“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.
If looking for an example of the old saying, “slow and steady wins the race,” look no further than artist Jacoby Salcedo. From building a portfolio to building key creative partnerships, this rising star has been published by DC, Dark Horse, and others so far — with an important debut graphic novel just around the corner.
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist
Your home base: Portland, Oregon
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: We always start with the big question: Why comics? What do you as an artist specifically like about this artform?
Jacoby Salcedo: When I was in high school and had to start kinda thinking about careers and college, I knew I wasn’t good at anything other than art, but I didn’t have any specific planning past that. One day during my freshman year of high school, my mom saw a little clip promoting [Emerald City Comic Con] and back then comic shops were selling tickets to the con at their stores, so she suggested we go. We went to the shop that was close to us, and it was amazing. The comic shop didn’t have badges to the con, so I actually didn’t end up going that year, but I still remember exactly what I got: the trade collection of Kick-Ass and a figure of Anakin Skywalker from Revenge of the Sith — the best Star Wars. As for what I love about comics, [it’s] the huge variety of storytelling options and styles. Once I picked up comics, it clicked in mind that this was what I wanted to do because it was like an actual job and not just some vague art career. I ended up going to SVA in NYC for two years and was able to learn what I wanted to learn — and ended up becoming really good friends with my mentor, Klaus Janson.
KS: We’ll leave the “best Star Wars” debate aside for the moment. Tell us a little about where you grew up and what kind of access you had to comics. Was that shop with the con tickets your main place?
JS: I grew up in Olympia, Washington, and my home shop is Olympic Cards and Comics. I’ve been to probably hundreds of shops and less than a handful can compare to it. The customer service is some of the best I’ve received in any shop I’ve been to, and the size of this shop is huge. If I went to any other comic shop than this one, I’d be curious if I would’ve stuck with comics. But I love this shop and remember after school, a couple of friends and I would walk to the shop with whatever money I saved from my lunch money allowance and buy, like, one or two comics. Or even just going and staying there for hours reading on the couches they had and waiting for my mom to pick me up when she got off work. I sound like a boomer there [haha], but it was a very fun time I look back on.
KS: If your collection started with Kick-Ass, what other kinds of books would we find if we flipped through younger Jacoby’s comic collection?
JS: I loved how brutal [Kick-Ass] was ‘cause I was an edgy teenager or something. So, I remember after that first trip, I started searching for the single issues of Kick-Ass 2. Other than that, my collection was very hero heavy. I started my venture into Marvel with Avengers vs. X-Men which was coming out at the time and that led into their “All New” phase of comics which was a great jumping-on point for me. I was picking up Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men run, Remender’s Captain America, Mark Waid’s Daredevil, and Fraction’s Hawkeye. One of the workers at the shop [also] put me onto Snyder’s Batman run and, man, I fell in love.
KS: Who were your first favorite artists when you were able to distinguish individual art styles?
JS: I wish I knew when I really started distinguishing the artists, but I’m certain JRJR was my definite first favorite. I know he has moments of awkward figures, but I love, love, love everything he does. I think it really depends on who colors him. The husband of the owner of the shop I went to, Eric Trautmann — he’s a comic writer! — showed me JRJR and Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear and that made me do two things: One, find literally every issue of Daredevil that JRJR did, and two, fall in love with the character Daredevil. I think that led to my second favorite artist, Chris Samnee, then maybe Greg Capullo.
KS: Now that you’ve seen much more of JRJR’s work since then, do you have a favorite run or favorite era of his work?
JS: I definitely have a favorite era of his work, and it’d be when he was doing Daredevil with Ann Nocenti and Al Williamson. I know I mentioned JRJR’s work depends on who colors him, but it also really depends on who inks his stuff. The duo of JRJR and Al was so good, I still have yet to see anyone attempt to ink his work like Al did, because I really don’t think they’d be able to nail it like he did. Plus, Nocenti’s run seemed ahead of its time from what I remember, but I also loved that she put DD in different situations and paired him up with characters that he usually didn’t team up with/fight against. If I ever get a chance to do a Daredevil story, that run will be a huge inspiration for me.
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums and about the way a reader can find an important story at just the right time. You’ve mentioned a few titles that really captured your interest, but was there a particular comic story that had a real impact on you as a reader?
JS: It’s hard to separate “reader” me and “comic artist” me, ‘cause when I look at books, I really become so involved by the art and unfortunately gloss over the story, haha. But truly thinking about it, I can think of two books that have made huge impressions on me and how I look at comics. The first being Batman Year One. The groundedness of the story captured me, but what really makes me love this book so much is the coloring on it by Richmond Lewis; it’s what made me start separating the lines from the colors and seeing how important colorists are to comics, and the power they have over tone in a story. It’s why I try to color my own art whenever I can or I can become too much of a control freak for colorists. The second book was This One Summer by the Tamakis. This was probably the first YA graphic novel I ever read, and I remember feeling like comics can be so much more than what the general public know [them] as and how [they] can show such bare emotion and deep themes. Now, thinking about it, too, I’ve put to use the things I’ve gained from these books for Frontera, the YA graphic novel that’s coming out this summer with my comics brother Julio Anta. I drew and colored the whole book, and the story has such heavy topics and so much emotion, and I feel lucky and so proud to have done that story.
KS: Aside from what you were reading, what kind of art were you making growing up? Did you dabble in comics at all?
JS: Actually, I used to do comic strips for my school paper, and that was also kinda how I got into digital art. For some reason my school had digital drawing pads, and I was able to take one of them home and was practicing coloring some black-and-white Chris Samnee commissions on a bootleg Photoshop that my friend set me up with. But other than the strips, I didn’t do too much with comics; I would get the 11×17 art boards from Michaels and try to make something, and if I was lucky and motivated enough, I would have penciled two pages, but most of the time I would never finish it, haha. Other than that, I really just loved drawing with pencils and especially doodling. I’m a big doodler. I miss school just because of the fact that I would make some of my favorite drawings when I was bored in classes. I never ventured too far into other areas of art often, but I remember painting some random things for fun, and I made a mummy out of clay for school once, so I guess there’s that.
KS: Was high school the first time you started thinking seriously about any kind of career path? Many kids have the arts as a hobby, but way fewer actually pursue it “for real.”
JS: It most likely was. I just didn’t see myself doing any other job that wasn’t art related, and I was curious how I was going to be able to make that happen. Before discovering comics I think I would’ve tried to do something that was more in the fine arts. Now, looking at it, I’m so glad I didn’t go that route ‘cause when I was in college, I was able to see how much money that you’d need to really fund that career and knew I didn’t have that type of moolah.
KS: Aside from trying to get the ECCC tickets, was your mom also supportive of you pursuing a career in the arts?
JS: Yeah, she was super supportive. Technically, my mom is the reason why I’m doing comics. I mean, both my parents are very supportive of my art and always have been, and also it’s because of my dad’s nose that really started my love for drawing with pencils. He had one of those perfectly curved and beaky noses, and I saw that from a profile view and was like, “I gotta draw that.” They gave me the confidence in my art, too, ‘cause knowing my mom, she would’ve told me if my art looked bad and would not have wasted money on me going to art school. So, her not saying I should consider another path was a good sign.
KS: How did you decide on SVA, which was a long way from where you were living? There must have been closer options.
JS: Wikipedia, literally. As supportive as my mom was, she also really wanted me to go to college, and didn’t really have a choice about not doing school. I wanted to go to New York City and she said, “Fine,” so I looked at art schools in New York and came across two that had comic programs: one was the Kubert School, which was technically in New Jersey, and the other was School of Visual Arts. I looked at both of them and saw that Klaus Janson and David Mazzucchelli were both teachers at SVA, so it was an easy decision. Before I went to the school, though, in the summer between my sophomore and junior year, my mom set me up to do a summer program at SVA. That was my first time in the NYC, and I instantly fell in love with the place — and also did a 10-page comic, which I forgot to bring back of course. So yeah, I went all in on SVA and didn’t apply to other schools and, thankfully, I got in. Plus, the Kubert School isn’t accredited, so it made that decision for my mom easier, too.
KS: Talk a little about your experience attending the school. What specific kinds of things did you learn? I’m specifically wondering about how Jacoby the artist was different —in skills and thought process — than the Jacoby who went in.
JS: I’m glad that I was able to go and experience the school. I know this stuff was expensive and I was very privileged to be able to do it, but I’m also glad that I got out when I did, too. My freshman year at SVA was only prerequisites, so I had sculpting, drawing, painting, and a digital course, too. This was my time to get out my fine art needs and I did such, which happened to be a lot of penis art haha. My only comic art I did that year was at the end, and it was a story about my dog that died the summer before I went to school, a real tearjerker. After that, I knew that I wanted to get everything I could out of sophomore year, because there was something in me that wasn’t so sure I would have wanted to do two more years after that. Before that year, my thought process on how to make comics was “whatever looks cool” and nothing past that, but being in Klaus Janson’s class was the best thing to happen to me. He taught me so much about composition and just storytelling in comics that I still use to this day. My way of looking at comics became way more thought out. I mean, every now and then, I do have “happy accidents,” but I now know how to make sure that I’m doing my job to guide the reader’s eye where it needs to be. Working with Klaus was one of my favorite memories from when I was at school, other than the time I went to a speakeasy that was hidden in the back of a pizza shop. That was very cool, too.
KS: Do you remember getting paid for any art back then?
JS: Hmmm. I can’t remember if I got paid or not for it. If I did it clearly wasn’t much, but I was making my own comics with a writer towards the end of my second year at SVA. I think that next year I did have my first big paid gig for a Kickstarter I did with writer Rick Quinn. That was a fun learning experience, because it was my first “actual” comic book.
KS: What was the path from that Kickstarter to your next job in comics? Because many of our readers are aspiring creators, talk about the balance between planning on your part as opposed to happy accidents.
JS: I’ll start off by saying for aspiring creators that this comic-making thing is 50% skill, 50% luck. So, my first job was the Kickstarter and after that mostly just failed pitches. Since I dropped out of SVA, I really started to use that time to make my own ashcan comics to show at comic cons. Doing that really helped me make a name and lead me to make connections in the comics community, and then I would post those comics online which lead to Julio finding me. When Julio reached out, we really meshed well together and now we’re inseparable. Working with him consistently has been some of the best and most collaborative experiences I’ve had in comics. I’m extremely lucky being able to do this and getting to where I’m at.
KS: Let’s jump ahead to a more recent project, the miniseries It’s Only Teenage Wasteland from Dark Horse. How did you get involved in that?
JS: I actually reached out to [writer] Curt [Pires] like a year or two before we came up with It’s Only Teenage Wasteland. At the time Curt’s book, Youth, was coming out, and it featured a lot of my interests with teen-focused stories and one of the characters was based off my favorite musician, Frank Ocean. I really loved the story and I figured I’d shoot my shot and message him. Luckily, he liked my art and wanted to work with me, too. We went back and forth with a bunch of potential story ideas, but they weren’t just right, then one day he emails me and tells me about IOTW, and it’s this apocalyptic story with these teenage boys. I’m instantly down and just like that, we made the book.
KS: Do you know what in your portfolio convinced him you were the right artist to team up with? What made you a good pick for this story?
JS: As far as I’m aware, I was the only choice Curt had in mind for the book — I hope. Curt very much wrote the story for me and was very open to collaborating with me. There [are] scenes in the book that Curt let me just do my thing, and I love when a writer can trust their artist to be a storyteller. I guess if I had to decide to pick me, I’d say that I can draw some good character moments and I know that I would love these topics, so I know that I’d put my heart into it.
KS: Do you have a favorite part of the comic art process? When you sit down for a new project or new page, what aspects of the work excite you the most?
JS: I really like doing thumbnails and if I’m coloring it, that too. I look at thumbnails as puzzles, and I have to figure out new page designs and make them visually clear while also exciting. Also, I love the energy that comes with thumbnails, too; I wish I could capture it better when it comes to inks. With coloring, I think I love that part, too, because that’s where I see my whole vision come to fruition. So yeah, I love the beginning and end parts — everything in between is hell!
KS: What’s a non-art skill you’d like to have that you currently don’t have? Could be something you used to be good at, or are kind of good at, or have always wanted to be good at.
JS: Easily music and sewing. I have such a huge appreciation for music, and I wish I had the skills to play instruments, but my brain won’t let that happen. The closest I’ve come to using a “musical instrument” was when I used to DJ on turntables for my friends, but that was short lived. I love throwing my favorite musicians into my comics as Easter eggs, and Dark Horse was cool enough to let us put QR codes at the end of each It’s Only Teenage Wasteland issue which led to playlists that I made specifically for that issue.
As for sewing, I’m a big fan of clothing and street fashion, and I’m so envious of people who make their own clothes. I have an idea for a story about streetwear and want to make clothing that would be featured in the story to sell to fans. I’m sure that’d be a whole process with the publisher, but a man can dream.
KS: Give us a comic or graphic novel from any era that you would name as an example of this medium at its very best. A famous book or a deep cut, your pick.
JS: Damn, there are so many good comics that do that, so I’m just gonna go the deep cut route and say The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon. The book is about Nao, who has OCD and thoughts about harming others and her journey to ease her OCD while navigating just her day-to-day life. I think the book is such a breath of fresh air. [It’s] watercolored and I really hope I get the opportunity to do a book like that. Whenever anyone asks for a recommendation, I always suggest this one. I also throw in Love Bunglers from Jaime Hernandez. That was my first Love and Rockets book, and I only had basic L&R knowledge, [but] it was such a beautifully told story that had me emotional at the end.
KS: Finally, tell readers what you have out now and what you have coming the rest of 2023.
JS: All the issues of It’s Only Teenage Wasteland are out, and the collection for that will be out in August. Also, my first DC job was released in their spring anthology, Legion of Bloom, which is a Blue Beetle story with Julio. The big one, though, is my debut graphic novel with Julio, Frontera, that comes out July 18th and will be available everywhere. Pre-orders for that are already open. Other than that, I have some unannounced stuff with Mad Cave and something big that I hope to talk about later this year.