COMIC-CON 2010: JULY 24-29
The now-familiar complaint at Comic-Con International is that the event has become too much about movie stars and not enough about comic-book creators but, on closer inspection, there’s a new wrinkle at the massive San Diego expo: In-demand comic-book creators are getting the star treatment themselves and not just by their loyal readers.
Consider, for instance, the rock-star schedule of comic book artist Jim Mahfood, a.k.a. Food One: On Saturday, he’ll be signing oversize prints from upcoming comic book “Marijuanaman,” along with his collaborator Ziggy Marley (yes, that Ziggy Marley) and that night he will be “freestyling” live art at the Soda Bar, flinging paint onto blank canvases as enthusiasts watch on.
And, in case you’re holding on to that old mental image of a comic book illustrator as a bespectacled shut-in, you should know that Mahfood’s latest hobby is drawing his tough, street-chic characters on the thighs and backsides of young, eager ladies around town.
Food One is enjoying the limelight in the spiky sector of comics that traces back to the underground comix scene, at least in its sensibilities, but creators in the mainstream comics are getting more pop-culture opportunities too. Geoff Johns at DC Comics has gone from being a comic book writer to being a key producer for Warner Bros. as they plan a new barrage of superhero films while creators such as Marc Guggenheim, J. Michael Straczynski and Jeph Loeb go back-and-forth between comics and Hollywood so often that some L.A. agents now buy comics in hopes of finding raw television and film talent. And in 2008, comics icon Frank Miller made the unprecedented leap from comics superstar to feature-film director with “The Spirit.”
“None of this was happening three or four years ago,” Mahfood says of the cross-pollination. “Comic book artists have been waiting for this to happen for a while.”
Comic book culture — whether it is the superhero cape stuff, Japanese-style manga or the contemporary offspring of the 1960s American comix movement — are front and center in pop culture. In his 12 years of coming to Comic-Con, Food One has seen music, movies, television, video games, fashion and yes, comics, continue to simmer and melt together in one big pot.
“We always joke around and say it shouldn’t be called Comic-Con anymore,” the 35-year-old said. “It should be called Pop-Culture Con.”
Mahfood grew up in St. Louis and started drawing comics when he was 15. His childhood influences range from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles,” to Dan Clowes’ “Eightball” to Los Bros Hernandez’s “Love & Rockets.” None had more impact on him, though, than Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” comics.
“When I discovered it, it was a huge revelation to me,” Mahfood said. “I could tell he was mixing rock and punk rock in with fashion. ‘Tank Girl’ was totally badass and sexy but it was also about being irreverent. It was everything I was looking for.”
After college at the Kansas City Art Institute, he formed 40oz Comics in 1993 with buddy Mike Huddleston. “We had a crew of guys that were just drawing and making their own ‘zines, mini-comics and magazines,” Mahfood said. “We started doing it in an underground, DIY way and forming a network throughout the Midwest.”
His underground- and graffiti-informed stylings caught the eye of readers as well as other admirers. In 1998, he scored some memorable career moments by working for Marvel on “Generation X Underground Special” and also drawing the comics adaptation of Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” for Oni Press. He would also go on to do pieces and campaigns for corporate America, such as his sexed-up images for Colt 45.
Mahfood’s art is polished in its line work but raw in its manners. His female characters, and there are lots, quip, brawl, cuss and rock-out like the femmes of a Quentin Tarantino flick but with a far different backbeat. Sitting in his Hollywood apartment (which is also his studio, complete with paintbrushes in the kitchen sink and paint-splattered canvases hanging out to dry), Mahfood attempted to describe his style with a verbal collage of era and art.
“It’s a hybrid mix of music, funk music, street culture, a little bit of graffiti, a little bit of anime, a little bit of that DIY ‘zine culture attitude, hip-hop and punk attitude, old late ’70s street art, Keith Haring, Basquiat… it’s like 30 different things put into a blender and what comes out of my hand is that drawing style. People should sort of hear music when they look at my art. That’s what I’m trying to do with how I compose pieces; I’m trying to convey rhythm and an attitude.”
Mahfood’s style could hardly be more different than, say, Alex Ross, the superstar comics artist known for a gleaming, enobled photo-realistic style that has become so bankable that he is now the Thomas Kinkade of caped-crusader art. But the ever-growing Comic-Con has found room for both of them and hundreds of others artists who will trek to San Diego in search of fame, fortune or perhaps just the next chapter of their own artistic journey.
“You have to have a formula then break the formula,” Mahfood said of his perspective. “Certain artists have this very one specific thing they do and I don’t really want to do that. I don’t know what it’s going to look like in five years but that’s exciting to me. That’s what keeps me going.”
You can check out Mahfood freestyling his live art on Saturday, July 24 at the Soda Bar (3615 El Cajon Blvd). And, at his Comic-Con booth (Artist’s Alley, table #AA-14), he will sell 100 copies of his new handmade, signed and numbered fanzine that bears the delicate title “Scum of the Earth, Volume 1.” He’ll also be signing oversized prints from “Marijuanaman” with Ziggy Marley on Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Image Comics booth. “Marijuanaman” will premiere as a series next year.
— Nicky Loomis
ARTWORK: Jim Mahfood’s work through the years, for details see his gallery.
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