Jim Mahfood is all over the place these days. The artist who many first discovered on “Clerks: The Comic Book” with Kevin Smith or his creator-owned book “Grrl Scouts,” has a number of projects in the works right now and that suits him just fine.
First and foremost, Mahfood has “Hawken: Melee” #2 from Archaia, which hit comiXology earlier this year and will be out as a physical comic in December. The book takes place in the world of the “Hawken” MMORPG, but the game makers gave the eclectic creator relatively free reign to weave a story revolving around a hot shot mech pilot who winds up on the wrong side of his teammates after one too many reckless missions.
In addition to that book, his work will soon be seen on a line of Nike sportswear as well as an upcoming “Miami Vice” comic from Lion Forge Comics. If you’re looking for something that’s more of a retrospective, he also has the new art book “Visual Funk: Jim Mahfood Art” currently available from IDW Publishing. CBR News talked to Mahfood about working in the “Hawken” universe, looking back on the past few years for “Funk” and even getting into the future of the animated series “Disco Destroyer.”
CBR News: How did you get involved with writing and drawing the second issue of the “Hawken: Melee” series?
Jim Mahfood: I met Mike Kennedy who was an editor over at Archaia. He approached me at Emerald City Comicon and just approached me about the project. We both live in Los Angeles so it was easy to meet up, keep talking about the ideas and it eventually came to be.
What drew you into the world of “Hawken?”
I like the futuristic, post-apocalyptic vibe of it. I’m a big “Blade Runner” fan. So, anything futuristic, I’m into. Also, the giant robots. You can’t go wrong with giant robots.
Had you played the game at all or have you since signing on for the project?
No, I’m not really a big video game guy just because I can’t have a system in my apartment because it will prevent me from getting my work done. So, I steer clear of a lot of that stuff. It’s cool stuff, I just don’t really have the time.
That can be a real rabbit hole for people. You have a few extra minutes and you wind up blowing stuff up for an hour.
Completely. It becomes one of those addictive things. Even the internet becomes like that, where you’re surfing around for two minutes and the next thing you know you’re on some site and you have no idea how you got there and it’s an hour later.
The “Hawken” story revolves around a pilot named Lance who’s basically a loudmouth jerk and the other people in his unit who have to deal with him. How did that develop?
The original idea was I wanted to do a spoof of these athletes who get busted for using performance enhancing drugs. So I made the main character based loosely on Lance Armstrong. The video game people kind of wanted to downplay the performance enhancing drug aspect of it. So we kind of morphed that into, what if he’s one of these cocky celebrity hot shot star pilots to the point where his behavior jeopardizes the lives of his teammates. He’s out for himself, one of these show-boating guys. The joke of it at the end is that he gets what’s coming to him.
Toward the end of the issue, I actually got a strong EC Comics vibe as Lance started getting punished for his crimes. Were those books an influence at all?
Oh cool. I like that. I didn’t even really correlate that. The story definitely takes a turn where, once he gets drugged and realizes what’s going on, it suddenly turns into this not-so-fun, tripped-out thing where he realizes he’s powerless to do anything. He realizes all the horrible things he’s done and it’s too late for him. It was one of those things where we wanted to pack in a morality lesson in 20 pages. You kind of have to go from one thing to another, but I think we fit it in there nicely.
The story worked well as a one-off story that both introduced “Hawken” fans to your work and the world of “Hawken” to your fans. Is that cross-pollination part of the plan?
For sure. I like doing projects like this. Even though I’m not a huge video game guy, the idea that the video game people and “Hawken” fans might check out my work for the first time, I like that kind of a project.
Let’s say someone just discovered your work through “Hawken: Melee” #2 and enjoyed it. What book of yours would you recommend they check out next?
I would immediately tell them to check out the “Tank Girl” series I did which is called “Everybody Loves Tank Girl.” It’s a three-issue collection, there’s a hardcover out from Titan Books. Even though “Tank Girl” is a different attitude, it does sort of have similar aspects like the tanks, guns, over-the-top characters and sort of a military vibe. It’s Tank Girl and that’s a-whole-‘nother built-in audience as well.
Either that, or I just put out my very first big coffee table art book through IDW called “Visual Funk.” That is a big 256-page collection of my best stuff from the last five years. If people were attracted to the story, just based off of the art and the look of it, there’s a whole art book of that stuff out there now.
When you’re putting together a retrospective book like that, do you have trouble narrowing down what to include?
That took a long process of self editing. I basically took five years [of my past work] and figured out the layout of the book and the sections the book is divided into. It’s divided into these sections where it’s like “Illustrations,” “Body Painting on Girls,” “Mural Art,” “Advertising” and “Commercial Work” and within those I picked my favorite pieces. It took about five months to design the books which is a lot.
How does it feel looking back on your past work? Some artists don’t like checking out old comics because they’re never quite happy with what they turn in.
It’s hard for me to look back because I always enjoy looking forward and my latest work is always my most favorite thing I’m doing. For this book, that’s why I stopped at five years ago. It starts with two or three pieces from 2008 and immediately goes into more stuff from 2009 and the bulk of the book is 2011, 2012 and 2013. I think my style really started to come into its own and is getting to where I want it to be. It is hard, for me anyway, to look back just because I’m self critical of the work.
It sounds like you were able to enjoy the process and also walk down memory lane a bit. It can be good to look back sometimes.
Yeah, sure, and at some point I will do a big career retrospective art book with really old stuff and the Kevin Smith “Clerks” stuff, but with this one I just wanted to do what I think is my best stuff from the last four or five years. So, people who are discovering my work right now, new fans, new people on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, this is the book I can direct them too and say, “This is exactly what I do.” You can get this book and it’s the end-all, be-all of what do.
Something else you’re working on is the animated “Disco Destroyer” via MTV’s revived Liquid Television with Joe Casey and Scott Mosier. What is that process like and did it turn out how you thought it would?
The process was amazing because we got to work with Titmouse animation studios and I think they’re the best guys out there doing animation. We worked intensely close together on doing these two episodes. They really, really honored my style and my artistic style. The stuff came out way better than I thought it would.
Me and my partners Scott Mosier and Joe Casey were very, very satisfied with the end project. Dealing with MTV was a little weird. We did two episodes for them with the hope of making more and, as it stands, it sounds like MTV’s Liquid Television thing, they release it as packages on iTunes, so you can get both episodes on iTunes, but it sounds like that’s sort of it for now.
The good news is, we own the show, we own the IP. Scott, Joe and I are going to go out and shop it around to other studios and see if we can make more.
The clips I saw felt like such a cool mix of your own original sensibilities along with classic ’70s and ’80s films like “Road Warrior” and “The Warriors.”
Thank you. If you’re a pop culture guy, you get the references. It was a lot to pack into three minutes, but I’m really proud of it. It’s thrilling to actually see my stuff moving and animated. We’re just waiting for the next thing which is shopping it around to see if we can find somebody to give us money to make more.
Have you talked about going the crowd funding route like Kickstarter or does it make more sense to go through more traditional channels?
We’re going to see if we can get a studio. We might consider doing Kickstarter, but we would like to have someone behind it that handles the business end of it. I love Kickstarter, but half of your job becomes handling the Kickstarter program, the business of that and keeping track of your customers. It almost subtracts from the creative process, I think. If we did “Disco” through Kickstarter it’s almost like we would need to hire someone to run and handle the Kickstarter campaign so we could make a show.
Right now, that’s not out of the question, but we all live in Los Angeles so we all have access to the studios and meetings, so we’re going to go the old school route of shopping it around. We can actually go into peoples’ offices with two finished cartoons and say, “Here’s our team. Here’s exactly what we want to make.” Titmouse is already attached. We just need money and a network to put it on. It’s kind of an easy package because people will either say yes or no.
With creator Dan Harmon back on “Community,” is there potential for more “Kickpuncher” comics like the one in the season one DVD set?
Oh man, I wish. I hope. That was such a fun gig. I see Dan from time to time around town. We’re still buddies and I’m excited that he got back on and is involved in “Community” again. It’s basically his decision, but I would jump at the chance to draw more of that because it was so fun and ridiculous. “Community” has such a built-in fanbase that the people who saw that book really liked it. It’s kind of Dan’s call, if he wants to do more, I would definitely say yes.
What other projects are you working on now that you can talk about in addition to “Hawken: Melee?”
Let me see here. I just finished some stuff for Nike, which is pretty exciting. I have some T-shirt designs coming out through their new basketball street wear line. I’m doing a project for the new comic book publisher out of St. Louis called Lion Forge. Joe Casey and I are doing a “Miami Vice” project for them.
I don’t know if i can say too much about it, but I think it launches in 2014. We just started it and it’s going to be really fun. I’m really excited about drawing it. It’s just our version of “Miami Vice.” So, however weird, surreal and interesting we can make it, it’s our take on that.
Do you know how many issues that project will be at this point?
We haven’t figured that out yet. We’re still figuring out the project. I’ve created some promotional art for it and Joe and I have signed on as the team. That’s probably all I can say about it.
Jim Mahfood’s “Visual Funk” is available right now and the physical version of “Hawken: Melee” #2 from Archaia hits in December.