Welcome to CBR’s third installment of “Artists on the Verge,” a five piece series running all this week.
Yesterday we brought you an interview with Marvel Cover artist Kaare Andrews. Today we take a look at an indie artist that’s lept into the mainstream, Jim Mahfood.
Mahfood discusses with CBR News the challenges of self-publishing, the benefits of working at home, and what it’s like working on the top mainstream characters for Marvel.
Come back tomorrow for our interview with an artist who’s next work teams him with writer Brian Wood.
He’s twenty six, he’s from St. Louis, Missouri, and he’s one of the hottest indie artists in the biz.
His name is Jim Mahfood.
His story is much like the average indie comic book artist in every city. “I pretty much stayed at home throughout my entire high school career and drew my ass off,” Mahfood told CBR News. “I was a big dork. Then I went to art school in Kansas City where I actually learned more from my friends then the teachers.”
Jim Mahfood started out self-publishing his work just to get it into print. While doing work as an inker for local St. Louis comic companies during High School, Mahfood’s friendship with another aspiring artist helped propel him in the right direction. “I met Mike Huddleston (The Coffin) and he taught me about discipline and hard work. He was a crazy mother fucker, and one of the hardest working artists I’d ever met,” said Mahfood. “I learned through observing him.”
After meeting Mike Huddleston, things started to happen for Mahfood.
“We started getting some freelance gigs together from DC and Caliber. I self-published my own books and landed a gig doing the ‘Gen X Underground’ book for Marvel. That led to me meeting the Oni boys and scoring ‘Clerks’. After that the rest is history I guess.”
So far, Mahfood’s history has helped him set up a pretty nice looking future. “I just finished Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, issue nine, with Bendis,” said Mahfood. “I also did an eight page Grendel story for the next Black, White, and Red series, but I’m not sure when that’s coming out. Brian Azzarello and I are doing an eight page Batman story for the back of that Gotham Nights book; not sure what issue. After all that, I’m doing the art for a four-issue mini-series for Oni Press called ‘Shot Callerz.’ Crime novelist Gary Phillips is writing it.”
But, when Mahfood’s done with his daily comic book chores, he turns around and keeps working. “I’m doing freelance illustration work for Star Wars Gamer Magazine and YM Magazine,” said Mahfood.
Going from self-publishing in your bedroom to juggling five or six mainstream books is the sort of success that Mahfood has been working hard to achieve.
“Well, I’m doing Spider-Man and Batman, two of my favorite childhood comic characters. I’d like to do anything revolving around the Batman universe. That shit just looks cool and graphic, ya know? I (also) like that new Batgirl comic.”
But Mahfood’s greatest passion is not working on someone else’s book. “I’d just like to concentrate on my own characters. Like the ‘Girl Scouts’ and ‘Zombie Kid.'”
As much as he loves his indie work, however, Mahfood knows that it’s the costumed characters that pay the rent.
“Superheroes will never go away and that’s fine with me,” said Mahfood. “I dig superheroes if they’re done right. I love non-superhero books like 100 Bullets and Hellblazer. Of course you’re talking to a person who likes variety in everything, especially comics, music, and film.”
Mostly because of Joe Quesada’s willingness to give some of his favorite artists a chance at the big-time, the industry seems to be more open to new talent, and artists like Mahfood now have a chance to make a name for themselves and bring attention to their indie work at the same time.
“This has happened because comics got to such a low point that publishers like Marvel finally said, ‘Screw it, let’s take chances and do whatever we can to boost sales on these books.’ That’s why you’ve got artists like Chynna Clugston-Major (Blue Monday) and myself able to draw Spidey this year. There’s no way Marvel would have let us touch that shit a couple years ago.”
Jim Mahfood is living “La Vida Loca” when it comes to having the best of both worlds. He gets to work on some of the hottest books in the industry, collaborate with the top writers, work on the odd freelance gig to earn extra cash and still keep his self-published book running all at the same time. He wouldn’t have it any other way. The best part? “Bein’ able to stay at home and sit around in shabby clothes, music on full blast drawing my ass off,” said Mahfood.
“The whole outside world gets completey shut off and nothing matters but you and that drawing board in front of you.
“I really enjoy being alone most of the time and comics is very isolating work. So I enjoy that aspect of it. I also enjoy being on the comp lists of some of my favorite publishers, like Oni and Bongo, and gettin’ free comics in the mail!”
But, even with all this positive energy, there’s one thing that can sometimes bring Mahfood down. “Deadlines, man. Also, as far as the indy stuff goes, the money just isn’t there,” said Mahfood. “We should be gettin’ paid way more for this shit. But it’s not really the fault of the publisher’s mind you; it’s due to the fact that superhero books continue to outsell indy stuff by a longshot. We’re working to change that, though.”
So, what’s a typical day like for indy artist Jim Mahfood? It’s grueling. “(I) get up around 11 or 12 in the afternoon. Eat, drink coffee, draw for three or four hours. Ride my skateboard around town and run errands and shit. Come home and work some more. Hook up with a friend and go get some dinner and chill for awhile. Check email and read. Go to a club at night and hear some live music. Come home and watch some cartoons and do some more drawing. Crash out around 2 or 3 am.”
He still finds time in this hectic schedule to read comics, and when he does, it’s usually an indie title, as you might expect. “(I love) this kid Farel who does this book ‘Pop Gun War’,” said Mahfood. “Absolutley brilliant stuff man. I love Johnny Ryan’s stuff on Angry Youth Comics, (and ) Christine Norrie is my girl from back in the day and she’s gonna be huge,” says Mahfood.
For all those aspiring artists out there who read Mahfood’s story and long to follow in his footsteps, he’s only got this to say, “Shut up and draw. If you’re not getting work and no one’s hiring you, that means you’re not ready yet. Keep working until you get a response from someone. It might take three years for you to break in. It might take eight. If you give up, you’re screwed.”