Jim Mahfood: That, to Me, is Awesome

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks


There are some artists whose style is so unique and fun to look at that you just have to sit back and enjoy it on its own terms. That's the case with Jim Mahfood's art. I defy you to find another artist working in comics who draws like him – but that's part of what makes his work so wonderful. From the beginning of his career to his current work on Marijuanaman with Ziggy Marley and Joe Casey, Mahfood has presented work that's exciting, unique and suffused with energy. As you can see from the art that accompanies this interview, Mahfood obviously had a lot of fun working on Marijuanaman; I hope you'll have as much fun reading this interview.

Jason Sacks: How did you approach working on a project likeMarijuanaman?

Jim Mahfood: His people contacted me and just said, "Would you be interested in meeting Ziggy" and "He has an idea." And we all met in L.A. He actually lives, like, ten minutes up the street from me. He had Marijuanaman as a movie script, and he was pitching it around as a movie. He gave me the script and he was like, "Hey, read this. I want to know if we can somehow turn this into a comic book."

So I read it and it was really good and funny. And then I enlisted my buddy Joe Casey, who I've known for, like, 12 years, and asked him if he would be interested in coming on and trying to write it as a book. We needed a real comic book script writer to take a script. He actually went in a totally different direction than the script. The script is more like a comedy, rated-R kind of movie -- like a stoner movie. And we kind of flipped it and took it into a more weird, spiritual, psychedelic direction. Which was cool. I'm a big fan of psychedelic, hard stuff. There's some scenes in the book that are pretty weird and psychedelic. Ziggy is really supportive and just let us go nuts and do our thing.

Sacks: I gotta admit, when I heard the title, I didn't know what to expect. And then I read it last night, as a PDF, and I was blown away.

Mahfood: Oh, did they send it to you?

Sacks: Yeah.

Mahfood: Good.

Sacks: It's gorgeous, man! Gorgeous.

Mahfood: Thanks!

Sacks: When you said "psychedelic," I thought of the scene where they first make love together. Wow, it's like an explosion of color. Just beautiful.

Mahfood: That was Joe, the guy who wrote it. But, yeah, we just did all that stuff and turned it in, and Ziggy was like, wow. He was into it, you know? He was a really easy guy to work with.

Sacks: So you guys threw ideas at him and he guided you a little bit.

Mahfood: He was sort of like the Executive Producer, where we pitched him what we wanted to do, and then I was sending him pages as I was doing them. We did the first five or six pages, and then send him all to him. And he was like, wow, this is great. We would have meeting every now and then, just telling him, like, here's the overall structure of what the book's gonna be, here's what the art's gonna look like. I think halfway through he just started trusting us: "Yeah, do that. Do what you're doing."

Sacks: That must be great. And then you worked for Disney, too. It must be the opposite of them in some ways.

Mahfood: Totally. Disney is very structured with meetings and revisions and going back and forth, committee style. And that's what I like about comics: you get three guys -- me, Joe and Ziggy -- and you just put us in a room and we figure it out. Once you start working on the book, the actual execution of it goes really quickly. I drew the entire book in probably, like, two months. It was colored, done, off to the printer -- it gets made and then two months later you have it in your hand.

And I like that immediacy about comics -- just making your own shit and having it come out. Whereas with TV, movies, it could take years. There's pre-production and revisions and all this bullshit -- you have to have committees and test groups. With comics, if you have an idea and paper and ink, you can just make an idea. A tangible thing.

Sacks: I always think that your work is in that indie spirit. You definitely do your own thing in your own way, and it's not at all the traditional feel. I know it's absolutely the way you want it to be.

Mahfood: Completely. That's why this is an awesome gig -- my style is perfect to draw Marijuanaman. And I think Ziggy and Joe recognize that. I wouldn't be a good monthly artist on, like, Batman or something traditional that's rooted in -- my stuff is rooted in my own reality.

That was my main thing with Ziggy. It was like, if you let me and Joe take this and make it our own thing, where we can really put our stamp on it and it can exist in my world -- what I draw, with my weird shit and psychedelic sex scenes and stuff -- then it's gonna be awesome. And he was like, "Okay!" and he was smart enough to recognize what we do and be like, "Do it with my hair." But it fit perfectly.

Sacks: Would you do some more projects with them? He was talking about doing some more volumes of it.

Mahfood: Yeah. The way that the book ends, it's totally open for more stories. I think we're waiting to see how this does when it comes out on 4/20, and then where it goes from there. I love working with those guys, but at the same time you're doing your art shows and stuff, doing my own stuff, freelancing -- the last two years have been really good. I keep busy.

Sacks: The first thing I ever saw by you was a Generation X special. It must have been 10 years ago? Twelve years ago?

Mahfood: The Underground one with Marvel, yeah. That was '98. I was a young, wee lad when I drew that.

Sacks: What are you doing lately aside from Marijuanaman

Mahfood: I just finished that. I just finished a new campaign for Nissan. I'm making an animated pilot for Disney right now with Scott Mosier, Kevin Smith's producer. That's been going on for about two years. And that's what I was talking about. We were working on a pilot for two years, and that's not even animating it.

Sacks: How do you convey your art style in an animated project?

Mahfood: Disney is really opening up to new ideas and new styles. It's for Disney XD, the boy's action-adventure stuff -- where The Avengers are on, the new Spider-Man cartoon -- so we were able to skew it to an older audience. It's action-adventure with my drawings of monsters and aliens, and they encouraged me to be weird and tripped-out. So I can't wait to see how that translates to animation. We're working on it, but it's a process. It's a process of each week, just making it happen. It moves slowly.

Sacks: Must be almost tempting to just do your own independent video project.

Mahfood: The main thing with Disney, though, is they have the most money to make a great-looking show. So, once they get behind it, they're not afraid to put money into making it look good. And all the other studios in town -- in L.A. -- they want to make shit really, really cheap.

Sacks: But in the end, you're gonna pay anyway. It's not the stuff that's gonna sell on DVD, it's not the stuff people are gonna remember. A lot of companies are starting to starting to figure that out. Animation's still the lazy stepchild in a way.

Mahfood: Now everybody can use Flash and it's very cheap and quick, but if it looks bad, it looks bad. I want stuff to look good.

Sacks: In your own unique kind of way, too.

Mahfood: Totally.

Sacks: Didn't you just recently come out with a book of your own not too long ago?

Mahfood: I did a couple of minicomics. I did this book called Scum of the Earth. I did two volumes of that. I did a book over a year ago called Carl, The Cat that Makes Peanut Butter Sandwiches, about a cat that makes the greatest peanut butter sandwiches in the world. But Marijuanaman is my next big book. I've been keeping busy with all these other projects and stuff. Comics is only half of what I do now.

Sacks: I keep hearing that from people over and over at the convention. Once you get to a level of success you just move into other projects as the nature of things.

Mahfood: I've always been interested in having my art in different forms. Being able to design stuff for Nissan is awesome. I've been doing lots of murals, doing wall installations in clubs around town, gallery shows. I'm all about evolving into different things, in different areas, but still doing comics in one format or another.

Sacks: Never let go of your first love, no matter how little she'll pay you sometimes.

Mahfood: That's the problem. I'm doing indie style, which doesn't pay the bills. You gotta supplement your income with other things.

Sacks: Do you see any hope for change in that? Because a lot of artists are complaining the good stuff just isn't getting read.

Mahfood: It's hard because you have to make people aware. That comes down to marketing and pimping your shit out so people know about it. If people don't know, you could be doing the greatest stuff ever, but it gets passed up. And these days, there's way more information and way more stuff out there to distract you from what you're doing.

In '97, when I first started, it was a little easier to stay around because there was less going on. Now there's tons of shit going on.

Sacks: I gotta tell you, you honestly, that's the same with running a website too -- how do I get my site to stand out versus all the other sites out there. It's a constant battle.

Mahfood: It's all on your own, hype and marketing, which I hate.

Sacks: And the problem is you want to do the hype and marketing, but you also want to do the creative stuff, and then you gotta do the production side of things, too. And so, when do you have the time to do promotion and marketing unless you're at a convention?

Mahfood: It's a double-edged sword.

Sacks: Before you know it, you're working 16-hour days, 7 days a week and your life sucks.

Mahfood: It's sort of on you, how hard you wanna hustle, and work your ass off. I do wanna work my ass off, so over 14 years it's been paying off. Over the last two years, it's been like, oh, I'm getting things that are good, and high exposure, and things I would never thought I would do.

Sacks: Is it kind of what you hoped it would turn into when you first started drawing?

Mahfood: Yeah, I did want my art to be in different avenues other than just printed on paper in comic book format. Like having it on T-shirts or skateboard decks or on a wall somewhere or wrapped around a car or whatever. That, to me, is awesome.

You can find Jim Mahfood at http://www.jimmahfood.com/.

Click here to read our interview with Ziggy Marley about Marijuanaman.


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