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November 11, 2009

Artist of the Month: Jeff Wilson

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Written by: Josh
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Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson

In the current economic climate, everyone could use a few more ‘dead presidents.’ So, if you’re not receiving a chunk of cash via a stimulus check, may I suggest some ‘not-so-dead presidents’ to get you through the recession? Jeff Wilson is the illustrator of Robot Lincoln and Zombie Jackson. Together with comic writer Craig Garrett, he’s co-created one of the most outrageous and hilarious comics book concepts to date. It stars Abraham Lincoln’s brain encased in a robotic body and a zombified Andrew Jackson. OK, so it’s not exactly a government bail-out, but it will definitely keep you entertained between rolling quarters and eating Spaghetti-Os out of a can. At least, that’s been the case for me.

If you haven’t heard of this comic, then please take the time to check it out at robot-zombie.com. You can go to this website and read the entire issue for free as a web comic. At the end of November, hard copies of the issue with be shipped and available on their website for three bucks each. Not bad for a self published title. The first three issues will be released individually with a black and white interior, and then later collected into a full color graphic novel.

Recently, I contacted, Jeff Wilson, in hopes to feature him in my inaugural entry into the Artist of the Month column. Upon exchanging numbers and setting up an interview, Jeff also said he would be more than happy to e-mail me some exclusive sketches for the article. After the formality of introductions, the interview turned more into a conversation, with both of us chatting about comics for a while. I assured him the interview would take about forty-five minutes to an hour, but he graciously talked to me for almost two hours. For the purpose of coherence, I have excluded my seemingly endless banter. Thus, narrowing it down to the essential ‘Q & A’ from our conversation.

The interview with self-published comic illustrator, Jeff Wilson, went as follows:

How old are you?
30

Where are you originally from?
Gallatin and Hendersonville, [ two small towns in Tennessee, just north of Nashville]

How has your location influenced you, creatively and artistically?
As far as the comic that Craig and I did (Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson), it has influenced us pretty heavily. Living in this area, it seems like everyone has visited The Hermitage, or at least they know something about it. [Andrew Jackson] is a huge part of the local heritage. Also, Eric Powell is a local artist who’s had a huge influence on me lately. Actually, [Eric’s book, The Goon] is the only comic that I’m keeping up with at the moment.

When did you first start reading comics?
Probably in the 6th grade, just before Image [Comics] started. The 1st day of school, a kid handed me a Spider-Man comic that had been illustrated by Eric Larson. After that, I was really into Eric Larson’s work. I started going to comic shops and looking for his work. Shortly after, Image came out. I was into all the original titles [from that publisher], but I was really into [Larson’s]  Savage Dragon.

Would you consider yourself a loner?
Not really. I grew up in a small town, and I didn’t live close to any kids my age. There weren’t any neighbors nearby, so I spent a lot of time in my room drawing, and that’s where my illustration skills started to develop. I just loved [drawing,] it was a lot of fun. I would draw my own [comic book] characters and bring them to school and share them with my friends. Overall, though, I’m a pretty social person now.

Did you ever get in trouble for drawing at school?
Not too much. I kept it hidden for the most part.  I would usually save it for after class. I definitely worked more on drawing than I did homework though.

Historically, who is your favorite artist and why?
My main influence comes from comic book artists. But as far as historically, I would say Norman Rockwell. His work is realistic with a touch of exaggeration. I just like how detailed his pieces are.

Who are your biggest artistic influences in the comic book community?
I started getting into comics in the early-90s, and I stopped collecting comics in the mid-90s for a while. So, I would say a lot of the superstar artists from the early-90s still influence my work pretty heavily. Especially Jim Lee. Also, I think of Eric Powell as a pretty strong influence.

In my review of your comic for Examiner.com, I speculated that your work appeared to be influenced by Kevin Rubio? Was that an accurate assumption?
Who’s Kevin Rubio?

You know, the guy that did the Star Wars: Tag and Bink mini series.
Oh yeah! I know him. I like Kevin Rubio’s art, too. I’m sure it was an influence in a subconscious way.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Depends on the day. I prefer to be a night owl (laughs), but i have to go to work and everything.

When are you most inspired?
Right after I look at a bunch of comic books. I like to flip through five or six comics to get the creative juices flowing. I mostly look at the pictures, but even if I read just one comic, i can be inspired.

Are your creative habits healthy? Any binge drinking, coffee chugging, or chain smoking to help motivate the process?
Nah. I associate comics with my childhood. When I sit down to draw, I feel like I’m twelve [years old] again. It’s a pretty pure process, and I consider it healthy.

How would you describe your creative process?
Depends on what I’m working on. If I’m illustrating comics, I’ll put on a super hero movie, or have a comic to read while I’m working.

Do you listen to music when you draw?
I’m a big Radiohead and They Might Be Giants fan. Also, I’m a Bob Dylan fan, and I like to listen to The Features when I’m working. Some friends of mine made a movie called Make Out With Violence, and The Non-Commissioned Officers did the sound track. I’ve been listening to that a lot lately too.

What’s your favorite medium as an artist?
I was into photography in college, but I never kept up with that. I’m more of an illustrator and a painter. I’m also a graphic designer too, so I use photoshop pretty regularly too.

What was the harshest criticism you’ve ever received?
I’m really sensitive to that kind of thing. I was nervous about doing the comic at first because of a fear of negative feedback. I would say I’m my harshest critic. It irritates me to look at my old stuff and see any imperfections.

Your biggest compliment?
A compliment from anyone I don’t know. I mean, you expect compliments from friends and family, and I’m not saying it doesn’t mean anything when I get compliments from them. It’s just really encouraging for an absolute stranger to dig your stuff.

What kind of graphic design work have you done?
I used to work at a screen printing shop where I designed NASCAR logos for T-shirts (pauses and laughs). People always laugh when I tell them that. I also used to design T-shirts and briefs for Fruit of the Loom’s Fun Pals’ line. It’s basically the modern version of Underoos.  Essentially, I would design cartoon and comic book character logos for childern’s underwear.

Are any of your Fun Pals’ designs still on the shelf anywhere?
Probably not. It’s been about two years since I worked there, so my designs have probably cycled out by now.

Have you ever had your artwork shown at an art gallery?
Never before. I don’t know if I would [show my work in an art gallery] or not. I’m pretty shy about that kind of stuff, but I guess I’m not completely opposed to it.

How would you describe your art style?
My art is expressive and cartoonish. I prefer for my work to be detailed in realistic proportions, but exaggerated. But not too exaggerated.

Where did the idea for the Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson comic originate from?
I did a painting of Abraham Lincoln as a robot, and Craig [Garrett] saw it and he suggested that I do a painting  of Andrew Jackson as a zombie. He said, he thought Andrew Jackson always looked like a zombie anyway. I was like, you’re so right! And I started painting the next day. The idea for the [Robot Lincoln and Zombie Jackson] comic came shortly after I finished both of those paintings. [Craig and I] had been talking about doing a comic book together for a while. One day, we were on the phone brainstorming. And I don’t know who suggested using characters from the painting, but it just immediately clicked.

How would you describe it to someone who has never heard of it?
It’s sort of a very fictional version of history. Because it involves historical figures set in a very specific time setting, people can be a little picky about the specifics. Someone asked me, “was Thomas Edison really alive during that time period?’ (laughs) Stuff like that. It also has the Zombie element, but I wouldn’t call it a horror comic. It’s more of a comedy. It takes place shortly after [Abraham] Lincoln is assassinated, and they put his brain into a robotic body, so that he’s able to live on. Shortly after that, [Robot Lincoln] is sent to The Hermitage to stop a zombified Andrew Jackson from eating people’s brains. [Jackson] is the problem. Lincoln is the solution.

What kind of feedback have you received about the comic?
Shortly after the comic came out, we got a good review from Ain’t it Cool News, and I actually became reacquainted with an old friend from college because he saw that review. I was afraid of more negative feedback, because we put ourselves out there on the web, and people on the internet can be very mean. But overall, it’s been a lot of good feedback.

Your comic is exceptionally unique. Do you think people get it? Ya know. The story? The humor?
Yeah, I think so. Usually when I describe it to people, they laugh and seem to understand where the story’s going. We’ve gotten some minor criticism that it’s not historically accurate, but I say, suspend disbelief. It’s all in fun.

Had you ever illustrated a comic before co-creating Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson with Craig [Garrett]?
I had never finished one before. I worked on a comic called Space Monkey 3000 with a friend of mine, and Craig took a stab at writing it. We would get five or six pages in, then I would want to restart it. I never finished that comic.

Why not?
I had an idea of what I wanted the comic to be, but I couldn’t flesh it out. So, I finally put that project to rest. I do wish I would have at least finished one issue, though.

How did you meet Craig Garrett, [the co-creator of Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson]?
I met him when I was in high school. We went to different schools and my cousin went to [Craig’s] School. I was starting a band and he played bass. My cousin got his number and I ‘cold-called’ him one night. When he answered the phone, I was like, is this Craig? And he was like,”uhhh yeah.” It was a little awkward at first, but we ended up talking about comics for a while, and we really hit it off from that point. We’ve been friends ever since.

Is there a political statement being made with this comic?
Not really. Not from my standpoint. The whole thing just kind of fell together. Craig’s done a ton of research, and he worked that into the story. It was not my intention personally to make a political statement, but I can’t speak for Craig.

What are your thoughts on Lincoln and Jackson as historical figures?
I don’t know. I’ve always had a fascination with Abraham Lincoln. Also, growing up in Tennessee, I heard a lot about Andrew Jackson with him having lived here. I went to a field trip to the Heritage (Jackson’s historical estate in Middle Tennessee) when I was seven or eight. I think everybody around here went there when they were in school.

Who are your political heroes?
I’m not much of a political person. My dad was really intrigued by John F. Kennedy. He has all these books on him, and has a pretty extensive knowlege about JFK. He was thirteen when Kennedy was assassinated. That [event] had a huge impact on him.

Have you and Craig clashed on anything while working together on Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson?
I think there was one thing in the first issue. There was a line that Craig put in, as a homage to [the movie] Dead Alive. I got it, but I was afraid that people would’ve thought we were stealing it rather than paying homage. In retrospect, I was probably wrong on that one. If you had seen the movie, you would have gotten the reference.

How would you describe a standard brain-storming session with Craig?
We’ll be sitting around, and we’ll just start talking about stuff. Ya know. Wouldn’t it be funny if…? Wouldn’t it be cool if…? We’re just joking around saying ‘what if.’ That’s about it.

Craig moved to California this past June. How has that effected the creative process and the momentum of the comic?
Actually, I visited him in August. I wanted to have all the illustrations done before I saw him, so that we could celebrate. But overall, I’d say it’s slowed down a bit. Craig is a huge motivator for me. It helped when he lived nearby and we were hanging out and talking regularly. I called him Friday and he’s written the second issue, and we’ve got some ideas for the third. We also talked about [some ideas for future issues] while I was visiting him [in California].

Do you have any other projects in the works other than comics and your graphic design stuff?
Not really. I’m working on some freelance stuff here and there. Nothing extremely interesting.

When will hard copies of Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson be available for purchase?
They’ll be available really soon. I received the proof [of the first comic,] and there was a problem with the ink on the cover. So, it’ll probably be the end of November before they’re available.

Anything else to add?
Nah, that’s about it I guess.

Below are some pages from Jeff’s sketchbook:

Jackson1

"This is a sketch I did with the intention of shading with pencil and coloring in photoshop to see how it looked. I may still do it but this is as far as I got."-JW

ZombieWilkesBooth1

"A zombie version of John Wilkes Booth makes an appearance in issue two. This is one of the first sketches I did in an attempt to zombify him."-JW

Jefferson

"Continuing the theme of former Presidents, Vampire Thomas Jefferson makes an appearance in issue #2."-JW

sm3k

"This is Mike Chachimpski. Better known as Space Monkey 3000 or SM3K for short."-JW

More Space Monkey 3000 (pencils and ink by Jeff Wilson):

80

'One of my many attempts at creating a cover for SM3K #1."-JW

sm3k3

"In the SM3K universe, Mike and his human friend, James fought lots of aliens called Drells."-JW

The original paintings that started it all:

The Painting that started it all. Robot Lincoln by Jeff Wilson

Robot Lincoln by Jeff Wilson

80

Zombie Jackson by Jeff Wilson

Well, that’s it guys! Again, Thanks to Jeff for his time and thoughts! Hope to see you for next month’s Artist of the Month interview. Until then, have a great month and an awesome Thanksgiving. Before you chow down on your mom’s potato salad, be sure to give thanks to Robot Lincoln. Because of his strong resolve and impenetrable metal skull, brains are off of Zombie Jackson’s menu this holiday season.

More Robot Lincoln and Zombie Jackson goodness: Robot-Zombie.com (Official Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson Website), Robot-Zombie Commercial (Video), Making the Last Page of Robot Lincoln and Zombie Jackson (Video featuring Jeff Wilson), Aint It Cool News Review, Comic By Comic Review, Comic Nashville Comic Books Examiner Review, Yewknee Review, Zombie Jackson’s Myspace, Zombie Jackson Twitter, Robot Lincoln Twitter

Josh Jones
josh@comicattack.net

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5 Comments


  1. billy

    I’m really diggin that Robot Lincoln drawing. Good interview J.



  2. That was fun. When I saw the art, it made me think of someone like Dave Cooper, who can do incredibly beautiful rendered work of the wackiest and sometimes most perverse stuff. This looks like much of the former than the latter, and looks like a lot of laffs.



  3. Great interview Josh! RLZJ sounds hilarious; I’m actually a huge Andrew Jackson fan and am looking forward to hearing more about this work when it hits the stands!


  4. jon ascher

    I’m envious of Mr. Wilson’s brilliance, with ink, paint and creative ideas – i’m a fan.



  5. […] Jones from Comicattack.net was kind enough to feature me in the first “Artist of the Month” column. Head on over […]



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