Karl Christian Krumpholz’s slice-of-life comic, 30 Miles Of Crazy, is the single most authoritative view of what Colfax Avenue has become over the last decade or so. The artist’s style is an undeniably perfect mesh of quixotic whimsy and architectural accuracy that breathes life into every panel. It’s as beautiful to behold as it is authentic. If you’re paying attention when you’re bar-hopping in Denver, you might spot him, sketch book in hand. His viewpoint is camera-honest, but also with a unique perspective. His take on the city — a mainstay in Westword’s margins when the bars are open — is the one worth examining. Here, he talks about growing up in Philly, the ever-changing facades of Colfax, and his new book coming out, Queen City.
French Davis: Gimme the Karl Christian Krumpholz story — how you got to this point in your life and career.
Karl Christian Krumpholz: Sure. I actually grew up and went to high school in Philadelphia, PA before moving to Boston, MA for many years. So, I generally just say that I’m from the East Coast. I moved to Denver a bit over ten years ago for a change of pace, but mostly to be with my then girlfriend/now wife, Kelly.
I’ve been working on comics and illustrations since my Philly days, though only became a professional working full time on this over the last five years. In addition to my 30 Miles of Crazy! and The Lighthouse in The City comics, my work has been animated in the documentary Neal Cassady – The Denver Years and did a weekly comic strip (The Denver Bootleg) for the Westword for several years about local venues and musicians. That comic was put on a bit of a hiatus since all the venues and shows have been shut down because of the quarantine.
FD: Tell me about 30 Miles of Crazy — your connection to Colfax seems almost familial. Like it pulses in your veins — more than just a tourist. There’s clearly a lot of love in your art connected to it — whether in the comic or on the streetlamps adorning the walk. Where does this deep affinity come from?
KCK: Yeah, Colfax was one of the things that drew me when I first arrived in Denver. All cities have that sort of long main drag through the city where everyone seems to wind up, where all the excitement and interesting things happen (Philly has Broad Street, Boston has Mass Ave., etc.) So, Colfax reminded me a lot of what I had left behind back east. In addition to that, Colfax has its legend and stories, like the idea of it being the “Longest wickedest street in America.” No one can actually pinpoint where this quote came from or who said it, which only adds to the legendary status of the street in my mind. It’s all part fact, part fiction. [it’s usually attributed to an article from Playboy Magazine, but that has been debunked — Ed.]
So, when hanging out in some of the bars along Colfax, I started hearing people’s stories. All bars, no matter where, are all full of people telling their stories. I thought it would be a good idea to start to illustrate some of them as a sort of oral history of this time, place, and people of the city. That’s where 30 Miles of Crazy! came about. My wife came up with the title, since Colfax is about 30 miles long and most of the stories started somewhere around there. I’ve put out seven issues so far. The eighth issue is also on a bit of a hiatus, since no one is really out in bars for the time being and it’s hard to hear these stories.
FD: Talk about the new book, “Queen City.” How did that all come together? Why now? Why this particular subject matter?
KCK: I guess it started when I was approached by Colfax Business Improvement District (Colfax BID), who I’ve worked with in the past, and they asked me to illustrate eight banners for a 2-3-mile stretch of East Colfax (between Grant and Josephine streets.) I’ve done a bit of architecture illustrations in the past, so they wanted illustrations of iconic places along that stretch, past and present. So, banners featuring Tom’s Diner, Ogden Theatre, Lion’s Lair, Pete’s Kitchen/Satire, the old Aladdin theater, etc. The banners were up all through 2020.
I got back a lot of positive feedback from the banners, which got me thinking. Branching off from the idea of 30 Miles of Crazy!, one of the facts of history and the city is that things are always changing. Places come and go. I kind of wanted to illustrate some of these places as a sort of document that they were there and important. My original idea was to do a 30-or-so-page book about bars and restaurants that were closing or already gone (Barricuda’s, Shelby’s, 15th Street Tavern, etc.) I approached Tinto Press with this idea and they gave it the green light. However, as I started working and posting these new illustrations, locals started messaging me with more suggestions on other places I should illustrate. The book kept getting bigger and bigger. Over 2020, I did about 85 new illustrations in all. Add to that some of the small histories of the various venues that I did for the Westword over the years, the book was getting close to 200 pages.
Thankfully, that’s all done now. The book is nowhere near a definitive collection of places around Denver. I’m sure I missed somewhere close to someone’s heart, but I think it’s a good collection.
FD: You’ve got another project coming about your time in Philadelphia, living on South Street. Talk a little about that — and about the differences and similarities between there and life on “the longest, wickedest street in America.”
KCK: That’s a short comic, only 6 pages, that I’m doing for the Too Tough to Die Anthology coming out from Birdcage Bottom Books. The idea of the book is stories from old punks, how do you keep up with your punk ethos as you get older, and so forth. Yes, my story is about my youth living on South Street, Philadelphia. And again, going back to everything that we are talking about, it’s another story about how time and place is fleeting. All you have is the right now, cause looking back years later, it’s all changed and gone. People and places move on. When I go back East to visit friends and family, it’s not the same place that I once knew. That’s not bad, but sometimes you need to remind yourself and come to grips with it. Birdcage Bottom Books just started a Kickstarter for this project.
FD: It seems comics in general — especially for newspapers — are disappearing, even faster than newspapers have been. When you look at this profession how do you see the future playing out? A Renaissance, perhaps?
KCK: I sense a theme with everything in this interview. Yes, things are changing, especially with print media. A lot of small local weeklies around the country are shutting down. Thankfully the Westword seems to be holding on. You don’t see as many print comics anymore, which is a shame. There are new opportunities, specifically online, and that’s all good. The problem is that there is so much, it can be hard to get heard and seen over all the noise. My way of dealing with it is sheer perseverance. Keep going, keep creating, and make it harder to be ignored.
FD: Who have been your biggest influences as an artist, and why?
KCK: I think the biggest influence on my comics has been Evan Dorkin (Milk and Cheese, Pirate Corps, etc.) He was the one cartoonist that kind of hit me over the head about all the other things comics can do and say when I first read him back in college. It wasn’t just superhero books, but you can be a smart ass punk commenting on life with sharpness and humor. The other big influences for me were Seth (a.k.a Gregory Gallant, Palookaville, Clyde’s Fans, etc.) who influenced a lot of the quiet and melancholic moments in my storytelling. The idea of things passing and moving on and that there can be drama from just walking down the street. I’ve also recently been reading a lot of Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer, The Beauty Supply District), which I latched onto with his stories of the people in the city. Finding these comics was a bit of a revelation, like finding someone else on the same wavelength seeing the beauty of a busy city.
FD: Any other projects coming up?
KCK: Well, the other big thing that I’ve been doing is my daily comic The Lighthouse in The City. At the start of 2020, I thought it would be a good idea to do a short daily comic, posting a page everyday. The idea was that it would be a good creative exercise. Also, my wife was at the time going into surgery and I wanted to document that, what was going on, as well as her recovery. Then the pandemic and quarantine happened, so the comic continued to document all the ups, downs, and craziness of 2020.
It’s now been about 15 months and I’m still putting out at least a page (sometime more) a day. I’ve put out three collections of the comic, with books four and five coming soon. So, that is not stopping anytime soon.
To stay current with Karl Christian Krumpholz and get your copy of his new book, Queen City, bookmark karlchristiankrumpholz.com