SPX Talks: Jim Rugg / by Patrick Smith

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I think it would be fair to say Jim Rugg helped in some small way to set me down this weird path of writing about comic books.  He was one of my first guests on my college radio show where I interviewed comics creators, which might as well have been a precursor for what I do here, and also reading Street Angel and Afrodisiac were both HUGE books in terms of my development as a comics reader. Because of that, I think it would be fair to say that in many ways Rugg is my favorite working cartoonist right now, which is apparent when you read this interview where I barely restrain myself from becoming a drooling fanboy. I suppose I wasn't the only one, because during the two days I spent at SPX the Ruggs section of the AdHouse table always seemed to be teeming with fans of his work and I barely managed to snag this interview with him until the absolute last minute where we were able to talk about SPX, his podcast Tell Me Something I Don't Know, and embracing opportunities as they present themselves. Spandexless: So Jim, how’s SPX been for you so far?

Jim Rugg: It's been fantastic, I’ve been doing this show for ten years and I think this is the best show I’ve done here in terms of number of people stopping by and great books that I’ve picked up and various word of mouth I’ve heard from friends of mine here, it’s been a really nice year this year.

S: This is my first time here and I’ve really been enjoying this show, almost to the point where I’m legitimately surprised at how much I’m enjoying myself. I think that’s because the only other big show I’ve been to is the New York con, which is a nice show but compared to this it's all so clean and nice and I don’t have to worry about wandering through a lingering cloud of creepiness or anything.

JR: I think you could find some creepiness here if you look hard enough, but it's definitely a different atmosphere than like a New York Comic Con or a San Diego.

S: Right, so one thing I wanted to talk to you about is that you recently started up a podcast called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know and I think when I first found out about it I got really angry on Twitter and said something along the lines of “HEY! None of you told me Jim Rugg started a podcast?!? I’m disappointed in ALL OF YOU.” [laughs] And it’s a really interesting podcasts because your talking to artists like Tom Scioli and Rob Liefeld, and that alone was just inspired. Because no matter how you look at it Liefeld is an important guy and your talk revealed a lot more than some of the more traditional interview outlets would have ever been able to do, so I want to know, what was the impetus for starting that project?

JR: Wow, we could talk for a long time about this. I work as a freelancer, and I work mostly alone and I listen to a lot of talk media whenever I’m working and I started listening to podcasts heavily a few years ago, and after awhile I started to think about how they’re made and wanting to make my own. I went through some career development programming in the last couple of years and one of them grouped a number of artists together from different disciplines and I was the only cartoonist in the group and it was just this fantastic experience, it was a lot of fun sharing our experiences in practical terms like business stuff and how to make ends meet as an artist, how to balance creativity with everyday commitments. After the program I wanted every artist and cartoonist I know, I wanted to share that information with them. And so those two things came together to inspire the podcast. My friend Jason Lex, who co-hosts the show and co-created it with me, is also a freelancer, or had been at the time and had been listening to a lot of podcasts and we just wanted to talk to artists, about how they do what they do. It seems like everybody’s real life experience in a creative field is a little bit different and it’s a chance to talk shop and have actual examples at how different things work for different people and hopefully a lot of listeners are also aspiring or practicing artists and can pick up little bits of pieces here and there that can make their practice more effective.

S: That’s very interesting, because speaking for myself as a guy who writes about comics A LOT I’ve really found it to be an invaluable resource because I’ve been trying to learn more about art in general because I feel like too many of us only talk about the writing aspect of comics with the art being almost an afterthought, which is frankly kind of bullshit, and with your podcast I frequently go “Oh, I’ve never thought about it like that in terms of art” so its been a big help for me as well as introducing other people to a lot of artists that they might not have known about before.

JR: I’m very glad to hear that, thank you, and yeah we talk to other artists from other disciplines because whenever I was working with them I realized how much we have in common, you know the creative process there’s like ninety five percent overlap between what we do and what a filmmaker does or a musician does or a painter and sometimes it just comes down to looking at our own practice from a different angle. Also, we live in a time – like when I grew up, comics readership were even broken down into “I read Marvel” or “I read DC” and that slowly changed and expanded into where Manga was a separate readership, and now I feel like I live in a world where everything is combined and not just in the comics world but in art in general. I meet a lot of people who like comics AND architecture AND movies or whatever, so I think we’re just more open as people you know. We all have these Venn diagrams of what overlaps and you and I might have a favorite TV show in addition to reading some comics.

S: That’s absolutely true I think. Getting back to your comics, its been…three years since Afrodisiac came out?

JR: That sounds right.

S: Ok, so unless I missed something that was your last project with your co-creator Brian Marruca but the last time we spoke we talked briefly about a webcomic you guys were going to do called U.S. Ape. I don’t know if that ever came out or if it's in some part of the internet that I don’t visit or something like that so I was wondering if we could talk about whatever happened to that?

JR: So U.S.Ape appeared in an anthology, a big newsprint anthology called Pood, and there were four installments and the webcomic did not come to pass for, you know, a million different reasons, but we are working on a project now where U.S. Ape will be a character. So long story short is I have to pay the bills as a freelancer, I do a lot of illustration work to do that and I’ve been fortunate to have some interesting opportunities. I had an art show in LA earlier this summer which was fantastic and it was a chance to just do drawings so I’m trying to embrace these opportunities because its something that’s exciting and the best thing in the world is to wake up in the morning and be so excited about what I’m drawing that day.

S: You’ve also been popping up in some anthologies here and there, you were in the Rub the Blood anthology I think, and one other I forget the name of, right?

JR: Yeah, I do a lot of anthology work. Rub the Blood is a pretty great one, that was one I was excited to be in.

S: Yeah, I don’t own that one myself but a friend lent it to me before he eventually said to me “Pat you HAVE to give it back.” at which point I said “But I don’t want to!” [laughs]. But you know I guess I should have given some money to the Kickstarter, ah well. So you were talking about the art show, and you have a new art book out called Notebook Drawings, which is being published by AdHouse and this book looks like its in a spiral bound notebook which I think as far as art books go is a new one. So I wanted to know how that came about and how AdHouse came to publish it?

JR: Well, I’ve known AdHouse for years. I did anthology work for them and then they published the Afrodisiac collection, which did fairly well for us and I love Chris’s attention to detail and design and so working with him any opportunity I get is kind of a no-brainer. So with the ball point drawings, early on I did them all in a notebook and pretty early on we were talking about some sort of print version of these and how we could do it and he found a printer that could do spiral binding as part of their process which became a no-brainer. Once we saw a reproduction that looked like an actual notebook it was obvious this was the way to print it. It's probably a cross between an art book and a – I describe it as a catalogue for the show, so there are notes about the pieces in the front.

S: Ok, so that’s illustration and you also have a mini-comic here at the show so I wanted to talk to you about that and any comics work you have coming up, if any?

JR: Well the book that your referring to is an adzine that Jason Lex, my co-host from the podcast and I put together. We started interviewing a number of zinemakers and book makers, and I love design and I love printed matter and so I started wanting to see what I could produce on my own like using cheap ink jet printers and cheap papers and things. So the first project that I’ve done that way is this zine, basically it's an edition of forty and each page is hand cut and I printed myself from four different paper stocks which I’ll actually be posting a big process post this week about it on my website.

S: Oh cool!

JR: It's fairly extensive but I met a guy, Jason Carnes who is a cartoonist out of Illinois, and he does comics and sells them mail order online and they’re color comics on newsprint. And it was amazing, when I first saw one it was the most beautiful comic so I emailed him and asked him “How did you do this?” and he told me he used an ink jet printer and you can sort of adjust the ink on each page so it looks little bit faded like an old comic. You realize there are ways to produce almost anything you want to make now and I like making things.

S: So why shouldn’t you!

JR: Yeah! And the particular content in this thing is ads and I love advertising and I love back issues of old comics and a lot of stores where I live have just ben dumping their back issues, and a lot of stores don’t even carry back issues anymore and I think a lot of comic book readers read their comics through collections or digital versions and if you do that you’ll never see these ads and some of them are by Jack Kirby and Charles Burns CC Beck and Jack Davis and Todd McFarlane and all of these celebrated comic artists and yet this work is not being archived so this is just a small collection of some of the outstanding advertising that’s occurred back to the 1940’s and up until the 2000’s.

S: I remember some older ads from back issues I just happened to have when I was a kid, in particular there were some from the seventies for like “Tasty Pops” or something and they usually went “Oh no we don’t have any tasty pops, and then Captain America swings in and goes BAM Tasty Pops for everybody” which even back then I couldn’t help thinking was crazytown.

JR: It's amazing to look at the ads over the years, especially with the political climate changes and these print ads you get to see a record of how things were.

S: It's interesting to see most ads, at least the ones I’ve really looked at, the ones that are ultimately entertaining are so by accident which I think is interesting.

JR: Well certainly most of anything is bad.

S: Very true. All right, last question is one I’ve been trying to ask everyone I’ve talked to today, and that is, what is one thing you’ve seen at SPX that’s made you excited for comics?

JR: Oof, yeah, we often ask guests in advance if there are questions like this, something they can think about, because this show offers so much, you know? My favorite part of the show is getting to catch up with people that I see once or twice a year an have built relationships with over the years because the love of our lives is comics so it's really a chance to catch up with friends and close friends that I don’t get to see personally very often.

You can find more of Jim Rugg's work on his website and follow him on Twitter for updates on his upcoming work. 

*Header image copyright Jim Rugg and stolen from his Facebook cover photo because Beth didn't get a picture of him either and thinks it's a supercool drawing.