Street Angel and Afrodisiac co-creator Jim Rugg is one of the hardest-working men in comics – and readers can see the sheer variety of his projects in his new collection Supermag from AdHouse Books. The new collection features everything from magazine cartoons to multi-page stories in more styles than you thought possible from one artist – ranging from a Golden Age homage about a super-golfer to Bigfoot (the monster) vs. Bigfoot (the truck).
We got up with Rugg to sort out all this insanity in an in-depth look at Supermag and the many, many, many other projects taking up his time.
Newsarama: Jim, give us the run-down on Supermag. This might be the only book our readers will see this year that includes slice-of-life, blaxploitation Nazi-battling golfers, and Vanilla Ice trading cards.
Jim Rugg: I'll be disappointed if it's not the only book with those things!
Supermag is my latest print project from AdHouse Books. It's a 56-page, full-color, glossy magazine-format collection of my comics, art, and design work for 10 bucks.
Nrama: How did this project come about?
Rugg: Creatively, I tend to be restless. I try different styles. And one of the easiest ways to experiment is by creating shorter work for anthologies, mini-comics, and the internet rather than long narratives like those found in a graphic novel.
Recently, (I started art directing a literary/arts journal called Foxing Quarterly, and I love the experience. Last year, I got a grant to produce a new comic. The grant was from The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. That grant enabled me to block out time in my schedule to work on a new book.
I was thrilled with those experiences. AdHouse Books has a great history of producing work in a variety of formats and also of producing work that aren't traditional comics like James Jean's Process: Recess series and Paul Pope's art book, PulpHope. Chris Pitzer's background and interest in graphic design is apparent in the work that he publishes. He liked the idea and we began working out details.
Nrama: Supermagreflects the wildly diverse styles you've employed in your comics and illustration work. What has been the biggest challenge in developing these homages to different styles, and what is also the biggest trick in incorporating your own artistic "voice" in the art?
Rugg: The hardest part is when you start a piece from nothing. When I do a comic book or series like my notebook drawings, I've already made certain choices in terms of tools, style, production, etc. Compare that to something like the Vanilla Ice pinup which starts out with no rules (at one point, it was going to be a Jay-Z pinup), and it can be overwhelming in the early conceptual stages.
That's probably the most difficult challenge. You start out with an almost infinite range of possibilities, I mean you can reproduced any medium these days, and you make decisions to narrow down the infinite into one final concrete piece.
It's not hard to incorporate my own "voice." Because I tend to do everything myself - coloring, lettering, in the case of the Vanilla Ice piece, I even printed and trimmed the cards - this stuff is clearly my handiwork. I'm not concerned whether a reader sees it and thinks that it's my work. I'm concerned with whether a reader sees it and thinks, wow, that's neat!
Nrama: Describe your ball-point style to our readers.
Rugg: I started drawing in notebooks with ballpoint pens in 2011 because I like the way ballpoint pens look and feel. A lot of the drawings are about pop culture like wrestling, movies, typography…whatever I feel like drawing that day. It ranges from doodles to fairly labor intensive, full-color rendering.
I had a show of these in LA last year at iam8bit gallery in Echo Park called Notebook Nerd. AdHouse Books released a limited edition catalog that was spiral bound to resemble an actual notebook.
I am working on another show for August at iam8bit. So there will be more ballpoint pen drawings popping up as we get closer to that show opening. You can also find this style in Adventure Time #10. I drew the backup story in actual notebooks.
Nrama: Some of the material in here I recognized from your past works, but are there any new pieces you created for this?
Rugg: Yes. Some of the work is new. Some of the work is collected from shows. Some of it has only appeared digitally, like on my Tumblr.. And some of it is reworked from previous publications, so it's never appeared in this particular format - from lettering revisions to color changes, scans of original art in some cases rather than black and white reproduction…
A big part of this project is my interest in printed matter. I want to present this work as nicely as possible. I did some printmaking over the last year, and between that experience and seeing more and more beautiful mini-comics and ‘zines, my attitude towards print has changed. If I'm going to create a book, I want to give readers, collectors, fans the best object that I can make.
For Supermag, I went through each piece and tried to determine the best presentation for that particular work. If a piece had been printed, I would compare the hard copy, the original art, and the digital files to decide which version would best serve the work. In many cases that led to revising things that I thought I could improve. So the end result is hopefully, the best print version of each piece.
Nrama: What do you learn from working as an artist with other writers, vs. writing/illustrating yourself?
Rugg: That's a tough question. I feel like the goals are the same - to try to craft the best comic we can. Collaboration adds ideas to the mix. But in terms of process, it's still very similar. I'm not sure I can succinctly sum up what I learn in collaboration.
For the most part, the writers are talented and have ideas that I would never come up with on my own. I'm fortunate in that I get to work with writers that I admire. In the case of Brian Maruca, we've been writing together for so long. I trust his judgment and that's a real luxury.
Robin Bougie wrote a story that I draw in the book. Robin is the publisher, editor, and main man behind Cinema Sewer, a ‘zine about exploitation and adult film history. It's one of my favorite zines. Over the years, I've gotten to know Robin a little bit. So the chance to work with someone that I am a fan of, is exciting.
Nrama: Bigfoot vs. Bigfoot...I have to ask you where that came from.
Rugg: I love Bigfoot - the truck and the monster. I suppose it comes from my redneck roots. When I was six, my uncle took me to a monster truck rally that featured Bigfoot and USA1. It's one of my favorite childhood memories. And I grew up in a rural, mountainous region, so when I started to like monsters - Bigfoot quickly became a favorite.
Nrama: You've been getting a lot of attention for your podcast lately -- what are some of the things you've learned from talking with so many creators?
The show began as a collaboration with Jasen Lex, and this season Ed Piskor has come onboard as our producer. The premise of the show is that we interview artists, writers, filmmakers, cartoonists, and other creative types about their work, their process, and the reality/business side of what they do.
The best part of the experience has been the opportunity to talk with so many smart, articulate, funny people.
A lot of the people we talk to are people who have produced work that I admire. I'm often surprised to learn that they have the same insecurities that I have. When they try something new, they encounter doubts too. I've learned that it's important to have a support structure, people you can show your work to and get honest feedback on it. I could go on and on, and you can listen to an episode to hear me doing so.
Nrama: Do you see yourself doing more issues of Supermag in the future?
Rugg: I don't know. I haven't thought about that in a serious way. I try to treat every project as if it's the last one I'm ever going to do because things change so quickly now in terms of the industry, market, distribution, etc.
That said, Supermag #1 is essentially a one-man comics and art anthology and I plan to continue to make comics and art so never say never.
Nrama: What are some current comics/creators you're really enjoying?
Rugg: Frank Santoro turned me onto John Stanley's Dell Giant Tales from the Tomb #1. Tom Kaczynski's Beta Testing the Apocalypse, Jason Karnes' Fukitor, Michel Fiffe's Copra are all unbelievably good. I loved Renee French's Bjornstrand. Off the top of my head, it might be my current favorite monster thing.
SSE #20: Where Is My Super Hero by Sung Mo Kang, Wally Wood and Mazzucchelli Artist Editions. Anything by Ben Marra. Negron, Sammy Harkham's Everything Together, and Michael McMillan: The ZZZZ Sseries from Picturebox. Drippy Bones Books has put out some of my favorite stuff in the last year like Galactic Breakdown, Bald Eagles' Bittersweet RomanceCartoonshow by Derek M Ballard.
Joseph Lupo's a printmaker that's been deconstructing Iron Man #178 for a few years, and I've had the chance to look at that work…it's eye-opening stuff. Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree. I haven't read it yet, but Lili Carre's Heads or Tails. looks gorgeous. I've been enjoying Hellboy in Hell a lot. I'm sure I'm forgetting a million things.
Nrama: What else are you working on/have coming up?
Rugg: Supermag is my main focus. I just sent issue #2 of Foxing Quarterly to the printer. I have an art show at iam8bit in LA opening August 2nd and pieces in a few upcoming group shows. G.I.Joe Special Missions covers, a Prophet cover. I'm working on a fun comic that hasn't been announced yet, but should be out this summer…so that's my next two months.
I have a piece in the next Nobrow anthology that's pretty weird and different for me. I have a drawing in the Every/Body anthology that debuts at TCAF. I'm doing a number of comic book shows and conventions this year - TCAF, Appleseed, Phoenix, Heroes, Autoptic…plus our podcast on Boing Boing.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Rugg: April 20th is an event in Pittsburgh called Drawing Power: Comics ‘Zines and Books in Pittsburgh and Beyond. It's at the Carnegie Lecture Hall and I think it's a joint event between the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Library.
The idea of Pittsburgh's largest museum and library teaming up for a comics event still amazes me. The Carnegie Library has a fantastic zine archive as well as an excellent collection of graphic novels. So I'm looking forward to this event. Other speakers and guests include the great French cartoonist, Boulet, John Porcellino, Dash Shaw, Ed Piskor, and Frank Santoro. Caitlin McGurk will be there from the Billy Ireland Collection at OSU. It should be a nice event.
So people relatively close to Pittsburgh, please consider attending and spread the word. We would love to have you there.
Otherwise, pre-order Supermag from your local comics shop. It's in Previews this month. Diamond Order Code: MAR13 0766
Experience Supermag from AdHouse Books this May