Illustrator and puppeteer Geahk Burchill is homeless. That hasn’t stopped him from telling his story. A Portland resident for 18 years, and local to the St. John’s neighborhood since 2005, he spoke with us about his experiences and shared his newest project, a webcomic called Trucked Up.
How long have you been in Portland, Oregon?
I first moved to Portland, from Oakland, California, in May 2001 because of a sun allergy. I made the decision after getting a bad sunburn that February and felt like I could choose a place less difficult for me. I loved Portland instantly but didn’t have much savings. A minor fender-bender drained what saving I had and I spent a few months living in my VW van. Fortunately, I got work as a carpenter, and an apartment, relatively quickly. I had no idea it wouldn’t be the last time I was homeless.
Dr. Hadrian in his Library. (Photo: David Emmite)
I moved to St. Johns in 2005 after starting a marionette company. I worked days for Michael Curry Design, and nights on my own puppets, building up a small theater company. In 2010 I left Curry to start my own design/build business and did reasonably well until about 2013 when I received less and less work. By 2014 I had a personal unraveling after working very long hours and losing money on multiple jobs. I let go of my house, first, and lived in my studio; in late 2017 I lost the studio as well. I converted the old puppet-truck into a live/work space and put everything in storage.
Describe your current living situation.
Oakland, where Burchill grew up.
I live in a decommissioned bread truck in which I built a bed, a kitchen, and work space. I took all the tools which used to make up my studio and made a condensed wood shop to try and continue getting work. For a long time I was parking on the street, moving the truck constantly, from spot to spot, to avoid cops. It made jobs difficult and I delivered projects late. That made it harder to get further work. It was also deeply demoralizing.The body of the truck is aluminum. In the summer it’s an oven inside, and a freezer now that it’s winter. In October the truck broke down and I had to have it towed. It’s now parked in the side yard of a friend, whom I pay to use utilities. Even at the amount he’s charging, I’m often late paying. It’s still a very unstable situation. I’m looking forward to repairing the truck, if I can, and having a bit more control over my life again.
Would you describe yourself as homeless?
I’m not sleeping rough. I’ve made my space as comfortable as I can. I have my cat, who sleeps on a heating pad, and my art desk, which I built to perfectly suit me. I have a microwave, and toaster oven, to make hot meals; an electric kettle for coffee. It’s about as cozy as homelessness can get but there’s a lot of room for improvement. It leaks in places. It was unsafe at times. Someone cut my gas line and stole fuel in the middle of one night while I was inside. It’s old and unreliable. At the same time, it represents a certain amount of freedom. I like the space despite its problems. I can see myself driving to jobs in the future and working out of the back.
Your artistic style for the panels of “Trucked Up” is amazing. What is your process, and what tools do you use?
I started with traditional materials. I grew up poor and my medium was usually pen on copy paper. Five simple supplies. Paper, a good pen, a blue pencil, an eraser and a ruler. Later I began drawing with nib-pen on translucent vellum with India ink. That allowed me to sketch on cheap paper and then trace onto the expensive vellum with the nice dip pen for really crisp results.
I currently can’t do anything very messy in the truck, but I did an ad project a few months ago which earned me enough money to buy an iPad with Apple Pencil. I then recreated the way the vellum and dip-pen work in an app called Procreate. It allows me to be very portable and draw in cafes, where I can get wifi access.
Unfortunately, I bought the iPad just before the truck broke down. For a while I was kicking myself. It was a lot of money, but as I’ve kept drawing, I feel it was the only choice to keep me motivated and focused on the future. It’s become the tool I use for everything, including this comic I’ve started. I’m learning to animate and make videos for YouTube. It’s my connection to future work. A little bit of a security blanket too.
How has living in a truck impacted your artistic journey (thematically, pragmatically, etc.)?
Though I started drawing comics when I was fairly young, most of my career has been spent with sculpture and engineering. I’ve made puppets for nearly twenty years, including sewing the costumes, and painting the sets. In the truck I’ve been forced to narrow my focus to what I could accomplish in the space. Drawing and writing, mostly.
Even traditional drawing is hard to do in the truck. Ink gets too thick to use in the cold. My career has been built upon getting new work out often. It has to be in the internet age. Returning to comics is something I can accomplish with limited space, wifi, and access to power. It’s also a way to process the frustration and panic I frequently feel about my situation.
I’ve always talked about poverty, to one extent or another, in my work, but now it’s in sharp focus. I find so many situations that are darkly funny about the basic things I struggle with.
I have far more comic ideas than I’ll ever have time to draw. I’ve also wanted to do a video game which utilizes real scenarios I’ve found myself in as puzzle elements. So much of this is MacGuyvering my way through problems that come up. The comics are accomplishable though. Each one takes about five hours, which I can find time for. It’s a resource I have.
What’s next for “Trucked Up?”
I’ll keep drawing and posting to Instagram and Webtoons. I see there are some people who make decent money, once they get noticed, and build a following. I’m currently working on a mural for a client and that’s my main source of income, but it would be great if I could have something more stable and reliable. My income has been feast-or-famine for ten years, with almost constant stress. It would be nice to have some consistent money that I could plan for the future with.
I feel like I have a lot of ideas which extend beyond the scope of just living in the truck. I have a lot of life stories. Just the autobiographical content is enough for hundreds, or thousands of future comics, not to mention all the fictional stories I’d like to tell. Plus there are educational and instructional ideas I have. I’ve been teaching puppets over the years, and I can fold that into didactic drawings, maybe into a book.
Lennie & George from Of Mice and Men (Performed in 2012)
Interview with Portland comics artist Andrea Rosales
Artist Andrea Rosales
Can you summarize for our readers briefly what happens in Nine Twilights?
Nine Twilights is a magical girls meets Norse mythology coming-of-age action adventure webcomic series written by Anne Mortensen-Agnew, drawn by myself, and edited by Chris Hansbrough.
The comic tells the story of 16-year old Wanda Dusekova, a Romani girl from the Czech Republic who discovers that she is the modern reincarnation of the Norse god Odin. With her mentor Baldur (The Norse god of light and life, and her son from her previous life as Odin), she has to journey across the world to find the other reincarnated Norse gods (other teenage gals) to join her in fighting against various monsters and beasts from Norse folklore such as draugar and frost giants in order to prevent a second Ragnarok brought about by an unknown foe.
This comic isn’t your usual coming of age story as Wanda and her friends have to not only navigate their own lives, but they also have to deal with the consequences of the decisions they made with their past lives as the Norse gods. Each of the girls have different circumstances compared to their past lives and it makes a great difference in the types of decisions they make as they come to terms with their new powers and responsibilities.
The central theme of the comic is being better than you were before, and having the courage to make the right choices having a second chance at life. This comic explores those themes of redemption and internal strength in depth.
Many of our lifelong passions and inspirations can be seen in the pages of Nine Twilights. This comic is inspired greatly by the likes of Sailor Moon, Thor, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to name a few. What we were drawn to in these stories were the ideas of reluctant protagonists struggling to find their way as heroes, making sacrifices to do the right things, and growing in tremendous ways as individuals.
How did you and the writer and the editor find each other and begin working together on this project?
Anne and I know each other from college. We both went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California and were introduced to each other by mutual friends within the animation program there. I was a graphic design major and animation minor and Anne was a screenwriting major, so we find a lot of common ground and overlap in our interest in wanting to tell stories via comics and animation. Anne and Chris met online by arguing about a long-dead RPG video game series from Konami (Suikoden). That argument turned into a friendship and Anne told Chris that she had a concept for a comic series. Chris told Anne he was a comics editor and they teamed up and went about their search for an artist. In the summer of 2014, they came to me, Anne recalling my interest in creating comics, and the rest is history. We started working on concept art of the comic in late 2014 and early 2015 and made our launch in fall of 2015. Our first chapter concluded in early 2017. Currently we are in the middle of chapter two and our teamwork and friendship is going on strong. We meet pretty regularly to chat story, go over pages, coordinate social media promotions and plan convention appearances.
How has your time in Portland shaped your artistic style and evolution as a creator?
I think that growing up in Portland shaped my artistic evolution significantly in that the fact that it was almost always raining meant that I was indoors much of the time, reading and/or drawing. All those rainy days resulted in many drawings and paintings! I grew up in the Aloha/Beaverton area and I fondly recall my parents often taking my siblings and I to the libraries near us. It was my love of reading that inspired me to want to tell stories of my own. I also loved spending days at Powell’s City of Books downtown and perusing through galleries in the Old Town Chinatown area and around the Pearl District. I always gravitated towards comics and the presence of comic shops and major comics publishers has been a significant source of inspiration to me. Growing up in Portland definitely meant I read a lot of comics. I went to university and lived in Los Angeles for a few years before moving back in 2016. Since coming back to the area it has been incredible to see how much the area has grown and changed. I’ve certainly taken notice of the growing big comics scene here of incredible creators and it’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I think Portland has always been a major hub for creative folks from all walks of life and from all sorts of different places and I hope it will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future.
As a woman and person of color in comics, do you feel like you have a supportive community in the local region?
As a woman I’ve definitely noticed a really encouraging community of ladies making rad comics and I’m over the moon that I’ve been able to befriend many of these fantastic artists through conventions and I look forward to meeting even more! I feel like I’m greatly supported with the friends I’ve been able to meet through comic-creators meetup groups around town. I like to frequent “Crafty Night” on Tuesday evenings brought to my attention by the amazing Rebecca Hicks of Little Vampires Comics and I love hanging out with the PDX Comic Crew Group organized by incredible Nichole Robinson that meets every Thursday night at the Books With Pictures comics shop. Being a part of these groups has helped me a lot in being able to combat the sense of isolation I’ve tended to feel in creating comics. I’ve been making comics on my own for a while and it’s really nice to feel like there are places I can go to work on them with other creators, I’m far from so many of my friends still in Los Angeles, and in other places, and while I keep in touch with them, I have also made new friends in Portland and it’s great to be a part of this growing community. This year I’ve been able to connect with incredible comics creators such as Terry Blas (Dead Weight, Briar Hollow), and Luis Silva (Creatively Queer Press). I’ve met more Mexican comic artists and other creators of color and it’s refreshing to be able to meet folks who have similar experiences and share in my wish to create comics that are more inclusive and offer cultural representation for a new generation of comics readers. I’m endlessly impressed and appreciative of just how welcoming, supportive and encouraging these communities have been.
Who are your greatest influences?
My greatest influences art wise have been Marvel superhero comics, Studio Ghibli films, classic Disney animated films and Japanese shojo manga, as well as art nouveau, art deco, impressionism, Mexican folk-art. From all of these artistic styles and mediums, I’ve been drawn to the expressiveness and energy of characters, and the vibrancy of the colors. The compositions of these art styles and movements have also been exceptionally influential to my work as an illustrator, graphic designer and illustrator.
Out of all the Norse deities, who is your favorite?
Of the Norse deities, my favorite has to be Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility, beauty, wealth, wisdom, life and war. She’s a member of the Vanir, who were gods that specialized in fertility, wisdom and the ability to see into the future. I love very much that she rides around on a chariot drawn by cats. While Freyja is very revered among the gods and is graceful, her incarnation in the Nine Twilights is a bubbly, clumsy, energetic girl named Aishwarya “Aish” Narayan who loves playing games on her phone, taking selfies, and living her best life. To an outsider she seems to be taking a lackadaisical approach to life, but Aish is always ready to get down to business when monsters come to attack. The Aish/Freyja character is considered the “tank” of Wanda’s team of magical girls, as she has the strength to easily dual wield a giant battle-axe and a chain whip sword at the same time. It makes for some fun battle scenes to draw. While the Aish/Freya character hasn’t been introduced yet to the main Nine Twilights storyline, readers can see her in action in the Nine Twilights mini-comic up for sale on Gum-Road right now.
Nine Twilights posts on ninetwilights.com on Wednesdays!
My artwork can be seen on my portfolio site: http://www.andrearosales.com/
My artwork can be purchased via my online shop, Good Walrus Goods: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GoodWalrusGoods