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A big part of the Comics Journal editor’s job was reading every comic that comes into the office. Everything. EVERY. THING. You would think that reading 10-15 pounds of monthly mainstream comic books would be the hardest slog, but it was easily the 20-30 pounds [I started weighing my weekend slush-pile reading two months into the job] of minicomics/zines that made me wish I had turned the job offer down one more time.

The former type of comic was at least made with a baseline level of competence, even when the results were boring or insulting. The latter were often soul-grindingly awful in an endless number of ways — as bad as the shittiest webcomic you’ve ever seen, but only if you saw it on a grungy old monitor with a post-it note challenging you, corporate drone of Fantagraphics, Inc., to experience the genius of its truly independent spirit — and this unique awfulness made it impossible to digest without additional discomfort. Like snowflakes, no two turds are the same. [I know we're supposed to be rah-rah-minicomics-are-the-best-hooray-for-infinite-but-valid-diversity-in-infinite-combinations, but there are more than a few good reasons why there are so many cliques at even the smallest small-press shows. You know the minis I'm talking about here.]

Anyway, the minis/zines were largely awful, so when one was actually good, it was great — and when one made me laugh, it was the best. This is how I discovered Arthur Jones, whose 2002 booklet 800LB GORILLA made me laugh the hardest of any mini can I recall reading at the Journal, a straightfaced mash of Chester Brown, the Justice League, ’80s pop culture and Fort Thunder. I’ve always wanted to know more about its creator, whose now-defunct Gorillasuit site regularly served up cool stuff in the early days of webcomics. Jones went on to draw and co-host the Post-it Note Diaries series of slideshow reading series in New York, which were collected and published by Plume in late 2011.

Mr. Jones and I had the following conversation via email on and off over 2012. I’d like to thank Arthur for sending much of the art for this piece, even while moving house from NYC to Los Angeles. — MG

Milo George: So, what drew a former Jefferson City Royal Ambassador all the way to the Rhode Island School of Design for college? Someone told me you came to RISD sight unseen?

Arthur Jones: Man, you dug deep. Yeah, RISD was a culture shock; I got in as a transfer student and didn’t visit the campus beforehand. I came to Providence from a town in Kansas of 3,000 people and felt pretty overwhelmed by the move. For example, I remember seeing graffiti for the first time and wondering what language the tags were in.

On my way to RISD I drove through NYC at like 2 A.M. and was freaking out from all the traffic, concrete and lights. I’d never been to the East coast or driven in a big city — it was all exciting but I was fucking terrified. I felt like I was cannonballing into the gates of Hell. I’d grown up sheltered and assumed that the world was full of evil and Biblical snares. As a footnote: I know how silly this sounds now, but this was all pre-Internet. If I was going to RISD today I would have had a Skype interview with a teacher and surfed the RISD website. My drive to college would have been GPS-guided, not following a map drawn on the back of my hand.

George: How long did the culture shock of being in a big city on the East coast last once you got to the campus?

Jones: It was gradual. There were a number of people I met along the way who were formative, but mostly it was just about getting older and living in more cosmopolitan places. I became an atheist in my mid 20s, the same time of life when people quit their first white-collar day job and go to grad school for something like, social work or library science. As you become an adult you stop caring so much what people think about you and determine what your own worldview is.

Honestly, a big part of it was meeting gay people. Before attending RISD, I was at a small Christian college in Kansas and I shared a dorm room with a painfully closeted gay guy. He’d pace around the room reading the Bible then theatrically collapse into his bed like Joan Crawford. At first I though he was crazy, then I came to understand he was just sensitive and confused kid. After watching him for a semester it dawned on me that I was similarly torturing myself. I wasn’t gay but I needed to get rid of all that dogma to find myself too.


George: So you transferred to RISD. Were you aware of Fort Thunder and/or its offshoots?

Jones: I totally knew Fort Thunder as an entity; everyone did. I wasn’t part of their crowd — I found it a little intimidating — but I remember thinking that it must be one of the most unique underground scenes in the country. Then when Forcefield was in the [Whitney] Biennial, the legend of that loft space just seemed to blow up. For a few years, I felt like a million kids claimed to have gone there. In Providence, the Fort was viewed as cool but also hilarious — like the Island of Lost Boys in Peter Pan. There was a Fort Thunder uniform: New people would move in and immediately cut off all their pants at the shins and get a haircut that made them look like they had cranial skin cancer.

George: The Fort is our Woodstock; everyone claims to have been there, no matter how chronologically or geographically unlikely their claim. But, I imagine it would have been harder for you to make it through RISD without going there at least once.

Jones: I went to a handful of shows there and a pretty epic wrestling match. The first time I visited, I saw US Maple and was physically effected by their abrasiveness — they actually made me feel nauseous, but I sort of loved it. The thing I remember most was that the place was dissssssssgggggusting. I’m not squeamish and have lived in a number of semi-feral communal living situations, but Fort Thunder’s bathroom and kitchen were like a vegan diarrhea bomb blast zone. I knew Brian Gibson from Lightning Bolt and Brian Ralph; they were both in the RISD illustration department. Ralph made a comic called Fireball that I found really inspiring at the time. Brinkman, Ralph and Chippendale are all wonderful artists. There was a bunch of amazing bands that played in Providence during that period. I saw some of Lightning Bolt and Les Savy Fav’s first shows and I loved local bands like Thee Hydrogen Terrors and the legendary Six Finger Satellite. I left before the Dirt Palace/Hive Archive got rolling.

George: Could you talk a bit about how Fireball inspired you and your work?

Jones: Fireball was cool in a very teenage-boy way. It was all devils riding skateboards and kids beating up cops — keep in mind this was the early ’90s; that iconography wasn’t quite as played-out as it is now. I’d never really be exposed to minicomics before, and after that I started seeking them out.

The RISD illustration department was horrible; it taught us how to send postcards to art directors every four months and buy $3000 spreads in Illustration annuals. Very little of it was inspirational. Brian was one of those guys who was on his own path and I appreciated that. His drawings were also super great.


George: Before Fireball and minicomics, I understand you had discovered Yummy Fur as a teenager; was Chester Brown also being a Baptist a way to work your way into alternative comics?

Jones: The tiny comic shop in Jefferson City had a water-damaged box of “weird stuff” in the back under a table. Most of it was in terrible condition or used, but somewhere in there I found some Yummy Furs. “Ed the Happy Clown” was my absolute favorite. It was a nice bridge comic between the ’80s comics I loved as a kid — Usagi Yojimbo, Groo the Wanderer, Bloom County, Far Side, etc. — and the world of “underground” comics like RAW or Weirdo. Later, by association, his work turned me onto Canadians like Seth, Joe Matt and Marc Bell. The Playboy and I Never Liked You are so much better than all these emo, break-up comics that keep coming out.

George: Oh yeah. So, right-wing culture has changed radically in the last 20 years that I can’t imagine what a conservative teenage comics fan would make of things like Ed’s Reagan-headed dick anymore. Could you talk a bit about what appealed to you about Yummy Fur at the time? And did your parents know about these comics?

Jones: Right-wing culture has changed over the last 20 years and I feel like I observed the epicenter of that change as a kid. I grew up in Jefferson City, which is Missouri’s state capital; it’s a small town and a lot of kids’ parents were in state politics. I knew John Ashcroft’s and Roy Blunt’s kids. I saw Ashcroft sing before the nation got that same pleasure in Fahrenheit 911. I was blown away when that brand of Missouri religious conservative politics seemed to rule the nation during the GWB years. It was terrifying. I also witnessed the radicalization of the Evangelical church. I grew up very Southern Baptist and in the ’70s and early ’80s the Southern Baptists were actually very nice and culturally well-behaved. Jimmy Carter was America’s first popular Southern Baptist — I think he is a good example of where the church was back then.

Then the ’80s hit and the born-agains decided they need to galvanize. Mega-churches started happening. Right-wing talk radio started. Pentecostalism became less marginalized and people started talking about how there needed to be “Bible believing” Christians in government so the U.S. could become a theocracy. “Bible-believing” is the evangelical code word for being totally fucking nuts for Jesus. It means you believe every word of the Bible is completely 100% true. It creates zealotry — and people like Karl Rove know how to manipulate the blind zealots perfectly … anyway … sorry I went off on a tangent.

Yummy Fur was both smart and stupid at the same time, which is sort of everything I love. My folks knew I collected comics and perhaps had mixed feelings about that but I doubt they could tell the difference between a Spider-man comic, a Bloom County anthology and an issue of Yummy Fur. It was all kids stuff to them. Showing a comic to a parent is like making a dog watch television.


George: Your old site gorillasuit.com now leads to what appears to be a legit Gorilla Suit-selling business. Do you have any plans to collect your early comics, like 900lb GORILLA, or fold them into your primary website?

Jones: Yeah, that’s funny. Someone bought Gorillasuit.com from me and now actually sells gorilla suits on it. When the site was mine, I kept getting these emails offering to buy it from what I assumed was a spam bot; I ignored them, but the offer kept going up and up. Unbeknownst to me, I was playing hardball. Eventually the offer got big enough that I felt obliged to investigate it. At that point, the site was largely dormant and I felt okay with selling it and moving on. I paid four or five month’s rent from the sale.

I don’t have plans to anthologize any of the webcomics I did. Milo, you might be the only person who remembers that stuff. I’m flattered that it would even occur to you. I’m so disorganized I’m not sure where much of it is. I have some zip discs in my closet that the comics might be on. I really want to get back to doing comics and hope to do a graphic novel in the future. Hit me back in five to 10 years.


George: I don’t remember if it came in from one of the Journal‘s columnists or the review-copy mail, but I can still recall pictures and lines from 900LB GORILLA that made me laugh — the turd-looking monster holding up a boombox, Lloyd Dobler-style, yelling “KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHER FUCKER” and “Superman is using his super speed to DEVASTATE this nursing home.” — but I never found out anything about its creation. I recall it having the energy of a 24-hour comic, and the book’s shape made me wonder if the comic had been made with the Web in mind. What inspired it?

Jones: Yeah, 900LB GORILLA was very silly. It wasn’t made in 24 hours but, as I remember, I drew it and printed it in about 3 weeks. It certainly has the spirit of a 24 hour comic. Very little of it was pre-meditated. In one of the storylines a poorly drawn Superman gets infected with some weird kryptonite, that makes him punch people who are in their 80s whenever he hears a song from the ’80s. The villain — who is a dirt bike riding anthropomorphic shit nugget — plays “Jessie’s Girl” or some Duran Duran song on a boom box and Superman, against his will, beats up a nursing home. I’m sure you are the only person to remember that. I just googled “900 lb Gorilla” and “Arthur Jones” and got TWO hits. Counting those two people and you, that’s three who perhaps remember that zine.
For you and those two fans, the backstory to the comic was this: My friend Paul Koob does a funny little minicomic called Hamster Man; he’s been doing it since he was 10. Yes, 10. In 2002, he rented a table at the Chicago Wizard World convention and asked me to join him. I accepted his invite but had nothing to sell, so I made 900LB GORILLA as quickly as I could. My only goal was to get to 32 pages, just like a real comic … not one of those eight-page doodle-zines. At the time I freelanced at a marketing company and would sneak in late at night to print things.

I remember that our Comic Con merch table being sandwiched in between Lou Ferrigno’s table and this make-shift wrestling ring where these high-school kids did WWF-style routines. Watching Lou watch these kids was my favorite part of the weekend. He looked so annoyed — you could just see the wheels turning in his head: “How has it come to this ….”


George: It’s been a little while since Post-it Note Diaries was published; can you see the book objectively — in particular, how it and its individual pieces might have been shaped by the Reading Series?

Jones: Hmmmm. I think I can talk about it objectively. The whole thing has a unconventional trajectory and I assume few of your readers have prior knowledge of the book or the Reading Series. So I have to track backwards a bit to answer.

This whole thing started with gorillasuit.com, actually. I used to make doodles at work on Post-it notes and put them on my website. It was easily the most popular thing I did on there, because it was relatable. People looked at the site while loafing at work and I was making drawings while loafing at work.

I started making little narratives from the drawings and reading them at galleries and bars as slideshows. Those slideshows turned into the Post-it Note Reading Series, which I co-hosted with my friend Starlee Kine who is a great writer and radio personality. Each show would feature four or five authors and I’d illustrate their stories on hundreds of post-its that we’d project on stage. It was half a reading, half a multimedia comedy event. The book Post-it Note Diaries is an anthology of my favorite stories from the live events and some new stories I convinced some of my favorite authors to contribute. The whole thing is the result of a series of happy accidents over about five or six years.

I loved making the book. I got to work with some amazingly talented people and I was paid to draw full time for a few months. Totally awesome. Now for the objective part: I think the project is confusing for many people. For comics fans, the Post-it notes themselves are often perceived as a gimmick. A square yellow, office product isn’t a satisfying as a drawn square. It seems less artful. And to that point, I have been frustrated that most of the press surrounding the book has been about Post-it notes being “quirky” or “fun” — not about the quality or the content of the drawings and writing. Which I think are great.


George: You and Karl Ackermann were working on a series pilot for Comedy Central — I assume this is an animation project, which sometimes ignore the boundaries of TV-pilot season?

Jones: Yeah, we wrote a script for an animated sitcom. Cable networks tend to develop content more year-round but I’m sure Comedy Central would have loved to have a Fall hit. Honestly, we went into the project wanting to keep some of the boundaries in mind, wanting to produce a really solid script that was funny, complex and structurally sound. We also wanted to produce it on time, so we’d have the best shot at consideration. Comedy Central isn’t Adult Swim and we purposefully didn’t want a psychedelic tone like Tim and Eric or Aquateen. We ended up reading more 30 Rock and Arrested Development scripts than anything else for inspiration; those shows ping pong around so much that they read like cartoons on the page.

Karl and I just wrapped up writing our pilot. They passed on it so I can speak about it a little. The writing process was really great. We were paired with John Lee, who is part of the PFFR art and TV collective. He was like our Tommy Lasorda and Karl and I were like the 1983 Dodgers — meaning we made some hustle plays, over-achieved and wrote a pretty funny script that wasn’t quite good enough to beat the Orioles in the World Series. Before that, I did some presentation shorts for FOX. TV is a emotionally irrational, crazymaking racket. You just have to cross your fingers and hope the exact right person sees your thing at the exact time they need that thing at the exact moment in the year when they have money to buy that thing, then you have to hope that person stays at the network long enough to champion your thing through its development. It’s like throwing a javelin through the hole of a rolling doughnut. At Comedy Central, we got caught up in the middle of a network shake-up and I’m not sure our script ever got a chance. It made me hungry to do some DIY projects again.

George: Anything you can share with us at this point?

Jones: I’m still woodshedding. I’m designing some posters and doing some animated PSAs for a place named the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley. I’d like to write more and make some non-animated short films. I’d still love to do some comics. Maybe this interview will inspire me to dust off the ole Rapidograph.

For more work and info about Arthur Jones, please visit www.byarthurjones.com.
-30-

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Discovered a video of this program in a semi-private corner of the Internet and thought I’d share; the transcription and copyedit is mine. Press Conference was an early BCC television series that describes itself as a program “in which personalities who make the news answer impromptu questions from the men who write the news.”It’s charming how wholly disinterested the show’s panel of earnest blowhards/eggheads are in the camera and whether or not they’re on it.

This brief exchange, aside from another interesting example of how closely Welles paid attention to comics and other junk culture, is remarkable in how he [thumb]nails the 1960s zeitgeist a decade before it got swinging. — MG

PRESS CONFERENCE: There’s been a certain amount of criticism of the trends of American influence on things like horror comics and films. Do you feel that there is anything  in the suggestion that American influence is towards a spirit of juvenile delinquency through the world?

ORSON WELLES: I don’t think that horror films or horror comics contribute to juvenile delinquency. I think that they may encourage psychotics, and homicidal and other dangerous types — but juvenile delinquency is, I think, a symptom of the illness of our age. It doesn’t come from lack of playgrounds or bad comic books, but a great longing for youth to have something to rebel against.

PC: You wouldn’t say that children are imitative, and that they tend to imitate what they see or read?

WELLES: If they were, they would’ve come from the bear pits and the Globe Theatre to commit some rather extraordinary acts in the Elizabethan days!

PC: You don’t think that the glorification of violence, which is shown even in some of the Westerns, gives them ideas? Make them think that they would like to shoot from the hip or be quick on the draw?

WELLES: Well, you see I think that all vital periods of the drama and of literature are periods of great violence, and that all of our great plays and novels are violent. I don’t like them when they are poor novels or when they’re not works of art; they become shoddy and seem to be pandering. Usually something wicked.

PC: But usually virtue virtue triumphs there, but in the horror comic it doesn’t.

WELLES: Doesn’t it?

PC: No, I don’t think so.

WELLES: It doesn’t in Edgar Allen Poe either.

PC: You were not brought up on horror comics; they didn’t have them when you were a boy in America.

WELLES: No, I don’t suppose so, but I had horror stories and horror films.

I’m not for them; I’m very much against violence and brutality as a popular subject. I think it is overexploited. I quite agree with that.

PC: Would you prohibit horror comics?

WELLES: I wouldn’t prohibit anything; I’m very much against censorship.

PC: Even for children?

WELLES: It’s a very difficult question, but you see I don’t think children were ever hurt by Grimm. I remember that the end of Snow White in Grimm — the real ending, not the Disney one — the Witch is given red-hot iron shoes to dance in until she dies, and everybody’s terribly happy about it. I don’t think it made any delinquents out of it. And children are violent.
–30–

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I’ve been following Phil McAndrew’s career with interest for several years. I think he was still in art school in New York when I found his drawings on LiveJournal. His funny, comfortable illustrations were consistently one of the highlights of my LJ feed then. He’s only gotten better, adding a proficiency with watercolors to his artistic arsenal and refining his “voice.” I caught up with Phil to talk about drawing, pizza, the short story, Mad Magazine, the life of the freelance artist, and his upcoming comics collection.  -ZSSTUDY GROUP: Though it looks like you might have abandoned your Feral Pizza webcomic effort, you spent a good amount of time there making single image comics. Obviously, you are still making a lot of similar images. What separates the images you labeled as “Feral Pizza” from the things you’re currently working on, which often seem to share a certain sensibility even when they don’t incorporate words, as most of the FP work did?

PHIL MCANDREW: Yeah, I haven’t updated the Feral Pizza website in a while. But I definitely plan to come back to it eventually. I’d like to make a big book full of silly Feral Pizza type stuff. Feral Pizza has sort of just been an umbrella title for lots of little odds and ends. A few of the things I’ve put up on the Feral Pizza website were actually rejected MAD Magazine submissions, a lot of them were just silly things I scribbled into sketchbooks that I really liked. For some of them I definitely just sat down and was very deliberately like “time to draw a Feral Pizza cartoon.” I love single panel cartoons. The format just appeals to me a lot. My parents had a few collections of The Far Side laying around our house and those were some of the first comics I can remember reading as a kid. Now I’m obsessed with Kliban and a lot of the old New Yorker cartoonists.

STUDY GROUP: Your short stories, released as individual mini-comics like Pearly Whites, Book Comic, and Are You Man Enough?, are generally charming little riffs on one particular idea at a time. Can you tell me about your writing process? We haven’t seen any new comics from you in a while, but I see your upcoming book with Grimalkin Press has 100 pages of unseen material! Have you just been saving up all your comics for the book, or is the unseen material even comics? So, basically I’m asking: WHERE THE COMICS AT?

PHIL MCANDREW: Ha! Yeah, for the most part I’ve been saving up all my recent comics for the book. The new material is going to be more short stories. I have a lot of fun with shorter projects, maybe just because they’re not quite as daunting as the thought of working on something super long that will take years and years to complete. Many of my favorite non-comic books are actually just short story collections. 

 

 

STUDY GROUP: Do you think you might ever attempt a longer work, or are you most comfortable with the short story?

PHIL MCANDREW: When I was in college I had big dreams of being a graphic novelist and I do think I have a few graphic novel length stories in me, but right now I’m having fun writing shorter stuff. I’ve got a much longer story that I scripted out a few years ago but after a handful of false starts on the art I keep putting it aside to work on shorter things or projects that will actually pay the bills. I’m also working on scripting out a series of short children’s comics that, when completed, would ideally all go into one book together and sort of build on each other. Scripting stuff out before I draw anything is how I usually prefer to work. But I write slowly and I tend to agonize over every little sentence and I fill my scripts with detailed notes and things, which I guess is kind of opposite of how I draw.

 

 

STUDY GROUP: Your drawings almost always read “funny”. How important is humor and slapstick in your illustration?

PHIL MCANDREW: If I’m in total control of a project I do pretty much always try to make funny stuff. That’s just the sort of work I enjoy producing. I do take on illustration jobs that require me to dial the silly stuff back a bit, which I enjoy too. I like to think that I’m capable of tackling any sort of project, that I can bend myself in a variety of directions. But if a client comes to me looking for something funny I’m usually pretty thrilled.

 

STUDY GROUP: The warm, lived-in line you get is very reminiscent of Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle. Do you use a nib, or a brush? Do you ever go back and try to “dirty up” a drawing if you make it too slick?

PHIL MCANDREW: I almost always use a nib but I do go back and augment things with a brush from time to time. I usually don’t sit down and think “I’ve got to make this drawing really crazy and messy,” I just try not to be delicate with my lines. Sometimes with comics I’ll make rules to keep myself from being too precious with the art, like with Are You Man Enough? I drew the entire book standing up, which I do with most projects now, and I didn’t pencil anything out. It was all drawn directly in ink, which is how I’m also doing some of the new stuff that’s going into my book.

 

 

STUDY GROUP: You recently crossed the country to move to San Diego. What brought that on, and how are you finding it?

PHIL MCANDREW: At then end of 2010 my scientist girlfriend was offered a cool science job in San Diego. I figured I can draw pictures anywhere, so we began 2011 by cramming as much stuff as we could into the car and driving across the country from Syracuse, NY to San Diego, a place I’d never been before where I literally knew no one. But it’s been pretty cool! I still kind of feel like I’m just on vacation or something. Dr. Seuss lived in the San Diego area and now I can’t help but see the crazy hills and plants of the area in his drawings. Not long before we moved I was contacted by a particular television network and invited to pitch some ideas for a cartoon show, so being close to Los Angeles has made that process a heck of a lot easier.

 

STUDY GROUP: There’s not a huge comics scene there, from what I understand. Do you mainly just hang out with David King and eat pizza?

PHIL MCANDREW: The pizza situation in San Diego is not great compared to back in New York, but yeah, I get to hang out with David King all the time, which is nice. I didn’t really have any cartoonist pals to hang out with back in Syracuse so having another cartoonist nearby, even just one, is awesome. And I’m lucky that the one other cartoonist in town is a really, really great cartoonist. David and I actually just got the ball rolling with organizing some live comics reading events down here so maybe a tiny little comics scene will start sprout. We’re going to do one towards the end of April and then another in July during the insanity of San Diego Comic-Con.

STUDY GROUP: This year has seen you getting more and more exposure in the illustration world, and you even got published in Mad Magazine, which is a pretty huge goal for many cartoonists I know. At the same time, you’ve been very vocal about being super broke a lot and the difference between people’s perception of your success vs the reality of your day to day life.  I know I’m constantly struggling to make ends meet, so I always sympathize with your posts on the subject. What’s more frustrating: eating ramen all the time or people assuming you’re a big shot just because you scored a couple high profile gigs?

PHIL MCANDREW: I don’t really care if people think I’m some kind of cartooning big shot, I guess. But it is a little frustrating and terrifying knowing that a lot of “big shot” cartoonists live their entire lives in poverty, which is something that I don’t think most people realize. I often think about the part in Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage where he visits Lewis Trondheim in France and describes his house as a palace and then wonders why it’s not like that for successful cartoonists in North America. Not that I think I should be living in a palace right now or anything, but it would be nice to not have a panic attack every time I look at my checking account balance. I love what I’m doing and that’s something that not a lot of people can truthfully say. I’m extremely thankful that I’ve been able to scrape by for a year now drawing pictures for a living. I just keep telling myself that things will continue to get better and the high profile jobs will become a little more regular if I stick with it and try to be as awesome as possible. I feel like a lot of doors opened for me in 2011 and I have high hopes that I’ll be able to actually enter some of those doors in 2012. But yeah, the reality is that I’m definitely still struggling. I typically only have four or five bucks to my name after paying rent and student loan bills every month. I basically have to start at zero at the beginning of each month and just hope that I can earn enough to continue living in an apartment and eating food. I simply try not to think about the fact that I have a bunch of cavities in my teeth that I can’t afford to have taken care of and that if I were to have some kind of unexpected injury or illness that needed medical attention I’d be 100% totally screwed. I realized the other day that our dog gets better medical care than I do. At least once a month I’ll spend a day on craigslist just staring at job listings and wondering if I should get a crappy job and give up freelancing. But I love making up stories and drawing too much. I’ve got too many things I want to draw and too many projects on my plate already. I don’t really have time for a day job.

STUDY GROUP: I enjoy your “how to” posts quite a bit. What motivates you to share your process? Do you think it’s important for professionals to share their tips?

PHIL MCANDREW: I don’t think artists should ever feel obligated to share their process with people. Some artists like to keep their methods shrouded in mystery, and that’s cool. But I love it when people do share their secrets. I’ve learned a lot by reading process posts from other people, on a previous computer I had a whole bookmark folder full of that stuff. And I find great joy in helping others by sharing what I’ve learned. I like spreading knowledge around. I see a lot of cartoonists and illustrators complaining on twitter about getting emails from kids in art school asking for advice or if they can do an interview for a class project. I get a lot of those emails too and I love them, I answer every single one. I’m working on a proposal right now for a book that would basically expand on some of the things I’ve written on my blog, particularly my Super Obvious Secrets That I Wish They’d Teach In Art School post. I’ve been thinking a lot about maybe trying to give talks to art students lately too, doing little presentations on my experiences, both good and bad, as a person who draws pictures for a living. I’m just not quite sure how to get into doing that sort of stuff. Maybe someone will read this and simply invite me to do something like that somewhere.

 

 

 

Visit http://www.philintheblanks.com/ for more.

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So far in our weekly interview series, we’ve talked to several talented creators outside of the immediate sphere of the Study Group Comics world. I thought that it was about time that I start to shine a little spotlight on our SGCB site webcomics creators, mixed in with our usual interviews with the our favorite cartoonists and illustrators. To start, I talked with LONE WOLF creator Jennifer Parks.  I’ve known Jennifer for about 5 years now.  We were both in the first wave of people invited to be a part of the Pony Club Gallery art collective by gallery founders Theo Ellsworth and David Youngblood, along with Dylan Williams and Chris Cilla. The Pony Club keeps morphing over the years as the membership ebbs and flows (I myself left about 2 years ago), but Jennifer has stayed on as a guiding force and chief administrative member. Her rigorous artistic schedule with the Pony Club keeps her creating and in touch with the Portland gallery scene. You’d think that would be enough, but she recently stepped in as Creative Director of the Crow Arts Manor, and is constantly exhibiting in shows all over the place.  She graciously took some time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions.        - ZS

STUDY GROUP: In your illustration work, you seem to favor portraits as a go-to subject. What is it about the portrait that you enjoy?

JENNIFER PARKS: I think of the portrait as a sort of confrontation between characters. A way of saying hello to someone in my world (or maybe even myself) that is as intimate as it is uncomfortable. I am a very uncomfortable and shy person and making eye contact, especially with strangers can sometimes feel invasive. So I think making portraits is a way of me putting myself out there and dealing with those issues. 

STUDY GROUP: Are these arguably mostly self-portraits, since many of them resemble you, or do you think of them as separate characters? Or are they all variations of The Lone Wolf? By that same token, I know you’ve described The Lone Wolf as a sort of “Alter-Ego” of yours, do you still think of her in that way?

JENNIFER PARKS:  I do still think of Lone Wolf as an alter-ego. She represents the innocence of my childhood. And yes, I guess all of these portraits are variations of myself. I don’t really think of them in that way when I am creating them. Its more of a sub-concious tendency. Other people notice it more than I do. It seems to be the case with a lot of artists I know. We create these worlds, so it makes sense that the characters are a part of us. 

STUDY GROUP: Can you talk about your approach to character design? Your playful character & costume design is a highlight of your illustration work.

JENNIFER PARKS: Thank you. I enjoy creating characters that look like they are not only from a different time, but also from a different world. I’m heavily influenced by science fiction as well as old Victorian style dress. To me the clothing is almost the most important part of my characters. I tend to have a lot of blank eyes and expressionless faces. Which I hope still allow the viewer feel something. But if not, the clothing has to tell you something about the character and at the same time just be really nice to look at. I appreciate art on both levels. The kind that makes you think and feel, and the kind that is just very pleasing to the eye. Also, I tend to love really detailed ornamental work. This is where the clothing is just a lot of fun to work with. 

 

STUDY GROUP: You mentioned that many of your characters have “blank” eyes, whether or not they are wearing masks. Why is that?

JENNIFER PARKS:  I get this question a lot, and really only started thinking deeply about in the last year or two. It all started with the creation of Lone Wolf  (also known as Annabelle),  who I started drawing about 7 years ago. It was a subconscious decision to not put pupils in her eyes, but it made perfect sense to me. She was living in a dream world where things are dark and hazy and maybe a bit scary. Her blank eyes show her naivete in this world as well as her desire to keep hidden inside it. It became a comfortable habit for me to keep drawing my characters like this. Lately, when I think about this question a little bit more I realize that keeping them pupil-less is a way of making this confrontation (especially in the portraits) just a bit more closed off to you, as the viewer. I’m letting you look at me and my characters, I’m letting you judge us and I’m letting you be a part of my world. But I’m still keeping some walls up. Whenever I have to put pupils in the eyes for an illustration job or something, it feels very uncomfortable for me.  

STUDY GROUP: While many of your figures are defined by simple contour lines, you drape these characters in detailed pattern, flora and fauna alike. Can you talk about your addiction to patterns and filling space?

JENNIFER PARKS: Yes. Its definitely an addiction. I call it My OCD. Or maybe a kind of doodling. I have a vague idea that certain parts of the page need to have a lot of texture and pattern to balance out the white. Sometimes its very controlled. Other times I sort of get lost in the pattern on the page, and don’t stop until its kind of insane and maybe a bit too much. This satisfies My OCD and works as a kind of therapy for me as well. Its relaxing to just let your mind go and your hand create mindless shapes and patterns. When I’m tired or burnt out, I can always create this kind of art because there is not much thinking involved. 

STUDY GROUP: ”Backyard Ghost” from Studygroup12 #4 is based on a dream, and your serialized Lone Wolf webcomic has a very “dream logic” vibe to it. How much does the role of the subconscious and/or instinct actually play into your work, and why is/isn’t that important to you?

JENNIFER PARKS: All my work is highly instinctual and very much based on the things that linger in my subconscious. These dreams and memories of my childhood have had such a huge impact on my adult life. I didn’t start realizing the affect that It had on my art until a few years back when I did Lone Wolf #1 for my thesis at PNCA. I’m reliving these experiences, trying to dissect them and understand them. At the same time I’m accepting that I will never fully understand them. There is still a lot of haziness and darkness. I think this is why my work is so strange and dream-like. The recurring dreams of my childhood are a lot clearer then the memories of my actual childhood. So I tend to let my subconscious drag me along when It comes to creating.

Study Group: While you tend to use pen or charcoal, I notice you’ve been trying multiple mediums lately. What’s your favorite way to make an image right now?  

JENNIFER PARKS: Right now, I get a little confused when it comes to deciding which medium to create an image in. Certain ideas obviously cater to certain mediums, like portraits will always be in charcoal and crazy detailed images always in pen. But lately I feel like I have split personality disorder and I can see any particular idea working in both mediums. I spend a lot of time just arguing with myself about which medium would be best. It doesn’t help that I have recently re-discovered my love for graphite and have also been romancing the idea of working in color again. I’m thinking charcoal with some light washes, or pen with some gouache. If only there were four or five of me and we could all work in our own mediums. It becomes stressful sometimes. But my favorite way to create is still and might always be charcoal. 

 

STUDY GROUP: What’s a typical day like for you? You’ve got a busy life, with a full time job, kid, and running a gallery! How do you find time to make art? Maybe talk about the gallery here, if you want.

JENNIFER PARKS: Well right now I am only working part time, which is nice. And my son is very self-sufficient, being a relatively well behaved teenager and all. So Im able to focus most of my time on creating. A typical day usually starts around noon for me and involves a lot of coffee. The first thing I do in the morning is sit down at my desk, put on a movie or some music and start drawing. I always have at least one thing to work on, be it a piece (or pieces) for an art show, a freelance gig, Lone Wolf, or gallery involved work. Usually its all of the above. Then I work until its time to go to my night job. On my days off, I work until its time to make dinner or clean, then immediately resume drawing once I’m done. These are my favorite days. Since I joined the Pony Club Gallery about 5 years ago Ive become wrapped up in creating pieces for art shows. We have a lot of group shows and I tend to want to be involved in all of them. I also spend a lot of time writing emails for show invites, taking care of gallery finances, thinking of show ideas, and ways to make the gallery more successful. Its a lot of work, and I don’t get paid, but so far its been worth it. I really love it and feel lucky that I got the chance to be a part of such an amazing collective. In a lot of ways I have it to thank for my (partial) success and the great network of artists/illustrators I have become a part of. Unfortunately I just cant put as much time into it as I’d like. There just isn’t enough time in a day to get all the things done that I’d like to. I guess it doesn’t help that I love sleeping. 

___

 

Visithttp://jenniferparks.blogspot.com/ and  http://www.etsy.com/shop/ldaimfille for more work by Jennifer Parks.

 

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One of the more overlooked aspects of Fantagraphics’ history was its ’90s flirtation with publishing original graphic novels by young cartoonists who didn’t posses the serialization and audience-building advantages of their own ongoing comic-book series; this initiative produced work like Dave Cooper’s Suckle, Walt Holcombe’s The King Of Persia, Ho Che Anderson’s King, R. Sikoryak’s The Seduction of Mike, Rich Tommaso’s Clover Honey, Ariel Bordeaux’s No Love Lost and Max Andersson’s Pixy, but only a few have had the stealth impact on later generations of cartoonists that Graham Chaffee’s The Big Wheels has enjoyed.

But Chaffee was something of a mystery – even Fanta staffers who were around when the company published Wheels and its short-story followup The Most Important Thing and Other Stories didn’t have much sense of who the hell this guy was and why/how he seemed to disappear as completely and suddenly as he first appeared. I’ve always been interested in artists of merit who seem to have walked away from their highest-profile medium, and Chaffee has resided near the top of my list of cartoonists I’ve wanted to track down for years.

Graham and I traded email in March, during which he generously provided us with most of the illustrations below. [Click for larger sizes and alt-text captions.] – MG

A page from Chaffee's forthcoming book, GOOD DOG.

 

MILO GEORGE: Most of the biographical information available about you starts with you graduating from Pasadena Art Center College of Design in 1988 – where and when were you born?

GRAHAM CHAFFEE: I was born August 17, 1964, in Pasadena, CA. but largely raised in Austin, TX – moving back to California in 1980 or so. Been here since then, sometimes in Northern Cal, sometimes in Southern. Last migration was late ’94, when I started tattooing and moved to Los Angeles.

An early Chaffee commercial illustration

 

GEORGE: What was your major at the Art Center? What field did you hope to enter once you graduated?

CHAFFEE: I graduated from Art Center in ’88. I went in all about comics and came out all about painting. I was an illustration major and wanted to do book and magazine work.

Another early Chaffee commercial illustration

 

When I got out, I moved to San Francisco and started hustling my portfolio around to all the magazines I could find in the area – mostly trade publications with the occasional Sunday magazine or theater program.

Another early Chaffee commercial illustration

I was usually able to pay my bills, though it was a pretty hand-to-mouth existence. It was during this time, ’90 or ’91, that I started work on The Big Wheels, though I didn’t finish it until around ’93.

Big Wheels cover

GEORGE: It seems like you came out of nowhere, more or less fully formed as a cartoonist with Wheels. Is it true that you mailed a package containing the whole book to Fantagraphics’ submissions slush pile?

CHAFFEE: I don’t remember if I sent all of it or just some of it. I did send a few short pieces as well, but they were not really worth anything and I sent them more to show my drawing and writing style than with any hope of seeing them in print.

One of the sample pages, written by a friend.

GEORGE: Between graduation and the start of Wheels, were you drawing comics, but not publishing them as minis or submitting them to anthologies?

CHAFFEE: I did not draw any minis or any serious comics work before The Big Wheels; that was my first story. I did a page or two of superhero-type stuff – just fooling around – but Wheels was my first real effort.

I conceived it when I was still in school and drew up part of a draft. It was structurally different from the final incarnation – had four main characters: the cop, the child-killer, the businessman and the painter – and the story bounced around amongst them all. They are all still there, but in very, very abbreviated appearances – the girl painter, originally central to my story, wound up in one li’l inset panel on the last page.

GEORGE: How much of the plot/narrative did you have worked out before you started drawing it? Were you rewriting it on the fly, as you were drawing the pages?

CHAFFEE: The original, four-character version of Wheels I had pretty well plotted – this was the version that was ultimately scrapped. The one that eventually saw print was more haphazard as I recall. I think I had a basic timeline worked out, but the pacing, dialogue, etc. was done on a practically page-by-page basis – virtually no layouts, I think.

I did have some ground-rules, which I still follow, mostly: Every page has to subdivide into a 3×3 grid, the only exception being the occasional circular inset. No half-tones or crosshatching allowed; just black and white. Everything is inked with a brush, and no rulers allowed – although I use one to pencil the panel borders. Lettering was done with a crow quill, though now I use a li’l Sharpie. No narration boxes if I can help it and few, if any, thought balloons.

That’s about it. I feel these restrictions, this limited palette, help me maintain a consistent look and feel through a story – especially when I am taking a zillion years to finish one and worry that my drawing style will change from chapter to chapter.

A page from Chaffee's forthcoming book, GOOD DOG.

GEORGE: So what inspired you to change gears from Wheels to the fable-like short stories in The Most Important Thing as your follow-up book?

CHAFFEE: I am not sure why The Most Important Thing is short stories – probably because I didn’t have anything solid enough to go 60 pages on its own. I had an idea or two, and wrote them out into little tales, but I didn’t have anything really solid. I think, the title story, about the animal messengers, was the first one I had in mind and the other stories came bit-by-bit over a period of weeks or months.

I had all these little stories and no real way to tie them together until I hit on the idea of using narrative structure to illustrate the different ways people connect with each other. So each story had a different structure: one story was about a random connection between two different women – the sort of connection we all make every time we get on a bus or whatever – the two story-lines run in separate columns until the connection is made at the end. Another story was about the connectedness of three generations of war vets and their shared memories of various wars get blended into one big old collage.

All the stories were about people connecting with each other in various ways, and I tried to make the physical structure of the stories reflect that. It was all very high concept: I had these little graphics of circles and things at the beginning of each story, and a weird li’l poem deal that a friend of mine wrote, to run between chapters – a lot of ridiculous artiness to try and justify what were, in fact, just some little stories. I’d certainly do it differently now.

GEORGE: You said that your schooling revolved around comics, illustration and painting – when did tattooing enter your life?

CHAFFEE: I became interested in learning to tattoo in ’92 or ’93. I had been getting tattooed since ’89 or so, and had met a couple of artists and read a little about the traditions and icons of the craft. A couple of art-school buddies, Rob and Chris Clayton, really encouraged me to get into it as an artist, and things just seemed to roll downhill from there. I talked to a few other people who knew some stuff and I experimented with hand-poke work on myself and a couple of other folks. Eventually, in the summer of ’94, I ordered a tattoo kit through the mail and really got into it; did a bunch of things on various friends.

I moved to Los Angeles in late ’94 and started looking for work – found a newish shop in Pasadena [Purple Panther Tattoos], and worked there for a year or so, and then moved to the shop in Hollywood where I still work – in fact I now own the shop, the original owner having retired.

GEORGE: What attracted you to tattooing, as an art and later as a living?

CHAFFEE: American tattooing has its roots in this awesome folk-art subculture – very little of that survives today, but the crudely drawn, mysterious, carnival-soaked imagery of the early 20th century is a big part of what I love about it. As for why I make a living at it: I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I can’t say I regret the decision. I own a mom & pop business that provides real, hand-made goods to regular people – it’s a direct transaction and very satisfying on that level.

A more recent painting.

GEORGE: How has being a professional tattoo artist changed your painting and cartooning?

CHAFFEE: Mainly by limiting how much of it I am able/willing to do! Tattooing takes a big bite out of my creative energy every week and I’m left with very little to spare for other activities. I have done a few paintings in the last couple years, and I am working on this talking-animal book – but it’s slow-going, with a lot of hiatuses.

I was afraid that my tattoo work would influence my cartooning or painting style, but it hasn’t done so, I find. My main worry was that the hyper-edited, painfully crafted work I do for tattooing would cramp the gestural flow of my comics work and/or the loose realism of my painting, but I’ve discovered that each discipline has its own rules and conditions and they don’t seem to overlap.

I cannot, for the life of me, draw an easy, loose, cartoony tattoo design; they are all very rigidly crafted and formal. With comics, it’s the opposite; I try to make it more structured and formal, but it keeps getting away from me and the loose, lazy style forces its way in! “Loose and lazy” is a relative term, of course; my stuff is way looser and less structured than, say, Charles Burns, but compared to Julie Doucet, I am a model of anal-retentive formality.

Sketchbook pages from Graham's Tumblr.

GEORGE: We haven’t touched on influences and peers. When you started art school and was focused on becoming a cartoonist, who and/or what were you looking at as inspiration? How have your influences changed over the years?

CHAFFEE: That’s a tough one; I can give a partial list, but my work is influenced by so many different people’s stuff. I think the Hernandez Bros. were a big deal for me in the early ’80s, and Will Eisner. Then I went through art school and acquired a ton of non-comics-related folks – insert the entire contents of Janson’s History of Art here – and then back to comics with Alex Toth and David Mazzucchelli, Jim Woodring and Art Spiegelman and, more than anyone else, Robert Crumb. So much has been written about Crumb already, let’s not annoy him with further praise – he moved to France to get away from guys like me!

Right now, I’m really big on Harold Gray. I also like Paul Pope’s stuff and James Sturm and that Norwegian fella, Jason.

GEORGE: I imagine that being a graphic novelist in the early ’90s – a largely pre-Internet time when the quarterly comic book/zine was still the main vehicle for publishing – would be pretty isolating. You mentioned Charles Burns and Julie Doucet – how connected were you to the ’90s alternative-comics scene? The cartoonist enclaves in L.A.?

CHAFFEE: I am nearly completely isolated from any comics scene, whatsoever – I might as well live in the woods! I have some artist friends, but they aren’t comics people.

GEORGE: A couple of Fanta staffers once told me that the last time they saw you was at San Diego in 1996 or 1997, and you had a detective short story that you were shopping around to the publishers/anthology editors in attendance. Is that accurate?

CHAFFEE: I have, somewhere, the first chapter of a stalled-out crime story called “Robin Ross” that Gary Groth had seen and expressed interest in seeing more of, but it died on the vine. It was massively derivative stuff anyhow – Hammett meets William Kennedy, that sort of thing – and not worth resurrecting. I may well have had it on me at the con, I don’t recall.

A page from the discarded "Robin Ross" project.

 

GEORGE: It’s thrilling to hear that you have a new book in the works. How’s it coming along?

CHAFFEE: Good Dog is plodding along – limping at times, since I often stop and forget to start again – and may possibly be finished this year. I’ve got around 30 pages done at this point; about half of the book. I should probably re-name it Good Sloth.
–30–

A page from Chaffee's forthcoming book, GOOD DOG.

Visit www.gschaffeetattoos.comgschaffeetattoos.tumblr.com and www.purplepanthertattoos.com for more.

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Every weekend, I hope to present new short interviews with talented cartoonists and illustrators. Last time I talked to Maré Odomo. This time I traded emails with Andrew Schick, who I know mainly from Tumblr and twitter streams. I found his answers generous and illuminating, and I hope you will too.

 - ZS

Study Group: So all I can find out about you from the magical internet is that you live in Vancouver, BC and you’re a designer as well as an illustrator. Did you go to school for one over the other?  Is design how you pay the bills, mostly, or do you have a different day job?

Andrew Schick: I am somewhat elusive! I went to school for painting as well as graphic design and illustration. After high school I attended the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island where I received a degree in Visual Arts (and learned to surf!). I kind of freaked out about paying bills after I graduated, so I attended a three year design and illustration program at Capilano University. The program had career illustrators and designers as teachers, which was super helpful.

I was lucky enough to be offered a design position with St.Bernadine Mission Communications (a Vancouver design and advertising agency) after grad. I work with a really talented group of designers committed to making really amazing work, so it keeps me challenged and dedicated.

I work on illustration projects during evenings and weekends. It makes for long days, but it means I get to be creative for a living. It’s become automatic to just sit down and start drawing right after work, you get into a nice little rhythm. There are also a bunch of local illustrators that keep me excited about drawing.

Study Group: The design work on your website is super clean, precise & classy, but your drawings are beautiful, wobbly-warm and filled with life. How do you separate these sides of your artistic impulse?

Andrew Schick: Aw man thanks for noticing! I think my brain just automatically separates illustration from design. They just seem so different somehow. Design feels more like a puzzle: you’re given pre designed parts (typefaces, rules, borders) and you have to click them together until they make a whole. For some reason I just really enjoy assembling information into compelling, simple patterns. Most of my approach to design comes from reading The Principles of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. He teaches that following typographic rules carefully, actually gives the designer complete control over a layout. It is meticulous work.

Illustration is a different world to me. I think drawing is a form of catharsis. The pen and paintbrush have become familiar tools, so it’s really easy to sit down and start drawing now. I just find that I can explore personal style, which is something I can’t really do with design. I also have to be less careful with my drawings, or they just don’t work. They just seem stiff unless I’m really expressive and loose with the paint or ink. It would be nice to have one master-approach for both disciplines! Oh well.

Study Group: You draw a lot of monsters and fantasy creatures, is Fantasy as a genre important to you? What are your favorite works in the genre, if so (any medium)?

Andrew Schick: Yes I’ve always been a fan of the fairies, witches, and wizards fantasy genre. When I was younger I was really influenced by Brian Froud (Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book) and Rien Poortvliet (Gnomes),  as well as Mike Mignola, Winsor McCay and Arthur Rakham of course. As a kid I drew armor, swords and arrows and constantly imagined being a knight. Movies like The Labrynth, Dark Crystal, Willow, and Princess Mononoke are kind of pitch perfect fantasy for me, and huge influences on my work. Fantasy illustrators really have to consider the characters they are drawing: clothes, personality, physical appearance. I love seeing illustrators and cartoonists create vibrant, feasible characters, so impressive.  Two of my favorite illustrations in the genre are Rien Poortvliet’s illustrations for the book Gnomes and Jillian Tamaki’s illustration Tree Frogs.

Study Group: I love the way you seem to build your figures out of puffy basic shapes. Everyone seems like they’ve got a skeleton made out of spheres, cones and cubes. Where do you think that comes from?

Andrew Schick: I think I started making my figures more geometric after sitting down and really studying Peanuts and Gasoline Alley cartoons. By paying attention to proportion and shape, Charles Schultz and Frank King could create expressive, dynamic characters within a tiny space. Really inspiring. I’ve also been influenced by Richard Short’s comics (Klaus, Nobrow Press). He uses very basic shapes and interesting proportions to create characters that are both distinct and dynamic somehow. Big, clean shapes hardly need to be changed at all, they’re immediately characters.

 

Study Group: Do you just start out doing automatic drawing and turn the forms into little people, or do you usually have something more specific in mind?

Andrew Schick: I actually start out with a pretty clear picture of what I want to draw in my mind. I don’t make an extensive under drawing though. I usually sketch the picture four or five times in my sketchbook before inking or painting the final on a proper piece of paper. I can’t really ink like you’re suppose to (over a detailed sketch), because it feels like tracing. I need to draw and paint loosely, so my under drawings are made up of little notches and very faint lines (I heard Charles Schultz drew this way too, so there!).  I also really enjoy automatic drawing. It’s a good way to warm up and experiment without much pressure. I’ve accidentally made so many characters just by zoning out and doodling.

Study Group: Your use of color in general is really inspiring to me. Really great color choices and I love that you don’t use color in just one way- it can be line, tone, form, and often all of the above in any given drawing. Can you talk about your approach to color and painting?

Andrew Schick: I was taught to paint by the watercolorist Kiff Holland, while attending Capilano University. He showed us how to paint with bold colours and faded edges to create lighting effects. He would presoak the watercolor paper and  paint heavy dark lines and it would somehow turn into a portrait. He would also experiment with strange palettes, in order to prove that there was no wrong colour combination. As long as the tone and temperature of the paint is correct, you can choose some pretty crazy palettes. I am definitely attracted to warmer colours, with a preference for orangy red. I draw bold lines on top of lighter paint swatches to draw interest towards a focal point or to emphasize a gesture. I’m always trying make my characters appear as if they’re moving. I find that bold strokes and translucent shapes are the best way to achieve the effect. That and loud punk music.

Study Group: How much of your day-to-day routine is drawing?

Andrew Schick: I am at St Bernadine’s during the day, but I draw almost every evening and on the weekends. I think if you draw a bunch your whole life, it becomes a happy compulsion. So I would say 4 or 5 hours per day and a little more on the weekends. I just never get bored of it. There is always a new thing to try.

 

Study Group: What kind of tools do you favor?

Andrew Schick: For my line drawings I use a Pilot P700 because it is the greatest pen ever made and only about three dollars. For my paintings, I use a Round Acrylic brush (Size 550) and Windsor and Newton set of watercolour cakes (an amazing gift from a sculptor I worked with). I chose a cheap, frayed acrylic brush because it makes jagged, warbley paint lines.  Switching to a junky brush also forced me to make broad, confident strokes rather than spending too much time on tedious line work.

Study Group: Your character designs are lively and often suggest narrative, but I have only seen a couple little comics on your sketchblog. Do you think you might ever do comics (or have you and I just haven’t seen them)?

Andrew Schick: Thanks for asking! I have plans to write a few short comics this year, but it’s too early  to show or mention anything substantial. I have been asked and encouraged about this question by a few people and I agree that it’s the next logical step for my stuff. Stay tuned!

Visit  http://aschick.tumblr.com/http://thedailyclaw.tumblr.com/, or http://aschickdesign.com/ for more.

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Getting an artist’s professional-life story down on tape can sometimes be quick work; documenting the evolution of that artist’s creative process across that career always takes a hideously long amount of time. This is probably why most journalists don’t do craft/process interviews.

Even at its final, mammoth size in Study Group Magazine #1, my “Where It’s Done” feature on Craig Thompson omitted a lot of interesting/amusing comments and conversations that he and I had over the course of our marathon interview session and subsequent followups. I plan to periodically stitch together some of the deleted material from the raw tapes and share them here. – milo

 CRAIG THOMPSON: I went to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design [Wisconsin] for one semester because that was all I could afford. I paid for it out-of-pocket and then spent six months paying off my loans. I never ended up back in school. All you end up doing in your first semester is toothpick sculptures. I felt like I was in kindergarten. We also spent a lot of time in wood shop too, so it felt like we were in a white-trash high school. You’re in White-trash high-school wood shop or you’re in kindergarten; that’s art school. Appropriately, my favorite class and favorite instructor was English. I went to a community college for a year, where the art classes were my favorite; when I went to art school, English was where I thrived. I didn’t fit in either context.

MILO GEORGE: Did you work during your time in college?

THOMPSON: When I was at community college I got a job driving a delivery van for the Wausau Daily Herald newspaper, like dispatch for all the missed papers, for a year and a half; you’d drive out to deliver a paper to a house that didn’t get theirs and called in to complain. I used to draw these elaborate cartoons on the dispatch board and someone in the design department saw them and encouraged me to apply for a low-end ad-stylist job for the paper. So I applied and got promoted from low-end delivery-truck driver to doing graphic design at a newspaper. I was there for over a year full-time; at one point, I phased out my schooling and just became a worker. I think everything I learned about computers and graphic design, I got there. They were still doing paste-up back then — this is like 1994, ’95. It was cool to have daily deadlines too; it’s a great exercise for any cartoonist. You could walk downstairs into the gigantic pressroom with these massive presses running, it was all very tangible; if you made a mistake, you’d see how it turned out off the press. I still use all that information; it’s probably a little outdated.

GEORGE: So you’ve been drawing with final printing in mind from the beginning?

THOMPSON: Yeah. They had two presses: One was a small offset, small-run digital press — I made my first minicomic on that press. I wasn’t stealing copies; since I was an employee, I just had to pay for the materials. The only thing I did on the professional press was 2-Way Cartoon Machine. That’s actually my first minicomic is actually a flipbook, with myself on one side and Kurt Halsey on the other. He’s fairly well known in the indie painting world in Indiana. He went from being a cartoonist — he was the one of the people who convinced me to start drawing comics — to being a painter, but he has a cartoony style still.

I worked a bunch of shitty jobs in Milwaukee. I was there for another year, a full year after dropping out of art school. The biggest stepping-stone jobs I had back then were jobs animating laser-light shows for a children’s museum, Discovery World, and later drawing stuff for a small advertising agency.

For the museum, I was a one-man lackey for these two stuffy theater guys who ran the theater department at the museum. It was actually pretty cool; the actors were really good and they did a lot of things with Tesla coils and big gimmicks, semi-explosive things going off on stage. The museum acquired these lasers, and I got hired at seven bucks an hour to animate laser-light shows; they would give me a theme and a song, like, “Use ‘I Am The Walrus’ by the Beatles and the theme is ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ now run with that!” and I would have to create a storyboard, a narrative, and draw all the cells for the laser animation by myself. They were drawn with the mouse or a WACOM tablet, 20 plates or so per second, with a lot of loops. It took an insane amount of work and then they took all the credit for it; I think they’re still showing these laser shows that I did 20 years ago! That was a great best-worst job, because I was finally getting paid to make art, and at that point in my life, $7 an hour was amazing pay because I was doing telemarketing and working in bagel shops before that, but the museum job totally destroyed me; it was a lot of all-nighters and I didn’t get to see my friends.

Then I worked at an advertising agency. I had moved back home for three months before moving to Portland — my lease was up, my job was up and I was in no-man’s-land. I was 21 at that point, living with my parents and working in a small-town advertising agency, which was an awesome job. They had one copywriting guy who wrote slogans and jingles, two designers, two fancy-pants business people and a secretary — a really small agency. Probably the most fun job I’ve ever had; the energy was really funny, the stakes are so low because you’re just doing graphic design for small-town Wisconsin companies. That led to me eventually getting a job at Dark Horse.

I mentioned the children’s museum earlier as probably my best-worst job ever, but Dark Horse was definitely my best-worst job ever — I was in comics for the first time in my life, but so far away from actually making the kind of comics I wanted to do.

I lucked out; very early on, they singled me out as the designer for all the quirky, indie-style books, which made me so happy and I got to work with guys like Dave Land and Phil Amara. I remember the first time I got to talk to and work with Jay Stevens, on Land Of Nod, being a huge fanboy moment. I worked on Mike Allred’s Madman when it was still at Dark Horse — across the board, if they had a fun, quirky project, I was assigned to do the graphic design and that was the best part of the job, although still it was just graphic design. But I also had to do design for stuff like action figures for the character Ghost, very buxom, and “Aliens Versus the Vikings” when they put out books like that. [I thought Craig was joking or exaggerating but no, this really is a thing that exists.- milo] When I was working on projects like that, it was the worst thing in the world. Just in general — I was working on a computer all day long, making lunchboxes and logos when I wanted to be making comics, so it was both really exciting and yet super-frustrating but still a high point.

Anyone who’s been to Dark Horse knows it has a sort of dungeon-like quality; you have this perception that it’s going to be, ah …

GEORGE: You’re literally in Richardson’s fiefdom; it seems like there’s some Dark Horse department on almost every block of that town’s center –

THOMPSON: Yeah, but it’s very oppressive when you’re in there — or at least the design department was. It was like, “Shhh, no talking” like a library. Just working, no talking. I don’t know, maybe that’s how most of those jobs are. I visited LAIKA a few times; that place seems dynamic and fun but maybe, if you’re working there, it’s not. Maybe it’s oppressive there, too.

GEORGE: Was the design department upstairs when you were working there?

THOMPSON: Yeah, but I don’t think it was different from editorial, which wasn’t a playground either. There’s no windows in that area, everything’s very closed off. At least there are windows upstairs!

GEORGE: No windows, no wall clocks except one in the meeting room—

THOMPSON: There was a big clock right where I was working; I kept an eye on it.

GEORGE: Maybe they uninstalled the clocks recently; some corporate-productivity consultants come into an office and the first thing they do is get rid of the wall clocks, take them out of general-use areas like hallways. It’s the same theory behind why Las Vegas casinos never have clocks.

THOMPSON: Why?

GEORGE: That people are more focused and can stay focused on whatever’s in front of them for much longer-than-normal amounts of time if they have no reminders or indicators in their field of vision that time is passing.

THOMPSON: Man — that Life is passing.

GEORGE: Did you pick up a lot of knowledge about production for comics there?

THOMPSON: I learned Photoshop coloring at Dark Horse, and I still use that method, basically. There’s so much that they teach you about production methods that are outdated because they haven’t necessarily shifted as the technology has gotten so much better in terms of what printers can output; they’re still outputting at a pretty low resolution, so most of what I learned about production that has been most valuable and still useful I’ve gotten from my friendship with Jordan Crane, who is one of my first buddies in comics. We used to nerd out on the phone a lot.

I learned how to trap at Dark Horse, which was handy recently. Actually, that was one of my interview questions. I was interviewed by a couple people there, but one of them was Cary Grazzini; I brought in all these samples of work I had done at the advertising agency and he asked “Did you trap this?” And I said yeah, not kind of knowing what he meant; it was nothing I had to worry about before. Then he asked “How did you trap it?” and I finally asked “What’s trapping?”

I was just in New York to give final approval on the Habibi cover and I said, “Wait, these are trapped! I didn’t prepare these to be trapped,” because it originally was going to be clothbound. We spent six months working on a clothbound design and then at the very last moment Pantheon said it was too expensive for clothbound, it has to be paperstock. They took the same files that were designed to be almost like a screenprint on cloth and, at the last minute, I pointed out that they weren’t trapped. I had completely designed for cloth, but now I’m OK with paper — the front cover was supposed to have a tip-in, which would’ve been glued and that would be something could peel off, and sometimes when you’re stamping gold foil on cloth it can look shitty. The cool thing about this is that it’s going to be very crisp. I’m 100% fine with it not being cloth, but I was really worried that it would have that look, like I was trying to make it look like cloth.
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Study Group: When did you start reading comics? Did you come to comics from manga, American cape comics, the sunday funnies, or what?

Maré Odomo: As a kid, most of my friends read Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, Foxtrot. My exposure to superheroes came mostly from shows like Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, and Spider-Man. Comic book shops freaked me out when I was younger.

But I started getting more into comics when I was in high school. I would stop by the Barnes & Noble on my walks home. I loved that most trade paperbacks could be finished in one sitting. That’s where I first read stuff like Blankets, Black Hole, Ghost World, Optic Nerve, Jimmy Corrigan, the bigger standalone superhero titles like Dark Knight Returns, and then post-manga whatever-you-want-to-call-it stuff which is pretty much just Sharknife and Scott Pilgrim.

And at home, I would read Achewood, Scary-Go-Round, Diesel Sweeties, Wigu, Exploding Dog, Penny Arcade, Derek Kirk Kim, Hellen Jo, Vera Brosgol, Kazu Kibuishi, Enrico Casarosa, Ronnie Del Carmen. It was pretty evenly split between the Dumbrella webcomics crew and the contributors to Flight. I’m probably forgetting a bunch of people.

Study Group: At what point did you actually decide  you wanted to make them?

At some point, I got into James Kochalka’s American Elf and started making daily comics, almost immediately. I made dailies for six years, on-and-off. There’s probably only about three years’ worth of content in those sketchbooks.

Study Group: Can you talk about your influences? I see the obvious stamp of video games and manga, but your comics are often quite poetic regardless of subject matter, bringing to mind the work of someone like Dave Kiersh or John Porcellino. Do you read much poetry? Do you even think about your work like that?

Maré Odomo: When I was in high school, I was really into this writer named Kevin Fanning. He wrote really simple, sweet stories about ghosts and secret doors, or reviews of beverages. I think this was before people decided to call any kind internet writing a “blog”. It was, as far as I know, a personal passion. There were no editors or audiences to please. It seemed so pure. He made me want to write.

Kevin still writes (kevinfanning.com), and I really love his mythological interpretations of the Internet. He gets it, man. It’s like Das Racist, it’s like Sword & Sworcery. It’s just really smart stuff. Post-ironic, self-aware, and genuine. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but you know what I mean.

I love John P, but I only got into him a few years ago, when King-Cat Classix came out. And I’ve only read a little Dave Kiersh, but I can tell that I like him.

But no, I don’t read much poetry and don’t know much about that world. The internet is poetry, though. Twitter is poetry. But I do think of my comic scripts as poems. I’ve been trying to come up with some gimmicky name to call them, like POMICS or COEMS, but those both sound really stupid.

Study Group: You teach children- is that a comics class specifically, or just a general art class? How has that affected the way you make art?

Maré Odomo: It’s specifically a comics class, but I’m still figuring out what to teach them and what they’re willing to learn. It’s only an hour long, and we only meet once a week, so it’s not a lot of time to spend together.

Kids treat drawing as a form of play, and they’re so positive and wonderful about it. I love drawing with these kids, and I try to hold onto that feeling, but it’s difficult. I come home, and I’m hungry and tired, and can’t be productive.

 

Study Group: I came across your work via the internet, and like many young artists today, you have a strong presence on the web – you are on flickr, twitter, tumblr, and probably some other websites I don’t even know about. How do you feel about art and the internet? I’ve been having a personal struggle with what I love about sites like Tumblr, in that I’m exposed to so much new art and information every day, but I feel like the constant feed of art and imagery as RAW DATA can devalue the actual work in question. You see this a lot on Tumblr in particular, where a thousand people might reblog something without ever crediting or researching who actually made an image. This might just be completely off topic, so you can ignore me if you want, but I guess I was curious if you had any opinions on this.

Maré Odomo: If someone wanted to figure out the source, they could easily do a reverse image search, but most people don’t know that that’s a thing. Google Images can do it, and there’s also tineye.com. Tumblr is relatively new, and I hope all this crediting stuff will sort itself out eventually.

Removing watermarks/signatures or plagiarizing is different, though. That shit is awful.

Study Group: Video games are a re-ocurring motif in your work, and I’m wondering how much time you actually spend playing them, and how you manage to get any work done. I recently got Skyrim, and I am trying very hard not to get to immersed in it. Do you just manage your time really well, or have you had to put aside your DS?

Maré Odomo: The only current gen console I have is a 3DS (it was a very generous gift), and the only game I have is Mario Kart 7. Oh, but I’ve also been spending a decent amount of time playing iOS games. Most of my favorite video games are the ones I played as a teenager, though.

I’m terrible at managing my time. I get lost in Parks & Rec marathons and spend hours just to catch up with the internet. I’m actually trying to play *more* video games. That’s how bad I am at managing my time. I go through phases of trying out different productivity apps and reading old lifehacker posts.

Study Group: What kind of tools do you use when you’re drawing? Lots of pencil, but what else?

Maré Odomo: I really like brush pen, but I can’t control it very well. I’m trying to get better with ink washes and watercolors. And I like playing with color pencils, but they just scan so horribly. And gouache is fun! I’m experimenting with all these supplies I have leftover from art school, but I like pencil right now.

And everything gets scanned and edited in Photoshop. My originals are never dark enough.

Study Group: You seem to do a lot of design work, and much of it in collaboration with Cory Schmitz. How is the work you do for hire different than your webcomics or zine work? What is it like collaborating on work like this?

Maré Odomo: Cory and I went to the same school, and we have the same degree, but we’re different people and focus on different things. Working together adds depth. He does things that I can’t.

A lot of my illustration work feels flat to me. I’m still figuring out how to make backgrounds. In comics, it’s more about the story and I can get away with really sparse panels.

Study Group: You gained a lot of fans for your Pokemon comics. I still sell copies of that mini at Floating World all the time. Do you feel pigeon-holed as “the Pokemon Guy”?

Maré Odomo: There’s no other game that I have such a strong emotional connection to, but I don’t think that Pokémon defines me as much as it defines other people. After I made those comics, a few of my friends said they had never seen that side of me. I think most people know that I keep up with the games, but I’m not the kind of person who tries to catch every single Pokémon or build the perfect team. I log about 40 hours per game.

Study Group:  It seems like you’ve mostly moved on from that style of drawing, what brought that on?

Maré Odomo: Part of why I moved away from that style was because drawing with a tablet was ruining my shoulder. I used to get these jolts of pain, right at the joint. Sometimes it happened while I was drawing, sometimes I would just be sitting or trying to sleep. It wasn’t ideal.

And I didn’t want to depend on my computer and tablet to draw something. I didn’t want people to *expect* that style from me. That was killing my shoulder too. Carrying all that stuff, everywhere I went. It’s so much easier to just have a sketchbook and a pen or pencil.

Around that time, I had read “Young Lions” by Blaise Larmee, which looks like it was done completely in pencil(?) and has this really romantic, fleeting feeling throughout the whole thing. And I found Aidan Koch’s work somewhere, probably through Blaise, and it had that same vibe. I had always felt like I had lost something in my inking, so it made sense to go straight to pencil.

I’m still figuring things out, and I’m really conscious of ripping off my influences (like Blaise and Aidan and John P), but I’m finding my voice and whatever.

 

visit: http://mareodomo.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/nipocrite for more.

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Getting an artist’s professional-life story down on tape can sometimes be quick work; documenting the evolution of that artist’s creative process across that career always takes a hideously long amount of time. This is probably why most journalists don’t do craft/process interviews.

Even at its final, mammoth size in Study Group Magazine #1, my “Where It’s Done” feature on Craig Thompson omitted a lot of interesting/amusing comments and conversations that he and I had over the course of our marathon interview session and subsequent followups. I plan to periodically stitch together some of the deleted material from the raw tapes and share them here. – milo

MILO GEORGE: Ever try spotting blacks with Q-tips?

CRAIG THOMPSON: People use Q-tips for that? I wonder if that’s how you get that perfect Kirby crackle.

MILO: I think so, depending on what size you’re drawing at.

CRAIG: I’ve always wondered how they get that effect. That would be one of many advantages of working in a place like Periscope Studio, where they know all those pen & ink techniques.

MILO: You’d have to call dibs on sitting near Steve Lieber; the last time I was there, it seemed like he was only who didn’t have a laptop and a WACOM tablet on his desk.

CRAIG: Being in a room of WACOM tablets would be very depressing.

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