Q & A with James
Tell us a little bit about yourself - where
did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town in Vermont. A dead
machine tool town. It's even more dead now than it was when I was growing
up. Most of the storefronts on mainstreet are empty, and most of the ones
that aren't empty seemed to be filled with stores that don't look like they
could make any money. Like someone just pulled a bunch of junk out of their
basement to sell, or small weird little church is using a storefront for
What is your favorite story from "the
good old days"?
My favorite story from when we were in college
together? I guess the fact that we were all almost kicked out of grad school
at the Maryland Institute in the first three weeks due to general obnoxiousness,
is always a little funny to think of. Basically, I don't think much of the
obnoxious stuff we did is so cool anymore. It was fun at the time, but it's
There was that little dog we found in the park that we brought back to live
in the painting studios. He liked us at first, but then every day he would
obey our commands less and less, till eventually he ran away, I guess. Someone
said he ran away, I don't know. At least he stayed around long enough to
pee on the paintings of some girl who hated us all.
Now see, even that relatively harmless story is sort of embarrassing now.
But not as embarrassing as spitting on people in bars! I can't believe I
used to spit on people in bars! Giant Derrick & Riche would back me
up, so no harm ever came to me.
What was your first band? What was their "hook"?
My first band was Divot Head
. This is
back in high school, like 1983-1985. It was a sort of new wave & punk
band with a surprising amount of influence from Rush
. The next
band was Jazzin' Hell
. Casio keyboard, saxophone, and vocals. Oh,
and one guy had a bass that he welded out of solid steel and played with
a drumstick. I still play a lot of Jazzin' Hell
songs with my current
. I like to resurrect those songs that I wrote
back when I was 18, 19, 20... it keeps my music youthful sounding.
Back in grad school you spent most of your
time painting and eating peanut butter sandwiches- do you still paint? Do
you still love peanut butter? Do you still watch Kojak?
I don't remember ever watching Kojak. I only
ate peanut butter sandwiches because it was cheap. I was too cheap to even
pay for jelly! I'd also eat plain spaghetti, no sauce. I'd steal butter
from my roomates. Microwaved hot dogs. Occasionally a can of vegetables,
so I wouldn't drop dead. I think I spent about $5 a week on groceries...
this is 1989-1991. What's that in 2006 dollars?
Your comic creation "Dead Bear Circus
Detective" was an early favorite of mine. How has your work matured
since then? Has it "immatured" as well?
When I was doing Dead Bear, I didn't even try
to draw well. I thought drawing badly was funnier. But I was more just being
goofy and weird than being funny, anyhow. I guess my work now is similar
in that regard, it's still goofy and weird, but now I'm also trying to explore
the depths of my own humanity at the same time.
I still paint, but with a totally different mindset than I used to. It's
much more casual, and the paintings are really tiny. Most are 2 x 2 inches.
Can you describe an "arm dance" to
our readers? When was the last time you did one? What's the going rate to
get you to do one in a public restaurant these days? Could you draw one?
Basically, you swing your arms around violently,
back & forth and up and down. All the blood rushes to your fists, and
your veins will stick out wildly. It's been a long time since I really tried
to do a good one. I did a half-assed one somewhere recently for someone
who asked about it. But back then, like, the arm dance was the only thing
I was famous for, it's all I had going for me. Now, I'm famous for a lot
more than the arm dance. I don't so much need it anymore.
Your music and your comics have clearly been
very important to you and a very public means of expression. Do you have
any other hobbies or passions that have been equally important, but perhaps
I'm really really into having sex with my wife.
She wouldn't want me to talk about that, though. I also like video games,
a lot. I spend a lot of time on video game message boards arguing with teenage
In your comics you often depict people as animals,
or elves, or robots. Have you ever portrayed an animal as a human? How do
you make these decisions? Did you ever piss anyone off with how they appeared
in your work?
I don't think I ever portrayed an animal as a
human, but that's a good idea! I choose how to draw someone on a loose set
of guidelines, I suppose, based on what the person looks like and what the
person's personality is like. Mutants, that's another category... animals
(mostly dogs, turtles, bears and birds so far... oh, cats too), mutants,
robots, elves, humans. I have one friend who absolutely refuses to let me
draw him in the strip. Everyone else seems very eager to appear. But begging
to be drawn into my strip is a real turn off. It lower the chances that
you'll get in, that's for sure.
How have computers and the Internet impacted
your work? Do you still draw with traditional media? Would you have been
able to find your audience without them?
I draw with brush and india ink on 2-ply bristol
paper and scan it into the computer. Then I color the drawings in Photoshop.
The main thing that computers have done is put me in direct contact with
my audience. Now I can post my latest daily diary strip at americanelf.com
and within minutes a reader might be commenting on it on the message board.
You've been an early adopter of technologies
like mp3's for your music and web-based serialization for your American
sketchbook (you could call it a visual blog). Are you a computer
geek, or do you rely on the geekiness of others?
Oh, I'm part geek, in that that I think tech
stuff is really cool, but I don't have 3leet techie skillz of my own [sic].
I've got a web guy, Joey Manley, who does all the coding for my website.
Mac or PC?
Nintendo DS or PSP?
Nintendo DS. Although, I'm tempted to pick up
a PSP, but one can't get everything. The Nintendo DS just has better games
right now, and it's touch screen allows for a lot of interesting and innovative
Your autobiographical work indulges often
in the playful and child-like, but it also deals quite matter-of-factly
with grown up topics like sex and death. Is your innocent side always a
little tainted? Do you have to restrain yourself when it comes to projects
for the Nickelodeon crowd?
My innocent side is probably always a little
tainted, yeah. I wish I could be a little more pure, I don't know. Nickelodeon
magazine has never complained, so maybe it's pure enough. I don't have any
trouble working with them, it's great fun.
Did you always know you'd be a Superstar?
I always thought I already was.
And now a very special guest question from
, the host of Kochalkaholic
James, what do you think are the ten best comics of the past 10 years? Just
wondering what comics still get you excited about the medium...
What an impossible question!
That's more than 10, and I included myself. I could go on and on... there's
a LOT of work that makes me excited about the medium.