June 30, 2012

Interview with: Jess Fink

Be Aware: This post contains images that are NSFW.

Comics: Chester 5000, We Can Fix It
Making Comics Since: 1997
Website: http://jessfink.com/Chester5000XYV/, http://jessfink.com/kwe/

What did you start out using when you first started drawing comics
I think I just used to draw on printer paper, that was the only ridiculously large supply of paper lying around. I started drawing in lined notebooks, stuff like that. in High school I would carry around a big binder with loose sheets of paper in it; I would draw comics on that, and then I would staple them together and make my friends read them.

Did you go to school for art?
Yeah, I went to School of Visual Arts

I didn't realize that. I also went to SVA.
You too?

I went for photography, but ended up hanging out with cartoonists a lot.
That's what I hated about that school, nobody from different majors really hung out much. I know people now who were in the animation program at the time I was in the cartooning program, and I'm like, "I guess we could have been friends in school, but we never met".

When did you graduate?

That was a ways before I went there anyway.
I had friends who were photography majors. I was amazed by how much money everything costs. It's a lot of money for equipment, and film, and processing.

Cartooning is great because the ceiling for really top notch tools is a lot lower than it is in other disciplines.
A lot of people swear by really really cheap tools– it's whatever you feel comfortable with.

What kind of tools did you try in the past did you just pick specific a set of tools and stick with them? things or did you go through a bunch of tools before you found what works for you?
When I was in school, most of our professors would tell us to use nibs, so I used a nib for a while.  I had Tom Hart, who was an awesome teacher. He really encouraged us to try different things before we settled on something. I used a brush for a while, and I did a lot of comics with a nib, but it got really frustrating, because I was always pressing too hard. I would fuck it up. I basically just wanted a pencil that would ink. I finally settled on felt tip, and then I started using microns, and I've just kept using those. Most people think microns are the crappiest things, they run out of ink really fast, and the tip gets destroyed, but they're the only thing I feel safe using.

You get a very consistent line with a felt tip.
When people use a brush they like that it's not consistent, they have a pencil drawing, and then they use the brush to transform it into something else. I can't do that, I like to have a lot of control over my lines.

Do you use microns of different sizes?
I mostly use a 03. I work really really small. Most of my pages are only six inches tall. I like to work really tiny. If I have to do a super tiny little background I'll use an 01, for regular panels I use an 03, and I use an 08 for the borders. I used to use a rapdiograph. I used to use copic multiliners because you can refill them, but the tip still wears out, so refilling them only gets you so far.

How many microns do you go through in the course of a comic?
Oh my god, so many.

Can you venture a guess?
Oh gosh, let me think. I think an .03 will last me 8 pages before it starts to die.

I have microns all over the place because they'll usually still have a little ink in them, but I can't use them for comics because the tip is busted.

Dead Microns
I wish there was something I felt better using because it's so wasteful. I have so many pens. I used to draw caricatures, so I have this giant stash of sharpies and prismacolor markers that I'll probably never use again.

What kind of paper do you use?
I used to be really bad and just do comics in my sketchbook. All the first pages of Chester 5000  were in my sketchbook. I have them in a portfolio now, and they're all cut out in odd shapes. I used to do everything in the easiest possible way. In the past few years I've been forcing myself to get more professional about it. Now I work on big sheets of watercolor paper. I don't use the expensive stuff, everyone loves Arches (watercolor Paper), and it is beautiful paper, but I don't like the away my ink wash works on it, so I use the cheaper Canson paper.

I wanted to talk to you about your ink wash, what's your technique?
I made this little set for myself. It's just five little canisters glued to a wooden board and they each have different levels of ink and water in them. It's like a gradient starting at the top with a skin tone level, down to a super-thick black at the end. So I can just pull from that and paint with it.

Do you have specific formulas for the ink wash or are you eyeballing it?
I just eyeball it, I have a giant bottle of ink and i use test papers. I use higgins ink, but I'm not too picky about it.

Then you do the color tint in Photoshop?
yeah, I work with the levels and then the hue saturation. I have a batch action I just drag onto new scans.

What about when you're coloring other illustrations? I noticed you have a couple of full color comics, and some of the prints that you're selling, is that all digital?
I do work digitally sometimes, I used to use flash all the time. A lot of my Threadless designs were in flash.
Cookie Loves Milk on Threadless

instead of Illustrator? To do vector graphics?
Yup, when I went to school they taught us how to use Illustrator. But I couldn't just draw with it, I had to make a shape– it was more like sculpting. I just wanted to use a pencil and draw, and I got that from Flash. I never learned how to animate it, but I used it all the time. I haven't worked in vector in a long time, so now I mostly use Photoshop at a really high resolution.

There isn't a whole lot of text in your comics so far.
yeah it's silent

Can you talk about that decision at all?
I really liked these books called Tijuana Bibles, they're just these really dirty comics people used to sell in the 20's,30's and 40's. It was illegal to sell porn, so people would just draw these dirty little comics and sell them from their coat pocket on the street. They're hilarious, sometimes it's a completely new character, new story, and sometimes it was Greta Garbo, or Betty Boop– just about anybody. I think there was a Mussolini one, a Babe Ruth one.

Are those mostly silent? the tijuana bibles?
They're not, but they're just tiny black and white cartoons, and I wanted to do something small and simple like that. Then later I got into silent films and other stuff from the 1920's, because the style of the Tijuana Bibles is very much from the 1920's. Then I started thinking about the 1800s and the industrial revolution, and maybe I could do something that felt like a silent film but was set back then.

In the your interview with Sequential Tart, Suzette called it "steamporn".

Was she the first person to use that, or was that something you self-identified?
Lots of people have called it steampunk porn, there's no "steam" in it, it's just a robot!

Do you thumbnail your work beforehand? or are you making things up as you go along?
For the first half of Chester I had and outline for the story, but as far as thumbnailing it and writing it, I just made it up as I went along. I knew that there were points I wanted to hit– a point A, and a point B, and an ending. Now I'm trying to be more efficient and adult in my process, so I've started writing outlines for everything, and thumbnailing in advance.

You've worked on a couple of other comics recently?
Yeah, I used to do dirty comics for Fantagraphics anthologies. I started doing some autobiographical stuff, I did a piece for The Smut Peddler recently. I also have another book coming out from top shelf, that I did a while ago.

You're talking about We Can Fix It?
That should be out next year.

Pencils, Inks, and color
How is it as a cartoonist living in Troy?
It's really cheap! It's super cheap to live here and it's really cute. I really love Troy because it's so Victorian.

I was surprised by how nice the architecture was when I went there.
I used to live on Long Island, and when I moved out here, I didn't realize that everything on Long Island is fairly new, like people started living there in the 1930's. There are no Victorian buildings, they just didn't exist.

What ended up bringing you to Troy?
My boyfriend came up here, and I pretty much realized that there was no way for me to have any kind of life on Long Island because it's so expensive. There are a lot of art people in Troy, and we have a nice art center. There's also a comics collective that my friend, TJ Kirsch, started up. He goes to the local conventions, which are usually just dudes with cardboard boxes full of comics.

That's kind of how Albuqeurque has been for the last ten years, the comics scene there is just starting to get off the ground.
I think it's hard to get comics people together. Because there are so many forms of art where it's easy to congregate around it, like dance troupes, or people who make sculptures out of Bicycles– there are a lot of those in Troy. Cartoonists are all going to be in rooms by themselves, drawing.

I've always gotten the sense that there is a lot of community in cartooning, it's just online, of it meets twice a year at conventions.
Yeah exactly. I have friends here who do comics, but it always feels like there's more of a community online. It's a solitary art form. I love having an online community, especially since I work from home.

What do you do as a day job?
I just do this, I quit my job at a video game company 2 1/2 years ago. I've just been freelancing since then, I sell a lot of jewelry and t-shirt designs.

I am always excited when I hear people can make a living doing what they love.
But I wouldn't have health insurance if it wasn't for my boyfriend.

Does he make comics?
He works at a video game company, but he also makes a comic called Rutabaga, you should check it out.

How did you get the show at the museum of sex?
The curator, cartoonist Craig Yoe, contacted me about it, so then I got in touch with the museum.

It was a group show with other erotic cartoon artists?
I probably would have crapped my pants if I'd thought about it too hard because there was a Tom of Finland across from my drawing. There was old playboy stuff, Tijuana Bibles, some Anime but not a ton, and then they had more modern stuff. It was an awesome show.

How did you end up getting Chester 5000 published?
I had printed copies of We Can Fix It and the Chester book, to sell at SPX one year. Top Shelf has always been my favorite publisher. I've read Blankets, and Goodbye Chunky Rice is one of my favorite comics of all time. I just loved everything they were putting out, but I never really thought about Chester for them because it's like, "it's dirty, who's going to publish this"? Lee Walton (of Top Shelf) had read my work before, then Chris Staros (who runs the company came by my table), and I gave him copies of both books. A week later he called me and wanted to publish them. They're really nice people. And surprisingly, they like porn.

How did you start promoting your webcomic? Did conventions play a big part in that?
Not really, it's really just word of mouth. I took out ads through Project Wonderful too. It was created by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics), was basically thinking about regular people who want to take out ads of have ads on their comics. You can use Project Wonderful to place ads on different sites. Most webcomics I read now have Project Wonderful ads on their site. It's a pretty good way to get awareness out for your comic.

1 comment:

pugg said...

Thank you for this interview! (And thanks to Jess for linking to it!) I'm really looking forward to reading more from you.