I talked to Jojo Seames, artist of Monster Plus and noted Space Jam fan, about her art, her influences, Dracula, and bears. Check it out after the jump!
N: For those who don’t know, could you give a quick summary of Monster Plus, and why everyone should be reading it?
JS: Monster Plus
is the story of a vampire-werewolf-mummy-zombie-Frankenstein monster who’s possessed by the ghost of Earth’s last witch! He, and his two spunky teen sidekicks, have to stop a terrible demon from literally scaring the world to death! It takes place in the far-off future year of 2666. It is a fun book meant to be fun!
N: You’ve got a very distinctive art style; can you talk a little bit about some of your artistic influences, and how your style has evolved over the years?
JS: Diverse influences is how we got here. This is gonna have to be a long answer.
My interest in comics started with newspaper strips when I was a wee little JoJo, especially Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County and Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. The thing I loved about both of those strips was the sense of motion, and the comedic timing. Also the Looney Tunes animated shorts, especially the ones by Chuck Jones. All about timing, about knowing where to use restraint and subtlety, and to contrast that with some huge motion or reaction, so the story flow is dynamic. The Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book, with all of Watterson’s commentary on his process and inspiration was HUGE for me. Two points of advice especially: the first is to always rely on drawing more than writing. That is, a funny drawing can save a mediocre joke, but a funny joke will still fall flat if the drawings are mediocre. The second point was how Watterson wrote that he kept his pencils as loose and gestural as possible, so he could put all the real drawing energy into the inking, so that the final drawing would feel as fresh and spontaneous as possible. I do all my own inking, and I’ve adopted this process, and believe completely in its efficacy. (I draw and ink on physical paper, with a brush.)
So those are my earliest influences, along with Disney animated features that I watched over and over again. I wanted to be an animator for a long while. I had my first experiments with drawing comic strips when I was, like, eight. Didn’t last very long, ’cause I’m not much of a gag writer. My epiphany came when I was about…thirteen? That’s when I tried drawing a comic book, rather than a strip–a continuous story that didn’t need a quick succession of set-ups and punchlines. It was like the clouds parted, a beam of light shone down upon me, and a choir of the heavenly host sang to me that I was put on this earth to tell stories by drawing pictures. From that moment, I got serious, and was immersing myself in every comic and kind of comic I could get a hold of. Unfortunately, I was in an area with no actual comic book shops. Manga was a big thing, though, and I could get those at the book store. That’s where my studies of comic book craft started, and is still there in…mostly, I guess, the way I approach setting up the page, as a whole. And some of my use of cartoon devices. And the way I draw hair. My favorites are Eiichiro Oda, Yoshihiro Togashi, Hiroyuki Takei, and Tomoko Taniguchi.
A few years later I found a bunch of moody autobiographical comics at the library and such, so those got into my vocabulary. Learned how to time sadness, depression, and ennui. European comics, too, which–the ones I’ve read, at least–seem to have a lot of emphasis on mood and atmosphere. I’ve tried to incorporate that. Webcomics were also an amazing resource. I’ve always gravitated towards the ones that are more story-based than gag-based, and such a wonderful variety of story types and styles have emerged there. That taught me that comics don’t have to conform to any kind of style “rules” or fit themselves neatly into a genre; wonderfully freeing mindset.
When I got to college, I finally had a comic book store! I’d loved superheroes in animated cartoons when I was a kid–especially the X-Men and Batman–but this was the first time I’d actually gotten to sink my teeth into the comics, beyond an odd graphic novel at the library here and there. Joe Madureira’s blocky characters. Adrian Alphona’s expressive, delicate handling of anatomical details like elbows and lips and hair. The perfect draftsmanship and enormous visual imagination of Jack Kirby. The perfect draftsmanship and lighting of Frank Miller. The design and energy of Scottie Young and Eric Canete. The controlled, painterly chaos of Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz.
I also love Rob Guillory’s motion, color, and expression, and Mike Mignola’s sense of weight, atmosphere, and lighting.
So those are just my big comic influences. Other major non-comics influences are Tyrus Wong, Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Egon Schiele, Maurice Noble, Walt Peregoy, Eyvind Earle. The films of the Coen Brothers, of Stanley Kubrick, and of James Whale.
I love glam rock, Mid-Century Modern industrial design, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Modernist illustration, and everything Rococo.
So I guess my “style” is whatever happens when you mash all that up together. I’m sorry I can’t be more brief that this huge essay!
N: How did you end up becoming the regular artist for Monster Plus?
JS: Right, I was not the initial artist! Chad Bowers (the writer of the book) was first working with an artist named Nathan Kroll, and they did a couple chapters together. At some point that partnership split up–I’ve never inquired why–and then the book was going to be drawn by Chris Nye. I don’t know if that was going to continue where Kroll left off, or start over. But Nye had another commitment and wasn’t going to have time to do the book, so Bowers just put out an advertisement to the general world that he was looking for an artist for this project. I was reading Awesome Hospital (Bowers’ other webcomic, co-written by Chris Sims and drawn by Matt Digges), which I was a big fan of, so I was excited by the prospect of getting to work with one of the creators of that. I looked through the archives on the Action Age page, to read those issues from the Kroll era, and that sealed it; all the concepts were so fabulous and fun, and this was definitely a book I’d love to work on.
So–in a move of uncharacteristic bravery, for I am really a very shy person–I sent Bowers an email expressing my interest, and introducing myself a bit. He gave me an audition in the form of re-drawing a couple of Nye’s pages in my own way. I didn’t have any script to work from, which made it a challenge, but Bowers liked what I did! I don’t know how many other artists I was up against, who they were, or what their art was like; it seems like a rude thing to inquire about. But anyway, I was picked! Hooray!
Working with Bowers has been really, just…serendipitous, is the word. I’m frankly shocked at how easy it’s been to work with him, from the very beginning. He’s been so gracious in giving me enormous freedom to design the world of 2666 as I see fit. I get so excited whenever he sends me more script pages, because they’re all just so much fun to draw. I still can’t really believe that I somehow lucked into this gig.
And I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention how fortunate we are to have the talented Josh Krach as our letterer! He’s like some kind of genius at his craft, and his work does so much for the quality of the book. Gee whiz.
N: This might be a tough question, but how did you decide on what type of mustache to give Captain Dracula?
JS: By sheer coincidence, I was reading the novel when Bowers told me about Captain Dracula, so that was fresh in my mind, and I very much wanted to do a character design that was the same person from Stoker’s book. Stoker gave a very detailed description, and I think I only veered from it in minor points: didn’t give him hairy hands, ’cause it would be hard to draw in a way that was legible; gave him a more narrow jawline, so that the overall effect of his face is very sharp and pointy; and gave him a thinner mustache. If it was this thin, whip-like style, I could get some nice motion into it if I needed, and it looks so twirl-able. It’s a mustache meant for villainous twirling. It’s thin and sharp like his fangs and fingers and everything about him. Pointy and dangerous. And I can keep it away from his mouth enough that it does nothing to hide his cruel red lips, so I have the freedom to get a lot of expression out of his mouth. Very important in a major character. Especially important in a major character whose existence is entirely hunger, lechery, and entitlement.
N: How much influence, on a scale of 1 to 10, would you say that Space Jam has had on your life and your art?
JS: On my life…3. It is not a good film, and it’s not an enjoyable film; it’s an interesting one. I’m working on putting together audio essay, to be listened to while watching the movie, focusing mainly on its tone of religious ecstasy, but also other important points, like its whole fascinating cultural context of the Warner Bros marketing push of the Looney Tunes in the mid-90s. There’s no Criterion release of Space Jam, so I have to do this, myself. It needs to be done. I don’t know when it’ll be available for download; there’s a lot of research that has to be done, first.
On my art, 0.1. The first influence of Space Jam
upon my art can be seen in Monster Plus issue 3, page 21, panel 6.
N:Can you drop any hints of awesome things you’ll be drawing in Monster Plus?
JS: When we met in person for the first time at HeroesCon this past June, I gave Bowers a list of things I wanted to draw. This includes an environment made out of cakes and candy (because I’ve never drawn that and it seems like it would be fun), a sea-going environment, preferably in a storm (because I like drawing water), a car chase (because I’m not very good at drawing cars) and horses (because I’m not very good at drawing horses.) I think I also asked for a dance number.
N: Subquestion: Will there be bears? Does Chad Bowers know how well you draw bears?
JS: He’s seen me draw a space bear! There might be future bear opportunities!
(Editor’s note): Here is Jojo‘s contribution to Ziah’s Bear Sketchbook
N: What is your favorite line in Space Jam?
JS: “You’re not Charles Barkley. You’re just some wannabe who looks like him. You shouldn’t even be here. Begone! Wannabe! Begone!“
N: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or projects that you’re working on?
JS: In addition to Monster Plus
, I do another comic that I both write and draw. (Well, paint.) ‘Tis called The Makeshift Man
, it is way inappropriate for kids, and I’m working on a nice new website for it. Right now, it’s here: http://deadsquirrelcomics.com/makeshiftman
My favorite foods are squid and artichokes. My favorite colors are cadmium red and royal purple. I welcome new friends.