JIM RUGG ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Jim Rugg first appeared on my radar when he was drawing the comic Street Angel. I was immediately attracted to the title character – a 12-year-old homeless, skateboarding, martial artist who rolls through the worst ghetto of Angel City battling ninjas, hunger and challenges to personal hygiene.
Jim’s next book, Afrodisiac was a beautifully designed satirical homage to Blaxploitation films of the ‘70’s and vintage superhero comics. The breadth of styles and techniques he integrated into Afrodisiac established Jim as a powerful creative force in modern comics.
A gallery of Jim’s art can be seen at the end of this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Jim Rugg: You know how when you’re in kindergarten, everyone draws stuff, then as you get older, almost everyone stops drawing stuff? I was the kid in the back of the class that never stopped drawing. When I was 12, I bought a comic book. By the time I got home form the store, I had my mind made up that I was going to draw comics when I grew up.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
JR: I have a BFA in graphic design with a minor in painting. For comics, I would read interviews with cartoonists and seek out books on whatever they recommended from figure drawing and caricature to cinematography and film editing. As I got more involved in the industry, I sought out other cartoonists and asked them questions about how they made comics (which I continue to do).
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
JR: I’m going to stick to North America because I’m too ignorant to be confident about the global history of comics. If you’d like me to expound on any of these names, let me know. Siegel, Shuster, Basil Wolverton, Simon, Kirby, Eisner, Stan Lee, Gary Panter, Robert Crumb, Hernandez Brothers, Fantagraphics, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Richard McGuire, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Tom Devlin, James Sturm, Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chester Brown, George Herriman, Charles Shulz, Harvey Kurtzman, Sammy Harkham, Joe Kubert, the Image Comics founders, the Milestone creators, Matt Baker, R.F. Outcault…I’m sure I’m forgetting hundreds of people.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
JR: I guess I’d define sequential art as more than one piece of art or image or element intended to be seen, viewed, or experienced in a particular order. So with this definition, I’d include music, film, video, children’s books, possibly sculpture gardens, arguably amusement parks and some ad campaigns (if you include commercial design in your definition of “art”), possibly museums, prose, poems, hypertext (which is almost like an abstract sequence), tarot card reading?
If you mean comics, I’m not sure why you don’t use that term. It’s shorter and avoids this sort of confusion. The problem with the phrase sequential art when applied to comics is that a literal definition doesn’t include work like The Far Side, or Peter Arno’s cartoons or Al Hirshfeld’s work. Lots of comics work isn’t sequential and a lot of sequential art isn’t comics.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
JR: I find comics to be nearly limitless. I’m very interested right now in the relationship between time and space in comics and how that relationship is affected when comics leave the familiar constraints of the printed page. I’m also interested in editing – which in this case refers to panel-to-panel relationships as well as the representation of information in drawings (how many details […] you include, what […] you simplify, etc.) And I’m always interested in drawing, composition, and design. Lately I’ve also been thinking a lot about color, reproduction, and distribution.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
JR: A proofreader is important. A good editor is a luxury but not a necessity. Discipline. Vision. Imagination. Determination. Confidence. Curiosity. Something that makes marks. Hunger. And I think a sense of timing is useful. Humor never hurt anyone either.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
JR: Every job is different. I usually get up around 6:00 a.m. (I’m a morning person) and try to get as much accomplished as possible by lunchtime. I try to exercise and monitor my diet to maximize my output. But in terms of what I draw or write and when – every day and every project is unique (which is so inefficient).
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
JR: It varies. For most of this year it has averaged around 10-12 hours a day 7 days a week. But each day is different. And occasionally I take a day off. I’m planning to take a week off in August. I think vacation is important. I took one last summer and feel like I’ve been living off of that recharge ever since.
I’m not uniformly productive and almost every day I accomplish less than I would like. Part of that lack of uniformity stems from the projects I take on. When I drew iZOMBIE #24, I was like clockwork in my production during the day and each week. But there’s a lot of stuff I want to do, and that means a varied workload with a lot of tasks (and unforeseen challenges) that result in me struggling to estimate time. I like to do new things, and anytime I do something new, I can’t accurately predict how long it will take.
Time management is an area I need to improve.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
JR: Yes. It’s still a struggle, less so to find work than to make ends meet. Drawing comics is a not an efficient way to make money. I also try to do a certain amount of work that doesn’t pay – either for benefits, promotion, or experimentation so that doesn’t help the ends meet but I think it’s important in my ongoing development.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
JR: Trying to envision the type of life that I want to live. Second most important is learning to say no. It’s very important and I don’t do it enough. But I’m learning.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
JR: Everything. I have a circle of friends who share work. So every week we send emails back and forth showing off our latest comics and drawings. It’s motivational.
Aggregate sites like The Fox Is Black is a source of constant information and inspiration (or intimidation depending on my mood). The Internet has created a venue where I encounter new work and new artists every day. It’s impossible not to feel an effect from that.
I’ve also started going to more local galleries and arts events and interacting with artists who work in other media and disciplines. It’s helpful for me to talk with artists who also struggle with creativity and art. And I find my mind engages with them differently than with cartoonists. I suppose the answer is variety – I get a lot out of online and real interaction and I get a lot out of interacting with cartoonists as well as artists and in some cases even “non-creative” types. It surprises me when I learn that someone just avoids that sort of interaction. I think it’s an opportunity to see the world through a different lens and I find that valuable.
Lately I’ve been looking at more commercial work – old paperback covers and graphic design. I like seeing work that was created with an emphasis on craft as it ages or changes context. I’ve started looking at old package design, toy design, cartoons, coloring books, retro video games, and architecture.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
JR: That’s like asking is video good or bad. Or paint. Or fish hooks. Or microbiology. It’s a piece of technology, a tool. I’d like you to provide me with a list of the good tools and bad tools at Home Depot.
I can’t imagine anyone making a compelling case for hammers but arguing against digital comics. It’s all technology. I think it’s possible to view technology as a whole as good or bad. But trying to argue that one technology is good while another is bad seems silly. Even technology that fails is often necessary for technological progress.
I disagree with the idea of judging everything in terms of “good” and “bad”. That’s a morality based judgment. I fail to see how technology can be described accurately in those terms. How a technology is used, how a technology is created or disseminated is perhaps open to moral judgment, but it’s almost like asking if the color green is good or bad.
In conclusion, I’m pro digital comics, along with a million other tools and technology.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
JR: I wish retailers didn’t shoulder so much of the financial risks of the direct market. I think it’s a terrible, terrible system for promotion of the medium because it’s so discouraging for retailers. The result is very few good stores. It’d be nice if that weren’t the case because a good retailer is a great opportunity to reach new readers and strengthen the community aspects of comics – which has been such an important part of comics history.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
JR: That’s tough. I’m not sure. I want to say Saul Bass, Harvey Kurtzman or Orson Welles. Maybe a Renaissance artist so I could see that setting. It’s hard for me to imagine what the world was really like 400 years ago. Jesus would be interesting…do you consider carpenters artists?
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
JR: Make more comics, make more art, draw more, continue meeting interesting artists…I’d like to paint some outdoor murals, create some vinyl toys, make hand-assembled books, print more, paint, possibly teach, create animation and collages, read, exhibit in and visit Japan and Switzerland…