Kirby Krackle’s Jim Demonakos on Gaming, Nerd Rock, and Conventions

Jim Demonakos is the songwriting partner of Kyle Stevens. Put them together and you get the superheroic sounds of Kirby Krackle. For more on Kirby Krackle’s most recent CD, Live in Seattle, be sure to check out the small article and video I did with Kyle back at Comic-Con. As Demonakos revealed when we spoke at the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival which Kirby Krackle “headlined” on November 3, he also has a secret identity deep within the world of comic books, or maybe it’s not such a secret. Jim Demonakos is one of the writers of a successful New York Times best-selling graphic novel and the director of the Emerald City Comicon. Demonakos is also a newlywed and shared his thoughts on gaming, Kirby Krackle, and Las Vegas.

Jim Demonakos the Gamer

Box artwork for Zombicide featuring Survivors fending off attacking zombies

Zombie Apocalypse? Demonakos is a Zombicide Fan

CG: How did you get into tabletop gaming?
JD: Well as a kid, especially if we’re talking board games, I was into all of the classics. Played a lot of Monopoly as a kid, Scrabble, Risk, and Chutes and Ladders, all that. As I’ve gotten older I really like a lot of cool tabletop games. For example, I have a biweekly Zombicide game. I backed it on Kickstarter, totally great back, like I was really happy. We’ve been playing it now, like I said, we have a group of five of us and we just do all the campaigns. And there’s a cool Kickstarter-only campaign which is like a super-hard map: you go through five different scenarios.
CG: What level did you back it at?
JD: Just the $100 level or $125. Basically I got the game and all the extra zombies, and then three extra characters which have already come and then there’s another three coming in March. I also backed their other game that’s not out yet. Sedition Wars?
CG: Yeah, Sedition Wars. Mike McVey.
JD: So I’m looking forward to that. I play a lot of Catan and… Carcassone. Also I really like Ticket to Ride. I just tried the Northern Edition and thought that was super cool as well. A lot of boarding gaming fun.
CG: So Zombicide for you has really lived up to the hype?
JD: Yes! Yeah, I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I think it’s because it’s nice that we’re playing all together, so you can try to make a strategy and be like, “Well, why don’t you try to go for the token and we’ll hold off the zombies over here. Why don’t you get in the car? Oh! You have the Molotov, well then gather all these guys here. You’re Slipper so I can get out of the way. Alright!” I think there’s a really fun cooperative element to it instead of just-, not that I don’t understand Carcassone where it’s more versus, but I think that Zombicide for sure, I was extremely happy with my purchase.

Band members Jim Demonakos and Kyle Stevens sitting behind merch booth at comic book convention

Kirby Krackle: Jim Demonakos (L) and Kyle Stevens (R) at Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival

CG: Are you playing with Kyle or are you playing with different friends?
JD: No, I don’t actually like Kyle. It’s a weird thing. [Laughs] Yeah, we get together enough. We see each other enough with Kirby Krackle stuff that usually when it’s social time, it’s hey, let’s go get dinner or let’s see a movie together, but we actually don’t game together. We tried weirdly – just to go into a video game mini-rant – we tried to video game together when DC Universe Online came out. It was such a cluster. Nothing was working right. We were both on our cell phones trying to coordinate. The audio’s not working on our headphones-
CG: Over PS3?
JD: Over PS3. It was horrible. It actually made me return the game. I was like, “Well, I wanted to play this with Kyle, wanted to do something fun, and now I’m just done with this.” But I haven’t really video gamed in a while. I’ll play super casual stuff on my iPad, but it’s more board gaming these days for me.

CG: Did you ever get into miniature wargaming with Privateer Press up there, Wizards-
JD: Yeah, like actually the only one I did for a long time was Heroclix, that was the closest I got to miniatures. I never did D&D Miniatures, Games Workshop, 40k.
CG: And did you ever get into Magic: The Gathering? You’re in Wizards of the Coast territory up there.
JD: You know what’s funny? Literally everybody I know – except for Kyle – plays Magic and I just never did, but not for lack of interest. Listen: Magic, just like any other hobby is expensive, you’re going to spend money and do your decks. I always just spend all my money on comics. As a kid that was my thing. I thought Magic was totally neat, I just never did it. I was just happy to keep buying more Fantastic Four comics and keep being on that path.

Songwriting for Kirby Krackle

CG: Now you’re obviously the silent half of Kirby Krackle.
JD: Yeah, I’m the Bernie Taupin to his Elton John.
CG: Ok. So do you guys actually work collaboratively or you actually write most of the songs?
JD: So I write the songs with Kyle. Kyle writes the music and I help write the lyrics along with Kyle. So I write. That’s pretty much what I do; I’m a writer. I released my first graphic novel earlier this year. I’m totally OK with not being on stage. I don’t pretend I’m a musician. I’m a lyricist and I’m totally cool with that. It’s my job in the band and I love it.

CG: Do you start singing your owns songs while you’re doing tours, like going “Up Up Down Down B A Select…”?
JD: I will say occasionally I do, but I like to sing. I’m an in-the-shower, in-the-car kind of singer. I’m not very good. I like karaoke a lot because it’s ok if you’re terrible, because I am. Karaoke’s a lot of fun. I do occasionally get one of my own songs stuck in my head. It’s like, “This is weirdly annoying because I’m the one that wrote it and yet it’s really catchy.” For example, “Up, Up, Down, Down”. Especially when we’re at conventions because we talk about it a lot, like “Going Home” gets stuck in my head.
CG: Ok, which is about leaving conventions.
JD: Yeah and so those are a couple that will just pop in my head. And also if someone says something that’s similar to a lyric, because you know our stuff is pretty broad, so sometimes someone will say something and it’ll just get me on the track of one of our songs and then that’s stuck in my head for a little while until something else kicks it out.

CG: If you’re doing a “Vault 101”, have you both played Fallout 3.
JD: Yes, totally. We’re both super into the game and that’s how that came about. When we both get excited about something it makes the song-, like we’re both big Green Lantern fans, that’s how we wrote “Ring Capacity”. There’s occasions where I’ll be a bigger fan of something or he’ll be a bigger fan. The one thing I can think of offhand is “Take it From Me.” I’m a huge Megaman fan and he’s only casually played, so when we wrote the song, I was a little more driving because I was like “There’s these robots, there’s these things.” And he’s like, “Cool, I know all that because I’ve played it.” But he doesn’t have the sort of depth because it’s not a game he was super into and then the flip side will be true as well. We’ll go to write something else and he’ll be the more knowledgeable one and I’ll be familiar enough that I can contribute, but not as much where I get those deep references.
CG: What was your favorite Mega Man power?
JD: I always thought that Cut Man was pretty cool because he had the open blades. Weirdly I always thought that Bubble Man was fun-, I guess it technically was Water Man depending on how it was, but the bubbles would do more damage because you’d actually shoot out more than one bubble. Like a Mega Blaster, you’d only have one shot, obviously over and over, while this one, you could do a little more damage and that was good.

Guitarist and singer Kyle Stevens playing live performance as Kirby Krackle in Las Vegas library

Kyle Stevens Performing Live

CG: Does Kyle handle all of the musical arrangements?
JD: Yes, that’s all Kyle. I do feedback as in, “I don’t like how this sounds.” I use the vocabulary that I know like, “Listen: I want it to sound more dun-dun-dun-DUN, does that make sense?” And he’ll be like, “I get what you’re saying.” Because I don’t have the right knowledge to go like “Can you make that a D Minor? Or an A or whatever.” I’m like, “There’s a certain feel to it. I want it to feel like this.” And I’ll try to express it, but generally 99 times out of a 100, he’ll be like “This is what we’re working on arrangement wise.” There’s very few times where we’ve had a real disagreement of how much or how little we like something. It works out well.
CG: Does he record the drums himself?
JD: No, no. So he’s guitar and vocals, we have a drummer, a bassist, another guitar, and keyboards.
CG: I have never seen these other people.
JD: Correct. Not here. If you come up to Seattle for Kracklefest we have a band. Here PJ’s doing drums for us, so you’ll get a White Stripes-
CG: PJ Perez? [A Las Vegas A&E weekly newspaper contributor, comic book writer/artist, occasional scenester, and apparently a drummer.]
JD: Yep! So you guys will get a White Stripes situation which makes PJ Meg but that’s ok, that’s fine. That makes Kyle Jack.

Emerald City Comicon and The Silence of Our Friends

CG: It also seems that you guys have a pattern built up with conventions. You’re up in the Seattle area, so you go to Emerald City, San Diego… now you’ve been to Vegas three times?
JD: This is our third time, yep. Our standard conventions, what we’ll do: we always go to Calgary and we always go to Toronto. What we tend to do is do every other year on other shows, so for example we did C2E2 a couple of years ago in Chicago and so we’ll do it again next year. We skipped New York, but we did it last year, and we’ll probably do it next year. That’s one of the things where we’re just figuring out what to do. We can only afford to do so many conventions, so we go to ones that we have a good audience at and we have something to bring back, but we’re always open to trying new shows. Like we did Phoenix [Comicon] years ago…
CG: And that show’s been growing and growing.
JD: Yep and so the guy who runs it asked if we’d be interested in coming out in 2013 and we said yes, so we’re probably going to Phoenix. There’s definitely our standards, the few you mentioned and then there’s everyone else, which we’ll figure out.
CG: Vegas has to be the smallest. I mean this year this is actually starting to look slightly like a comic book convention.
JD: Yeah, there’s dealers outside, there’s an artist’s alley, and a good crowd. No, I agree. And you guys just launched a show here, the Las Vegas Comic Expo.
CG: So you guys are always checking. Who’s scouring?
JD: It’s me, because I-, so I run – I don’t know if you know – Emerald City Comicon. That’s my convention.
CG: No, I didn’t.
JD: That’s my job, is that. Part of my job is awareness of conventions around the country. Knowing about the Vegas show was just one more [show]. This is super cool. And we came and actually checked it out. Coincidentally that show was going on.
CG: Back in September?
JD: End of September, because I was here for two days, because I got married in Vegas last month. It just happened that the Comic Expo was also happening. So yeah, I’m always pretty aware about shows and their ins and outs.
CG: But at the same time you’re writing a bunch of songs.
JD: Yeah, it’s a great creative outlet, like I mentioned before, I wrote a graphic novel.

CG: Let’s talk about the graphic novel!
JD: It came out in January. It was totally a great experience. We spent four weeks on the New York Times best seller list, which I thought was great for a first time thing. It’s called The Silence of Our Friends and takes place in 1960s Texas. It’s about two families struggling with a racial divide going on during a pretty heavy time during the Civil Rights movement. It follows these families at some real events that happened at Texas Southern University.
CG: And where are you from?
JD: Seattle. But my buddy that I cowrote the book with, he grew up in Texas, so it’s a fictional autobiography, because a lot of the stuff is from what he remembered as a kid and we interviewed his dad about events that happened during that time as well, so a lot of research. And Nate Powell – he won an Eisner for Best Graphic Novel a couple of years ago – illustrated it.

CG: When you’re here though at the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, this is almost nothing, right?
JD: This is a lot of fun! We have a great time here. Like here I’m an exhibitor, there’s two different mentalities. It doesn’t matter the scale of the show; if you’re not running it, then it’s not your problem. Here, it’s like “Cool. Tell us where to be! Here’s our table. I’m going to just sit around and talk to people about music.” I’m 100 percent cool with that.

CG: Are you a Marvel guy or DC?
JD: I would say I grew up a Marvel guy. I would say Marvel. There’s DC books that I love, like Green Lantern and Batman and a couple others, but I’m pretty much a Marvel dude.
CG: Well, you probably started following writers now, where you like the writer.
JD:Yeah, for sure. It doesn’t matter what they’re working on, I’ll check it out. Sometimes I don’t like it, but sometimes I do, depending on what it is. I definitely follow a lot of writers.

CG: You’re in the industry in a different area-
JD: I also own four comic book stores as well.
CG: Ok. How much do you let that affect Kirby Krackle?
JD: Not a lot, aside from just familiarity with comics, which is what a lot of our songs are about. We don’t really mix, I guess. I know a bunch of professionals from working Emerald City, some of them know Kirby Krackle and like it, some don’t care. They’re kind of, for me, two separate worlds.

CG: Do you have plans to do another graphic novel?
JD: Not offhand. I think for right now I’m really keeping busy with all the other stuff I’m working on. We’re working on a new album, so that’s taking up a lot of writing time. Again, in terms of creating the graphic novel, that was definitely something I enjoyed. I haven’t found inspiration enough of something that I want to do for another graphic novel, if that makes sense. When I have a story to tell, that’s a format that I’m very happy with.

CG: So do you think for this coming Comic-Con in 2013 you’ll have a new album yet by then?
JD: Probably. Our goal right now is maybe end of April, but we’ll see, but by July, we think so. By July.