Jesse James of Jesse James Comics talks to Eric Esquivel;
Where are you from?
I’m from Gurnee Illinois—a fake-sounding Chicago suburb that, at least when I lived there, didn’t have a single proper comic book store.
Between the scarcity of stores and the fact that I grew up poor as Hell (in super ghetto “Section 8” housing where rent was $60 a month and I wasn’t allowed to go play outside because one time a kid literally ripped a plank off a picnic bench and hit another kid in the back of the neck with it, and one of the nails caught him right in the brain stem), comic books were this rare, magical indulgence I got to experience a handful of times a year.
Did you go to comic book stores before you started your career?
The stores I grew up on were of the classic variety—cardboard boxes everywhere, aggressively anti-social clerks, dated posters covering every inch of available space…And, I’m only a little ashamed to admit that those kind of stores are still the model I prefer. I sort of like the idea that one has to earn one’s stripes as a comics fan; it’s a real bitch trying to figure out where to start, what to read, what’s cannonical and what’s not—one really has to love this crap with an unreasonable passion to even get into it.
Intellectually, I know that’s stupid. Our stores should be inviting, pleasant-smelling and well-lit; and our publishing houses should sell out to Disney and Warner Brothers, and blah, blah, blah. I’m an adult, and I understand the logic…I just miss the days when comics were an outlaw artform, a real subculture, and not just a spawning ground for terrible movies.
And, not for nothin’, but the 90’s saw the best comic book sales ever, and that was the heyday of crappy, “inside baseball” comic book shops.
What did you read?
I’ve always had this disability, in that I have no ability to discern lowbrow and fine art.
My two loves are Superman and The Invisibles. Everything I do in life is inspired by either Clark Kent or King Mob. Sometimes Lord Fanny. Frequently, all three.
I read everything as a kid and still do. My alter-ego is the Marketing Specialist for my local comic book shop, so I’m literally required to read everything that comes out. It’s glorious.
You know how some people follow characters, good or bad, whether they like the current books or not? I’ve never understood that. Even as a kid, I’ve always been a creator guy. How can you be an “I don’t read non-Marvel” guy when the dude who wrote your favorite Iron Man issue of all time has a book out through image that’d be right up your alley? Why would you purposefully limit your experience on Earth like that?
Grant Morrison is the first author I ever experienced who spoke about things other than comics within his comics. Does that make sense? David Icke, the beat poets, The Smiths, Brit Pop in general, The Marquis de Sade, Chaos Theory—I became aware of all of those people, genres and concepts after reading Grant Morrison’s comics. He does what is expected of authors in other mediums, but is so rarely done in comics—he writes modern myths wrapped around fundamental truths of the human existence, and doesn’t just churn out love letters to bits of continuity he appreciated as a child.
I hate comics about comics. Hate them. There’s nothing more hollow, sad, and less deserving of your hard-earned money.
Mentors or people that inspire you?
Jeff Mariotte is a local (Arizona) guy whose work ethic and versatility I admire immensely. He’s a guy who earned his bones writing supernatural cowboy comics in the 90’s—clearly marching to the beat of a different drummer. He essentially willed an entire sub-sub-genre back into existence.
And then he parlayed that into a gig as Editor-In-Chief at IDW, made enough money there to buy a ranch in Arizona, and then relocated so he could actually live life like one of his cowboy heroes.
That’s literally the coolest thing I have ever heard in my entire life.
I want to be that guy’s Tonto so bad.
Your first creation and your first self published indy?
I’ve written for an audience for as long as I can remember (the school paper, my high school yearbook, as a Jimmy-Olson-esque “teen columnist” for my hometown newspaper, etc.), but the first comic I had published was a black and white anthology thing called “Childish Delusions of Grandeur and Superiority” (worst title ever), published by Indieonly Comics and illustrated by a local guy who actually hated the script, but agreed to draw the whole thing if I paid the printing bill.
I genuinely start feeling physically weak if I’m within three yards of the thing. It’s my kryptonite.
To all the up-and-comers out there, though: it’s worth it. You’re going to put out absolute crap for a few years. Everybody has like, three years of Not Good they have to get out of their system when they start. At least.
Just power through, keep working as hard and as often as you possibly can, and don’t act cocky ’til you can back it up.
What genres have you done and where are you feeling the most comfortable now?
So far I’ve done a romance graphic novel called “Horrible Little People” and a sci-fi graphic novel called “Awesomenaut” through Modern Mythology Press, four horror comics (Zombies Vs. Cheerleaders #3, #4, #5 & #7), another romance thing for Spazdog Press’ “Unite and Take Over Volume II”, a subversive superhero commentary called “Blackest Terror” and a fantasy book called “Thor, Unkillable Thunder Christ” with Moonstone Books, and a straight-up-superhero-pop thing for BDI called “Electric Youth”.
This is a typically bullshit writer response, but: I tend to treat everything the same way. The process is all the same, and it’s just the window dressing that changes. Genre doesn’t have that much of an impact on the creative process. I suppose there’s more symbolism with genre work than with straight stuff, it makes it easier to play with archetypes, but that’s it.
Story is story. The basic rules still apply.
I guess my heart is in romance stuff, really—but there isn’t much of a market for it right now, so I have to sneak it into the other stuff, in between the action sequences and the wizards giving exposition, or whatever.
Your Experience as a self published and published with a Company?
I self-published through Modern Mythology Press, a company I formed with the illustrator who co-created Horrible Little People with me, and realized 99% of my early work—and that led to comic con panels and other speaking engagements, wherein I got to meet and schmooze with editors.
The first guy who ever offered me real, honest-to-Rao, Diamond solicited work was Steven Frank from Moonstone. I can’t thank that guy enough.
Steve, if you’re reading this, I freaking love all of your guts.
The thought process for your new book?
“Thor: Unkillable Thunder Christ” is the most fun thing I’ve ever written. It’s drawn by the phenomenal Ander Sarabia, published by Moonstone books, and available via every comic book store on the planet. If your local shop doesn’t have any on-shelf, ask them to order you a copy. It’s only $2.99, and it’ll blow your mind.
Essentially, it’s about the role of Gods in modern society. The tag line is:
“Real Gods don’t get nailed to crosses, they bludgeon their enemies to death with giant hammers”
It’s a pretty standard superhero book (there’s people who get brained to death with enchanted hammers, and street savvy vigilantes throwing skull-shaped grenades at corrupt demi-Gods, and all the regular tropes you’d expect), but there’s a real philosophical bent to it. It’s all about leaders of men—be they human, God, or somewhere inbetween—and the responsiblity that’s packaged with that role.
How many issues and contributors for it including any soft release dates and exclusives?
Thor: Unkillable Thunder Christ ships this July. I’m an idiot and the title is ridiculous, so tell your retailer you want a copy or they probably won’t order it—unless they’re awesome.
It’s a one-shot, but it features a cameo from Blackest Terror, my “what if Malcom X were Batman?” character who had his own one-shot last November.
Ander Sarabia, the most talented man in the entire world, drew both of them. He’s amazing, and I live in constant fear of C.B. Cebulski swooping in and stealing him to go work on Man-Thing, or something.
any other projects you have going on or coming up that you can announce?
My next handful of projects happen to be coming out through Big Dog Ink, the fine folks who publish Critter, Penny For Your Soul and The Legend of Oz: Wicked West.
Electric Youth drops this November, and it’s a about a scummy teen speedster who finds himself stranded in a nightmarish parallel dimension wherein all of the heroes he relies upon to keep his homeworld spinning act equally as self-serving and turdishly as he does, and he has to come to terms with that whole “be the change you wish to see in the world” thing everybody keeps talking about. It takes place in the same universe as Critter, and it’s drawn by Rene Michelettiof Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, and Gladiator vs. Supreme fame.
And this is a Bleeding Cool Exclusive—I’ve literally not told a single soul about this until right now—I’m also writing a 3 issue mini-series spinning off the “Jack Pumpkinhead” character from The Legend of Oz: Wicked West into his own story. I love the Weird West sub-genre, and literally the only thing I enjoy about living in Arizona for the time being is that I’m surrounded by the ghosts of gunslingers, so I’m pretty effin’ stoked.
Were can they find you in the viral world?
I’m on facebook (www.Facebook.com/
Cons for the rest of the year?
I’m sort of a recluse. I’ve been invited to The Phoenix Comicon so I’ll definitely be there…I pretty much just do The Tucson Comicon, Amazing Arizona Con, and PhoCo (I’m really trying to get that on. Please, America, if you’re going to Phoenix Comicon: refer to it as “PhoCo”. For me).
Does anybody out there in the internet-land want me to come to their con? Invite me and I’ll probably show up. Unless there’s, like, a James Bond marathon on TV or something.
Any words of encouragement for new creators?
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. We don’t need more Kelly Sue Deconnicks or Alan Moores or Larry Hamas or whatever. We need you, and the weird, messed up, painful, joyous experiences that are 100% unique to you.
You’re not here for a reason. Nobody is pulling for you to succeed.
Do it anyway.