Ariel Davis “This is a drawing inspired by an empty lot I walked by the other day that had this crazy tire upright with a plant growing out of the top of it, and I loved it. Someone nearby was blowing bubbles and I loved how cute the bubbles were next to all the debris. I like drawing stuff that people think of as kind of gross, like trash and weeds and bugs.” -Ariel Davis Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I feel like I have a pretty wide range of influences. I’m really inspired by the compositions I see in film. Some of my favorite directors are Kubrick, Ozu, and Jacques Tati. I take my own photographs sometimes and use that as a sort of practice for finding compositions and often make drawings out of them. I feel like I’m also always looking at contemporary painting and sculpture. A pretty tremendous influence for me though are my friends and my surroundings. I’m really inspired by the natural state of my neighborhood and my backyard. I love seeing lots filled with weeds and fences that have been patched up in 8 different ways. Or the traffic cones my birdkeeping neighbor puts up all around his yard so the birds know where to go when he lets them out. I’m also usually always inspired to draw my friends, maybe because they’re wearing something I like, or I look over and see them sitting in the middle of a perfect composition.
Age 23 What is your current location? Brooklyn, NY Where are you from? I’m from Marlton, NJ–a town about 20 minutes outside Philadelphia. What is your current occupation? I’m freelance illustrating and working from my home studio at the moment. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I do, I attended Pratt Institute and graduated in 2016. I feel like my education was totally vital to the development of my own work and my career. I don’t regret going to art school. I met a ton of inspiring people, some who I still work on projects with, and who are making awesome things now.
What materials do you like to work with? I usually draw with a bunch of Prismacolor pencils. I like to use gouache and markers sometimes too, but I really enjoy pencils because of the immediacy of everything. There’s no prep or clean up and I can just grab a color and start working, and they’re very forgiving. I have been able to pretty much re-create the way my drawings look at this point digitally- it’s necessary in a lot of my fast paced editorial work. Sometimes if I’m able to I’ll draw some parts by hand and some digitally, but if it’s a 2 hour deadline I won’t have the time. I don’t mind working digitally, but there is obviously a lot more freedom and room for spontaneous mistakes in an original drawing, which I enjoy. Also having the physical object in front of you when you’re finished is really nice.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’ve just started working with a few of my friends on the next edition of Business Casual, a zine of illustrations we put out after we graduated. We’ve just began making the artwork and I’m honestly pretty excited to figure out how to self publish this now that we have no access to a riso, I’m hoping we can do a different full color format and we’re exploring our options now. I’d really also like to put a zine together of all the drawings I’ve done of my backyard because I have so many. And I’ve juuust began ruminating about the next Great Outdoors show–a charity show for Sierra Club we put on last March. We were kind of thrown into it last time but I’m pretty excited to be able to plan it a little more in advance, and correct all the mistakes we made the first time, haha! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? My work playlists are usually just whatever I’m listening to at the moment. I’ve been listening to the NTS Fervent Moon compilations because they’re full of songs I’ve usually never heard before, also they’re really long and you don’t need to switch the song too often haha.
Where To Find Them Websites: arielrdavis.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @arieldavi.s (Instagram)
Where do you like to work? My desk is in a makeshift home studio me and my roommates use in our basement. I like working down there, despite there being no windows. My other roommates do tattooing, digital art, and sculpture, so there’s an interesting mix of different work happening. I really love drawing in my backyard though, or “on location” in places, if I can be low key about it. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Haha, I used to do a lot of weird stuff as a kid who liked to draw. One time I had a birthday party at my house and drew each guest before they came over and put it on their seat at the table. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I would really like my art to be able to make people feel something very strong. I feel like that is a pretty huge accomplishment. I also would like to continue making art that has a positive impact on people other than myself, whether it’s for an article I very much agree with or for more charity work in the future. I hope my art can better people’s lives, even if it’s in a small way.
Molly Dyson “I was thinking about the dog having it’s own perspective of the world. Someone once told me that when kids draw people’s faces the features of the face are always in the top part of the head because they are always looking up at people. I wonder if it’s the same for dogs, I guessed they would see a lot of under-neck and then up people’s noses and then the bulge of eyeballs. Same with when we look down at a dogs face and see it looking up at us, you don’t really wonder if that creates a distortion but it must. And then when you really look at someone in the eyes it can be intense and you lose all perspective of their face. So I guess the comic is an exercise in the duplicitous nature of perspective in one scene or moment.” -Molly Dyson Name Molly Dyson Age 27 What is your current location? Germany Where are you from? Australia What is your current occupation? Student & Illustrator Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
with Sissy Spacek playing Loretta Lynn in the movie Coal Miners Daughter. My friends and family and all of their various creative pursuits are also huge inspirations. Just watching people trust their gut and make amazingly weird sounds or images makes me really inspired. I also live with a one-year-old who is probably my biggest fan, critic and muse. What materials do you like to work with? Mechanical pencils on cheap thin paper. Lately i’ve been getting into chalks as well. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Aside from uni projects, I’ve been making posters for a friend who puts on shows in Cologne, this project has been really fun because I can do whatever I like with the posters and the turn around is nice and fast so it’s been a good excersize in smashing an idea out. I love making posters. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
I studied Art in Australia and am now studying Visual Communication in Germany, so I guess a formal education and a half.
Aside from country music, usually a mix of audio books and playlists and radio shows from friends.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Where do you like to work?
Right now I’m on a huge country music binge, I’m a bit obsessed
In my bedroom. It’s a big bright room in a suburb outside the city. Theres a nice park across the road and I have a massive
table in my room that I am totally in love with.
rassed and scrunching the drawing up and hiding it in the garden.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
My earliest memory of making art is when I was 3 or 4, my dad Maybe not the earliest but I do remember being about 5 and drawing very detailed naked people and then feeling embar-
I don’t know. I would like to look at my work and say “Oh wow, I made that?”.
Where To Find Them Websites: cargocollective.com/mollyrosedyson Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @mollydogson (Instagram)
Jack Herzog “The piece came from a little sketch I made that depicted a sort of flippant little guy who seems perfectly comfortable living in a world of contradictory perspectives. The piece is built out of foam and fleece and looks to show how helpless we as humans are in understanding emotional perspective let alone physical perspective. As we all know certain simple shapes can alter and warp our physical surroundings to the point that our idea of space is completely compromised.” -Jack Herzog
blend of the two worlds. That being said most recently I have found most of my inspiration from various contemporaries I have discovered on instagram and what not.
What is your current location?
What materials do you like to work with?
Los Angeles, California
I work with pen and ink on my comics and illustrations. Along with some water color and gouache. For the sculpture work I mainly use fleece and foam.
Where are you from? Los Angeles, California What is your current occupation? Background Clean-up on Bob’s Burgers Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I graduated with a BFA from Washington University in St, Louis. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I find a lot of my inspiration from comics and television/ cartoons. I grew up addicted to Dragon Ball Z and in order to recreate the show I learned to draw the characters. I guess it pushed me to understand a very primitive anatomy. I am heavily influenced by comedy, and I try to have a level of levity in all of my work. So as I got older and discovered more and more comedic influences I always wanted to find a medium between the comedic world and the fantasy/fiction that really captivated my imagination. Eventually, I found Venture Bros. which represents the perfect
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Right now I am working on semi bi-weekly comic for Golf Media called Dog Dad. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I listen to a lot of stuff while I work sometimes a whole bunch of new stuff, and other times things I have been listening to since I was 11. Where do you like to work? I like to work in my bedroom because thats kind of my only option haha. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember using tracing paper on a Jack Kirby book that my dad gave me, I believe it was Iron Man.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? First and foremost, I hope to make people laugh. I want to be able to gain some autonomy through my work and gain oppor-
Where To Find Them Websites: jack-herzog.squarespace.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @handle is little_boy_name_of_jack (Instagram)
tunities to collaborate with other like-minded people. I feel like being asked to be a part of Forge is kind of the first time that this kind of thing has happened. (swear Iâ€™m not trying to suck up)
HAYLEY DAWN MUIR
Hayley Dawn Muir “Symmetries and tilted perspectives have formed Rapunzel’s binding to time. She waits.” -Hayley Dawn Muir Name
West, Eunice Luk, Mike Kelley, Jim Henson, and Amalia Ulman.
Hayley Dawn Muir
What materials do you like to work with?
I draw a lot and like to use traditional and non-traditional drawing methods with graphite, ballpoint pen, and ink mainly when piecing together visual narratives. I have also painted with oils in the past and will paint with them again in the future when I have the proper studio ventilation for it. I’m also interested in experimenting with short film and sculpture/installation in the future. If I have a solid idea that I’m excited about I will work with any medium.
22 What is your current location? Vancouver, British Columbia Where are you from? Vancouver, British Columbia What is your current occupation? Artist, Barista, Child Care Worker Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have a BFA from Emily Carr University focused in Illustration, however most of my processes are self taught. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? That’s such a tough question!!! My answer could drag on to be a never ending list of bright people and work that creatively strike me because I am a fan girling nerd. However, for short, I am heavily inspired by cartoons, video games, sci-fi, and traditional story telling and folklore. People and their work that inspire me most currently are the heavy hitters David Jien, Ben Jones, Maren Karlson, CF, Walter Scott, Elizabeth Macintosh, Philip Guston, Sally Cruikshank, Brian Blomerth, Patrick Kyle, Franz
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m currently working towards the next Vancouver Art Book Fair, which is coming up in October of 2017. I have a lot of things to release then! My main baby that I’ve been cradling is a 30ish page comic that will be published by the sweet and talented people of DDOOGG. I also have a couple of other zines/comics coming along, one that is pictured here is from a Rapunzel themed comic. Trinkets and prints too soon! I will also be creating items for a vending machine project that my studio mates are currently working on, and preparing for some group collaborative books and shows in the future. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Some current tops are Mariah Carey, Bjork, Dorothy Ashby, Hole, Sade, and Haruomi Hosono. I’ve always listened to a variety of electronic music, especially when working, as it helps me get in a good work flow. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of sounds and mixes by Vancouver’s DJ star Yu Su.
Where do you like to work? I love to work in my concrete-basement-cave-lair studio! I miss the sunlight but it’s a great place for a bit of escapism.. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My dad tried to teach me a lot of drawing skills and pushed me creatively at an early age. He’s a master at drawing fantasy threaded goblins and ghouls. I remember a lot of times where he would show me cool ways to draw my name by different uses of traditional font work. Every grade school sheet that had my name
Where To Find Them Websites: hayleydawnmuir.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @hayleydawnmuir (Instagram)
written at the top right hand corner had to be more intricate than the last. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t exactly know what I want to accomplish with my work this early in my life, and I don’t think I particularly need to know where I stand with that question at any point. I really enjoy making things and working with/alongside/against traditional art practices. However, I know that I want to create things that excite me and are different. If I’m lucky, I will create things that make me feel more happy, fulfilled, and secure.
Kelsey Wroten “When I was creating this piece I was thinking about the concept of ‘hindsight is 20-20’ and how memory can be subjective. The central figure is able to review her memories in totality without her perspective tainting them. I often find myself wishing something like this were possible, as I wish I could review some things I’ve done or seen for the actual thing that happened and not my warped current perspective of it. There are some moments that are only preserved in memory and if you have a terrible memory like I do that isn’t enough. There is also the flipside of this coin. I could also just spend all of my time looking at all of the mistakes I’ve made in my life and worrying about them more than I already do. ” -Kelsey Wroten
around me. If I were to single it down to my biggest and most direct source it would probably be Instagram. I have hundreds of screenshots of different images that have appealed to me. They aren’t always images of illustration either, lots of times it will be vintage photographs or images of fashion or buildings. Anything that makes that spot at the base of my skull tingle. (is that just me?)
What is your current location?
What materials do you like to work with?
I moved to Brooklyn, NY in December 2016
I really like to try new things. Recently I have been working with colored pencils for most of my illustration work. I’ve also started painting for a lot of assignments recently. I think it helps to try different mediums because it informs your style and helps you move forward and through art slumps.
Name Kelsey Wroten Age
Where are you from? I’ve lived in Kansas City, Missouri for most of my life. What is your current occupation? I am a full-time Freelance Illustrator and comics artist. I’ve been doing that since around May 2015. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I graduated from The Kansas City Art institute Illustration department in 2015. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I think my inspiration come from a lot of different places all
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? At the moment the biggest project at hand is a graphic novel I wrote that will be published by Uncivilized Books. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I listen to a lot of different bands and enjoy finding new jams. The people I keep coming back to recently are Slothrust, Perfume Genius, Chris Garneau, Spraynard, Radiator Hospital, and like a bunch more. Of course, there are always my old faves too. Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian if I’m feeling blue and old pop-punk from the early 00’s if I’m feeling nostalgic.
Where do you like to work?
.What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
I have a studio space in my apartment in Bushwick. I spend most of my time there.
That’s a big question. I think a lot of my work rotates around story-telling. My personal work especially, as it is mostly comics. To me, I will feel like my work is successful if I’m able to tell a compelling story that connects with someone. I love when a story connects deeply and starts a conversation and inspires people to learn something about themselves or find something in someone else they didn’t know was there.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember getting commissioned to draw pictures of Pikachu and Bart by fellow classmates when I was a kid. My favorite thing was drawing dinosaurs and sharks though. That was what you would call my personal work I suppose.
Where To Find Them Websites: http://kelseywroten.com/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @jukeboxcomix (Instagram)
Sarah Lasater Name Sarah Lasater
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Washington, DC, US
I’m getting ready to release a batch of summer apparel for my online store, so I’ll be working with my photographer friend Jackie Lam soon for the shoot. I’ve been collaborating with the musician In Love with a Ghost for a few months and have a secret long-term project we’re working on together, which I’m stoked for. As far as personal projects go, I’ve got some new pieces I want to create soon that have been on the back burner for a while.
Where are you from?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
Raleigh, North Carolina, US
I listen to a lot of soundtrack music, especially Joe Hisaishi recently. Also ambient and electronic artists like Soichi Terada, Royksöpp, Tycho, Todd Terje, Bonobo. And a ton of Animal Crossing music.
Age 23 What is your current location?
What is your current occupation? Freelance illustrator Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I didn’t study visual art specifically, but I went to design school for landscape architecture, which has really shaped the way I think about my work. I would say I’m mostly self taught. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Growing up I was probably most influenced by the innocence of Studio Ghibli films. I started reading graphic novels like FLCL and fell in love with the super expressive forms by artist Hajime Ueda. Masaaki Yuasa has also had a large effect on me wanting to embrace imperfection. Beyond all that, I’ve been really inspired by city life, printmakers, interior designers, tattoo artists, all kinds of people.
Where do you like to work? When I have sketches to do, I’ll go across the street and sit outside at the coffee shop there. If I can do work outside I’m happy. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I used to sit outside under this crooked tree at my elementary school playground. I would try to draw all the characters from my Zelda Oracle of Ages/Seasons guidebook during recess. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want to make people feel happy and make myself happy, too.
What materials do you like to work with? I mess around with markers, crayons, inks, stickers, masking tape, stickey notes, whatever’s around.
Where To Find Them Websites: sarlisart.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @sarlisart (Instagram)
Laura Endy “For this illustration, I wanted to talk about the new movement in the comic field that has appeared recently. I found my own way of making comics after discovering the new alternative comic scene, so this is also a new perspective for me.” -Laura Endy Name Laura Endy Age 21 What is your current location?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m currently drawing some new comics and I’m also making a poster for a yearly music and illustration anthology called Hits With Tits! I feel so happy about that. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
Where are you from?
Sure! I’m a very big fan of Gamma Ray and Woodland, but I also listen to other different stuff like Wire or even Tommy Cash when I’m on the mood. It depends on what I’m drawing, though. I have a specific playlist for each comic.
I’m from Les Franqueses, a town near Barcelona.
Where do you like to work?
What is your current occupation?
I like working in the living room, with the TV on. I’m not sure why, but I don’t like working in silence.
I’m studying Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? A lot! It’s hard to decide who inspires me the most, but I really love the work of HTML Flowers and Aisha Franz among many, many others.Fashion trends also inspire me a lot, more than books or films. I like bright and bold clothing, and I really enjoy dressing my characters. What materials do you like to work with? I usually work with color pencils because you can easily mix them and I feel they are more flexible than other techniques. I’ve used watercolors and copics before, but color pencils are the material that I feel more comfortable working with.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I had a big blackboard when I was a child and I spent a lot of time drawing there. Also, my parents covered my desk with huge sheets of paper so I could draw throughout all the desk, and that was cool. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I would like to publish a big comic someday, with a lot of pages and a lot of colour. Well, I would actually like to publish a lot of big comics, because this is what I enjoy the most!
Where To Find Them Websites: lauraendy.tumblr.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @itslauraendy (Instagram)
Marie-Anne Mohanna “I’m fond of classical art and I love to draw old statues and objects. I think they’ve got souls. So I’ve made an inventory of different classical statues seen with different perspectives. As a whole they create a classical and wise image. The shapes lead the eyes of the viewers directly in the center of the picture and add some contemporary shades to the entire image.” -Marie-Anne Mohanna Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I spent a year traveling in the US, Canada, and Japan, but now I’m back in Paris, France.
I don’t know why, but I’m found of monsters in a broad sense. I think they’re fascinatin, so I read a lot of books which deal with them like Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux), The Monk (Lewis), and Mygale (Jonquet)... I could say the same with the movies. I liked them so much I created a tumblr where I collected images of monsters and beasts. I’m also very inspired by classical and medieval art and symbolism. Lastly, I love vintage mangas like Midori, Akira, and Fist of the North Star. The colors are bright and beautiful. Sometime I try to use the same palettes.
Where are you from?
What materials do you like to work with?
I’m from Paris, France.
I start by doing some tests with my pencil in my sketchbook. Then I use my graphic tablet. I like to feel free to erase, add, or change things when I want it.
Age I’m 24 What is your current location?
What is your current occupation? I’m a graphic designer, but these past few months I took a break to write my first graphic novel which will be published in November. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to an art school in Paris called ECV. I studied graphic design, typography, and illustration. Art history and academic drawing lessons really helped m develop my own tastes and way of making images.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m working on my second graphic novel. It’s at the very start so I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m really excited about it. It’s about a little girl who lives in a big city but I can’t tell a lot more... Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I don’t listen to music while I’m working because I always end up spending more time listening and singing than drawing. I need to stay focus on my work and I can’t do anything else.
Where do you like to work? I love to work at home, on my sofa, in a café, or sometimes in my bed. I can’t bear desks. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? When I was very young, my mum use to tell me that my draw-
Where To Find Them Websites: http://www.mariemohanna.fr Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @mariemohanna (Instagram)
ings were wonderful. I believed her and I continued drawing. Today, when I see those drawings, I think my mum was very hypocritical... or blind. But I thank her for that. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want people to read my books and say “I feel the same” like I did when I read my favorites artists’ books.
Francesca Killian “I’m not really sure what I was thinking while I was creating this piece. I’ve been kind of obsessed with oranges lately-the smell, the colour, the fact that they are so different inside and outside. I have no idea why, but I am a bit on a citrus kick. I wanted to depict the message that no matter how small or how insignificant you feel, you are still the same and matter just as much to anything else-even if you are a teeny tiny orange! Teeny tiny oranges have feelings too.” -Francesca Killian Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I really love music. I was raised on everything from Italian opera to old Argentinian ballads to Mexican love songs, but also loving new wave, rock, and weird, experimental music. I love listening to records too–it’s just such a cool experience. I am very inspired by classic films & foreign films. My mother is a total movie buff, and since my sister and I were little, she had us sitting in front of the television watching everything from Ingmar Bergman to Woody Allen. Poetry is also a huge inspiration, particularly Spanish and French poetry. I was fortunately raised in a really diverse and cultured household, and I’m so grateful for it. But aside from more pin-pointed inspiration, I was always inspired by little things, like the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of bread when you break it. Overheard conversations have always been a huge thing for me as well. Speaking Spanish at home and I guess listening to foreign films and music helped me be able to understand different languages pretty well, so I love overhearing little bits of the lives of different people around me. The number one thing out of everything that inspires me is my family. We are a really full and well-rounded group of people just because we all come from so many different places (Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, England, Ireland, and the US). There are a lot of wild stories about seances & spirits, a chocolate factory, and an overall love for animals that spans generations. My family is definitely one-of-a-kind, and I’m proud to say it!
Age 23 What is your current location? Home (for the summer), but hopefully moving to New York City soon!! Where are you from? New Orleans, Louisiana / Houston, Texas / Savannah, Georgia. I can’t really call one city my place of origin. I never felt like I could say I was from one place. What is your current occupation? Freelance illustrator & embroiderer. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I actually graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design on June 3rd, but that is my only formal training in art. I have always drawn and created, and art of all types was instilled in me by my mother, who is an artist/designer herself, and my whole mother’s side of the family. Art has always been a huge part of my life, and I was lucky enough to be raised around creative people.
What materials do you like to work with? I usually work from a sketchbook, but really I work with anything I can get my hands on–envelopes, cardboard, old wrappers. I love working on vintage paper too. Two years ago, I learned how
to work digitally and I’m slowly getting the hang of it! I work a lot with Tombow & Faber-Castell markers, but I also love working in oils and watercolours. Embroidery-wise, I love working on lots of different fabrics, usually denim. I just love that I can create my drawings with embroidery, and add a completely new dimension.
table facing a window, and that was a dream come true. I am constantly drawing, though, so anywhere I can just lean againstsomething and draw is alright with me!
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Honestly, since I was born. When I was little, I was constantly drawing cats and pretty ladies in slinky dresses–like old actresses in black and white films. At some point I wanted to be a comic book artist, so I started making little comics all the time. Before that I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I was all over the place when I was little. But somehow, cats always showed up in my drawings, even now.
Right now, the big thing on my list is to open up an online shop in a few weeks to sell some prints, stickers, tote bags, enamel pins–you name it! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Yes, definitely! Serge Gainsbourg has been a favourite of mine forever–his voice is just so soothing. I listen to a lot of New Order and Stereolab too when I’m working, because they have that constant beat that keeps me going and motivated. I also really love listening to the Boo Radleys, Teenage Fanclub, or the Velvet Underground when I don’t want to feel as rushed. But I make a ton of playlists and I’ll listen to anything that makes me feel happy and calm. Where do you like to work? My favourite place to work is on the carpet on the floor. I love just having my headphones in and laying on my stomach and just getting into the lines I’m drawing. My old apartment, where I was living for university, was the first place I had a giant work
Where To Find Them Websites: http://www.francescakillian.com/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @francescakillian (Instagram)
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Weird-art has always been something I’ve done for myself. I used to be a really nervous kid, always thinking existentially about death and destruction, so creating art was sort of an out-of-body-experience–a break from my head. As I got older, I struggled with depression & melancholia (which runs in my family) so then art became a coping mechanism, to make me happy. Now, as I’ve gotten more confident and sure of myself, drawing is just my favourite thing in the world. What I find fascinating is that people can relate to my work. It makes them feel calm, and people feel connected and familiar to the people I depict in my work, no matter how strange the subject may be. So inadvertently, I am able to help people with my artwork by making them feel happy for a few seconds while they view my art, and that is really cool!
Basia Kurlender “This piece is about how history is viewed. Occurrences can generally be viewed from two perspectives; they can be viewed as daily life (the present), or as ‘the past,’ which impacts the present. Present events are remembered vividly as well as specifically. Past events are remembered more generally than present events, and are understood as a timeline of interrelated affairs, versus small, separate instances. In this piece, the present is represented in the different plants, which are drawn with an element of specificity and clarity not seen in the landscape. At the same time, the plants provide little information as to the structure of the space. The landscape represents the past, as the figure in the image is far enough away from the landscape itself to observe the scope of the earth, and can better understand how certain aspects of the land relate to each other. When combined, present history and past history tell a story of detail and depth, allowing for a greater understanding of the world than either historical perspective on its own would.” -Basia Kurlender Name Basia Kurlender Age 20 What is your current location? Brooklyn, NY Where are you from? Rockaway Beach, Queens / Long Island What is your current occupation? I monitor radio shows and coordinate events at WPIR Pratt Radio during the school year, and teach printmaking to 11-17 year olds in Connecticut over the summer. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I am currently working towards a BFA in communications design
(with a graphic design focus) at Pratt Institute! A lot of my methods come from self-training as well. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I’m continually inspired by the work of my friends (a few are: Aleen Montchal, Charlie Hoyt, Olive Lagace, Ross Dener, Molly Dauphin, Sam Mintzer). I love anything Hiller Goodspeed makes. Other than that, I am inspired by what I see each day— my family, Myrtle Ave, unintelligible vanity plates, neon, puppies and babies, minor league baseball games, crosswords, synagogue, textedit, trees, and a million other things. What materials do you like to work with? Since the end of this spring semester, I’ve worked almost exclusively in colored pencil, which I have discovered I love! Additionally, I like silkscreening, woodblock carvings, and lino cutting, as well as watercolor paint and pen & ink. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Recently, I’ve been trying to keep up drawing every day, as well as keeping a sketchbook. Outside of my sketchbook, I recently made a stamp and a tiny model of one of many orange traffic
cones that sit in my family’s driveway. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? It depends! I realized I’ve been listening to E·MO·TION by Carly Rae Jepsen when I silkscreen, and Cende’s #1 Hit Single when I carve linoleum because both are energetic and help keep me going during multi-hour printing sessions. I like listening to familiar music when I’m really trying to concentrate, but at the start of a long stretch of studio work, I use the time to check out artists on bandcamp I’ve been meaning to listen to (ex. DOGLUK, No One and the Somebodies, Old table, Chair Enthusiasts). Where do you like to work? I like to work in my bedroom in Brooklyn, in friends’ apartments,
Where To Find Them Websites: bkurlend.myportfolio.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @bshawww (Instagram)
in the communications design studios at Pratt, in diners, on the subway, in cars, in Long Island living rooms, in the backyard, in barber shops, and in my parents’ garage. Anywhere comfortable! What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Art class with my cousin + marker and crayon drawings with my brother and sister :-) What do you hope to accomplish with your work? In general, I aim to bring attention to the overlooked and the everyday. With my design work, I want to make art accessible for all people.
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Ariel Davis has found strength in her discontent. Since graduating Pratt, Ariel has illustrated for
publications like The New York Times, Lucky Peach, and The MIT Tech Review, while still resting on the knowledge that she hasn’t made her best work yet. During the few years that she has drawn to make her living, Ariel’s work has expanded and contracted, pushing the boundaries of her medium of choice, color pencil, though simplicity and form. While she values the internal conflict that comes with her own growth as an artist, Ariel still finds a way to make the pleasure of drawing aparent in each assignment.
Outside of professional illustration, Ariel strongly values the work of her peers. Collabora-
tive projects like Business Casual flexes the artist’s ability to build off of the work around her, while the group show she co-curated to raise money for the Sierra Club demonstrates her belief in using art as a catalyst for community and change. On a sweltering day in Brooklyn I met up with Ariel at her apartment a few blocks away from mine to discuss working as a freelancer, making statistics fun, and using fear as a source of motivation.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from South Jersey, right out side Philadelphia, and I live in Bushwich, Brooklyn now. I didn’t really like New Jersey, so I was really happy to leave. I like living here a lot more, haha. . Was there any sort of art community that you were a part of there while you were growing up? There wasn’t really an art community there. I took art classes in high school, but I didn’t have any friends who liked making art with me or even on their own. So there was no community, but I really wanted something like that. I’ve made art for as long as I can remember, so I was really happy to find a community after going to school. Were you making art on the internet at the time? Was the internet affecting your awareness of other artists making work around then? Yeah, definitely! I was active on Tumblr, even though I didn’t have a very big presence on there. I wasn’t Tumblr famous or anything, haha. But it exposed me to a lot more work, for sure. There was a big music community in my high school actually, and I was really a part of that. I got really into people who did album art and found a lot of art that way, and I started to do album art for other people. That sort of led to me going on the internet, and that allowed me to start discovering more art. I remember being like, “Wow, there’s all of this different kind of art out there that I could be making.” So yeah, Tumblr helped a lot. I was never really on Deviant Art. Unfortunately I really missed that boat, haha.
Do you remember some of the artists you saw on there that had a big impact on you? It feels so distant and embarrassing now, haha. It was really basic stuff like James Jean, you know? I saw James Jean on Tumblr in 2010 and I was like “Woah, this is craaazy! I’ve never seen this kind of art before.” haha. He was listed as an illustrator, so I was like “What does it mean to be an illustrator?” and I realized that that might be something I’d like to do. Before that I was just making—oh my god, my high school art is hilarious. It was like really dark, intense paintings that were trying to be really serious and they were really highly rendered. For a high schooler I had really good technical skills as a painter. But looking at them now they seem so funny. Then after I discovered what illustration was I started trying more simplified ways of working because of what I saw on the internet and going to art school. How did you decide to go to Pratt? What was your experience like there? I applied to a bunch of art schools that were mostly in New York and Philly. I didn’t really want to go to Rhode Island or California, so I just applied to all of the closer art schools and waited to see where I got in. Pratt wasn’t a place were I really wanted to go. I kind of just applied on a whim and got in. I wanted to go to Cooper Union—which in retrospect, I’m glad I did not go there. That home test sucked. Then I thought about going to Parsons, and that just didn’t feel right for me. And then, I actually went to visit Pratt, and just the fact that they had a graphic design and an illustration program that were together where you could learn both felt really good to me. I really learned to loved graphic design a lot. I mean, I have my problems with the school, but over all I had a good experience. The professors made a huge difference for me. The curriculum is great for the most part. I heard they’re changing it, but I’m not really sure what they’re going to do. But it was really rigorous and they make you work really fucking hard. I feel like it really instilled a work ethic in me that made me feel like, Now I can do anything! Two hour deadline? That’s nothing! I felt like I almost died in school for the amount that I worked, so now anything else is easy in comparison. It helped me get way more efficient too. So I enjoyed it. I think it was really essential for what I do now and for my personal growth as an artist. Did the student body there seem really excited or motivated to make work? Did you or your peers start making work outside of school while you were still a student? A lot of the times I feel like there’s a real disconnect between those two things—people who go to Pratt and are making work versus people who venture outside and want to make other things for themselves or meet other people. People just didn’t want to do the latter I found. I mean, not everybody obviously, but for the most part. There were definitely a lot of unmotivated people who were there for different reasons. I didn’t just go to art school on a whim or anything. It was something I worked really hard to do, and then when I was there I was like, “Oh my god, each of these classes are like $500 a piece! I cannot waste any of this!” so I just tried to work really hard. But I don’t think a lot of people do that. I think a lot of people don’t really care about the art and they just want to get a degree—which is fine I guess. People still get good jobs and make a living, which is what college is for, so it has served that purpose for them. But as far as people who were doing passion projects or trying to get involved in stuff, there was only a really small community of people who were trying to do that. But eventually I became friends with those people, and we’d try to do it. Was that sort of how your book project, Business Casual, first came about? Yeah! Me and my friends Tim Liedtke and Maddie Edgar made that zine and we did it as our senior project. All of our work is really different now. We didn’t really finish it until after we
graduated because we had to go back to school during the whole summer after we finished so that we could risograph all of it. I learned a lot doing it because we didn’t design it well for risographing. That thing was such hell to print ourselves, haha. TXTbooks actually helped us. They printed the center booklet because the blue drum broke and we were like, “Can you guys help us…” haha. I’d like to do something like that again, but the next thing will be less labor intensive. We just met a couple days ago to start working on it and figuring out what we want to do. There’s also two new people involved. I’m really excited about it. We might do it on newsprint or something like that. What was your experience like right after school? What were the first jobs you did as an illustrator? It felt like jumping off a cliff, especially being an illustrator. I was like, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do!” But then, the day after I graduated, I got a call from The New York Times. The art director who called me came to my senior show. Now every time I see her she’s like, “You were probably so hung over when I talked with you.” and I’m like “Yeah… I was.” But yeah, when I got the call I was freaking out and I called my mom. It was really cool. I had so long to do the job, and I handed it in a couple hours early and they were really happy. That was my first job, and it was an op-ed thing that was black and white for a piece about marijuana legalization in Mexico. It’s just this drawing of a huge weed leaf in the middle, which was really funny, haha. Then that job kind of gave me some hope. I was like, “I guess this is something I could actually have a shot at doing.” I tried to hold off on getting a full time job, so I babysat a lot that summer and did odd jobs. Then in the fall I did this in-house thing for a month at Buzzfeed which was
cool, and I made a lot of work then. Then I slowly started to get more jobs after that. How did you start getting your work in front art directors as a freelancer? I don’t know. All of the jobs I got right out of school were because of an art director I met in person. I showed them my work and was like, “I’m about to graduate… You should hire me.” Maybe they just felt bad for me or something, I don’t know, haha. I would say Pratt helped, but it was professors specifically who helped. The professors who cared enough to be like, “I know this art director. You should talk to them or give them your card. Don’t be afraid to do that.” and who’d introduce you to people were extremely helpful. That was the reason I got any jobs at all. I mean, I guess they though it was worth it to introduce me to them. I sent out mailers once. I don’t think that got me any jobs. After that I was like, “Okay, I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore.” Then I was sending emails I guess. We sent those zines out after we graduated, and that got us jobs from a couple places I think. We sent it to MIT, Lucky Peach, and the New Yorker. I mean, we didn’t end up working for all of the places we sent them to, but it got me a Lucky Peach job and an MIT Tech Reveiw job, I think. So that was something. That was the only promo I sent out that got me work which… sounds bad, haha. But I haven’t sent out many. They were probably like, “Oh god, they must have gone through a lot of effort for this one.” I don’t know if I really know how to promo correctly. I just try to do good work and show it to people, and that’s the only way I’ve really gotten work.
How do you approach working as a freelancer in general? How do you balance constantly working and also trying to find jobs? I feel like I’m still figuring that out. It’s just everyday, trying to think about what I should be doing next. If I don’t have anything to work on, I’ll try to make something to work on. I feel like the more you put out the more you get back. The more you make, the more things you do and have to show to people or email to people. Then you end up getting more work back in. For now it’s just maintaining client relationships. I would like to get more regular clients. That’s really how people maintain themselves. They have people they know will call them every month. So I feel like that’s kind of what I’m working towards now. But so far I feel like I have had just a bunch
of happen stance job things come up. Then sometimes I’ll get a random in house thing, like the one I did at Buzzfeed. I recently just did one at Refinery 29. I did a women’s march thing for them and I was talking with their art director and was in there for a little while. They have a lot of illustration needs. So that was a random thing to get me by for a couple months, and now their one of my clients. It’s all very confusing, and I don’t think there’s really an answer for how to do it. Who have been some of your favorite clients to work for so far? Do any specific projects stand out? I’ve done a lot of assignments for the MIT Tech Review, and I really liked it because I feel like you can be as weird as you want. With other places they already have a brand. For places that aren’t already really banded you don’t have to adhere to a specific look really. The New York Times has been a good one. You can pretty weird with the assignments. Places where you have real control are my favorite places to work for. I don’t know, I try to have fun with everything I do. I try to have the most fun with each thing, even if it’s super boring. I had a great time doing this illustration for a New York Times article called “The Man Who Measured Teachers” and I’m really happy with how that one came out. I got the article and I was like, “This is so boring…” It was about statistics and being a teacher and dividing up—I just had no idea what any of it meant. But I think it’s an illustrators job to make the most boring thing really interesting. It was really cool to do a piece in color for a newspaper. I really loved doing the Women’s March thing for Refinery 29 because that really grew into something cool. I just did the art work for them, but then a lot of people printed it out
and brought it to the march. Then Refinery collaborated with Tictail and made t-shits and tote bags out of it and sold prints of it and all of the proceeds went to a really good cause. Then it won an American Illustration Award and it turned into this big thing. It’s cool when a lot of people really resonate with something. How did the Great Outdoors group show that you co-curated come about? That was something else I did with my friends Tim and Maddie. I have a friend who works at Gowanus Print Labs that I went to school with. She was like, “You guys should put on a show.” and I was thought, Yikes! Alright, I don’t know what I’m going to do. We thought it was going to be really small and maybe just a couple of our friends or something. But because everyone is freaking out about the current state of affairs, everyone was doing charity shows around the time. Everyone was doing Planned Parenthood shows and we wanted to do something as well, but we wanted to do a different charity. All three of us like nature a lot. Both of them do like extreme sports, but I just like the outdoors, haha. So we decided, “Oh lets just do an environmental charity show.” since we all cared a lot about that and the EPA is about to be dismantled. Sierra Club is such a dope cause, so we did it for them. We felt like it was a really good idea for a show, so we decided to invite a lot a different people. I just asked everybody I knew or who’s work I liked. Then a lot of people said yes, so it just turned into this really big thing. People made really great work for it and we made like $1,400 to donate which was really cool. I hope we do another one. It was a lot of work to put it on, but hopefully in a couple months or something we’ll do some other kind of show. It seems like we’re moving in a direction where artists are expected to be more conscious of how their work reflects the world, whether that’s in the people represented in the work, or the politics represented in work, or whatever. Is that something you think a lot about when you get an assignment? For sure. For every illustration I try to be all inclusive. At Refinery 29 that was a huge thing for them. They’re obviously very women focused, but they also push to be positive towards all races and sizes. I try to be like that anyways. Sometimes it’s good as an illustrator to solve it in a way where it becomes a non-issue, or where you can make the inclusivity clear. I try not to put just one kind of person in an illustration. You have to be really selective about what you put in illustrations. A lot of the times the race or gender of the person is not what I want to focus on at all. Usually I’m trying to talk about finance or medical treatment or some weird thing that’s completely unrelated to whatever kind of person it is, so you just have to make up a general person, and that’s usually what ends up happening. They’re just there supporting a different concept. How has the internet affected your ability to do what you do? I don’t really have a huge internet presence really. I’m not really huge on any social media platform or anything. But I feel like it obviously helps a lot though. I feel like the only reason I was able to put together that show was because I literally went through the people I follow on Instagram and was like, “Oh, their work’s cool. Their work’s cool.” and just wrote their names down. I’m exposed to a lot of other people’s work and a lot of people see my work because of the internet. There are communities of illustrators on the internet, so you get to see a lot of people’s work, whether it’s something cool they made or something stupid they made. I like seeing all of it, even if it’s just what they’re doing that day. I feel like it also helps make a more personal connection with people who would otherwise just be these names and their work. I hope people get to get a sense of who I am through my social media presence. I’ve probably
had more opportunities because of the internet, in general. I’m sure art directors have maybe found me on Instagram. Do you ever feel like you have to partially sell yourself along side the work that you’re making? I would like to just have my work speak for itself, but that’s definitely become a thing—having a personality that goes with it. I guess I do feel like that’s something I should think about. But I don’t know, I kind of feel like it’s just something that happens and I don’t want to try to make it happen. I’m just going to be myself. Hopefully the internet has helped make that a thing that’s just effortless. It’s weird when people try really hard. Some people brand themselves, and then their whole life is like “their brand.” I don’t know if that’s who I am. Some of my friends are that way. I feel like people can get to know who I am from my social media, when I post dumb videos of my lizard and stuff, haha. But I guess that’s something I’ll have to deal with as I continue doing this. What do you hope to push yourself to do within your personal and professional work? I mean, I feel like I’m at a constant state of discontent with my work. Not that I don’t like it or anything, it’s just I’m always like, “Ugh, I should be doing work like that.” That use to really frustrate me, because I would worry that I’d never make something I like. But that’s sort of stupid. I like my work, and I think it’s good to always want to be doing different stuff. I try to do that in my personal work. I want to simplify more. I feel like I’m always trying to develop my own language and kind of figure out what that is. I’ve been doing a lot of full color things and I want to see if I
can do more with just black and white or with just lines with no shape. I’ve been trying to do a really wide range of subjects. I use to only just draw from my head or some weird sci-fi looking stuff that I came up with—and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that—but eventually I tried to challenge myself to just try and draw still lives and see if I can make that really fun for myself. It’s kind of just a process of doing that. If I stop having fun doing one thing, I’ll try to have fun doing something I haven’t done before. So there are things in the back of my head all of the time that I want to start doing. Those’ll never go away probably, haha. What do you think keeps people from putting out their work when they’re younger? Why do you think people get discouraged by illustration when they’re starting out? I don’t know, I was pretty unhappy with my work when I graduated. Even though I worked really hard, I was still just like, “I don’t feel like any of this is the best I can do.” For me at least, it was just a personal thing to see what I could make, because I felt like I could make better stuff, but I wasn’t at the time. When I graduated my work was really different than it is now and it was just undeveloped. I was undeveloped as a person really. I feel like knowing yourself some how and the development of your work are really intertwined. That’s probably why people who are younger have a weird time doing things. But I was kind of forced into figuring it out because I got jobs, even though the work I made when I just started out was crazy bad. But that work was important to make, even though I was really lost. My own personal standards of what I wanted my work to look like were just not being met, even though I was trying so hard. I was just like, ‘Why can’t I make the work I want to be making!” I just kept making pieces and kept making pieces and still didn’t get there. I was like, “When the fuck am I going to figure this out.” Now I’ve figured it out a little more and I feel a little more content with where my work is
at. But that was pretty much the driving force that got me through it—just being discontent and feeling like I wanted to make something better. While I was in school I was constantly frustrated about that. I was just like, “Why does everyone have this figured out? I cannot get this shit together!” I was just reaching for this thing and would never get there. But then I realized, Dude, you’re never going to get there. Just keep making stuff. which was very liberating. Now I just make something and if I’m not so thrilled with it I’m just like, “Well I’m just going to make something else tomorrow.” Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? Well we’re about to do that new zine. That’s something that we’re going to have to scrounge the time and the money to do. I wish we could make it really crazy and elaborate like Gouffre, but that’s probably not going to happen, haha. I mean, I really like making books and stuff, so I really wish I had more means to do it. I don’t even have a printer, haha. I would like to make larger work. A lot my work is really small or I’ll do it in pieces and then scan it in and sometimes I’ll do sketchbook drawings. But I want to make larger pieces—which is doable. It’s not too out of my range, haha.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Where most career artists wince at the unknown, Jesse Moynihan has thrived during the most urgent and disillusioning
moments of his life. After dropping out one year into his undergraduate studies at Pratt, Jesse spent a nearly a decade experiencing the conflict and minutiae of humanity, before being able to make work that processed it. From his time leading the way in Philadelphia’s DIY music scene to his seven season tenure on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, Jesse has experienced the labors and rewards of creativity, always championing artistic freedom.
While simplicity characterizes Jesse’s motivations in life, his work as a cartoonist, storyboard artist, and writer has consis-
tently hinged on the complexity of mortality. With his mythological creation epic, Forming, which has taken up the better part of his comics career, Jesse has confronted his own insecurities about relationships, spirituality, and his place in the world. Although the themes through out his work are common to most, his art may never have the potential for universal accessibility. But now, as he approaches yet another crossroads in his life as an artist, all Jesse is concerned with is pushing full force towards creating the work he wants to see in the world.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I was born in Santa Ana, California, but I moved to the East Coast when I was one. I mostly went to Quaker schools growing up, and then I went to Pratt in Brooklyn for one year. Then I had a crisis of “What am I doing with myself? Why am I spending so much money?” I had a scholarship there, but the next year it was going to be for way less, so I couldn’t justify what I was learning at Pratt for the amount of money I was going to be owing them later. So, I dropped out and then moved to Philadelphia with a bunch of friends, and I lived in this punk house there. I lived there for 10 years, went to film school at Temple, got my degree, and eventually got offered a job out here in Los Angeles. Now I’ve been living in Los Angeles for the past eight years since 2009. Did you have any formal training in music or art when you were younger, or were you primarily self taught? I was taught violin when I was younger. I took lessons for about five or six years. Then I taught myself guitar. My brother took piano lessons, so we started collaborated with music in high school. We were in punk bands and stuff, and then got into other kinds of music. Then with art—I had some good teachers in school. In middle school I had a good art teacher who supported me, and singled me out with a couple other kids, and we had our own private art class. When I went to high school in ninth grade they didn’t have an art program. My principal, Mr. Snider, advised my parents to take me out of the school actually, haha. So then they put me into a Quaker boarding school that had a really good art program. So, I learned a lot of my fundamentals of color and figure
drawing and still life drawing from my teacher there. Then I went to Pratt for just the foundation year, so it was all of the same stuff like figure drawing, color theory, and a little bit of sculpture. But I was also teaching myself the whole time. A lot of comic book artists probably will name drop Drawing Comics the Marvel Way, that book by John Buscema. That was a big book for me, haha. So I learned how to draw muscle people that way. What role did comics play in your life while you were growing up? I was really aware of them since elementary school. My friends and I collected X-Men, and Avengers, and all of the Marvel comics. Then I got really into the Image comics somewhere around middle school. All of the “extreme” 90s super hero comics—I was really into those. I was really into Rob Liefeld and Todd Mcfarlane and their stuff. My friends and I were mallrats, and there as this place called Showcase Comics, we hung out there because the guys who worked there, who were older than us, were really friendly and were always suggesting comics to us. So some of the guys who worked there started recommending more indie books to us. I got into Jeff Smith, Peter Bagge, and Dave Sim. Cerebus was a really huge deal for me. So I was always into it, and I was always drawing comics, but I didn’t think that I could become a professional cartoonist. I didn’t have an understanding of how to get into that industry. Basically, I wanted to work for the Ninja Turtles company hahaha, and I wanted to draw Ninja Turtles. So me and my friend Dave made up a comic that
was like an anthropomorphized wolf samurai. We did two issues of that, and I remember taking it to the comic book store. There was a guy visiting the comic store, who was an inker on Spiderman, I think, and I remember showing him my work and asking him for a critique. He gave me a good critique, but after he left I was like “Well, I still don’t know how to get anyone at Marvel to hire me or get Eastman and Laird—the Ninja Turtles guys—to let me do a cover for them. So it wasn’t until I got really into the indie comics scene that I got into reading all of the Fantagraphics books, and I started realizing you could sort of make your own path in comics in the indie world. But I got sidetracked at some point wanting to become a filmmaker, so that’s why I went to Temple. I tried to minor in film at Pratt because I figured I could have more of a career in the film industry than if I was making comic books. I gave up on making comics until I finished the film program at Temple. I got so disillusioned with filmmaking and the idea of raising thousands and thousands of dollars to make an idea come to life, and working with people I didn’t trust or get along with just because they’re like a good DP or something like that. That really bummed me out. I went into that program thinking I could make a movie just by myself, and the longer I was in that program, the more they convinced me I couldn’t, so I totally lost my enthusiasm for it. I had been making these improvisational films with my friends. To me that was what was fun about filmmaking. My favorite filmmaker at that time was Jodorowsky, and he had been doing comics when he couldn’t raise money for a film. That inspired me and I realized, Oh yeah, I could just make comics again. I could make all of my ideas happen without raising millions of dollars to do some crazy sequence in space. So it all just made sense. I could just buy paper and a pen and I’d be bringing my ideas to life. Then I just got really into doing comics again, and I started trying to break into the indie comics world. That was around 2004 or 2005 I guess. What was your experience like going to Pratt and Temple? How did each impact your attitude towards making work? I’m still friends with a couple of the people I went to school with at Pratt. But we all sort of went on really different paths. A lot of them stayed in New York and finished the program. I moved back to Philly where it was super cheap to live, and I focused less on having a job and more on doing what I felt inspired to do. Whenever they tried to convince me to move to New York I’d be like, “No! I’d have to work a full time job to even live there. When would I have time to write music or make a graphic novel or something?” I think they made it work for them in their own way. I’ve always thought really pragmatically about what is the most direct way to get what I want out of my life, and what things would stand in my way if I was in this location. So to me, living in New York was never an option, just be cause it was prohibitively expensive for a
person who didn’t know where his money was going to come from. My rent in Philly was $250 a month. I could work a shit job at the video store for 20 hours a week, and the rest of the week I just did whatever I wanted. I’m still friends with just one person from Temple. It was this guy, Ted Passon. We’re still in communication with each other, and he does a lot of TV stuff now. He was sort of the star pupil of our class. But he was the only guy in that class who I would really ask to help me on my own projects, haha. We got along and we were both in the punk scene, so we knew each other through that kind of stuff. Plus we were both like vegan, haha. What were your first few years out of school like? When I dropped out of Pratt and moved to Philly, I lived in this punk house in West Philly because I was in this band with my friend Dave called Anal Sausage, haha. I really believed in the band at the time. It was all my best friends from high school basically, so I really just wanted to do that. I was like, “I don’t care about anything else. I just want to be in a punk band and hang out with punks in Philly.” hahaha. I thought the West Philly scene was really weird and cool. I would go to these squatter house shows every week, twice a week, to see some crust band play and hang out with squatters. I had this really conflicted kind of life, where weird stuff would happen and dysfunctional people would be coming in and out of my life. I was living with dudes with heroin problems and stuff. A lot of the guys I lived with at the time—I’ll go back to Philly and I’ll run into them, and we’re still cool with each other. But I sort of drifted away from the punk scene because I got less and less interested in punk music. I think what I’m trying to say is, I had no goal, haha. I had a four track, I had some pieces of paper that I’d draw on, and make zines and stuff sometimes. All I cared about for several years was playing shows and going to see shows. I worked crappy jobs like folding boxes, making minimum wage—like $8.50 an hour—and being fine. I had enough to eat and enough money to buy a road bike. I just sort of hung out with people and made friends. I was like waiting for something to inspire me. Then my band fell apart, I had a falling out with my friend Nate, and I got disillusioned with the punk scene. I started feeling like punk was a really limiting form of music, and I got really into free jazz and psychedelic music. I started working at this small mom-and-pop art house video store, so I started watching tons and tons of movies and got really exposed to movies from every era and every part of the world. So that was sort of my early film education. I worked there for five years. I watched every Godard movie, every Hitchcock movie, every weird cult movie, I watched several videos of Joseph Campbell lectures. I also watched all of these live music videos of Sun Ra performances and stuff—they just had everything at this video store. So I got really into Sun Ra and less of a political way of thinking
“All I cared about for several years was playing shows and going to see shows.” and more of a philosophical or spiritual way of thinking. After that I went to film school. I wasn’t fully immersed in that school—it’s more of a commuter school—so I was still involved in the music scene and making paintings and trying to figure out what my medium was for about four years. So it wasn’t until I was maybe 23 or 24 that my friends who I was hanging out with, these three brothers, got me really excited about making zines. We just all started making zines together. This was a time when you could scam Kinkos. You could charging up the Kinkos cards by hacking their machines and get hundreds of dollars worth or Kinkos credits. So we were making free zines and stuff for about two years, and that sort of got me into the mindset of zines and comics. I just started drawing stream of consciousness comics and zines and giving them out for free. I started doing collaborative stuff with my friends that was more like “offensive humor comics”—stuff that I’d never show anyone now, haha. That was all sort of when I was finishing up film school, so the comics thing over took the film thing. I think I was like 24 or 25 when I started being more focused on it and felt, This is the thing I’m going to try to do really hard. What was the DIY space that you you were running in Philly around that time? Why did it end when it did? A local landlord, Willy, who my brother knew, had a ware-
house. He was sort of one of these old hippie landlords in West Philly who a lot of people know. He liked to be friends with his tenants I guess. There were a couple of these guys in West Philly who own warehouse spaces and they rent them out to artists and stuff. So Willy showed the warehouse to us, and it was a huge space. The upstairs was all living space that felt like a cabin space with a wood burning stove, and downstairs was just open. I don’t know how many square feet, but it was huge! We could house several hundred people in there, and so we built a stage. It was like the warehouse venue dream haha, you know? Me and my friends were just so focused on music and wanting to cultivate Philly as being a real scene. We wanted to rival New York and have really interesting bands come through there. I wanted to curate really great shows and be supper snobby, haha. I just thought, If I can’t go out and see the shows that I want to see, I’ll have them here. That idea really appealed to me, so that’s what we tried to do. We did it for a couple years, and it was really great because it was also a rehearsal space for us where we wouldn’t bother anybody. Although, our neighbors just absolutely hated us… At one point they thought were were running an illegal underground strip club. We called it the Avant Gentleman’s Lodge, and so I think someone knocked on someone’s door looking for it once being like “Is this the Avant Gentleman’s Lodge?” They heard “gentleman’s lodge” and I think they thought
it meant gentleman’s club or something. My brother and I had to go to a town meeting and explain what we were doing, and that we weren’t running a strip club or selling drugs out of there. But then eventually the whole building fell apart, and that’s why it stopped happening. We just couldn’t maintain it. What were some of the first comics you started putting out, and how did you get your Xeric grant?
that sounded good to me, coming out of some monster’s mouth or something. They probably vaguely meant something that had to do with what was going on in my life, but none of the characters were talking to each other or anything—they were all just making statements. So, that was my version of comics at that point. Then that slowly evolved into this character with a cone hat who was sort of my avatar, haha. Then I started tracking his adventures basically.
That all sort of came out of the zines I was making. I was making these zines and passing them around, and some comic book guys who published Tom Herpich got a hold of some of my zines. Tom and I were pen pals, and he was published through Alternative Comics at that time. He had just been published for the first time, but he was further along than I was, so I was looking to him for advice like, “How do I get published after just making copies at Kinkos?” Then he sort of introduced me to a couple dudes, and that’s when I started going to comic conventions, like SPX in Bethesda, Maryland, and started meeting publishers. So, I was doing this sort of auto-biographical surreal stream of consciousness comics that didn’t really have a story. I was making stuff like that because my zine stuff was just purely channeling whatever was on my mind. I look back at it now and it basically looks like some navel gazing poetry kind of stuff. It was like words
I made two comics, and then I heard about the Xeric grant, which was coincidentally founded by Peter Laird who created the Ninja Turtles. I thought it was fate or something, haha! I figured, “I gotta get money from the guys who made the Ninja Turtles, and then that’ll validate all of this time I spent fucking around and people thinking I’m wasting my life.” That was the feeling I felt from society. I felt this pressure to be successful, but I also felt a desire to be free and do whatever I want, you know? I was trying to find a way to hopefully hit the lottery or something so that people could say, “What you’re doing is valid. You’re not just a 90s slacker.” But someone told me about the Xeric grant, so I thought I would try and I put together a package. I was really inspired by Dave Sim, because at the time he had written a comic book on self publishing. I thought, Okay, I’ll just be a self publisher, because I was rejected by several publishers at this point and had a
“I wanted to curate really great shows and be supper snobby, haha. I just thought, If I can’t go out and see the shows that I want to see, I’ll have them here.”
couple close calls with getting into anthologies. I remember, I almost got into a Fantagraphics anthology. The guy who was curating it—I think he contacted me first asking if I wanted to do something. I thought, This is it. I’ve made it. I’ll be in this Fantagraphics anthology, and people will know who I am. But then, when I sent him my pages, he didn’t want to publish them, haha. So I felt like I wasn’t ever going to have a comics career. But then I applied for the Xeric grant and got it, and that gave me several thousand dollars to publish my first two books. So that was really validating, and made me feel like I could do comics and create something that people would see. I didn’t really care about making money or
anything, I just wanted to be able to make a book, complete a project and then have it be distributed. Then I got Diamond distribution to distribute my comics, and I started going to more comic conventions. At that time, this guy Randy Chang who had taken over the stock of this folded publishing house called high water books—he and I became friends. He supported me and was helping me distribute my mini comics and stuff, and he also helped me distribute my Xeric books. Then he offered to publish my next book, so he published my first graphic novel. When did you start making webcomics? After I finished that, I was thinking about what to do next.
“I felt like I wasn’t ever going to have a comics career.”
“I applied for the Xeric grant and got it, and that gave me several thousand dollars to publish my first two books. So that was really validating.” This was right when webcomics were starting to happen. There were some really popular ones, but the people in the publishing world didn’t respect webcomics, so there was this big divide into two camps. If you worked in webcomics you were considered trash… you were like a piece of shit, haha. And I mean, I felt that way too! I was looking online at webcomics as was like, “All this stuff sucks.” haha. It was like some other culture that I couldn’t connect to. It’s almost like the “analog vs digital” debate that was happening at the same time. I was also a part of that discussion—in my head, haha. At first, my band was recording everything reel to reel, until we realized how fucking shitty it was, and how great it was to record on a
digital recorder. To be able to multitrack and everything and work on a lower budget was great. But anyway, everyone hated webcomics and no one was making good webcomics except for stuff like Achewood. I’d say like 99 percent of webcomics at that time were total shit, so the medium hadn’t been validated. So, I was never considering doing them. I just wanted someone to help me make a book. My publisher at the time sort of gave up publishing and all of the discussions I had had with Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Alternative Comics—nobody had seemed interested in my comics. Even the Drawn & Quarterly guys told me I wasn’t
ready for them. They liked what I was doing, but they felt like I needed a few more years or something. That was what they told me at the time. So I just felt like no one was going to publish me, but at this point I had become friends with a bunch of comic artists, and Dash Shaw just started doing BodyWorld online. His webcomic was the first one that I felt respect for. I was like, “Oh! This guy, whose comics I really respect, is working in this medium that gets no respect. It made me realize, the medium doesn’t matter if you’re making good work. Then we had a long talk in New York one day, and I asked him to critique my graphic novel. He gave me all of this really important feedback, so I sort of changed the way I was approaching comics. I decided, rather than make a comic that was an expression of my own sort of dream logic and maybe what I think while I’m just sitting and meditating, I wanted to make something that would be entertaining. I wanted to make something that I would want pick up if I saw it. So I wanted to make my version of a “blockbuster” comic story, or something with that intention. I wanted to entertain. Those first two books are obviously really auto-biographical, but are shrouded in these surreal plot lines. Where did that writing style come from, and why did you move away from it once you started making webcomics? Early on I couldn’t make a comic that was more than three pages long. I think that’s a problem a lot of people have. I couldn’t sustain a story, so the strategy that I developed was that, from page to page I wouldn’t know what was going to happen next, so I’d never get bored. I didn’t want to just be thumb-nailing everything out and I’d be doing this tedious work to execute an idea I came up with months ago. So all of those early stories were stream of consciousness, and sometimes I would chop them up and move them around. Once I saw everything and I could see themes emerging, I would put those things next to each other, so that it would seem like there was a plan. So, I was sort of into having some structure or some semblance of a story or theme with repeating motifs and stuff like that, but I think I was just learning how to tell a story at that point. I was also learning how to do the marathon of making a book without losing interest. So my early method was only planning maybe two pages or three pages ahead. I read this book Les Chants de Maldoror that really inspired me. It was all just surreal imagery, but you could tell the author was in all of this pain. So you were getting an impression of the author while seeing crazy imagery of giant snails and people being tortured and stuff like that. Oh, and I read this book The Plam-Wine Drinkard, and that was a book where just one crazy thing happened after another, and it doesn’t cycle back, it just moves in one direction. It’s really entertaining and written in this crude language. So I was inspired by that. But then, once I got that out of my system and I got some
real feedback from a guy that I admired, I decided to really focus on telling more of a direct story, and not trying to shroud everything in mystery all of the time. I didn’t want to have everything be several steps removed from understanding what I’m trying to get at and just be more direct with my storytelling. My earlier work, I think was funny—I would put jokes in there to keep people moving along—but they were like when you tell someone the dream you had the night before. “I had this crazy dream!” and to you, it’s a great story. But to most people they’re like, “Uh, I don’t want to hear about your dream. It doesn’t mean anything to me.” haha. So that was the personal conclusion I came up with about my comics, and I wanted to try to have more of a dialog with the audience. Totally! With a lot of the work after that point, it didn’t feel like you started holding the reader’s hand, but you figured out a way to make your complex narratives more direct. Yeah! I want there to be that freedom to get whatever you want out of it. I still like having interpretable stuff going on, but you can read it on these two level. You can read it as this adventure, but on another level you can dwell on or think about what I’m talking about and what the underlying themes are or where I’m getting the imagery from. Sometimes I’ll totally drop the floor out. Sometimes I’ll just be like, “I don’t care if you don’t understand this, I’m just going to do it.” haha. I mean, I don’t have an editor who’s like, “I don’t understand what this means.” So I will do selfish stuff like that, but in the back of my head, I’m trying to connect more than I use to and tell a more coherent story that you can follow. How did you initially start your ongoing comic Forming? Forming was the first comic I did online. I remember I got the bump from Dash Shaw when I posted the first episode. I was like, “You’ve got to help me, becuase nobody cares about webcomics, but people seem to like yours. So if you could give me some cred, that would be nice.” So that helped. I was going through this period—and I’m still going through it—but, my brother and I grew up in a very spiritual household, and the people I hang out with and the people I interact with through media were moving really far away from that. There’s this thing that just happened in LA, the March for Science, which to me is one of the most condescending acts. But I’m sure all of my friends are probably going to go to it. And I get it, I’m not anti-science or anything, but I’m also really pro-anecdotal-experience and believe in the value of personal revelation over empirical evidence. That’s just the way I’ve operated for a long time and it’s the way I grew up. I feel like the hip left crowd—not so much in LA—but when I was on the East Coast I felt that distain so much. Not all my friends,
“I was really getting into alternative revisionist history and how much of occult ideas were underlying so many historical moments in time that people don’t really want to talk about.” cause we were doing weird shit like shamanic rituals and having solstice parties in our warehouse. I mean, there would be hundreds of people in there and we’d do this magic ritual, but I don’t know how many of the people in there thought, What is this guy doing or Oh, this is some fun halloween shit haha. We built a birth canal and we’d have them come out of a vagina and slide down the stairs so that they could experience rebirth and all of that stuff. I was reading lots of Joseph Campbell, I was getting into the idea of the collective unconscious, the monomyth, and connecting all of the world religions. I was really getting into alternative revisionist history and how much of occult ideas were underlying so many historical moments in time that people don’t really want to talk about. Like for example, the guy who founded Jet Propulsion Labs was a decibel of Aleister Crowley. He wasn’t just some inventor who was like, “I just want to make rockets.” he was like, “I want to summon this demon babylon.” haha. That’s what he was doing, and he founded Jet Propulsion Labs! There were these people in time who were motivated by magical, spiritual concerns, and they did great things. Like Tesla and so many great people—Einstein was highly religious. So I wanted to make a comic that would almost be like a war-cry or my own personal statement about the validity of revelation. I wanted to make something about the nature of lies and the truth and how those things are mu-
table. Truth and falsehood flipflop. You can believe one thing, and another thing can be true. It always changes based on the consensus of reality. So I wanted to make a book about all of that. All of my conspiracy theory thoughts that I was heavily into at that time, which I’m not as heavy into anymore. All of my fantasies about ancient aliens and a hollow earth—all of that stuff. I wanted to throw all of that shit in. Stuff I believed, stuff I didn’t believe—it didn’t matter. To me, it was just fun to think that way and I wanted to feel the vitality of the imagination and express that not just through hard sci-fi scrutiny. I just wanted to throw shit at the wall and express that these were my true feelings about spirituality and history. I was basically trying to re-write history. Originally I wanted it to be from the Big Bang until now. It was going to be my life’s work basically. But once I got involved in it I was like, “Nah, I’m going to go up to the end of Atlantis, and then I’m going to stop, becuase that’s too much.” I jumped ahead and did a little story about George Washington Carver becuase I had originally planned for him to be a big part of the story. I wanted to at least touch on that, so I did a 20 page short story on him. In my mind it’s in the Forming universe, but they probably won’t ever be paired together. So that was the goal, and still now to this day, it’s sort of like my underlying motivation for doing it. I know everyone is having these conversations about
“I think Tom put in a good word and was like ‘Jesse is a cool dude, you should hire him.’ And then Pen offered me a job basically.”
voting, politics, medicine, guns, discrimination, inclusion, and whatever we hate each other about, and it’s all important stuff on a certain level. But if that’s all there is, then reality loses all of its color. It just becomes this grey conflict. How did the job opportunity at Adventure Time come up? What impact did that have on everything else you were doing?
Pen Ward, who created Adventure Time, saw my comics at SPX in Bethesda. He bought them and I guess he went home and read them and liked my jokes. He saw in the comic that I thanked Tom Herpich who was working as a character designer on the show at the time. He asked Tom about me and was like “Do you know this guy Jesse?” We had been pen pals and stuff, but I had never met Tom in real life. But I think Tom put in a good word and was like “Jesse is a cool dude, you should hire him.” And then Pen offered me a job basically. I didn’t have any animation experience, so for about half a year it went back and forth whether I would get hired or not. I had to take a test and all of this stuff, and it got to a point where I thought I wasn’t going to get hired. I just gave up on the whole idea, but then a producer called me out of the blue and asked me to move out within two weeks. So I just moved and dropped everything in Philly basically.
Did it feel exciting to finally have this full time art job? What impact did that have on everything else you were doing? I was a storyboard revisionist at first, which was so easy— at least when I was doing it. For the first couple months that I was on the show, I would just be sitting around for hours not doing anything. So I just started bringing my comics in and working on them until someone would stop by my cubicle and tell me to do something. The guy who was my supervisor was totally supportive and like, “Just work on your own comics if there’s nothing for you to do.” So I got a lot done on Forming becuase of that. It was basically a part time job that paid really well and gave me heath insurance. I came on to that show really sort of skeptical of it. I didn’t really know anything about it except that I saw the Youtube short. I wasn’t sure what the show was going to turn into or what it was going to be like. It was season one when I came on the show, so none of the episodes had aired on TV yet. They had a couple work prints, so I went through those and watched them without the soundtrack and sort of got a feel for what the show could be. But I was mostly working on my own stuff until season two when I got promoted to a storyboard artist and got really heavily involved and started working insane hours.
I was actually reluctant to take the job becuase I was afraid it was going to destroy my comics career, or my goal for the series of Forming books. I wanted to finish those books, so I was a little scared. I actually talked to my friend Brandon, and I was like “I don’t know if I can take this job because it’s going to fuck with my comics.” haha. He yelled at me and was like “You better take that job! Dude, you are so poor.” I was on food stamps and was unemployed for about a year taking a few odd jobs like moving jobs to pay rent. I owed all of my friends money, I was borrowing money from everybody. I quit my job becuase I got so fed up with working shit jobs and I was so dedicated to making comics. I wanted to see if I could really bust ass with comics and make something happen. I was working like 13 to 15 hours a day on comics and I would try to finish a page in a day, so I just didn’t have time to work a job basically. I had a job as a standardized patient, and I was making pretty good money—like $23 an hour—pretending to have carpal tunnel syndrome and crohn’s disease. I’d have to get diagnosed by student doctors to get a residency at a hospital. So I did that for three years and was like, “This is a comfortable job. I’m making enough money to shop at Whole Foods or whatever, but I’m going nowhere with in my life.” So I quit and stopped working to just do comics and see how long I can last, and somehow hustle enough money to pay rent. So that’s where I was at when Adventure Time hired me. I eventually was able to pay everyone back and get dental work done. So I decided, I’ll do Adventure Time, but I won’t sacrifice my personal work. I have to maintain my identity and not get lost in this this IP. With a lot of this corporate Cartoon Network brand, I think a lot of people want to get lost in there and be like, “I’m a person who’s part of this team effort.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t want that. My ego was too big I guess, haha. Or at least, the thing I wanted to accomplish in my life, I couldn’t give that up. What was it like working with all of these other great writers and cartoonists once you started working as a storyboard artist? Who were some of the artists there who impacted your work on the show? Being on that show was like being in a writing and cartooning workshop for five years. I was around all of these people that either had crazy drawing chops and would show me stuff all of the time. The way I would draw Jake would be different from the way that Tom Herpich would draw Jake or Rebecca Sugar would draw Finn or something. It was like being at art camp or something. Everybody that worked on the show had their own high level way of doing things. Whether or not I agreed with their aesthetics or not, it didn’t matter because I could always learn something from them about volume or perspective or staging or how to put a story together. Every week you’d see several pitches for episodes, and you’d see
the way the other writers were structuring episodes. What was working, what was funny, what was not—you could tell just from the laughs in the room. So it was a crazy boot camp for over five years. I learned tons of stuff, and just the fact that I had to draw like a maniac all week long for five years straight while trying to improve made me a way better cartoonist. It made me love drawing environments way more than I did when I first started Forming. It made me really conscious of staging and blocking and thinking about the panels that were coming up and how a character would move from one place to another and how you would track it and all of that stuff. In comics there are no rules. You don’t have to draw by any standard. You can be a really great outsider artist and make great comics that people enjoy. But if you’re making stuff for animation, you have to hit a certain universal standard of quality or readability so that anyone that’s watching it understands what they’re seeing. There was all of this stuff that I did not care or think about before, and I learned why it’s affective. I didn’t totally drink the kool-aid becuase I’d say around season five I personally started rejecting a lot of that stuff and tried to see what I could get away with on television that would not be something you’d usually see in a kids show. I was like “Okay, I’m going to try to tell this story that’s completely nonlinear and doesn’t follow the three act structure, or breaks half way through and turns into a story about a completely different character, or has really esoteric themes at the forefront rather than in the subtext.” I just wanted to see what I could get away with, just to fuck with television. It was this thing where I had this opportunity to work on a hit show that kids at Comic Con were losing their minds over, was the face of the network, and critics really liked, and the people in charge were giving us less and less attention. They were like “This ship is steering itself. We don’t need to watch it so closely.” Then, when a lot of us on the show started feeling that, we were like “Okay, let’s take advantage of this and make really fucked up shit and see what we can put on television.” To me, that became the fascinating thing. It was like, “Oh, I have this idea. Oh, they’ll never let me do this. Well, I’ll try anyway.” and then a few months later I’d get to see it on television and be like “Ah man, I made this thing… It should not be on television.” What was it like to start getting more artistically and emotionally invested in the show once you actually had a hand in shaping the narrative? I got really invested in the show becuase, being a really obscure comic artist who was making no money and no one cared about, only a couple hundred people had ever seen the stuff I had made. Getting this opportunity to work in this sandbox that was getting tons of eyes, and also being given a certain amount of freedom to be really expressive within that sandbox, made me feel this really high sense of responsibility. Even though I was just one person within a huge team of people making stuff, I think
a lot of us felt that way. Pen had created a hit, so we had the responsibility to deliver the goods. A lot of us came from indie comics and came from this auteur concept, so we wanted to tell really personal stories, really philosophical ideas, and see if we could make something good. Like, I didn’t want to work on a shit show, you know? I didn’t want to work on some show I didn’t like. I wanted to make a show that I liked and be instrumental in helping everybody else make the show that they liked and could respect or be proud of working on. You only really get one shot at that. I remember going to Comic Con for the first time and seeing how much energy the kids had. It was so insane. I thought there was going to be a riot or something. These kids love this show, so we have to give them our best work. That way they’re growing up the same way I grew up with something I really connected with. When I connected with a thing I could tell that the people making it were really passionate about it. For me it was Ren & Stimpy. So I wanted to help create that similar feeling of when you see something and your brain catches fire and you’re just like “I don’t know what this is, but it makes me feel inspired. It’s hitting me on a deeper level than something that’s supposed to sell you action figures.” So I think a lot of us on the show were trying to do that. Make something that hit on that visceral level, the way that we were hit by something that inspired us when we were kids. We
wanted something that we could grow up and come back to get something out of again. Early on in the show, what characters or plot points do you remember introducing into the show? I think the thing that I was tracking through out my time on Adventure Time was the Magic Man character arch and the Society of Magic within that world. That became a metaphor for the sacrifices that artists have to make in order to create something. With everything you create you give up something. You put something out into the world, and you lose part of your soul or something. Me and Pen and—I forget who else was in the room, maybe Kent (Osborne) and Jack—we came up with this idea of “magic, madness, and sadness” and how all of those things connect with each other. Magic was sort of a stand in for the creative process and being a creative person. Being cartoonist or someone who makes music or whatever, you give up some aspect of yourself and you sacrifice something to create something. That was definitely how I was feeling at the time, working on the show. I was giving up so much of myself to work on that show and to come up with new ideas every week. Tom Herpich and I were talking about it—the first, second, and third seasons were easy to find shit to make jokes out of and make interesting themes out of.
“We were all super burnt out. But I didn’t leave because I felt like the stuff I was making kept getting better and better, so I felt like I couldn’t leave as long that was still happening.”
“I think the thing that I was tracking through out my time on Adventure Time was the Magic Man character arch and the Society of Magic within that world. That became a metaphor for the sacrifices that artists have to make in order to create something.” It started getting harder and harder because you’d be like “I already did that. I already did that.” so you have to reach deeper and deeper to find more compelling stuff. The deeper you reached into your well, the more of a psychic trauma you were putting on yourself. There was this weird thing where you’d feel—I felt it and I know Tom felt it becuase we talked about it so much—this drain. You’d be like “I don’t know, I think that episode took something out of me.” It sort of made me feel crazy. It got to the point where, by season six, I was… just gone. I was totally out of it. I felt like a zombie. I had used up everything. So that idea of magic in Adventure Time was sort of based on that—what happening to us as writers and storyboard artists and designers on the show, just from working on it, haha. I was tracking that through Ice King and Magic Man. Magic Man, for me, became this symbol of things I was working through in my life, like trying to get over old relationships and stuff like that. I was directly interpreting that into that story. I was in a weird weird state of mind when I was doing that stuff. I was like, “I have this ultimate platform to work with where I can tell any story I want. I’m going to tell this tragic story about what happened to me in this six year relationship I was in, and how all of that
exploded apart a few months before I moved to LA.” I was still sort of going through that, so that was my way of exercising all of that stuff out of my system and transmuting it into a creative thing. So I thought I could take the negative energy and turn it into entertainment. So that was what Magic Man was all about. To some degree, I think I took it too far. I sort of regret a little bit about how exposed I made myself through the Magic Man story. I think maybe I slightly compromised the character a little bit just for my own agenda, haha. I don’t know how much of that Magic Man stuff you saw but, his wife or girlfriend was stolen away by this super being called Golb and he never saw her again. In it her name was Margles, and that was the nickname I had for my girlfriend at that time. So I just put it in there. I was just like “I’m going to name this character Margles. If she ever sees this, she’ll know what this is about.” I still don’t know if she’s ever seen it or knows about it or whatever. What led to your eventual departure from the show? How did you know that you were done with it? Well, I was threatening to leave the show for a couple seasons. I think all of us were. We were all super burnt out.
But I didn’t leave because I felt like the stuff I was making kept getting better and better, so I felt like I couldn’t leave as long as that was still happening. That’s what I thought… But I was super aware of what everyone was saying about the show online. I was tracking Tumblr, 4chan, Reddit, AV Club—anyone that was talking about it. So I was hyper aware of the audience response—or at least the online troll response and the critical response. So by season six I was like, “This is the best shit I’ve ever written, with anything I’ve ever done!” That’s how I felt. During the making of season six, every board I’d finish, I’d be like “This is the best shit I’ve ever written. This is fucking awesome. I can’t wait for it to get on TV.” And then, when the stuff I was so proud of started coming out on television, people really reacted violently to it and were like not into it. Some critics were really into it, but the audience—the 4chan and the Reddit people—I was getting so much blow back from them that I started getting really confused about why I was doing it or who I was trying to reach. Like, “Why would I want to connect with millions of people if a majority of them don’t get it?” Then I started really asking, Who is my audience? and I realized, I think my audience is actually really small, haha. My genuine audience is only a few thousand people. I came up with some random number like 30,000 people or something like that. So 30,000 people in the english speaking world connect with whatever my vibe is? Everyone else is at some level of tolerating it or hating it, but I got this excuse because I got to work in this sandbox— this brand—that was well loved by so many people. I was just fucking with it from the inside. So I had this avenue to work with in that really colorful psychedelic structure that was really appealing to so many people initially. I knew in my head, if I made my own cartoon nobody would like it. They like it because it’s Pen’s cartoon, you know? A majority of the people just put up with the episodes that I work on. Little kids are like not into it, I think. So that’s what I realized about whatever my existential struggles that I was depicting on television. People would come up to me at parties and stuff and be like, “Ah, I love want you do on Adventure Time!” and I’d be not into getting a compliment. I would just be like “What are you into?” I couldn’t value positive feedback or negative feedback. It all just felt negative to me while season six was airing. But I was working my ass off and basically destroying myself to make this stuff. So by the end of season six I had some sort of panic attack or anxiety attack and I took several months off and then wasn’t sure if I was coming back. Then I decided with season seven I would dial it back and just try to tell entertaining and funny stories, and see if I could still do that—like the thing that I was doing originally in seasons two and three. If I could do that then I would know that I hadn’t broken myself. So I went into season seven with that intention. I was like, “I’m just going to tell funny stories that aren’t overly philosophical, but still have this lust for life that I try to convey.” I felt like over all, I accomplished
it. But after that there was no where else for me to go. I had nothing left to contribute to the show, and it would probably be better if someone new came in with their own fresh take. So for the sake of the show, I quit. After leaving Adventure Time how do you hope to maintain creative fulfillment and sustainability in your life, without sacrificing the type of work you want to make? I’ve been at a crossroads again now for the past year and a half. Since quitting Adventure Time I’ve been in this place where I’m pitching shows, and I’ve got all of these projects that are on the cusp of happening, and also deciding whether or not I want to work with Cartoon Network or Disney or Nickelodeon or whatever—if I want to dial my ideas back. I just pitched a thing to Cartoon Network a couple weeks ago that got turned down, and now I’m thinking, Maybe I’ll just do it myself. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do that, and I could also retool it so that it would be more like me, instead of this thing I’m trying to make for kids. But if I do it by myself, I don’t have this big PR machine behind me, and I don’t have health insurance, you know what I mean? I don’t have the support network. Now at this point, I’m making enough money from my Patreon to pay rent and people cane still follow my webcomics. I do little things in the animation world to make enough money to keep living and eating food and stuff. I’m sort of in this phase where I’m trying to be satisfied with… I’m just trying to make stuff. As long as I’m able to make stuff that I think is good, and there’s no one standing in my way of making the thing, then I’m happy. I try not to focus on what other people think of it. I do think about that stuff a little bit, but I’ve really tried to dial that way way back. Over the past year and a half I’ve done personal work, I’ve tried to put that criticism way far back into my consciousness as something that doesn’t drive me. The thing that does drive me is bringing to life something that I find compelling or that makes me go, “I’ve never seen that before! I want to do that.” The goal is to make something that would excited me if I were a stranger to the work. Hopefully—fingers crossed—I’ll be able to keep having health insurance and dental insurance. If I get into an accident, I won’t have to be super scared to rehab my shoulder—all that kind of stuff. Right now I’m okay—my bank account is going, “Womp womp womp.” little bit. So I’ve got a couple things coming up that will maybe pan out and get me some money. But for the most part, I think I’m moving into more independent territory—and it’s not really even by my choice. I still have a relationship with the Frederator guys who made Manly, and I’m talking to them about making more, but they also don’t have money so… So there’s just a few things like that. Working on Adventure Time was my opportunity to work
“As long as I’m able to make stuff that I think is good, and there’s no one standing in my way of making the thing, then I’m happy.” on a really big mainstream appealing show. While I was working on the show I kind of knew that maybe I wouldn’t be able to create something like that on my own and that I lucked out with having this avenue to express my ideas. I knew whatever I worked on next would probably be more niche. It’s a weird thing to admit out loud because, I think if an executive heard me saying that stuff, they wouldn’t want to take meeting with me, haha. So I hope they don’t read this interview. I want to convince executives that I can make a hit show, you know? I want them to think that, but I don’t think I can make a hit show, hahaha. Maybe it could happen! Maybe some freak shit could happen. I don’t know. It’s kind of sad that, even when an artist wants to have creative integrity, there’s still this incentive to make something marketable and work with a giant company, just so that you don’t have to worry about something like not having healthcare. Yeah! I mean there are people out there are making good stuff on their own. I think David O’Reilly is a good example of that. He just does whatever he wants. But he’s got a really good business mind. He directed an Adventure Time episode, and then I think Cartoon Network was like, “Do you want to develop something with us?” and he was just like “Nah, I’m just going to go make an independent video
game.” He’s talked to me about that. Every time I talk to him he’s been like “You should just do your own thing. Don’t work for these big companies.” To me, where ever I’m getting the least resistance, seems to be the philosophy for me. If some Disney executive reaches out to me and is like, “I really like your work! I want you to come in and talk to me!” I’m not just going to not talk to them. Why would I shut that door? Maybe something good could come out of it. Or maybe I’m actually walking into a torture chamber. I’ve heard some bad stories. I have a meeting with Nickelodeon in like two weeks or something to talk about this thing that didn’t go over at Cartoon Network. Maybe something will happen out of it. Maybe they’ll give me the fucking Louis CK deal where they pay me less money and let me make the thing I want to make. I really doubt it, but maybe! It doesn’t hurt to try. Even though I would like to just be able to make pure independent work with no one telling me what to do, and then miraculously get some PR department to push my shit, I don’t exactly know how to do that. But if that ends up being the way that I find myself, which seems to be the way that I’m going, then I don’t have a problem doing that. I’ll probably be happier than if I were working at Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network where they’re going to take my concept and note it up.
There are definitely things I wouldn’t be able to say on their network. They’d be like “That’s too complex for kids.” I have a friend who’s developing a show there now, and they weren’t aloud to use the word “metaphor” in an episode. They were like “Kids don’t know what the word metaphor means.” That made me really discouraged. I thought, Oh maybe I don’t want this show to happen. And then it didn’t happen, so it was sort of a relief, haha. And nothing against Cartoon Network—they’ve been really supportive of me and really friendly towards me. I might help write on a show coming up maybe. But as far as pursuing my own ideas now. I think maybe all of the signs are pointing towards me making my own thing. I’ve got a couple meeting coming up that might change my mind about stuff, but we’ll see. So, flowing through opportunities and being open to whatever happening or not happening has been my career approach, haha. If things don’t happen, it must be for a reason. You use that to keep the momentum up and pivot to different directions. But I always have my comics. No matter what happens I can always sit at my table and draw something. How did your project Manly come about? The Frederator guys produced the first Adventure Time pilot, so early on they were always around the studio. Eric (Homan) and Kevin (Kolde) would always come in and
say “Hi” and stuff. This was when they were starting to develop stuff for Youtube, so they were like “If you ever have any ideas, let us know. Maybe we’ll make something.” I think this was at the time where I was considering leaving the show. I don’t know, it’s weird working under someones else’s ideas. No matter how much original shit I put into that show, it’s still someone else’s show. It’s an awesome opportunity, but in your mind you’re always like “Well, what if I made my own thing?” I was missing a lot of my friends in Philadelphia, and my brother was traveling around the country and he wasn’t living anywhere. So I was like, “Why don’t we come up with an idea together and see if we can pitch it to Frederator.” We wrote a bunch of emails back and forth about what things we would want to write about and what characters we think would be cool. Then if just slowly evolved into the Manly universe. Then the Frederator guys were down, and we pretty much just made it without any resistance. Then that was what came out on Youtube several months later. It was totally different from developing with a network, which is like a huge multi-year process that may never see the light of day. The last thing I worked on for Cartoon Network, I worked on for a year. Potentially no one will ever see it, haha. Manly was just on Youtube and it’g gotten close to a million views over the past couple of years, but it wasn’t like a huge hit. But people talk to me about it
“It was totally different from developing with a network, which is like a huge multi-year process that may never see the light of day.”
all of the time. People I don’t know or who’s work are like, “Oh you made Manly!?” and I’ve realized more people have seen this than I thought. That becomes an important thing for me, especially with this thing that;s just on a free server and was really low budget. Within Youtube there’s a new entertainment culture that’s happening. Not all of it is good—in fact not a lot of it is good at all—but there are superstars on the internet! People like me, I don’t know who they are, but they’re really important to kids in high school or whatever. Even just people playing Twitch, like Pewdiepie or whatever—that dude’s a multimillionaire and he just makes jokes while playing video games and he’s like a cultural icon, haha. It has some value that previously was not understood that is outside of the network, commercial television, “you can’t control you own programming” system. Now it’s this new system where you can completely control what you’re consuming without advertisements. No one is telling you what is good or bad, you know? The critics aren’t even acknowledging people like Pewdiepie. They want to completely ignore him, but him and all of those other Twitch people are this phenomenon. People making flash animation on Youtube are the new stars.
of that tarot stuff on my private blog, but eventually I’ll release a deck.
TV is going to be dead in, I don’t know… five to ten years? All of the networks are tying to move to the internet. They all want to abandon the commercial television model. So now, I’m struggling to find what that is. I don’t have to respect it, but I have to respect the power of it. I do respect the shift in the medium away from commercial television. I can put something on Youtube and it can have more power than possibly developing a pilot for a network, as far as how people access it and respond to it. So, I don’t know where it’s going, but it ultimately gives me more autonomy as a creator. I don’t have to rely on a multimillion dollar company to tell me whether or not I can make something. That’s sort of what I’m figuring out right now. I always knew it, I just didn’t know I could make a living unless a multimillion dollar company was helping me out.
I’m in this really conceptual phase right now, thinking about what I want to do—in terms of my animation life. I’m in this weird limbo right now where I’m waiting for signs that say “This is the thing you’re supposed to do.” I’m just not quite sure yet. In the mean time I’m just doing comics and my tarot deck, and doing jui-jitsu every day for fun, haha.
What stuff are you working on in the near future that you can talk about? I’m close to half way done with the third book of Forming, so it’ll probably be another year before it’s done. But it still post it for free on my website, so anyone can read all three books. I try to update it at least once a week these days, becuase I’m sort of in between all of my money making projects, so I’ve been focusing on Forming a lot. I’m working on a tarot deck. I’ve been working on that for about a year. It’s probably going to be another two years before it’s done. I do a lot of research on each card, and the history of the images, and what was happening at the time that they were made. I’m interested in how they apply to now, and how they apply to my personal priorities and thoughts, but I’m also trying to honor the old old french decks at the same time. So that’s a research project that’s somewhat related to the art of making comics. I track all
With Manly, my brother and I wrote ten new episodes that were going to get made. Now we’re not sure if they’re going to get made, so we’re waiting to hear back from that. We’re maybe trying to get some other production houses to be involved. I have a meeting with a production house next week to see if they’re interested. This pilot I made, I’m still shopping around. I’m seeing if I want to actually just make that myself. So if I decided to do that, maybe I’d do a Kickstarter or something. But I don’t really want to do that, haha. It’s such a pain in the ass. I’d have to do a Kickstarted becuase I need to pay back what they paid me to develop it. They paid me a couple thousand dollars to develop it, so I’d have to raise a couple thousand dollars to buy back the ability to own it. Then I think I would just make an animatic, and get a bunch of actor friends to put down some rough vocal tracks. My brother and I would score it, and then maybe we would just put it up on Youtube as a “Do you want to see this get made?” kind of thing. But then my other ideas is, I kind of want to make a short animated film on some new idea. So I might do that.
Are there any projects that you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? If I had the money to do it, I would try to make an animated feature film. Or, maybe I’d make an online animated series on Youtube. Just ten episodes of something—probably this Manly thing. That’s what I really want to do! We have it—I’ve storyboarded half of it, or a first pass anyway. So I want that to happen. We’re already figured it out, and I think it’s really fucking crazy. Hopefully it’ll connect with people the same way that the first thing did. But it’s more crazy and it’s a little bit darker. I think it’s a good story, so I’d like to see it happen. I also have more ideas about the art direction of it—like things I would have done if I had more time to really polish the pilot up. We were sort of in a rush and let a lot of things slide. There were things we wanted to develop like, “How do I make space look more three dimensional?” and things like that. So if I had money to do that kind of thing—make a really really polished, slick looking ten episode miniseries of Manly, I’d like to do that. It seems like we’re sort of close to doing that… but also far, haha. Meanwhile, it’s just going to sit on the wall of my studio until it gets made hopefully, haha.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
For the past five years, Jacob Rubeck has sacrificed more than just his time and energy to create a body of work that has
given hope thousands of kids around the globe. Much like his personal life, the music and art he has produced over the course of that half decade has developed and evolved with each landscape he has inhabited. Jacob’s longest running project, Surf Curse, was formed with longterm friend and collaborator, Nick Rattigan, as an excuse to play the celebrated all ages venue, The Smell. However since then, Surf Curse and the handful of other monikers Jacob has written music under have spawned a rich creative career, inspiring dozens of kids to start bands and take on the same stage.
I’ve known Jacob personally for just over a year, but anyone who’s spent an even a few moments with him can tell you
how thoughtful he is about every gesture he makes. While so many young musicians shy away from making themselves vulnerable, time and time again Jacob has explored the parts of himself he knows that least about to create his best work. Themes of loss, class, and sexuality are omnipresent in both his life and creative output, characterizing a voice much needed for young people facing similar conflicts with each today. Although his future is fraught with the same uncertainty as his past, Jacob is sure to face it with the same love and optimism he carries with him everyday.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Henderson, Nevada which is right outside of Las Vegas, and I’m currently living in Los Angeles, California. Are you trained at all in music or are you primarily self taught? I took a guitar class in high school, and then I had a friend teach me a few things, but really it’s all been by ear. I wish I was trained. I should honestly just take classes and get more familiar with the structure of music. But doing it by ear has been working out so far. What role did music play in your life while you were growing up? It was a lot of listening to the radio. We had a station called Mix 94.1 and it was kind of like the pop and altrock music station. It was like Matchbox 20 and Sarah McLachlan and just whatever my mom was into. My dad showed us Green Day, Run DMC, and a bunch of songs from the 70s. That was like a small beginning, and then me and my brother watching a lot of MTV. I would sometimes pretend that I was sick just so that I could stay home and watch music videos all of the time. I was constantly watching TV and it was mostly VH1 and MTV, so I was just surrounded by music all of the time. I was into rock music and hip hop and just whatever felt good. Also my grandmother, in middle school, showed me Roy Orbison and Motown. We grew up with a lot of Motown in my household. My uncle had this huge effect on me too because he was this pop culture freak. We would listen to these 70s stations—you know those Music Choice sta-
tions? That was pretty much my childhood. We’d swim at his pool, he’d have that connected to the speakers, and we’d just listen to Leon Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.” It was amazing, haha. I really loved music to the point where anything new just felt good, and I just kept wanting to explore and find new things. Having LimeWire and being introduced to illegal downloading just opened up my ear to another whole world. I don’t know, for me, I loved music automatically. Music is such an easy thing to connect with. I remember being in elementary school and just loving Kanye West or 50 Cent because that’s just what my friends were into and what my brother was into. The nu metal stuff that was happening was just a little too scary at that age, haha. There was also just this weird masculinity thing that was around when I was younger that was all like “Listen to this hard-ass music. That’s what’s up! You’re a pussy if you listen to anything else.” So you know, I was secretly just listening to The Beatles and never talking about that, hahaha. I also secretly listened to Bloc Party for sure. It’s cool to experience that, but it’s nice to venture out and discover things on your own. I was really into skateboarding culture, and that required being into punk music. So I would end up hanging out with these skateboarders and finding out as much as I could about punk music. I was listening to the Ramones and the Clash. I was trying to be cool by hating certain bands, like Green Day. I remember being like “Fuck Green Day. They fucking suck!” and all of my friends would agree being like “Yeah, they’re the worst band eeeeever! Fuck them!” haha. Music is also a way of finding a whole group. For me it went from being into skating,
then having to listen to punk music, and then just choosing to be a punk. In eighth grade and ninth grade I was saying I was a punk kid, but not really feeling like I was actually punk. What was the environment like in Henderson? Was there any sort of counter cultural music or art scene where you grew up? Not really. Henderson is right next to Las Vegas. What Las Vegas use to be was a place where you could take your family. It was initially mostly for gambling, so the city was like “We’ve got to make it Sin City, we’ve got to make it sexy.” But then a lot of families started coming, especially in the 90s, so the city was like “Let’s make this a place for families.” That movie National Lampoons’ movie Vegas Vacation was also released around then, and that also led to a huge boom for the making it more family friendly. It was totally like a commercial for families coming through. But, by the time I was a teenager and was interested in music, that died out and it started becoming “sexy Las Vegas” again. Everything was 21 plus, so the only time we could ever go to shows were for these shitty fucking ska bands. We were like, “We have to go see Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake.” It was mostly just a lot of ska, and I wished that I could go see these other bands. The most punk thing I probably ever saw in high school was Henry Rollins doing a spoken word thing—which was great for the first half, cause he was just like, “The Black Flag days we cazy!” but then he was like “Here’s what’s happening in Iraq.” and you’re just like “I’m only 14! I don’t care!” haha. But anyways, I’d want to go to these shows, but you would find out about something six months in advance, so all you did was look forward to that one show that year. It would be like, “The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are coming and No Age is opening up for them. But it’s not for almost another year.” so you would just wait and wait for that show and hope that another show would pop up. I was into music journalism, but I had to interview my favorite bands outside of bars or in a hotel room. I never got to experience these bands that I was so eager to see, so that was just a huge bummer. I think the lack of their being a scene was the driving force into why I felt like having a all ages music scene is so crucial and important, and why I advocate for those kinds of places. It keeps kids out of trouble. Kids are able to look forward to these kinds of events, and they might actually take something from it. They might be inspired, and they might actually get something out of it. They might have the greatest time of their life just from this one show. How did you first meet Nick Rattigan, and what was your first experience making music together? In eighth grade I met this guy, David Diaz. We bonded over The Pixies and punk music in general. His favorite band was Bad Religion and mine was like Arcade Fire or
something like that, but he called me a pussy for liking that. He was a nightmare of a person, but he was like my best friend because he was the only person that listened to the same shit as me. So I would hang out with him a lot, and he hung out with Nick a lot too. I never really knew Nick until David was like “Yeah, my friend drums, so you need to learn how to play the bass.” So I ended up convincing my parents to buy me a bass guitar, and David tried to teach me the bass over the course of a week, and then we’d have these band practices with Nick. I went to Nick’s house for the first time, and we played songs like “Where is My Mind” in his room. I just thought he was like the funniest guy. I got to experience Youtube for the first time at his house. We watched Star Wars Kid and another video of a kid falling off of a log—just these dumb early internet memes—and we were crying laughing at them. I almost peed my pants hanging out with Nick for the first time. Then we just kept in contact through MySpace. David liked being friends with the both of us, but he also liked being the main focus of us as friends. That was kind of the dynamic for two or three years. I got kicked out of the band like two weeks after we first practiced. It was this nightmare situation. I was really sad and depressed because I had just broken up with my first high school girlfriend, and I got invited to the football game that was at Nick and David’s school. I got there and David was like, “Hey Jacob, you’re out of the fucking band!” I was like “What?..” and he was like, “Yeah, and here’s the guy replacing you!” and the other guy looked at me and smiled and said “Hey, how’s it going.” haha. I was just like “What the fuck…” Nick was bummed out about it, but then they started their band, The Advertisments. I was sad, but I still played guitar and was recording music off of Garageband and doing my own thing. I was really stoked for them, but I don’t know… Nothing in high school ever really blossomed until we got out of it. Me and Nick kept jamming together and playing music together. How did that then lead into you and Nick becoming closer friends? We were going to different schools, but we became best friends at a certain point. It was me, David, and Nick, and then eventually David was too much of an asshole for the both of us to handle, so we were just like, “We’re not going to hang out with him anymore. Fuck him.” So we ended up hanging out just me and Nick, and with friends from his school. Every weekend we’d just go to Best Buy and Buffalo Wild Wings and eat and get really fat. We were both fat teenagers, haha. We’d go to the mall and buy CDs, and we discovered so much music. We bought My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless when I was like 16 after fucking chugging down a milkshake or something, haha. We’d go to gas stations and get these Coca Cola mixed with vanilla syrup drinks and then would become so sick afterwords, hahaha. But that was just how it was when we were younger! We just didn’t have anything to do! You
“The stuff that (Nick) was doing was fucking amazing. I still listen to the stuff he did in high school, and I love it. I’m still like, ‘This could be a Surf Curse song.’” know, I hear from all of these people who are just like “Yeah it was really bad. I was addicted to heroin when I was in high school.” or “Yeah, I was addicted to these fucking pills.” but all I can say is “Yeah, I was addicted to fucking chicken wings man.” haha. Me and Nick, all we did was be miserable in high school, wait until the weekend to hang out with each other, and then just watch movies and eat fucking boneless wings. Occasionally—rarely we’d get stoned. I got stoned three times in high school, but that was it! When did you guys start making music as Buffalo 66? I think it was in the last two years of high school when we were like, “Let’s just fucking start a band.” and we ended up recording music on his laptop. It was really shitty… Well, it was really shitty, but kind of impressive for two high school kids making the type of music we were doing. There was just stuff about it that was nice. It was cool and it felt great, but I still wanted to do my own thing and Nick was doing his Nicholas Project stuff. Everything that he was showing me was incredible, and my stuff was very much like Atlas Sound kind of shit. I mean, I’m proud of it I guess. My project was called The Lonely Fox, haha. But one of the first songs I wrote was “The Smell Saved My Life” and then that became a song we used later on. But the stuff that he was doing was fucking amazing. I still listen to the stuff he did in high school, and I love it. I’m still like, “This could be a Surf Curse song.” or “This could
be as good as a Jay Reatard recording.” It’s so insanely good and for someone to be 17 or 18 making that. I still feel like, “Hell yeah, good job bud.” So we started out in that band, and then our friendship bloomed from it. Then he was in another band and I was just kind of secretly making music, and I showing him my music. Then he was like, “Well lets just keep making music together.” So the band he was in Fuhknee (pronounced “funny”)—such a bad name, but it was cool to be around that creativity and watching them record music—they broke up. Then we started doing Buffalo 66 in high school and just occasionally recording music and putting it up on MySpace. Then we moved to Reno for college and recorded maybe two or three more Buffalo 66 songs. We lived together and talked about making music still, but never did because I was mad about him not doing the dishes all of the time, haha. When did you become aware of the music scene that was happening in Los Angeles? I was a kid that was obsessed with Pitchfork in high school. During my senior year Pitchfork was doing this thing where they would release these videos of different concerts. They did one where people performed on a roof, and one where people performed in a cathedral, and so on. Then they would also do this thing where they would show a movie for a week and then they would take
it down. One of the movies was a broadcast of Live at The Smell. It was Health, No Age—just all of these amazing bands. I have a DVD of it. I had to buy it and I needed to own it in my live. But I saw this and was like, “That’s an all ages music venue? I’ve never experienced anything like that.” It was incredible. They were bands that I had never heard of that I ended up falling in love with. So I became obsessed with that place. In 2010—the year I graduated—that me and my family ended up going to Sea World for my sister’s birthday. While we were there, we were hanging out in downtown Los Angeles, and I was like “Hey! There’s a show happening tonight and I really want to go to it because I’ve always wanted to go to The Smell, and this band that I just found out about, Future Islands, is playing.” So my mom and my grandma let me go, and then I just had this magical experience at The Smell. It completely changed my life. After that I wrote “The Smell Saved My Life” because it literally did. What was your experience like moving to Reno after high school? I got this scholarship for like $3,000 to use towards school, so I went to the community college up there. I was dating my then girlfriend—my high school sweetheart—for three years at this point and we moved into an apartment together. Nick and my girlfriend at the time went to the university there while I was going to community college. All we did was party. We discovered smoking weed, and
we found out there was an all ages scene there. Nick told me about this dorm show that was happening, and I was like “Yeah, let’s go check it out.” So we went there, and some shitty Nirvana ripoff band was playing. There was this guy with long hair named Clark (Dermitt) who was like, “Ayyye, come to this show!” and had all these flyers. He gives me this flyer, and I freak the fuck out. I had just gotten this record in the mail by The Babies, and he handed me a flyer that said that The Babies were going to play in a few weeks. I just started screaming. I was like “Who are you!? You’re a god damn angel! What is going on!? This is all ages!? What the fuck!?” and he was just like “Yeah yeah man, whatever.” I realized, Oh my god, there’s a scene that I can be a part of now, I’m going to be able to see all of my favorite bands, and I’m going to be surrounded by people who are genuinely interested in the same stuff as I am. Going to school and going to all of these shows and just experiencing all of this was just so inspiring and such a good positive thing to have. I got to see a lot of bands that really changed me. I saw Ice Age when they came on their first American tour. They were all the same age as me and Nick. I saw Titus Andronicus and I hugged Patrick Stickles. I talked to Kevin Morby from The Babies. I’ve known him over the years casually, and that guy has affected my life in so many great ways. Also being next to San Francisco, we would drive there to go see shows. I saw Wavves and Best Coast and Hunx and his Punx opened.
“I was just kind of secretly making music, and I showing (Nick) my music. Then he was like, ‘Well lets just keep making music together.’”
I saw Real Estate and Big Troubles play a show together. I saw Crystal Castles and Young Prisms. It was fucking insane. I was experiencing all of this stuff with shows, but also was not a huge fan of the local scene. I loved these bands that were touring through Reno, but with the local bands I was like, Me and Nick could be doing stuff better than that. Why aren’t we doing shows?
We would reblog them constantly and post them on Facebook trying to blow that shit up.
So we ended up doing a basement show on Halloween, and that was the first ever Surf Curse show. I dressed like a hipster werewolf and Nick dressed up as Santa. But we played this show and it was mostly his songs and covers. After that people were super stoked and were like, “You guys should actually start doing stuff.” and we were like “Yeah, we should.” Then, as soon as I moved out of the place we lived in together, I came back and actually started making music with him, and that was the start of Surf Curse. We ended up writing—I think the first song was “I’m Not Making Out With You” or “Heathers” or something like that—just from playing in the basement. It took us not living together to be able to be like, “We should actually start doing this.” Song after song, week after week, one of us would be like “I have this idea!” and would start messing around on something. Sometimes we’d be jamming, but mostly we’d be presenting songs to each other, and then we’d record them and put them up on Tumblr.
So the first year of college I was living with my girlfriend, I did a full year and I failed my Spanish class and my English class the next semester, so I was like “I’m done with school.” So when I moved into that basement with Nick and my girlfriend, I just ended up smoking weed all of the time and working as a Girls Scout camp counselor for a few summers in a row. So I would just buy a bunch of weed with whatever I got, and then my parents would still pay my rent even though I wasn’t going to school. It was really stupid. I was just wasting my time doing that. I was not getting a job and just hanging out, and making music with Nick.
You mentioned to me that you dropped out of school while you were living in Reno. Had you stopped going at this point? What else was going on outside of the music you were making?
I don’t know… I wasted so much time. I’ve never felt like such a waste of a human being. After my break up I became this hard working person, I was dishwashing, I was doing stuff for my family, I was just dealing with a lot more, and before that I was just living with my girlfriend
“We ended up doing a basement show on Halloween, and that was the first ever Surf Curse show. I dressed like a hipster werewolf and Nick dressed up as Santa.”
“ I wasted so much time. I’ve never felt like such a waste of a human being.” and being a lazy bastard. She would go to school and do these sign language classes and these amazing feminism classes. Her knowledge and explaining to me what she learned really woke me up to a lot of things. She just worked so hard with these crazy hours, balancing that and working at an old persons home. It was fucking nuts. Then I would just be waiting for her to come home and be like, “Wazzup baby! Want to smoke some weed?” I would just be hanging out with our other roommate all day just watching movies, then he didn’t get a job and had to move out, so she had to pay more rent and I had to ask my family for more rent. It was embarrassing and I felt so bad about it. I think I was like 20 or about to turn 21. How long after Surf Curse started did you become active in the DIY scene in LA? Well I became friends with this guy, Michael Fierstein, after the very first time I went to The Smell. When I went to that Future Islands show, I was the first person there. I was there before him. I didn’t know where the place was. I kept walking around until finally, there it was. This gate that was closed before was opened, and the front door was opened and it said “The Smell” on it. I walked in and there’s this bigger guy sitting there with this beard and he was just like “What’s up dude?” I just started freaking out
and was like “I’ve always wanted to come here. This is so cool! I’m not from here. I’m from Henderson, Nevada. It’s right next to Vegas. Anyways, I can’t wait for tonight! This is like so exciting!” He was like “That’s cool man… that’s cool. Do you want to help me out with the door?” and I was like “I’ll do anything!!!” I ended up talking to him about Harlem, and No Age, and The Smell and who runs it, and what he did for a living. I was handing out wristbands to all of these people coming in being like, “Have a good show! Yeah, have a great show!” Every time a band would play he would be like, “Go check it out.” and the performances would bounce in between the front room and the back room. I saw this band Pizza! perform, and it was crazy. The room was packed. Lower Dens played and I thought they were terrible, but then they became a huge band, and it’s always surprised me. Then Future Islands… That absolutely changed my life. I saw them and just thought, This is the best live band of all time, and I’d only seen maybe five live bands at this point, haha. But still to this day—I’m 24 and I’ve experienced all of these shows—that Future Islands show was still the best show I’ve ever seen. Every time I see Future Islands now I’m just like, “It’s not as good as that time that they played at The Smell. That was when the passion and the fire was really happening.” I mean, can you image? I’m watching this show, and they’re play-
“After that show we were just driven to actually start writing songs, and the first thing we talked about was, ‘We need to play The Smell.’” ing the most intense and beautiful music, I’m 17 or 18 and I’m crying—I never did that, I held in everything— and then they play this crazy dance song and balloons drop from the ceiling!!! I wasn’t expecting it at all! I didn’t think to look up and see a whole thing of balloons. Then it dropped on us, and I was just like, “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!” just freaking out, hahahaha. Everyone was dancing, people were running into me, and it was just insane.
I just loved it, haha. It was like being touched by an angel and seeing a vision. Then she threw out all of these screen printed pieces of fabric. I think it said something like “We are fucking Palm Reader.” and I ended up taping it on my guitar.
After that first show I went to I told Nick about it and was like, “We have to go to The Smell! This guy Michael I met, his friends are in this band called Moses Campbell, and he talked about how he manages them. We have to check them out.” There was a show that was No Age, Palm Reader, Heller Keller, and I think even Traps PS played. We went and every single band fucked us up more and more—except for No Age. Like, every band was better than No Age. Palm Reader was the band that really fucked us up in the greatest way possible. We were sweating, we were dancing around, and all of a sudden there was this band that wasn’t just full of white people. They were switching off instruments, it was so loud and heavy, and this girl with long brown hair was waving her hand around, caressing people’s heads in the most violent way ever. She hit me kind of hard in the head, and
After that show we were just driven to actually start writing songs, and the first thing we talked about was, “We need to play The Smell.” So we recorded all of this music and then played out first show at The Holland Project with this band Pierced Arrows, which had members of Dead Moon, but they’ve been around forever. People were into it and they kept telling us to get a bass player, but we were like “Nah, we’re good.” Michael hit us up and was like, “Hey, I like the songs you guys are posting. You guys should come down and play some shows in LA. I can book you guys something.” We were like, “Yeah! That would be sick. Let’s do it.” We drove eight hours down to Los Angeles and stayed at Michael’s place. Sean (Solomon) was living there, so I freaked out when I first met Sean. I was like “Uh, I really love your band…” and he was like “Yeah, that’s cool and all. Whatever!” and was
When did you play your first few shows in Los Angeles?
“They were all of the people in the bands that we saw. They were all really close friends and they were all just hanging out at this house we were staying at.” just the nicest guy. Everyone in that house was so nice. Miles Wintner was living there also, and all of their friends that would come over and hang out, they were all of the people in the bands that we saw. They were all really close friends and they were all just hanging out at this house we were staying at.
and a lot of people showed up. It was such a fun time. But then after that it was just word of mouth and we kept going back to Los Angeles. We kept playing shows in Reno too, but the Reno shows weren’t as fun. But we just kept going back and fourth. That was around 2012 or 2013. It was nuts.
Michael hooked us up. He set us up with three different shows. One was at KXLU that was a radio performance, one was at Burger Records—which was a big deal for us because we were super into Burger bands at the time— and then the last one was at The Smell. I remember being like, “This is happening! It’s happening so fast.” and then we had our friend Ari film everything with her VHS camera because she was going to Cal Arts. So she was filming these live sessions, but also just documenting everything. When we played at Burger, we met the guy who ran it and were like, “Hey! We’re really excited to play.” and he was like, “Yeah man, it’s cool. Whatever.” and was kind of cold. Playing Burger was kind of cool, but it was also so shitty. Then playing The Smell was fucking incredible. We played in the front room, and that was the first and only time we played in the front room. People were crazy into it
That was right around the time you broke up with your long time girlfriend, right? How did that affect you at the time?
It was crazy because, by the time that things were kind of happening, where more people were coming to these shows at The Smell, it was around the time that my girlfriend was graduating. She was like, “Yeah, I’m thinking about going to Portland for school.” and I was like, “Oh… Portland… Damn, well I mean… this Surf Curse stuff is really happening right now.” So that was this huge debate. I dated her for almost six years. She was my high school sweetheart, we lost our virginities together, we got cats together—we were practically married. The whole relationship came down to this one decision which was, “Are you coming to Portland with me?” I said “No.” and we ended
up breaking up, and then I lived in a basement at Clark’s place paying $250 a month or something like that and just living under a staircase. There was like broken glass in my room, I’d wake up to a new spiderweb above my face every morning, and I was smoking a lot of weed. I was crazy depressed because I really did miss my girlfriend. Then, Nick was talking about going to New York for an internship at VICE. So I broke up with her to do the band, and then he ended up being like, “Uh, I’m putting the band on hold so I can go do my thing in New York.” So I’m just stuck in this basement, barely eating. I was only eating fish and fucking spinach. Every time I’d wake up, the only mirror in the house would be fogged up, from someone showering before me, and so I’d never have a chance to look at myself in the mirror. I’d never see a reflection of myself, because the whole time I was there, I would just be stuck in this house. I would sometimes call people and be like, “I have a little money, want to get some food?” and then leave. It wasn’t until I was crazy depressed and had this whole meltdown when I was like, “I miss you! I don’t want to lose you!” that she was like, “You fucking lost me! We’re done! I’m going to Portland.” I had this crazy anxiety attack and ended up spending a week in Vegas because I hadn’t been home in years. For the first time, I woke up at five or six o’clock in the morning, and was finally able to look in the mirror, and I saw my fucking body for the first time. Before, I just wasn’t paying attention and I never saw myself in the mirror. But I looked at myself, and I was just bones… I saw my ribcage, my neck was so skinny, and I could see my cheek bones. I was crying because I was just like, “What the fuck happened?” I mean, my diet was just not eating, and then eventually I’d have a piece of salmon and some spinach. I though, Yeah, I’m eating healthy. But that was my life at the time, and I realized I had to change shit. How long did that whole period of your life go on for? That happened over the course of like two or three months. We weren’t together, and then I was seeing her around sometimes, and then I was missing her, and then I was finding out she was sleeping with someone else, and then I had all of these anxiety attacks and was crying all of the time. Then during that trip to Vegas I was just like, “I think I need to be with family right now. I’m really depressed, and I think I’m going to kill myself. I just need to go.” So I ended up moving back to Vegas and lived with my family. I pretty much spent the first few months just living there and being depressed, and then realizing that I did want to kill myself. I was like, “Well I don’t want to fuck over my family by just killing myself. They’re not that rich.” So I picked up a job just so that I could pay for my funeral. My whole intentions of working as a dishwasher was just to kill myself—just so that my family wouldn’t have to pay for my funeral, because I felt so bad about it.
I talk about it because, for a big portion of my life, I wasn’t feeling shit. I never cried. I was mostly mad all of the time, and the only way I could express myself was through anger. But it wasn’t until this person broke up with me, where I was crying. I had this whole breakdown and it was really intense. I just started becoming sad and realized that this depression had been a part of my life forever. Trauma from home, not being able to talk and express these things, and having this whole masculinity problem. I was never in touch with my feminine side until I moved back to Vegas. I was working as a dishwasher, trying to pay for my own funeral, and was occasionally playing these Surf Curse shows. Nick would get flown out, and I would take a Mega Bus down to Los Angeles and we’d play shows. They were actually really fucking good and they kept getting bigger. That was the thing that was keeping me going and making me happy. But it wasn’t until I started walking to work in the hot desert sun, when I started listening to these certain artists that were really meaning a lot to me. I listened to this Brazilian artist named Finis Africae and I listened to a lot of Ducktails. That shit really helped me. I started making Casino Hearts stuff, where I was just constantly recording music, and crying, and feeling so much at once. I ended up making this album called Lonesome Island and… that saved my life. That’s when I knew, making these emotional loops, I felt proud and I felt alive. I was seeing the mountains and the sunset and everything coming together in my life and just being like, “This is so beautiful. Creating is what’s keeping me going.” and I started appreciating life. I started being more sympathetic towards my family and towards strangers. I had no filter, I felt no shyness. I would just go into a restaurant and just talk to someone. I was a people person out of nowhere. I was just happy and optimistic because I was facing these problems and accepting myself more. How did you start working with Big Joy to put out your first two tapes? So after we did those shows in LA, Michael was like, “Look, I think you guys are great. I’m talking about starting a label with Sean and we’re going to start releasing all of our friend’s bands. We want you to be a part of it.” We were like, “Yeah! Let’s do this.” So we ended up making Buds, and we spent two days recording it at The Smell. The first day we did all of the instrumental tracks, and the second day we spent writing all of the lyrics. We did a whole tape release of Buds and it went really well. And then there was this whole incident when Michael was in a car accident with Nick, and that spread through word of mouth. People were like, “This guy was in a car accident and then just played a show? Who the fuck is this band!?” We just kept coming back to LA and then decided to do the Sad Boys EP.
Then our relationship with Michael started straining. We’d see him every few months, and it just became hard… The more we saw him and hung out with his friends and the girls he was interested in, the more he was getting jealous and frustrated. He was always stressing about his own personal life, and he kind of took it out on us because we were younger and dumb and optimistic and super nerdy. He would kind of bully us most of the time. He put Nick in these uncomfortable situations. I think it really changed after the car accident. Regardless of what we do in the future, nothing will feel as great as being on such an amazing, consistent label as Big Joy. All of those bands that we were associated with were bands that we 100 percent believed in. Heller Keller, and Palm Reader, and Moses Campbell—those bands affected us so much, and even just being associated with them meant the world to us. It really felt like a power house. It was cool being on this label that knew what was up. It was so different from the garage rock shit, and it was really paying attention to how real and how brave these artists were. I think he even tried working with French Vanilla at one point, but I don’t think they ever released anything officially. I think Girlpool was the last release. He was the first person to see Girlpool and be like, “This is incredible.” He asked me about Girlpool when they first started and I was like, “I don’t get it. They need a drummer.” not even realizing how incredible and how different it was. When I think about my favorite artists, my experience is that I hate them at first because I’ve never heard anything like them, and then I realize that I have to accept that they’re different and new and they’re actually the best thing I’ve ever heard. Fever To Tell—hated it and only liked that song “Maps,” and then realized it was so influential to me. Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms—hated that shit until I saw “Should Have Taken Acid With You” done live and came back to the album. Now it’s still one of my favorite albums. That’s how I felt about Girlpool too. I didn’t get it because I wasn’t really paying attention. They really took me by storm, and now look at them. They’re doing so god damn well. Michael knew that in the first instance. It sucks because, he was making a difference in the scene and he was broadening people’s minds. It wasn’t just a bunch of hot white dudes in these bands. We just really appreciated being in this scene and being able to play these shows, feeling so good about our friendship. It was such a positive, amazing, great time. What was it like to have to deal with so much in your personal life, while the label you were on started to fall apart and Nick moved to New York? Did it seem like Surf Curse might have ended all together? When I decided to move back to Vegas, Nick was deciding to go to New York, so I was just stuck. Eventually he
would get flown out to do these shows or he would be in Reno for a while and would drive down to do these shows. So there was just a lot of space in between, and all I wanted was to be in LA. I remember being like, “I don’t know if I can be in Vegas. This is so depressing. I have to sleep on a couch every fucking day.” I spent a week in Los Angeles trying to get a job. I fucked up and wasted my time, and that was another breaking point. I wanted to live in Los Angeles and make it there, but I also didn’t have the confidence in myself and was crazy lazy. I spent the first couple days waking up early, applying to places, and sending out resumes. I was walking around getting Wendy’s applications and stuff. Then the next couple of days I just sat around their apartment and watched TV, and played guitar, and fucked up. It was just embarrassing. Michael was like, “I don’t get what you’re trying to do. It doesn’t work this way. You have to have money and you have to be prepared.” I just broke down and cried and was just like, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. All I want to do is be here.” and he was just like, “Sorry buddy. That’s just how it is.” and I was like crying in his arms. So there was that, and then getting out of the depression, and then not being certain what was going on with Surf Curse. Nick came back to Reno and he was like, “Hey, so me and my friend Sam want to drive across America. We just want to do it. You should come with us.” I was like, “Okay, but only if we turn this into a tour.” Then he was like, “Well… I don’t know if I want to do this as a tour.” and I was like, “Well, the only way we’re going to be making money is if we do a tour. It would be so smart if we did that. We haven’t been across America—we only play shows in Los Angeles and Reno.” So finally he agreed to it, and that’s when we asked Michael if we could get into the bandcamp money. Then he said he didn’t have it because he used it to help pay his grandma’s medical treatments. I believed him, but I don’t really know what to believe anymore with him. He took money from us regardless, and never paid us back, and he never really apologized to us for it. It’s been years, and he still hasn’t, which is the bummer of it. Luckily I saved up $4,000 or $8,000 or something like that. I had a crazy amount of money because I was just washing dishes and living at home, so I really didn’t spend money on things. I was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to quit my job and then go across America.” and that’s what we did. I think it was the summer of 2014. Nick wanted to go back to New York and visit his friends, so we drove all the way there. We went to a bunch of different cities, played a bunch of different shows, got there and hung out in New York for a week, met a bunch of really great people, and had life changing experiences. I came back and dog sat for a friend in Los Angeles, while Nick was living in Vegas. Then I decided to move back to Reno because I was like, “Fuck this Vegas shit. I’m moving back to Reno.” I stayed on a couch and lived in Reno for a year while Nick was living in New York.
“There were just all of these moments where we just felt so lost after trying to find what we were looking for, and then we’d just end up finding each other.” Even though Big Joy was done with, we were just like, “What are we going to do? Well let’s just keep doing Surf Curse stuff.” We kept getting offers to fly out and play shows, so we just kept doing that. Then eventually Nick ended up moving back to Reno for a little bit after being miserable in New York being a PA the show Girls, haha. It’s really interesting to see how different the early years of Surf Curse felt from the perspective of the band versus the perspective of a fan. How much has the life you’ve lived affected the attitude of the music you’ve made over the past few years? I think it was a lot of feeling disappointed in what was happening in my life. There would be so many good things that would happen, and then there would be a lot of terrible things. It’s still sometimes like that today. Being in a band includes such a sacrifice of your own personal life. Like, I chose that over someone who cared about me most in the world. We ended because I wanted to do this band. We would probably still be together to this day if it wasn’t for this band. So, I sacrificed a relationship to be in this band, just to have Nick leave and postpone the band. There are certain times where I’m like, “God damn… I wish I did stick with this person.” What I’ve realized too is, music and creating can be really cool, but there is nothing more beautiful in the world than having people in your life. Being able to experience these wonderful beautiful moments with people and having conversations… Being able to kiss someone, to make love to someone, to cry with someone, to get angry with someone… All of that is way more important than just focusing on your band.
I feel like you need to be able to experience things to create things. There were just these times where Surf Curse was just ruining my life. But then I’ll play these shows and be like, “This is what makes life worth living.” Even when I moved back to Reno and fell in love with someone—after having that whole experience and doing Surf Curse—I was just like, “Oh, I feel like this relationship is way more important than this stuff. What’s hard about it too is that, there are people who want to see you who are relying on your presence and creativity and showmanship through playing concerts and releasing music for people. It’s all of this pressure… But it shouldn’t be about that. There are just times that you have to learn that it’s not about that. You have to learn that you create because it’s what makes sense and feels good, and you should never create for other people’s need. My thing is, if I don’t experience things, there’s no way I could write about them. I think it’s the reason why Nick wanted to go to New York, it’s the reason why I wanted to go back to Reno, and why we never ended up in the same places, because we wanted to experience life. But no matter what, we always ended up right back to where we were always supposed to be, and that’s doing music together. It’s weird, it’s almost like destiny. There were just all of these moments where we just felt so lost after trying to find what we were looking for, and then we’d just end up finding each other. Everything that we’ve done together has been incredible. Every time we try leaving it, we always end up back in each others arms, haha.
I feel like a lot of artists have a hard time making what they do sustainable when they’re giving so much of their time, emotional energy, and youth to something for very little in return. Some of the biggest sacrifices were with doing jobs in the first place. I would have to beg just to get time off work at my dishwashing job just to play some of these shows. Then I’d have to wait months and months to play these shows. Honestly, we never really made very much money. It was mostly just from saving up money on the bandcamp. We weren’t getting paid shit for playing some of these shows. Then, out of nowhere, it would be like $600 for playing a show and we’d be like “Fuck yeah! That’s $300 in the pocket.” But it was always stressful trying to keep up with that and everything. I’ve lost a few relationships to this band and I’ve felt a lot of from being in this band. I mean, I always feel good about it because I trust that what we’re doing. But I also feel like it takes a toll. Right now I’m comfortable because I pay cheap rent since I share a room—which is fucking shitty, but I know at some point I’ll be able to get out of this place and I’ll have my own room. I’ll be able to keep recording music and being able to play these shows with Nick, but there’s also this constant fear of having to go back to a shitty job and not feeling like you’re good enough. There’s also this working class part of me that’s just like, “I need to work deadened, miserable jobs so that I can feel the misery and pain of being a human.” It’s weird because I feel like it’s so important to feel and experience all of these different things and never take the easy rout. Everything is difficult. Being in relationships, being in love, being in this band—I mean being in the band has these moments where you’ll be spending so much time traveling and performing, when I’d rather be snuggling up with someone, or going to see a movie, or just having these simple moments. I think for me personally, I’ll never feel like I’m satisfied with what I want or what I have in life. How would you characterize Casino Hearts and what role did it play in your life while it was your primary recording project? Well Casino Hearts existed because I needed a way of coping with writing my own songs and writing about love and experiences. I made these demos right after I broke up with my first girlfriend. Then Lonesome Island was just these beautiful loops that were just my emotions and what I was hoping for during the point in my life that I made it. Really, it was just about optimism. All of these songs that I did for Casino Hearts were about being optimistic and hoping to change things. There was a time when I really wanted to have a different narrative and I wanted something original. It wasn’t until I did A Different Kind of Love where I realized I have to have my own way of storytelling that’s me being honest and true. That was my first album about being queer. It was about falling in love with trans
women, and about being in these abusive relationships, and about being submissive to love. I was just trying to find some sort of escape or a positive reality by supporting someone for who they want to be and who they are. I felt like no one was writing about that in the scenes I was playing in and no one wanted to talk about it. For me, being in a band that’s known for making “garage rock” or “surf rock” kind of stuff, I needed to make something that was more true and honest to myself. I had to write about these things that I was going through and these experiences that are hard to talk about after being in these toxic masculine environments. It wasn’t until I did this album dedicated to my girlfriend at the time, where I felt really embarrassed because there were these songs about being in love with someone and being optimistic when all we were going through was hell. All I was going through with this person was hell. It was torture. All of these songs were like, “We’re far away from each other, but we’re going to be okay.” or “I love you, you love me, it’s cool.” It was a lot about these experience that I had that were specifically about Nevada. Feeling so alone in Nevada and then finding that love that I thought was going to be genuine but wasn’t true. I needed to end Casino Hearts because it was such a Nevada themed project. I was moving to Chicago and I was like, “It wouldn’t make sense to have a casino themed named when I’m not there anymore. I ended it saying I was moving and that I was going to start a new band and a new chapter, but really the end of Casino Hearts was that the way I was writing songs didn’t feel fulfilling. I’m embarrassed by those songs because I was lying to myself. Those songs are about what I was hoping for, but not what I was actually feeling. I would write these songs for her and be like, “This is for you.” But then I’d also write these songs that were not suppose to be about us, but they totally fucking were. They were these submissive songs about wishing that this person felt the same way and really working hard for this unattainable love. So just after I made those songs and had the experience of that heartbreak I was like, “I’ll never go back to this.” I did write two more Casino Hearts songs when I moved back to Vegas for a few months after. But my songwriting from living in Nevada had to end. If I ever lived in Nevada again, I think it would come back. But I’m really trying hard not to do that. What was the process like coming back together with Nick to write and record the most recent Surf Curse album, Nothing Yet? Well Nick moved back to Reno, and we were trying to record the new album. What ended up happening was that we had all of these new songs, but we weren’t going to work with Andrew MacKelvie to record it again. We ended up recording with the Gnar Burger guys because we heard that studio time there was cheap and they had really good stuff. We were both fans of The Memories recordings and White Fang so we were like, “This’ll be
“We just wanted to do something that was more emotional and more personal and what we felt was more real to us.” great.” We tried to do it with them but it was such a terrible process. We got it back and we just weren’t satisfied with how it came out. We were excited with the songs we wrote, but we were terrified with how people would react to them. So we tried giving it to another person who’s recorded a few other bands on the label and he couldn’t fix the recording. So we ended up just being frustrated with the whole thing. Then when we both started living in LA we rerecorded
everything with Andrew and it was so much better because we were just so much more into it. Working with Andrew, since he’s so familiar with us—he did the first two tapes—working with him again made us realize he was like the third member of Surf Curse or something, haha. We were at his house and he has a little backyard studio, and we just ended up recording in there. He smoked a lot of weed, I would smoke weed occasionally. Just working on these songs, it would take us weeks at a time just to be able to keep coming back to it and find the right
schedules. I think it was over all like three months to finally complete everything. We recorded the guitars in there and we recorded the drums, but we decided to add more sounds to it, like keyboards and synth sounds and second guitar parts, to flesh out the songs and bring them to life more. We wanted to make something that was different from what we were doing before. We were just kind of tired with being associated with the burger scene and the garage rock scene. We just wanted to do something that was more emotional and more personal and what we felt was more real to us. What was the transition like moving to Los Angeles and starting to do more with Surf Curse? It was tough at first. I had to work at a smoothy place, and then got fired from that. But it was enough to pay for the month’s rent that I needed. Then playing the shows, I would get a few hundred bucks and it was barely enough to pay for rent. I would spend some days only eating $2 or $3 pupusas everyday. I invested in Soylent for a while. It was a struggle for a bit but then we started playing more shows. We put our stuff up on Spotify and Apple Music and that was a real game changer for us. We didn’t realize how much money we could be making off of that. Then we started finding comfort and sustainability and just chilling for the first time in years. I spent so much time watching movies and walking around and experiencing really nice whether. Going on dates and meeting beautiful people. It was just nice, haha. It felt like this whole new experience compared to living in places that I couldn’t relate to or that weren’t so fucking small that you would be running into the same people all of the time. LA is a huge place and there is so much opportunity and things to do. It’s just nice to have that. What was the process like releasing the album with Danger Collective and what was the initial reception from your fans? Well we wanted to work with Reed (Kanter) who runs Danger Collective because we did other Danger stuff with him, like Runaway Festival, and just kept in contact with him. He was just the nicest fucking guy in the way he talked about music and his friend’s music. After having that experience with Michael—someone that we loved and we trusted who betrayed us—we knew we would never feel that from Reed. What he does is incredible and genuine. We just couldn’t pass that up. We didn’t want to shop it around, we just wanted to work with a person who really wanted to make sense out of it and who wanted to invest in it. So we decided to release it with him and tried to set up these alternative ways of promoting the album. We didn’t want to do too much press for it. We actually didn’t do any press at all. We just wanted things to happen organically. The way that we’ve always done things is, we’ve never been like, “We want to be big… We’re
going to be famous!” It’s always been one step at a time. At first we wanted to start a band. Then the next step was we needed to record music. Then the next step was, “We need to play at The Smell.” We accomplished all of those things, and then after we played The Smell it was just like “Fuck… what do we do now!?” haha. So we just kept recording music and playing shows and going with it. Originally we just posted these songs. It wasn’t through different sites or anything, people just found our pages and spread it because they liked the songs. It’s been the most organic thing. Just people coming to shows and having this word of mouth spread. We didn’t have Pitchfork or AV Club or anyone write about us. Everything just happened naturally. So when we did this albums we were just like, “We have these music videos, we’ll release them once every few weeks until the album comes out, then we’ll set up this release show, and we’ll just see how it goes from there.” That’s exactly what we did. We released the music videos and got this crazy great response from people. We did the release show at this huge fucking venue and it was sold out. We also reunited one of our favorite bands, Palm Reader, to play it. Now we’re touring the album and it’s nuts because with these shows people are noticing us. Now we’re working with the booking agency Ground Control, and their roster is incredible. And this is all just from everything happening the way that it has in the past. It’s nice when people write about your music, but a fucking Pitchfork review shouldn’t be the reason why people are coming to your shows or why they think your album is good. People should want to go to show shows because it makes them feel good. But with the press stuff, if you’re playing the same game that everyone else is playing, you won’t be able to have the same control over the shows that we do, and who you do it with, and make sure that everyone gets paid right, and not play with these bull shit bands. I feel like what we’re doing right now—having these things happen organically and working with a label that does have good intentions and is ran by someone with an amazing, beautiful heart— and still being able to sell out these shows, is kind of like a “fuck you” and a mind fuck, haha. I had this guy come up to me at SXSW who books shows and he was a total snake. He was like, “So like, it’s crazy that I’m played a show with you in Reno at some dingy bar and now you’re fucking playing Coachella? What the fuck? How does that happen?” I was like “I don’t know. Write good songs I guess.” Then he was like, “Yeah, but everyone writes good songs. How are you doing this?” Everything I tried to explain to him, he just couldn’t accept. He was just kind of like, “Yeah, but that’s bull shit! What the fuck?” I was like, “I don’t know what to tell you! This kind of thing doesn’t happen, but that’s the beauty of it. That’s why it works and that’s why it should work. We’re not paying people to make us successful. We’re not getting ghost writers or working with the best producers. We’re not on 4AD or XL or anything like that. We’re doing
things that feel right and people notice that. People feel what we’re saying and where the music is coming from. People can relate to it.” Fuck this “cool” shit. We just want to be able to make a difference and play the shows that we want to play. I’m tired of playing with fucking dudes all of the time. We want to play with people who deserve the spot instead of us just being related to these other bands that I don’t feel like we associate with at all. That’s also why we work with Rene (Contreras) because of what he does and what he believes in and how he wants to mix things up, instead of just having the focus be these cool hot dude bands. Fuck that shit. What stuff are you working on that you can talk about right now? Surf Curse are doing some tours and when we get back we want to start working on a new album. I’ve been driven to write more surf curse songs. The thing with Nothing Yet is that I only wrote one song that I sang on. Half of the songs I did write, as far as the structures of the songs and the cords and everything. I would explain to Nick, “I want the melody to sound like this when you sing it.” and then he would write the lyrics to it. It was like a half and half thing, but I only had one song that sang. It’s a song I even wrote from another project that I was doing and we ended up playing it at one show and he was like, “People fucking love this. We should turn this into a Surf Curse song.”
But now I want to be able to write songs that I can not only sing about, but that are about things I feel should be written about. It’s like a mixture of what I was trying to do with Casio Hearts and Gap Girls, but doing it with Surf Curse. I want to be able to change the way that songwriting is with rock music at least, where not just all about getting your heart broken. I’m really trying hard to not write songs about blaming someone, but that are more accepting of the blame in the situation and what you can do yourself. I’ve just been on a roll with writing song after song after song. I feel like this new surf curse album is going to be a little bit more on the post punk side more than anything. The songs are sad and they’re very emotional. They just sound crazy. I’m excited about it. I feel like it’s going to be different, but not straying so far away from what we already do. I want it to still be pushing the sound and creative energy of it. It’s going to be great. Then Gap Girls is more of a synthesizer project. It’s in the same vain as Casino Hearts where it’s optimistic, but it’s more about writing about experiences, and hopes, and sadness, and abuse, and accepting who people are and what they can’t change. Right now I’m performing Gap Girls by myself and everything is prerecorded. Everything sounds like shit, but shit in a very different way. It’s loud, half of the time I’m wearing one leather glove and I try to be as intense with it as I can. It’s weird. It’s kind of got this crooner vibe, sort of like Scott Walker, but it’ve very
“I want to be able to write songs that I can not only sing about, but that are about things I feel should be written about.”
feminine and sensitive. I don’t know. I just want to make it as different as possible and really put myself out there. It’s really easy to hide behind a guitar. But it’s really hard to just stand there with a microphone. What are you going to do? Are you going to dance or move around a little bit? I just rely on being real with the songs that I’m writing and being able to express it to the people in the audience. Looking at them and reaching out to them, hopefully it hits them in the right spot. It’s like the most honest music I’ve ever made, and that’s all I want to do. That’s eventually going to come out, but it’s just about finding the time and the ride to get to someone’s help to finish it, haha. I can’t do it on my own, and I could never really afford to do it on my own too. It’s been hard, but I know when it comes out it’s going to be really fucking good and I’ll be really proud of it. I really want the world to hear it. Are there any projects that you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I would love to be a ghost writer. If I had the money and the time and the equipment, I would totally just start working on that. I think I’d start doing pop music or hip hop. I’d just want to do as many different things as I can. I really want to make beats, I really want to make house music. I hear people’s music and I’m just like, “Fuck, I want to write them a song.” I know it would be impossible to write a Current Joys song for Nick, just because it’s not Nick who created it. But I want to ghost write for him so bad, haha. I also want to ghost write for Boyo. When I hear my friends bands I’m just like, “Fuck, I have an idea I want to show you.” Eventually it would be awesome just to do that. Sometimes I make something and I just don’t want to sing on it. I also want to make some visual stuff too. I really want to make music videos. I have a VHS camera but I don’t have anything to edit it with. I feel like that’s also kind of holding me back. I don’t know. Eventually I’m going to start doing that. I also want to add visuals to Gap Girls stuff. But that’s pretty much it. I always want to create stuff and I always want to push myself as far and as much as I can. I always want to make something different, because I’m a fan of everything. Being a fan of pop culture and music and film, all you want to do is take a chance on making something. I’ve always wanted to write a country album. I’ve always wanted to write an electronic album or a goth album or an R&B album—that’s always been a dream of mine. I just want to make some sexy, sad-ass songs. I’ve always been so limited to what I have and I’m kind of choosing to limit myself as punishment because you just want to see what you can do. The digital recorder that I have is just eight tracks and there’s this reverb on it—this specific Korg reverb that Korg made just for this fucking machine—and I’m like, “What can I fucking do with this? I can’t go into a program and add all of these things. I can’t buy petals.” Then I just have to listen to it over and over and over again
until it really makes sense or I can make it work. A lot of the music that I record on this thing sounds so different from what everybody else is doing. I mean, it could probably be produced better, but you can’t deny that it sounds really different. I feel like that’s the best part about it. It’s like a signature. But at the same time I feel like I need to move on and branch out and start making things that I really feel comfortable exploring. Earlier on in the interview you mentioned saving up money for your own funeral and feeling at a complete loss of direction in your life. How has the work you’ve been making since then helped you avoid ever being in that place again? I feel like I’m the biggest fan of my music. I listen to my music all of the time. I don’t listen to Surf Curse stuff, but I listen to Casino Hearts and Gap Girls stuff constantly, because that’s the kind of music that I want to hear. With that Lonesome Island stuff, it was all of these emotions that I was feeling. When I heard it, I knew why I made it. I was pounding my chest while I was making it—I was crying. I was so connected with this stuff. Music saved my life. The way I dealt with my depression was through being able to record these songs and then talk about my feelings. Every time I’ve gotten anxiety about something, I just put it in my music. Every time I’ve been in love I’ve put it in my music. Every time I’ve had trouble with my relationships I’ve put it in my music, because it’s what makes sense. Its the only way I can really find more about myself. The way I record is by starting with a drum beat and it’s either slow or it’s fast. I’ll add the guitars or I’ll add synths or whatever, and then it just comes down to writing the lyrics. It’s just about the feeling of the song. If you keep listening to it it’ll hit you and you’ll know what the song is about. You’ll listen to it and you’ll just want to say these things and you’ll need to get to the bottom of the feeling. When you started writing the song, it happened for a reason. That drum beat, those sounds, the tempo, it’s happened for a reason. That’s your heart beat, that’s your love, that’s your anxiety. So it’s really about delving into yourself and being like, “I didn’t realize this about me. I need to write about this. I feel like this is something that needs to be talked about.” And that’s how I’ll get a song. That how I feel like I can stay alive, by being able to express these feelings. Otherwise i’ll just walk around thinking all of the time and being upset with everything and feeling like my life is unfulfiling. I can come back to these songs and I’m able to shoot the shit, haha. The truth comes out. That’s why I feel like creating is so important. You have to express your emotions and feelings in some way or another if you can’t talk about them. There are a lot of things I feel like I can’t talk about, because I can’t relate to it with a lot of people. So I write it in a song, and I release it, and I don’t feel embarrassed.
Interview by Matthew James-Wilson
Caroline David is one of the most uncompromising designers of her time, fearlessly volleying between functionality and unexpected beauty throughout her work. Since graduating Pratt, the California native has created an allusive body of work that explores themes of nature, decay, and control in both her personal and professional practices. Despite the pessimistic criticism of the bulk of her educators, Caroline has made work for companies like Apple and MTV, and now holds a full time position on Bloomberg Buisnessweek’s revered design team. Although she’s one of the youngest people in her field by a long shot, Caroline consistently pushes herself the challenge the conventions of contemporary design.
Caroline takes a similar approach with her organic and digital work, experimenting with our expectations of purpose. As a sculptor, she’s made dozens of varying forms, drawing on art history and the natural world, often placing her works in contextualized environments. As a graphic artist, she pairs naive illustration with intricate construction, helping to solidify the wacky genius of Buisnnesweek’s golden age. The vitality and enthusiasm of Caroline’s work signals that she’s just at the beginning of a vast career. But where ever she goes, a blazed trail for a new generation of young designers is sure to follow in her wake.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Santa Barbara, California and I currently live in Brooklyn, New York.
What role did art play in your life while you were growing up? Do you remember what point you started taking it more seriously? I think I started taking it more seriously in the third grade when, you know, I started to explore different mediums, haha. No, I don’t know. That’s sort of tricky to answer. I felt like I was very serious about making graphic design when I was in high school. A lot of people become familiar with making around then.
What mediums did you start working within before you went to college? I wasinterested in a lot of design and digital art I guess. When I was in high school I was leaning more towards digital art and some photography and sculpture here and there. I feel like at that time I was teaching myself software and getting into all of these different ways of working digitally. But I also took ceramic summer camps all throughout elementary school. Last summer I actually just found some stuff that I didn’t remember I made when I was small. And of course they’re almost better— no they’re definitely better then what I’m making now, haha.
Was there any sort of art community that you were a part of where you grew up, or were you more reliant on finding art online? At that time I was very much being fueled by online communities. In Santa Barbara there are three high schools, one of which has a vast art program. I did not go to that high school. I didn’t have a community, really. The art program at my school was virtually non-existent, so I felt like that time really opened up for me to explore more online communities, which was great! I was on Tumblr of course, haha. I actually just found my Flickr account from back then the other day. You can’t see it now. But that was big for me early on.
What made you decide to move to New York for school? Why did you choose to go to Pratt specifically? I was seeking a big change by the end of high school. It was a difficult choice to make, as Santa Barbara is truly paradise, but I really wanted to get good at making the work that I had started. At the time Pratt promised a very interdisciplinary, explorative curricular outlook. That proved to be true in the end, after much kicking and screaming by me. Haha.
What was your experience like at Pratt? It was a roller coaster. At times it was very frustrating and it felt like I was really fighting a lot of the faculty to do what
I wanted to do. Of course, in retrospect, I’m really grateful for all of those experiences that taught me how to fight for what I want. Towards the end of my schooling I was really frustrated with graphic design as a practice, and the design program there was kind of becoming increasingly traditional—I mean, it was already pretty traditional. I felt like most of the professors I had just did not get what I was trying to do. They thought I was a total nut job, which is… neither here nor there, haha. But the few supportive professors I did have were exceptional and I’m so grateful for them. I had a couple in the design department and one in the sculpture department who could really see what I was trying to do and helped me fight for it.
How did you approach school with this strong level of conviction with what you were doing? How did you develop the work that you were making and where was the inspiration for that coming from? We draw on our personal experiences to help us understand what we know and what we don’t know. A lot of the work that I was doing very early on in school was based on my great love for and ideal view of the natural world. It’s funny, I think a lot of people still miss that in my work. I’ve always liked looking at what is utopian, beautiful, perfect, and ideal, and nature is all of those things. So a lot of the work I do looks at deviations of that idea, whether it’s building the perfect world, building the imperfect world, building the kind of shitty-with-something good world, preserving some world, or even just protect, conserve, and remember the world we live in now. Those themes have always present for me, and they’ve opened up many different tangents of thoughts in a variety of directions.
How did you start implementing that in your work, and when did you start feeling the push back from your professors? The push-back in school was when I was started trying to make non-traditional design work. Places like MTV, Bloomberg Businessweek—you could name a variety of seriously commercial fixtures on a spectrum that are (or were) putting forward that kind of design. So very early on in my schooling I was trying to do that. As a young student, professors are trying to ascertain whether or not you know what you are doing. So that was kind of problematic. I was making design that was teetering on the edge of these two things, and that’s what I wanted. So that was kind of a tricky place. Pushback came along then of course when I was trying to make work that was “not going to get me a job” and all the professors could say was, “This doesn’t make any sense! It’s stupid! Why would you want to show anyone that you could brand a renaissance fair!?” So of course, there is totally an old guard that doesn’t get that. Pushback came again later when I was trying to have this very fluid practice where design and sculpture were informing each other and my projects in each heavily involved some aspect of the other. How it could be baffling for a professor that I wanted my senior design project to be a catalog of my sculpture, I do not know. Professors were like,
“How are you going to get a job with that!?”
It’s weird how so many professors don’t really focus on how much a student cares about what they’re doing. So often people in positions of power within art only look at something in the context that they anticipated it to exist in, and totally ignore how much thought or energy an artist is putting into each of the decisions they’re making. Precisely. In terms of the purpose of schooling, of course a lot of the professors are amazing and great at making traditional logos and communication design with a capital C. But that wasn’t exactly what I was trying to do.
How much motivation and inspiration were you gathering from the other students there? Did it seem like the other students were working towards being successful artists within their fields, or did it seem like the kids were just there to do something for four years? It was a good mix. There was a concentration of people who worked incredibly hard and were charging full force towards the paths that they wanted, which was great. And for just as many, and more, there were people who were at summer camp. The friends I made at school who were outside of my major were, and still are, so important to me. There was a handful of friends and people that I met in school that really made it worth it. It ended up not becoming about participating in a massive community. It became about the peers and mentors I really got close to.
I felt like most of the professors I had just did not understand what I was trying to do. At times it was very frustrating; Ifelt like I was really fighting to do what I wanted to do. Wet Poison Flower, 2017
One of my greatest inspirations in school was (and is today) my best friend Max Schidlovsky. He’s incredible. I had never met someone with an ability to channel feelings into work like that. We’ve worked together a great deal and have had some shows together. Also, Kurt Woerpel has really been amazing to work with over the years. I’m really glad we were able to be at MTV and Businessweek at the same time. The professors I had like Duncan Hamilton, Gary Fogelson, Matt Nolen in the ceramic department I will never be able to thank enough.
You mentioned you did a couple of internships that had a really big impact on you while you were in school. What were those and what did they get you to start thinking about? My first internship in school was at Apple, on the team that designs the retail stores. I ended up going back for a second summer after to do something similar with packaging. It was incredible. There’s no better way to learn than to be thrown into a situation where you have to perform. I had a weird relationship with my personal work when I was younger, and I think working in such a corporate environment solidified my desire to do something different. In a very large departure from that kind of work, I spent some time at MTV as an animator with Richard Turley. That was pretty much the exact opposite experience from the one I had at Apple. I was able to whatever I wanted, because I was “speaking to my peers” haha. That’s something I’ve always wanted more of for other young people. Being in a place where you have the ability to not only use your voice but to be respected for it and have people want to listen is important. I loved working there very much, and again, I learned a lot about working quickly in a professional environment while making what I wanted to make and saying what I wanted to say.
What were the first few months after you finished school like? When I left Pratt I thought I would never do graphic design again. I was in this place where I was so frustrated with what I was trying to do at school and the negative outlook a lot of my superiors had. I had some traveling to do, and when I was done traveling I decided to take some time to make personal work ad start projects I had in the pipes for a while. That was great. Originally I was hoping I could go back to MTV but sadly Richard moved on and it would not have been the same without him. In my heart the only place I really cared to make commercial design at was Bloomberg Businessweek.
What were some of the personal projects you started doing? How did they deviate from the professional work you were doing?
I started making more sculpture and became very senstive to the way that I was documenting them. I was trying to paint the whole picture of the sculptures as objects. A common ideal is that there is no division between personal and commercial work. The relationship between those things is still being revealed to me because, as I’m seeing, there are times when you can have both, but there are times when you don’t want them to be both. I really rejected making functional work or work that was seen as traditionally functional for a long time. Historically, the practice of ceramic art is associated with functional objects. This line was something, again, that I was having a lot of fun teetering around. The flower vases I started making in the summer of 2016 sit on that line for me and it’s one of the reasons I’m excited about them. At the time I was living at home working on my mom’s farm while she was injured. One day we were drying poppy buds together and I realized they were really incredible vessels. It was a strange coincidence that indicated I had to make a related form. I’ve always been really fascinated with early medieval art and I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from that time period. Later that afternoon I was flipping through my book on the Unicorn Tapestries and came across a depiction of a cup that was kind of like an inverted, dried poppy bud. The next day I made my first flower vases, and have since been exploring a family of related forms. Later in my research I discovered chalices again from the early medieval period that had hexagonal or flower-shaped bases. I knew I had to revive these designs. They look like nothing else but somehow seem to right and obvious to exist to me. In my young life I was really driven to make something completely new or at least something new that was new thought on something quite old. So there was that. The commercial vs. personal thing is something that I feel like I will probably be exploring for my whole life. I think it’s mostly to do with what is being said or what is trying to be said. A lot of times when you’re doing commercial design, you’re working for someone and you are communicating a message that is most likely not yours, whereas in personal work one has the total control and freedom to say exactly what one wants and needs to say.
What have been some of the gallery shows you’ve shown your work in over the past few years? The MTV team contributed to an AIGA show about process in 2015 that was very irreverant and fun. During my last semester of school, one of my professors had his class respond to D&AD briefs. My working partner and I ended up winning a wood pencil which was very cool, so Pratt flew us out to London to accept the awards, which was very interesting, haha. I can’t help but wonder if we won an award purely based on the shock factor of what we contributed to this otherwise very traditional and advertising-focused organization. We did this very esoteric piece about rebirth and acceptance. Later that year I was asked to participate in a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. The show celebrated artists who make work across commercial and fine art applications. So I contributed two interstitials that I had done at MTV Flower Stone, 2016 and two sculptures I had made while liv-
ing on my mother’s farm. That was incredibly surreal for me. The roster was incredible. It was unreal to feel like I was doing what I wanted to do—like that thing so many told me would not happen was truly happening. It was so empowering. I was making work in these fields and they were not isolated and they were communicating, and they were meaningful and impactful. It was just incredible. So that was really reassuring and exciting. This past spring Max Schidlovsky, Chelsea McCarthy, and I had a show at In Lieu gallery in Los Angeles. Max and I had been wanting to have a show together for a really long time so it was so good to work on that, as there are a lot of overlapping themes in our work. Chelsea’s work made an incredible addition, and the whole thing felt so remarkably complete, especially considering the fact that Max and I did not know Chelsea at all going in. The curation was incredible—thank you Ethan Tate, Neidy, and Alex at In Lieu. Our work collectively seemed to cover this amazing spectrum of nature and spirituality which manifested itself in different ratios depending on what corner of the room you were looking at. It was amazing to say the least.
Often a lot of your work is photographed or situated in a very specific context. How do you choose the way you present a piece of work? Do you try to allude to a narrative around it? I do. I mentioned control earlier, and I think the reason I really started photographing sculptures in that way was because I felt like the work would be incomplete if I didn’t, in some cases at least. Being able to control that aspect of the work
only adds to the story it seeks to tell. So it depends on the piece. Some pieces I will shoot in a little bit less of a specific way, if I am trying to leave something more open to interpretation. I was really happy that I could get to that point mentally and creatively, as a lot of formal design training mandates there to be no room for interpretation. Of course, that’s not true for all design, but there is something very attractive to me about controlling the amount of room for interpretation there is with an object or an image as they pertain to a narrative. I have a couple photos that I have been working on that are pretty suggestive. While the obejcts are still kind of ambiguous, bits of the image contribute to the story of what the object is about. Then there are some where it’s more like, “Well, here is this thing in this specific place. How did it get there? Is it real? Does it belong there? Has it always been there?” So that room for play is incredibly important to me. In the past year or so I’ve felt like I am starting to scratch this very rich and deep surface of this medium or this way I want to present work. That is very exciting for me too.
How did you initially start working at Bloomberg Businessweek? What has your experience been like working there? I started working at Businessweek in November 2016. I got an email from Chris Nosenzo, who I admire so much. Everything he has done with PACKET, and at Bizweek, is so fantastic. It was really good timing too. I loved working my mom’s farm so much, but I was incredibly lonely, and realized I wasn’t ready to give up working in some of the ways that I had before I moved to the farm. I was a bit reinvigorating too, as if the universe.. was trying to tell me not to give up design yet. haha. My experience working there has been, again, phenomenal. Tracy Ma, who’s a hero of mine, once said in an interview that “Working there (Bizweek)was kind of like going to art school again.” While we didn’t overlap, I can agree with the sentiment in some ways. It’s been an incredible lesson in communication and in what works and what doesn’t. It’s funny, I never really thought I would be super interested in making editorial illustration. But while I was there I had the opportunity to and was learning so much about communicating in a variety of ways through a variety of imagery. The great thing about Businessweek, again, is that the art content is not just limited to illustration or whatever, it’s just, “What is going to communicate this in the best way?” and also “In what way can we subvert this and be unexpected?”
What do you specifically hope to bring to their design department? How do you hope to impact Businessweek while you’re working there? I’ve typically let myself be freer, looser, funnier, and weirder Lovers, 2017 Grail (Morgaine Returning The Grail to Avalon), 2017
in my commercial work that in my fine art or what have you. I want to bring things that on the surface have the appearance of being nice or cute but if you look closer for a second you’ll be like, “What the fuck is that? Is that a frog? Is that a bird in there?” haha. So it’s been great and challenging and has made me ask a lot of things of myself too. Not to mention duelling it out with all of my visual styles every day. While the magazine was in it’s now old aesthetic, I was trying to walk this line of consistency. If I was working towards being a true, traditional commercial illustrator I would have to have all of these things figured out, and have a consistent, marketable style sorted out, but I’m really lucky to be in this place where I can do something different every week. That is a super fun challenge in itself, although, sometimes it’s a lot to feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every week. Eventually I’ve started to develop more of an illustration style then maybe I had before. I’ve been so opposed to picturing real things or copying life as it is for the longest time time in my work. I didn’t find it at all interesting. But to communicate, sometimes you have to use recognizable objects or motifs or symbols, obviously. So it was great to get into this place where I was like, “Okay, I guess someone can look like an elf with a questionable forehead.” I used animals instead of people to communicate actions or feelings.
Who are some contemporary artists and peers who have had an impact on you and the work you make? There are a lot of artists who are a bit older and more accomplished that I really admire and look up to like, Petra Cortright and Brenna Murphy. Then of course, Tracy Ma and Steph
Davidson at Businessweek, Feature design for Bloomberg and all of my close friends Businessweek, 2017 and peers outside of that. I feel like I tap into a wide variety of sphere for influence. It’s great to be in a community where people are very serious about what they do, but not overly serious—not to the point where people can’t talk about it or listen or make light of things. I think having a variety of friends who work in a variety of mediums is also super important to me. I have Max Schidlovsky who makes very fine sculpture and painting. Then I have friends like Caroline Tompkins and Corey Olsen who are incredible photographers. Kurt Woerpel, Brie Moreno, and Maren Karlson who are phenomenal illustrators are in there too. Being able to see the world through a variety of lenses is very important, not just to me, but as a practice people should hold more. Diversity obviously makes for incredibly rich experience. I don’t like to limit myself in what inspires me. Maya Laner and her project True Blue are incredible. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by incredible young people making incredible things and acting on their incredible thoughts.
How has the internet affected your ability to do what you do? Have the people who’ve kept up with your work online motivated you to keep making it? I think the encouragement from people on the internet was pretty isolated to when I was young and without such a reliable community around me. There was a long time during which people thought that a lot of my work was about the internet or like my relationship to the internet or something, and that is not right at all. I think some of my desire to control the context of my work has stemmed from the ex-
perience of being misunderstood. MostGlass, 2017 ly I see the internet primarily as the tool that has enabled me to do so many things. All of the things that I learned when I was young—software and technical things—I had to teach myself. I taught myself by googling very specific questions. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t just learn in school because somehow, nobody on an entire college campus knew how to use Cinema 4D. It’s kind of funny, I feel like there was this really specific point in time during school when I realized that people are looking at the internet too much, and not focusing on their own work or looking inwards. If you do that you’re just going to be forever reiterating whatever you’re looking at, instead of cultivating something personal and different. So I definitely don’t look at work on the internet as much as I used to. It’s important for people to have full, conscious intention going into it.
What are you working on right now that you can talk about? I’ve been amassing this inventory of vases that I am planning on shooting and selling online. They are sculptures and art objects that are also functional. People can justify having them in their homes because they hold something or do something. Depending on which one it is, they have this whole range of interpretation and use. So, I’m not interested in just shooting them plainly and selling them like that. I feel like they have this other life and I want to make them available to people to have, but I don’t want to treat them not in a typical “objects for sale” way. So it’s important for me to build up this story through images.
I have some ceramic sculptures E Stain Genesis, 2017 that I’m finishing up. I started this series of these ceramic flowers. The first one has a life in a gallery, and there are two more that I’m still working on figuring out where they live. I also have plans to make a book with TXTBooks which I’m very excited about. I plan on having these series of stories all told in slightly different styles. Some of them are pretty traditionally narrative, while some of them are not. So that’s kind of taken a bit of a leap to get to, in terms of style and how style is going to help communicate what I’m saying. Then I have several other sculptures that I’ve started kind of making these images of objects in place. I have at least a dozen more that I’m working kind of trying. But, it’s difficult because all of the things that I want to do with them would be much easier if I had an outdoor space that I could do whatever I wanted to in, instead of growing things in my apartment.
Is there anything that you hope people to take away from your work that’s specific to how you make your art? I think something that has been very consistent with all of the things that I’ve been making since I was starting to be serious about making things, there is this element of reality, which I think a lot of young artists are wrestling with now. So a lot of the images I am making I am making with the intention of having people question whether or not they are real and to what extent they are real. I think that that’s one of the great hallmarks art—looking at what is real and what is not, what it deceiving and what is not, what is true and where that gets fuzzy. So I hope for that to be a takeaway in some of the images. I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the hidden element of making or how this came to be. So in the fine art application that’s some-
I’m really lucky to be in this place where I can do something different every week. That is a super fun challenge in itself, although, sometimes it’s a lot to feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every week. thing that I’m doing. There’s also this element of preservation that a lot of the ceramic flowers that I am making are kind of commentary on environmental degradation. It’s this simple motif that’s been around for a very long time and looked at as this obvious and immediate symbol of beauty, yet ceramic is this medium that is very hard to breakdown or disintegrate and it lasts a very long time. So in a thousand years when there are no flowers, we’ll still have flowers. There are a lot of dark ideas in this work that are on the surface as these bright, happy, and positive, and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know about my work. There’s this very depressing element.
Are there any projects that you would like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I hope that when I am looking back on this sometime in the future, they’ll have happened. In my lifetime, my greater goal is to make earthworks or land art. I am really looking forward to that. If I had all of the money and the time and space in the world that’s what I’d be doing. I’m really interested in making people aware of the state of the environment, not only though talking about weather change and degradation, but also through bringing awareness to the most ultimate beauty.
PEOW PRESS by M AT T HE W J A ME S -WI L S O N
Since it’s humble beginning, Peow Press has cultivated one of the most approachable libraries in indie comics, carving
out space on its shelf for a book for everyone. Although the Swedish small press was conceived out a dissatisfaction of its local comics community, Peow has forged their own clique across international borders. When Peow is looking for an ideal project to take on, they don’t make their determination based on the popularity, acclaim, or history of the artist they’re seeking out. Rather, what Peow values the most in it’s past and future creators is the endearing vision and willingness to tell unique stories that they all share. Last month I spent a day with the head of Peow operations in the US, Patrick Crotty, along with cartoonist and Peow alumni, Jane Mai. While collaborating on multiple books and manning tables at comic conventions across the country, the two have helped shape the voice of Peow in America. After agreeing to do this interview Jane and Patrick insisted we meet at the Newport Mall in Jersey City to discuss the past four years the Peow over a meal at the Cheesecake Factory.
Where are you all from and where do you live currently? Patrick Crotty: I’m originally from Washington, DC, so for the first 13 years of my life I grew up in the states. I was in DC and then I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, and then Philadelphia. Then when I was 14 I moved to Sweden, and I was there for 14 years or something like that. Then last year I moved back to the states, and I now live in Jersey City. Jane Mai: I’m just from Brooklyn. Then I moved to Jersey City, which is also like Brooklyn. It’s not exciting, haha. What were your respective college experiences like? Did both of you study art after high school? Jane: I did, and I kind of regret it cause it’s expensiiiive, haha. I went to Pratt which is also in Brooklyn. If I could re-do it I think what I’d do is just pick a different major that’s not illustration. I would have done screen-printing instead or—this is boring, but I might have done art history just because I really like art history. I would probably still not have a job. Patrick: After high school I didn’t do anything for like a year or two. In Sweden nobody really goes to college directly after, because college is kind of different there. There you go to college and you focus 100 percent directly on your major as soon as you start. There’s no year where everyone is taking math and history and stuff like that. You just do whatever your major is going to be. College is also free too, which is good. Jane: That’s crazy.
Patrick: Yeah it is crazy. There are a lot of crazy things there. But school really is focused, so when people do go to art school they already know what they’re going to be doing. It’s not like the first year you get to try a bunch of different things. I nstead you just go for glass blowing for three years or whatever. Jane: I wish I had a break. In high school you’re just like, “I like to draw!” and it doesn’t necessarily translate to you wanting to draw for a living. It would have probably been better for me if I didn’t just go straight to art school and spend all of this money on art school. But I didn’t really have a choice because Pratt gave me a scholarship and it was one of those things where my parents were like, “You should be a doctor!” and I was like, “No thanks!” and I didn’t get into med school anyways, haha. Patrick:: With the whole taking a break thing, I think it goes back to when the military service was something that everybody had to do. All of the guys had to do military service, so that was like taking a year off there. And because the guys didn’t go, the girls were like, “Well I don’t want to go to school right away.” The standard thing is that lots of people after graduation would do Au Pairing in a different country just for fun. But by the time that I was there, they had stopped doing the military service thing and it wasn’t obligatory. Because of that nobody is use to going to school straight away, so it became the year that people take off to go on vacation or do a train trip around Europe or whatever. So I took a year off and just worked regular teenager job stuff. Then I studied one semester of French in Paris with some friends because we were just like, “Oh let’s just go somewhere.” Then after that I went to school. At first I studied communication sciences, which was like programming stuff, because my dad was like, “You should do this! It’s good!” and I was like,
“No!” I applied just because the application process in Sweden is really lazy. You don’t have to write letters, you just go into a website that has all of the schools and all of the courses, and you just click your first choice, second choice, and third choice. You’d do that like a month before and you’d get something that would be like, “These are your choices that you got into. Click the one you want to go to.” You don’t have to pay anything to apply. Jane: That’s so much better! Patrick: There’s also no interview process unless you’re going to a super specific school. Like for art schools you have to send in applications and a test. But for any other regular school you don’t do that. So I got into my third choice and I was like, “Fine, I’ll do it.” and I didn’t like it. After a year of that I quit and then I studied advertising and PR and did that. Do you feel like your school experiences impacted your attitude about art? How did it affect what you ended up making after school? Patrick: I wasn’t really around art at all. The advertising and PR I was studying was really theoretical so it was
more about doing research or PR and advertising sciences. If I was going to continue I would be doing analytics for science magazines about advertising and PR, not actually working at an ad company coming up with ideas. Jane: That’s too specific. Patrick: Yeah, but it was more of the really really big over aching grand management, and the science behind that. So yeah, I didn’t really have anything to do with art. It was kind of my friends that I met outside of school that influenced what I thought about art. But I don’t know, you probably saw a lot more of that Jane. Jane: I had a very confusing time in art school, just because the quality of school you go to greatly depends on your teachers. I felt like the teachers I had were all so different in their own special unique way, that I didn’t really learn anything. I don’t know. I think what art school was useful for was I learned how to screen-print, and that was really cool. That was my big gain from going to art school I guess. Just dealing with the equipment and knowing how to do it so I could continue doing it outside of art school. I wish I was able to do it more. I wouldn’t re-do
“Jane: you make a choice when you’re 18 because everyone is like, “You have to go to college!” and it’s the wrong choice, so it ruins your life, haha.”
“Patrick: I don’t think it’s fair to put that decision on someone who is that young. When you’re that young it’s when you really want to do exactly what you want.” it necessarily, just because—well it’s cliché to say, “It’s made me who I am today.” but it’s true. I still think I would have gone for like screen printing instead of just this illustration heavy focus. I find that I’m not good at illustration. But it’s just because you make a choice when you’re 18 because everyone is like, “You have to go to college!” and it’s the wrong choice, so it ruins your life, haha.
Patrick: And really, I don’t think it’s fair to put that decision on someone who is that young. When you’re that young it’s when you really want to do exactly what you want. Your not thinking about a lot of stuff. I really wish that I listened to my dad, because I put off doing specific things because I was like, “No! I’m going to do my own thing.” But now I’m like, “Gosh, they really were right.” And it’s like, of course they would be right! They’re your parents and they want to look out for you. They’re not doing it to be punishing, they’re actually just giving you good advice because they’re a grown up and they know this stuff. In college, I didn’t see any art. All of the stuff that I was doing in college was my own really really really bad drawings. Since I never had any practice, I had no idea, so I was just being like, “I’m so good and proud of myself.” I thought I was really good because I had nothing to compare myself to. But it was all really really bad.
The other two people at Peow, Elliot Alfredius and Olle Forsslöf, they went to art school, but I did not. They’re a lot better at drawing than me.
Jane: Yeah, I don’t necessarily think you have to go to art school to be good at drawing. Some people are just good at drawing. They don’t need anything and they’re cool. How did Peow Press initially start in Sweden? Patrick: The three of us, when we started—this was like five years ago—I had just graduated from college and it was maybe a couple months after. Me and Elliot and Olle were hanging out all of the time. We were best friends and we were doing stupid comic projects together. We were like, “Hey, if we want to do illustration work, why don’t we just team up and just do it as a team instead of just individually applying for work. We could have a work name and a website and just send it to whoever and they’ll be like ‘Oh, maybe I don’t like this guy’s art, but I like this other person’s art.’” So that was our idea and we never got any jobs. It was really bad, haha. So we ended up doing really stupid stuff, and the first thing we did together that we were suppose to get paid for
but never did, was this animated video for the gay pride anthem of that year. Jane: What was the anthem? Patrick: Umm… some band called Straight Up, I think. In Sweden, for their gay pride festival, they have a different song for each year. They have some cool band that they’re like, “Oh! You’re like a cool queer band. We want you to do the song.” I knew one of the guys in the band, and he knew that we were doing this, and he was like, “You should do an animation for this. We were like, “Okay.” and we did it. It was really cool, but nothing really came of it. We also made a board game on our own on the side. We did that and showed it at this board game developer club meetings and they were like, “This is a really shitty game, but the art is really good.” So that was cool. We got positive feedback on that. Then a different Swedish magazine wanted us to do a comic based on the board game that we made that was really bad. So we did that and we were like, “Okay, we’re getting published somewhere else.” and in the mean time, we were doing these small jobs. Once a year there was a Swedish comic book festival, so we were like, “Oh, we want to get a table there. We should do comics for fun.” We made really crappy photo copied ones the first time we were there, but we were also importing stuff that we liked. We imported stuff from Mare Odomo and Roman Muradov. This was way back when they were also just doing digital print zines. It was nothing fancy. We did that for about two years, and around that time Thickness was coming out. We got one of those and were like, “What is this? This looks really cool!” It was this whole risographed thing, so we were like, “Wow! What is this? Is this like a rice paper printer?” haha. We stared googling around in Sweden because there was no other place to print on a riso. They only had digital copiers, and it was really really crappy to make your own books. You just have that option or photo copiers and nothing in between. So we started looking around for risographs and we found one that we could get in Sweden. So we ended up buying that and were like, “Great! We can offer printing to other people so that they can make nicer looking books, and we can also make cool books ourselves.” So we got two colors with it, and we made one zine. Then with the money we made off of making that—it was really tiny, like a 50 copy print run—we bought another color. We put in our own money and were like, “Oh, we can buy these colors whenever we can find them for cheap on craigslist.” We were doing other small projects on the side. The really funny thing was that, after we got the machine, we were really lucky and got to rent a studio space at the VICE offices in Sweden. I use to work with them a little when I was younger. They had this really big office space that they didn’t know what to do with, so they were like, “We’ve got this extra room you guys can stay in for free.” I think instead of staying there
for free we had to do some visuals for them for some parties every once in a while. It was a very good deal for us, haha. Instead of just being there for three months for free, we were there for almost half a year, and that was really really good because we had a space to go to to and have meetings, and we would have school classes come and look at the risograph. We were also doing printing for other people, so our business was running. We were a print shop and we were making books. We would go to festivals mostly in Europe, and the more and more books we started making, we ended up coming to this point where we were working so much that we needed to focus on only making books or only printing for people, because we wanted to be really really good at at least one thing. That was the point where we were like, “The printing is nice, but it’s more fun for us to be making books.” So we stopped printing for other people and focused on just making the books. So that’s basically where we’re at now. What was the comics community like in Sweden? Did it feel like you had to rely on the internet to expose yourself to what was going on in the rest of the indie comics world? Patrick: We became friends and ended up doing comics because we really liked the same stuff that nobody was making in Sweden. It’s a really small place, and the comics community there—all of the comics that get noticed or win things or whatever are like black and white autobio depressing comics. So yeah, a majority of the comics are basically all that. It’s either a white dude who’s single and depressed and complaining about being on bad dates and jerking off, or it’s really really basic feminist comics, which have a good message and stuff, but are the really really entry level ideas. All of the comics are like that and they’re not really breaking new ground. The art for all of these types of comics is really really bad. Three of the more famous Swedish comic artists are these three girls—they even have their own publishing house—and in interviews with them they say that they started doing comics because they were like, “We wanted to be writers, but we found it was easier to just do the stories in comic form to get published.” So they’re not doing comics because they like doing the comics, it was just a work around to get published. Some of their comics in major newspapers can just be three panels of hand written text, and because it’s not typed out, they call it a comic. So the art quality there was really really low, and we wanted to make the comics that had the nice visuals and the good text. We wanted both parts to be important, not just the writing. So that was our main goal. We wanted to do colorful things that were exciting that had good artwork as well. So most of the stuff we found like that was on the internet. We didn’t feel like anyone around us was doing that. Every once in a while we’d find some artists
“Patrick: We became friends and ended up doing comics because we really liked the same stuff that nobody was making in Sweden.”
in Sweden that were making work like that, like Hanna K who was once of the first people we worked with. Those Swedish people that we were working with really early on, they were making stuff that we liked. But then, when we talked to them, we realized all of their influences were outside of Sweden. The people who were just into Swedish stuff we wouldn’t really hang out with. Even the Swedish comic institutions, they would disregard the stuff that we did. When they would see the risograph stuff we did they would be like, “Why would you print on this when you could easily get this weird printing effect in photoshop. We were like, “That’s not really the point.” It’s interesting how the attitude toward riso printing has really changed so much over just the past few years. It seems like it started with a lot of small publishers realizing it was a cheap and convenient tool, but now it’s this printing method that’s almost fetishized by everyone. Jane: The last time we went to ELCAF, when I walked around, everything was risographed, and everyone ended up having the same colors on all of their things. It was all hot pink and that one blue. It makes everything less unique. It’s come to this point where that bumble is going
Patrick: Yeah, that’s what I usually try to tell people with riso. I’ll really get mad when I see when books are advertising “Riso!” and people really try and push that. You don’t push the printing technique, you push that the book is good. Jane: Yeah, the riso doesn’t make it better. Patrick: Yeah totally. If you really want to follow trends and that’s your thing, then do it. But we never used the riso to follow trends, it was more like, “This is a tool where we can print in colors that are not available with digital printing, and it’s a color that’s not just black.” We could have used the photocopiers, but you only have one choice of color there. When did Patrick come to the US and how did the two of you meet? Jane: I did a book with Peow in their very early stages. Patrick: Yeah, when we were still doing riso stuff. Jane: It was one of the first larger runs of a book I did.
“Jane: We were just really distant friends and we would talk every once in a while through email. Then we did that book.” Patrick: For Pond Smelt, we did 500 copies of it and that was our biggest print run to date! We were really really proud of it because it was also our first time working with an American author. Jane: But Pond Smelt was cursed and many of them went missing in the mail. To this day, almost every week, someone emails me about Pond Smelt. Even though it’s available as a PDF, they’re like “No! I want the physical copy!” and I’m just l’m just like “They don’t exist. Sorry… you’re ten years too late.” There’s nothing I can do about it. But that was the first book I did with Peow, and it was a depressing story. We just knew each other through the internet and we met through Mare or something. But I think you also followed this very small fashion blog that I had, because I use to dress all crazy in college. We were just really distant friends and we would talk every once in a while through email. Then we did that book. But I never met Patrick in real life until they came for… Was it MoCCA or CAB? Patrick: Yeah, MoCCA. Oh wait no, it was probably CAB. We did another book a few years later called Soft, and for that one we did 1,500.
Jane: It was nominated for an Ignatz! Patrick: That was like the maximum cap of our risograph print runs. But for the most part, we wouldn’t meet the international artists until really late. Sometimes if they just went by some weird internet name, we would have no idea who the person was even. It would be a big surprised when we’d get to meet them in real life. It would be like “Whoa, you’re really tall.” haha. Jane: I went to Stockholm when Soft came out, for the Stockholm Comics Festival. That was interesting… Met some guy named Shinji. Patrick: Yeah, he changed his middle name to Shinji for his 30th birthday because he liked Neon Genesis so much. He referred to Jane as “alternative manga artist, Jenni.” Jane: Yeah, so now I go by Jenni at Starbucks. Patrick: But yeah, I think it was about three years ago when we were in New York for Comic Arts Brooklyn and I met Jane there. Then I came back a few months later
for MoCCA. Then after that you came to Sweden for the Stockholm Comics Festival and the next year I moved here. Peow is a really interesting addition to the various comics scenes because you publish such a range of international artists. Do you notice certain things sell better in certain areas, or are readers ever surprised by work they see from somewhere else? Patrick: It depends on the festivals usually. Festivals are weird. If you go to a furry festival anywhere in the world, the furry books will sell more, so that doesn’t really count. But country wise—I don’t think we have our books in a single store in Sweden. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have anything in stores in Sweden. We sell almost all of our stuff to the US, so we’ve noticed that in the US people will read pretty much anything. Our French artists sell a lot better in France, just because they like to support them. But I don’t feel like we’ve released enough books to actually give any super solid info. like about what statistically sell better where. I feel like, even just aesthetically a lot of your catalog looks really different than most American publishers. It seems like the comics culture from each region and
every countries own art history impacts the way they approach drawing comics or anime. Patrick: Yeah! I mean, I don’t think we want people to interpret a type of comic. Nowadays people just grow up reading what they read and then they make their own comics. If you tell someone, “I want you to do this style of comic.” then they would just do that. But if you let someone do their comic naturally… Jane: It’s just subconsciously informed. Patrick: Yeah, that’s just their own style. Almost always we just make the books that we like. We don’t think of whether the book will sell a lot, we just do the books that we want to read. We know sometimes, “This book is going to be harder to sell.” Bio-Whale by the the Finnish guy Ville Kallio, for that book we knew, “Okay, this is more of a strange looking book.” But we still made a bunch and it sold out. But we’re not stupid. We know that some stuff is easier to sell than other stuff. But we still want to read the books, so that’s why we make them. We adjust our print runs accordingly so we don’t make a crazy mistake or make a million of a book that looks really bizarre. We always just try to make something that feels complete once you end it. With some of the more art comics, I think
“Patrick: We don’t think of whether the book will sell a lot, we just do the books that we want to read.”
what’s important for those is, even if the style looks really weird, it still needs to makes sense. That’s why I really like Patrick Kyle’s stuff. Even though at first glance you’re like, “Oh, this is so bizarre looking.” everything is still very easy to read and it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to push away people with the way he writes. It’s very inviting and easy going. There are art comics that are just like… Jane: “Ugh, you don’t understand this.” haha Patrick: And they just make me feel like, “Oh. I’m not smart enough for this.” For all of the books I want everybody to read them. I want a mom to be able to pick up the book and be like, “Hey, I enjoyed this, even though I don’t read comics.” That’s kind of the goal with what we want to do. Even if we find an artist who’s art is weird, we try to help them shape the story so that it’s open. When you first started were there certain publishers or people that you wanted to model what you were doing off of? Patrick: Definitely! So when we started we were importing a lot of comics, like I mentioned. We were importing Nobrow stuff because we thought their books looked really really nice. We were like, “We want to make beautiful looking books like Nobrow.” We also imported stuff by Koyama Press because we thought she was also making really fun and interesting work. We also heard stories of the way she treated the artists that she worked with. She’s really really good at taking care of her artists. Jane: Annie is the best. Annie is basically my mom. Patrick: So that was the other thing. We wanted to have the book design of Nobrow and have our relations with our artists and how much we pay them be as close to Koyama as possible. Then we also looked at Youth in Decline, or at least the Thickness stuff. It was before Youth in Decline was a thing, so it was just the Thickness stuff Ryan Sands and Michael DeForge made. Then we were like, “This is what we can do with our current budget with a risograph.” So those were the three we looked at to start making books. Did it feel like it was easier or more difficult to start a small business in Sweden? How has being there impacted the way that you guys operate? Patrick: I think we were really lucky in the beginning to get the free studio space for half a year. When you start an LLC—it’s called an AB in Sweden—you have to put in $5,000 to start it. The one thing, we did get help from Elliot’s mom who was like, “I really want you guys to do this.” so she put in the $5,000 to start that company thing. But other than that, we did a lot of really stupid things because we didn’t have any money saved up. I mean you hear everybody say, “If you start a company, you should
have money saved up.” Either that, or come from rich family, or you have like a rich partner who pays for everything, but then you don’t tell anyone about it because you want your story to feel better. They’re like “I worked so hard by myself!” Jane: “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, saving up every day.” Patrick: “Oh and also I’d like to thank my loving, caring partner who pays for all of this.” No, but when we started doing this, none of us knew anything about making books. We didn’t have a book plan starting out. We kind of just fell into that when we noticed we were making more money off of the books. But, since we’ve never really had much money individually, we were always very budget minded.” We would do nothing to spend more money than we have to. At all of the festivals we would stay at people’s places for free if we had friends there, or we’d stay at the cheapest cheapest hostiles. There were no company parties, haha. If there was some store or gallery opening that had free booze, we would go to that and pretend it was our party. We even had this “cool guys club” that was just the three of us and we’d email if. “Oh, Volvo is having a party in collaboration with something stupid.” Just anything stupid where we could get free food or drinks. But I think we just started up really without any plans, but we just had good common sense. I think it worked well because if we had followed a plan or if we had a rule book that was like, “This is how you do publishing.” something like that is just not made for everybody. We just did it in a way that worked for us in our situation in Sweden with the budget and the luck that we had. So what led to your decision to move Patrick, and when did the two of you start working on the publisher together? Patrick: Well Jane has been a huge help because she’s always at the festivals now. She’s also made almost the most books with us so far. So she’s like an OG Peow artist. Jane: But I do all of the books that are like depressing and not Peow-ish at all. They’re… poignant, haha. No, they’re cute. I think they’re cute. Patrick: Yeah, you save all of the funny stuff for Annie. Jane: Yeah… I’m also guilty of the, “Well it’s easier to be a writer if you get published as a comic artist.” haha. I’m not coherent enough to form sentences. So yeah, I just draw some picture and put some words in there. Patrick: But yeah, I moved about a year and a half ago. Jane: It was also like a business decision for you guys
because you were selling so much in the United States that you might as well have opened a branch here, which is much better for shipping. A huge problem I had when trying to sell people my books was. I’d be like “Hey! You can buy Soft now! It’s available.” and everyone was like, “This site is in Danish! I don’t understand these shipping prices.” The prices were in krones but they were like, “Why is this 300 dollars?” It was just really annoying trying to work around, if I wasn’t selling the books myself— and obviously, I couldn’t get a crate of them to sell in the United States. There are also way more conventions in America that Peow would be interested in going to, and just logistically it made sense for them to move here. So when Patrick first moved here, he lived in my room in my parents house, hahaha Patrick: How long were we there? Like a few months? Jane: Yeah! And I would go to work, and I don’t know what you would do.
Patrick: I would be at the house working on Peow books or looking for work. I would just hide in the room. Jane: But you would just have the whole house to yourself. Patrick: Yeah, but I wouldn’t really go anywhere. I would just stay in that room. Jane: With my dog, haha. It’s a pretty small room. My room was like mostly bed. Patrick: But then we found this place in Jersey City and we just moved out here. The office of the “US Branch” is just our apartment. We actually have a little office in Sweden, but since we pay for that, it’s not like we’re going to pay for me to be in a studio space here. It just doesn’t make sense. So that’s that.
“Patrick: We just did it in a way that worked for us in our situation in Sweden with the budget and the luck that we had.”
How do you two function as the Peow branch in the US? How are responsibilities divided? Patrick: I handle all of the emails and distribution to US book stores. So whenever US books stores place an order, I do all of the shipments for that, and I also send out all of the US orders. Jane: I help! Sometimes! Patrick: And I also help with your orders too! But that’s like the most exciting thing. Since we’re mostly only doing the books now, whenever one of us has a book to edit, I’ll just do the book editing. That you can do pretty much anywhere. But I mostly coordinate the US festivals and US distribution of books and that’s about it. Then in Sweden, since the office is there, they do more of the quarterly reports with the accountants there. It sounds like you guys really have your shit together. You have like a bigger staff than almost any other publisher of your size. Patrick: Yeah, but we don’t. We’re just three friends doing this. It would be weird if we were three friends and then one of us said, “But you know, we only need one person to do this.” That would be so messed up. But we’ve talked about it before and we’ve been like “You know, as the three of us, we’re not working full time on this. But one of us could actually do this full time and we could live off of this.” haha. And of course, any company has to have their accounting dude. The thing is, I guess you could do it yourself, but it’s so much to learn, and there are people who actually do that as their job. That’s what they have studied to do. So we actually started paying to get an accountant, from 1+2=3 Accounting, hahaha. It has some really silly basic name like that. Jane: Whoa, that’s cute! It’s like accounting for babies. Patrick: But yeah, they just do that because all of the receipts are there. I’ll also send out the European orders and sometimes do very small print jobs from time to time. Since I moved, they’ve been printing for this guy for a while. We were just like, “Who is this guy?” and it turns out it’s Yung Lean. I was just like “What!? You guys are printing stuff for Yung Lean?” and they’re just like, “Yeah he comes in like every other week with some new idea that he wants to print.” He’s apparently super enthusiastic about printing on the riso. He’ll just be like, “This is so fun!” and he’ll come in with pictures and stuff sometimes. We have so many famous people around us. Robyn is sometimes in the apartment building round outside of our office because she has a friend there. This one is for Jane. What was the process of making your two Peow books? What was your motivation in working with them specifically?
Jane: Well, at the time I was just a person on the internet, so it was just fun to do anything. I was like, “Yeah, why not! That sounds cool.” I just like making things, and it doesn’t really matter what it is. I bought a sowing machine last year, and I’ve used it like five times, and now I haven’t touched it. But I just like the idea of making anything that’s possible to make. So I was like, “Yeah sure, a book. Why not, that’s cool.” Did Pond Smelt come out first, or was it Sunday in the Park with Boys? Patrick: I think you came out with the Koyama book first. Jane: That was in like 2012 or something, so I guess I already had the book high and I was like, “I’m going to keep the ball rolling! Try to get a career started, because I just graduated from college and I don’t have a job!” And you can tell that I was depressed by the content of those two books. But I don’t know, I just wanted to do it because I had nothing to lose. It was fun. I’m here for fun times. Pond Smelt is about a video game called Animal Crossing. It was my doujinshi. I actually started it a year or something before. It was just this thing I started in my own time. I had ten pages, and it was the first ten pages I showed Patrick as a pitch. So I had those done and I didn’t touch it for a long time. Then eventually I was like, “I’m going to revisit it and finish it finally.” It took me a while. I can’t remember what happened. I was being an adolescent depressing person, and I probably had like a break up or whatever, and I was just really emotionally unstable. For a long time I wasn’t working on it when I should have been. But eventually I got it done. I don’t think that much editing went into the story or the art on that one. Patrick: Back then when we were first starting out, if someone said yes to working with us, since we were really far away from everyone, we’d let them do whatever. We just didn’t want to say anything that would make them not want to work with us. So we were really hands off in the beginning. Jane: No, but you gave me good advice on the cover. I really like basic covers that have no information about the book whatsoever. But Patrick was like, “No! It has to have these three elements to be successful.” So I had to put in an eye, a face, and something else. But it worked out well. It was a good cover. Patrick: Yeah because you got to have the basic cover on the inside cover because it had a dust jacket. It’s funny because, I was at the house and found these old samples that I sent you that were like, “This is what the book could look like.” Jane: One of them looked like a Chinese restaurant menu. I was like “No… It can’t look like that.” haha. But the one we used worked out well. That was also the first time I had ever made anything that was riso, so that was exciting.
But I think that was the whole process. Me getting my pages done and then sending them to Patrick and then us doing the back and forth with the cover. You also sent me some paper samples because at the time he still lived in Sweden, and I could choose what colors I wanted specifically. But I think that was pretty much it. It was pretty simple and straight forward. It wasn’t frustrating or anything. For the most part I don’t think it was ever frustrating to work with any of my editors. I think I’m pretty easy going. But I also haven’t had editors wanting to change things dramatically with my stuff. How have you gone about choosing the artists you work with? What do you look for in a book when you’re thinking about putting it out? Patrick: For the most part we’ll find the people through the internet or sometimes at book festivals. Sometimes it’s been friends of people we work with, where they’re like, “Hey my friend is really good at drawing.” Usually all of those have been really good—when it’s a recommendation by an artist that we’ve worked with, because they have a good standard. But we also send out emails and hope that artists say yes. But working on the books now we try to do more and more editing, just to make sure that when you finish reading the book you don’t feel like, “Wait, is that it? This ending doesn’t make sense.” We try and make sure everything at least feels complete by the end. Some people are really easy to work with. I think with a few there’s never really been so much of a problem with their stories, so we don’t have to edit so much. But their have been times were—sometimes I’ll say like “I think it would be fun if you did a fantasy book with your art.” or “You should do a sci-fi story.” With Wai Wai Pang’s book, Ripples, I told her specifically, “I really want to see you do a detective book.” She was like “Okay.” and she did it, so that was great. I’ve read some of her other stuff, like this travel diary, and it was really cool the way she did it. So I thought, I want to see this, but as a whole detective thing. But people always have to come up with their story, and I’ll just maybe give them some direction. Sometimes people have just not been able to come up with a good story. It’ll be like, “Wow, I really like your art, but the story—we can’t make a book with this.” If we’re going to be spending money it has to be good and it has to mean something. And there have been sometimes when—and mostly when we were younger—we’d read the book after and realize, Oh this doesn’t really mean anything to me. A lot of the times we’d just go by the art, because we just wanted really cool art. So now we just want to stuff to feel really good.
covers and I am not. So I really value that part of our working relationship. I’ll always need pointers on what I should put on a cover because I just really like blank covers. If it were up to me it would just be nothing with nothing on the spine. Patrick: Oh my god, I would be so mad! I would be like, “No, no, no, no!” haha. Jane: But Patrick is really good at designing covers so I lean a lot on that for help. I think Peow in general makes really good feeling books. They actually look like books! I mean, there are some other smaller publishers that put out books, but they don’t feel like, “Oh, I could buy this at the MoMA.” or “Oh, I could buy this at Barnes & Nobel.” They have spines and they have covers and whatever, but the designs of them just seem off to me. I’ll open it up and there’s no inside cover. It just goes immediately into a comic and it’s something that puts me off. It’s something that I personally like and I know Peow wouldn’t be like, “Well, we could save five cents if we don’t put in an inside cover.” I remember I was really fussy about Soft because I was like, “Okay, so the main character in this book, her favorite color is lavender. Everything has to be lavender! We have to get lavender paper.” Patrick bought all of this Lavender paper and we did not use any of it, haha. Patrick: Wait, we didn’t? Jane: No! It’s on white paper! It’s just purple ink. Patrick: But I did do color tests. Jane: Yes! You did! With all of these different purples. Patrick: I did all of these tests with multiple colors to get lavender with the riso. I sent like four different options of lavenders. So we had to mix like three colors to get the nice lavender color. Jane: I would not settle for “generic purple.” In that case I was a little bit fussy, but not even that fussy.
What do you, Jane, as an artist value in a publisher you’re working with, and what do you, Patrick, as a publisher value in an artist you’re working with?
Patrick: But it’s fun though. If it’s something that we believe we can do, of course we’ll do it. But some people, if they’re really fussy about something and it’s not going to work, then we just have to say, “Look, we have to make this decision.” I know from our end, what we want from the artist is just for them to be trustworthy and honest about everything. It’s really bad if you have deadlines and you have people that are like, “Oh, I’ll be done tomorrow.” and they’re not done tomorrow. Just being open and saying, “Hey, I’m feeling really bad right now. I feel the book is going to be two months late because I can’t draw right now. That is really good! Just being able to say that kind of stuff instead of waiting until that moment.
Jane: Well Patrick specifically, I think he’s really good at
Jane: I’m good at deadlines. I want everyone to know.
Patrick: You are! The French people that we work with are always fantastic. They’re always the most on top of stuff. The American people have always been the worst to work with, haha.
ferent circumstances for everyone. There are somethings like applying for grants that we didn’t do before that we do now. But yeah, it’s hard to say because we’re still making stuff up as we go along.
When we started we were like, “Okay, we have to pay a lot of money to our artists.” because we heard about bigger book publishers that either tricked people or payed them really really low rates. We were like, “What? How could this book publisher that we think is cool be paying so little?” If there is no artist then there is no book and then we have nothing to sell, so we thought of course they deserve at least half of the book profit. In the beginning we actually paid the half of the book profit. After a while we realized that is too much to give because then we couldn’t survive. But we did that for a long time. I mean, the artists do more than half of the work. They write it and draw it and all we do is print it and sell it. But then we had to switch to stay sustainable. But it’s still really high. It’s around 30 percent or 35 percent, so we still feel really good about what we do. From time to time we can pay people in advance, which is a big deal for us too. We feel really good about that. Then basic stuff like being able to send out one of our books for press, now we can be like, “Oh, do you need one of our books for reference?” That always feels really fun. But we’re still super tiny, and that’s kind of silly, but I feel cool about it. It’s also nice to be able to bring people to festivals
Since both of you are artists as well, how do you both juggle making a living, making your own work, and working on Peow?
The other thing is, for our job as a publisher, it’s really important that the artist doesn’t have to worry too much about having to sell their book, because that is basically our job. They should be able to do whatever and not worry whether the book sells or not. That’s something that sucks if you get paid in royalties. That sucks because then artists have to worry about, “Oh, what if my book doesn’t sell? I have to make it more sellable!” But we just want to be like, “No, just do your thing as honest as you want. We’ll worry about selling it.” So we don’t pay in royalties, we pay in flat rates like, “Here you go. Here’s all of the money.” Since you’re still a small publisher, how do you ensure that what you’re doing remains sustainable, while still trying to maintain ethical business practices? Patrick: Well, we have to make changes like all of the time. When we moved over from riso to off-set printing we were like, “Oh! We can’t really do the 50 percent deal anymore because there’s a lot more expenses with making a bigger book.” But then again, we’re also making more volumes, so they still get paid more over all. I mean, we’re still learning and we have to figure this stuff out from time to time. There have been times where we’re like, “Oh crap. We’re paying too much to this artist for this thing. But this is what we said, and we have to stick by it.” It’s just a lot of figuring things out as we go along. It’s really hard. We can’t ask everybody for advice because there are dif-
Patrick: Oh, I’m really bad at that. I’ve had money problems since college. Every year I’m like “This year will be better! I have a feeling it’ll be better.” and then it’s worse somehow. I don’t know how it happens. Jane: I use to have a nine to five job and that was my main source of income. It was a whatever job—like menial labor. But it was financial security, right? That means, theoretically, I could go home and after work or on the weekend I could draw or do anything else I wanted. Except what happened was, I would just get tired and grumpy and on the weekend I would just want to relax. So it was more of a hindrance than anything. But then I got fired, so that fixed that problem! But now it’s kind of like being in the same situation I was in when I graduated college, where I just have to be able to do anything. One of my professors in school actually told me, “Well, you might have to choose between comics and actual editorial illustration, and you will make no money doing comics. People don’t make money doing comic.” And I was like, “Yeah, well I knew that. But I still want to make comics.” I’m just not good at illustration. I don’t think it’s really a good environment for me. You have to be a really self driven to do a lot of editorial illustration. It’s just something that really stresses me out. I’m just not mentally prepared for that kind of thing. So I thought I could just go with having a nine to five job and just doing things on the side, but that wasn’t good for me either because I was just getting tired. So now I have this compromise where I sort of get to make money doing what I like to do, which is screen printing. I source blank t-shirts and lately I’ve been dying them and doing fun things with them, and then screen printing my designs onto them and selling them directly. It’s a pretty privileged thing to be able to do for money. It’s like “Oh, I get to make stuff! And it’s fun and it’s my own thing and I sell them.” But that’s pretty much my part time job. Then during the day I’m trying to get more into the habit of being at work on comics from like ten to six or nine to five. I try to get into the mindset of, “This is what I should be working on.” and then afterwords I can relax. It’s really different then going to a menial job for eight hours and then going home and then relaxing. So I’m still trying to get into that groove because I’ve never been full time into comics. Now I’m trying to transition into that. It’s pretty different but I’m still trying to be positive about it. I still do the screenprinting on the side and I do do other things occasionally, but I’m just making compromises with myself and what I’m able to do realistically. I definitely would not be able to
“Jane: It means that there’s less stuff that I have to worry about, whereas if I was making all of my own stuff still, I would be the sole person responsible for it being successful or not.”
any of this stuff if I did not have the nine to five in the first place, and savings. It’s really difficult out there to do what we’re doing.
Patrick: For me, while I was still living in Sweden, I just had an extra job. I was working at a restaurant. Olle—one of the other guys—he worked at a food store. In Sweden, it’s ridiculous. For overtime at the food store you’d get double pay. He would get paid $35 an hour to work at a supermarket, and since it was part time, he would only work like on the weekends and one evening a week or something. That much money for such a low effort job—he was in a situation where he could be like, “Well of course I’ll just keep doing this since I get to do my other thing.” He doesn’t have to come home and think about something else because it was really simple. So we all had these tiny part time jobs and then we would do work for Peow. We would do some stuff from time to time after we moved out of the VICE office. Every once in a while they would give us a big job like “visuals for a party” and for that, something like a cell phone party would pay like five times as much as a different job. It would just last us a really long time. Every once in a while the Swedish government would come to us with a project. They have like the cultural centers or whatever, and their pay would be barely anything, but that was actually from the government and for a good cause. It would make you so sad because you’d be like, “Okay, for a one day event for a cell phone that’s getting release where they’ll hire rappers to name drop
the cellphone in their performance, we’ll get paid more than doing something for a good cause?” haha. That was a weird learning process of seeing how much we could get. Sometimes we’d say too low of a price and they’d be like, “Okay, sure! That’s good!” But we ended up having to be like, okay, we should ask for more. So we would do some stuff like that from time to time. Now that I’m here in the states I teach one continuing education class a week at SVA. So that pays for most basic stuff. Then we decided to pay our selves for each book that we edit. So that’s not like a monthly wage, but it’s fair. You know, I’m spending my time on this, and it becomes an incentive to actually making books. So it’s not like a big amount, but per book it’s fine. Then I’ll do weird jobs from time to time if they come up. I’m currently lettering a comic book, and thats a one time weird thing. Jane: I have a portfolio with this agency in New York, and they’re suppose to call me about jobs, but they don’t because in the interview I had with them they told me I’m “unmarketable” and “too unique” haha. Patrick: We can’t do this full time—not yet. But it is the goal. We do have those specific numbers where we know that, “If we sell this many books a month and do this many a year, then we can live on it full time.” So that’s the goal, and we’d be really happy to meet it in the future. It feels doable.
Both of you guys have self published work in the past. What things do you feel makes a publisher still necessary in an era when it’s so easy to put something out on your own? Patrick: For us, we’ve always thought about that. Like, why would we? In Sweden it was because we wanted to share other things in Sweden, and show these things that no one else was seeing there. I mean Jane, you would never send books to Sweden randomly because you wanted Swedish people to see them, right? So that’s one reason—trying to share something with a community that the artist probably has no connection with. Jane: Especially if you’re a smaller artist and you’re young and you’ve never worked globally like that before. It was a pretty big shift in my life when I did my first book with Koyama Press. I just became “an author” rather than just a person that makes shitty zines at home. As an artist I think it’s preferable to go through a publisher because I’m really bad at dealing with press stuff and hyping my own work. Talking about my book and making it seem like something people should buy and read—I like that that business aspect is dealt with. It means that there’s less stuff that I have to worry about, whereas if I was making all of my own stuff still, I would be the sole person responsible for it being successful or not. I don’t want that burden. The other thing is, by myself I can’t afford to make the books look as nice as I can if I were working with a publisher where I can request specific things. I can’t make 10,000 books. I can’t even make 1,000 books or have spot colors or anything! If I want a certain quality in a book I do need to make more of them, and that is only possible through a publisher. I think it’s also important if your publisher is a good editor, because sometimes books come out and they don’t make any sense. If my story was whack I would want someone to tell me, just to have it be the best possible quality ever, and that’s not possible if you’re the only person looking at the book. If you just show it to your friends they’ll just be like, “Yeah, it’s great!” So it’s important for a lot of reasons, but mostly I think the out reach and the business aspects for me are the best. Patrick: Yeah I agree with everything you said. It’s that thing where, if you are good at doing comics and writing, having the publisher lets you focus 100 percent on what you’re good at, and you don’t have to worry about all of the other stuff like, “How do I sell this?” What if you’re a person that doesn’t use the internet and you only draw? Do you suddenly have to worry about becoming popular on twitter and stuff just to sell your book? The publisher’s point is to help support good artists and make sure that people can read the book. That’s what they do! They’re also a group of people that you can talk to about the book. When you work on anything all by yourself it’s hard. Just being able to have people there that are critically looking at your stuff that you can say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” to is important.
Jane: Especially when it’s people who have experience making books. How do you feel the internet has positively or negatively impacted people’s relationship to books? Jane: I think I was pretty lucky when I started putting stuff out during the golden age of Tumblr. So I got a lot of notice through Tumblr specifically. That’s definitely helped me a lot in gaining a fan base of sorts. It kind of makes me sad now that nobody is on Tumblr. Like I don’t really look at Tumblr really. There are always constant new platforms that spring up, and I feel like I’m getting too old for them already. Patrick: You sound really old with what you’re saying, haha. Jane: I know! But I just can’t deal with Snapchat and kids. Like Instagram isn’t good for sharing other art at all. It’s so fast and the speed of everything forces you to constantly update, and then posting becomes an obligation. If you’re not like a business, if you’re just a regular person, you don’t think in terms of “What is the content I’m going to create today? What is my content calendar?” It just becomes really daunting. I’m also just less inclined to post on Instagram because it’s really tiny and you’re looking at it on a phone. It’s not conducive to reading—no one reads anything on Instagram. Patrick: Yeah I have a hard time reading the daily comics that are on Instagram. Even though I’m really excited for them—like, I will definitely buy the book when it comes out, because I know that’s what they’re working towards. But I can’t read them on Instagram. Jane: It’s just not for reading. It’s for images and selfies. It’s also like, people will be liking the photo you posted within the hour, but the next day nobody will be looking at it because there are 50,000 more things to look at. It becomes a competition which is not fun. Patrick: But is all of the internet only about getting likes? Jane: Yes. Patrick: Because if I find the Instagram account of something that I do think is interesting, I don’t go through and like all of the things. But I can still be like, “Okay I appreciate it and I’ll follow it.” That’s maybe more where it matter, I guess. Jane: I don’t know. It depends on what you’re going for. Patrick: But it’s really hard to say how the internet has affected us. We never could have done stuff without the internet. That’s really all we have to compare to.
Jane: Yeah, I only ever got in contact with Koyama Press and Peow because of my presence on the internet. So I owe a lot to… internet. Thanks internet! Patrick: We couldn’t do anything that we’re doing without the internet. It has helped a lot, and I can also say—not that we’re super popular on any platform—but we do sell a lot of stuff. We’ve gotten a lot of support from bookstores that still have found us. I think that is really nice that there are bookstores in the world that are buying books. I don’t go to bookstores that often, but I’m always like, “Oh, but we’re selling to bookstores so much. I hope they never go away. Jane: It’s weird through because, even though everyone had the panic that, “Oh, with the internet there will be no need for paper products.” I still get the emails about Pond Smelt. It’s never going to go away for certain people. It’s just better for them or nicer for them to have an object. Patrick: Well it’s the same as like vinyl records, people will still buy them. The decline that has happened with books is that, before they were making a million books because half of the people buying them just needed a book to read. Then as soon as it moved to a different format, you lose those people, but there are still lots of people who just like books, and they’re still going to buy the paper books. So if you’re use to making a million books and now your only selling half of that, then you’re bummed out. But if you’re use to selling zero books, and now you sell 100, now you’re saying “Wow! We’re selling all of the books that we made and that’s really cool.” It’s just that you have to have a different mindset of how much people want books. We’re not running into the problem of “Ugh, nobodies buying our books. We have this stock that’s been lying around for years that’s just collecting dust.” You just have to make them in moderation. How do you approach working with an artist that has little or no fan base yet? How do you start getting readers to buy a book by an artist they’ve never heard of? Patrick: In that case we’ll be like, “Hey, this is a new artist that we really really like, and we want to share their work.” and then we’ll just do it. For us, that’s what we can help with. We already have these stores and stuff that people buy from us or like what we do. When we find something like that, we’ll just go for it. We’ll be like, “This is your chance! We want you to make more stuff, and we’ll help you do that!” It kind of goes back to that question you had about what the point of publishers is. That is the point— finding those people. I don’t think we’ve ran into it too hard, but I guess a lot of the french people, they were like not known outside of Europe really. They would have their internet names but that was it. I don’t think we’ve worked with anybody that’s really tiny or no-name. Everyone is doing well afterwords at least.
What do you have planned for the rest of this year or next year? Patrick: This month we published a book by someone who’s not from comics at all. It’s this artist called Thu Tran. She actually took one of my risograph courses at SVA and I liked her work a lot. So I was like, “Would you like to do a book with us?” But we have a bunch of books lined up for the fall and next year. Nowadays I don’t really like to announce anything, because some people are really late. So I just wait until we know everything is done and then you can say, “Now this book is coming out.” We also don’t want to stress the artist too much, so we give them their deadline, but if it goes over it’s probably fine. Jane: So this is super unrealistic but I have jokingly pitched a pop-up book several times to Patrick, haha. It would be waaay to costly. Patrick: You’ve only hinted at it. Jane: I know. I’ve never done like a real pitch, but I want to do it. It just goes back to me being excited to make anything. I use to make pop-up stuff and I’m really into it. But you will definitely lose tons of money making a popup book. But that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I want to make clothes, which I’ve sort of started to do. I want to… I don’t know, sculpt, haha. I want to make more clay stuff. We went to North Carolina and I had some fun with the clay and I was like, “Wow, this is great! I want a kiln.” Patrick: Yeah because my mom has a kiln and clay in her garage, so when we were there we got to make bowls and stuff. Jane: And I got really into it. Me and An, who I wrote So Pretty/Very Rotten with, we’re both really into perfume so we were like, “Let’s start making perfume! It’ll be great! We’ll make luxury perfumes that no one can buy, and we’ll start our own fashion lines to go with the perfume. Also we’re going to open a cafe. It’s just like all stupid shit to keep ourselves occupied, haha. I started knitting last year and I didn’t finish anything, haha. I would like start knitting an mitten and then I would unravel it because I would be like, “I don’t like the way this is going.” Then I would just reknit it and unravel it and just not get anywhere. But I still have all of this yarn because I was like. “I’m going to knit so much!!” I want to get a small thing of oil paints because I was like, “I want to paint again! I’ll do portraits!” I’m going to do a cook book, haha. I was baking a lot last year, but I don’t really like sugary deserts and Patrick does, so anytime I make anything he’s like “Put more sugar into it!” and then I’m like “No! It’s not good for you.” I wonder if, in making a cook book, is it better to make it healthy or sweet? Patrick: Well if it’s baking then it should be sweet.
“Patrick: Deep down inside we just want everyone to get paid. All of the people we work with are young people that don’t have so much money anyways, so we also want them to be successful.”
Jane: But sweets that are too sweet are disgusting. They’re garish and low class. I’m striving for haute cuisine.
What do you ultimately hope to get out of doing Peow? Patrick: So, our main goal—and it’s a silly goal just because we started this with no money—but our main goal is that we will be able to live off of it and that every artist feels like they’re very well compensated for each book. So deep down inside we just want everyone to get paid. All of the people we work with are young people that don’t have so much money anyways, so we also want them to be successful. That’s kind of it. We didn’t start this with some deep intention like, “Oh, we want to promote this cultural movement in comics.” haha. There’s no crazy mission other than wanting a better life for some people. For the comics side of it we always want to keep making really nice books with exciting happyish stories, or at least colorful stuff that makes you feel better. If you are like a sad person and you read sad comics it just makes you feel worse. So we would rather— Jane: No! Patrick: Well a lot of people feel worse when they read sad stuff.
Jane: But a lot of people have the opposite. For me, I put out the sad stuff because that’s just how I feel and I’ve actually gotten a lot of messages from people saying that they can really relate to it and they thank me for it. I don’t think it’s necessarily that you read a depressing book and you get so sad that you can’t go on. It’s actually very helpful. Patrick: Okay, well we want people to feel helped in the end. We also want to make sure that everyone we work with are good people, and that as a publisher we promote good publishing practices in our ethics and ideals and the types of characters and stories we publish. I think that’s important. We know a lot publishers that don’t give a shit and they just want to make money and just work with old white men. We’re not going to be the publisher that goes out and says, “We actively do this!” because I don’t think you have to push it. I think that’s also a really ugly marketing thing. There are people who are like “We only publish artists of color in out anthologies.” and you can’t just go and put that as a sticker on the front of the book. That’s just so rude! It’s like exploitation. But I think it’s something that younger publishers should think about, and most of them do.
Shriya Samavai & Allyssa Yohana @ CURRENTS
Photography by Matthew James-Wilson
Connor Willumsen & Fatine-Violette Sabiri @ TCAF
Patrick Kyle & Ginette Lapalme @ TCAF
Michael Comeau @ TCAF
Michael DeForge @ TCAF
Mickey Zacchilli @ TCAF
Eryn Lougheed & Lily Snowden-Fine @ TCAF
Brie Moreno & Kendra Yee @ TCAF
George Wietor of Issue Press @ TCAF
Kaye Blegvad @ TCAF
Adam de Souza & Lily Snowden-Fine @ TCAF
Ed Kanerva of Koyama Press @ TCAF
Patrick Crotty of Peow Press @ TCAF
Jesjit Gill of Colour Code @ TCAF
Jane Mai & Saicoink @ TCAF
Sebastian Frye of Swimmers Group @ TCAF
Kevin Czap of Czap Books @ TCAF
Ines Estrada @ TCAF
DDOOGG @ TCAF
DDOOGG @ TCAF
Lee Lai & Tommi Parrish @ TCAF
JG @ TCAF
David Murray of Telegraph Art & Comics @ MoCCA
G.W. Duncanson @ @ Paper Jam 5
Alexandra Bogoslowski & Matthew Savoy @ TCAF
Louise Reimer & Hannah Simpkin @ TCAF
Brie Moreno, Kendra Yee, and Matthew James-Wilson @ TCAF
Patrick Kyle, Michael DeForge, & Mickey Zacchilli @ TCAF
Brutus VIII @ The Smell
Brutus VIII @ The Smell
Sean Soloman with his mural @ The Smell
Girl Pusher @ The Smell
Girl Pusher @ The Smell
Downtown Boys @ The Smell
DREAMCRUSHER @ Highland Park Ebell Club
DREAMCRUSHER @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Girl Pusher @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Girl Pusher @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Show Me The Body @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Show Me The Body @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Show Me The Body @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Show Me The Body @ Highland Park Ebell Club
Joy Again @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Joy Again @ Brooklyn Bazaar
EZTV @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Surf Curse @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Surf Curse @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Surf Curse @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Surf Curse @ Brooklyn Bazaar
Frankie Cosmos @ Webster Hall
Frankie Cosmos @ Webster Hall
Frankie Cosmos Audience @ Webster @ DBTS Hall
Nych @ Knight @ House of Vans
Nych @ Knight & Joey Badass @ House of Vans
Pro Era @ House of Vans
Dustin Payseur & Joey Badass @ House of Vans
Beach Fossils @ House of Vans
Beach Fossils @ House of Vans
Beach Fossils @ House of Vans
Beach Fossils & Katie Garcia @ Ramona
Bayonet Records Staff (circa 2016) @ Romona
Ian Sweet @ Warsaw
Lexie @ Warsaw
Lexie @ Warsaw
Lexie @ Warsaw
Lexie @ Warsaw
Lexie @ Warsaw
Girlpool @ Warsaw
Girlpool @ Warsaw
Girlpool @ Warsaw
Girlpool @ Warsaw
You Should Check Out... By Matthew James-Wilson
this fall the experimental quartet palm made the leap from diy favorite, exploding in sound, to indie mainstay, carpark records, with the release of their ep, shadow expert. the four started out playing music together within the bard college music scene that spawned bands like palberta and told slant, crafting the jagged sound of their first release, ostrich vacation. since then palm has consistently upped the ante, melding each members individual musical prowess into songs that feel complete with each disparate part playing at once. the band perfected their unique songwriting technique on 2015’s trading basics and elaborated on it this summer’s release. the tracks that make up shadow expert are some of the band’s most succinct yet. one of the biggest surprise on the ep is how clearly the lyrics and vocal melodies cut through the entangled instrumentation. the song “two toes” in particular employs a storytelling in its songwriting that’s rare in the bands body of work. still that track, and others on the ep, retain the unusual song structures seasoned palm fans are known to love. the last show i’ve seen in a really long time where i’ve felt like, “shit… why doesn’t everyone just start a band.” was palm’s release show for shadow expert, and i think that sort of reaction in the audience is missing from shows where bands that are willing to be esoteric and take risks aren’t playing.
marika hackman’s new album, i’m not your man, is one of the many albums in my life that i’ve initially judged by its cover. tristan pigott’s stunningly rendered oil painting that wraps around the record’s packaging was enough to make me give this album a dozen tries, but hackman’s spacious songwriting and nuance lyrics got me hooked after one listen. the opening track perfectly frames the whole album, employing a distractingly catchy structure that shrouds an introspective narrative that discusses gender and sexuality, that listeners may only pick up on after a few listens. as a whole i’m not your man is an album filled with mood shifts and elaborate anecdotes all told through hackman’s ice cold vocal delivery. after discovering this album i familiarized myself with the half a decade of material that led up to the release, feeling like an idiot for totally missing the boat. marika hackman has put out a number of impeccable albums, but her rapid growth signals that her best work is yet to come.
Z Tapes: Summer 2017
the popular slovakian tape label, z tapes, returned with another seasonal compilation this june. the varied roster that makes up summer 2017 features a treasure trove of international musicians, providing something new and something familiar for anyone using bandcamp, no matter where they are in the world. among the 27 tracks that make up the compilation are covers, demos, and live records with a range of sonic qualities. the comp is free but the label states that digital sale for the tape will go to slovakian charity organizations, so definitely consider making a donation.
The Creative Independent
the creative independent is the passion project of music journalist and curator brandon stosuy. the project began last fall after stosuy stepped down from his position at pitchfork, and since then the site has set out to publish some of most thoughtful and focused interviews with creative giants that have ever made their way to the internet. the website publishes interviews every business day with artists from every facet, brought to you ad free with help from kickstarter. the site has published a wide range of pieces exploring experiences and hurdles faced by everyone who has worked in a creative field, while creating a space for even the most established creators to be open and vulnerable with their life and work. the creative independent is a much needed change of pace from most music journalism and succeeds in creating an archive worth revisiting for years to come.
Pioneer Works Press Play Fair the massive red hook art space, pioneer works, will be opening up it’s warehouse to put on a fair celebrating art, writing, sound, and everything in between. the press play fair will host over 60 small presses and record labels for a day long festival to celebrate the launch of pioneer books’ party library archive, which collects almost 300 tapes of practically every show the silent barn threw between 2009 and 2011. while the inaugural fair takes place on august 5th, the archive at pioneer books will be on display from then until september 10th. if you’re at all invested in independent art or music culture and happen to be in new york, this event is not one to miss.
THANK YOU: KENDRA YEE MOLLY DYSON KIRA ASZMAN ARIEL DAVIS JACK HERZOG HAYLEY DAWN MUIR MARIE-ANNE MOHANNA KELSEY WROTEN LAURA ENDY FANCESCA KILLIAN SARAH LASATER BASIA KULENDER JESSE MOYNIHAN JACOB RUBECK JANE MAI CAROLINE DAVID PATRICK CROTTY LEE LAI CLARK JACKSON TAJI AMEEN REED KANTER GREG EGGEBEEN JAMES YEH GRETA KLINE CAROLINE TOMPKINS ELIZABETH RENSTROM ERIKA ALLEN NICK RATTICAN MOLLY SODA ADAM KOLODNEY CHRISTIAN HERNANDEZ JULI MAJER WILL DEREUME KURT WOERPEL MICHAEL DEFORGE PATRICK KYLE GINETTE LAPALME RIVER DONAGHEY SEAN SOLOMAN GABE FOWLER LIZZIE KLINE ANNIE KOYAMA LINDSAY BOTTOS SONIA JAMES-WILSON... MARK LECKEY JOHN FAHEY JESSE JACOBS LEESH ADAMEROVICH R. STEVIE MOORE KYLE KRAMER CLEO TUCKER AMY KELLNER MARIKA HACKMAN ELIZABETH COTTEN WAI WAI PANG LESLIE LASITER JENN PELLY BRIAN BLOMERTH MAREN KARLSON JULIA HOLTER BRANDON STOSUY FINIS AFRICAE ALEX SILVA ROBERT SCOTT TONY OURSLER
E D I T E D BY M AT T H E W JA M E S -W I L S O N
FORGE. is a quarterly submission based art magazine, with the sole purpose of showcasing the work of different artists on the internet and a...
Published on Aug 1, 2017
FORGE. is a quarterly submission based art magazine, with the sole purpose of showcasing the work of different artists on the internet and a...