Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Portland Questions 42- Jesse Hamm

Jesse Hamm has been publishing his own comics since his teens.   His background includes evreything from illustrations, storyboards, and design work for textbooks to  commercials, theatrical productions, and magazines.   He has also had an occasional teaching assignments and assistant work on numerous comic books.   He is a member of Periscope studios.

Jesse's first credited mainstream comics work is Good As Lily, a graphic novel written by Derek Kirk Kim.  Good as Lily was showcased online by New York Magazine as an example of "the best the exploding comics world has to offer."

Also, check out his art blog for a variety of illustrations.    

What projects are you working on currently?
My current paying assignments are boring and/or NDA, but on the side I just began a sketch blog called "Cartoon Redheads," featuring drawings that I plan to collect into a photocopied sketchbook. The selection is limited to characters who are red-headed, female, and have appeared mainly in animated media. I'm trying to include characters from as many different studios as possible, so that everyone will have a chance to sue me when I release the book.

What is your artistic Process?
 For stand-alone pictures, I think up an image that represents a mood I want to communicate, then I hunt around for photos of the featured objects, seen from approximately the same angles I envisioned. Then I collage the photos together in Photoshop according to my rough idea, flip the image upside down (to objectify it as a collection of abstract shapes), and adjust and crop everything until it meshes into a composition I like. Then I flip it right-side-up and sketch the scene once or twice or more, for practice, until I feel like I've absorbed the relevant imagery. Then I put the photo reference away and draw the scene "for real," relying on memory and my sketches to keep it fresh. I continue to refine the lines until I'm happy with all the shapes and how they intersect, and with the characters' expressions, etc. This drawing will end up really messy, so I then trace it cleanly onto another sheet of paper, using a lightbox. I scan the resulting drawing, increase the contrast to sharpen the lines and eliminate smudges, and add tones or color as needed. My process for comics panels is similar, though I spend less time on each step, and there's a stage where I plan out the action and how it will lead from panel to panel.   

As the artist what is your interactions with the writer?
 I read the script, thumbnail it, and approach the writer with any resulting questions. (Often, contradictions or obscurities will crop up during the thumbnail stage. How does the spy answer his cell phone if he's holding a gun and a whiskey? Etc.) Once those are answered, I proceed with the art.  

What Comic/ Trade would you recommend?
 IDW's Winterworld is a recent one-shot trade that didn't garner the attention it deserves. It's like a snowy version of Road Warrior -- good, solid adventure material of a caliber sometimes seen in movies and almost never seen in comics. Zaffino's ability to bring alive a fictional world through pictures is unsurpassed. I think the tone and the genre were too "Eighties" to land the book on bloggers' hotlists, but any serious fan of the medium should check it out. 

What Comic/ Trade would you recommend to someone new to comics?
Batman: Year One is a good bet. It's self-contained and told in a simple, straight-forward fashion, the story is engaging and the art can't be beat.   

What skill would you like to learn?
 Milt Kahl is a hero of mine, so I'd like to learn some hand-drawn animation. I've started toying with animated gifs; we'll see where that leads.

What's the most important thing you've learned?
 In art? I've learned that you have to settle on one crucial thing in an image -- a mood or object or event or whatever it happens to be -- and then position everything else in a way that supports that one thing. That process of identifying the crucial thing, and then sublimating everything else, seems to be the secret of good picture-making. I guess that goes for life, too.

Do you have a collection?   If so, what is one of the items you're most proud of?
I have a comic collection, but it's nothing fancy. Some of my "bootlegged" Xeroxes are hard to find. A few hundred pages of Alvar Mayor, for example.

What is your favorite genre of Comics?
I'll read anything, but I prefer comics that could not have functioned without imagery. Arzach, for instance, wouldn't survive a transition to prose or radio. To be effective in those media it would have to become a different animal, even with the plot intact. Whereas you could convert something like Locas to prose without losing the heart of it. Comics that carry most of their weight on their verbal side don't attract me as much.    

Do you have an Ipad? 

What is your favorite TV show/ movie?
 Watership Down is my current favorite film. It strikes a strong balance between naturalism and myth. I also like the broad spectrum of morality in its characters, from heroic to wicked and all points in between. Most other films seem to either divide everyone into Good Guys and Bad Guys, or lump everyone into a grey middle ground that ignores the reality of heroes and villains. It's hard to acknowledge those extremes without oversimplifying.   
TV-wise, I like the '70s seasons of All Creatures Great & Small. The show's '80s relaunch was schmaltzy, but the original seasons struck a perfect balance between cool naturalism and warm sentiment. Like the best of John Ford.

How does the Portland comics culture shapes your work
 I get tips and feedback from others at Periscope Studio, which is nice, and local stores & libraries give me access to a wide variety of interesting art.
What was your first comic convention?
 My first con was at a little hotel in some rural town. They charged two dollars admission, and the dealers' room was smaller than most people's living rooms, with about ten tables crammed in there like a refugee camp. That kind of set the tone for most of my subsequent dealings with the industry. Later, when I was 14, I attended the Wonder-Con and the San Diego Con, and those were a lot more impressive.

What is your favorite part of comic conventions?
I like perusing Artists' Alley, thumbing through originals and small-press sketchbooks, meeting artists and watching them sketch. That's the only remaining convention experience that the internet hasn't co-opted, aside from pricey snack-bar food. One July a couple of years ago, I tried "attending" the San Diego Con online, just by following people's online updates and such. Between Amazon, Etsy, YouTube and Twitter, it's practically the same as actually going. Chat with cartoonists, ogle costumes, listen to panel discussions, buy sketches and rare books -- all without leaving your bedroom!

If you weren’t doing comics what would you do?

Do you have a favorite restaurant that you would recommend?
No. I like sprawling restaurants with big cushy seats and mezzanines and a nice view, but Portland restaurants are all cramped, like you're eating in someone's foyer. That said, if you're ordering in, I recommend Lonesome's Pizza.

How long have you lived in Portland, what made you choose Portland?
I've been here for six years. My wife and I liked the climate and the culture.

What is your favorite part of Portland?
I love browsing Powell's Books and the downtown library, and I enjoy touring the nearby Columbia River Gorge.

Where in Portland/ Oregon would you most like to visit?
Haven't been to the zoo, yet. That's next on my list.

Would you like to write/Illustrate for another media?   Or write a character from another media, for example, Dr. Who, James Bond?  What would you explore?
I'd love to write a remake of the Star Wars prequels. If George Lucas is reading this: trust me, George -- I can fix them for you. 

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