Lev Yilmaz is one of countless individuals who’ve found the internet to be an excellent resource for creative endeavors. The difference between Lev and any site you can stumble upon? Well, his webcomic, “Tales of Mere Existence,” is perhaps one of the most striking pieces of pen scrawlings set in panels and put on the net around. Lev’s rather ingenious observation of the mundane routines of normal life breathes more energy and thought than most of the four-panel narratives in any comics section of your local daily paper. And Lev has used the web to his advantage, creating not only immobile comics, but full-blown motion animation. Lev’s unique humor and perspective has garnered so much acclaim, it landed him a spot on Comedy Central’s short-lived animation showcase, “Jump Cuts.” Lev recently took the time to answer some questions about his work:
*Where did you get the idea to start “Tales of Mere Existence”? Were you planning on doing a comic when the idea landed in your lap? Or did the idea to make a comic fall in your lap?
Lev: I wasn’t planning on anything at all when I started. I made the first video, called “Party”, on a Sunday afternoon with a hangover and I simply described what had happened the night before. I did a second one a few weeks later in the same style, I think that one was about cutting my own hair. After I did a third which I think was called “Pickle”, I figured I could try to do a series with it. I didn’t get the idea to do a panel comic until a bit later. The thing was, I had done a few film festivals, and I figured the best way to give the work a shelf life was to have something available for people to take home. For some reason, people don’t get the idea of buying indie DVD’s, but they do get the idea to buy Zines. Hence, I started doing panel comics and put the two together. I have never gotten an out of the blue idea, they just sort of evolve.
*Over the past few years that you’ve been making “Tales of Mere Existence,” how have people generally responded to it?
Lev: In a zillion different ways. It’s ranged from hate mail to marriage proposals. I usually feel closest to the ones that come from disillusioned high school students.
*Your work is a DIY, self-made internet comic. What inspired you to work completely on your own? What has kept you going independently?
Lev: Before I go on about this one, I don’t really subscribe to the notion that something has to necessarily be independent or underground to be good. A lot of the stuff I personally connect to is a bit on the underground or esoteric side, but the first 7 or so seasons of The Simpsons are incredibly subversive, spectacular television, and that was a huge money making behemoth. My attitude was, and still is, very simple: This is about communication to me, I want to say my peace in my own way. I don’t really care what avenues it goes through as long as people can see it.
*Outside of your artwork, how has the banal-perspective-as-humor influenced your life?
Lev: I don’t know if it has, other than I got really interested in how humor and comedy works. I just find the subject of humor incredibly interesting, and I could yak on for hours about it.
*What comics have had an impact on your own artistic and personal outlook on life?
Lev: I think the most obvious one, is “Life In Hell”. I’m unabashed about saying that it was one of the major building blocks, starting points, for “Tales”. I also really like Julie Doucet‘s “My New York Diary”. Then there was the original panel version of “Art School Confidential”. The movie they eventually made from that bears almost no resemblance to it, the original was quite brilliant. There was a photocopied version going around my school with the words “Read it and cry, it’s so true”. It made me take Art School, or at least the notion of “Fine Arts”, a lot less seriously. Oh yes: There was a great little comic called “Jim’s Journal” by Scott Dikkers that was a huge influence on how interesting mundane things can be. Also, if you have never seen “Tom the Dancing Bug” by Reuben Bolling, it’s one of my favourites. That guy gets humor from angles you didn’t even know existed.
*I didn’t get the chance to catch “Jump Cuts”; how did your work fit in with the rest of the cartoons featured on the show?
Lev: I don’t have cable, so I went down to the local pub to watch it and so…. I never really saw the show in a legal state of mind. They only made 4 episodes, and it was a lot like a 30 minute film festival with commercial breaks.
*You do a lot of work screening your filmed version of “Tales of Mere Existence” in San Francisco. Do you feel like you’ve been able to build some semblance of community around your work? Or was that community already there?
Lev: I did a lot of festivals at first, I haven’t been doing them as much this year. I had a bigass project I was working on from January until maybe 2 weeks ago, and I couldn’t think about anything else. I think the community is more online now than it was in San Francisco. The irony is of course is that I think the work appeals the most to people who don’t feel like they’re part of any community.
*Finally, what does emo mean to you?
Lev: I don’t know. The only thing I can think to say is that the more interesting something is to me, the harder it is to describe or define. Let’s leave it at that.
Tales of Mere Existence – How To Break Up (video):