Cartoonist Jeffrey Jones Looks for BETTER THINGS in Doc

Cartoonist Jeffrey Jones in new Doc

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There are a group of artists who have worked in and around comics for years, becoming legends and icons. And while some of those stay in comics, others go outside into the broader world of fantasy art. One of those is Jeffrey Jones.

In the upcoming documentary Better Things: The Life & Choices of Jeffrey Jones, filmmaker Maria Cabardo explores the life of the reclusive artist both in Jones' professional and personal lives. Frank Frazetta called Jones "the greatest living painter", and IDW/Desperado released a collection of his work in 2010 called Jeffrey Jones: A Life In Art Although Jones was only in comics for a brief portion of time, the artist worked on a variety of comics between 1967 and the mid-80s, from horror mags like Creepy and Eerie to super-hero fare in Wonder Woman and the Heroes for Hope comic from Marvel. He also contributed his own comic strips to both National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. Jones was also part of the seminal 70s scene known as "The Studio", a workspace in New York City shared with other comics legends such as Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael William Kaluta. Jones largely left the comics world in the mid-80s, leaning towards more fine art and book covers.

The documentary Better Things has been a passion for its director, Maria Cabardo. Cabardo started this shortly after leaving DC Comics after a ten-year stint as the Art Director for Vertigo and DC's Creative Services department. Several years ago she put together a collection of art of Glen Fabry, and also managed the production of the Halo graphic novel by Bungie and Marvel. This film-making endeavor sprung out of inspiration while taking a film-making class, and Cabardo has spent the last few years putting her vision together.

 

Newsarama: How did the idea for a documentary about Jeffrey Jones come to you, Maria?

Cabardo: In the course of my career as a designer and art director I've had the chance to work with almost all of the artists whose work I admire, but I was never able to connect with Jeffrey Jones -- during that period it was like he just disappeared from the world. I heard some rumors about what was happening in his life, but only fragments. It seemed to me that there must be a larger and more intriguing story there.

Nrama: When did you first become aware of Jeffrey’s work?

Cabardo: When I was working as the Creative Director for Wizards of the Coast I saw his work in the Studio book and loved it. I wanted to work with him and was always trying to commission artwork, but I never found him.

Nrama: When did you decide to do a film on Jeffrey's work?

 

Cabardo: A few years later, after I had taken an introductory filmmaking course at the New York Film Academy, I decided I wanted to make a full-length documentary, and Jeff immediately came to mind. I asked my friends if they thought that this was a good idea and they all did. Robert Wiener, Rick Berry and Mark Chiarello have been especially encouraging and supportive since the beginning of the project -- Robert and Rick are friends of Jeff’s, and Mark worked with Jeff on a Batman book. So as a first step I shot a 20-minute interview on video with Michael Kaluta and incorporated it into a 15-minute trailer that I put together and presented to Jeff when we first met. He liked it and we went from there.

Nrama: What did Jeff think about doing a documentary?

Cabardo: Jeff has been very supportive and cooperative from the beginning of the project. He seems to be at a point in his life where he would like to say something to the world, not just through his artwork but also through his life stories.

Nrama: Although Jeffrey did comics work in the 1970s, he’s largely moved past that. Why do you think that was?

Cabardo: Jeff left the illustration field to focus on work that is more personal and enriching for him. Abandoning the world of commercial art allowed him to master his craft as a fine artist without compromising his vision.

Nrama: What is Jeffrey focused on these days, art-wise?

Cabardo: Jeff is not doing any art lately.

Nrama: Once you decided to do this project, how’d you go about finding everything you needed to tell the story?

Cabardo: The biggest challenge was finding the money to bankroll the project. Once I got the initial investment and was able to hire a crew, putting together the footage was relatively straightforward. Jeff has a lot of fans and friends as well as a lot of pictures, artwork and memorabilia -- and, most importantly, a very rich and textured past that was just waiting to be recounted. He's had such an extraordinary life that it wasn’t very hard to find everything I needed to document it.

Nrama: Although the movie is about Jeffrey, I’ve heard you cover a lot about the infamous comics studio called the Studio. Can you tell us about that, and explain what the Studio is?

 

Cabardo: The Studio was a group of four artists -- Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith -- who decided in the mid-1970s to rent a loft in downtown Manhattan together. It began simply as a practical way for the group to be able to afford a good-sized work area, but because of the way their creativity manifested and reverberated through that space, the work they produced there became legendary. They infused fine art techniques into the commercial world of comics, which was very unique at that time, and inspired a whole generation of emerging artists in the fields of comics and illustration. The Studio was instrumental in making the four of them the legends they are today.

Nrama: Before we go, I wanted to ask about your funding. Earlier you used Kickstarter.com in an attempt to secure funding to finish the film. Where are you at now with funding and completing the film?

Cabardo: I did not make my Kickstarter pledge mark of $15K so I'm now asking for donations through PayPal (maria@macafilms.com). This is going to the postproduction of the movie and towards funding two additional interview sessions that will really make the film more memorable.

Another fundraising effort to help the film: http://www.glimmergraphicsprints.com/NativeSon.html

$25.00 gets you a Jeff Jones signed poster and if you like some other prints, just mention wanting to help Better Things and 50% of the sales goes to the movie.

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