During a sit down with artist Kenjji, it is difficult to tell whether he is a gentle genius or a mad scientist. One thing is for certain, if you are going to wade into the depths with Kenjji, you had better be wearing your swimmies. It is easy to get lost in Kenjji’s passion, and even easier to drift down beneath the surface of his creative body of work.
Kenjji is an internationally acclaimed illustrator and comic book artist. His published works are too numerous to mention, but he has illustrated for MTV’s Teen Wolf, produced comic books such as Witch Doctor and Jim Crow, and created artwork that is collected around the world.
His comics and illustrations contain much more than action and clever language. Kenjji infuses every piece of art with a piece of history, a piece of humanity, and a desire not only to entertain, but to learn from the mistakes humanity has made. He wants to, “Tell stories that people have been afraid to tell.” He admits that there’s a lot of darkness in his comics, and a lot of intensity. But these are stories and truths that need to be told, and in a very accessible medium.
Kenjji says his latest project is the most fun he’s had in his career. FRANKIE, the Home Grown Horror Show, is a television series showing Fridays at 10:30 on Public Media Network’s Channel 188, and at 11:00pm on Bizarre TV, a Roku channel. The show is a collection of horror films and shorts hosted by FRANKIE, a character Kenjji created.
“FRANKIE is a mutant brain that Dr. Esther and the Corpse Corps found somewhere near the end of WW2.” In his story, FRANKIE was being experimented on by the Nazis as they tried to unlock the secrets of its origins. One thing that is known is that the brain is diabolical, intent on wreaking havoc in the world. Kenjji stumbled on the idea for FRANKIE in a most roundabout way.
“My original idea was just to create a comic book. FRANKIE is a comic, there’s a whole story behind it, and that’s going to come out in 2016.”
Then, Kenjji ran into an old friend who was producing a ‘photo comic,’ which uses actual photography instead of illustrations. “So I saw that work and I thought, that’s exactly what I want FRANKIE to look like, I wanted it to look different, to not just be a drawn comic. I wanted it to live and breathe beyond my drawing abilities. I wanted these characters to not just exist in a comic book, but to have a real life person attached to them. So I said to myself, if I’m going to be taking photos for this comic, at the same time I could be filming and creating a show. My plan was to create the host segments, then get all these other guys who are making films, load them up into a show and then we’re all happy.”
So he struck up a relationship with Kalamazoo’s Public Media Network, and decided to become a filmmaker. “It keeps evolving, and I started thinking, well, maybe I will make my own films, maybe I will make my own shorts. ”
The opportunity is there for artists to utilize, whether in Kalamazoo, or other cities that offer a cable access channel. Sometimes young artists can feel intimidated, scared even by the prospect of really following their dreams, especially when their parents and teachers stress the importance of a good career, saving money, and preparedness. All of those things are perfectly good reasons…to pursue what you love! Just do it with discipline, with intensity. “If you want to be a comic book artist, then make comic books, if you want to be a filmmaker, make films, if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. But be sure you do it to completion.” Whatever it is you love, just do it, put your heart out there and take your best shot.
A freelance artist for over twenty-five years, Kenjji will say that it’s definitely not always easy. “It can be tricky, and it’s definitely hard, but it’s the best decision I ever made. It was when I decided to devote my whole time to doing this that I realized how much more successful I could be.”That can be a tough decision to make, but Kenjji contends that to truly be successful, you must take that leap of faith, even if it scares you. He likens it to jumping from a ledge. “It’s not just scary when you jump, it’s scary the whole way down.”
A good friend of Kenjji’s told him, “You never know if you can fly until you jump. Every second in flight you’re still going to wonder when you’re going to fall. But you can’t focus on that, you’ve just got to keep flapping your arms. You’ve got to stay in the air.” As far as what we can expect from FRANKIE TV, Kenjji said there’s going to be a wide variety of content, almost like a Mad TV for horror fans. Kenjji is providing a platform for other local filmmakers to showcase their work, much of which will be grindhouse films.
“The grindhouse was a movie house that would show random, violent, obscure, rare films for a very certain crowd, the hooligans, if you will, of the age. Then, in recent years, cable TV started to reshow these films from the 60s and the 70s.”
Grindhouse films have developed a large following, not only amongst their fans, but the filmmakers, who use creativity and extreme ingenuity to make these low budget films that are also favorite of many horror fans.
“So FRANKIE is a grindhouse in the sense that we are featuring and showcasing those types of films, be they horror, be they violent. It’s not all scary, some of them are funny, some of them are stupid…we don’t really do offensive. Well, I guess some people would be offended by a woman covered in blood, but around here, that’s just Wednesday!”
Kenjji thinks that FRANKIE should for the most part be in the PG-13 range for content,however, “It’s definitely uncut, it’s uncensored. The purpose of this was to give you these films exactly the way they were given to me. I’m not going to cut something out just because I don’t like it; I’m going to give it to you raw, because that’s the grindhouse sensibility.”Kenjji encourages any amateur or aspiring filmmakers to contact their local cable access channel. Kenjji has worked with Public Media Network in Kalamazoo for over a year now and his experience has been great.
“You’ll have to take a couple classes to learn the ropes, but after that you can check out a camera if you want, or use the studios they have there. If you are a filmmaker in Kalamazoo, or anywhere with a public access channel, this is how you cut your teeth. This is how you learn how to make a movie with the equipment necessary, without having to buy that equipment yourself. All you need is to put in the effort and the talent and you are on your way.”
On Friday, October 2, Kenjji and the Public Media Network, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall Suite 300, will be hosting a special ArtHop from 5 – 8pm. “You can come around downtown and see pictures of kittens and flowers and that type of thing,” Kenjji says with a chuckle, and then come to PMN studio and see it transformed into a landscape of Kenjji’s horror creations. Kenjji, his partners, and some of the actors from FRANKIE will be there, and he invites everyone to come on by. At 10:30pm on Friday, the all new hour-long FRANKIE will premiere.
Well, the jury is still out on whether Kenjji is a mad genius or just a little mad, but he has passion and creativity, and those are two things this world can never get enough of.
Also check out more of Jason’s work @ www.jnlavelle.com