Joshua Zirschky’s photography portrays the struggle and humanity in daily life from war-torn countries around the world. In this month’s Visual Arts profile, he tells us why the voices and experiences of people he’s crossed paths with are indispensable.
With his charismatic characters and adventurous plots, Jason Fischer is one of Portland’s most talented comic illustrators. His characters are just as adorable as they are complex, and will keep you captivated with each page. Don’t miss your next opportunity to be mesmerized by his work at Linework NW’s Illustration and Cartoonist Festival happening at Norse Hall on 11th and Couch this May 21-22. The event will be free to the public, and will be celebrating its third year displaying small press and independent comics. Or if you will be adventuring north this May you can also catch this brilliant artist at Toronto Comic Arts Festival on May 14 and 15 in Canada.
ELEVEN: How did you become interested in doing comics?
Jason Fischer: When I first moved to Portland, I became a part of the Pony Club Gallery in downtown, which is all about the first Thursday art shows. I was focusing on making art at the time, painting and doing illustrations that were intended for showing on a gallery wall. I’ve always been working on comics and thinking about making comics, and I had a serialized web-comic going for the first two years of living in Portland that ran from 2008-2010, called, Jay Fish and the Dark Rainbow, then I stopped that and became more focused on the graphic novel that I have in the works. I’ve learned a lot only recently in my career about how to make a comic well and I’m still developing that skill. In the meantime I’ve been putting out small books like Terra Flats #1, a 22-page comic which I put out last year.
11: There are so many amazing styles and variations of styles in the art that goes into your comics, is there any particular style you consider yourself to have?
JF: I do feel like I have a pretty broad spectrum of inspirations. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve had introductions to a lot of interesting things, artistically or not. When I was a teenager I was the most obsessed with the Japanese Manga comics, and that obviously reflects in my work, but at the same time I enjoy the work of the underground comics scene that happened in San Francisco in the 1970s, and there was a huge boom of indie comics in the late 1990s and early 2000s that really gets me too. Beyond comics I have always been fascinated by fine art. I feel as though I have spent more time learning from fine art than comics, especially because I didn’t really care for superhero comics, so the comics that I did enjoy were actually a little more rare and hard to find. When we were younger it was kind of difficult to find Manga comics, for example, until some of the more major titles like Dragon Ball Z came out, and it’s crazy how now it is so much more prevalent nowadays.
11: For someone who doesn’t understand much about comics, how would you explain the significance of comics to them?
JF: There are the people that want to write – novels, short stories, etc, and there are also the people that are fine artists, that aspire to show their work in galleries and have art shows. I feel like comics are in between, and include illustrative work that can be as refined as revered masterpieces hanging up around the world, and then there can be comics that can also be very low brow and crude. There is a huge range in styles of comics, but these artists also get to tell a story, there gets to be a huge drama or an action tale or a story that you can also read. It’s a very interesting medium because it includes some amount of artistic craftsmanship in it, but at the same time it’s also about cartooning and keeping things loose.
11: I really enjoyed the nightmare comic that you made, is that based on a real dream that you had? What is going on in that story?
JF: In my recollection of the nightmare, the story takes place in kind of a San Francisco-type city, with hills and row houses. The main character, who is me, finds out from a derelict newspaper that there is a serial killer character that was captured, but that his dumping grounds were still to be discovered. My character ends up kind of on the nightmarish path to finding those grounds, and on the way runs into several obstacles. The memory of the dream was strong enough that I had that dream back in 2007 and I wrote it down but never did anything with it or really thought about it until last year, when I released it for a special Halloween issue.
11: Do you always tend to place your character into your comics?
JF: I have a history of doing that, early on my comics were about just what I was doing in the day, and wasn’t really more thought provoking than that. It was what I called “hourly comics.” My days are pretty routine though; I usually just wake up, make something to eat, make coffee and just try to work as much as possible for something like 14 hours a day. Only recently am I actually finally starting to get my head into really putting out comics that aren’t about me. Though there is nothing wrong with comics that include stories about the artist, my bigger goal and dream is to have a bigger catalog of comics that are story-based and dialogue-based with fictional characters, like this newer issue one of Terra Flats.
11: Speaking of Terra Flats, one of the main characters in it is named Drake, is his name based on the singer Drake?
JF: The name Drake I wanted to stick with because I was trying to come up with a name for that character who is like this well-dressed vampire with big quaffed hair. Drake is a nickname for dragon, and dragons are also associated with vampires. Count Dracula and Vlad Tepes, whom historians believe to be one of the inspirations behind vampires, had a dragon for a family crest who was associated with the word drake. At the same time I did choose to make a character named Drake who is interested in a larger woman and that was an acknowledgement to Drake’s seeming admiration toward curvy women. Vee, Drake’s love interest, is referenced after the Venus of Willendorf which is one of the oldest artifacts of human art ever found from like 27-30,000 BC and is a carving of a shapely woman. I wanted to personify that little figure with my character Vee. The other main character is Pony short for Ponietta and she is this demon who brings this opposite contrast of character to Vee and is Vee’s best friend. The point of issue one, besides showing how Vee is a very captivating character, is also about friendship and how Pony has to learn that despite her love for Vee she also has to let Vee fight her own battles and let her deal with her own things.
11: Tell us about your work on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel Seconds.
JF: In 2013 I did my first really big job as a cartoonist and got hooked up with Bryan Lee O’Malley to do the background art on his graphic novel Seconds. He and I met in 2006 when he was still working on his Scott Pilgrim series, when he already had his idea for Seconds and was looking for an assistant to help him do the backgrounds for his images. I got to make a lot of design and administrative decisions with the restaurant scenes and included elements inspired by Portland restaurants. We inked Seconds from Summer 2013 to December 2013, about six months to ink 328 pages. The last five-and-a-half weeks we had before the deadline, I flew down to L.A. to work collaboratively with Bryan and I lived with him for that time rather than continuing to work remotely. That was a really cool and productive experience. In those five-and-a-half weeks we inked like 200 pages of the book and broke ourselves a little bit doing it, because it was so mentally and physically draining. Then I made Seconds Helping, a comic about my experience of those five-and-a-half weeks, which is not only about the process but also about little funny things that happened during that time.
11: What is some advice you can give to up-and-coming artists and comic book artists trying to make it in the Portland art scene or in general?
JF: All I would really have to say is that the biggest thing I have learned is to finish what you start. It’s important to try not to get wrapped up in and getting too excited on working on too many new ideas mid-way through projects without being able to follow through. That being said, I admit that with the graphic novel I am working on, I also have Terra Flats and other short comics I work on simultaneously. The graphic novel takes more time and is a little bit more secret, and I am not telling people about it right now so if I wasn’t also working on shorter comics and publishing those myself I would kind of fall behind as far as visibility. I feel it’s good to work on at least two things at a time because it’s a good exercise for the brain and keeps you able to work on several characters and story lines. »
– Lucia Ondruskova