Fans of Jay Stephens‘ work, more than almost any other creator working today, have a hard time explaining exactly what it is about his work that they like. The creator of “Jetcat,” “Oddville” and “Land of Nod” does books that are superficially for kids, but go deeper beneath the surface and you’ll discover … well, they’re still pretty much for kids, with a hard-to-pin-down adult appeal as well.
Stephens describes his current Oni Press series, “Jetcat Clubhouse,” as “genre-crushing. The Hollywood pitch might be ‘Little Rascals meets ’60s Batman meets Tex Avery’s Looney Tunes.’ A funnybook. A comic book.
“I think my work is post-ironic, really,” Stephens told CBR News. “Anyway, it sounds cool to say ‘post-ironic.’ I try to make fun out of every comic project I take on, without resorting to making fun of something. The bulk of North American humor is ridicule-based, a sort of ‘this is you!,’ Saturday Night Live vibe. I’m trying to work beyond that and create works that are uncomfortably funny just in and of themselves. That’s why the stuff seems so ‘off-kilter’ … it is! Not exactly parody or satire, but certainly not straight, either. I try not to resort to the standard shocks … which are less and less shocking every day … and work instead with a new kind of unexpected to get my laughs.”
While “Jetcat Clubhouse” is squarely aimed at a kid audience, it’s well-read by adults. That’s a phenomenon all kids comics face in the current market, but it’s also something Stephens approves of.
“The best comic books and strips of all time (‘Peanuts,’ early ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘Thimble Theater,’ ‘Little Lulu,’ ‘Krazy Kat,’ ‘In the Night Kitchen,’ ‘Plastic Man,’ ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ just to name a few…) all had appeal amongst adults and kids alike. I don’t see any point in trying to create lasting works that target only one or the other. Comics have an obvious, immediate attraction for kids that the comic book industry has spent decades trying to eliminate and destroy, and look at the result! My target audience is anyone with a sense of humor, and $3.25 of disposable cash.”
For those with a bit more disposable cash, Oni is currently reprinting Stephens’ previous works in paperback collections. And while readers may be getting acquainted with the slightly off superheroes of “Atomic City Tales,” don’t expect a huge influx of any new material with some of his older creations.
“If I was an octopus with chronic insomnia, I’d be working on new comics featuring all my various creations simultaneously! I love all my characters dearly. As it is, I need to line up new ideas and projects single-file, and the priority shifts from month to month as magazine and animation commitments alter the schedule. There is a new Atomic City project coming to the front of the line at the end of 2002, though.”
As for the future, look for Stephens to be going back to the past initially, care of Oni.
“Well, like you said, Oni will be pumping out a series of TPB collections in the coming months, including all new ‘Atomic City,’ ‘Jetcat Clubhouse,’ and ‘Land of Nod’ collections. I continue to experience great success with the monthly ‘Chick and Dee’ strip I do for Chickadee magazine, and we have another summer comics digest in the works. The Tutenstein and Jetcat animated cartoons are still moving forward (at a snail’s pace), at Discovery Kids, and a certain venerable company beginning with ‘W,’ respectively. And there are more animation and gaming projects in early development. And more secret stuff. Get back to me in another month or two!”