INTERVIEW WITH JASON LITTLE
Little is that rarest of comics creators, a skilled storyteller
who also recognizes the need for good production values and the
power of a self-contained story.
JACK'S LUCK RUNS OUT embodies all of these
qualities in a near perfect story that pleases on all levels of
artistic merit and pure entertainment. In the following interview,
Jason talks about JACK'S, his days at MTV, as well as his exciting
new project BEE. Tell us about JACK'S
LUCK RUNS OUT.
Well, it was an exercise that sort of took on
a life of its own. The idea was to eliminate my stronger skills
from the drawing equation, i.e., pretty faces, flashy perspectival
drawing, and pretty color. Then I could work on other skills,
like pacing, body language, that sort of thing. So, I figured
it would an exercise of just a few pages, but it turned into a
whole comic book. And, I really regretted its length when I photocopied
all those playing card faces. I spent nine straight hours hunched
over a copy machine, gripping my scissors and my sizing wheel.
Other customers came up politely asking if they could interrupt
just to make one copy, but I threatened them with my scissors
and they went away.
nine straight hours hunched over a copy machine, gripping
my scissors and my sizing wheel. Other customers came up politely
asking if they could interrupt just to make one copy, but
I threatened them with my scissors and they went away."
So you started with the faces, or...
I drew and inked the whole thing and pasted in
the faces last.
And then you colored it. Did you use Photoshop?
Right, Photoshop. I did most of it on a crappy
PC 486 with about a thimbleful of RAM. I had to cut each page
into four strips and save each one as an indexed color file just
to minimize disk space. Later, as I was finishing up the book,
I got hired to work at MTV Animation, and they had really great
souped-up computers that I could exploit. I ended up coloring
the last six pages of the book in one epic thirty-six hour session.
I was there, alone in the dark in this windowless room playing
the same two Doors and Led Zepplin CDs that the MTV grunge kids
had left there, over and over just to keep myself awake. At about
twenty-eight hours into the session, in the middle of the Doors'
"The End", I lost awareness of my body, and I just sort of floated
into the computer screen (laughter). After dropping off the disk
at the express mail place I felt jubilant, and treated myself
to crepes and a glass of red wine. After two bites I fell asleep.
What influenced your decision to publish this
book in color? It's an almost unheard of extravagance in the world
of alternative comics.
You know, I think working in color is really not
that big a deal. Underground cartoonists complain about the ever-shrinking
audience, and how we've got to find new readers and new outlets
for our work. I feel like color is a great way to reach out to
these potential readers. Color can create, when used carefully,
an incredible sense of presence, of atmosphere. So I feel like
color is completely worth the extra time it takes. So, getting
back to your question, JACK'S LUCK just screamed out to
be given a neat, challenging limited palette. So I made that part
of the assignment, to use only the four flat colors you see on
You published the book with help from the Xeric
Foundation, but it came out in cooperation with Top Shelf. How
did that come about?
They're really a great couple of fellows. Brett
Warnock and Chris Staros, the Top Shelf partners. I met them at
SPX '97 and they were really friendly and supportive. They said
they would love to publish JACK but they couldn't afford
the color printing bill. So they suggested I apply for the Xeric
grant, and then offered to let me solicit Diamond through them,
under their umbrella. Now, actually, they've got some color projects
in the works; a book by Gregory Benton, and the Top Shelf anthology
is going to have a color signature in it.
like color is a great way to reach out to these potential
So, you were working for MTV Animation.
Right. When I was there, my boss, the storyboard
supervisor, was Ted Stearn, the FUZZ AND PLUCK guy, one
of the original RUBBER BLANKET people. A fine fellow, really
easy to work for. I learned a lot from him.
Are you still at MTV?
No, I quit there a few months ago. I do my own
cartoon strips and illustration in my studio at home now.
Can you see JACK'S LUCK RUNS OUT as an animated
I thought about that, actually. I can't really
spare the time to do it myself, but I would certainly be interested
in working with an animator on something like that. But most of
my animation fantasies center around my new character, Bee.
Tell us about BEE and SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES.
BEE is my new weekly comic strip, also
in color. I'm in the process of shopping it around to alternative
weekly newspapers. It's about this cute red-haired girl named
Bee whose curiosity perpetually gets her embroiled in mystery-thriller
type situations. What I'm working on now, the first book's worth
of strips [SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES] starts with Bee's first
job after high school. She works at a photo-processing place,
and amuses herself by collecting copies of all the titillating
pictures that come through. You know, like some guy will burst
into the bathroom and take a picture his girlfriend on the toilet,
pictures of strippers at bachelor parties, that sort of grotesque
sexuality. But then she discovers photos of a naked corpse. So
she figures out who the photographer is, and starts spying on
this guy, and becomes obsessed with him and his sinister activities.
Then more corpses start popping up, and Bee really gets in over
Sounds exciting! So does the strip continue
after that story arc, or is it a finite series?
No. It continues, but a fresh story starts with
Bee and the core characters. Each story will run from fifty to
a hundred pages or so, and then will get collected into a color
book. And readers will be able to pick up any book in the series
and not have to worry about having to be familiar with any sort
of lengthy back-story. I want to steadfastly avoid the sort of
endless superhero soap opera continuity that has become the norm
among monthly comic books.
Do you read any monthly comic books?
I'm really enjoying Paul Pope's HEAVY LIQUID.
That's a miniseries, though, so it doesn't really fit the description
I just gave. Anyway, it's really great. I'm a devoted Papist.
That guy really knows how to draw high-tension action.
What else are you reading these days?
I'm a complete fanatic about Marc-Antoine Matthieu's
series JULIUS CORENTIN ACQUEFACQUES, PRISONER OF DREAMS.
It's in French, which I don't read a word of, but that doesn't
impede my enjoyment of the work by one whit. Incredible high-contrast
lighting, and a surreal dream space not unlike [Terry] Gilliam's
BRAZIL. Someone has to translate this stuff immediately. Let's
see, what else? I really liked Lewis Trondheim's color Lapinot
stuff, HARUM SCARUM and THE HOODOODAD.
How about film, or books?
Oh, right, sure. Let's see, I really got a kick
out of Hitchcock's FRENZY. It's from the early seventies, and
its got nudity, profanity, rape, all the filthy stuff he was dying
to put on display years before. There was a massive Hitchcock
retrospective at Film Forum here in New York recently, and I just
soaked in the stuff. Let's see, I really was excited by HENRY
FOOL directed by Hal Hartley, filled with fantastic characters
that reinvent themselves right before your eyes. A really moving
story. He's done some of my favorite films.
What are you reading now?
I'm about halfway through [Vladimir] Nabokov's
autobiography, SPEAK MEMORY. He's probably my favorite author
right now. His PALE FIRE is certainly my favorite novel.
We've gotten completely away from comics here,
so let me steer you back a bit. Are there any characters that
you would like to take a shot at drawing, if given the artistic
freedom to do it your way?
You know, I always fantasized about getting a
gig doing SPIDER-MAN but now the magic in it seems to have
dissipated for me. All that involuted continuity since the costume
change in issue # 252 has left me completely cold. On the other
hand, if somebody put it on my plate I would probably do it. But
I wouldn't want it to be an act of vandalism. And I don't think
I could do Spiderman any better than Ron Regé did in COOBER
Let's talk about the Web for a moment. Do you
feel that the Internet is a good vehicle for comics?
Sure! Comics people always talk about comics on
the web, and there are plenty of comic book web sites, but not
too many of them actually have comics on them that you can read.
I guess cartoonists are afraid that no one will stick around for
the long image loading times. I think web users are willing to
wait a whole one-minute-per-page of download time for a quality
comics read. After all, when we go to the comics shop, we don't
read the whole book standing there in the store, we have to wait
to take it home to read it. Also, it's the web is potentially
a great way to make available all sorts of out-of-print cartoon
material. I can see someone like Randall Scott at MSU [the Michigan
State University comic books and strips special collection] scanning
all manner of old out-of-print public domain stuff for access
via the web. Wouldn't that be great?
Speaking of the web, what's the best way for
readers to find your stuff right now?
Thanks for the segue there. I've just put up a
new site at http://www.beecomix.com,
Interested readers can visit every Sunday morning for a new installment
Big thanks to gentleman Jason Little for such
a fine interview. Hell, truth be told, he interviewed himself,
working from an outline of questions I provided. It worked out
better this way, trust me. I just wish we could have provided
an audio file of our phone conversation. Have you ever listened
to a New Yorker and someone born and raised in East TN trying
to verbally communicate? Pure entertainment. Now go buy a dozen
copies of JACK'S LUCK RUNS OUT and annoy your local alternative
paper until they start carrying BEE.
All characters, titles, images mentioned or
shown are copyright and trademark their respective creators.
Marc Bryant is Features
Editor for PopImage.
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