“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
While many creators break into comics working on company titles before getting the chance to do their own, Canadian artist Jason Loo had the opposite experience. His character — the Human-Lizard — established him as a singular creative voice from the outset; from there, Jason’s talent has carried him to projects at ComiXology, IDW, and Marvel… with more surely to come.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Writer
Your home base: Toronto, Canada
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: To start with the biggest question: Why comics? What do you like — as an artist, as a creator — about working in the comics format specifically?
Jason Loo: The storytelling. Being able to tell the story and the vision, where you can write it — and then I’m also an artist so I can draw it out and color it the way I want it. I love being able to do all the steps of the process stage in making a comic, so that way I can deliver the feelings that I want the readers to feel, and some of the messages or themes in the stories that I’m trying to share. I can be pretty picky, or peculiar, about how I want to tell the story. So, in a way, I’m like a control freak to be honest.
KS: If we go way back to your secret origin, you’re originally from Canada?
JL: I am. Yeah. I was born in Brampton, Ontario, which is a suburb area of Toronto. Then, most of the time I grew up in Mississauga, which is the neighboring city that’s also part of the greater Toronto area. That’s the same city where Simu Liu grew up, as well — he’s probably a few years younger, but I’m sure we’ve probably been in the same mall at the same time.
KS: What was your access to comics and comic stories like in that area growing up? How were you finding material?
JL: Early on, when I was like four or five, my parents would bring me to the convenience store because that’s where they would buy their lottery tickets. I would just peruse the spinner racks and they would let me pick out a comic from there. I was a big GI Joe fan, so [that] was one of the earliest titles I picked up. Batman, as well, since reruns of the Adam West Batman were on TV. My uncle and aunt also ran a convenience store in Brampton, and a few doors down was another comic book store.
For me, visiting that comic store for the first time… it felt interesting, but still alien to me. The thing is, I loved going to Toys R Us when I was a kid, but [the comic store] was just a different level of coolness. Just seeing the statuettes of Silver Surfer, seeing a lot of Spider-Man images. I think that’s where I mainly saw Spider-Man, ‘cause you didn’t see him that much in a toy store. Or I’d see him in some of the ads of the comic books that I would get from the convenience store, or a variety pack we got at a dollar store, you know — like, five books for a buck.
KS: They’d come together in a plastic bag? Was it that kind of variety pack?
JL: Yeah, exactly.
KS: If that one store was a strange new world for you, at what point did you find “your” store?
JL: After that, we moved when I was like seven or eight, and the local mall in Mississauga — which I talked about earlier — actually had a comic book shop called The Gray Region. I would visit that place every pretty much every week, and that’s where I would spend my allowance money. I would pick up, like, a random issue of Uncanny X-Men. When we moved to our place in Mississauga, they were still developing houses, and me and my dad would take random walks around these newly developed places or places being constructed. I remember finding this $10 bill, and immediately using that to buy a Punisher graphic novel. I was eight years old, but they let me buy it. [laughter] It was so dark for me. I don’t know why I picked Punisher; I think it was because me being the GI Joe fan, and seeing a superhero with guns. And that was a gateway for me to get more into Marvel.
KS: Depending on how vivid your memory is, if we could time travel back to your original comics collection right now, what kind of books would we find?
JL: Definitely Adventures of Superman issue 500. I still held on to some of the comics I got from the value packs, so there was a random issue of Doom Patrol. I think it was like, number 12 or 25? It was a double-size issue where they’re fighting the Plastic Men. I think Erik Larsen illustrated that. What else? There was this DC event — DC Challenge. And what was great about it was it had all your favorite superheroes on it: Superman, Batman, even all the classic villains like Lex Luthor and Joker.
[Author’s Note: The Doom Patrol issue was most likely #12 from 1988.]
KS: In your journey of discovering new comics, was there a certain book that really hit the sweet spot for you story-wise?
JL: I think we’d have to go back to high school, and it was the Starman series written by James Robinson and illustrated by Tony Harris. That was just an interesting concept where they would take a traditional Golden Age superhero like Starman — Ted Knight — and he would pass down the legacy in an unconventional way to his son, Jack Knight. Jack did it his own way — he didn’t take the costume, he ran an antique shop where he celebrated the past, but at the same time he didn’t really celebrate his family’s history. I thought that was interesting. Robinson would take all these very obscure characters, like “disco” 1970s Starman, and there would be a newfound appreciation for a character that only appeared in one or two issues. He made it seem so spectacular, and it was such a great run up to the very end. There was just so much to appreciate with that series.
KS: Had you been familiar with any of those older characters before?
JL: Not at all. The only Starman I was familiar was the eighties one. What was it? Will Payton?
KS: With the purple and yellow costume.
JL: Yeah, yeah, that Starman. I had one random issue where he was fighting against Blockbuster — that’s the only knowledge I had. The cool thing was, that Starman also made an appearance in the [Robinson] run. So yeah, it was just a great way to celebrate the past, present, and even future of the DC Universe through a guy like Starman, because you would see him interact with the Justice League and Justice Society and just seeing where he fits in. In a way, that’s what helped and inspired me to create the Pitiful Human-Lizard — to come up with my own second-generation superhero.
KS: Before we get to him, let’s talk about your transition from a reader to a creator. What hobby came first for you, writing or drawing?
JL: I think it had to be both. I was so into reading the Sunday comics, that that’s where I started. I wanted to make my own comic strips with my very offbeat superheroes that kind of fit in, like, the Tick universe in a way. I remember watching Caroline in the City with Lea Thompson and getting an insight into the lifestyle of the cartoonist. I was like, “That’s the career I want, to have my own desk that overlooks the city and to make comics.” [laughter] I already knew ahead of time that you have to have a big backlog of comics done in advance, so when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, I started making these black and white strips.
KS: Did you have any plan beyond the creation part?
JL: I had this ambitious dream of printing 20, then sending them to the Toronto Star and being like, “Can you pay me to print these comics?” [laughter]
KS: Was the family in on your artistic dreams back then? Where did your parents stand on the idea?
JL: Well, coming from an Asian family… my dad definitely wanted me to be a doctor. Both my parents saw it as a hobby. That’s all the sod is. They would nurture it by giving me allowance money to buy more comics or action figures. I think it was when I was in high school and I have to like decide on where to go for college or university. I was already dead set on wanting to go to Sheridan College, ‘cause I knew that’s where a lot of animators from Disney were scouted. That’s when my parents kind of gave in and were like, “Okay, we’re going to support you into that hobby.” But at the same time, my mom encouraged me to find a good, steady job — which was at the public library.
KS: Did you have cheerleaders outside the family, or any voices that maybe illuminated the path forward for you?
JL: I actually got some harsh advice from a comics legend. A friend of mine who happens to know Larry Hama put me in touch with him, and I got some time to show him my work. He would give me a lot of harsh feedback. It meant a lot, though, because I knew he was a Marvel editor and I was a huge fan of GI Joe. But man, was he brutally honest! To the point where I was like, “Maybe I should just give up right now.”
But, you know, five days later, thinking over all the advice he gave me… he did spend like an hour or two talking about my work, even though there [was] never praise, just criticism. I decided to take that and redraw the comic that I showed him, to tell him that I’ve learned something.
KS: Larry tells stories about some of Neal Adams’ brutal critiques of aspiring artists from back in the Continuity Studios days.
JL: I remember this one time, I’ve shown him this Canadian GI Joe comic that I did —it was by Hasbro for a Canadian GI Joe convention. I showed Larry this is something that I worked on, and when he looked at it, he said, “I can definitely see a story in there.” I was like, “Well, that’s something.” [laughter]
KS: For somebody in your position at the time, obviously, it’s a great privilege to get one-on-one time with a legend, but was your skin thick enough to take that criticism?
JL: I didn’t have a thick skin at all. I was second year in college and, and after every, like, five points of criticism that he would give me, I’d say, “Larry, isn’t there at least one thing that’s good about my comic? Can you just show me one thing good that I can continue working on?” And he’s like, “That’s not going to help you. Just praising you is not going to help you grow.”
KS: Do you remember the first time you ever got paid for a piece of your art?
JL: That was actually for a national newspaper. When I was in college, I interned at RAID studios, the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design. That was founded by four members: Kagan McLeod, Cameron Stewart, Ben Shannon, and a guy named Steve Murray… who is now known as Chip Zdarsky. There was this contest between me and two other interns, where we would do a rough draft spot illustration for an article about moisturizer. [laughter] I happened to win that contest between the three of us and I think I got 80 bucks or a hundred bucks for that illustration in the National Post. Chip was one of the in-house illustrators at the paper, along with Kagan McLeod. That was my first paid, published work.
KS: Where were you in your life, in your career, when the Human-Lizard came around? Is that an idea that you’d had for a while and you were waiting for the right time? Take us through the creation process.
JL: The Human-Lizard was a character that I started creating back in high school. He was one of the characters I used in my first mini comic, that I Xeroxed at a Printing Depot, which is now Staples. He was my go-to character whenever I felt like drawing a superhero, like my take on Starman — had a lot of heart to actually put the costume on and could be a superhero, but not being that great at it. I revamped him in college and made some mini-comics to sell at the cafeteria or among my friends in our college studio. The latest incarnation, which is the one that had more success, was the Pitiful Human-Lizard. That was pretty much like my last run in comics — if it didn’t go well, then I would stop after that.
KS: Which led to a Kickstarter success story.
JL: It was my first time Kickstarting something. I wanted it to look good with the other titles on the comic stands, I wanted to have a run of at least a thousand copies, and use the same printer in Quebec that DC and Marvel go to. The first issue was double-sized, where I wanted to show the readers a great first impression of what this character is like — here’s his daily life, here’s a few actions scenes where people can find some entertainment in it. But it was gonna feel very weighty and substantial, where if this was my last chance and making a comic, at least I made a Toronto superhero comic that was never done before. It went for a second and third printing that I used the profits [from] to make issues two and three. Then, it found a publisher where I continued on, and the run went up to 21 issues.
KS: Has there come a time in all of this success where the parents have circled back around and said, “All right, art was a good choice, son?”
JL: Oh yeah. Especially when it was getting Kickstarted. It made a lot of headlines in a lot of the Canadian national newspapers. Popular radio stations even talked about it. And through that success, my parents got really excited about it. I never thought I would get my work to be studied at the University of Toronto, or York, or Ryerson — three of the top universities in Toronto. And I never attended any of them! I’m sure like my parents would have loved me to study at University of Toronto. To tell them that I actually got paid to do a number of lectures [talking] about the Pitiful Human-Lizard in front of their students, and those students would be buying copies of my comics to study for their exams or whatever. It’s crazy.
KS: Speaking of successful projects, you and Chip Zdarsky are kind of a big-deal team these days. You knew him at the newspaper when you were an intern, but how did you guys get reunited? Or had you been in communication the whole time?
JL: I knew him back in 2004, way before he did Sex Criminals, way before he did any Marvel. I’d be following his stuff from afar, but when I started making PH-L, that’s where he [was] very supportive of my work. Giving some retweets on Twitter and even wrote the forward to one of my collected volumes. When I was done with PH-L in 2019, I was at the point where I wanted to quit comics. I felt like I did everything, and also I just felt kind of bitter about the industry — I was like, “Well, this is as far as I’m going to go, I’m done.”
Then, out of the blue, Chip emailed me saying, “Hey, would you want to be the artist of my new project? I want you to be the co-creator of this thing that I’m working on, so we’re going to go 50/50 on this.” And he gave me this one line blurb of the pitch and it was like “a ride share to Hell.”
KS: This is Afterlift, edited by a former guest, Allison O’Toole.
JL: Yep. And from that, I know this is my great opportunity to get back into comics. And I know that there’s gonna be more eyes that are gonna want to see this because they want to see the next Chip Zdarsky title. So, I would be busy drawing all these concepts, constant illustrations of possible scenes that you might find in the comic. He also warned me that I’ll be drawing lots of cars, and I’m not familiar with drawing cars because I’m not a technical illustrator. I was training how to draw cars for like a month and a half, to the point where after, like, the sixth week my car illustrations look like the cars that you would see in Initial D [manga]. Chip was so impressed by that, and that really felt good to hear his encouragement. I was so pumped getting to work on the first issue of Afterlift… and then we went from there.
KS: Can you talk a little about your working dynamic as a team? You guys obviously clicked together well, since you’ve done more than one project, but I’m curious about the nuts and bolts of collaborating with a writer who’s also an artist himself.
JL: He allows me to be very creative with the concept designs and characters and environment. Especially when he’s describing the scenes in the script, they’re very open — he’ll just tell me a few points of what he really wants to see in the scene and then leave it up to me. Like now, I’m working on issue 10 of The All-Nighter, which is our second series, and looking at the narrative script, he might even get the characters’ names wrong. I’ll be like, “Wait, who’s Amy?” and he’s like, “Oh no, I meant Andrea.” [laughter] He’s putting that trust to have me carry on that load of. drawing it out and then, and then, you know, like do all the pencils, uh, send it over to him. The thing is, I don’t do thumbnail layouts, I just go straight to pencils ‘cause I already have a good idea of how things are going to be laid out and it’s just faster that way.
KS: And he takes it from there?
JL: Once I send that over to him, he gives me suggestions — air quote “suggestions.” [laughter] “This is kind of what I wanted to see happen in this panel” or where something would make a panel even better. And of course, I would actually go on in and make those changes, ‘cause I know they would be better for sure. He’s pushed me to be a better artist.
KS: On the topic of artists, let me hit you with a hypothetical. You can spend a day in the studio of any artist from the history of comics, just watching them work, asking questions, getting coffee, sharpening pencils, whatever they need for a whole day. Whose process would you really want to get on an inside look at?
JL: I would have to say Jack Kirby, mainly because I’ve heard so many great stories from all these professionals that would just hang out at his home. He is a guy that didn’t have ego, he would give you the time to give you advice, and he would just be so humble about it, too. This is a guy that exposed himself to a lot of sci-fi material to inspire a lot of his [own]. So, I mean, I have to figure there would be a lot to chat about with them.
KS: Do you have a favorite Kirby era? By the time you were into comics, he was doing things like Super Powers, right?
JL: And the funny thing is like, I didn’t know that was Jack Kirby until like when I was watching the Superman animated series and seeing all these episodes, the whole world inspired by Jack Kirby. But yeah, some of my favorite Jack Kirby stuff was the ’70s run of Captain America. Very psychedelic, very far-out ideas. I mean, he introduced MODOK, didn’t he? He introduced… the name escapes me… not Baron Zemo, it’s the guy from Winter Soldier.
KS: Arnim Zola?
JL: Yeah. Wacky ideas like that, like only Jack Kirby would create that.
KS: Final two questions. First, tell the readers a hobby of yours that has no connection to comics, that gets you away from the drawing board. Anything you enjoy.
JL: I do love making dioramas and even miniatures. The year before the pandemic, I really got into making miniatures for my Star Wars dioramas. I was so excited about the idea that they were making a theme park — Galaxy’s Edge — so I studied all the details. I even made miniatures of all the dishes that they would offer, the new dishes at the park. It’s a very interesting, meditative craft, where you’re using just the tips of your fingers to scope these little objects. To know the types of paint and type of gloss to get the right texture. It’s so wonderful.
KS: To wrap up, tell us about what you’re working on, what you’ve got coming, anything you want to call attention to.
JL: Sure. Season Two of The All-Nighter is [now out] on ComiXology, starting with issue number six, and then, you know, once those five issues are available on ComiXology, there’ll be a collected trade published by Dark Horse.
I also recently wrapped up a three-part saga for X-Men Unlimited featuring my favorite Marvel character, Multiple Man. I got to write, draw, and color a Multiple Man and Strong Guy story for the Marvel Unlimited app. I’m so happy about it because I pretty much got to tell the story that I originally pitched, and [there were] very little notes from the editors. It was an original vision that came to be and I’m glad it’s out there finally.
So, stay tuned on X-Men Unlimited ‘cause I do have another that will be coming out this summer, and I think readers are going to have a huge blast when it comes out. I’m not going to say what it’s all about, but there’s one that’s coming down the pipe.
This interview was edited for length.