Hey J.R, What cool thing do you do?
I’m a cartoonist. I create/write/draw and promote my self-published, creator-owned indie humor comics and characters for my comics biz, Scairy Tales Noir (yeah, spell scary with an “i” kids so no one thinks these are horror comics). The most popular of my stuff is the crime-noir parody series, ‘Fried Pickle Noir’ featuring fried pickle detective Q Cumbersome and his fight against the mob ingredients in a seedless city called The Pits. Think “Sin City meets Veggie Tales”. My other popular series is the family-friendly comic strip ‘Scairy Tales: the not so scary fairy tales’ about little misfit kids who come across a town full of monsters. Think “Calvin & Hobbes meets Nightmare Before Christmas”.
What are you working on now?
The goal this year is to put out a new book each for ‘Fried Pickle Noir’, ‘Scairy Tales’, ‘The Finleys’ issue #2(with writer pal Chris Garrett) and the ‘Scairy Tales: A Haunting We Will Go’ RPG (with gamer bud Jonathan Linemen). I’m also developing a completely separate one-shot graphic novel/cd project that’s a bit…autobiographical-y (sorry, I tend to make up my own words to suit my purposes) called “Stuck in My Head” that I came up with yesterday as a love-letter to my wife for all she does for me. In 2015 I put out several projects too, the most I’d ever done. This year is more personal. I like to keep busy…and stay scared. Fear is a great motivator to get things done.
How have your personal experiences affected your projects?
Debt keeps me absolutely terrified, staying ahead of death keeps me productive and the obsessive desire to create keeps me ignoring all of it in order to keep producing in spite of myself. My experiences and personality are sewn into all my projects in many ways. Everything I do is a part of me, of my own character; how I act, who I am, etc…I think my experiences influence my work profoundly and imbue how I create.
What made you start and keep at your craft?
A huge but quiet ego. I have always wanted to entertain people with what I create. I was very little when I developed my love for drawing and creating. I never trained at all, just tried to emulate my favorites based on what I saw: Godzilla, Disney, Batman, Spider-Man, Bugs Bunny and got to be a decent artist when I was inspired. However, when I saw KISS on tv, I turned to music and spent all my time learning guitar and songwriting so I could be a rock guitar god with tunes to make panties drop and dollars roll! I would use my doodling skills to come up with band name logos and album covers. My best friends were my band mates. From age 10-40 I worked hard on my craft to tell stories through song whether in rock, pop, ballads, country, musicals and so on, most often being the main songwriter. The problem was that bands require a democracy and not always a fair one, allowing for less talented, less focused and less dedicated individuals to muck up the system and prevent productivity.
I eventually realized my music dream was not possible because it depended too much on other people. I quit pursuing a music career and went into a deep depression, not knowing what to do with my life after having spent so many years absolutely certain of a path that I was no longer on.
By my birthday that October 2010, a co-worker suggested I draw something to be displayed on the work candy bowl. The doodles were fun and simple and got a lot of attention each day. So much so that it was suggested I should make my own comics out of those characters. I scoffed at the idea because, in my mind, how would I “just” make comics, especially since I had no formal training nor had ever seen my doodles as anything else but easy and lazy? It seemed simpler to “just” pick up a hammer and make another Sistine Chapel. But comics? Impossible. I was a songwriter wasn’t I?
I had always drawn doodles to entertain my family and friends on holidays and birthdays. Best of all, they seemed to look forward to them, which made me feel good to do it. I soon realized that foremost I was a STORYTELLER so why not just do it in another medium? With that in mind, I started to wonder what I would do if I could create my own characters and write about anything I wanted. Monsters? Definitely. Funny? Sure. I thought hard about my favorite cartoonists Bill Watterson, Gary Larsen, Bill Amend, Charles Schulz…all doing their own thing, to the level of their skill. That’s how I created ‘Scairy Tales:the-not-so-scary-fairy-tales’ comic strip (hence the “i”). These tales would be about little misfit kids, like my friends and I. Eventually, they’d come across a monster town and chaos would ensue. I figured I’d take several of my own silly life experiences and put ‘em in the strip. Once I developed the look and had the nature of my storytelling in mind, the gloves were off and I just…did it. Paper and pencil were all I needed.
The ‘Fried Pickle Noir’ series came from an idea that Gus, the main ‘Scairy Tales’ character, would make his own comics which would be ridiculously called ‘Fried Pickle Noir’ (something I was recently familiar with). Soon, that idea kept getting bigger and bigger to the point that I now had TWO series on my hands, each playing to a different sensibility of my personality. Using my love of puns, parody and crime noir, it came easily once I figured out how I would write it. Ridiculously, the rest is history.
What led you to your craft?
As it may seem obvious, I’ve never been a conventional thinker or person. I’ve always and forever wanted to create and entertain. Seeing how creative people have been responsible for entertaining the world and me for my entire life, I’ve always wanted desperately to be a part of that community and contribute to the world with something I created. It has been the most constant desire in my life whether done through art, music or, now, comics. My medium is simply because it’s the nearest thing to my skill set other than songwriting. I draw lumpy and squishy characters and I have a smart mouth. Boom. That desire to create and the fear of failing to accomplish that goal in this life keep me going.
Anything spooky ever happen to you?
Spooky but good, yeah. I was 5-ish and was playing with the door handle of the back seat of my mom’s car after she picked me up from school, “testing” it while we headed home. As an obvious result, the door flew open and I fell out into the street traffic (seat belts weren’t required back in those days, kids). I clearly remember being immediately picked up and set back to standing near my mom’s stopped car by an older man I recognized to be my grandfather, whom I had never met because he’d died before I was born. When my mother came to me, the man was gone. I described him to her and realized it was the same guy in our family photos. Simple and quick. Did it happen? I probably won’t know for sure until I’m dead.
How long did it take you to get up and running once you really set your mind on your goal?
About a full year. Once I got my ideas formulated, I bought a cheap sketchbook and just started drawing any ‘Scairy Tales’ episode I could think of. After a year of putting each one on Facebook for the fun of it, the first ‘Fried Pickle Noir’ book was made (“The Raw Dill”) and I thought, rather than put more on Facebook, why not go to print? I bought a printer and worked hard at formatting ashcan-sized indie issues for both titles, separating them into 25-page issues each. That prompted me to start asking around at how local artists got into conventions and such in order to get some exposure. Once I figured out that process, I kept at it, getting helpful tips from fellow artists and vendors and buying into any convention I could afford. Eventually, I would self-publish my own full sized graphic novels and get into bigger venues.
What one thing do you dislike about doing what you do?
I hate that it doesn’t pay as well as having a real job unless you’re connected or lucky. Like all art, there’s just no ‘regular job’ in doing what you want to do. I’m in a mom ‘n’ pop business model: I’ve just opened my own pizza shop with my own recipes, directly across from Papa Johns, Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s. Though I may be passionate and believe in my recipes, it’s hard to convince creatures of habit that I’m worth a shot, even if I’m a little rougher around the edges in comparison.
The harder part is seeing artists around me drawing popular characters that they don’t own and make BANK. Being knowledgeable about copyright during my music endeavors has given me a strong opinion about the protection and hard work of creator-owned work. Forget about how the ‘Fair Use’ law is abused and misconstrued to justify an artist’s arsenal. Is it easier to draw and sell yet another a cool Batman art print? Absolutely. I just won’t do it. It’s neither my passion nor something I even want to be good at. If DC or Marvel wants to pay me, I’ll go for it, but not until then. I love their superheroes but I prefer the challenge of trying to make up my own characters that they may be just as enticing to onlookers. I just gotta keep getting better and make it worth their while, giving them something worth buying.
I want to be very clear in that I don’t think any less of artists that do this as a need to make ends meet, especially if their goal is to work for a larger company and get discovered. I get it. But I am incredibly appreciative and proud of the knowledge that if someone’s investing in any of my work, they’re buying ME. They’re buying MY work, MY characters rather than being a Batman or Spider-Man completist. That’s how I’ve always been in every medium I’ve created in.
What’s fantastic about doing what you do?
I absolutely LOVE meeting people and getting a positive reaction out of them from something I created. Lately, what’s been funny is that more and more people are trying to put-pun me at my own table! It’s awesome and tends to go off the rails sometimes. Better yet, it means that I’ve connected with them in a really positive way. That just makes me soar and jump for joy.
An unexpected coolness was making so many friends out my fellow indie artists. It is so incredibly rewarding to have some of my best buds sitting right there in the trenches, being able to relate, commiserate and celebrate with one another. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met and makes the hard times easier. Guys like Randy Bishop, Michael Gordon, Eric Dotson, Bobby Nash, Chris Garrett, the Faricelli gang, Chris Hamer, the list just goes on and on. Truly the best bunch of people I’m proud to call my friends.
Another fantastic thing is that when timid artists see what I’m doing, they get inspired and jazzed to talk about their own work, their own created characters and perhaps even get the drive to self-publish one day too. I LOVE that because I always think the world needs new creations. Without something new, something different, everything stagnates. Everything popular now was once an independent, untested product whether it be Star Wars, Hellboy, Spider-Man or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were ALL unveiled to a sea of occupied space and indifference.
The best thing of all is that, though it is a HUGE financial struggle, my work makes me a better person. Or perhaps it makes me more of my true self than anything else I’ve ever done. I’m not a great person, perhaps a barely good person but doing what I do just makes me a better one to my wife, family, friends and to my fellow man. I hope to keep this up financially because even when I get low, my art makes me strive for the better in myself.
If you had a cat…what hat would you put on said cat?
My wife and I have always had cats and dogs ever since we met. Here’s the rule: DO NOT PUT CLOTHES ON ANIMALS ANYMORE THAN YOU WOULD SNIFF ANOTHER PERSON’S BUTTHOLE. Animals are NOT humans. Treat them with respect, for sure, just don’t treat ‘em like humans because, breaking news, they’re not. However, in a fantasy world, if I had to consider the proper head accouterment, you must always go with a fedora. EVERYone looks cool in a fedora. Period. Or a Rocky Balboa cap.
(Not sure if Rocky would wear this…but it’s still cool.)
Where do you see the craft going in the future?
Dude, I have no idea. I’m not that smart. I’m an ink and paper man. I love the feel, sight, and smell of them. I’m also much too old and disinterested in learning to do my work digitally. I assume more work is going to be done digitally from now on and that’s fine. It’s just not my bag. Getting comics into people’s hands is getting harder and easier all at once. There’s so much saturation that we’re all fighting for attention, indie and mainstream alike. Standing out at all is tough. The rule “don’t be a dick” always works for me though. That’s a check even the future can cash.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stay outta the toy stores and save your money!!!!! Perhaps I would suggest being ‘Captain of your own ship’ much earlier. I spent much of my musical life following others, hoping I would get some shine off someone else’s star and that would be how I got my break. Seeing how much I’ve been able to accomplish today on my own gumption (and wife’s financial support), I regret not doing this sooner.
I’ve always had this image of seeing myself on my deathbed, very old and looking back at my life. Considering where I was in my life at the time, that image would terrify me because I wasn’t DOING anything with my life. The idea that I might die being the best ‘whatever’ at my job wasn’t the point of my life or my very existence. I have always felt I was MEANT to create. That’s why I create. Right now, at this very moment, I have not one, but MANY finished projects under my belt and yet I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface for all I have planned to do. Do I wanna die right now, regardless of what I’ve done so far? No way. But if it has to go that way, I can look back at some pretty cool shit I’ve done these last 7 years.
Do you have a specific space where you create and how did you make it your own?
As long as there’s good light and little noise, I can create anywhere. I have a nice drafting table in a spare room, surrounded by comics but I specifically love the dining room table at my house because the sunlight coming in there is perfect and everything’s the right height. It’s also the same place the CATS hang out and sunbathe so there’s always a strong chance of pet hair in everything I do. And eat.
What’s your creative process?
I’m constantly inspired to write and draw. A blank page is both fear-inducing and challenging all at once. I constantly wanna see what all my characters are going to do on that blank page, where they’re going next, how they’ll face their challenges. I’m also very curious and petrified about exactly how long I think I can keep this up. I’m not an educated writer or artist. Everything I’ve ever done, even in music, has been by wanting to create something as cool as the things I love by others. An awesome documentary or catchy song can inspire me to create an interesting twist in my comics, perhaps draw a better fight scene angle and so on. I can find inspiration from most anything. My desire to keep improving and one-up myself also keeps me going.
Above all, complete silence and great light. That environment can make me forget to even eat. It’s awesome.
What’s your artistic outlook on life?
Jeez, “lighten up”. Have some damn FUN, why don’t you. There’s so much fun to have without stressing or spending money that can make us happy: talking, sex, good eats, going through your favorite book, movie or music again. Take the time to smile and feel better. I’m guilty of amassing a HUGE collection of stuff I don’t spend much time with. “Tomorrow” or “one day,” I think to myself. My goal is to make being happy more of a daily priority. That’s why I do what I do in comics. I chose to be the funny guy in comics not because I see myself as a, particularly funny guy. It’s just that it’s in my wheelhouse to be a smartass; it’s what I’m good at. I put a pickle in a trench coat, give him some smarmy lines and pun it up for 100 pages of mystery in hopes to make myself laugh. It’s like the airplane emergency rule: I take care of myself first so that I may take care of others. If I chuckle, so might you. That’s the theory, anyway. The plane might just crash regardless.
Which famous person (living or dead) would you like to work with and why?
Musically, it would be Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne) and Steve Clark (Def Leppard). They were awesome guitarists that broke the mold for their band, genre, and instrument.
Artistically, it would be Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) or Mike Mignola (Hellboy). I’d probably piss myself just being around them and I’d probably cry like a 1960s Beatles fan. I’d most likely feel terrible about my own contributions in comparison but I’d be interested in speaking to them as a fellow creator and chatting about their views concerning WHY they do what they do, what motivates them. It’s the whole ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ thing. I imagine a meeting like that would inspire me to do my craft much better. These guys all did their OWN thing in the face of comfortable adversity.
Randy and Steve could have just played in cover bands but instead made some of my favorite music of all time. Bill and Mike fought to bring new characters to light in a massive sea of competing Peanuts and Batman titles.
Perhaps Trey Parker and Matt Stone too (South Park, Book of Mormon).
I’d love a day with Erik Larsen (The Savage Dragon). For all the same reasons as above but adding that I think he’d a ton of fun to geek out with and I could probably make it to the bathroom in time without too much crying.
What is your view on the commercial aspects of your craft?
Bring it ON! I’m an unabashed, equal-opportunity, megalomaniac. I’ve made pins, stickers, bumper magnets, bat barrettes, tree ornaments and handmade statues for my characters all in hopes to see what might take these comics to the next level. Absolutely NONE have been successful in doing so!
It’s all about timing and accessibility. ‘The Simpsons’ legacy is a fascinating story and just look at all the STUFF they’ve produced. Conversely, you won’t find a single official ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ commercial item because Watterson didn’t want to see the whoring of his creation or anything happen to turn attention away from his comic strip. I remain somewhere in between. I think as long as an artist/creator has complete control over what’s done with his character, thy will be done. Besides, if an artist can stay afloat in his craft by making a couple bucks off a stuffed toy, perfect. I’m not saying Michelangelo would be happy about a coffee mug from one of his frescos, but I would not be averse to having an ‘adult product’ made out of my Q Cumbersome pickle character for sale. In fact, I just think it would be funny.
Can one ever work for the “love” of the craft or do you always need to create what’s desired to put food on the table?
Yes and no. Sure, “love” is WHY any artist should do what they do but the gas, light, water and heating companies don’t give a flip about your “love”. Pay your bills. Find a way to make it all work together. I created every book before 2014 working my unfulfilling job, during lunch breaks, after hours and vacation days. I used coupons and didn’t worry if I was using the “best” of anything. It sucked. However, I had to choose being uncomfortable to get done what I wanted to do or have NOTHING done at all.
Much like exercising, you don’t need a gym membership to do pushups or jogging. You need dedication. I have always figured that if you REALLY want to do something, FIND A WAY to make it work within the life you have. Life and art can be symbiotic if you’re willing to sacrifice and do some compromising. You just gotta be money smart first. I struggle with that.
At this stage in my ‘career’, I’ve been a full-time indie comics guy since June 2014. After the worst day of my working experience, I had the realization that I may die an unhappy curmudgeon of a human being if I didn’t do something to thwart my unhappiness. But MONEY was always the issue and always will be until and unless someone else wants to flip the bill (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? …ahem). But I wanted to know what I could do without obstruction. With my wife, I’ve accomplished a lot being in full control of my destiny despite not yielding incredible wealth. We just try to make it work as best we can. What we have found is that, awareness of my comics is growing, little by little.
I go back to my opinion about drawing licensed popular characters without copyright approval: many artists do it sometimes in hopes they’ll get discovered; others do it because Batman is more likely to sell rather than their unknown character, or a pickle in a trench coat. There’s no doubt I make much less with my comics than ANY print artist in the building doing Batman.
The money thing is what kills most fledgling careers before they get a good start. I’m lucky that, for a little while anyway, my wife and I can make a go of it. We choose to challenge this world to enjoy my creator-owned, new characters. Do I make less? Definitely. Hopefully, that’s only for a while. We’ll see. I’ll know when I have to ‘adjust the model’ as I go. Until then, every penny spent toward my stuff is incredibly precious and my electrical bill thanks them. Next up is the gas bill. And so on.
What would be your dream project?
Working on the multi Emmy-award winning animated series ‘Fried Pickle Noir’ entering season 5 starring Kurt Russell and Clint Eastwood directly after yet another annual Halloween animated musical episode of ‘Scairy Tales’. Then I’d get to work on that ‘adult product’ Q Cumbersome pickle toy for the AVN awards. I dream small.
How can people discover more about you and your work?
Visit my website at www.scairytalesnoir.com (never forget to put the “i” in scary) where you can find my email info, comics samples, project updates and convention schedule. Other than that, Facebook for my name and my Scairy Tales Noir page.
Thanks for the time and attention mofo. Indie guys like me really appreciate it more than you may know.