Intro by Shanon Weltman / Interview by Ray Jones
You’re in luck on this Friday the 13th, because today’s Artist Interview is with the astutely hilarious narrative illustrator and comic book artist, Jordan Jeffries. His work can be seen in Baltimore’s b City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly and a few collected short annuals. We’ve known Jordan since my undergrad years at MICA (03-07) and his skills at capturing social dynamics, simplification of and attention to detail, and color palates are top notch. Appropriately, like Jordan’s open love of snacks, his comics are so addictive you can’t just read one. Follow his Tumblr snackaddict, or get lost for hours at his online archive of comic gems let’sjustbefriends and get to know Toilet face, and all of Jordan’s other fascinating characters. We’re really excited to see what Jordan has been working on for CLAW CLAW’s 10/12/2013 gallery show at The Living Gallery.
RAY JONES: What do you specialize in?
JORDAN JEFFRIES: Comics and a little bit of illustration. Mostly comics. The illustration I feel most comfortable doing is a lot of times just a one panel comic. Sort of like things with some sort of story in them. The piece for the show that I’m working on is going to be kind of like that.
RJ: Favorite materials?
JJ: Pen and ink and digital coloring. Mostly thin line pen these days, I used to use brush pens more but I’m slowly favoring just a nice clean thin line sort of look.
RJ: How has your environment influenced your work as a freelancer?
JJ: I’ve been hopping all around the east coast. I was in Baltimore for school and then Philly after that and now New York. I’ve been sort of been hopping up in population in cities. Being in New York especially has really pushed me to take in a lot more cultural stuff. Movies, museums, anything like that. There’s so much of it here. I really appreciate being somewhere where I can go see all kinds of weird small independent movies that I couldn’t catch even in Baltimore or Philly. At least it’s harder there. Certainly in my hometown, Butler, PA. The broadening cultural landscape has been the biggest thing for me. Just being able to take in as much as possible. My actual life experience will affect my comics in terms of writing. The biggest change is the wide amount of things you can encounter in New York City.
RJ: Like the randomness?
JJ: Yeah, it’s overwhelming the amount of things you can take in here. There’s always something inspirational you can do after work or on the weekend. Something to inspire you.
RJ: Even just taking a walk can be amazing.
JJ: Yeah, you can see some weirdo, or just the experience of it. I wrote a comic that I never finished about the specific experience of just going out at night and smoking a cigarette. Walking around the neighborhood, on a weird lonely New York night, like Saturday night when you have no plans and just walk around and …feel your feelings. (haha)
RJ: What do you listen to while you work?
JJ: It depends on what step of the process I’m on, if I’m doing actual idea creation, like writing comics or formulating an illustration or idea for an illustration, it has to be music. Generally wordless music. A lot of post rock, or maybe even classical or something like that. Ambient or electronic stuff. When I’m thumbnailing a comic after I’ve written it I can start to listen to more music with words. When I’m inking, once most of the major creative decisions are made, at that point I can listen to anything. A lot of times I’ll end up watching TV, a lot of movies with commentary tracks, things like that. Especially when inking a long comic, music doesn’t cut it, because it takes forever. Thats how I’ve taken to coloring comics. I watched, say, all of Mad Men and Friday Night Lights, slowly coloring comics with the TV show playing right next to Photoshop in a little window.
RJ: Advice for anyone just starting out? What do you wish they told you that you didn’t know?
JJ: Advice in general…. the guiding thing I think about a lot is not stopping. Keep moving and keep consuming, keep working and don’t let yourself flag. Just continue working. It’s easy to be in a rut, sometimes uninspired. At those moments I find just pulling out a sketchbook and a pen and forcing yourself to do something, even if it’s just watching tv and forcing yourself to draw what you see, somehow you just start generating ideas. That’s the keep moving thing. The consuming thing: It’s important to take in as much as you can. For me, not being in school any more, not having people around to look at their work… That was a huge thing in school, looking at people’s work and getting really jazzed about it. Really inspired by all the cool stuff. That was a huge inspiration and gave me ideas and things to work on. You don’t have that anymore when you’re working on your own. Whether it’s reading lots, reading other comics, looking at peoples blogs, tumblrs, just checking out other people’s work. Other things that are less related like seeing movies, watching tv, I think it all helps. Certainly, seeing all sorts of storytelling helped me for comics. From reading books, reading other comics and reading “real books”… books without pictures. I’ll find inspiration in the strangest places.
RJ: Nightmare moment?
JJ: I know I’ve had moments where I’ve really freaked out because I can’t find a solution for a piece. It usually involves a last minute scrambling and resetting. It’s funny how that’s when you’ll create some of your best work. Out of fear and being forced to try something new.
RJ: How do you typically generate ideas?
JJ: It depends. For illustration, it’s a lot of sitting there with an open page and just drawing. Lynda Barry talks about just putting a pen on a piece of paper and moving it around is literally all the start you need. Your brain will catch up with your hand eventually. Usually for an illustration it’s just that. For comics, ideas for stories will just kind come to me as they come. Sometimes it’s a moment, sometimes it’s something from real life I want to capture in a comic and it just balloons from there.
Right now I’m working on this collection of short stories that originally started because I wrote one short story, thinking about 14 year old kids having sex in the park at night. Just this sort of sad suburban teenage tableaux, which when I finished I suddenly wanted to make more stories like it. It snowballed from there. I get other ideas for things– sometimes it’s a line in a song, or a feeling from a song or movie that inspires you to want to go off and make something of your own.
RJ: How about the Baltimore Overheard? How long have you been doing those? How many have you done so far?
JJ: I’ve been doing those for a couple years now, those are all from Benn Ray from Atomic Books in Baltimore. He puts it together for Baltimore’s “b” city paper. He collects the overheard things and has a stable of artists that draw for him. I had done stuff with them over the years so he approached me to contribute. I’ve been doing those off and on for a couple of years. Basically he sends what was overheard and whatever description the person who heard it has to give. Then I have free license from there to interpret it however I want. Figure out how to tell the joke, you know?
He sends me a lot of ones with hipsters in them. I guess I’m the go to hipster draw-er. Which is nice! I love referencing lookbook.nu and pulling looks from there.
RJ: Name a few people living or dead you’d like to have dinner with.
JJ: I think Lynda Barry would be one, after mentioning her earlier. She is someone whose work I am super in love with and inspired by, but also seems like she’d be someone interesting to talk to. I’ve heard some talks she’s given, and she’s pretty much like the coolest lady ever. I’d be fascinated and find it extremely inspiring. She’s crazy talented.
It’s hard, there’s a lot of people who I really admire, but wonder if it’d actually be good to talk to them or not. Or you know, a lot of what you love about them is just there, in the work. I tend to be drawn to people who clearly put themselves into the work, like Charles Schulz, or Loudon Wainwright III, who is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. It’s extremely autobiographical a lot of the time. Work with a sense of something personal in it. If I meet them… it’ll be like that Chris Farley sketch: “Remember when you wrote that song? When you were sad? Were you extremely sad then?” You feel like you already know them, but it would still be great talk to them anyway.
RJ: Yeah, y’know it’s kind of weird… it’s like you’ve partaken in part of their soul. There are so many intimate moments you can talk about and share– but you’re not that close.
JJ: Exactly, it’s very creepy, you know everything about them or at least a lot about them.
RJ: Enough to make them uncomfortable, where they went to school, whatever…
JJ: Having a conversation with them after years or decades of one sided conversation, would be pretty interesting. But yeah, Lynda Barry, for sure.