Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Mal Jones

Mal Jones is a local web cartoonist and member of the DC Conspiracy whose story about the War of 1812, " Burn, Washington, Burn," appears in the District Comics anthology. His artwork also appears regularly in the free Magic Bullet comics newspaper.

For most of 2012, he's been working on The Giant War web comic, which he describes thusly: "The concept is simple. One day humanity woke up to find themselves the second most dominant form of life on the planet. As insects are to man, humankind is to the Giants. What are they? Where did they come from? What do they want? No one knows and no one cares. The only question is, how do we make it through one more day?"

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Mal Jones: Marc Bryant (writer and my collaborator on pretty much all my comic projects) and I put up new episodes of thegiantwar.com twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays). Beyond that I take part in anthologies and do other freelance illustration work as time allows. My day job is as an art director at Forum One, so I have to put comic work in wherever I can.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

MJ: My line art is all pocket brush pens and red chromotone pencils, then the tones and washes are all digital. I work digitally all day long as a web designer, so drawing with good ol' pencil and paper helps me get away from the computer from a bit.

WCP: When were you born?

MJ: 1980!

WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

MJ: I'm in Alexandria, Va., (just west of Old Town) and have been for about 10 years. I moved to the D.C. area to go to school at the University of Maryland College Park and never left.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

MJ: I've been drawing my whole life. I started when I was a kid... I'd watch a show on PBS called The Secret City where I learned perspective. I ended up going to school at the University of Maryland College Park, and got a Bachelor in fine arts that had a focus on graphic design. I'm one of the lucky ones who got a career in what I went to school for.

WCP: Who are your influences?

MJ: Too many to name: Edouard Manet, Taiyō Matsumoto, Paul Pope, Sam Keith, Dave McKean, Barnett Newman, friends like Rafer Roberts and Matt Dembicki ... the list probably changes daily.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

MJ: I had two graphic novels published while I was in college (Overtime and The Passenger), and then didn't really take advantage of the doors they opened (few though they might be) and grow from them the lessons learned. There's more I could've done to stay in the industry, but at this point I can't keep focusing on those misses.

I thought I was just bigger then I was (thanks ego!) ... I just chalk it up to the 20s.

WCP: What work are you best known for?

MJ: I'd like to ask an audience that. Most people would probably think I'm the Malcolm Jones that drew Sandman (which would be an interesting feat of time travel).

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

MJ: A few years ago I did a short story for a DC Conspiracy collection that was themed about war. It was a story my mum told me about her aunt that took placing during the Blitz in World War II. It was so amazing putting her words down as images and pairing it with a speech Winston Churchill gave. There was just something special about it.

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

MJ: Really, I just want to keep putting out comics and illustrations. The Giant War is going to run for a long, long time hopefully, so outside of that it's anthology work, illustration, and just finding projects that are interesting to me. Being a full time art director, I have to pick and choose projects wisely that I can meet deadlines, have fun, and not burn myself out.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

MJ: Stare. I'm not kidding ... I'll stare out the window, stare at what I'm working at, whatever. It's like I'm burning holes in to my screen or the paper and just willing work to come out. If it doesn't work, I move on to something else in the project (another panel, another page, whatever) so that I just keep moving forward. It's like driving around a detour after getting frustrated that it's there in the first place.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

MJ: It'll always be around... digital delivery methods don't stop folks from creating. I'm very lucky to work as a creative in today's market, so I think we're going to be around for a while. It's on us as creators to move and adjust accordingly.

WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

MJ: I hit up SPX every year. I love it so much and always spend a ton of cash to support anyone I can. This year was especially fantastic with what felt like a more spacious layout and a sea of fantastic work. I'm going to try to get a table next year, but I've been on the customer side for long enough.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

MJ: Fall in D.C. The summer is an ogre... smashing us all with humidity, no rain, and the smell of the Potomac. And then fall shows up, everyone relaxes, and it's just a different city. D.C.'s also done a full acceptance of the arts in all of its forms these days... jazz, theatre, art shows. Any night of the week you can find something interesting to do, so it's sure not just politics anymore.

WCP: Least favorite?

MJ: We're a cold city sometimes with a weird passive-aggressive vibe. I've been around here for over a decade, so I can see past it now, but I hear it again and again from folks that have moved here. It's something we have to get past if we're going to grow and accept the arts fully.

WCP: What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

MJ: The Hirshhorn, hands down. I love it there and go every few months to get re-energized. It's a smaller museum which means it doesn't suck up your day (I'm looking at you Spy Museum) and always has fantastic work on display.

WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?

MJ: Vermillion on King Street here in Alexandria is a bar and restaurant that I find my way to probably every week. Great drinks, amazing breakfast and bar food. And I get high fives when I walk in, which is nice.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

MJ: But of course. As a web designer, it'd be a shame if I didn't. maljones.com is my website, blog.maljones.com is the blog, and The Giant War can be found at thegiantwar.com.

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