“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.
Since starting his professional comics career, Jay Fosgitt has worked for Marvel, Image, BOOM! Studios, and several other publishers. He also knows what it’s like to transition between creator-owned work and licensed properties like Popeye and My Little Pony (to name but two).
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist, specifically cartoon art. I pencil, ink, color, letter, and write. I work both traditionally and digitally.
Your home base: Suburbs of Detroit, Michigan.
Instagram and/or other social sites:
Current project title(s) (either already released or upcoming):
Currently working on the second volume of my creator-owned, all-ages graphic novel, Bodie Troll, published by BOOM! Studios under their kaBOOM! line.
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: First is the overarching question: Why comics? What attracts you to this over other artforms?
Jay Fosgitt: Aesthetically, I love the look of cartoons and the visual cues that are employed in their designs which are unique to that facet of illustration. From a storytelling perspective, I love that comics are a static, tangible cousin to filmmaking. Sequential art has the ability to move through time the same way film does, and the creator can be all the things that in movie production are typically delegated to teams of creatives. Comics are other things while still being themselves. That’s a rare situation in creative pursuits.
KS: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. At what age (or roughly when) did reading comics first became an important part of your life?
JF: I began reading, or at least following, newspaper comics from infancy. Comic books came into my life around preschool or kindergarten, when my mom would grab them from the grocery store, often sold in plastic wrapped bundles of various kid titles or Archie comics. By the time I was in the first or second grade, I was a voracious reader of MAD magazine, and a year after that, I began my serious collection, discovering Marvel Comics and devouring all their various titles, then through back issues once I discovered the wonders of comic shops.
KS: Do you have a specific early memory where a comic book or comic strip made you say, “I want to do that?”
JF: [It was] a TV special that showed Charles Schulz in his studio, drawing the characters from Peanuts and describing the thought process that went into their creation. One thing he said was, “I love drawing Linus’ hair, because it’s so much fun, especially when he’s scared.” I was five when I saw that, and immediately professed that I’d be a cartoonist when I grew up.
KS: What’s the first “real” comics piece you remember creating? Something that felt like a serious project for you at the time — whatever age that was.
JF: My first complete comics work, which was a true milestone for me, happened when I was a junior in high school. We were studying Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Lit class. I took a character I’d been playing around with for a few years–Dead Duck– and wrote an origin story for him that tied into one of Chaucer’s stories. I remembered that project years later, when my first graphic novel, Dead Duck, got picked up for publication, and I did an updated version of the Chaucer story/Dead Duck origin for the book.
KS: If you look back at your earlier work from this vantage point, what’s something that stands out as different vs. the current version of you?
JF: My coloring at the start was abysmal. Not just my style of coloring, but my understanding — or lack thereof — of digital processes. By the time I created Bodie Troll, I hired a colorist for my initial four-page pitch. Then, from that point on, I took note of how that colorist did what he did, and I self-taught myself to do that, and to grow and learn all sorts of new tricks. I’m still learning. We all have to grow and I’m just glad, and a little proud, that I got better.
KS: Walk us through your current studio setup.
JF: My main workstation is a big U-shaped desk which houses my desktop computer, my printer/scanner, my Cintiq, and so many loose papers, sketchbooks, art supplies, receipts, puppets, and so many, many toys. I have a full drawing table and chair to the right of it, and diagonal from my desk, I have my childhood dining room table, which I did my earliest drawings at, and which served as my main work station for the five years prior to me buying this house, when I lived in a cozy and cramped one bedroom apartment.
KS: Do you have a set daily (or nightly) work routine?
JF: I try to get up by 7 a.m., have a quick breakfast, then make my way into the studio no later than 8 a.m. I tend to work the whole day through, often into the night, with various breaks for lunch, a nap, or just to give myself a breather in front of the TV.
KS: What about listening to music or any other background noise while you work? Any go-to snacks or beverages?
JF: I don’t tend to snack much during the day, but I am a passionate/addicted drinker of pop–Diet Pepsi and Diet Vernor’s [a regional ginger ale indigenous to Michigan]–by the gallons. I am often listening to audio books when I work–I’m currently listening to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay –with Neil Gaiman being my favorite author to both listen to and to read when I have time. Sometimes, I’ll play favorite songs. Occasionally, I’ll play movies in the background on my computer, though that can be a distraction more often than not.
KS: In addition to your creator-owned work, you’ve illustrated many recognizable properties. Tell us about My Little Pony for IDW. What’s a challenge that comes with working on licensed characters for a major publisher?
JF: My biggest challenge working on MLP was my lack of familiarity with the property. I knew the toys and cartoon from my childhood, but the modern incarnation was totally foreign to me. And I was brought onto the comics so quickly that I really didn’t have time to educate myself as thoroughly as I would have liked. I know I was one of the few creators to work on the series who wasn’t a fan–I had nothing against the concept, I just wasn’t a fan–so that was both an asset and a detriment. It gave me a sort of freedom to play around and not be too precious about the material, but it also drew the ire of a certain faction of die-hard fans who wanted their idealized vision of the characters, whatever that may have been. In the end, it was a job for me, and because IDW and Hasbro had next to no problems with my work, that was good enough for me.
KS: You’ve amassed a wide range of cover illustrations over you career. How do cover assignments find you (or vice versa)?
JF: I never wanted to believe that who you knew was more important that what you could do, but I found out quickly that it was basically true. Because of the speed and quality of my work, I quickly got good word of mouth, which paid off in recommendations to other editors and publishers. For my covers, I like the illustration to tell a story in itself. It doesn’t necessarily have to recap what’s happening inside, but I’ll be fed the gist of what the issue is about, with the key characters, then I’ll sketch out a few cover scenarios that are similar to single panel cartoons in newspapers–concise, stand alone gags. I credit my years as a newspaper cartoonist in college with giving me that skill. Almost always, the sketch I like the most is the one that gets chosen by the editor. My comics work is very improvisational, which comes from my theater background, and even with a gag in mind, I make up the rest as I dive into the finished work. It’s usually a surprise to me and the editor, and almost always satisfactory.
KS: And what are some elements you think make an effective comics cover, whether you’re drawing it or looking at a rack of comics as a fan?
JF: What grabs me with other people’s comics is good art. I know that sounds obvious, but there are so many comic covers, particularly from the ’90s, that I thought were terrible, and so my comics collecting suffered because of that. Once guys like Skottie Young and Humberto Ramos came on the comics scene, their art just lit me up and made me want to own it.
KS: You have a full slate of convention appearances scheduled in 2019. What are some of the joys and challenges of “con season” for you?
JF: I know so many creators from doing this for a decade now, so reuniting at shows, and after hours, is the biggest joy for me. I also love meeting people who genuinely enjoy my work. The cons of cons are the cost. Very few of us in the industry are given the royal treatment of being brought out as a guest, all expenses paid. For the rest of us, cons are an industry of breaking even as the gold standard of success, so you need to find the fringe benefits of doing these shows. For me, that usually comes down to meeting wonderful people who are either discovering my work for the first time, or who are trying to break into the industry themselves, and I can spend some time talking with them, reviewing their work, and offering some advice. Those moments are golden for me. At SDCC last year, I was on a dead end row that no one was coming down. But this one woman showed up, determined, after maybe five minutes of perusal, that she liked my work, and asked if I’d like to do some work for Disney, which I’m working on today. Now, San Diego is a con where that has a far better chance of happening then some church basement, longbox show in Indiana. But you have to take the time and make yourself available to those kinds of fortuitous connections.
KS: What’s a comic book/graphic novel by someone else that you look at in awe?
JF: One series that stands out for me are the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley. He has this effortless mix of video games, music, action films and teen angst that feel like John Hughes, Beck, and Miyazaki had a baby. The storytelling in those is so character driven and totally believable despite its pop culture window dressing. Plus, it all takes place in Toronto, my most favorite city in the world.
KS: Finally, tell us a little about your most recent/upcoming project.
JF: I’m currently putting together volume 2 of Bodie Troll for BOOM! while drawing a chapter book for Disney publishing, which is taking up all my time in the best sense. I also just self-published a sketchbook of drawings of various female friends that I’ll have at cons this year–titled Cartoonist’s Muse–alongside Bodie Troll Vol. 1. Vol. 1 sold out of its initial printing last year, so I had no copies for cons after the premiere at ECCC. So, when this second printing happened, I dove in and bought 200 copies to keep me flush for this year’s shows.