better cartoons include “;Filthy Forever,”; where Alexa wakes up one morning in her cluttered room, goes downstairs and is greeted by the “;awesomest”; breakfast ever. It's a simple story that's filled with great drawing detail.

Alexa looks like she's becoming a writer as well, as exemplified by a fun series of comic strips of the daily adventures of a preschooler she calls “;Hurricane Abby”; and Kathy Ford, a girl Alexa's age who lives with her brother and divorced mom.

When I spoke to Alexa and her mother, Stacey, by phone from their home in rural Western Massachusetts last month, the young cartoonist, speaking rapidly at a breathless rate, did her best to answer an aging adult's sometimes clueless questions.

“;It's not hard, not really, once I've decided what I want to draw,”; she said. When asked whether she wants to make cartooning her job, she candidly replied, “;I'm not really so sure. Right now it's mostly a hobby for me, but I might still do this when I grow up.

“;I draw what I feel, whenever I get an idea or feel especially creative. I don't follow instructions, and I don't make schedules when to draw. At school, sometimes I draw over my desk and my papers, or I'll be doodling when I'm bored. I don't like school much,”; she said.

Alexa has her favorite comic books and strips—she likes “;Usagi Yojimbo”; (by Hawaii-born Stan Sakai—and by the way, her big sister lives in Kamuela on the Big Island), “;Calvin and Hobbes”; (”;the best comic strip ever”;) and “;Mutts,”; whose creator, Patrick McDonnell, gave her book a nice promotional blurb on its back cover.

ONCE ALEXA handed the call over to her mother, I asked her what the editing process was like.

“;It took about a year and a half to put the book together,”; Stacey Kitchen said. “;She constantly draws, writes and doodles. When we thought there was enough good, interesting stuff, we set it aside, which made for a large pile of material for the editor to go through. Alexa made sure there wasn't anything too personal.”;




Alex Kitchen



Kitchen says Alexa already has a good little stack of books at the ready—her next published collection might take readers by surprise when they see the work of a growing girl who's heading into her teens.

“;As she's maturing, Alexa is exponentially getting better as an artist. She now has an interesting perspective of the world, and she has a lot to share.

“;I try to walk a fine line between supporting what she does and not wanting her to be overexposed to the public,”; Kitchen said. “;She's still a rather shy and introverted person, and while she's willing to talk about her book, Alexa doesn't need her ego to be stroked. She's not in this for the accolades, but for the purity of expressing herself through the medium.”;

Going back to the question of whether cartooning will inevitably be a career choice for Alexa, Kitchen said that “;Alexa usually replies, 'Mom, I don't have to decide now!'—and I want her to exactly feel that, because I want her to enjoy just being a kid now.”;