When I did a review of Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 by Joe Kubert I made mention of a friend that I knew who was studying at the Joe Kubert School named Josh James. I thought it would be interesting to do a brief interview with Josh to see what it is like being an aspiring artist (I am very familiar with the aspiring part) and more importantly to show people some of his fantastic work along with all his different talents. Take it away Josh…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background? (where are you from, where you grew up, when did you start drawing ect.)
I was born and raised in Louisville Ky a great town with lots of creativity and community. I have a BFA in painting that I earned from KCAI in 99. After that I moved to Chicago to work as an animator at Calabash Animation. A small animation house that created advertising for tv such as Trix, Lucky Charms, Brachs and Orville Reddenbachers. I worked there for a few years then bounced around in other animation and or art jobs. I ended up working at a comic book studio called Devils Due Publishing for a few years as a studio assistant and promoter and thats where I learned about the nuts and bolts of the comic book biz. Once I got a taste of conventions and the lifestyle I began to imagine that this was a career Id really enjoy! As far as drawing goes my father and grandfather where artists so I had the influence and desire to draw very young. I specifically remember sitting in church and drawing king kong. I think it was a way for my parents to direct my attention because they knew it was something I could get sucked into. My grandfather was a designer for GE for a long time so he encouraged me and gave me lessons about perspective and the basics of drawing. Like most kids I drew a lot heroes and cartoons with grocery store supplies over the years. It was always sort of a given growing up that art was my talent and as it blossomed I applied to attend DuPont Manual Magnet High School in Louisville and once I entered the creative community there I was able to concentrate on developing my abilities. Thanks to the visual arts faculty I was able to obtain a substantial scholarship to attend Kansas City Art Institute.
When did you first start reading/getting into comics?
I first started reading comics in grade school and Im pretty sure it was MAD Magazine. I would always snatch one and sneak it into the the shopping cart when I was a kid. I really had an addiction to that comic. The variety of comics and humor kept me interested for many years. I really liked the tongue in cheek, ham fisted and sometimes sadistic themes in the writing and images. I liked that there were many styles and artists with every issue and all though I probably didnt realize it I was drawn to the bold dynamics of it. I remember working a con in Florida and sitting next to Sergio Aragones on a hotel shuttle and internally nerding out because this was the guy who drew all those wonderfully entertaining MAD mini strips (and GROO cant forget GROO!) Later on I came into a complete run of Secret Wars and read it and was blown away. Theres a lot of imagination that went into that series even tho it was just created to sell toys. I love Mike Zecks art and kudos to Mike for creating the parasite black spidey suit. Those books are what got me into reading comics. After that I would always look for comics when I could, mostly at the grocery store while mom shopped. At some point Todd Mcfarlane dropped his version of Spidey on us with that awesome web cover ( with multiple variants) and thats when I was like, ok time to rethink how I draw. McFarlane really awoke something in me with those Spiderman comics. So I started copying his stuff. I was reading other stuff on the side, Iron Man, West Coast Avengers, DarkHawk (yes darkhawk) and Ghost Rider. I guess you could say I was a Marvel fan. Then when Image was created and everything was new I jumped onto Spawn mostly but I read other random Image and Valiant comics. It was a fun time to be enjoying comics.
What is your favorite thing/comic/superhero/genre to draw?
For a cheap thrill I really like drawing anything StarWars. But, everyone loves the big guys you know, Superman, Batman the Hulk etc…those are great characters and I cant resist drawing them either but I kind of enjoy drawing things that you probably see a little less of on a daily basis like indie comic characters or long forgotten random characters. I really like Josh Blaylock and Mat Merhoffs “Mercy Sparx” character (Devils Due Ent). I always thought it would be fun to be involved with a new project and flesh it out into something really great that could find its own fan base. For example before Rob Kirkman and Tony Moore were famous for The Walking Dead they had this crazy comic called “BattlePope” That was an absolute mindf*ck at the time when I came across it. It had this risky abrasive sensibility about it that was a lot of fun and it was original. I like stuff like that and am always looking out for the stuff that has awesome art, creative writing and some sort of unique theme to it. Thats a hard combo to find. Dont get me wrong, it would be an honor to draw Batman or Spiderman comics and I would in a heartbeat but I would like to be part of something thats big, but unique too.
What are some of the most important things you have learned at the school when it comes to drawing?
Well its a lot of things honestly. If I had to generalize it with a few sentences it would probably be that if you are going to be good at it you should come at it with an attitude that no matter what level youre at you should always be working on getting better at something and I think most professionals are always doing that. There really isnt a point that you get to and think well, Im finally there! You are always challenged by something and are aware that it could be better and keep working on it. Drawing has basic fundamental rules but its also a very personal thing so thats why there are some many amazing styles out there. As far as nuts and bolts basic stuff that the school drills home to the students? For starters, you should be drawing ALL THE TIME. Talent isnt really enough to be professional, to get to that next level you just have to pick up the pencil constantly. Even when you dont want to. I would say that drawing both the human figure and backgrounds are essential to building a memory bank and a sort of hand eye memory. We do this constantly and a big part of getting better is actively receiving criticism about your work and being honest with yourself about what needs attention and then doing the work to improve. Ive learned that you just cant cheat the system. Theres no shortcuts worth keeping in your pages. You have to do the work and be diligent about understanding all the anatomy and design principles that make comics work. And finally learn the human anatomy from the bones, to the muscles and the outer form. You may be able to draw but if your anatomy sucks then forget about it. You have to know how to make believable figures in both dynamic and boring everyday poses. This is easily the biggest problem I see in other artists work.
Who is your biggest influence?
These days the guys falling on my short list are Mike Zeck for his uncanny control. He doesnt waste any lines. He’s amazingly efficient especially on his covers. He knows how to create a very provocative image and hes a master at spotting blacks on a page. Lee Weeks. Lee has a simplicity and clarity in his pages. The figures are perfect and his page designs hang together so well. He really understands shadows. He uses light and dark contrast as a descriptive tool perfectly. Greg Capullo. Greg is drawing Batman in a way that feels really fresh. Greg has an aggressive style that isnt overwhelming and it just feels so wickedly creative. You can tell that guy is a hard worker and honestly Im always dying to see what he does from page to page. Andy Kubert. I am very fortunate to have Andy as a teacher this year. All of his work spanning from when he picked up Xmen in the 90s on through his current Batman stuff at DC is solid as hell. If you get the chance check out his hardcover Batman Unwrapped and youll see what Im talking about. Figures, backgrounds, etc its all done masterfully. Also he is great guy and a valuable teacher. I have two pages due for him soon and Im excited to get the feedback! Joe Madureira (other wise known as MAD!) has a really dynamic style that makes thumbing through his comics really fun. His angular style inspires me to not be afraid to put a little spice into things. Leinil Yu does some amazing drawing. His rendering work is outstanding. I have a lot of people I keep my eye on including some very talented instructors at the school!
What kind of career do you want to pursue when you graduate?
Im pursuing a career in comics as a penciller. Covers and or sequential art. Im focusing all of my time on that right now. Id just like to jump onto a monthly title and go to town. Im not ruling out color illustration though and of course I still love animation. I know that as long as Im making a living at the art table things are going well and I will be happy with that.
What pieces of art in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?
Thats hard to answer because its constantly changing as I improve and evolve learning how to do this professionally. Id have to say the end of the year Xmen pages I did as an assignment for Fernando Ruiz’s (Archie Comics) narrative class came out the best. I really made a stride in my work at that point. I really feel that a lot of that carried over to this year. I also did some color pieces that are not necessarily actively in my comics portfolio but I really enjoyed making them and they came out well.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just that the Joe Kubert School is really great and has exceeded all my expectations. The knowledge and community of artists have been invaluable. If comics is something you want to do you should consider the 3 year program at JKS. Ive made a lot of friends and made leaps forward in my skills as an artist.
Also, that I believe if you want to succeed you just have to work hard and sacrifice to achieve your goals. Eventually you will get results. Always make time for the things you love to do. Thanks so much for getting touch.
Thanks Josh for taking the time to tell everyone a little about yourself. Cant wait to see more of your work. Feel free to send me any new projects you are working on. Also, if anyone would like to see more of Josh’s work feel free to check out his Deviantart page posted below as well as his Facebook page. Thanks again.