May 21st, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

Mel Kadel grew up in Philadelphia but now lives in an endangered log cabin in Echo Park. She is well-known for her carefully detailed drawings of young women facing if not conquering various monstrous perils.

What’s the biggest batch of antique paper you’ve found and how long did it last?
I’d say at the St. Vincent’s in Highland Park—not even just for books with awesome blank pages at the beginning and end, but kid’s sketchbooks and strange construction paper from before we were kids. Just the age—from whatever there was in the air, or the sunlight at the edges and not in the middle—the things you can’t fake.
Have you found any lost artwork by unknown child geniuses?
I always walk by three schools on my way to the beer-and-water spot, and there are always discarded notes and drawings. Probably a hopeful sign!
How did you find the log cabin you and Travis Millard now live in?
We heard from a friend—they’re never advertised, and in fact I don’t know if the people knew he was even living there. It was crazy. We walked in and were like—‘Oh, shit—it’s a little more than we paid before but we can’t not live here! It’s too special.’ Once you turn down our road, it sort of makes you feel more remote than you actually are—you get a little cabin fever because everything is so out of touch. But make two turns and you’re back in the middle of where everyone else is. In the early ‘80s a dentist was murdered at our front door, and there are all these—I don’t know if the stories are fabricated, but there are tons of wild stories. Our neighbors are Nebula, and they’re super-great, and there are a few other people—we’ve heard Chaplin finished movies there, Steely Dan wrote ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,’ Hemingway finished a novel… they just keep going.
What stories are people going to tell about you?
We just found out they’re possibly going to be torn down—we wanna block the road off! But I don’t know if there will be anyone there to say what happens—we might be the last ones to tell the tales.
What sort of work did you do on the new ((Sounder)) album?
No drawing, but I sing a couple songs with him—it’s a great record! He’s gonna have videos to support the record, and we’re gonna do one of them next month. I’ll let you see it when you see it!
Is that your first appearance on an album?
I’m not much of a singer, but I did one project with Raymond Pettibon and Katy Rodriguez, Jim Wilson who did stuff with Rollins, Howie Pyro from Danzig… He does those videos, and we did a soundtrack to a video—the band was called Scatoplaster, and I think we burned 500 copies at most, and he brought them all to some show to sell that wasn’t even in the country! It’s terrible—the worst thing you ever heard! It’s one thing I’d love to brag about, but we did it all in one night, and Ray’s just insane at directing a record. The noise that came out of us was all off-key and noisy—really noisy! I wanna show it to people but I rarely do.
What’s something you always like to show people?
I like showing people the house—it’s fun to walk people around it. I don’t collect much, but one thing I found at that St. Vincent—a partially blank novel called The Conspiracy, and some guy drew in it—a full sketchbook someone made. That’s my one show-and-tell. Sort of like a really early strong classic cartoonist style—and sort of a diary that pinpoints where he was at in life. It’s from 1913. It’s really good. I had one person contact me like, ‘That’s my great uncle! I want that book!’ And we’re just figuring out if it’s theirs. I’m psyched I found it! Otherwise, it would have been trashed. I started pulling it apart when I got it and then realized what it was, so Travis—my boyfriend—glued it back together.
Who do you think you could make a really great album cover for?
There’s so many past musicians—but in contemporary reality, I really like Devendra Banhart’s packaging. Maya Hayuk did one that I love.
What do you listen to when you’re working?
My favorite is podcasts of talk radio—even Dr. Laura is totally entertaining, and that’s pretty vile! But I love This American Life, Radio Lab, Harry Shearer on the weekend—it’s really good to listen to stories and people when I’m working.
What’s the most constant thing in your work?
I definitely gravitate to using a girl in my drawings—I put her in different situations, but I like keeping her as a constant and changing the environment around her. I can just start knowing this girl is gonna be there.
What’s been your hardest piece to finish?
Sometimes I work on something and drop it if I can’t figure out where it’s going, but I don’t do that a lot. There’s one that’s been hanging for nine or ten months just looking at me—there’s so much work into it but it’s still so empty. I don’t know where it’s going. I like to draw with a really specific idea—I had one but then I lost it somewhere, so I kind of cornered myself.
What would it take for you to make a children’s book?
I’ve always wanted to! I think I’ll just do it when it’ll be a good one. I make a lot of handmade books and they aren’t in sequence, but the more I do—they’re actually becoming more of a book, even without the words. But I’m not quite ready.
Who was your favorite when you were a kid?
Shel Silverstein is my all-time favorite! I’d just look at those over and over—like Light In The Attic. I think they still hold up as an adult.
Which is your newest book?
I did Honey Pool in January or February. I only make a hundred of them—that’s all I can do as far as my printer before it breaks or totally crashes. I stain all the paper with coffee before it goes through, so it never flattens out and it just chokes it! It’s not like I can push ‘PRINT’ and walk away—I have to feed each page really strangely, so I do them slowly over time.
What service or product might benefit most from using your art in an ad?
I could see stuff like patterns and linens and socks—tights and wallpaper! Foot apparel—maybe someone will finally let me design socks!