Mark F Davis recently interviewed JayJay Jackson for Comic Book Interviews. JayJay is a veteran of the industry with incredible talents and a long list of credits.
MFD: Where were you born and raised?
JayJay: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, grew up on the north side and when I was in high school we moved to Boerne, just north of San Antonio. Boerne is a much more rural, ranching-type area and I got to have a horse, goats, chickens and a real gun, so that was fun.
MFD: When did you get serious about art?
JayJay: As far as I can remember I was always serious about art. My cousin says she remembers me telling her when I was 6 years old that I was going to be an artist. I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else, except for a few months when I was 13 and wanted to be a writer like Andre Norton. About that time I discovered there was such a thing as commercial art and that focused my goals, so I got over the writing and went back to concentrating on art. I always wanted to paint book covers and magazine illustrations like my heroes, N. C. Wyeth and JC Leyendecker, and that’s why I moved to New York City. That goal kind of got side tracked when I was hired by Marvel Comics. And DC. And Valiant, Defiant, Milestone and Broadway Comics. But then I did paint a book cover for Phobos Books!
JayJay Jackson with Jack Able at a Marvel Christmas party in the bullpen.
MFD: Do you have any formal art training?
JayJay: Not a lot. I wish I had more. A little bit of design at the University of Texas at San Antonio and I’ve taken some classes at the School of Visual Arts and at the New York Academy of Art, which were wonderful. I love learning and I love to paint, but I have always wished for more training. I’ve had so many amazing experiences in taking art classes. It’s very addictive, but life does interfere. I’ve always said if I won the lottery I would go to school. I would, too. There’s so much to learn.
MFD: Who are your artistic influences?
JayJay: Very early on I used to draw the characters out of my comic books, many of which were Superman, so I believe Curt Swan was an early influence. Once I was a bit older, I loved the Warren B&W mags, Creepy and Eerie, and was very influenced by Bernie Wrightson and Esteban Moroto. My dad had a set of pin up girl playing cards that I loved with Vargas and Petty paintings, among others, and I still love pin up girl art. I discovered Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, Gustave Doré and Barry Windsor-Smith during high school and was impressed with their work. A little later I became taken with Frank Frazetta (like everyone of that era), Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Michael Whelan, Alicia Austin, Patrick Nagel, Norman Rockwell, JC Leyendecker and Wendy’s Pini’s Elfquest. I had a painting teacher at SVA who was fantastic and life-altering, Robert Shore. And my long-time friend and painting teacher, John Wellington, has been an influence as well. I also love a lot of rock poster artists, Coop, Jermaine Rogers, Jeral Tidwell, and many others. Coop had a big influence on my decision to start my own business with his words of capitalistic wisdom when I met him in LA. And my cousin Enid Collins has been a great inspiration to me as an artist/business woman. She started Collins of Texas Handbags and grew the brand into a legendary icon. Search Collins of Texas on ebay or Google and you will see what I mean. I have always loved her sense of design. Her son Jeep is a talented jewelry designer. My aunt, Melba Jackson, is a talented poet, writer and teacher and has influenced me greatly. I still go to her for advice. Can you tell I’m very proud of my talented family? I’ve also benefitted from my friend Jim Shooter’s vast knowledge of art, writing and science and he, more than anyone, has shaped my focus and analytical skills both artistically and as a writer.
JayJay Jackson with Fabian Nicieza, we worked in the Ad dept. together.
MFD: How did you break into the comic book industry?
JayJay: Well, here it is, the longest answer yet. But it’s kind of like a story of a fan girl who made good. lol. Maybe people can relate. I have some pictures, do you want pictures? Ok, I’m just attaching some, because now I’m all sentimental about the old days and I want to share. lol.
I was doing graphic design in Houston, Texas and working with talented artist and designer, Keith Wilson who later became an inker, and we had become friends with the guys who hung out at the comic book store. We decided to do our own fan magazine and we produced The Comic Informer for a few issues and then we started Texas Comics with Bill Willingham’s Elementals. I colored that. Had no idea what I was doing, but it turned out pretty good, I think. Well, these same friends wanted to do some comic book conventions and they put a couple on. I was a cute, punky girl, so of course I worked security. Nothing comic fans fear more, right? lol. Jim Shooter was a guest at one of the conventions, in 1983. We got to talking and hit it off and we’ve been friends ever since.
When Jim got back to New York from the convention circuit, Marvel was doing the Try-Out Book and needed some illustrations of pens and brushes and paints and things for it. I had shown Jim some technical drawings I did of oil field equipment and consumer products that had a certain elegance and he suggested they hire me to draw the ones they needed. I got that job and a short while after that my best friends Bill Willingham and Keith Wilson were talking about moving to New York to get more work in comics. As I mentioned previously I was an aspiring book cover illustrator, so we devised a plan to all move together and share an apartment to keep expenses down.
JayJay Jackson with Glen Herdling in the Spider-Man, Marvel Age office, Jim Salicrup’s office.
Bill moved and found an apartment, studio, and work, in Philadelphia. Keith decided he couldn’t move at that time, but I moved in with Bill and Keith helped me drive the U-Haul up there. I was sharing a studio with all of the Comico guys, Matt Wagner, Bill Cucinatta, a few others and Bill. I got some freelance design work and Marvel was just starting up STAR Comics, a line for kids. I designed the logo and some sell sheets and stuff and after a few months, production manager Danny Crespi started offering me a staff job as Marvel’s graphic designer. Since I lived in Philadelphia and didn’t fancy commuting every day, I turned him down. But he made me two more offers, more money each time, and I finally took the third one. And started the 4+ hours a day commute. After 6 months of that I was forced to move out and unfortunately stick Bill with the apartment lease, but I just couldn’t do it any more. It was move to NYC or quit Marvel. And I was enjoying working at Marvel.
Don Daley, who started working at Marvel about the same time I did, helped me find an affordable apartment in his neighborhood in Brooklyn – Park Slope, a historic district. I lived in that apartment building for 26 years. I’ve recently moved, but he still lives in the neighborhood. That was a great time and I still have some great friends who have made such a huge difference in my life. Jim, of course and Don Daley, James Fry, Jim Salicrup and his lovely wife Paulette, the late Jack Able and so many wonderful people that I worked with and loved made it impossible to think of leaving the comics business – while we were still having so much fun, that is!
I started doing coloring pretty regularly and did some illustrations for Marvel Age and the Doctor Who magazine in my off hours and took classes at the School of Visual Arts and eventually was promoted to art director of advertising when Marvel created an advertising department. I left Marvel to help Jim start VALIANT Comics and the rest is history, I guess. Now I’m all teary remembering how much I miss hanging out with all those good friends.
JayJay Jackson with Jade Moede at VALIANT, Art Nichols in background.
MFD: Is there anyone you wish you’d worked with in comics but never had the chance to?
JayJay: So many people. But I suppose it depends on what you mean by worked with. I had long idolized Esteban Moroto and I got to color one of his trading cards at Topps, but I never got to meet him or speak to him. I’ve colored or painted the work of some people that I admire, but it’s not like working closely with them. I got to work with Barry Windsor-Smith, but he’s so brilliant, it wasn’t enough. It felt like a tease. lol. One of my biggest idols is Bernie Wrightson and I’ve sadly never worked with him, only had a table next to him at a convention. Seems like a great guy. I very much wanted to work with Wendy Pini and almost did, but not quite. I would have loved to work with people that inspired me when I was younger like Jack Kirby, Nick Cuti, Mike Sekowsky, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Wally Wood and Richard Corben to name a few. I’d have liked to work with a lot of the amazing 2000 AD artists and writers that I’ve admired, but I’ve only worked with a couple of them. I tried very hard to get Brian Bolland to work for us, but no luck. I would have loved to work with Dez Skinn on something, he’s so intelligent and funny. I’m probably forgetting to mention a lot of people.
MFD: What are some of your favorite memories you have from working in comic books?
JayJay: We had a great time in the Marvel Bullpen. In the beginning I sat between Jack Abel and Jim Salicrup, two of the greatest guys to be around. Jack made me feel so comfortable and welcome, he was like family. Jim Salicrup and I both like to dance and we used to go dancing 2 or 3 times a week! Later he got me to take up swing and ballroom dancing, which I love. We sat near Morrie Kuramoto, The Ancient One, a favorite of the whole office. He brought me fresh vegetable juice when I was sick. That juice was so awful tasting, I had to get well so he would stop making me drink it! lol. And I worked for production manager Danny Crespi, who was impossible not to love with all of your heart.
Some days I would be sitting at my desk in the bullpen, just working, and I would notice one of the guys over in the Romita’s Raiders art corrections section looking at me and drawing. Some time later James Fry or Rodney Ramos would come over to show me what they had drawn. I kept all those drawings that they gave me! I love them to death. One of the RRs, Tom Morgan, was a huge Elvis fan. One year when I was home in Texas visiting my family we went to Mexico and I bought him a painting of Elvis on black velvet and managed to get it back to New York for him intact. He hung it up in the bullpen by his desk. So we had Elvis to inspire us.
There was always some crazy, fun stuff going on at Marvel. It seemed like there was a new silly activity going on every week and usually Mark Gruenwald, John Morelli and Elliot Brown were at the root of it. Sometimes the activities were even work related. Sometimes. There were so many fun people working at Marvel back then. We had a paintball team, The Marvel Punishers, that grew out of our epic office after hours toy gun battles.
Jim carried that spirit of fun to VALIANT as well. He organized wheelchair basketball games with office chairs in the giant room where we worked, we had Jade Appreciation Day I & II to appreciate the amazing dedication of our main man Jade Moede. I was crowned the Tater Queen one day. And the brilliant and funny John Cebollero used to keep us entertained all day and keep us going late into the night with his wit and fabulous music collection. Those are very memorable times.
At Defiant Joe James, Tim Perkins and I had so much fun both in the office and having adventures outside of it. See, we HAD to show Tim America since we had gotten him to come over here from England and we were working him to death. We felt it was our responsibility as his American hosts. So we did all sorts of cool stuff, as the deadlines allowed. Tim remembers it really well and describes it all in his blog. I love reading that. Sometimes you have friends who enrich your life in so many ways. Joe and Tim and Jim as well are like that for me. To this day I can’t imagine my life without them as my friends. My life is so much better for knowing them.
JayJay always loved clubbing and dancing, can you tell? OMG, the 80′s with a vengeance! Jay Jay Jackson lived in Houston and worked the conventions and stuff with my friends.
MDF: Do you have any favorite titles or stories you worked on in comic books?
JayJay: I suppose number one would be the Solar 0 story at VALIANT. I was a fan of Barry Windsor-Smith and it was a dream come true to work with him. I also think it’s one of the best things Jim has ever written, so that’s kind of a perfect job for me to be a part of. I also loved working with Jim and David Lapham on Harbinger and Warriors of Plasm. They are both so brilliant and creative, it was wonderful to be a part of that. Jim had given me a chance to start writing at Defiant and I had come up with a concept we wrote up at Broadway Comics that we called The Technomancers. We co-wrote the first script. To this day I think it’s one of the best, most fun things I’ve ever worked on. Never saw print, like a lot of what we wrote at Broadway, but I believe it would have been great. I would have enjoyed the heck out of it, anyway.
MFD: Could you talk a bit about your days at VALIANT Comics?
JayJay: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was fun in the sense that we had a great group of people to work with and we were doing work we were very proud of. The physical working conditions of our first office were horrible. An old building that was hot in summer, freezing in winter and overrun with thousands of mice. One day the building next door caught fire and we were frantically emptying the art files, shoving stacks of art into everyone’s arms and sending them down to stand out on the street. We were lucky that the building didn’t go up like a box of matches. But then, the ancient wood was probably somewhat protected from fire by the thick layers of dirt. And mouse droppings.
It was inspiring to feel like we were building something great, but it was awful to be under constant attack from the investors and their stooges who seemed determined to make the place as miserable as possible and couldn’t understand the publishing business or Jim’s concept of trying to build a company. It was infuriating to see Jim forced to waste so much of his time battling for the most basic things we needed to publish comics, when he should have been doing the creative work that he does best. He was under so much pressure toward the end that he started to develop some serious stress-related health problems, but he never quit, never took a single day off. The whole experience of VALIANT, for me, is tainted by the fact that the bad guys won. They stole the company, all of Jim’s creative work and all of the profits. Jim’s assistant, Debbie Fix and I were fired one morning with no warning and Jim ended up losing all those years of his hard work and in debt. I think after VALIANT we were all a little broken. Sorry to be a downer. It makes me sad.
MFD: You developed an acclaimed method for coloring comics while you were at VALIANT. Could you discuss that method?
JayJay: Back in those ancient days, comic books were colored in an arcane and costly manner. A colorist would color “guides” on xerox copies of the art and they would be sent off to be “hand separated” by people who used the guides as a reference and painted gloppy opaque red paint on large sheets of clear plastic film to make the color separations. It was labor intensive, expensive and the quality was often somewhat lacking. At VALIANT we knew we were going to have to seriously cut production costs to even be able to publish at all and Jim had an inkling of an idea of how to do it. Jim had been exploring new techniques for doing comics… well, always. At Marvel he even worked with Mercer Mayer, the famous illustrator and writer, on a revolutionary “video” color separation system that was the early forerunner of computer scanning. I had been trying to find a way to do full painted color over reproductions of the black and white line art that could be scanned on a drum scanner when I worked at Marvel. People used to paint on photostats, which were horrible to paint on, or what were called “bluelines”, especially at Continuity Studios, but those couldn’t be wrapped on a scanner and had registration problems. I don’t have room to list all the various technical problems, there were so many. It was a tough nut to crack.
I was a painter and was frustrated with the problems with comic coloring and always trying to push the boundaries and improve the way things were done. I had made some progress working with alternative materials and various methods, but wasn’t quite there yet. I had been involved in printing and separations since the beginning of my career in graphics, so I knew very well what was technologically possible at the time and Jim and I put our heads together and began to experiment. We didn’t have time or money to do anything fancy. I think we were even buying the materials out of our own pockets. We had to keep the process simple enough so that even a beginner artist could produce decent results. After a period of trial and error, lots of error, we had an idea that we thought we could make work. We had found a smooth watercolor paper that was just barely light weight enough to go through some copiers without jamming too much and smooth enough to accept the toner evenly. We had looked at copiers because they were the only way to reproduce non water soluble black lines on miscellaneous paper. Most copiers wouldn’t handle the heavy watercolor paper, and for a long time we were plaguing every copy shop that would still have us, but Debbie Fix finally found just the right one that would do it and we leased it. We would copy the line art onto the watercolor paper, then mount it to a piece of regular bristol board with a special heavy duty mounting sheet called Twin Tack to keep the watercolor paper from wrinkling up when you painted on it. We would then have a black and white reproduction of the art that was sturdy enough to paint (with transparent watercolors) but just flexible enough to be wrapped around a drum scanner. By coming up with this system to color the comics and by finding the lowest cost color separation scanners in the extended New York area, we were able to reduce the cost of production enormously. It took a lot of tweaking to get right and we chewed through copiers like crazy, but we made it work. Some people have even said they liked the results better than traditional comic coloring!
MFD: What do you think of comics today?
JayJay: I’d like to say that I think the quality has slipped, but then I sound like some old fogey pining for better days. And there was a lot of junk that wasn’t worth reading back in the old days, too. There’s some stuff I don’t like about a lot of comics these days… too many are colored so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on, so many are so badly drawn that it’s hard to tell what’s going on and too many are so badly written that they are pointless to read. I don’t read very many and when I do, I’m often disappointed and think they could be done better with a little more thought put into them. OK, maybe I am just an old fogey. Hmf. You kids get offa my lawn!
MFD: Do you read any comics that are being put out today?
JayJay: I read a few. Of course I’m enjoying Jim’s revival of the Gold Key titles for Dark Horse. Especially Turok and Solar. Sometimes friends will send me some that they think I’ll like. I’ve been reading Locke and Key by Joe Hill. I’ve been reading the True Blood Comic. I look at the World of Warcraft comics occasionally, but only because I’m a huge WoW geek. I was catching up on the Fables series by Bill Willingham recently. That Fray comic by Joss Whedon was pretty good, and the Serenity, Those Left Behind. And the Dr. Horrible comic. I liked The Guild comic book. I’m a fan of the show. I guess that’s about it. Any suggestions?
MFD: What are you currently working on now professionally, and do you have a website people could check your out at?
JayJay: I’m working on all sorts of things. I have a screen printing company and we put my art on shirts, posters and other stuff. (http://deathsheaddesigns.com) I’ve recently been blogging about DIY screen printing as well (http://diysilkscreenprinting.blogspot.com). I have just finished the script for a story in a horror anthology comic. Now I have to draw it. It’s titled “Promises to Keep” and should appear in the 3rd issue of Bedtime Stories for Impressionable Children. I do art and design for magazines and bands. I’ve been doing work for a band called The Penguin Revolution, such as their web site (http://www.thepenguinrevolution.com). Speaking of web sites, I recently revived and updated my very first web site, designed in 1995, which has some interesting info you might like, The Comic Book Writer’s Guide (http://comicbookwritersguide.com). Folks can also have a look at my art work on http://www.jayjayjackson.com. Is that too many things? Because I have lots more.
MFD: Thanks for doing such a great job on the answers for this interview, JayJay!
JayJay: You are very welcome. Any time.
JayJay Jackson is veteran comic book creator whose art and color is on display at: www.jayjayjackson.com
Mark F Davis is Vice President of Publishing at Comic Book Interviews and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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