Interview: Jamaica Dyer

Today, we have an interview with cartoonist Jamaica Dyer, creator of Weird Fishes:

IFP: How did you get your start as a cartoonist?

JD: As this field tends to go, I was stricken at a young age by the desire to draw my own comics. I loved Batman and Catwoman and a bunch of indie books. I got a job working in a comics shop in my teens, met all my favourite artists, and then fearlessly handed out my hand-drawn comics at conventions. Nine years followed of self-promoting and working on my craft, going to conventions, folding and stapling my books, going to art school, and creating a painted webcomic that got enough attention online that I got my first graphic novel published. Overnight success.

IFP: Weird Fishes is…um, well, weird. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t read it?

JD: It’s a story set in a little beach town where two characters, Dee and Bunny Boy, are starting to age out of childhood. The little girl has always talked to imaginary creatures with abandon, and the little boy has worn the same bunny suit for years straight, and they both realize they need to grow up a little, but one of them rebels against it and goes a little crazy, while the other tries to be cool. It’s hand-drawn and painted in watercolour, and the art style changes along with the character’s evolution.

IFP: Did you have imaginary friends?

JD: Yep, her name is ‘Dee’ and she’ll tell me crazy stories whenever I have a quiet moment to think. Keeping them all in order and committing them to paper is the hard part. I also had a little goldfish who would sit on my desk and keep me company while I learned to animate by hand. He didn’t say much, though.

IFP: What inspires you?

JD: Wow, I love stuff. I enjoy letting everything outside of my particular craft to leak in with new inspiration. Music is a big one, from Brit pop to psychedelic rock to dreamy little garage bands. I want to capture the energy of live music in my drawings. I’m inspired by contemporary painters and Impressionists, pop-art posters for science fiction and rock shows, reading autobiographies from Patti Smith to Anthony Bourdain, and watching movies on the Internet. I love stylistic French films, zombie horror films, experimental Czech feminist movies…the list goes on. I’m inspired by the writers who’ve come from Britain and changed our superheroes, and brought a real dose of surrealism and fuck-you into comics.

IFP: Do you have a work ritual? Walk three times in a circle before starting to draw? That sort of thing.

JD: I suppose. On a weekday, I return home from work around 8pm and, if I’m not too tired or hungry, I’ll sit down at my desk, stare at a blank page for five minutes, have a bath and stare at my feet to clear my head, tell myself that capturing some unknown idea on paper is way more important than being well-rested, and then open my sketchbook and flood it with sketches and ideas. On the weekend, on a free afternoon, I’ll probably do the dishes or wipe down a countertop, general OCD haphazard cleaning for 15 minutes while my mind goes on a wild safari, and then sit at my desk, spend an hour or two soaking in photos and drawings on Ffffound, and then start drawing.

IFP: How much self-marketing does an artist have to do these days? Is it harder with the Internet? Easier?

JD: The Internet definitely makes it easier! You’re able to reach so many people, it’s insane. And I think it’s all about self-marketing. For the people that are really good at it, they’re constantly putting new content out on their blogs, a steady stream of media, anecdotes and personal updates on Twitter. We all love to be voyeuristic and so, the more you’re willing to share, the better. I love following the heavy-hitting artistic web personalities. I take notes, I follow their art and have more fun reading their posts than I would tabloids.

When I was updating my site with a new comic page every week, I was amazed by the buzz and community that built itself around my work. I wanted to be able to put out updates even faster and it’s a pretty solid model that, if you give your audience a reason to visit every day for new content, they will. As soon as I wasn’t able to put out that steady stream of content, the hype dropped off almost immediately. But I’ll take that sort of flexible, living organism experience of interacting with my audience to creating massive mailing lists, sending out copies of my zine, and cold-calling bookstores ANY day.

IFP: If you were not a cartoonist, what would you be? Firefighter? Ninja?

JD: I think there’s an alternate universe where I’m a biologist. I loved marine biology as a kid. I dissected squid in summer school and loved doing scientific illustrations. Growing up in the Bay Area encouraged a lot of tidepool visits and fascination with marine species. If I hadn’t been encouraged to continue drawing and writing stories, I may have spent more time on my math assignments and excelled in science. Now, someone else has to discover that mutant space squid.

IFP: What artists do you admire?

JD: I love Paul Pope and J.H. WIlliams III! In more classic illustration realms, I like John Tenniel and Cicely M. Barker. I really love graffiti artists like Banksy and Liqen and Fafi. I like Raymond Pettibon’s illustrations and how they meld with music. I’m extremely lucky to have been taught by Barron Storey, who’s a huge inspiration.

IFP: What’s your dream project?

JD: I want to make a low-budget movie based on something I’ve written, and I’d get to storyboard it, be on set when they shoot, run around fixing the sets, working on everything from art direction to getting my hands dirty as a gaffer. I love small film productions, and that would be so fun to see one of my comics-turned-real. That, and draw a book for DC, featuring Catwoman and Poison Ivy.

IFP: What scares you?

JD: Dying without having left anything behind. My fear of failing is pretty great.

IFP: If someone made a biography of your life, what would it be called and who would play you?

JD: I feel like Elisabeth Moss has a pretty strong resemblance to me, and that’s more likely than getting teenage Winona Ryder to come back in a time machine. I’d like to call it “Fishgirl“. Yeah! It would have some neat hand-drawn animated effects for daydreaming scenes, locations like Santa Cruz and San Francisco, contrasting corporate buildings and slummy apartments, crazy love triangles and live rock bands.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian creature or character, who would you be and why?

JD: Cthulhu, because I want to be that damn gorgeous.

IFP: Any final comments for our readers?

JD: Thanks for reading! I have many of my comics up on my website to read, including all of Weird Fishes and part of the sequel that I’m working on. I, too, like to walk that fuzzy line between fantasy, horror and reality, and I appreciate the chance to bring monsters and psychedelic beauty into daily life.

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IFPInterview: Jamaica Dyer