Evan Cohen “‘Through the Garden’ to me is about the duality of people and their surroundings. The overwhelming power and growth of the natural world. It’s about exploration and connecting with nature, hiking into the wilderness to get lost for just one moment. I think it’s important to take time to reflect upon yourself and how you’re feeling. For me, that takes a nice long walk through the woods.” -Evan Matthew Cohen Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Evan Matthew Cohen
I get a lot of inspiration from just spending time outdoors. Hiking, traveling, visiting gardens. It’s where I feel the most comfortable. My work deals with nature and plants and our connection to the outside world so I try to spend as much time outdoors sketching and getting ideas to balance out the time I spend indoors making the work.
Age 26 What is your current location? Beacon, NY Where are you from? Massachusetts What is your current occupation? I work part-time as a designer for an artist in town and spend the rest of my time working freelance illustration, comics, and animation. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to school in upstate New York to study printmaking but am self taught in digital design and illustration. I downloaded a cracked copy of Photoshop when I was 13 and I’ve been messing around ever since. I’ve been drawing my entire life but it wasn’t until after school did I make the leap into illustration.
What materials do you like to work with? Alot of my comics and illustrations are done digitally with a tablet. I used to sketch on paper and scan my drawings, but decided to work directly on the computer. I like having the ability to make bold graphic work that isn’t permanent, and only exists digitally until it is printed. I try to split my time between the computer and working on paper, depending on the project. I don’t really use a pencil anymore. My sketchbooks are all pen and ink drawings and I tend to jot down ideas and thumbnails on paper in pen. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I just finished up a small comic that I’m hoping to release this month, as well as an animated music video that I am excited to share. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Music has always played a huge role in my life and in my artwork. Some of my go to artists to play are: Bibio, Real Estate, Emeralds, Air.
Where do you like to work? I have a small apartment with a small studio set up. I donâ€™t mind working from home, it allows me to stay up odd hours and really zone in on a project without any distractions. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember making a series of comics with an old friend of mine in first or second grade about a mouse named Cheesy, I wish I
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still had them. My brother used to make a lot of art growing up, so I would watch him and try to copy what he was making. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? My goal lately is just to make people feel good when they see my work. Sure my art can have meaning and make you reflect upon your own life, but i just hope it makes you happy and puts you in a better sense of mind from looking at it.
Becca Tobin “I think we all say we’re gonna abstain from things that might be bad for us but that we actually really love. Everything in moderation is important but also its so nice to really go crazy and get a bit fucked up!!! Both these forces exist in a fight within me, I try to maintain a balance but actually I love to gently mess myself up even though I genuinely want to be better and healthier and more chill.” -Becca Tobin Name Becca Tobin Age 24 What is your current location? London, UK Where are you from? London, UK What is your current occupation? I work about half my time in a little grocery store and the other half on freelance illustration and comics projects. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? Apart from high school art classes and a painting elective one semester in University, I’m self taught. I spent a lot of time in school skipping classes to draw haha! Maybe that was kind of dumb in retrospect but it was fun and I drew a whole lot. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
are changing all the time! I love the goofy visionary art you find crystal shops, it’s aim is to be hit-you-over-the-head beautiful and psychedelic, even if it’s not technically perfect I love how pure that intention is. I’ve also been getting back into ancient geometric vases, with really stylized figures and clear patterns. Also all Chicken Shop mascots here in London?? I think a lot of my inspiration just comes from walking around a lot and getting excited by the things I see. What materials do you like to work with? I mostly work with watercolour paints, sometimes with some white gouache for accents and added opacity. I love how flighty and difficult paint can be haha, I love wrestling with it until I get the picture looking how I want, and getting intuitive with the colors and shapes! Recently I’ve been doing stick and poke tattoos on me and my friends, it’s a really cool new challenge to work in a slow and particular medium, and I love how I get to talk and connect with people as I work with them. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Right now I’m working on a few comics for Hazlitt that’ll be out later in the month, as well as a story for Comic Book Slumber Party- a publisher in the UK. I really want to do a set of black and white paintings this autumn too, like some sort of series?? But honestly I might be pushing it time wise.
I always find this really hard to answer!! I think my influences
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
new places and also drink lots of coffee.
I like Hot Sugar a lot for working, I love how atmospheric and textural his albums are, I can just put one on and let it play through. I also like Dolly Parton a lot for some sad beautiful ballad work music. I listen to lots of podcasts too, especially when I’m painting and just need something on in the background.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Where do you like to work? I keep my setup really portable, I love to work in cafes and outdoors so that I get a walk into my day and have rotating settings. It feels really good to me to get out of the house and see
Where To Find Them Websites: http://beccaandthebox.com/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @beccaandthebox (Instagram)
I remember drawing a picture of Snow White when I was five??? I don’t know why that stands out to me I just think I was very proud of it. Oh also similar age I remember drawing a person ice skating and forgot to draw their hands and I got upset about it. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want people to be more attentive of the beauty and the grossness of this weird world.
Khylin Woodrow “I’ve been thinking about people justifying malicious behavior online by taking the moral high ground in viral shaming situations. Thus, the angel IRL with its devilish reflection below. ” -Khylin Woodrow Name
What materials do you like to work with?
I like sketching with pencil in my sketchbook to plan projects. I’m not much of a doodler, but putting ideas down on paper is always a nice start. I finish all of my work digitally and am most comfortable in Flash, where I animate.
Age 27 What is your current location?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Pasadena, CA, but grew up in the Silicon Valley
I’m working on an animated bumper for MTV that I’m pretty excited about, involving a frantic character plugging into a digital ambient landscape. I just had a super short animation play alongside some great lady artists at the recent Ghosting.tv event in LA, a hangout for animators, filmmakers, artists, etc.
What is your current occupation?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
I’m a digital cel animator.
I’ve been listening to a lot of calming music lately. It’s pretty sleepy and possibly counterproductive, but it’s nice to chill out. Some soothing sounds: Joe Hisaishi - Silent Love, Pale Saints - Kinky Love, Julee Cruise - Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart, Suzanne Ciani - Love In The Waves, Faye Wong - Divide. Hm, so maybe it’s been a romantic time.
Oakland, CA Where are you from?
Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I studied traditional animation for a year in Vancouver, and started designing for the first time then. I was terrible at it and only really learned to work on that once I was out of school. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I’ve been inspired by so many artists on the net lately! Some of my current favorites include Nicolas Sassoon, Mason Lindroth, Sammy Stein, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, Jack Sachs, Erik Nebel, and Acacio Ortas.
Where do you like to work? I do all of my work at my desk at home, since I’m pretty tied to my computer. But I really enjoy working around other people to chat and bounce ideas off of. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I have a poor memory, with home-videos of myself painting at age 3 feeling like an implanted flashback. What first came
to mind is a story I overheard from a mother about her toddler daughter. She found her methodically painting their new TV screen with black nail polish, starting from the top corner. I hope that that girl can find ways to pursue art in the future :)
Where To Find Them Websites: http://khylinwoodrow.tumblr.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @khyl1n (Instagram)
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t really know what I hope to do aside from just moving forward in exploring visual communication, both in illustration and animation. I’m most drawn to experiential pieces that present an atmosphere I’d like to spend time in. I don’t think I’m anywhere near there yet, but maybe it’s something that I can work towards creating.
Em Partridge “I was happy to make a piece for the duality theme since my favourite thing to draw is dogs fighting, sometimes with knives and swords, and my horrible pun brain immediately took it to duel-ality. This is a fight of self image vs. external presentation and perception.” -Em Partridge Name Em Partridge. Em is short for Emily. Age I turned 24 at SPX this year. If I’m being honest I probably would’ve turned 24 anyways. What is your current location? I live on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I wander around a lot, spending a decent chunk of the year in LA and the occasional mainland stop in Vancouver. Where are you from? I was born in Victoria, BC. What is your current occupation? “Freelance artist” sums it up pretty well. I’ve previously been a writer/storyboard artist and storyboard revisionist for Adventure Time, which I still can’t believe. RIP AT. Before that I was a barista. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? As a kid I took some after-school art classes with my brother in the kitchen of a local painter’s house, and in middle school from a family friend; mostly studio art techniques that I was too stubborn and/or shy to learn properly. Apologies to my child-
hood teacher, wherever she is now, because I still can’t draw a non-scratchy uninterrupted line and have it be good. I also went to college for illustration and design right out of high school but dropped out during first year. Anything I know about animation I learned on the job. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? The natural world has always been the most inspiring thing to me. Animals, plants, ghosts? I love a good moss. I’m keeping bees right now and it’s driving me to make bee comics, they’re just so cool. Some all-times are Audubon, Richard Adams, Goya, Rumiko Takahashi, and Tove Jansson. I had a pretty huge Klimt/Schiele/Vienna Secession/Wiener Werkstätte phase in high school, which is also when I got into the weird old Soviet Union animation that I still watch a lot of; early animation in general is an endless well of insane drawings. My peers inspire me so much and I’m so lucky to have friends who are great artists AND great people: Sloane Leong, Lacey Micallef of Big Bud Press, and Cate Webb who owns Black Cat Tattoo all come to mind right away for being such hard workers. I’ve been looking at a lot of Otto Marseus van Schrieck lately, who was allegedly called “snuffelaer” for sniffing the weird frogs and snakes of his paintings. Deeply relatable. What materials do you like to work with? I’m having fun with the tactile experience of experimenting with different printmaking materials right now, but I’m happiest with a ballpoint pen and scrap paper. I love Copic markers but they can be prohibitively expensive.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m just starting work on a pretty cool collaboration with Sloane Leong, which I’m not sure how much I can/should talk about but there’ll be a lot of dog drawings. Andrew Schick and I will be continuing our Hound Towne drawings, with a new one out in December for CALA. I’m doing a bit of tattooing out of Black Cat, a woman-owned-and-run hand-poke tattoo studio in Fernwood Sqaure (in Victoria, BC), where I’m also setting up a small zine/ comic/art shop for the great independent and small press work I can never find on the island. A couple of my own comics projects are underway, and I’ve been making and selling painted/printed t-shirts and etc. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I’m all over the place (depends on the work) but while I was drawing this I listened to Mourning Coup, Colin Stetson, Black Pus, and legendary Vancouver spectre Shitlord Fuckerman. I’ve been listening to the album Kakashi by Yasuaki Shimizu every couple of days for the past, like, six months, and just staring at the cover art. If I’m with my computer and I get super stressed over a piece, I’ll youtube The Band & Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of Who Do You Love from The Last Waltz.
Where To Find Them Websites: empartridge.tumblr.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @em.partridge (Instagram)
Where do you like to work? My “studio” right now is a ping pong table, it’s been pretty great to spread out over an entire-room-sized surface. I tend to gravitate to floors and corners though; I logged a ton of hours in a narrow space between my wall and headboard with blankets over the gaps in my tween years and still end up in spots like that. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Drawing all over myself, my brother, and a friend while unsupervised at a dinner party. We paraded around naked and entirely covered in magic marker, I’m not sure how stoked our parents were. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I’m trying not to overthink it or else I’ll freak out, I have to focus pretty hard on making the work itself. The fact that I can make something that makes somebody else feel less freaked out is good enough for now.
Aaron Billings “This piece is based on the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and it’s about exploring the idea of not being able to get out of bed verses the intense creative drive to work.” -Aaron Billings Name Aaron Billings Age 27 What is your current location? Melbourne Australia Where are you from? I grew up in Melbourne but I was born in Ireland. What is your current occupation? I currently work as a freelance artist and illustrator which is exciting and terrifying. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I studied Fine Art at Monash University with a major in Printmedia. I’ve also done one year of Fashion Design at RMIT. I got the opportunity to explore new production methods such as etching, screen printing, typesetting and machine knitting while studying, yet, conceptually and formally my work has been mainly self taught. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I love artists who can create a real poetic atmosphere around thier work. Like Sofia Arnold or Kiki Smith. I love writers like
Janet Frame, Christina Stead and Kurt Vonnegut for the same reason. And I like music like Clipping, Run the Jewels, Joanna Newsom, The Mountain Goats and Bjork. All of these artists share a certain poetic leaning towards storycraft that I adore. What materials do you like to work with? I work with mechanical pencil and 00.5 fine liner mostly for my more immediate sketches. They I often use these poses for my paintings where I normally use super watered down midnight blue acrylic. I’ve also gotten pretty into using crackle medium, or adding nail polish to paint to make it shiny. I also do some embroidery but it’s been awhile. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Working on a collection of blue paintings for a solo show I am yet to propose to a gallery. I’m also working on some hand embroidered gay sex towels for an exhibition with Elywn Murray. And you know, doing portrait commissions and commics and shit. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I mostly listen to dungeons and dragons podcasts when I work, or other podcasts with people laughing and being silly. Where do you like to work? I have a studio so I like to work there, but I also like to work in the garden where I can smoke ciggies. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember I drew a really awful drawing of my Indonesian
teacher being murdered when I was 4 and I got called into the principals office. My artwork isn’t very violent at all now so I don’t know what I must have been thinking when I was four. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I think I want to present a sort of masculinity though my work. A
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self critical and softer masculinity, and I want to do it in a poetic way through paintings and sculptures, a sort of meandering path of beauty which might maybe make you reexamine your relationship to maleness. But also I want to make people laugh. Give art nerds like me a chuckle.
Célestin Krier Name Célestin Krier Age 25 What is your current location? I’m living between Paris and Berlin Where are you from? Paris What is your current occupation? I’m working for myself as a graphic designer and illustrator, or what we can call an image maker. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I spent four years in the fine art school of Lyon in France, learning graphic design and absolutely no illustration. So for illustration it’s more the fact that I never stopped drawing since I was a kid and eventually I started putting those drawings on tumblr and other places, and people started asking me to do some for them. So I would say that I really don’t have any illustration education, it’s more of a visual culture, that for me seems to come from my interest in ancient imagery, from cave paintings to the renaissance. For graphic design it’s totally different, but I really like the balance between those two way of working. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I think the most interesting book I have read about images is from Régis Debray and it’s called Vie et mort de l’image. It’s an history of the ways of looking at images and what it is we
call an image. I think it was the most inspiring theoretical book I read on the matter. For films, I have a particular taste for contemplative movies. One of the strongest films I’ve seen is Koyaanisqasti by Godfrey Reggio. It tries to tell this Indian Hopi’s myth without any explanations, so it is totally open to multi-interpretations where yo can find your own meanings. I think it’s really stimulating. There is also this movie called La Sapienza by Eugène green that really interesting. I’m also really big into the Alien series. I think what inspires me the most are those little closed worlds. It could be a Greek vase, a film, a painting, or a garden. Just something where, in a way, there is a whole world inside, a kind of cosmogony. Strangely those closed world, really need to capture a lot of things from different times and places to work. What materials do you like to work with? I’m mostly work with my computer, but I recently started to feel a need for less a mechanical way of working! What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I can’t really say exactly what I’m currently working on, but one of the projects I’m working on is some posters for a French artist living in Berlin. There is an animation for an american client I’m working on, and I’m also working on a little publication of some of my drawings. I’m thinking of some other project with friends Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Yes. It depends on what I have to work on, but I really like to work with the music of Jordi Savall, who is a musician who worked on a lot with ancient spiritual European and Oriental music. It’s really nice for working because you enter in a kind of timeless sweet working trance.In the same way, but more contemporary, there is this french man named Flavien Berger that I find really poetic.
Where do you like to work? It’s a combination of working alone at home in my room where I can focus and started the work and then going to a place where there is more people to finish it. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t know. I’ve been out of school for two years now. I spent
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a little more than one year working tat a graphic design agency, and at this point I find that it was not the way I wanted to make work. I realized wanted to work for myself and that’s now what I’m doing. But I think it takes time to really find the way you like to work and on what you like to do. I think what I would like to accomplish is to be able to work on interesting projects with interesting people, to never stop discovering things, and to have enough time to think about what I want to do.
TITAS ANATANAS VILKAITIS
Titas Antanas Vilkaitis “Well, my first idea was something about Gemini, but it quickly expanded into something in the general ballpark of hermeticism. ‘As above, so below’ and other stuff like that. Lead into gold. The sort of esoteric interpretation made me go for a layout inspired by illuminated manuscripts, and a colour scheme cribbed from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Also the knight is dual wielding swords.” -Titas Antanas Vilkaitis
Earthbound, Diablo 2 or Doom. I love the feeling of old RPG dialogue. For comics, I think Monster Killers + Demon Planet are my all-time #1 inspirations. I’m also finding a lot of good stuff in medieval imagery, especially heraldry. In terms of work ethic, I’m continually inspired by deviantart user Some-Random-Android. They are very committed to their work and I think of them every time I stop drawing due to frustration with my own shortcomings. I’m also very motivated by my comics & illustration friends! Though it’s sometimes in an embarassingly petty way. “What? You got to do a comic for x? I really need to step up my work...”. That sort of feeling.
Where are you from?
What materials do you like to work with?
Vilnius! I haven’t really felt the need to move around much yet, but I think that’s changing soon.
Pencils! I’ve been meaning to get into ink recently, but the way I usually work (drawing on the go into a sketchbook) precludes the possibility of using a nib, and I don’t have one of those portable ink things. Either way, pencil is what I’m most comfortable with at the moment. I’m always experimenting with bringing them into digital art, either colouring lineart digitally or just manipulating it into cool looking stuff with filters. I draw purely digitally sometimes, but I’m not very proficient with the tablet yet so it ends up looking weird usually, but then I just use default photoshop brushes and go for an “unabashedly digital” look.
Name Titas Antanas Vilkaitis Age 25 What is your current location?
What is your current occupation? I’m in my last year at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, doing freelance illustrations and comics in between studying. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? Well, I didn’t go to an arts-focused high school, but in about 9 months time I will have finished my BA in graphic art, focusing on book design. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? It really depends on what I’m focusing on at the time! In terms of visuals or tone I’m mining a lot from older videogames like
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Currently I’m working on a catalogue for an art show, in addition to preparing for one I’m participating in. I’m trying to relax for a bit before school starts again, but I also have plans for a potentially really dumb/funny zine with a friend in the USA.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Yeah! I’ve been listening to Frank Ocean’s latest album a lot recently. It’s such a great sound for late summer. I listen to a lot of stuff depending on what mood I want to go for, recently it’s been either a lot of eurobeat mixes or Haruomi Hosono albums. Where do you like to work? I guess I end up working a lot at home, but it’s easy to distract myself there, so it’s not my favourite place to work actually. I prefer working around other people so I don’t feel so tempted to slack off constantly. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Drawing a huge pig on our living room wall with a ballpoint pen.
Where To Find Them Websites: t-vk.tumblr.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @swords_1991 (Instagram)
I think I was around 4 years old? I also drew a crocodile on the back of a book, and I haven’t improved the way I draw crocodiles since then. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Buuuhh... I think I’m slowly realising that I’m better at being funny in my art than anything else. I’m trying to combine this with my sometimes underwhelming art skills (I think I’m okay at drawing, but due to never practicing it seriously until about 4 years ago I think I’m way behind some of my peers). I wanna create goofy looking and goofy feeling worlds. Currently my long-term goal is a longer-format comic, since I haven’t gone longer than 16 pages yet.
Kingston Poplar “The name of this piece is ‘Doublethink’ which is the acceptance of two mutually contradicting or contrary beliefs at the same time. My recent practise has had a strong focus on combining digital and analogue ways of working. I wanted this piece to be a duality of both. My process is as follows; first I create the drawing on Microsoft Paint. Mainly because I like the very digital aesthetic you get with the program. I wanted to focus on making the rigid, pixelated, MS Paint lines very much a part of the art work. I also like the challenge that Microsoft Paint raises due to the lack of tools there are to use, meaning I have to go about making each piece in a different way. Once the drawing is finished and coloured, I print off the image using a standard inkjet printer. I then scan the piece back into my computer. By doing this I am able to capture the raw texture of the paper combined with the pixelated, digital aesthetic of MS Paint. Creating a dualism of both the digital and the analogue.” -Kingston Poplar Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
As i’m studying Fine Art painting at university I take a lot of inspiration from contemporary painters. Quite recently I have been really into artists like Torey Thornton, Elliott Fox, Eric Wiley, Austin Lee, Danny Fox, and Ricardo Passaporte to name a few. When it comes to films one of my favourite directors is Gaspar Noe, his films are on another level. They’re visually outstanding, and super intense, he has a really unique style. If you want to watch a film that’s really going to have an affect on you after you’ve watched it, Gaspar Noe films do just that. Although they’re not for the faint hearted.
Age 20 What is your current location? Currently I am located in Leeds in the North of England. Where are you from? I’m from a small market town called Retford. What is your current occupation? I’m studying Fine Art at University and work part time at a clothing shop. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’ve been studying art related subjects full time for the last 4 years
What materials do you like to work with? My main artistic practice at the moment is based primarily around painting, I particularly prefer acrylic paint because I like to work fast. However I’ve always drawn in sketchbooks ever since I was a kid, so I do really love working with pens and pencils. I also like working digitally as well on programs like Microsoft Paint, Photoshop and Illustrator. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’ve literally just started my 3rd year at uni and i’m going to be getting a lot of work so there isn’t really much i’m working on
outside of that at the moment. Although I have been working on a painting over the last few days. At the moment i’m looking at forms of modernity, and the liquidity of the modern world. So i’ve been scrolling through the internet until I see something that catches my eye, whether it’s an image, an icon, a shape or a colour. I’ll then paint it and try and abstract it so it sort of looks like the thing it originated from, but at the same time it could just be an abstract shape. So the painting i’ve been working on over the last few days is just a culmination of abstracted forms that I believe to be highly recognisable within our modern world. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? As of recent i’ve been listening to quite a lot of classical piano when working, I’ve taken a particular liking to Goldmund. However I’ve also been listening to quite a bit of ambient IDM sort of stuff like Autechre, B12, and Beaumont Hannant. I listen to all sorts when I work, I guess it just depends on what sort of mood i’m in at that point in my life. I go through phases, I’m a big fan of techno so I find working to a 4x4 beat to be quite hypnotic. The repetitiveness enables me to enter a particular concentrated headspace which is great for working. Where do you like to work? I enjoy working in the studios at uni, I have quite a lot of space there so I can be quite messy. However I also like working in my room if what i’m working on doesn’t require too much space. I
Where To Find Them Websites: http://kingstonpoplar.tumblr.com/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @kingstonpoplar (Instagram)
quite like being isolated when I work, I find it hard to concentrate if there are other people or other things going on in the room. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? One of my earliest memories of making art is probably the thing that got me into art in the first place. I was about 6 or 7 years old and at my school we used to do show and tell once a week. There was a boy in my class that was really good at drawing and he used to bring in these drawings that he’d do of cool action figures and super hero’s and stuff. I remember one time he brought in a drawing he did of The Scorpion King. I just thought it was super cool so I went home and started drawing like he did, I’d sit and draw all the cartoons I used to watch. I realised I was sort of good at it and I wasn’t that great at anything else at school so from then on I’ve just drawn all my life. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Thats quite a hard question, I’m not really sure what I want to accomplish with my work. I guess I see my work as a part of myself, something that speaks of who I am. Something that would stand in for me if I were ever absent. I suppose I’d like it to be representative of my life and our world as it is today, and the way I see it. I also would love to one day make a living off of my work, just so I could live my life having fun, and doing things that I enjoy.
Jason Murphy “This drawing titled “vessel” is from a series of drawings in which i’ve explored the duality between figure and object. I begin sketching the form very loosely as a stream of consciousness exercise. Over time, the figure begins to reveal itself through a series of dark outlines. At this point color choices are made which humanize the form to a greater extent.” -Jason Murphy Name Jason Murphy
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
I am currently finishing up a comic titled “the character” in which a figure performs absurd sketches for a narrator. I am also working on some pieces for a print-making show that i will hopefully be able to parlay into another book.
What is your current location?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
It’s always different. Not long ago I would just listen to the song “Psalm” by Roxy Music over and over again.
Where are you from? Jackson, Mississippi What is your current occupation? Commercial Artist, Small Press Publisher, Gallery Artist, Freelance Illustrator.
Where do you like to work? In my studio. I have a 2 car garage that I converted into an art studio that i share with my wife. What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
BFA from Ringling College of Art.
I remember my mom always dropping me off early for kindergarten. I would sit alone and draw grotesque figures with bloody mouths and flies buzzing all around them. I would then hastily trash the drawings before anybody had a chance to see them.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
Guston, Patchen, Bourgeois, Panter, Picasso, Pinocchio
I hope to accomplish one piece of art at a time until, hopefully one day, many years from now, all of this absurdity culminates into something that holds relevance far beyond my selfish intensions.
Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
What materials do you like to work with? Drawing materials. Ink, pencils, charcoal, pastels
Where To Find Them Websites: http://menutnutnut.tumblr.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @jasonmurphyart (Instagram)
Marley Allen-Ash “Duality made me think about of multiple paths, and how in some ways we determine our own successes in failures. I spend a lot of time thinking worrying about how easy it is to sabotage myself, and how my decisions could lead to different outcomes. The work was a combination of traditional media (water soluble graphite and ink) and photoshop, and I wanted the mood to reflect the uneasiness I felt.” -Marley Allen-Ash Name
What materials do you like to work with?
I like to screen print my work whenever possible, as well as working with other traditional printmaking methods. A lot of my work is a mix of digital and traditional elements, so I tend to draw linework and create textures with ink and watercolour, then combine in photoshop. I’ve been trying also recently to get a handle on using gouache.
Age 24 What is your current location? Toronto
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Just outside Toronto!
I’m currently getting ready for Canzine (a Toronto zine fair) at the end of the month, as well as working on a poster commission and some personal work.
What is your current occupation?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
Illustrator! Other stuff on the side.
I don’t think I have specific music I like to listen to. I do like to stream tv or podcasts in the background while working.
Where are you from?
Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
Where do you like to work?
I went to OCAD University and studied illustration. Before that I briefly attended University of Toronto in their Visual Studies program before dropping out :)
I’m lucky to have a room that I use as a studio in my apartment.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I remember sitting at the kitchen table colouring in colouring books with my mom and being awed by her ability to colour within the lines.
I find my friends in illustration very inspiring! Seeing them push themselves artistically makes me want to do so as well. I also like looking at vintage children’s book illustration, and medieval art.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I always want to try and communicate something to the audience, whether emotionally or narratively. I also hope to develop a distinct voice in my image making.
Where To Find Them Websites: www.marleyallenash.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @marleyallenash (Instagram)
Ana Rodríguez “When I saw the theme was duality I immediately thought of the concepts of inside and outside. The girl in this picture is seeing her own inside, that intimate space that allows us to know and reaffirm what we are. I think it is very necessary to recognize us as individuals, but also to know that things and experiences outside have built us. In this drawing I did a mixture of fluorescent colors that are in contrast with the black and white background. Usually when I draw I use bright colors or black and white by themselves. However for this theme, duality, I had to use both to communicate what I wanted.” -Ana Rodríguez Name Ana Isabel Rodríguez Ramírez Age 27 What is your current location? Madrid, Spain Where are you from?
comics and illustration. I think the people and things that I see everyday in the streets inspire me too. I´m always reading things about politics and social sciences to understand my society and era. What materials do you like to work with? Markers, black ink, guache, water colours, acrylics, and screenprinting and collage materials. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
I’m continuing learning how to tattoo. i´m also making more zines and comics.
What is your current occupation?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
Illustrator, comic creator, zine maker, and tattoo apprentice.
I like to work in silence or with really calm music. But sometimes I listen rock oldies, blues, or even discover albums on youtube or soundcloud.
Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have a degree in fine arts, and I’ve taken courses in selfpublishing, screenprinting, bookbiding, and photography.
Where do you like to work? I like drawing in bright places preferably with natural light.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Science inspires me a lot. I love astrophysics and biology, therefore, I love science fiction novels. I also like B-movies and horror movies. I try to read and investigate as much as I can about
When I was a child my father drew me things on napkins from restaurants. I liked to watch him draw and tried to copy him. Later I started to make my own drawings.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t have a clear idea. I like to do what I do, and I think if I can live off of it that would be great. I would like to collaborate
Where To Find Them Websites: http://polvoeres.tumblr.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @polvo_eres (Instagram)
with some collectives or with more people because I always work by myself. In the future I think I´d like to animate my characters or work on a comic editorial.
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Yuki Kikuchi’s unbridled enthusiasm for music and the people making it, is necessary for the
current state of the industry. Despite growing up in Tokyo, and spending most of his life not being able to attend a lot of the shows there, Yuki has has had his finger on the pulse of North America’s independent music scene for the past few years. His sincere efforts to share the music that he loves has taken him great distances both physically and in his career. After self publishing a zine entitled Boys and Girls Club celebrating and discussing music coming out of the US, Yuki caught the attention of an editor at the long running Japanese culture magazine Popeye. Since putting out that zine, Yuki has written for ele-King magazine, done A&R for the Japanese Label P-Vine, and now writes his own column in Popeye, giving him the opportunity to travel across the US and Europe, meeting and documenting many of his favorite artists.
What really sets Yuki’s journalism apart, is not just his approach to writing, but his ability to de-
velop a connection with the artists he interested in, regardless of whatever language or cultural barriers might get in the way. Yuki’s appreciate for the work people are making surpasses formal communication, allowing him to capture the more personal traits of his subject.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Tokyo, in an area called Tama. Are you formally trained at all in art, or are you primarily self taught? I’ve always loved art and I wanted to go to art school, but I’ve never thought about seriously studying it. I thought art was more something you feel than something to study, and I still feel that way. If I get work I always try to make it high quality, but I’ve never thought I wanted to train myself and get better technically through work. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have something to work from as a base, but I’m still young, and I wanna be more and more intuitive. So more than having trained in art or technique, I’ve always thought about how to make every day fun, or how to improve myself. When did you start taking photos? Probably almost exactly two years ago. When I went to LA my friend lent me a camera and I started. I think right now it’s the thing I like best out of everything I’ve been doing. What is the music scene like where you grew up in Japan? The first show I went to was a festival when I was in high school. Kasabian was really great! But there aren’t any venues where I live in Tama, and concert tickets in Tokyo are insanely
expensive. So in those days I just listened to music like crazy at home and imagined what concerts and musicians must be like, while reading music magazines in my house. Right at that time MySpace came out I became friends with the band Bo Ningen. I ended up helping them sell merch when they came back from London to play in Tokyo. Thanks to that I could go to different venues in Tokyo and came into contact with different types of music, like Keiji Haino and Acid Mothers Temple. There’s a pretty good underground record shop in Koenji called Enban, and I searched there for records. I still remember how stimulating that time felt. How did you discover the New York and Los Angeles DIY scenes while you were living in Japan? I searched for flyers for concerts and events with my favorite bands and then looked up everyone else who was performing. I looked into every artist, and then looked into every artist and musician related to those artists, haha. When did you start working for Popeye magazine? I got an offer about two years ago when I came back to Japan from America. An editor read my zine and got in touch with me.. You really never know what’s going to happen. How have you seen your work change over the past few years? I see my work change every time I make something, actually in a pretty extreme way. I’ve really only been painting for four-ish years, and at 10 or maybe 15 pieces a year, the body of
work is not that big. But it’s big enough for me to notice an obvious trend in improvement. Not to say that I’m great now or I was terrible then, but it’s my favorite thing and the most rewarding thing about working; to be able to confidently assess that I’m getting better consistently. I started in school wanting to nail down a style that I thought was unique, but what I was coming up with wasn’t that unique, and a really calculated style right off the bat is limiting. I think my senior year I loosened up, and started experimenting with the technical stuff I’m still working on now. It’s by far the most exciting thing about working, mostly because it’s sort of the only point right now for me. I’m usually not making work for anyone but myself, for better or worse (OK probably for worse!). What was the zine that you made that the editor from Popeye found? The zine was called Boys and Girls Club and had my interviews with bands and artists I met in America, along with pictures I took. It had Mac DeMarco, The Garden, Cherry Glazerr, The Courtneys, Wax Witches, and Travis Bretzer in it. I made all the collages in it and took about a year to make it with some help from friends. After I put it out I got job offers from various places, like Popeye and Studio Voice, who sent me to Europe. One company even said they’d like me to make a book, haha. That ended up being cancelled though... Have you been making zines for a long time? I haven’t made one since I put out the one two years ago! It takes time and money, so I’m taking a break right now. I’m hoping to put out a collection of photos this year.
What do you try to make your Popeye column about every month? Generally I can write about anything in my column, but usually I introduce some kind of art or person making art every time. How do you try to depict the artists you write about in your column? The space for my column is really small and I don’t get many words, but every time I interview the person I want to introduce and try to focus on why they started doing what they do and their background. The stuff going around on the internet is really kind of meaningless, and I think the media should really write about things you have to talk to the person to know. I was lucky, and the editor at the music magazine where I started (ele-king) was really experienced and strict. When I was 19 I was really rebellious, and that wasn’t good anyway, but that editor is still really strict with me and I’m thankful for it. There are a lot of sites now that think of questions and interview people now, so you could just do that, but he always asked me “Why do you want to ask that question?” What do I want to show by asking the question? What kind of thing do I want to suggest. Now I really understand why he asked those things. I use it for interviews, but it’s also become the class for how I don’t compromise about details, I think. How did you first meet Greta Kline from Frankie Cosmos? I think I found out about Greta’s music in 2013, and I started following her on Twitter right away and got in contact with her. At that time she didn’t have that many followers, and I was probably the first person from Japan to contact her, I still remember how excited I was when I got a reply! Haha. It was like “Wooooooooooww!!!” Hahah. Then after talking a bunch of times I sent her a message saying “Next year I might go to NY in March, so let me know if you have any shows!” and she said she was playing a show with Porches and I should come if I wanted. Then I actually went and met Greta, but at that time I couldn’t speak English at all and we mostly just communicated through gestures. Haha. But Greta wrote me list of things I should do in NY. I ended up only being able to go to the museum, but I still have that paper in a special place. The other day I was talking to Greta in a bar and we laughed about how weird that time was, haha. I haven’t hung out with her so many times, but I think we both have a lot of respect for each other, and I think I can say she’s my really good friend. When we said goodbye in London Greta said “let’s play tag!” And we played tag for like 30 seconds, but I think I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. It’s hard to put into words, but that was a really emotional moment. How did you start doing A&R for the Japanese record label P-Vine? I’m not really the type that’s like “I have a burning desire to work!” First I got a job as a writer with the music magazine ele-King, and P-vine manages it. I’ve really been in debt to the label president for giving me work since I was 19 or 20. He’s always thought about me, and when I was thinking of really quitting everything he asked if I wanted to do A&R. I haven’t done much yet in return, but I hope to have a good influence on the music industry in Japan through Pvine. What bands have you helped them sign or what albums have you helped them distribute in Japan? I just started doing A&R this year, but so far I releases the new Frankie Cosmos album in Japan. They made me in charge of the design, promotion, down to the liner notes, so that was really motivating. I’m already working on a release from the next artist.
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You’ve been traveling a lot for work now. Where have you been able to go and what have you been doing in each place? So far I’ve been able to go to LA and NY in America. In both places I’ve mainly done work for Japanese magazines and shot photos. But this time I’m in Europe for the first time for work, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m in Denmark now, and I really love this country and the people. It’s going to be really sad leaving. You’ve recently started putting out a lot more of your own music? When did you start making music and what are you working on right now? I thought I really wanted to try making music last spring after staying with Mac at his house and recording together. I played a show for the first time this month in London. Just last week I uploaded a song called California Daze I recorded with the LA band Winter and Summer Twins, where I’m singing about the differences in how guys and girls think based on my own experience. Now I’m working on finishing a new song I recorded with Sam from Temples. What do you think keeps people from putting their work out or reaching out to other people when they’re younger? In order to find what you really want to do and chase that and continue doing it, it takes a positive kind of courage different from the courage it takes to compromise, and that courage is what young creators need to have, before having confidence. I can tell myself the same thing, but it’s really hard to continue working and get results doing something you like. But I feel like it’s really important to be patient and have perseverance. I feel like good art comes from people’s hard work, and it’s probably necessary to keep improving yourself along with your art. There are a lot of arrogant people in the industry. Everyone has a ton of confidence, but I think a lot of them are kind of spinning their own wheels. Those kind of people just think that they’re great, and eventually other people stop thinking so. I haven’t really accomplished anything, so coming from me it may not mean a thing, but that’s how I feel anyway, haha. Has the language and cultural barrier made it hard to do what you do? I’ve thought about that a lot so I’m glad you asked! Words and conversation seem like they’re the same thing, but they’re actually completely different. Everyone tries really hard to understand the words first, but to put it kind of extremely, I think words aren’t really necessary for conversation. I think conversation is more important than words. Like if I hired an interpreter because I can’t speak English well, and the interpreter’s English was perfect, they’d keep translating the words. But those words are replacement words, and they don’t speak for the person’s feelings, and don’t include the warmth or coldness of the person’s feelings. Then it’s just like playing catch back and forth with words. Going back and forth in English might sound professional, but it’s just words, and it’s not a conversation. People think conversations are made of words, so that’s why they think “words” are difficult. I think you see the same kind of thinking in art too. Everyone just thinks about the quality and tries to make something perfect. Of course some level of quality is necessary, but here’s no heart there. My English is still pretty terrible, but I hardly ever have trouble having conversations, so it doesn’t really interfere with my work. But taking an interview and then translating it into English is another thing! Also, what I just talked about is basically the opposite for love or a relationship, I think, haha.
What similarities have you found with the people you’ve met outside of Japan, that you didn’t think would exist? When I went to London I thought the people were really like the people in Tokyo. Lots of really tired faces, and people like complaining. Of course people’s frames are different, but the faces looked similar. They’re an island country too, and maybe have the same kind of weird pride and feeling of indebtedness.
Your photography is very endearing, because it’s so much about your relationship with people you love spending time with. How do you approach your photography now? There’s a scene in this documentary about Annie Liebovitz where she talks about how great family photos are, and I thought it was really close to how I think. To me photography is alive for the subject. It’s not something you make, a really natural expression of a feeling, and I guess the sense of distance between the subject and viewer. What music are you currently really excited about? Until not too long ago I was always digging for new music to listen to, but I haven’t been doing that lately. I think it’s probably because I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a music journalist. But in the three weeks I spent in Denmark I came into contact with a lot of new music. First Hate and Communions are both really cool. It was really interesting to me too what people here listen to. Joy Division and Jesus and Mary Chain were playing at clubs a lot. I’m sure people here are looking for a certain sound aesthetic, so they might think the new indie music that’s popular in America is cheap. I hadn’t listened to older British bands so much but after that I might have become more conscious of them and started listening to more. Also, I have to say the new Angel Olsen was really really great. What projects are you working on for the rest of the year? Like I said before, this year I’m planning to put out a collection of the pictures I’ve taken up until now. Also preparing to have friends come here. I’m thinking of asking Frankie Cosmos and Mac DeMarco to come to Japan next year. What do you hope to do or make in the future? A friend and I got all worked up talking about realism and optimism, and my friend thought people should be more realistic like “Dreams don’t come true.” and “Life is horrible.” But I couldn’t understand that at all. I accept reality. Up until now my life has been weirder and more hectic than I can say here. Not as much as M.I.A., but...haha. People have their own problems only they can understand, and how to overcome them becomes the major theme for our lives, I think. But I think in order to beat those realistic problems, it’s necessary to be forward-thinking enough to believe in utopia. The power of music, energy you can only feel through art, even really loving someone. No matter how sad you get it wont make life better, and I think betting on that one percent chance is what makes people happy. That kind of forward thinking is what I think makes people happy, I think there should be more people who think that way (especially young people). My life was really messed up. But at some period I started to like people. I started to affirm everything and love my own life. When I did that people started to love me back. I realized then that that’s what life is like... Realizing these types of things more in the future. Sharing that with different people through my work. Through the music and pictures I love.
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Part of what makes Jillian Tamaki one of the most significant illustrators of the past few decades is her ability to stay
unpredictable. Across the past 12 years that Jillian has been working as an artist and writer, she’s maintained a curiosity and fearlessness that often escapes artists given the opportunities she has worked to hard to get. Since publishing her first book in 2006, Jillian’s output has been a vast string on memorable illustrations for the New York Times, pivotal young adult books like Skim and This One Summer, even a handful of experimental short stories including 2015’s SexCoven. Jillian’s work in not recognizable from one piece to the next because of a uniform sensibility or consistent aesthetic, but is recognizable through it’s remarkably distinguishable energy and craftsmanship.
Jillian is as complex and loving as her work would lead you to believe. In the few hours I spent at her apartment to record
this interview, she opened up about her process, her fears, her insecurities, and extended some of the most thoughtful advice I’ve ever been given. Jillian is wise beyond her years, and puts every ounce of her experience into the work she continues to produce. Regardless of her location or position in her career, she’s consistently made the work she’s wanted to make, always taking the risk of fucking up, for the reward or artistic growth.
Where are you from, and where do you live currently? I am from Calgary, Alberta which is in the west by the Canadian Rockies. I am currently in Toronto. I just moved here last year, after ten years in Brooklyn, New York. Are you formally trained in art at all, or are you primarily self taught? I’m formally trained. I would put myself in that camp. I always loved art history actually, and I went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario for my first year, because I thought I would want to do fine arts and art history. I volunteered in galleries when I was a teenager, and really liked academics as they pertained to art. After a year there I realized that I was not a fine artist at all. I enjoyed like making the poster for the show and sale more than painting stuff for myself. I just feel like I didn’t have anything to express at that time. So I decided that I would go to ACAD, Alberta College of Art and Design, for design because that was creative but also a profession, and that seemed to make more sense. Also, being a fine artist seemed really scary, economically. But I would say I’m self taught in comics, because nobody really taught me how to do that. We had one assignment, I think, where we had to do three pages of comics for one of my illustration classes. With comics I feel like I’m making mistakes all of the time, hahaha. Was there any sort of art or counter cultural scene where you grew up? No, not at all, haha. I mean I didn’t even take art classes
in junior high. My friends were kind of like freaky-deaky. I mean they called us “the dirties” in school, haha. So there was sort of like this art slant or like alternative slant— which is not a term you use anymore—but we were like the alternative kids. So we were interested in music and umm… alternative things. Weird stuff, cartoons, animation, art movies, and all of that stuff. But I actually look back at that time and really don’t know why I wasn’t in a punk band. I would make zines but I would only make one copy and give them to a friend. It never occurred to me to copy it, and to give it to a lot of people. I always felt like I was missing just a slight connection. I’m still friends with a high school friend and I was like “Why didn’t we do all of this stuff? Why didn’t we have a band?” and she was like “I have no idea.” I was more interested in horses at that time actually. I was just always at the barn doing stuff. I didn’t actually like socializing very much when I was a teenager. I wasn’t looking for that kind of connection at all. So I didn’t seek it out, I didn’t initiate it or anything like that. What informed your decision to go to art school then? Well I wanted to be a vet for a long time, but I realized that that was not my strength. I always knew that I had a talent for art, and I almost resented that. You know when something comes too easy to you, you don’t value it sometimes. So I really wanted to explore other things to prove to myself that I could do more than draw—which sounds so weird. I got okay grades in math and science. But they were only okay, and they were always a struggle for me. Despite working really hard, I was only like a good student. I wasn’t like an excellent, talented student
in that way. So thank god I trusted my gut and actually just pursued what I felt I was actually strong at. When it came to choosing between design and illustration, it was really hard to choose illustration which seemed much more insecure. It seemed much more of like a selfish, reckless choice to choose that over design which seemed very sensible. But the fact remained that I was better at that one thing than the other. I’d been lucky too, that it has worked out so far, letting that choice guide me. What was your experience like at art school? What was the environment like at ACAD? So I transferred in at second year. I was very glad that I went to a fine arts program for my first year, cause we did oil paintings, and we tried print making, and sculpture, and we built stretcher frames. It was all abstract expressionist instructors, and it was wonderful to learn how to really think about media in that way. I remember one class we had to go down to Lake Ontario and make paintings of the water with just found objects like a piece of string or a feather or a ball, rolling it around in ink. That was great! That was one of the most memorable assignments I’ve ever had to do. I had the impression that the kids that had started in ACAD kind of got a little bit less of an “arty-farty” start. So I transferred in second year, and it was like the visual communications program. It was extremely technical. It was a trade school! I mean ACAD is literally connected to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology where they learn drafting. They use to be the same school. So this was a very technical, almost trade influenced, program where they didn’t let us on computers until like third year. We didn’t get to do anything in color for the first two years. For the first year we just did skeleton anatomy and muscle anatomy. We had to work in pen and in ink the first year. It was really kind of crazy. But we never questioned this program. It was so funny. I think like now students really question and research their teachers, and we were just like in the program and they were our gods or whatever. But of course we got a little bit bored of doing muscle charts and anatomy charts and like “Okay why can’t we just learn photoshop now? Why do we need to keep cutting paper letters out and gluing them on with rubber cement.” They kind of put the creativity on the back burner a little bit. You had to squeeze the creativity in to any assignment we had. I remember we had to do a back and front muscle chart once, and mine was like a 50s man coming home from work. He was the back and he was kissing a woman who was holding a pie and she was the front. So you had to squeeze humor or creativity into these like totally mundane assignments, and it was great actually. It was a fun challenge to take very constrictive criteria and put yourself in it. It was only until maybe the fourth year where we were building assignments from the ground up and mining any personal perspective.
I don’t feel like I suffered at all. In fact I feel like we were all so excited to finally be able to do what we wanted or whatever. Did anything you were doing in school lead you into the post-graduate era of your life? I think if you look through some of my student work you definitely see themes. Actually, I look back on that stuff and with some of it I’m like “That was a good track to be on actually. I should get back to some of that thinking.” I think that comes a little bit with age, where you’re suddenly not just repulsed by everything in the past. Only sort of in maybe in fourth year, second semester did I hit upon my thing, which was really like drawing with pen and ink and flat coloring—which sounds so mundane now. But then, what was really in fashion was really layered painting, and then you’d scratching into the painting, and then you’d be drawing over the scratches, and then you’d be pasting something over that! Or it was more like oil painting. That was more the style back then. But Tomer Hanuka really was the person that just blew my head off. He was doing this comic with his brother, Bipolar, and that just really opened my eyes and totally made sense to me. It’s funny because you don’t hear that comic mentioned anymore, but it was by far more influential on me than Ghost World, which I also loved. But Bipolar, for some reason, really spoke to me in terms of they were illustrators but they were also doing this comics. Tomer’s work just really knocked my socks off. So once I started being able to think of things in terms of honoring drawing, which had alway been the thing I loved, and figured out I could make that the core of my thing and then everything could sort of sit underneath it, that was my break through during the second semester of my fourth year at the very end. That really sort of set me on my way. How did you initially get into comics? When did you start making your own after school? Well I read comics as a kid, then stopped reading comics because I didn’t see anything immediately that was intriguing to me. But then kids around me in my program were getting into alternative comics or they were already into alternative comics, so I would see there stuff and it was like Adrian’s (Tomine) stuff, and Dan Clowes, and Chris Ware—you know all of the big ones. So I was sort of reading stuff that they had and Bipolar was another one. Then I started collecting comics and reading comics. But it was only after I graduated—I had moved to Edmonton because I was recruited out of school to work at Bioware, which is a video game company. I had this day job where I was rendering texture squares and tiling stuff—it was actually a really great job, I really loved that job—but then I was also moonlighting and doing editorial work. Then on top of that I started making comics. Suddenly I finally felt like I had something I wanted to ex-
“I just found Edmonton a very intriguing place haha. I was kind of like exploring it and getting to know it. I think it’s obvious from my comics that I’m very interested in the specificity of location.” press which was “Wow I’m in this new place and life is so exciting!” I just found Edmonton a very intriguing place haha. Its probably because I was living alone and I didn’t really know anybody there. I was kind of like exploring it and getting to know it. I think it’s obvious from my comics that I’m very interested in the specificity of location. So that was like my first comics. It was just about this city that I found really intriguing. Comics were a way of “Okay, I don’t really know how to write yet. But I’m interested in comics and I can draw.” So this seemed like the easiest and cheapest and most direct way of doing it. So that’s when I started making comics. Then my cousin got an opportunity from a friend to publish a the first version of Skim. so that was like an outside thing where someone was like “Hey! Do you want to make a comic?” and I was
like “Yeah totally! I don’t know what I’m doing. Sure, lets make a comic!” That’s amazing that you had like these three separate art identities right out of school! What was giving you the energy to make so much different work? Were a lot of the jobs coming from opportunities you got in college? It all happened at once. So this was all 2004 I would say. It was really actually shocking to me how fast the editorial stuff started coming about. It was weird. I was working at Bioware, I was working making comics sometimes at night, and I would be getting calls from the local altweekly and calls from the New York Times or the New
Yorker. The New Yorker was one of my first jobs. That was mind blowing to me. But now I see, in retrospect, that it’s just that the editorial world is very obsessed with the new. There’s very low investment. I mean if it sucks, it’s out for like a week or a day. So they want something fresh. I think that’s something that new illustrators don’t realize. You think you have no advantage because you’re new and there are so many people and blah blah blah. But editorial is a great place to start because it is a sector that just always wants the fresh new thing. I think that that’s just sort of what that was. But it was all happening at once and it was so exciting, oh my god, haha. It was amazing. I had the time, and most importantly the energy, because you’re like 23. I had the best time in Edmonton getting it all started. It was exciting.
thing. I started going to conventions in 2006—and again that was like a further attempt at trying to slip into a community. But I probably never would have done that book if I hadn’t had a PayPal button. I always had websites and I would sell stuff online. But it’s funny because a lot of my friends were so into LiveJournal or whatever and I didn’t get into it I guess for some reason.
How did you work with Conundrum Press to put out putting out Gilded Lilies?
What was it like moving to New York in 2006? Did you feel like you wanted a community after living alone in isolation for so long?
So the comic that I was mentioning which was about Edmonton, was just me riding around on my bike, taking pictures. It was just this very impressionistic thing. But I totally messed up trying to print it and I didn’t realize if you wanted it to have bleeds you needed to make it like— all of those technical things. But eventually I did have it finished, set up a little paypal button on my website, and sent it out. I sent one to Drawn & Quarterly, I sent it to other publishers, and I sold it to individuals. One of the people that bought it was Andy Brown from Conundrum Press, and he said “Oh, I really like this! Do you want to put a book together?” So it was that Edmonton comic, City of Champions, and some illustrations I had done. Some of the stuff in that book was for business magazines. Then there was some sketchbook stuff, and then there was the long story at the end which was kind of like a scroll thing—and that was maybe something I had done after I moved to New York. It was really like a package of various things I had done. It came out in 2006 and at that point I was already in New York. But it stretches from 2004 to 2006. All of the books are like a time capsule of certain years. I’m still pretty fond of it actually. Were you doing anything on the internet at this point, or did it seem like books and print publications was all you were aiming to make work for? I mean the internet has always been part of it for me. I always had a website. I came along just as illustration reps were becoming irrelevant. I’ve always felt so grateful that I get to be an autonomous little person that doesn’t have to have intermediaries. I came along at just the right time for that. But I was never actually a part of LiveJournal or gigposters.com—I was never a part of that internet community at that point. I feel like there were blogs like Drawn. ca that really introduced me to illustration as a wider community, which I was not aware of really. At that point comment sections were actually a kind of community on blogs. That’s where I was kind of tapping into a broader
I started a sketch blog in 2007. That seemed really new and fresh at the time, and I do feel like that was such an instrumental part of my practice in terms of forging a daily connection with the internet and a wider thing. You’re putting stuff out and people are responding to you in real time. Then I immediately got into twitter once that started, hahaha.
I did not want to move to New York, haha. But my partner wanted to live there, so I lived there kind of kicking and screaming and I really hated it for two full years. In retrospect I was quite depressed being there actually. I loved my set up in Edmonton and I was doing quite well and already had New York clients. I’ve always been kind of cheap, and it was expensive there. It was an old fashion culture clash I think. Living way out in Greenpoint—it was more isolated than it is now—but we lived far out past McGolrick Park, and I didn’t know anybody there. It was very very isolating and it was a lot of life changes all at once. That said… thank god! Thank god somebody pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m very suspicious of being comfortable now. I would not have done that on my own. I needed somebody to drag me there and so many good things came out of spending time there. I think I would still be doing what I’m doing, but not in the same way. It was incredible to be around that energy and meet that level of person. There was just such high achieving people everywhere. It’s incredible. You’re around that level of culture that you don’t get other places. So it’s great to know those things and really understand those things. But it was really amazing being around people that were engaging with illustration and had similar hopes and dreams and interests. In Edmonton and Calgary I was around very talented people, but this was just so my niche. I was hanging out with industrial designers in Edmonton, and they were so talented, but this was just like “Here’s a group of people that want to do exactly what you want to do and you’re all being buoyed up like crazy.” It feels like there can be a homogenization because New York is a bubble. Maybe it’s necessarily a bubble. Now, after spending a long time there and being out of it, I feel so much more free to follow strands. Part of it is that it’s a little cheaper here. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper. I feel some of that economic pressure is off and that has
a positive psychological aspects. Art is all psychological. It’s like sex, haha. I feel grateful for the things that I learned and being in that environment with every type A from around the world who have convened on New York City. It’s incredible to be around that energy, right? But now I feel like it’s time for a different kind of energy. What was the community of artists that you had in New York? Was The Pencil Factory a part of that? It blows my mind to see what it’s become. I never had a studio in The Pencil Factory because like I said, I’m very cheap, haha. I’ve always had a studio in my apartment, because I don’t like paying for things that I don’t have to pay for. I like working at home because I’m very fluid about it. If I want to take a nap at 2, I take a nap. So I never had a studio in The Pencil Factory, but I was definitely a part of that crew. It was not purposeful branding. It was so innocent in retrospect. It was an old pencil factory in Greenpoint so that’s where the name came from. It’s not like we were calling ourselves that crew. Thats the name of the building, and we made a little newspaper which we all made a poster for. It was this cheap newsprint, and somebody organized it and we had it and we gave it out. I guess we got attention for that. I didn’t realize how unusual
it was for illustrators to work in a studio space together like designers do. That’s maybe what struck people as interesting or new—which I don’t think we were quite aware of at all. We were very innocent about all of that, haha. Now I think people are so acutely aware of self branding, and this just truly was a thing we were making with our friends. Maybe somebody else would disagree with me, but from my perspective that’s what it was. There was something very uncynical about it, and I really think that that’s what it was at that point. Around that time you did Skim, and later on you made This One Summer, both with your cousin Mariko Tamaki. What has it been like to work on those projects with another person? It’s great! I mean, she’s a really great collaborator though. I consider myself collaborating on many things. Every illustration is a collaboration in some way if it’s a commissioned thing. I actually find it’s been harder to get use to doing things on my own. There you have no constraints, where as if someone has presented you with something, the trick and the challenge is to work within those constraints. That’s a challenge I enjoy very much, and a challenge I’m much more comfortable with.
“I never had a studio in The Pencil Factory because like I said, I’m very cheap, haha. I’ve always had a studio in my apartment, because I don’t like paying for things that I don’t have to pay for”
“I would say Skim was for sure the most intensive “I’m learning how to do a thing.” thing. I look at it now and I’m not embarrassed by it. It has a rawness that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to re-capture.” Mariko is a great collaborator in that she’s trained in theater. She is open to possibility. You give her a thing—and I’m sure it doesn’t look the way she envisioned—but she can be sort of tickled by the result, and is not as precious about it. I love collaborating with her, partially because I don’t always understand her work. A lot of times she’ll give me a thing and I actually don’t get it. That can be a little bit freaky because you’re then like “Oh my god, I have to make sense of this!” But that’s actually such a cool challenge. How do I shape this thing and how do I infuse meaning into it? How do I make sense of it, but also keep her thing in it too? The result is always a book I could never make on my own. Those are just not the choices I would make. But they’re singular to our collaboration. Do you feel like you sort of learned how to make comics through making Skim with her? Oh totally. When I did Skim I did a crash course of self education—going to the library and just reading a ton of comics. Also reading the Will Eisner Comics and Sequential Art instructional book. But mostly just reading comics
that I liked. The more instructive ones were the comics that I didn’t like, haha. To be honest most of them were Drawn & Quarterly books—I bet because they were the books in the library. I was trying to figure out what my version of story telling was. I would say Skim was for sure the most intensive “I’m learning how to do a thing.” thing. I look at it now and I’m not embarrassed by it. It has a rawness that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to re-capture, because it was just from us learning how to make this thing. It has an inherent charm and immediacy and directness that is gone forever almost, haha. That only comes from when you don’t know what you’re doing. A lot of your comics really break the two dimensionality of comics. You play with depth in space and jumps in time a lot, and it seems like they almost reference film editing in those books. I’m always a little worried, because I never want to make a story board. For a thing like This One Summer, which was much more dialog driven and it’s quite realistic, I think they end up being more cinematic. There’s a lot of acting that needs to happen. They’re mainstream and they have
a conventional narrative. As much as I would like to be a crazy “art” person, I don’t make “art” comics, you know what I mean? I’ve accepted that. That’s not who I am, even though I would love to be that person. So I guess they do end up being somewhat cinematic and reference film, but I’m acutely aware that I don’t want to do that too much. That doesn’t seem like the point of comics either. Do you think a lot of your instincts with comics come naturally, or did you have to go through a lot of trial and error? Yeah I’ve never been an academic really. You know, you could talk to somebody like Michael (DeForge) and he would be able to tell you the whole history of comics, and this whole persons career. I’ve never been that person. Before you continue, it’s hilarious that you not only finished school but also taught in school, and you feel less academic than the person who didn’t have an art
education and dropped out of college during his first year. Yes. But he’s an enthusiast! An enthusiast of many things. I use to feel kind of guilty actually, for not being more educated. I think I draw the line of; it’s not that I’m uneducated, I’m just not a hardcore nerd—and I mean that in the most loving way. I think I now see that that little bit of ignorance has given me an advantage in someways, because I’m not aware of any rules that I would break, or if I’m doing something new or not new. To go back to Mariko and I, I had no idea it was unusual for a writer and an artist to work together in alternative comics. I didn’t know that that was weird or braking some sort of mold or whatever. I had no clue because I wasn’t versed in that world. So I actually feel that that little bit of ignorance serves me well in some ways. You’re not tied down by the expectations or the conventions—you’re not aware of them and you don’t even know that they exist.
“For a thing like This One Summer, which was much more dialog driven and it’s quite realistic, I think they end up being more cinematic. There’s a lot of acting that needs to happen.”
Your whole body of work is filled with so many different styles of image making. How do you choose the style you want to work within for a illustration or comic? I think you have to let the content guide your choices. But also, it’s sort of what you’re into that week. It’s not rocket science. All of the time the requirement is “Make it look cool.” So as long as you’re fulfilling that requirement, you’re succeeding. That’s the thing—it just has to work. I realize that that doesn’t always work in a commercial setting where somebody maybe has an expectation of you—of what it should look like or what they want it to look like. That’s why, ultimately, it can get frustrating with commercial illustration. You have to be aware that, if growth is one of your priorities, you have to be pretty careful how you negotiate client work. What was it like working on a longer term project like your webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy? Was it hard to keep it interesting for you when you were working with the same characters and guidelines? That project came up because we had done Skim, and I felt there was this pressure to do graphic novels. Graphic novels are more lucrative than short stories or whatever. That’s sort of what a publisher wants from you. I just didn’t feel right. I’m always trying to write various different things, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to do another graphic novel. It just felt like too much investment. I wanted to learn a lot and I wanted to learn more quickly without having the pressure of “You’re going to get a big advance, and you’re going to work on a thing for three years, and when the book comes out it has to do well.” I don’t necessarily feel that pressure, but there is more of a to-do to do. I just wanted a low pressure thing where I was the only one I needed to please. I wanted to learn how to write and how I wrote. I made little comics here and there, but I had been working with someone else’s writing and I wanted to learn how I wrote. So web comics were perfect for that. So low pressure, and it doesn’t really matter how it looks. On the internet in a strip like that, it’s really more about forging a connection. It was so empowering to realize that it didn’t actually matter if I drew it in 10 minutes or if I labored over it. What it said was more powerful. So that was a really good lesson to see that demonstrated very clearly to me. It was just a project to learn on and it could be just for myself. It was great, and it served all of those things. I’m very grateful to it actually. Are you aware of any themes or subjects that come up a lot in your work? People will say teenagers, and that’s true thus far—not so much in the book coming up in the future. I guess teenagers are very funny to me. They feel things very intensely, which is very useful for writing, haha. When I was touring
with SuperMutant Magic Academy, I hit upon this idea that it’s more convincing for a teenager to say one of those things that’s totally obvious but also kind of really observant or mind blowing. I teenager could say a thing that would just seem not right coming out of an adults mouth. So that’s one theme. Always girls and women I would say. I did noticed when I was doing more commercial illustration—the New York Times for a little while, when ever there was like girls being kidnapped, or rape stories, or women in jail, or just women suffering something somewhere, I would get a call. Which was interesting… haha. I was very flattered that people thought I handled those topics sensitively or intelligently. So I was honored that people thought about my work in that way. But I think whatever the other through-lines are is for other people to see. I don’t see them yet maybe, but an outsider probably does. Hopefully there’s a thread of empathy that runs through everything. It definitely seems like you have a level of care for your characters. Yeah I feel like one of the things I almost have to learn is to let bad things happen to them. But it’s really upsetting, haha! But I’ve always been a realist too. Ever since I was a kid I never really liked fantasy that much. I’ve never been that person. One of the criticisms of the books I’ve done with Mariko is that nothing happens to them or nothing happens to anybody. I’m always like “What are you talking about!? There’s anguish all over the place and nobodies talking about it.” It’s very emo. I realize my work is very emo, which is what I feel like teenagers are attracted to. I feel lucky. Why wouldn’t you feel emo in this world, haha? . Earlier you were sort of talking about illustration being very flippant, and art directors wanting new stuff all of the time. Did you get any different treatment by the illustration world once you had been working for a long time and established yourself? People say editorial is “a young person’s game” because you need a lot of energy to do it and there’s this hunger for fresh and new and cool. That feels like something that you can get tired of chasing a little bit. It’s very exhausting to be on the hunt for the razor’s edge of cool after you’ve been doing it for a little while. The wonderful thing though, is that the people in power as you called them—the art directors—they also turn over very quickly. A lot of the times your working with people that are maybe seasoned, but a lot of the times they’re 24 years old or they’ve never heard of you in their lives. You can be a very seasoned person and they might be more familiar with the tumblr famous people. Sometimes you feel like it doesn’t actually matter that much. It’s not true, but it can feel like you have to re-
“Me thinking about just starting out now, I think I would feel a little bit daunted. I feel like, especially as a woman, I would feel pressure to present my body or present my life. I would have to share myself to other people. But I just want to be an artist.” prove yourself over and over again which is another aspect of why it can feel like a young persons game. You’re only as hot as your last little batch. There are a few art directors that I really have been grateful to because they are invested in people growing as an artist and an illustrator, and they’re along for the ride. I’ve had several of those people. They’re not super super rare. They’re genuinely exciting in cultivating and helping your career. So that’s really cool too. There are art directors who are interested in the craft of illustration still. But some people aren’t. Some people just need art to fill the space, and that’s totally fine too. That’s just a different way of doing it. There’s a lot of people that just see you as a deliverable. That’s just the game. You just have to try to suss out A from B. But some times you’re still going to encounter B. How do you think the internet has changed illustration over all? What direction you think illustration has been heading over the past few year? Illustration is so much more interesting than it was. There
are so many more different kinds of people. Seriously, it’s crazy how much more diverse it is now. The quality level of work is so much higher now, and that is because of the internet for sure. Me thinking about just starting out now, I think I would feel a little bit daunted though. Like “Oh everybody’s watching me all the time!” I would have been like “I can’t screw up.” I don’t know—maybe it’s just an outsider thing—but I feel like, especially as a woman, I would feel pressure to present my body or present my life. I would have to share myself to other people. But I just want to be an artist. When I started out I tried so hard to never have a picture of myself online. Of course that became impossible, because people would just take pictures of you at cons on whatever. But I tied so hard to never have a picture of myself! I insisted people ran a self portrait of me, because I was just not comfortable blending myself and my life with my work. Now it doesn’t seem like there is a differentiation. People want both—people almost expect both—and people actually can sell both as a package now.
I think on the positive side, it can sort of humanize everyone and show you that it’s just a person who made this thing. But on the negative side, there’s often this pressure to take a stance on specific things or present yourself in a way that caters to an audience. It’s harder to compartmentalize now. There’s pros and cons to that too. As “the individual” has come into comics and design it’s made, I think, the field more compelling and more interesting. But then everything always devolves into social currency, haha. There’s like a manipulation that happens that just is the way it is. I guess that’s why I almost feel unqualified to give a young person advice as to how to go about making it or whatever. I can tell my experience, but my experience is a whole different context. You started teaching illustration at SVA and Parsons in New York a few years ago. What was that experience like, and what made you ultimately decide to leave when you did? I mean, teaching is incredible in any capacity in my opinion. I had fun. It’s very challenging and it’s very frustrating. I found ultimately my classes were composed mostly of young women that were very interesting and had a lot to say. The evolution of me teaching, I felt like as the years went on there were more and more people who really had something to say and wanted to say it. They came into the program with their voice intact, which was really cool. You were kind of helping them express themselves, not figure out from the ground floor what they wanted to express, which sometimes happened too. It wasn’t my position to help anybody make it, because that’s within you or not within you, and I can’t control that. My position was to help empower people and be realistic with them—give them professional expectations and not sugar coat the truth of being a professional working creative. What was happening to me when I was in school was like “Everything’s shit. Illustration is dying, fees are going down, the cost of living is going up, and this profession is horrible.” It was like “Why are you telling me this? Why are you so negative?” So that was not what I wanted to be either. I wanted to be somewhere in between where you were supportive but you were firm. Have real expectations of people and the people that are serious, they really appreciate that. To be honest, because I was teaching fourth year students, the rubber was hitting the road a little bit and you’re like “Oh my god. My life is happening.” I was a little bit of a guidance counselor. You’re trying to sooth people with “You know, there’s more than one way to go about this.” A lot of the time it was validating seeing people’s point of view. Encouraging people that their experiences, their backgrounds, their interests, their passions, and whatever were valid enough to make images about. You would
be shocked how many times people would just be making something that they’re not even interested in. It was like “Do you like this? Do you want to be painting? Do you want to be making paintings about that?” “No not really. I just thought I should be doing that. A teacher told me I should be doing that and not this.” Then it was like “Well what’s the point of all of this anyways? Why would you do that?” A lot of the times it was really like “Let’s talk about you! Let’s look at your sketchbook. Let’s figure out what you have to say that is actually compelling.” But I don’t teach now, and to be honest it is a little bit of a relief because… those New York art schools are very expensive. For the most part if I see a student later on in life and I ask “Was it worth it?” they say “Yes.” But I did feel it was increasingly difficult to reconcile some of my misgivings, where it was just a lot of money. It was a lot of money to be there. I think art school is a wonderful place to explore yourself and do drugs and be crazy and fuck up. But at that price I felt conflicted about it. I definitely think student debt is a problem, and may be a bigger problem down the road for all of us. But it felt like I was being apart of a system that I kind of disagreed with. If you disagree with it, what’s your stand on it? Do you enable it, or do you not? Yeah I feel that way all the time in school. It’s also very difficult to live in a world that is telling you that you need this thing that you disagree with, to be able to do anything in your life, or validate the work that you’re making. Listen, art school really benefitted me. Art school, I know for a fact, has benefitted some of the students that I’ve taught that will tell me so, and they have the student debt to reinforce that. I can’t speak for everybody obviously. It clearly benefits some people and other people leave with a questionable amount of benefit. But they are what they are. There’s a lot of very talented people willing to teach there, and there’s people willing to pay the money. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist at all, but for me right now, to step back has been clarifying. I think art education is obviously wonderful. It’s just the transmission of that. What has it been like to establish yourself in the big publishing world, and now want to work on small press projects, like you’re book for Youth in Decline’s Frontier series? Life is all about juxtapositions. I feel like I am young enough that I realize that you’ve got to have a lot of irons in the fire. I love that you can have a platform for one thing, and then another platform for another thing, because there’s stuff that isn’t possible on one level that is possible on another. That just seems like heaven. You can do your weird fringy thing over there, and then you can have something that’s going to reach a lot of people. For me I love that mix, because it feels like you’re engaging with all these different
audiences. I love that I’ve been very lucky to be able to explore and have outlets for the different parts of me. Are there aspects of your older work, or the work you’ve done when the stakes were lower, that you’ve had a hard time capturing in your more recent work? I feel like Drawn & Quarterly has been a really good home for what started out as my weird art comic things. The big publishers that we’ve worked with have been in the fields of YA, and that’s a very constrictive demographic to work for. You’re working with a different level and a different style of marketing and publicity that can be really exhausting. It just is what it is. But they know what they’re doing and that’s how you get to sell that many books. I would never ever think that I am smart enough to also be a publicist. But I think if I only existed in mainstream publisher world, I would feel like I would be less likely to be pushing myself in terms of the craft of comics—not that I feel like I’m a ground breaker in the craft of comics or anything like that. I just feel like I’m exploring it and exploring the form. Hopefully with the book that is coming out next year, I am very much engaged with it. I’m still super excited and and frustrated and don’t feel like I know what I’m doing half the time. That feeling of insecurity and instability is so valuable. Who wants to know what they’re doing all of the time? It would just be grinding the stuff out. That would not be very fun or challenging. I feel like I need these projects to push myself and potentially fail. I have a little more confidence when I push myself on the bigger projects and the more mainstream projects. But you definitely feel like that’s where you bring your tried and true. It’s really exciting to see that you’re still always trying things out. It’s interesting as a reader to watch this constant evolution of an artist from book to book. Yeah those are my favorite artists. They’re mostly within comics—a few illustrators too—where you can just almost see their brain working. If you just saw the images you could see that evolution. I just think that that’s kind of your job as a human being, to create the circumstances that allows you as the artist to stay engaged with it. That’s your mental health, that’s your economic situation, that’s all of these factors. If we’re lucky and we manage to make that all tie in and we’re happy enough, and healthy enough, and confident enough, and brave enough to still be able to engage with the form in the way that you did when you were just starting. It’s rediscovering it anew and being uncomfortable and having the time to fuck up. I mean I did that MTA poster like three times because it was just not working. I was definitely frustrated by the end of that. But hopefully there is an engagement that transmits.
all. Even the thing that could be super well rendered—it doesn’t transmit anything! I just feel like that’s so obvious to me, and that’s because the person who was making it was engaged with it. That’s just the difference. It’s all the difference in the world. What makes you still constantly excited about making work? I think I’m really just a tactile person. If I don’t make something with my hands in a day, I don’t feel very good. I just don’t feel happy. Even if it’s just quilting or not necessarily even drawing—just making something—I won’t feel enriched or happy. I just have to do that. Drawing and all of that stuff has become my conduit for that. It’s what I know and it’s what I get rewarded for and it’s what I get money for, so it’s become an entrenched thing in that way. But I think my bigger thing now is… In the last five years I’ve been trying to be a more well rounded person. I just felt like there was a time in New York where I was just getting too in my bubble. Everybody around me was the same as me. They had the same opinions, and the same clothes, and were the same age. I didn’t know anybody older or whatever. It was getting a little disconcerting. Now I’m trying to be more expansive through volunteering, or trying to be around people with different jobs and stuff like that. That’s sort of my moral personal project. What do you have coming up this year? What are you working on that you can talk about? There is some stuff I can’t talk about. A lot of stuff has not been finalized, but there is stuff in the cooker. Books and book adjacent things. I feel like I’m in an incubation period right now. The last two years were a lot of promotion, and I was traveling a lot. That was really exciting and cool, but it was there were I’m not making anything and I was like “What is this all about? I feel sad!” haha. So this year is kind of more about making stuff and realizing “Oh I’m a piece of shit and bad at everything.” that kind of thing. So I’ve been doing the Hazlitt stuff, and stuff for this Drawn and Quarterly book that’s going to come out next year. Then the year after that, another book of a certain type will be coming out. So I can’t really talk about a lot of stuff.
As a student you put crit stuff on the wall and people are critiquing and everyone’s work is up there. It’s just so obvious. It doesn’t even have to be a masterpiece, but just somethings transmit energy and other things don’t at
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
As an artist Sam Alden allows himself to be vulnerable in ways that many artists shy away from, in an effort to communi-
cate as much of himself as possible. With the early webcomics he uploaded from his isolating college in Walla Walla, Washington, Sam developed his craft, while gaining the attention of readers far out of his physical reach. Despite scrapping a few grand projects early on, Sam took advantage of the experience of those years to create a much more refined, yet less expansive scope with books like It Never Happened Again and New Construction. From there Sam has continued to master the short story comic, while simultaneously concurring a new realm of writing, as a story board artist on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.
Sam Alden was the first person I emailed after I managed to plan a to take a trip to Los Angeles this summer. He’s be-
come one of my favorite cartoonists over the past few years, because of his unbelievably charming and heartfelt comics, that favor accuracy in emotion over anything else. For Sam, his progress as an artist, writer, and individual, is entirely apparent through each project he takes on, and his ability to be so transparent about that is part of what allows him to risk expressing more than most.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Portland, Oregon and I live in LA right now. Do you have any formal training in art or are you primarily self taught? I’m mostly self taught. My mom always drew growing up—she was a landscape painter. So I feel like she would help me out with basic stuff. She was always just super encouraging and there were art supplies lying around the house all the time. How did you start making art more regularly when you were younger? Honestly, it didn’t occur to me to not draw comics. I wanted to be a newspaper strip cartoonist—which is something that nobody aspires to. It was like the wanting to be a haberdasher or something, haha. Such an old ass idea of what comics are. But that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like Bill Watterson or something. What comics were you reading around that time? When I was a kid it was strip comics. In high school got into more the Vertigo lines from the early 2000s or in the 90s. Maybe Life in Hell was the first comic where I was like “Oh! This is the real shit. This is what this can do.” I think if I were a kid that grew up with more TV I would have seen The Simpsons and would have been like “Oh, this is my shit.” But because I didn’t, because I was sheltered enough to only know about comics, I was like “This comic strip is speaking to me somehow.”
Did you study art at all in college? When did you start putting out work into the public? After high school I went to Whitman College, which is like a little liberal arts school in Walla Walla, Washington. I was a printmaking major and took a lot of writing classes. Then I got out of there and never returned. Honestly it was just through putting comics up on Tumblr, getting a response from that, and just building up an audience that way, that I had any success with comics. I was so isolated. I was out in this little desert town. Walla Walla is literally in the middle of the desert. You have to drive five hours out there to get out. Obviously there were no other alternative cartoonists out there. I just kind of had this idea that there were other “alt kids” or whatever out there—I was really that naive. So I thought. “Well I’ll just put this stuff out there.” How did you eventually start getting more opportunities to work with publishers through the comics you were putting out online? It’s crazy, the first comic I ever had published by another publisher wasn’t even American. It was these Italian kids that ran a publisher named Delebile. At that point—this must have been 2012 or something—they didn’t have tumblr in the Italian and European comics scenes in the same way. They were still on Blogspot and stuff. But they had heard about this American platform that was sort of blowing up and mine was the first comic they happened to see on there—it was like a short story I had done. So they messaged me and said “Hey! Let us publish your comic! Also come to Italy! We’ll fly you out as a guest to this festival!” When I was 23, I guess, I went to this Italian comics festival called Bilbolbul. I met Aisha Franz, Ulli Lust, Lorenzo Mattotti, and all these European cartoonists, and I had never had anything published. That was
my first published thing, this 16 page Italian mini comic. I left my office job shredding stuff to go to it. Around the same time you were working on a much bigger project that you end up scrapping, right? Yeah that was right around the same time. Every time I tell myself I’m going to write a graphic novel, it just falls apart in my hands, haha. I don’t have the patience or something for it. But yeah I had been working on this big sort of angsty teen comic, and then figured out I liked shorter stuff more. It was called Eighth Grade. I think it’s really instructive when you’re working on something for a super long time. You’re learning skills that go along with it—you learn how to draw and pace stuff out—but it feels like work. Then you do some short story and suddenly you’re like “Oh! It’s so exciting to have to condense a narrative into 16 pages.” and ”I feel so much more free to try this stuff out.” But you’re going into that with this huge backlog of labor. That comic taught me how to draw, and it taught me how to pace a scene. Even though it was goofy, and I’m happy to have let the url expire, I’m glad that I did it because it sort of taught me a whole vocabulary. I’m working on a project right now that is a longer story. On days when I’m bummed out and think I should scrap it and that I’ve wasted all of my time, I realize the more comforting thought isn’t that “It’ll get finished.” it’s that “I could scrap it and I still would have learned all of this stuff about how to work with these materials and how to pace out a different kind of story.”
I feel like at this point the defining characteristic of my process is just impatience. It’s bad, it’s not really how comics are suppose to work. But every comic I do now I’m just like “How do I get this done with the least amount of time invested.” haha. Some people can draw every panel at once and it looks beautiful—it’s perfectly composed and detailed. And I think I’ve gotten better at how to only give a shit about one out of every four panels. The stuff in between can look like ass, as long as you can tell what’s going on. Then you have one pretty panel very spaced out so that people think you can draw. One of the big turning points for your early work was Hawaii 1997 which you wrote on the flight back from Italy after that festival. What was the process like making that story, and what did you learn from it after it came out? I had just been to this Lorenzo Mattotti exhibit in Italy, and was looking at Aisha Franz’s work, and I was really excited about the expressiveness of those lines and the simplicity and emotion of those stories. So I did that story really really small on an airplane just in my sketchbook. The pages were like an inch and a half high and I was just using a mechanical pencil to get that rough chunky look to it. I have a lot of mixed feelings about that comic. It was like a very sincere comic at the moment. But it’s also like the most embarrassingly male narrative that I’ve done, haha. It’s like this total manic pixie dream girl story. But I also owe so much of my success to it. So yeah, I go back and forth between being grateful that it seemed to resonate with people and being like “Oh my god, that
“I realize the more comforting thought isn’t that ‘It’ll get finished.’ it’s that ‘I could scrap it and I still would have learned all of this stuff about how to work with these materials and how to pace out a different kind of story.’”
“I think it’s more important to be able to accept criticism of your work and move on with it and not try and get defensive about it.” fucking thing again.” I just want to terminator myself back in time and tell myself not to draw it. I think it’s interesting that, with the internet, we’ve gotten to a point where you can learn from something you’ve done in the past, but it’s harder to move on from it publicly when it’s still available for everyone to see. I think it’s important to have that stuff out there for people to find so that they realize that there’s growth and change with everyone putting stuff out on the internet. Is there other work that you feel similarly about? Yeah, a lot. I think the comic I did after that. I did a series of comics that were about abuse, in pretty explicit, heavy handed ways. You know, I can look back at that period and see there were specific things in my life that I was working out with those comics, and there was some reason that I resonated with them. But I also read it now and realize “This isn’t the smartest way to do a comic about this.” Also I feel like it’s the thing where you feel an emotion so strongly that you are like “I will do this really extreme version of this situation that I have some experience in. Because that’s how it feels to me!” haha. But I think one of the dangers of that is that you end up kind of exploiting someone else’s story that isn’t really yours. I’m thinking of Backyard and Household. Again, I’m proud of
a lot of things about them, but also whenever you try and tackle a super loaded topic, there’s going to be varying degrees of success—which sounds like such a cop out! I guess I mean, those works also seem very young to me now when I look back at them. How do you as an artist deal with moving past things in your older work? Like what you were talking about earlier, I think, because we’re kind of in this heady swirl of tumblr social justice which has been going on for like five years, sometimes what gets lost in that is that ultimately it’s not about being the ally with the most gold stars or the perfect artists—although it’s nice to aspire to that. I think it’s more important to be able to accept criticism of your work and move on with it and not try and get defensive about it. Accept sometimes that you’re going to fuck up. Hopefully, if you’re trying hard enough, you’re going to fuck up a couple times. I guess my advice to people struggling with that is to just be the best listener that you can be. Did the transition from self-publishing your own work online to publishing work with publishers have an impact on what you were making? I mean, it definitely put more pressure on me. But it was
obviously very validating to have people interested in my work, and people that were going to be reading it. At this point I’ve had so many different small press publishers, and it feels so nice to be part of a community. I was talking about this with somebody. Comics as an industry so often lets us down. There’s not a lot of money in it, if any. I feel like whenever I go on twitter, theres something going on with the big two mainstream guys, and there’s some horrible thing that’s come out. So yeah, the industry sucks, but the scene feels good. I really enjoy the friends that I’ve made through comics. Being in that supportive artist circle, it honestly feels like I’ve found the place I was looking for when I was out in the Washington desert just posting “Where are the other… art kids.” and being sort of this clueless Oregon boy. I feel like I’ve finally found that, and that feels more valuable to me than anything else about comics. How did you approach the writing side of your work? It usually starts with drawing. My writing starts with some image I find powerful, or some image that there’s tension in some way. I try and write around that. I think I’m more creative when I’m drawing than when I’m writing. I don’t know what that’s about. Then, usually, there’s always some personal stake for me—which I think is true of any writer. There’s some reason why you’re drawn to the things you are. Theres almost always some kind of a powerful emotion or an experience that I don’t know how else to express, even if it gets very convoluted. I just did a comic for Hazlitt—that was pretty removed from this in it’s final form—but it came about, I think, from election
angst. You don’t want to always be talking about this election with your friends, but on another level it’s like “How can you even think about anything else with what’s going on!?” That needed to find some outlet and I found it in a story about a boom operator who runs away from her film crew. Yeah, so that’s where that comes from. I don’t know how to write any other way than I do now, haha. You’ve worked with a lot of different mediums through out your comics. How does the medium you’re working with impact the story you want to tell with it? Like how I was saying I often start my writing with a drawing and trying to find some image that feels powerful to me. So much of that has to do with the medium. It’s taken me about a year to get comfortable with colored pencils, and now I’m all about them. I don’t ever want to do a comic that’s not in colored pencil. I’m sure I will, but that’s exciting for me right now. The mood can change. When I started working in colored pencils I realized it was suited to a totally different kind of storytelling than the black and white pencil stuff I was doing. I was going very minimal and it was about bodies in motion and it was really really dialog heavy. There’s something about the color that makes everything a little more static. You’re not reading the motion as clearly and the lines aren’t as important, but the atmosphere suddenly becomes super vivid. So I’ve been doing all of these comics that take place mostly in LA that are about heat and just the way that California feels when you’re driving around. It’s such a crazy, broken city. It’s so beautiful and odd. So I guess the place comes out more from the materials.
“ It’s taken me about a year to get comfortable with colored pencils, and now I’m all about them. I don’t ever want to do a comic that’s not in colored pencil.”
“I was putting too much pressure on myself about the next pencil comic, so I kind of forced myself into something where the lines really didn’t matter.” You also made that book Lydian that was all made in the pixel art program Paintbrush.
fected you and the work you were making while you were there?
Oh yeah, except for that! I forgot haha. I was doing that one when I was putting too much pressure on myself about the next pencil comic, so I kind of forced myself into something where the lines really didn’t matter. It was all about shapes and colors. I think the narrative moved pretty organically from that? That book, Lydian, is kind of an old school video game narrative. But it obviously came about because I was making pixel art.
I think what I was saying about atmosphere plays a lot into it. When I lived in New Orleans, for a few years after that all of my stories were set there in that world. When I was in Montreal I just wanted to do a bunch of snowstorm stories—it’s so basic, right!? You just see something directly in front of you and you go “That’ll be my story.” You’re in the shower and you’re like “I’ll make a story about a guy in the shower. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s the same reason I keep switching medias. It’s like an impatience. I like LA because I actually want to stay here for a few years, which is a big deal for me.
You’ve lived in a lot of places across the country over the past few years. How have each of those places ef-
How did you initially start working on Adventure Time? What was the process of moving to LA to be able to do that? I guess I started by sending the director an email asking for a storyboard test. I think from that moment of asking for the test to actually moving here was about a year and a half or two years. I had to take the test, and then I did some freelance storyboards, and then I finally got out here. I really don’t have anything negative to say about it. Having a stable job and working with a crew that I really really respect and enjoy, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s such a nice space to be in, even though it is a lot of work. I think it’s made me better at comics. Just the condensation of narrative and having to draw that much everyday, it helps in the long run. I’m a story boarder so I’m given an outline for each episode, and then I board out how it’s going to play. A lot of the times you’re writing the dialog, or working with the writers to figure out what the dialog should be. I’m working with my board partner Polly Guo who’s also a cartoonist. In a way it’s very focused work. You go in and you have an exact quota to meet. The designers like (Michael) DeForge or something, they might have a huge work load one month and then just a trickle the next. So it’s pretty easy. If you’re managing your time well it’s just like any
day job. You clock in and you clock out—except you’re with a really cool group of people making media that you can enjoy. I like Adventure Time as a cartoon. I’m happy to work on it. Were you ever able to sustain yourself solely by making art before you started working at Adventure Time? What else did you have to do to support yourself before you had that full time job? I don’t think I should be anybody’s role model when it comes to money management. I was able to live in Montreal on art, mostly though Adventure Time, because of two freelance boards, and then a bunch of illustration gigs. I know there are people who are able to sustain themselves on comics. I think with the workload I’m able to put out and the kind of comics I’m interested in doing, that would be a real challenge. So in that sense animation has been a real godsend for me. When I was in Portland I was working at a shredding company doing video editing for them. When I was in—how the fuck did I live in Montreal… Oh my god… I was doing editorial illustrations and I did some kinds of odds and ends freelance stuff, like band illustrations and gig posters. I also—and I think that this is something that it’s important to talk about—while I was building up this huge
“ Having a stable job and working with a crew that I really really respect and enjoy, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s such a nice space to be in, even though it is a lot of work.”
“Working collaboratively—having to turn in your perfect little board and then have it get ripped apart and made stronger and having to redo it over and over— that stuff ultimately helps the comics too.” unreadable webcomic and figuring out how to do this stuff, I come from a very comfortable middle class background, and I always had my parents support through that. I think any kind of bootstraps narrative is pretty disingenuous for me to try and pull. But yeah I guess I have been able to survive on my art through editorial work and storyboarding.
bit about how to make actual enjoyable moments.
How has writing for Adventure Time and working with other writers on the show effected the writing in your own comics?
I’m into cute shit now! That never happened. Literally, I would see a cute thing before and just not register it as anything. Then one day the switch got flipped. Now I’m like “Oh look at the little pikmin.” I have so much cute shit in this apartment. I have these little things you can go to Little Tokyo and buy, like these girls that sit in your potted plant. I wouldn’t have owned that before I worked at Adventure Time, before I worked in children’s media for a while. The cute stuff is wonderful.
I never did funny comics. All the comics I did before Adventure Time are about teenagers on a beach or childhood trauma or something. There’s not really even a lot of humor in the situations. So it’s been a real learning curve to move to LA and suddenly realize “Oh this thing has to have jokes. This thing has to have multiple moments that people find fun to watch.” I think that’s effected my work a lot. Not that I’m good at it yet or that it’s showing up in my comics a ton, but it solves so many problems to have your comic be funny. I think comics had this period where they were so excited that they could be taken seriously that I think a lot of 90s auto-bio comics were just so serious and sad. I think working at Adventure Time taught me a little
I think working with Seo Kim—her understanding of media is next level. I don’t know how else to describe it. She’s working with a level of cuteness that is so smart and avoids so many tropes. I think Steve Wolfhard and his work on the show are so inspirational. She left before I was there, but a lot of what Rebecca Sugar had done with Adventure Time and now with Steven Universe is astonishing to see in contemporary popular media. So yeah, I admire her a lot. Honestly just in general, working collaboratively— having to turn in your perfect little board and then have it get ripped apart and made stronger and having to redo it over and over—that stuff ultimately helps the comics too. To have no ego about it and think “This has to be better.”
That’s a really interesting point about cute stuff being taken seriously or being legitimized. What other trends do you see happening within comics? What direction do you think things are going in general? Oh man. I don’t know if I’m qualified to speak on this. It’s funny, the other day I was like “We’re so past cuteness in comics.” It’s like we’ve come through that and now we’re on the other end, and I don’t know what that world looks like. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m honestly not tapped into large trends in comics. There are artists who I follow and am really excited about, but it’s just so divergent at this point. How have you been able to partition your time between working on the show and making your own work? Well I’m really lucky where I have this odd position where I’m on a show that is, you know marketed towards children, but has been on air for one hundred million years in children’s cartoon time—I think it’s been six years or something. But because of that Adventure Time still airs enough to further a story line and I guess sell lunch boxes. But then I have like four months out of the year to work on my own stuff. These two month hiatuses in-between seasons give me so much. It’s such a privileged position to be in. I have so much time to work on comics. So it’s a pretty binary thing. Right now I’m in Adventure Time mode and that’s kind of all I do. Then when it flips and I’m on hiatus, comics is all that I’ll do and I won’t think about commercial animation at all and it’ll be beautiful. But when I’m in it I’m perfectly happy to be there. What are you working on this year or what do you have that’s coming out that you can talk about? For Adventure Time there’s a mini-series I did some work on that I think will be pretty cool. It’s really odd and sort of epic in scope. It’s maybe—ah I shouldn’t say anymore about it. It answers a lot of the big questions that the show has been asking for years. It’s really funny. I’m excited about that. I’m doing a lot of work for that right now. In terms of comics I have this longer story about video game developers that I’ve been working on for a while that hopefully will get finished this year. I’m pitching a short mini-series of comics to Hazlitt right now. I don’t know the story quite yet, I just know I want it to take place in a medieval times. They have those on the east coast right? It’s like tiny concentrated renfair entertainment. I love them. I’m really into this medieval aesthetic. I’m obsessed with it right now. I don’t know what that’s about. Medieval times, and renfairs, and White Castles. I just love the way America understands Medieval Europe and romanticizes it and builds it into this really weird, completely fictional culture. For some reason I’m like I’ve got to do a story that works in that world.
Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money to do at the moment? Honestly no! At this point in my life, my only limitations are my own anxiety and self sabotaging, haha. So there are projects that I wish I could have done despite those obstacles. Like I would love to have a graphic novel done. But you know, I love short stories, so I’m happy to do short stories. But no, in terms of money and time I’m basically okay. After having this experience at Adventure Time would you ever want to work on a larger production again? Yeah I think a lot of people who work in animation, they have this pitch that they want to make. I have “a pitch” that you know I’d like to slide across the table to somebody some day and be like “Just take a look. If you don’t like it, I get it. Just, just look at it.” So I’ll do that someday. It’s tough because Adventure Time is kind of in a unique place where it’s board driven and I have a lot of control over what I’m drawing and writing. If I were to stay in animation it would be pretty challenging for me to continue to increase the control of what I’m doing, if I were to leave Adventure Time. I think I have maybe one animated short or mini series in me. And then I would leave, haha. I would do art residencies for the rest of my 30s. What do you hope to accomplish with the work you make and what causes you continue to want to keep making it everyday? I guess it’s like the twin carrot and stick. The carrot being, there’s very few things that feel so exciting to me. The pleasure of problem solving and having a real breakthrough and getting into this flow where the rest of the world dissolves around you. That’s an intoxicating feeling. I feel like a lot of people are in it because they’re chasing that feeling and those moments, even though a lot of the time it feels like you’ve gotta clock in. I think there’s that, that’s the positive thing. But I think also—and not to get too sad boy about it—but I think there’s a real need for human connection that I feel. I’m not always the most articulate person, or there’s some reason why I can’t say a thing that feels very deep in there. Art is an outlet for that. I think it wears you out if all your art is drawn from the well and is like “Here’s my soul.” I think sometimes it’s okay to be like “This is an idea I think is interesting. These characters are not me. This is a work of fiction.” That’s perfectly okay, I think that’s a healthy way to do it. So I just have to make keeping comics or lose some crucial means of communicating with the world, and that’s a very lonely prospect. And, you know, the people are great, haha.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Aidan Koch is a fearless wanderer in both her life and work. From an early age Aidan has been nurtured to become the
artist that she is today, with her upbringing in a family of supportive artists, in one of the most off kilter and creatively saturated cities in the country, Olympia, Washington. But even with that encouraging start, Aidan has had the constant urge to put herself out of her comfort zone, never shying away from the opportunity to become a new person. Since she’s published he first book, The Whale, Aidan has made an effort to see the world as a traveling vagabond, creating the bulk of her illustrative avant garde comics along the way. On paper her work takes advantage of the negative space each panel and page creates. But in life Aidan confronts that void head on, leaving no experience un-lived and no rock unturned.
As Aidan prepares for a year of several big projects ahead, she continues to figure out the balance between self-discovery
and maintaining the art career she has worked so hard to cultivate. Often some of the hardest decisions are not when you have a lack of clarity ahead, but are when you have to decided between multiple ventures you care so deeply about. At the end of this summer, I sat down with Aidan in her studio, where we shared coffee she brought back from South America and discussed her life and work thus far.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Olympia, Washington and I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Are you formally trained at all in art, or are you primarily self taught? I went to art school and I studied illustration there. But I was always doing stuff forever. Both my parents were artist—at least in their own time—so I was always working on stuff and was on that trajectory. Choosing schools, I kind of wanted to do environmental studies, but was also wanting to do some sort of art. I remember, while looking at schools, there was such a division in quality for the actual arts education. My parents were like “If you want to do art, you should go somewhere where you’re gonna get the right support.” which was PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) vs PSU (Portland State University). Were you making anything in high school that informed what you ended up making in college? Oh yeah. That’s like all I was doing. I didn’t really want to be an artist per-say. That whole time I really fought against it. But I was always making stuff. All I’d ever do in school was just draw all day long. In high school I got into silk screening, so when I was like 15 or 16 I started making my own clothes and selling shirts and weird handmade wearable stuff at a local store. Kind of by the end of high school I was just getting into zines. All of my friends were pretty creative weird freaky people, so they were all kind of on that tip already.
Were you involved at all in the music and art scene in Olympia at the time? Yeah, you just can’t not know that that exists there. When I was 16 me and all of my friends started a band together. So between making clothes and selling them downtown, and then also like being in a band, I was very much in the “alt” scene. It’s cool that people actually keep coming up in my life again, who I know from Olympia when I was in high school, who were just like outside influences. There were so many people from Evergreen, and so many people who were a part of K Records or Kill Rock Stars back then. You just had immediate access to all of it. I volunteered at the indie theater there, so through that I was also friends with older people. I had some art shows downtown when I was in high school. I did everything! I was so bored with life. It was also kind of the end of a lot of things in Olympia. A lot of businesses and things that were started there ended up moving to Portland—which I did too. But yeah, pretty much all of the really active people there pretty much moved to Portland pretty soon after. So when I was in high school it was definitely like, there was so much going on. Earlier I was into hardcore. But then the weird indie scene was much bigger. Did you make art that bands or musicians were using? When did you started producing stuff outside of just drawing in school? Part of it was the band that I was in. I did all of the art for us. That was part of being in a band—it was like why it was so fun. I would make us merch and we would all
get together and make buttons together. I would make us silkscreens. We put out two CDs, which was really funny. So I would do all of the art for that, and I was selling stuff downtown. Slowly I was just making so many things that I had an art show at this one coffee shop, and then another show at the indie theater that I worked at. I was just already producing so much. My parents really helped because when we were little they had us do family art shows, haha, which was really funny. I have one sister too, so the four of us would work on pieces together and then we showed them in town. So it was like a very serious, real trajectory that was set up. What was your experience like studying illustration in college? It was really frustrating. I don’t know if this is part of it, but I had done community college in high school, so I like kicked off a year of college. Instead of doing foundation classes in which you figure out what you want to do, I went straight into doing my major basically. The only reason I did illustration was because I went to the portfolio day and a teacher was like “You should do illustration! You’re a drawer, that’s the way you should go.” which looking back is kind of disappointing because anyone who draws is put in illustration and put on a commercial root vs being given the chance to explore conceptually what drawing could be, and push it that way. So I just went straight into illustration classes. I guess I did like a lot of illustrators back then. But I guess it just hadn’t occurred to me before I went to that portfolio day that that was a thing. So, I mean, I definitely struggled that whole time. It worked out because I do illustration work sometimes, and that’s cool. It’s actually exciting now that it’s not what I want as a career, and I know it. But even after college, it was so hard because I kept trying to be an illustrator, and I’m not. When did comics become something you were interested in doing? I mean I did little forms of it forever I guess. But I wasn’t like trying to make comics. I didn’t really read that many. In middle school I read tons and tons of Manga and only drew in a Manga style. But then when I was like 14 that kind of stopped. But I still did funny little comic-y things, which are so radically different from what I do now. I have whole diaries that were basically in comic form. Everyone in my illustration department did comics. Most of them were a lot older than me. They were all transfer students who where just starting out there. So they all had much more defined styles and were much more focused and kind of came more from being interested in producing sellable commercial comics. So just through being around them I understood it for the first time. They started a comics collective together and would meet outside of
school and they would get tables at festivals together. So I was definitely in on that, just as a way to have something active and to produce little zines. I sold things online, Flickr style, and would take little zines I was making to shops around town. Warmer, which is from the collection (After Nothing Comes), was a project for a class where we were suppose to do editions. So I just made a zine edition—I think I did like 50—and I actually kept track of everything. I broke down all of the expenses, I silkscreened all of the covers, I did it very professionally just to see how that would work out. Yeah but that was for, I think, a history of print making class. ut it was cool. It was exciting to see it happen all at once. Did you feel anxious at all as you were finishing school and getting ready to become a professional? Well, I really just thought it would work out. Right after I graduated me and my friend moved to London. We had already kind of set that up, and we left the summer after we graduated. So both of us had these vague jobs set up for us there, and we packed everything because we were planning on living there. And then that fell apart. So it took a while to reach the point where I was like “Oh shit… Nothing is actually going to go as planned.” Because I didn’t have anything to do in London, I was working on a comic there. I tried to get a Xeric award, but I didn’t then. Then I didn’t do anything with that piece actually. I also tried to do this illustration job there and then that got really screwed up where it was for free people, and they had really bad business practices with artists. So I did all of this work for them and was like “Cool, this is a real illustration job.” and then they stopped responding to me. I was so confused and was like “What the hell just happened? I just did so much work for them.” They kept asking me to edit things and I kept adjusting stuff, and then they never got back to me. Eventually when I got back to the states I called the girl and was like “Hi! What the hell is going on? You guys never wrote back to me after I did all this work. Did you use it? Are you paying me?” and she was just like “Oh, we missed our deadline for that project, so we couldn’t use any of it.” There was no contract cause I was like 21 and they had no intention of ever paying for the work that I had done, they were like “We’ll pay you for what we use.” So that was like a really horrible first job, and I was just like “This is terrible!” I kept trying to do illustration, but then it kept failing. Things just didn’t go very well. But doing zines was going great, and doing my own work kept being good. It’s the same as what you were saying where; if work isn’t coming to you, you just have to create your own work and that’s what pushes you ahead. It makes your own voice stronger, and it just sets you in what your style is and what you actually want to do. So it was good! I failed so much really early on—like immediately. Now I just won’t do what I don’t want to do, because I’m like “What’s the point?” Maybe I would have been a real com-
“If work isn’t coming to you, you just have to create your own work and that’s what pushes you ahead.”
mercial illustrator now if jobs had worked out early on. But none of them did. It was all really bad experiences.
What happened between leaving London and then having your first book, The Whale, get published? It was pretty soon after. I moved to London in the summer of 2009, and then I came back in December of 2009. The Whale didn’t come out until October 2010, so the first part of 2010 was when I made it. Then there was the process of figuring out what to do with it. I remember working on it—I had just moved back to Portland—during the worst months of Portland weather, where it’s like colder inside than outside and your bones are just damp. Everything feels awful. The air is really stuffy and toxic, and it’s miserable. Then it just rains and rains. So that’s when I was working on it, haha. It worked out because I had finished it and then was sending it around to see if anyone would publish it. I guess I didn’t talk to that many people, but I sent it to Fantagraphics and that was the only one I really remember. I might have sent it in for a Xeric too, and didn’t get it. What was cool was Fantagraphics was like “We can’t do this, but talk to Eric Reynolds” and he put me in one of the last issues of Mome. So that was a really nice thing to
come from that. Blaise (Leramee) had just got the Xeric for Young Lions so he had money from selling his copies of that, and wanted to start a publishing company. He was also living in Portland then. So he was interested in printing something and this was like ready to go. Him and I were pretty close friends there. It’s so funny because it was the one and only Gaze book. He was doing a bunch of online comics from different artists. It was just Blaise seeing if it was something he wanted to do. How did you guys first meet? Was there any sort of a comic or zine community in Portland, or were you mostly meeting other artists online? It was a mix. I was very very much online. There were people around, but the internet was definitely the source. How I met Blaise was actually though Jason Leivian of Floating World. Jason was a big starting point for getting in touch with other cartoonists. Basically, I brought him Warmer to sell, and he read it and was like “Oh this is great! This is different. You should look at all these people.” and gave me a huge list of artists to look at. That’s how I became friends with a lot of people. Blaise had lived in Portland before, but moved to New York, and then moved back. So I emailed him and he was like “Oh I live here now.” So we met for coffee one day and traded zines. Then I
“ So I quite my job and then went on this trip, then got back to Portland and was like ‘Oh, turns out I hate it here. What should I do about it?’” became friends with Austin English too. He was buying for Forbidden Planet but also was just down to talk about comics all the time. When I came to New York on a trip, in I think 2009 or around then, I met him for the first time. Him and a bunch of people still lived at Cartoon House. It was this crazy loft at the Marcy J/M/Z stop that was like on the train basically. It was all cartoonists who lived there and it was like eight rooms in a two floor loft. Bill Kartalopoulos lived there, and Liz Hickey lived there, and a ton of other people too. It was really inspiring. It was so cheap there. When I saw that apartment I was like “Maybe I should move here now. Holy Shit! This is like a dream world.” They all got kicked out two or three years ago maybe. But they were there a long time. It was like the center of comics in New York.
I definitely had a big online community of people I was trading with and talking to. A lot of people in Europe, who I’ve eventually met all of. But there was a lot in Portland,
and Jason was really really helpful with connecting me to people. So there were a lot of people I would see around, but I was more friends with the art school crowd. After doing The Whale you started traveling a lot more and that became a big part of your life and work. Where were you going and how were those places impacting what you were making?
The stories that came after didn’t really have to do with traveling. Field Studies was the only thing that was real concrete reference and documentation of that. That year was crazy. But I had already left before then. Me and one of my best friends did this huge trip through Spain and Turkey. So I quite my job and then went on this trip, then got back to Portland and was like “Oh, turns out I hate it here. What should I do about it?” During that trip I was gone for at least a month and a half. I also came to New York a couple times and was down in Miami. I kept taking
on places and wanted to keep going with that momentum. So I started traveling pretty soon after. I went and did this show in Antwerp which was kind of the first trip. There too I was talking to all these different people I met online. Everyone there was amazing. There’s this woman named Martha Verschaffel—there just a lot of cool people in Belgium! Just a lot of cool cartoonists. So I got very connected with that happening over there. Also the publisher Fremok—well Fremok is in Brussels—but it was definitely a thing where I was like “Yeah this is like the place that theres comics I want to look at.” It was very exciting. So I went there and stayed in Antwerp and had this art show. Then my step-uncle was living in Berlin, so I went to Berlin for a visit. Then I went and worked on a WWOOF farm in Sweden, as just like a think to do, haha. It was just something that would enable me to be somewhere different. It was cool! It was really fun. WWOOFing is the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms—I think that’s the acronym. So basically you go live somewhere on a farm and you work in exchange for room and board. It’s supposed to be like a learning opportunity and a way to help farms sustain themselves by getting to provide for you to be there rather than having to pay workers to come. For WWOOFing theres websites for every country and usually you have to pay a membership fee to look at the farms. But for some reason in
Sweden you could look at the farms without joining. It was just an interesting experience. I’ve met other people who WWOOFed in other parts of the world. But they’re in every state and every country basically. They’re all radically different. My other friend who went to a farm in Sweden worked for these Anabaptist farmers, so they were super religious but also traditional. They only used work horses. They did everything from scratch. They were really about traditional farming practices. It was a cool opportunity to learn about that. But she was also really disappointed because she was like “Wait a second. They’re also religious nuts.” I randomly found this woman who wanted to start a “riding for people with disabilities” program. She only had two horses but her neighbor had like ten. So she was trying to start this program at her neighbor’s house. Her nephew was autistic so he was kind of like her first client and she wanted to work in that direction. She did it for like three years, but I was there at the very very beginning. She also worked full time. I just lived with this middle aged woman and her son. I would clean the house, and I painted all the rooms. It was like winter still and I would bake bread everyday, and do yard work, and help with horses. I was there for a month. It was awesome.
“I’m trying to figure that out—how to feel more stable in my career, but be able to jump off and do things that I just want to because I’m curious.”
It’s incredible that you’ve been able to give yourself the flexibility to be like a completely different person month to month. Do you feel the same flexibility where you are in your career now? The difference now is that every place I go is based on work. Then I was doing whatever the hell I wanted, and I would take work with me and keep things going, like doing Field Studies. I was technically homeless for a year and a half just traveling. I finished The Blonde Woman too when I was in Sweden. Even then I was still scared of going off the grid. I really wanted to work somewhere super obscure. But then I was like “Ugh, I’m still invested in my art and I’m still invested in being present for this.” So I never went too far away. But now I’m frustrated because I do want to keep doing those things, it’s just like I can’t fit it in. I’m trying to figure that out—how to feel more stable in my career, but be able to jump off and do things that I just want to because I’m curious. That’s definitely the driving force. I just want to see things and try experiences because you never know. How did you eventually start living in New York? I was living in rural California and then I went to Angouleme in France for three months doing a residency. Angouleme is like the big comics town in France—the festival is in January, but they have this year round residency program at this place called la Maison des Auteurs. You can apply for a residency there from two months to two years, so I decided to see if I could get it, since it was the only opportunity for cartooning. I went there for three months and I went out of my mind. I was like “This is no longer an acceptable way of living. Three months was just like… too long to be in central rural France. But I finished Impressions there which is why I went there. I had the idea for this book and just wanted the time and space to work on it. I finished it in like two months instead of three and was just there, haha. Being there was what pushed me over the edge emotionally and mentally, just needing to direct myself a little more. I went to New York before and after I went to France and was like “This is it. I gotta do it.” I had avoided New York for a long time. It’s an amazing place and I love it. Then Impressions came out right when I got here, which was an exciting entry point. How do you approach the writing in your work? With the narrative stuff there’s always circulating ideas. In different notebooks I write a lot. I read quite a bit too and I’m trying to read more. Usually they’ll be little sparks of inspiration of topics and scenarios I want to explore. I kind of just keep track of those through time. I know that I can’t really do it all at once, so ideas that I maybe had a few years ago will kind of come back up, and I’ll reshape them into something. That’s at least for longer pieces since I need a little more to go off of. But for shorter stories, usually I just start drawing and kind of feel out where it’s go-
ing. I’ll start with once image and build from there. With non-comic work it’s still kind of the same—waiting until I do something I really like and figuring out how that can be defused, or how that can spread into other sources. A lot of your work is told through visual story telling instead dialog driven writing. I mean I think that basically just comes from not having it planned out. That way the language and the imagery are being created simultaneously. Neither one is ever dominant so they go back and forth supporting each other. To me the idea is that there is no redundancy—neither one is more necessary than the other. Definitely, looking back at the collection of comics, they’re way more monolog based or kind of like this internal poetic language, whereas now I’m thinking a lot more in terms of the staging or something. It’s more characters in a setting and dialog now, it’s not so much external voices. So I think that totally changes it where it’s more like watching a play or watching a movie. Instead of having an external voice direct where things are going and how you’re reading it, it’s actually even more ambiguous because you don’t know what those characters are actually thinking. It kind of relies more on the image because you’re just getting what they’re saying and then you have to read the context of whatever part of them or their expression or their setting. To me it’s really fun. You can be a lot more nuanced in that. The ones that are more poetic, I’m not as interested in now. They’re kind of too dreamy or something. I like the idea of the work getting harder—not just in the reading of it but also the actual things happening being more loaded or brutal. Do you as an artist consciously try to make a very different book each time? Yeah. I mean there’s elements that are definitely exactly the same, haha, just by mistake or where I’m like “Oh yeah… I’m still doing that thing.” or “I’m still searching out that thing.” But I think the fact that they look really different I think is cool. I feel like theres a lot of comics where it is like the same style, and that’s just that artist’s specific style. But I don’t think I’ve stopped. They’ve all really looked so different. All of the books were done two years apart I think. What materials do you like using? It’s pretty much the same every time, which is partially just what I have been using forever. The Pentel Twist-Erase 0.7 is a pencil I’ve been using forever. They are great. Everyone who I run into who has one is like “It’s the best pencil!” and it really is. Then I use the Strathmore smooth surface bristol. I use to use toned paper, but all of the ones I was using are no longer available or I can’t find them now, so I had to switch to using white paper. That I think changed things in its own way too. The Blonde Woman is
all done on this pinkish, peachy toned paper. Then I ran out of it, haha. So now it’s like all empty white space. I use the Holbein acrylic gauche. I use to use just color pencils and regular guache. I think that changed things because there were a lot more different colors in there. Then when I switched to this—these can be so opaque and they’re such solid colors that I don’t mix them usually. But now I started using chalk pastels again. So now that’s the best. I’m really excited about it. Using the pastels is so fun. I use a lot of the pencil texture to do light grey smudges. But the pastel works the same, only with color. Learning to use that in the same way is really fun. Do you approach the work you make for a fine art setting differently than you approach the work you make for your zines? Definitely! Some pages for zines are made to be scanned. It’s like, originally I drew them as a spread, but then I had to cut them apart in order to fit them on the scanner and there’s just little things I know I’ll have to clean up. Whereas if I know I’m going to frame something, then I have to be ready to go with that. The way that I set up the page or the panel is with the understanding that that original piece will be seen in every way. For the shows I’ve left the work more intuitively. Even just because with the actual approach of going to an exhibitions and seeing a show, it’s harder to direct people and it’s harder to have them follow a storyline. They’re just going to walk in and go where ever they want to go. Keep-
ing that in mind is something I try to really consider. So if there’s a sequence I try to keep it really short. The longest I’ve done for a show is four pages or four pieces to a sequence that are next to each other so that you kind of understand that you approach it that way. But also knowing that someone just won’t see them all. If someone’s standing in front of the first piece, you’re just going to go to the second one. That’s real, you just can’t control people. So leaving it a little more loose in terms of understanding that they might not absorb as much as they would reading something that has a very definite start to finish. So they’re definitely not as directed. But that’s where I’ve been doing a lot more sculptural elements or installation elements, and hope that those can reenforce the ideas that are in the sequences. Are there mediums you would like to work within that you haven’t had the chance to yet? Yeah, I always have ideas. This notebook is full of things to consider. Usually I won’t make most of it. But maybe I will. It’s the same with stories, where a lot of things just keep coming back and coming back. Then I’m like “Okay, maybe now I can actually do that.” I actually did just finish a really short animation. It’s like a minute, haha. But it’s so many drawings. It’s going to be installed for this show opening at the Whitney that’s called Dreamlands. It’s this crazy cinema show spanning the whole last century, seeing various interpretations of cinema. There’s actually a lot of young artists in the show who are all really awesome. I’m excited to see it on the wall. But I can’t say it made me
“For the shows I’ve left the work more intuitively. it’s harder to direct people and it’s harder to have them follow a storyline.”
want to do more animation. It’s pretty brutal. When I first met you we had this conversation about having a level of anonymity with ones work. How do you feel about attaching yourself to your work? Do you feel any pressure to be present as the person you are when you’re putting out your work? Yeah it is pretty bizarre. I definitely try to keep physical distance. Even though I’m available through Facebook or something, I’m not actually active on Facebook. I don’t talk on there and I don’t post things basically. With Instagram, it never really was that much about me. Now it’s still not, but I’m more aware of it. I rarely have photos of myself. I rarely even have photos of my friends or of my work. But I try and make it fun for me still. So it’s a source to see something about my life, but it’s still not me. It’s still not the inner life. You don’t really know what I’m doing based on it, which I think is great. I like keeping it that way. Same with my tumblr, all of these things are more just mental archives, not as much “Me, my life, my personality.” My twitter is maybe my most revealing, haha. But even then, it doesn’t give you that much. Earlier you were talking about using the internet as a tool to connect with people a lot more. Was there a point when that ended or something switched? I think I stopped using those things as a community tool
and just started using them as an archiving tool. That’s the big difference. Flickr and Tumblr, early on, were so much about finding people and sharing things and using it as this way to connect with people. Now I guess I don’t want to connect. Or I do, but it’s too much. Fairs are the only place where I’m like really accessible as a human. It’s cool, but it’s so overwhelming. That’s as much as I can handle. It’s so crazy. It’s cool because I think it is important. Even at the (New York) Art Book Fair, whenever I would leave the table, people would come up, but they wouldn’t buy things cause I wasn’t there. But they knew I was there. So there’s that funny difference of; people want to see you and they want to experience even a second of who you are and that’s valuable in some way. That is really interesting. I wonder what they get from it. I mean I like that too. I want to see people who make things. Even with moving to New York—being online was my only connection to art world stuff back then since I was in the middle of nowhere. But then getting here and having people I was already following on Instagram or was friends with on Facebook and meeting them in person and being like “Oh, here they are.” totally changes so much. It even changes your idea about what is accessible and what’s not. You understand that those people are just around, and they’re just people. It kind of brings the world down to this level on which you can access it. It maybe makes things more optimistic. I don’t know.
“It’s a source to see something about my life, but it’s still not me. It’s still not the inner life. You don’t really know what I’m doing based on it, which I think is great. I like keeping it that way.”
“They’re so amazing and supportive. Having them push it further than I ever would—I just wouldn’t have made this book on my own. ”
What was the process like making After Nothing Comes with Koyama Press?
I was fairly hands off. Bill Kartalopoulos was the editor for it, and also instigated the whole project. Him and I met about it years ago, and he was going to do it with his imprint. But kind of after doing his first book too, he was like “Oh. Publishing takes a lot.” It takes so much from you and it’s hard to keep up with. He’s doing so many other things like Best American Comics and working on his own books, and he teaches now and then. We kept kind of building it as a project, but we weren’t sure what was going to happen. I’ve been talking with Annie (Koyama) for years also. She’s always been really open about being like “If you want to do something, let me know! Just give me the word.” haha. So it worked out really perfectly, getting to work with both of them. They’re so amazing and supportive. Having them push it further than I ever would—I just wouldn’t have made this book on my own. I’m like “I’m over it! They’re done! I did that years ago.” Putting them out when I put them out was enough for me. But they could see the bigger vision of it in terms of where I’m going. Because this stuff isn’t really available now, it fills in this gap and fills in this niche of people who are coming into comics now and need to see this. So that was amazing and I’m so thankful for them. What stuff are you excited about putting out or working on this year? The past couple months have been really crazy. The show at Signal just closed, which was like my first solo show in
New York. The pieces at the Whitey opening up at the end of this month. There’s a few big travels happening before the end of the year. I’m going to this fest in the UK in a week, and then I’m going to Turkey for two weeks to help a friend on a project she’s working on. Right now my main intention is to start a new book. Since I got to New York I’ve just been going with the flow, and a lot of that has been just exhibiting work. I have not had the time to do a real solid comic. So that is my number one goal. I have it almost ready to go, I just need time. So my plan is to either put it out or get it done during next year. But again, I just want to start a story. I don’t know who’ll publish it, I don’t know what will happen. But that has never stopped me from starting. Are there any projects you would like to do that you just don’t have the time or resources for at the moment? This book is kind of that. Part of it might include doing a research trip. So if I can really carve out the right amount of time, than I think I’ll be really excited about it. A lot of things just kind of come up as they come up. I’ve definitely been able to scale up the work that I’ve been doing. But even from years ago, I’ve only made things that fit into my scanner, because that was all I had and I tried not to worry about it. I try and keep everything within my current means and don’t worry about anything else. I feel I’ll go crazy if I have some grand idea that I just can’t do. I’ll wait until I can do it, and then I’ll come up with a grand idea. That’s like a more sane way of thinking about things.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Meeting Sean Solomon validated everything about the way I’ve experienced the creative world thus far. In the decade
from his teenage years to his mid-20s, Sean has been sprinting through his career starting in the DIY art and music scene, reaching the heights of the corporate creative industry, and then returning to his most personal work. Sean has had a prolific output that seams almost inconceivable for the amount of time he has had on earth to do it all. From his time performing in seminal Los Angeles underground like bands Moses Campbell, Heller Keller, and Moaning, to art directing at FOX’s now debunked animation devision ADHD, Sean has been able to produce the work he is excited about, often carried by his own confidence and his natural sense of humor and storytelling.
Consuming Sean’s work over the past year has been incredibly entertaining. But more than that, his efforts as an artist
are inspirational when recognizing the fact that Sean is creating the new media of today. Sean is a beacon for the generation he has come out of, exemplifying the attitude the modern world, and confronting the issues with work of the past. Talking to Sean and watching his work didn’t just leave me insanely impressed. For the first time I felt like I was watching an artist make work that actually knew my own experience and wanted to show it to a mainstream audience. I’m so excited to have had the chance to do this interview when I did, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities Sean takes to get his voice across next.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and now I live in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Are you formally trained at all in art or music, or are you primarily self taught? I had a guitar teacher for a week and he taught me how to play a Ramones song. I asked him to teach me how to play another one and he was like “You figure it out!” He was the best teacher I ever had. I went to CalArts for experimental animation for two years. I feel like I learned the most at CSSSA which is the summer program for high school students at CalArts. Lori D was the head of it, and I have her painting in my room. Were you making art or music in high school at all? My first band I started when I was like 13. I started playing guitar because I wanted to be in a band. I had a band called Moses Campbell all through high school. I started making zines in high school. I had a zine called Eraser. I got called into the dean’s office because they thought I was going to kill myself because of this zine. I had given the zine to all of my teacher—I was really proud of it, but I guess it was a little too dark. I thought it was funny. I wish I still had the zine and I could show you. But there was a comic about a mascot that didn’t want to take off his mascot uniform because he thought no one would like him. The last panel was like “I’m so sad under this bear’s smile.” and the dean was like “Why would you think we were not going to be concerned you’re going to kill your-
self!?” Then the next day I came to school and he was like “I’m glad you’re joining us today Sean.” because he expected me to kill myself. I never really thought seriously about killing myself except for when they thought I was going to. I thought I’d teach them a lesson or something, you know? I just couldn’t get myself to do it. How did you first start going to DIY shows at The Smell in Los Angeles? n my art class in high school there was this girl—she was like a scenester you know. She had this stupid haircut and she was like “Your band should play at The Smell. I don’t go there anymore because everyone there is stupid!” So I looked it up and I was like “This place is so cool.” and I started going there all the time. I think because it feels like a clubhouse and there were no drugs, and I was trying not to do drugs, I would just go there every weekend and just see some weird band. There were a lot of artists that use to perform there too. When did you start Moses Campbell? Who was initially involved? That’s a really hard question. I started it like a million different times with different people. I eventually found Pascal (Stevenson) who has been in bands with me the longest. I tried it by myself and with some kids from the jazz band. I just started writing music because my uncle gave me a four track digital recorder. I started recording songs and putting them on the internet and slowly kept finding different people to play with until it was the same five people for eight years. Those are the people I think
of the most, but there were a ton of people that helped me make music.
only kept it going because, I think, our friends liked it and kept pressuring us to do it.
Where does the name Moses Campbell come from?
How did you end up going to CalArts? CalArts was the only school I applied to. I thought I wasn’t going to go to college. I took a year off to tour with bands, and then I had a friend who was like “You should apply to CalArts and we’ll both go!” then I got in and she didn’t. I told my mom I wasn’t going to go. I was like “I don’t want to spend all of that money on school.” and she was like “Go for a year and see if you like it.” Once I was in it I got kind of wrapped up in the whole thing. After two
I have no idea. I was like 13 or 14 or something. You know, if you were 13 and you wanted to be a musician, you just had to make a myspace for it, so I needed some sort of name. I remember my mom told me she didn’t like the name Moses and she thought it was ugly. So I thought that was cool. I had a Campbell’s soup can thing on my wall. I have no idea. It was so long ago. Moses Campbell hasn’t played in like three or four years. We
“She was like ‘Your band should play at The Smell. I don’t go there anymore because everyone there is stupid!’ So I looked it up and I was like ‘This place is so cool.’ and I started going there all the time.”
“I don’t even think I could speak. I was just like freaked out. Suddenly they were fighting over whether I should drop out of school or not. Then a week later I started working there.” years I dropped out after getting a job. You know, it’s so expensive, but it’s a cool place. If it was free I’d still be going there. But it’s not… it’s very expensive. I think it’s even more now. It’s a million dollars a year or something. What was your perspective on college and going to art school at the time? I think I’m an interesting case because I dropped out of school for a job, but I wouldn’t have been able to get that job had I not been at art school. Even though I dropped out, going to CalArts helped me and started my career. I met a bunch of amazing people. However, there’s a lot of pressure going to a school that costs $50,000 a year when you’re taking out loans. There was not a day at CalArts where I wasn’t like “What the fuck am I doing here. This is insane.” So as soon as I had an opportunity to leave, I just took it. I’m still paying off loans, and that’s why I’m so frustrated with the rich kids that were going there, haha. I always think about how much cooler it would have been if I had like a famous dad, you know? I’d still be at CalArts. I’d be on the lawn playing hacky sack to this day if I could. How did you get the job that allowed you to leave school half way through? There’s a thing at CalArts called portfolio day, for all the animators. I just put out zines and everyone else had like storyboards and character designs. I didn’t think I
was going to get any call backs, but I ended up getting a few and one of them was from Ben Jones. He called me back to the table to talk to him about this new thing he was doing called ADHD (Animation Domination High Def) through Fox. We were talking for a while and he was like “Oh, who are some of your favorite artists?” and I was like “Amy Lockhart, Devin Flynn,” and all of these other people. He was like “How do you know these people!?” I didn’t know who he was, but then after talking to him he was like “I did Paper Rad.” and I was like “You are the guy who did Paper Rad!?” So when I met Ben at portfolio day he was like “Oh because you have a zine, it seems like you make art on your own, and you have ideas. We’re looking for new content.” I was excited because I had a bunch of ideas for shows and comics. So I wrote them all out, I got them ready, and I started emailing Ben. It was really hard to get a hold of him, but I was motivated and I already had all of the ideas. So I started asking all of my teachers—I was like “I’m pitching this stuff to Fox or whatever this thing is, but I really want to meet with these other people. Do you have any way I can get in contact with them?” So I was kind of just like setting up as many meetings as possible. I was this little kid—I was only 20—and everyone was like “What the hell is going on?” Everything was really crude and on paper. Ben stopped emailing me back, but at that point I met all of these other people. Then he emailed me back be-
cause I was like “I have a meeting with Adult Swim.” and he was like “Fine! I’ll talk to you again.” So I met Ben an then I pitched to their development person, and suddenly I was in this meeting with everyone at ADHD and they were working from a house in Los Feliz. I don’t even think I could speak. I was just like freaked out. Suddenly they were fighting over whether I should drop out of school or not. Then a week later I started working there. Once they found out how old I was, I became their intern. For three months I was the intern at ADHD, and during that time I made 80 gifs and I designed their logo. It was a small thing at first. There were only like 20 or 25 of us, and there were only like three artists. When I first started it was like me and Ben Jones and then John Pham came. There were some people working on Axe Cop or something, but as far as the people doing the art for the logos and gifs, it was just me and Ben for probably like a year. There were a couple other people that came in, but then left. My friend Jeremy did a bunch of stuff. There were definitely other people involved. But me and Ben Jones were there doing gifs for at least the first three or four months. Were you still playing a lot of shows after you started working at ADHD? Yeah I was working at ADHD and still playing shows all the time. Moses Campbell broke up and our singer in Heller Keller went to school in London so we had to stop playing. We still play once in a while. So I was still playing music every weekend or every night while I was at ADHD. I started Moaning while I was there too, and Moaning is the band I have now. How do you feel the internet was impacting your ability to do what you were doing at the time? Oh, that’s a tough one. ADHD is interesting because it’s like a lot of these companies now that are trying to figure out how to market towards millennials and they think that they need to be on the internet. It’s interesting because there’s really no reason to make a TV show because you’re just going to watch it online anyway. I don’t even have cable. I don’t know anyone who has cable. So to make something for Fox to my mom and dad is really cool. I told my friends and they were all like “Cool… How am I suppose to watch it?” So ADHD and Super Deluxe— honestly all of my freelance jobs now are for companies that need an Instagram post. I was thinking about it a lot with artists in general. You have artists who are using Instagram or Tumblr or whatever to showcase their work, and then you have people who are making art only on Instagram or only on Tumblr. I think it’s kind of bizarre to me because, you know you’re basically working for a company for free no matter what. If all your art is on Instagram, Instagram is going to profit off of that too. You’re just putting more traffic on
to their site or app. It’s funny that after all of this sort of punk and anti-TV and anti-corporate America in the 90s, everyone now is so self absorbed and they’re just forgetting what anything stands for and they’re just becoming a part of it. What was interesting about being a part of ADHD was that they made it really obvious to all of us that they wanted more likes or they wanted more plays or they wanted more people to see it. It was all about advertising. So looking at Instagram and Tumblr from that sort of perspective I think helped me sort of brand myself and start thinking about how I would make a living after I left. I don’t know, it’s funny. If you’re not posting photos of your food or whatever, you’re posting photos of your art and you’re trying to make money I guess. I did an art project where—Kanye West put out this white shirt that was $100 though A.P.C. So for a show I was doing at Fisk Gallery, I bought one of these t-shirts and I tie-dyed it and I wrote my name on the tag with a sharpie. I had my friend model it and I put it online and I was like “This is my collab with Kanye!” People will just believe anything, and everyone just thought I had done something with Kanye—which was the point. It’s just funny that you can kind of curate your life through social media and if you have an internet persona. It’s just stupid because all of these brands are doing it to profit off of people and it’s in the same feed. No matter how you’re treating your stupid internet persona, you’re still getting marketed to. For everyone who has a tumblr, there a sort of database where every company knows every person you want to fuck now. So the next Carls Jr. ad is probably going to have the hottest girl for you, you know? Hahaha, it’s all just robots man. The singularity is totally real. I’m just worried about the future generations, you know? Do you feel like there’s a sense of urgency to become a part of that system to have any success as an artist now? Yeah I feel like everyone feels the need to be a part of all of this social media. It’s almost as if you don’t have a voice if you’re not using it. For bands, if you don’t post your show online, it’s like “How is someone even going to know you have a show?” Or if you’re an artist and you’re not online “How are you going to get a job if you don’t have an Instagram?” For me it’s annoying because I don’t want to be posting on Instagram. I don’t want to be on tumblr. It’s all for validation. I see people all the time post a stupid photo and be sitting there all day trying to see how many likes they got on it or who cares about it. I think after working at ADHD I realized it’s all just nonsense. “Oh, if you post on tuesday at noon it’ll get more search traffic and more people will like it.” You know it’s just all an algorithm and it doesn’t mean that someones art is good or bad because they have more likes. This shit is probably obvious to most people but I think a lot of younger kids are confused. I think I’m interested in the artist who hasn’t show anyone anything yet.
“I used it as sort of a way to ask my parents questions I was uncomfortable about asking. I sort of needed a reason to bring up these dramatic things that happened in my life, and I used the film as an excuse.” It’s confusing because with Instagram and Tumblr and Youtube—all of this stuff—it helps to have a consistency to when you’re posting and the kind of stuff you post. I feel like a lot of people are concerned with what people think of their art or thinking about how they can post a square photo on Instagram instead of thinking about what I think they should be thinking about like “Oh, how do I shock people?” or “How do I make art that I think is going to identify with the people I want it to?” I’ve had people say things to me like “I think you should stop posting about your band on your Instagram and just post your art.” I wish I could delete all of it—I bet I could. I mean once this video comes out, phew, it’s all gone. They can google me, haha. What were some of the projects that you were making in school that informed what you were doing afterwords? The last film I made while I was at CalArts was about my parents. I interviewed both of them and it was more of a cathartic film. It’s not necessarily a comedy, but it think it’s pretty funny accidentally. It was hand draw, and I don’t show it to anybody. It’s been in some festivals and some screenings, but it’s not online. I don’t put it online because
I want to respect my parents privacy. But I used it as sort of a way to ask my parents questions I was uncomfortable about asking. I sort of needed a reason to bring up these dramatic things that happened in my life, and I used the film as an excuse. I put the camera in front of them so I could talk to them. I think it definitely helped with our relationship, and now we maybe have sort of more of a relationship. Did it seem like the students you were going to school with would eventually be representing a new group of contemporary artists? Were there other people who’s work you were really excited about? I think I met more artists that I related to and I was excited about outside of school. School is just—you have every kind of artist at CalArts. You have the really craft based artists, then you have the people who like puts a plank of wood against the wall and is like “This is about my fucked up life,” then you have the kid who’s parents paid for school and they just smoke weed all day. You have all sorts of different people, and I was always very frustrated at art school because I felt like I had to work really hard because I had to pay for it. It was just the sort of weight of going to this school that was so expensive. I feel like when
“At ADHD they had a meeting with Pepsi and Nick Weidenfeld was like ‘Hey can you draw a picture of these guys called the Lucas Bros for this meeting?’ and I drew it. Then a couple weeks later I found out they were going to turn it into a show” I left CalArts I started meeting people that were more in tuned with what I was about and what I was doing. It kind of took leaving and working to find those people. When I left CalArts I met Garrett Davis who’s an amazing animator who did Story from North America which was like a viral video. He’s totally insane. He was very inspirational and taught me a lot. I told him I didn’t paint. I was like “Every time I paint I just make a mess and it just sucks and I hate the process.” and he was like “Paint as fast as possible.” He told me that and then that day I painted like two paintings. There were a lot of people I met through ADHD. My friend—“Henry The Worst” is his name online. He’s super prolific and insane. Sean Glaze—he’s “Lord Spew.” Aaron Jupin, who did this painting in my room, I did a bunch of shows with. Winona Regan—actually you know what, Winona Regan went to CalArts. But she wasn’t there when I was there. We met later, and I’m a big fan of her. I could go on and on, there are so many people. But most of them were outside of school. A lot of them went to CalArts. I later met Allison Shulnik and Eric Yonker who are really cool artists right now. Helen Jo who we were talking about earlier. She works super hard, and she’ll be at every zine fest with every print ever. I respect artists that work really hard. I think leaving CalArts is when I met
a majority of those because there was a sort of different level of urgency to work really hard, enough to support yourself. When you’re in school you’re sort of like experimenting and figuring out what you want to do. So sometimes a lot of people are in a transitional phase. So many of my friends went from one major to another. They’d start in dance and then they’d be in art. What was the process of starting the show Lucas Bros. Moving Co. at ADHD? At ADHD they had a meeting with Pepsi and Nick Weidenfeld was like “Hey can you draw a picture of these guys called the Lucas Bros for this meeting?” and I drew it. Then a couple weeks later I found out they were going to turn it into a show and Nick really wanted it to look like my style. I hadn’t ever done anything like that so it took a lot of convincing for them to kind of trust me to do it. But I think Nick and the Lucas Bros were so excited about the way it looked and I eventually ended up art directing it. I was first the lead designer, and then the art director, and there was some stupid credit that says “all original art work by Sean Solomon.” We had a shorts team who were making all of the shorts every week. They had me design the characters and the background, and then another person
“Making the Lucas Bros. was totally insane and stupid and I don’t understand why they trusted me to do anything on that, but they did.” storyboarded it and another person animated it. Then that test that we made—it was a 30 second test—was actually in the pilot of the Lucas Bros. After we did that I designed almost every character—there were a lot of designers involved. And then oversaw all of the designs. I had to give notes at the end of the day on every episode. I would stay there pretty late. I got to hire a lot of my friends. I think that was the coolest part. There was this kid named Jonny (Payne) who—the guys from Burger Records were like “You gotta check out Jonny man! He draws like you. You guys should hang out.” He was like this 18 or 19 year old kid, and I Facebook messaged him and I was like “Hey man, do you have a website?” and he was like “No…” so I was like “Do you have a Tumblr at least?” and he was like “No…” Then I was like “Can you make one?” and he made a Tumblr and then I showed it to everyone at the company and they hired him. It was his first job, and he was so bitter by the end of it. It was awesome. Then I got my friend Garrett Davis, who I mentioned before, a job. Paul Windel worked on the show. A bunch of my friends. There were a ton of cool people who worked on it, I can’t name them all.
What was it like being a part of the process of developing a TV show for the first time? Making the Lucas Bros. was totally insane and stupid and I don’t understand why they trusted me to do anything on that, but they did. It was actually crazy. They were like “Hey, we need you to draw what the Lucas Bros. are going to look like by noon, because we need to have you do a turn around of every angle by the end of the day.” Obviously they changed over time but the main design was done in the afternoon. Then I copy and pasted it because they’re twins, haha. It was all so fast and crazy. I don’t know, if I was to go back in time, I would have just begged for more time. The first couple episodes of the Lucas Bros I think are so ugly. Like, obviously not to anyone else, but I can pick them apart. Through out working on it I got the ability to direct more instead of actually having to draw everything. So at some point I worked with this guy Mark Ingram, took the turn arounds, and he elaborated on them. Making a TV show has so many people involved it’s kind of hard to really have just one perspective, you know? I was really lucky to get so much of my style to come through. I was able to make all of the jokes in the background. Nick Weidenfeld who ran ADHD was really excited about my style and my sense of humor. I was really lucky to sort of have him on my side.
I eventually then went on to work in the writers room, where I would draw as everyone wrote. So a lot of story lines ended up being based on visual jokes and gags I came up with. I got to work closer with the Lucas Bros. ADHD wasn’t like other studios because you had the writers and the animators all in the same building. It was good for me, because I cared a lot. I dropped out of school to work there, so I wanted everything to be good. I would peak into the different offices and see what was going on. You have the ability to kind of stop things or try to. Before I got hired there I was working on this thing called Gardner of Misunderstanding and I thought it was a racist piece of garbage. So when Nick hired me he was like “We want you to drop out of school and work on this thing! We want to show you how to make TV shows! But we’re worried that you don’t like working on other people’s stuff.” and I was like “No, it’s not that I don’t like working on other people’s stuff, I don’t want to work on this garbage. I think this is racist and I don’t think you should have made it. I think I should have been in the conversation ahead of time so I could have stopped this from happening.” I was young and kind of insane and wanted everything to be good. I think because of that they trusted me, cause they knew I wanted it to be good and they knew I would stand up for what I thought. If I thought something was shitty I would be like “That’s shitty!” I didn’t win every battle. There were things that aired on the Lucas Bros. that I didn’t agree with and that I don’t think are the best most progressive
thoughts in the world. But over all I think that the show had it’s moments and there was cool stuff about it. Where you simultaneously working on other stuff at the company at the same time? Yeah I kept trying to push my own stuff. I directed and wrote a couple shorts. I made Gosh Josh! Weird Beard! It’s a cartoon about a guy who has this magical beard who screws up his life. Eventually he wants to kill himself—it’s kind of dark. But I had been developing this idea forever. I wanted to make a whole show of it, and I convinced Nick to let me make a short. What I didn’t really realize about doing it was, now they own the idea and I can never do anything with it. It’s like owned by FOX and they paid me like nothing since I was just working at the company. Then later while I was working on the Lucas Bros I made Teen Halloween, which was a short about a bunch of halloween characters who smoke weed and skateboard and stuff like that. But yeah, Gosh Josh! was what they saw. When I made and directed Gosh Josh! they were like “Oh we like the way this looks, and we trust Sean to do it.” It was all a learning experience. It’s insane that I even got the job. I didn’t even know how to use flash. It was just sort of, with the help of Ben Jones kind of believing in me, I got the opportunity and learned a bunch. I think what’s exciting now is I have that experience, and now after finally working there for a few years, I have time to think about what I
“I went on tour and I came back and realized I wanted to just work on my own stuff. So I left and the whole company went away like six months later. It was kind of perfect timing.”
“I think because we paid our dues and it was really hard for so long, when we started Moaning it was a lot faster.”
want to do with it and what I want to make with it.
What was it like leaving ADHD after a few years? What made you decide to leave when you did? Yeah, when the Lucas Bros. went on hiatus—which is normal, most shows have breaks—they asked me if I wanted to make gifs at the company. I went on tour and I came back and realized I wanted to just work on my own stuff. So I left and the whole company went away like six months later. It was kind of perfect timing. I was ready to move on, and I think a lot of people were ready to move on. I think the company gets a lot of flak for some reason—because it was kind of like a sweatshop in a lot of ways and it had a lot of young artists who weren’t getting paid super well. The amount of work they were expecting form everyone— like FOX—was insane. They were asking us to make like four TV shows a year or something, and like make four or five gifs every day, and a short every week. It was insane, so I think when the company went away a lot of people were kind of relieved because they didn’t have to go pumping out all of this content anymore. It was hard to make quality content because they cared more about pumping out lots of it. It’s like I was saying, they needed brand consistency and to post something every day and
remind people that they existed. So there was a lot of garbage that came out of it accidentally I think. What were you doing with the bands you were playing in as all of this was happening? I don’t totally remember. Every band I’ve been in is just the same ten people and just a different mix of them. So the band I was in broke up, and I went a year without playing music, which was really hard and weird feeling. I had been playing in a band for ten years non-stop, and then there was this year where I wasn’t playing any shows. During that time I started writing new music. Finally I wrote one song that became what Moaning is. So I wrote the one song as was like “This is called Moaning.” I messaged my old bandmates and was like “Do you want to be in Moaning?” as if it was like a new band. The new band has been awesome. I think Moses Campbell and Heller Keller and all that stuff—it’s kind of embarrassing for me because I’m doing something new. But without doing that stuff I wouldn’t know how to do this other thing. Moaning has just moved so much quicker. Moses Campbell was a band for 10 years and towards the end of it we were playing cool shows and gaining a following. The first
“It’s cool because I come from a music background and I play a lot of shows, so I meet people that I think most animators wouldn’t. For a lot of people, I’m the only animator they know.” seven years, nobody cared about us. People were throwing out fliers on the ground and they thought we were lame. But I think because we paid our dues and it was really hard for so long, when we started Moaning it was a lot faster. We’ve only been a band for like maybe two years, and we���ve been able to open up for bands on tour and play sold out shows, and it’s been a lot of fun. We have an album finished—that was another thing. We were super lucky. We got this crazy email from this guy Alex Newport. He recorded At The Drive-In, Mars Volta, Bloc Party, Death Cab For Cutie, just all this crazy stuff. Not necessarily music I listen to, but bands I’ve heard of, haha. He emailed us and was like “I’m a huge fan of Moaning and I want to record your album.” Then he gave us a tour of his studio and he was really sweet. He kept coming to our shows and then we told him we didn’t have any money. Then he recorded the whole album for free. Right now we’re just sitting on it. We just finished it a couple months ago. But we have a full studio album. I had never even been in a studio before. I think it helped being DIY and playing at The Smell and house shows and not making any money for so long. It’s nice to finally have at least someone reach out to use like that. What did you start working on immediately after you left ADHD? I had no plan. I left for tour and I came back. I lucked out
and I did a thing for Lance Bangs’s show Party Legends that’s on VICELAND. It just came out recently, but I actually did it a year ago or something. That thing was really cool. They were paying artists to animate celebrities telling party stories. That paid my rent for a little bit. Then I got an email from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s label and they asked me to do a video. That was really cool because that band’s from New Zealand and New Zealand gives grants to their artists. So they gave me some money to make this video, and I got to hire a bunch of my friends from my old job. I just kept doing small things and that’s what I still do now. I’ve kind of just been living month to month by various weird projects. It’s cool because I come from a music background and I play a lot of shows, so I meet people that I think most animators wouldn’t. For a lot of people, I’m the only animator they know. Everyone needs illustrations of animations. Animation is a huge and growing industry especially now with the internet. Everyone wants wants some shit to like animate and flash at you and sell something. So there’s a lot of work for animators. This year I’ve worked for Toyota, Tumblr, Tinder, everyone needs something. I got hit up to do something for snapchat recently. Golden Voice is having people do video flyers for their Instagram. It’s a whole new kind of exciting time. Although there’s a lot more work, animation is cheaper and quicker now, so I’m working a lot all the time. I at least have like four things I’m doing. Sometime I wish I had one thing to focus on. When I win the lottery,
I’m going to just spend a couple years working on my comic. What has it been like making art in both the DIY world and the corporate world? That’s a tough one. I think it’s funny because I’ll make something for TV in my room. Like the Party Legends thing that aired on televisions, I made it in my bedroom hanging out with my friends or listening to records. It seems like corporations are just paying DIY artists to do things now. My feelings towards it are weird and complicated. I basically take jobs so that I can make money so that I can keep making the art that I care about. So I don’t necessarily care about the Toyota gif I make, but if I do the Toyota gif then I can have money to make xerox copies of my zine or I can do an art show or something. I did an art show called Big Drawings and everything was $5. It was just… big drawings, and all of them were just $5 and you could get tattoos for $31. I was really adamant about making art that was cheap—not only that was cheap for people to buy, but that was cheap for me to make. It was an art show where it cost me $25 to have 100 pieces on the wall. It was just a pad of paper and a giant sharpie.
You’ve gotta make whatever you can with what you have, and if you have the ability to work with some big company and they’re going to give you a bunch of money to do it, it’s the same thing as DIY if you can swing it. Obviously television is stupid because there’s so many people involved and so many personalities. It’s never going to be as cool as the thing the kid did in his room alone. But I think with animation specifically it’s kind of hard to do everything on your own. To make something at the quality of the Lucas Bros. for instance, that takes like 40 people. Yeah it’s hard to be DIY when you need 40 people, I think. What advice would you give to someone worried about those things, or the concept of “selling out” to do what they want to do? I think the thing about selling out—and I think about it a lot—but it’s like some people have the privilege to not sell out and some people don’t. For me it’s like, if I don’t work for Toyota doing a gif or making art for VICE or whatever company who wants to work with me—if I don’t do that then I don’t pay rent, or I have to go work another job somewhere else. I think what’s frustrating about the conversation about artists selling out is that people will
“People will give an artists who makes a commercial for McDonalds a bunch of flak or they’ll tell them that they’re sell outs, but then people are understanding of the person who has to work at McDonalds flipping hamburgers to make a living.”
“I’m working on a script with Titmouse for a pilot with my friend Pascal. It’s called Fer Sherbet and it’s a cartoon I’ve been working on for four years that will probably never come out.” give an artists who makes a commercial for McDonalds a bunch of flak or they’ll tell them that they’re sell outs, but then people are understanding of the person who has to work at McDonalds flipping hamburgers to make a living. I don’t think that there’s that much of a difference. When you’re an artists, it is your art but it’s also your craft. Sometimes you have to survive. I think selling out means something different now than it did. How did you start working with Titmouse Studios? I was in a screening for MTV’s Liquid Television and Chris (Prynoski), the guy who runs Titmouse, was speaking, and I gave him a zine. Then we became friends and we started working together. Around the same time I left CalArts for ADHD. Chris is awesome. Chris owns all of Titmouse. He started it, runs it with his wife Shannon, and they’re just the most sincere, sweetest people. Everyone wants to work with Titmouse. He’s just a big nerd. He worked on Daria and Beavis and Butthead. He actually animated the part in the Beavis and Butthead movie where they trip out in the desert—I think it’s a Rob Zombie music video for a second. He’s the sweetest. He’s really encouraging, he cares a lot about cartoons, and I think it was cool because I came in and met him when I was twenty and
I really passionate and excited and we’ve kept working together. Finally four years later now we’re working on a script and Pascal (Stevenson) from my band is involved, and it all feels good and right. There’s been a lot of sweet and honest people that I’ve been able to work with lately, and I’m excited. It feels more like going to The Smell or something. I think ultimately I’d like whatever my job is to be with the people I care about. I think animation is like starting a band. You want to have the best bass player, and the best drummer, and the best keyboard player. It’s the same thing. A good television show or a good animation is having those players—you want them all to be the best they can be. You want to have the best designer and the best storyboard artists. So far I’ve been lucky to be working with a lot of great people. What things are you working on now that you can talk about? I don’t know what I’m aloud to talk about. I’m working on a script with Titmouse for a pilot with my friend Pascal. I’m pretty sure I can say whatever I want. It’s a free country! It’s called Fer Sherbet and it’s a cartoon I’ve been working on for four years that will probably never come out. It’s about my experience playing in bands, but also
having to work a day job. It’s two characters that are “in a band”—they’re trying to start a band and they always have a new band name. They work in an ice cream truck, so they have to deal with children sometimes and they have to deal with struggling to make money and getting lost in their truck. They have friends who work at the record store and all this other stuff. It’s a really old idea. Me and Pascal came up with it in high school. Then when I started getting these different companies asking me for ideas I kind of forced Pascal to work on it again. I was like “Let’s finish that idea we had!” We’ve gotten really far with it some how. It’s been like four or five years of working on it. Suddenly we’re having like meetings and are getting taken out to dinner. But if it’ll ever be on TV it’ll take forever. I’ll be really surprised because all of the ideas so far have been really insane. But hopefully there’s not another Seth MacFarlane show and they give someone else a shot, haha.
I won’t say any names but I was in the elevator with two dudes who worked on one of Seth MacFarlane’s shows and they said—I swear to god—“We just had to laugh at out own jokes, so that people thought that we thought they were funny, so that we could leave on time.” They literally said that. They didn’t give a fuck, they just had to make money. It’s the same as any other industry. I just want to work with people that care. People that want to make things that are good because although animation is an industry, it’s also an art form. Not everyone sees it like that. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with having to feed your family and doing what you have to do. But I’d like to see more people that actually care about the art. There are those people out there. You just have to find them.
What do you want to see change with the world you’re working in?
Definitely, haha. Yeah I always have a fucking new idea. I have so many stupid ideas, and then I throw them away because I can’t afford to do them. If there’s anyone out there that want’s to throw a lot of money at me… Yeah I have a few things that I’m writing. the reason I work on animation and why I work digitally is it’s self contained. I can do it in my room. I don’t have a studio. I wish I did. I wish I could make huge sculptures. I have a lot of ideas for interactive stuff. I’ve always wanted to do video art installation. Right now I just work on a cintiq in my bedroom. So mostly I’m just writing and coming up with stories. I’ve been working on a project with my friend Campbell. He makes video games and VR, and we’re writing a sci-fi comedy about the deep secrets of the internet. I’m really excited about that. I want to make an interactive game, or an interactive comic or story—it’s hard to describe. It’s called Pet Virus and it’s about someone who’s trapped in the internet and can’t get out because this evil AdSense sort of character knows too much about them. I have a bunch of stupid things. I think that’s why I got the job at ADHD. I always have a bank of like 10 things. None of them are that fleshed out but they exist. I have another idea about a cat—I’m just going to give away all of my ideas and then they’ll get stolen.
I don’t know, I feel like there needs to be more content that’s being funded by companies that are coming from a sincere place. I think a lot of producers like to muck things up and get too involved. I would just personally like to put something out that resonates with the kind of people that are likeminded people from a background of music or art or any sort of subculture. I’m tired of seeing the same story on television a million times. I think, you know, there are some people that are coming out with things that are kind of more progressive and cool. But every project I work on I try and involve a bunch of different people and a bunch of different perspectives. I was lucky when I worked on the Unknown Mortal Orchestra video there was an abstract sex scene and I gave it to my friend Megan to work on. I was like “Honestly, I drew this from my perspective, but feel free to change whatever you want.” and she just added a few touches and suddenly it was like super sexy. It just had this whole other sort of perspective because I gave it to her. I think, like I was saying before, it’s important to have the team members that are good and to have the sincere people. I’m tired of working with anyone who isn’t honest and doesn’t care. I’ve met a lot of people who—and theres nothing wrong with this—but I’ve met a lot of older people in Hollywood and in the animation industry who have families and—when you watch TV, something you have to realize is people who are writing the television show, a lot of the times they want to go home at 6 pm. They don’t care. It’s a job. I think for me, I want to make something that’s really good and that resonates because millions of people watch television and I’m tired of the kind of nonsense that keeps coming out. There’s too many Family Guys. There’s too many fart jokes. There’t too many racist things and homophobic things. I’m excited for the millennials that get shows and actually say something and do something. Definitely stop giving the same fucking people the same shows.
Are there any projects you would like to embark on that you don’t have the time or money for at the moment?
Photography by Matthew James-Wilson
Joe Kessler @ NYABF
Colour Code @ NYABF
Jonathan Campolo @ NYABF
G.W. Duncanson @ @ Paper Jam 5
Matt Crabe & Killer Acid @ NYABF
Killer Acid @ NYABF
TXTbooks @ NYABF
Tan & Loose Press @ NYABF
Patrick Kyle & Phil Woollham @ NYABF
Karissa Sakumoto, Maren Karlson, & Brie Moreno @ NYABF
LVL UP @ McCarren Park
LVL UP @ McCarren Park
Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, Nick Corbo, & Greg Rutkin @ McCarren Park
Beach Fossils @ Central Park Summer Stage
Beach Fossils @ Central Park Summer Stage
Ingrid Superstar @ Elvis Guesthouse
Blonder @ Elvis Guesthouse
Glueboy @ DBTS
Glueboy @ DBTS
LVL UP @ DBTS
LVL UP @ DBTS
LVL UP @ DBTS
Moaning @ Save The Smell Fest
Heller Keller @ Save The Smell Fest
Heller Keller @ Save The Smell Fest
Heller Keller @ Save The Smell Fest
Mo Dotti @ Save The Smell Fest
Wyatt Blair @ Save The Smell Fest
Post Life @ Save The Smell Fest
Sloppy Jane @ Save The Smell Fest
Hana Vu @ Save The Smell Fest
Surf Curse @ Save The Smell Fest
Surf Curse Feat. Peter Pants @ Save The Smell Fest
No Age @ Save The Smell Fest
Current Joys @ UNION
Slow Hollows @ UNION
Slow Hollows @ UNION
BOYO @ Junior High
BOYO @ Junior High
Foozle @ Junior High
Foozle @ Junior High
Downtown MichaelBoys Vidal @@ Market Junior Hotel High
Micheal Vidal @ Junior High
Nick Santana @ Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
Gap Girls @ Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
Gap Girls @ Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
Lala Lala @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Vundabar @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Surf Curse @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Surf Curse @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Painted Zeros @ Shea Stadium
Painted Zeros @ Shea Stadium
Vagabon @ Market Hotel
Vagabon @ Market Hotel
Forth Wanderers @ Market Hotel
Ovlov @ Market Hotel
Ovlov @ Market Hotel
LVL UP @ Market Hotel
LVL UP @ Market Hotel
LVL UP @ Market Hotel
Best Shows By Matthew James-Wilson
July 13th @ McCarren Park
this was definitely one of the more memorable shows i went to this summer. this show happened the day lvl up finally announced that they had signed to sub pop and were putting out a new album in september. i was eagerly walking home through mccarren park, excited to finally read the announcement and listen to the new single once i got back to my apartment. suddenly as i was about to exit the park, a familiar sound crept through the trees and into my ears. i recognized the droning guitars and snare cracks, but couldn’t quite put a finger on it. once i got closer closer to the source i realized it was in fact lvl up performing the very song i was pondering, and i began running towards the half empty concrete baseball field they were performing in.
July 14th @ Elvis Guesthouse
Blonder/Ingrid Superstar i went to this show with one of my best friends, and former roommates, kenny. we lived together for our first year in college and sort of developed as people in a bedroom we shared for around 9 months. listening to porches.
July 18th @ Central Park Summer Stage
The Feelies/Beach Fossils it was so wonderful watching the first half of this show, among the excited teens and college students during beach fossils set, and then moving over to the vip area where everyone i had met through katie and dustin and bayonet were situated to watch the feelies set. i felt very much like i belonged in both crowds, and that really mirrored how i’ve felt working for the label. also i finally met dustin’s parents at this show!!!
July 30th @ DBTS
LVL UP/Glueboy (Release Show)/Gobbinjr/ ADIR L.C. August 6th @ 501 S Avenue 17
Save The Smell Fest this show was absolutely insane and really made up for a lot of the shows i was never able to goto, having grown up on the east coast. no disrespect to new york, but the kids really know how to a diy show in los angeles. all of the incredible sets aside, the most exciting thing about this show was seeing all sorts of different looking young people participating in ever y aspect of the show, from performing, to organizing, to attending.
August 8th @ Junior High
Micheal Vidal/Foozle/BOYO August 10th @ UNION
Slow Hollows/Current Joys (Full Band) August 11th @ Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
Gap Girls/Beat Degeneration/Nick Santana/ Maya Abee/Two Lips/Tex Olsen
August 26th @ Shea Stadium
Bueno (Release Show)/Lost Boy ?/Foozle/ Turnip King August 27th @ Baby’s All Right
Surf Curse/Vundabar/Lala Lala/ Navy Gangs after years of never being able to see surf curse play, from high school into college, before ever meeting nick and jacob, this summer i had the opportunity to see them play three separate shows. this was the last show i got to see them play, and it was a particularly great set. as they played a bunch of new and old songs, it was nice to think about on how much both nick and jacob mean to me, in the truly brief time i’ve known them as friends :’)
September 15th @ Shea Stadium
Haybaby/Bethlehem Steel/Painted Zeros/ Normal Person September 17th @ Webster Hall
Angel Olsen/Alex Cameron September 22nd @ Gramercy Theatre
Adam Green/Frankie Cosmos (Solo Set) September 24th @ Market Hotel
LVL UP (Release Show)/Ovlov/Forth Wanderers/ Vagabon
Shows I Wish I Had Gone To August 6th @ The Bowery Ballroom
Frankie Cosmos/Warehouse/Stef Chura/ Cende August 26th @ Baby’s All Right
Jerry Paper & Easy Feelings Unlimited/ Macula Dog September 15th @ Market Hotel
P.S. Eliot/Ought/Aye Nako/Adult Mom
You Should Check Out... By Matthew James-Wilson
warehouse has been a really important band to me for the past year, and i’ve been anticipating this record since katie and dustin first mentioned it last winter. when i started working at bayonet last fall, i made a conscious effort to memorize the catalog they amassed in the brief year that they had been around. the album i was most pleasantly surprised by was warehouse’s tesseract. last spring katie and dustin asked if i’d be interested in doing the packaging for their new record, and i began emailing back and forth with the band. after months of sending designs back and forth I finally met doug, alex, ben, and elaine in new york and got to know the lovely people behind warehouse. this record was a really important milestone for warehouse, and bayonet, and my relationship with both. where tesseract starts with a crescendo, super low starts with a bang. yet, from that point on both albums move in entirely opposite directions. super low slows down the band’s locomotion, but maintains it’s tightness. the whole record is a spectrum of sounds and character, not unlike the range of colors used in the cover art painted by albert lebron. through out the album elaine retains the severe emotion of her vocal delivery, floating from soft melodies to hoarse growls. super low is a complex artifact and ensure even more promise for the future of the atlanta five piece.
in a year filled with so much incredible new music, yohuna’s new album patientness was one of the best records i wasn’t anticipating. johanne swanson has been putting out music under the name yohuna for at least the past five years. her last big release before this year was 2011’s revery, which has aged really well as a predecessor to patientness (and is free to download). i first met johanne earlier this year at a show at the silent barn, and later saw her play a really memorable set at shea stadium the same night the band was traveling up north to record this album. nearly a year later, as i finally listened to those recordings, i was really stunned to hear so much momentum and conviction coming through so clearly after such a long hiatus. patientness is only 9 tracks, but johanne crams in so many memorable moments that the record feels permanently stuck in your head after it’s over. so far my favorite song on the album is golden foil, which comes beautifully accompanied by a music video mike caridi (of lvl up and double double whammy) shot on super eight.
Radiating Light: Orchid Tapes & Friends
orchid tapes and their catalog are an important touch stone for pretty much anyone who’s used bandcamp over the past five years. this year has seen a pretty triumphant return for the label, with notable records like yohuna’s patientness, and balam acab’s child death at the tail end of 2015. one of my favorite things to come out of orchid tapes this summer was their new compilation, radiating light:orchid tapes & friends. the 13 track compilation includes artists spanning the labels short history, including alumni like ricky eat acid and alex g, as well as artist with new releases this year like soccer mommy and emily reo. radiating light is free on bandcamp, and had a limited vinyl pressing of 300, so whatever format you prefer, go check it out.
audiotree is an incredible audio/video production company that regularly puts out high quality live recordings of bands. the first video i saw that they put out was a session with the band mothers from last fall, which is still one of my favorites that they’ve done. everything is really well shot, really well recorded, and really well curated. it’s exciting to see so much care and attention given to so many relatively small bands.
Numero Group i first found out about numero group this summer after i came across a used copy good god!: apocryphal hymns on vinyl at academy records. i recognized the logo because shamir posted a link to a different numero album on facebook the day before so i bought it and took it home. then my roommate kira and i listened to it non-stop for the next few weeks. i know i’m probably super late to the game with this label, but i’m really excited i found them when i did. numero has put out an insane amount of amazing reissues and compilations across it’s 12 year run so far. numero has put out everything from really solid soul and gospel rarities, to new york new wave and proto-punk compilations, to post-hardcore reissues by unwound. numero has released something for everyone, and i can’t wait to make a bigger dent in their catalog over the next few years.
THANK YOU: KENDRA YEE EM PARTRIDGE JASON MURPHY BECCA TOBIN KIRA ASZMAN KHYLIN WOODROW MARLEY ALLEN-ASH CELESTIN KRIER TITAS ANTANAS VILKAITIS KINGSTON POPLAR AARON BILLINGS ANA RODRIGUEZ EVAN COHEN YUKI KIKUCHI JILLIAN TAMAKI SAM ALDEN AIDAN KOCH SEAN SOLOMON RIVER DONAGHEY ADAM BANICKI JAMES YEH PASCAL STEVENSON JACOB RUBECK REED KANTER GRETA KLINE NICK RATTIGAN LIZZIE KLINE KATIE GARCIA DUSTIN PAYSEUR MICHAEL DEFORGE GREG RUTKIN ROBERT TILDEN NOEL CLARO WLBERT COOPER ARIELLE PARDES BRIE MORENO SHRIYA SAMAVAI JOE HYRKIN ROB CORRADETTI SIERRA SIEMER AUSTIN FEINSTEIN SONIA JAMES-WILSON... DASH SHAW MIKO HOFFMAN BENJI NATE JOANNA NEWSOM ALLISON SHULNIK INES ESTRADA LANCE BANGS ADAM GREEN KAZUO UMEZU ROBERT BEATTY BEN JONES DONALD GLOVER NOBUHIKU OBAYASHI JOE KESSLER MICHAEL VIDAL MAY WAVER MICHAEL COMEAU THOMAS COLLIGAN NAN GOLDIN ERIC COPELAND ANGEL OLSEN
E D I T E D BY M AT T H E W JA M E S -W I L S O N