Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jonathan Lemon - Cartoonist Survey #93

Jonathan Lemon is an artist, cartoonist, stand up comedian and musician. He was born in England and received a degree in Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Brighton. In the 80’s he designed music posters, CD covers and cartoons for music publications. During this time he also was a member of several bands including, The Chrysanthemums, a cult psychedelic art pop band. Jonathan moved to San Francisco in 1992 and did some work creating characters for software. After getting married, he and his wife lived in Cuba and Central America for a spell where he did illustration work for clients such as the Honduran Tourism Institute and the United Nations. From 1997 to 2002 he drew the comic strip Bigshot for Film/Tape World magazine. Jonathan’s political cartoons have appeared in The Boston Globe, Guardian (UK), San Francisco Examiner newspapers and magazines. His latest comic strip, Rabbits Against Magic is about two mutant rabbits, Weenus and Eightball and their strange world. He still loves performing and recording music. His current band is Monkey Versus Robot which plays instrumental surf music. Be sure to check out his main website here. Go here to learn more about Rabbits Against Magic and read the Magic Against Rabbit’s blog here.

Check out his very detailed “How to Draw a Comic Strip” tutorial on the Rabbits Against Magic website here.

What is your favorite pen to use?
It took me forty years to discover there are no magical tools that would transform me into a professional cartoonist. However, to answer the question, I use white sable bushes (sizes 00 and 0) and also when I don't feel like reloading I switch to a customized Kuretake Sumi brush pen with a Lamy Cartridge Converter filled with Pelikan ink. I trim the end off it with an Xacto knife since all those Japanese brush pens traditionally taper to one hair, which I find particularly inconvenient. I also use Copic Multiliner SPs and Micron Pigmas but they have a frustratingly short lifespan and a Faber-Castell PITT artist pen for sketching. For lettering I use a Rotring Art Pen with a B nib.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?

I have a Faber Castell DS05 mechanical pencil which I've had since the 1970s. The little metal sleeve at the end retracts as the lead wears down so you don't have to keep thumb pumping. It's a wonderful invention that I've never seen used since. I like a 2B lead.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?

For the strip I color in PhotoShop with a Wacom Graphire II tablet. I'm still on CS2.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Pelikan watercolors (although I hate all the stretching and prep work you have to do beforehand) and/or Turner design gouache.

What type of paper do you use?
Strathmore Bristol 300 or 400 series vellum finish. I've just switched to a brand that’s made by wind power.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Everyone expects hand-made holiday and birthday cards from me. I hate doing those. Also when I was doing a lot of political cartoons there were some politicians and celebrities that were really hard to capture. Nancy Pelosi is one that springs to mind.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Flax in San Francisco. I support my local independent art store.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Since I usually go to the public library to work, I process the strips I'm gonna be drawing in my head on the way there (either walking or on my bicycle). Then I lock myself in one of the study/isolation rooms they have. No computer. No phone. Very effective.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I need silence while I'm plotting and lettering but once I start inking the iPod comes out, usually WFMU, Ubu Web, scratchy old 78s, vintage world music, mambo, crime jazz, surf intro, old-timey novelty stuff, pretty much anything in mono. I also listen to a lot of great Podcasts, especially Tall Tale Radio, Comics Coast to Coast, Radio Lab and This American Life.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I grew up in England where, like most Brits I read a lot of the kiddie fodder like Beano, Dandy, Sparky, Knockout, Wham, Whizzer and Chips. Leo Baxendale who drew strips for a lot of those comics is well worth checking out. I also obsessively read Tin Tin and Asterix. The only superhero comic I was even remotely interested in was Jack Cole's Plastic Man. Mostly I read Mad paperbacks. I didn't really understand them at age six but I just loved the art. The same with Peanuts. Later on there was Life in Hell, Love and Rockets, Eightball, Hate, and the Acme Novelty Library.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Krazy Kat by a long long way. I've read every single Sunday strip at least once and most of the dailies. George Herriman is a cartooning genius. I would have to add Bill Watterson, Walt Kelly and Charles Schulz to that list, as well as Basil Wolverton and Milt Gross. Current favorites include Underworld by Kaz, Laugh-Out-Loud Cats by Adam Koford, Macanudo by an Argentinian cartoonist called Liniers, Troubletown by Lloyd Dangle and Slowpoke by Jen Sorensen.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I was enchanted by the Moomin books of the Finnish writer Tove Jansson. She really encapsulated the sense of desperate isolation I felt and related to as a kid (cue violins). Drawn & Quarterly are currently releasing collections of a comic strip of the same name that she drew which are amazing. I still have the books along with a fine collection of Dr. Seuss.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I have a lofty sounding degree in Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Brighton, England. It taught me never to take art seriously and to despise the gallery system.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Computers can definitely be blamed for a lot of lazy cartooning habits, myself included and I worry that some of the traditional skills will die out to the detriment of art and creativity in general. However, the Internet itself is such a great reference library and communication tool it's hard to imagine life without it.

Did either of your parents draw?
My dad was a decent old school gag cartoonist and a pretty good caricaturist. He later did lots of pen and ink stuff and for a while he made a meager living doing watercolors of old pubs in and around the London area.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
John Glynn and David Stanford (@ Universal/Uclick) along with the very understanding and patient spousal unit.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Absolutely. I get through about one a month. And by "keep" I mean I never throw them away. I have several boxes of spent sketchbooks using up valuable real estate in our basement.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
When I lived in Central America I did quite a few cartooning classes in Spanish for kids and found the experience very rewarding. I like to think that some of those kids will go on to become subversive political cartoonist who will bring down brutal dictatorships.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
I'm not sure you can have talent without passion but you can have passion without talent.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Just like the Addams Family, our house is a museum. However, being able to find pretty much anything via the Internet has taken all the fun out of collecting for me. I used to be one of those obsessive collectors, delighting in finding the under-priced gem after hours of hunting the dusty thrift store shelves. Nowadays we just accumulate. Luckily I'm too cheap to ever be a serious collector. I've practically wallpapered our house with vintage humor and cartoon books.

I have a lot of mid-century maps (the tourist ones with illustrations),tons of old movies in various formats and a lot of Tiki /Day of the Dead crap. Thankfully a lot of my gatherer instincts these days are satisfied by digital media (scans, music, movies, photographs) which are much easier to store. I just found out about a bunch of collector types who spend an unhealthy amount of time tracking down really old bottles of (presumably unopened) liquor in order to make vintage cocktails as they would have been served back in the day. Part of me is fascinated by that until reality kicks in and I realize how misguided we can be as a race.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
The town wolf in the Tex Avery cartoons.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Artistically right. Politically left.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I would like to have been one of those Edwardian naturalists who went on expeditions down the Amazon collecting and categorizing bugs and pinning them into elaborate ebony cases.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Usually it's the San Francisco public library, so lots of books and homeless people. My basement studio is a veritable cocoon of ephemera, figurines, CDs and Polynesian kitsch.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I'm ashamed to say I was a professional (in the sense that I was financially reimbursed, not necessarily very good) musician in the eighties in a rather dubious synthesizer band and later as a musical cabaret/stand up act. I had more hair than talent. These days I play the diatonic accordion and the ukulele.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Marry into wealth.

Who is your favorite artist?
It's a toss up between Jan Svankmajer and Aki Kaurismaki. Say what you want about communism but it produces great art.

Thank you Jonathan.

Up next is cartoonist and illustrator George Coghill.

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