by Jason Thibault
I remember picking up an odd-looking 3-color comic out of the superhero section in the stands of my local comic shop back in the late 1990’s. Turns out it was a Gen X comic. Marvel had hired Jim Mahfood to create an “alternative” looking version of one of their biggest franchises. I quickly fell in love with Jim’s work. Turns out he had other admirers as well. He a was tapped to draw Kevin Smith’s Clerks comic during Oni Press’ first year of existence. Jim is honest in his answers and holds nothing back.
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.
I was doing inks and backgrounds for this local St. Louis comic company called Artline Studios back when i was 15 years old and thru high school. But the first major nationally published thing was I inked a story for DC Comics Showcase ’95 book, in, well, 1995. It was a Legion of Superheroes story set in space. My roommate at the time, Mike Huddleston, penciled it. We’re still best friends to this day. I remember being very stressed about it cause the deadline was tight, I still had to go to work, and do all my school assignments. I was in art school at the time. Sometimes people still randomly bring the book to me at comic cons to sign. It’s pretty funny.
Self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
Both. I met Lorenzo Lizana in ’90-91-ish and he had Artline Studios and he took me under his wing and taught me the tools of the trade. Then I moved to Kansas City and went to the Art Institute there. I met Mike Huddleston, and basically learned everything I know from him, from inking his work, and seeing his techniques. Nathan Fox, Paul Chatem and Paul Briggs were also in my class and I learned crazy shit from all of those dudes. They’re all artistic titans now!
Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?
Damn, everything. Various calligraphy pens, Pilot Precise pens, Rapidiographs, Pentels, Windsor Newton Series 7 brush, graf markers, various paint markers, sharpies, white-out pens, etc.
Favorite brand of ink:
I like Calligraphy ink (Windsor Newton), Sumi ink, and Higgins ink.
Type of paper?
Strathmore Bristol 300 series both Smooth and Vellum. God, this is getting pretty nerdy.
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?
Too many to name but here’s some: Jamie Hewlett, Jack Kirby, David Choe, Ash Wood, Paul Pope, Mike Mignola, Ralph Steadman, Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Crumb, Hernandez Bros., Vaughn Bode,
Brandon Graham, Corey Lewis, Kyle Baker, Berkeley Breathed, Bill Watterson, Scott Campbell, Robert Valley, James Jean, Craig Thompson, and of course my main crew: Mike Huddleston, Scott Morse, Dave
Crosland, and Jose Garibaldi. There’s way more, but you get the idea.
Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?
Most jobs involve sketches and ideas first, and then getting approval or making changes or whatever, and then eventually doing finished pencils, approval, and then finished inks and color.
What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?
Shawn Lee & Clutchy Hopkins: Clutch of the Tiger (I did all the art!), People Under the Stairs: Fun Dmc, Bowie: the Singles, Parliament: Motor Booty Affair, Marc Moulin: Placebo Sessions, Gary Wilson: You
Think You Really Know Me?, MC5: Kick Out the Jams, Murs For President, etc etc.
What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?
I have original art on my walls from: Dave Crosland, Ash Wood, David Mack, Codak, Mike Huddleston, Jose Garibaldi, Scott Morse, Andrew Soria, Street Hawk, Bill Shag, Nathan Fox, Jeremy Mconnell, Lalo,
Dumper Foo, Hektk, Anne Masse, Adam Warren, Chynna Clugston, Mike Oeming, and Duncan Fegredo. I could never pick a favorite…
Last novel you read and last movie that you saw (that you’d recommend)?
I just re-read The Catcher in the Rye. Best book ever. Also read recently Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, and The Cream of Tank Girl.
Movies: Taxi Driver, Holy Mountain, the Devil and Daniel Johnston, the Night James Brown Saved Boston, and American Movie.
Current and upcoming projects?
My new comic book series, Kick Drum Comix, is on the shelves now. It’s two issues, 48 pages, each, full color action. I just finished a 16 page comic for the next issue of BPM Magazine. It stars Z-Trip, MSTRKRFT, and the Bloody Beetroots. Pretty cool stuff. I even drew three different covers for the mag, you can collect them all!
I’m in the next issue of Ash Wood’s Swallow art book. It’s volume 5, I believe. IDW is publishing it. I have over 20 pages of art in that. I’m also doing my own Sparrow art book for IDW. Not sure when that comes out. I also joined the prestigious group known as Artsprojekt. It’s headed by Andy Howell and has artists like Shepard Fairy and Alex Pardee doing merch for them. You can check it at: www.artsprojekt.com Other than that, I have a lot in the works, you can always find updates at: www.foodoneart.blogspot.com
What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level?
I’m not sure, really. I broke in 11 years ago when things were way more simple. I guess I would say you have to be completely original, unique, and do something to stand out from the crowd…which is hard
because everything has already been done, really.
How would you compare making comics in the latter part of this decade with the late 1990’s.
Things were way more simpler and probably more fun in the mid and late 90s. None of us had internet yet and we basically made our own books, drove them around town to all the shops and record stores and stuff, and all the feedback we got from people was thru the good ‘ole fashioned mail. It just seemed more pure back then. There’s too many people trying to do stuff now, most of them are unoriginal, and there’s not enough work out there for everyone, and the work that is available doesn’t pay shit. Every single person has a blog and a MySpace page now. Everyone want to be a rock star. Everyone wants to be rich and famous, that’s all people care about these days. Most of these people don’t really even have any talent.
You’ve maintained creator control of the majority of your work through-out your career. What sacrifices have you had to make in order to maintain this freedom?
I’ve remained poor. Ha ha. No, seriously, I have made little to no money thru the years off my creator-owned comics. All of my money comes from commercial work. So if I do my own comics, it’s strictly based on the fact that I love the art form of comics, and I always want to be doing comics in some form or another. But money in the creator-owned scene? Forget it.