Meet a Visiting Cartoonist: A Chat With Jason Little
Jason Little made a big splash in the alternative comics world with his Xeric grant-funded debut, Jack's Luck Runs Out, in 1998. More than a decade later, I can remember being absolutely blown away when I first saw the comic at SPX. The Jack of the title, and the other main characters, were based on playing cards, and the comic was quite visually striking. Little followed that comic book up with Shutterbug Follies, a Web comic later collected in hardcover by Doubleday. His new book follows Bee, Shutterbug's main character, as she begins to bicycle across America, and meets someone who is doing something about the problem of commercial art in motels. Little is easy to spot at conventions, as he's a bit of a dandy, and always impeccably dressed. He's married to the novelist Myla Goldberg, who often reads from her works in the area. Little also has the best answer we've had to our "Least favorite thing about D.C." question.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
JL: I pencil on paper and ink with a brush, and then manipulate the image and/or color it in Photoshop.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
JL: I was born in Columbus in 1970. I grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and went to college at Oberlin, near Cleveland.
WCP: Can you tell us a little about your new book that you'll be in town signing?
JL: Motel Art Improvement Service is an adventure farce graphic novel for kids about sex and drugs. By "kids" I mean college-age kids, or adults with kid-like tastes. The form is very traditional-European, with occasional flourishes of unusual page design.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
JL: I mostly got it on the job. I did college newspaper strips, but majored in photography. I was an apprentice at Marvel back in '91. After I graduated I spent a summer working at Fantagraphics, where I picked up choice pearls of wisdom from Jason Lutes. I read most of the important books in the Fantagraphics library. Shortly thereafter I read McCloud and began my career in earnest.
WCP: Who are your influences?
JL: Long term influences include Hergé (Tintin), Heinz Edelman (Yellow Submarine), and Winsor McCay (Little Nemo). Lately I've been focusing on work that will feed into my next book, namely Martin Vaughan James (The Projector), Barney Bubbles (Hawkwind's album designer), and the dogged experimentalism of Saul Steinberg (The Passport). I've also been immersing myself in animation from the '30s, particularly Cinecolor shorts from Ub Iwerks and the Fleischer brothers.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
JL: Whoa! Tough question. There's one project I regret bailing on, but I really like the book I did instead, Jack's Luck Runs Out, so I should probably be glad things worked out the way they did. And there's one book I feel I should've bailed on early and done something else, but I learned a lot about myself in the process of finishing it, and it came out rather nice after all, so I suppose these things sort of work themselves out.
WCP: You moved from self-publishing formal experimentation to doing more popular works with large publishers. How did this evolution happen for you, and how do you feel about it?
JL: Very uncomfortable. I used to identify myself as being like Lewis Trondheim in France, who is capable of sustaining separate careers in very mainstream comics (Donjon) and highly experimental comics (Oubapo) simultaneously. Well, it turns out I'm no Lewis Trondheim! He is among the most prolific cartoonists in history. I, it seems, am among the least. Doing comics with straightforward storytelling under contract was, for me, all-encompassing, and my career as an experimenter is suffering horribly. My vision for future work is to take my ideas for accessible stories and smush them together with experimental forms. I am deeply interested in exploration. I find it saddening when an artist leaves experimentation behind.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
JL: I think the pages I drew that have been read by the most people are eight pages I did for a Sandman-related book written by Bill Willingham called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams. At least that's the project that seems to provide endlessly lingering tiny residual royalty checks.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
JL: At present, "Bee in...The Ramble" in vol 6 of MDHP (MySpace Darkhorse Presents). It's an initial implementation of the aforementioned "smushing" strategy.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
JL: Next I'm going to draw a short book about the discovery of linear perspective during the 15th century. And it's also going to be about British rock music during the '70s. It's a 3d comic.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
JL: I've learned from Lynda Barry and Kim Deitch that the answer is to doodle. The moving hand helps unclench the seized brain. I used to do lots of finger-drumming to the music in my head, which I've learned is about the worst possible thing to do, because performing music takes up the whole brain, unlike doodling.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
JL: Probably graphic novels on the iPad. That's fine. I see no reason to rush toward that, though, as I do like print and paper technologies very much. Pop-up books don't look so good on the Ipad. On the other hand I'd like to do 3d comics for an iPad with lenticular film laminated to the screen. Do they have that yet?
WCP: You've attended the Small Press Expo in the past—do you have any thoughts about your experience? Will you be attending it in the future?
JL: SPX is very much a complete community, one in which I felt very nurtured. I feel like my work traveled quickly through the Baltimore-D.C. area because of SPX, and that I have a nice reader base here. Absolutely I will attend this fall.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
JL: I really like vintage clothes shopping in Takoma Park. I like to go to House of Musical Traditions there too.
JL: In New York, if I walk around town wearing a straw boater—not a styrofoam one, mind, but a genuine straw hat—New Yorkers will say "Hey buddy! Nice hat!" Wearing the same hat in Boston, people will smile embarrassedly and look away at such an outrageous display. But in D.C. no one even notices, because of the over-saturation of styrofoam boaters during campaign season.
WCP: What monument or museum do like to or wish to visit when you're in town?
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?