Jake Richmond Interview

Jake Richmond with Modest Medusa
Jake Richmond with Modest Medusa
Jake Richmond with Modest Medusa.

Jake Richmond is a Portland indie comic creator. His comics are Modest Medusa (modestmedusa.com) and Ghost Kiss (ghostkiss.modestmedusa.com). He is currently working on/finished a role-playing game called The Magical Land of Yeld.

I sat down with Jake to discuss his projects his start in comics.

When I arrived at his place of work (Share Space), I noticed that several of Jake’s books were on display, like a bookstore. Which led me to ask…

Illya: So, does Share Space have a storefront too?

Jake: It use to be. The idea was to create a tiny shop that only sold our books. But, it’s always a mess. People would come over, ignore our comics, and pick up a random object. Customers would say, “this bag is awesome! How much for it?” So we gave up on selling anything. They never want to buy our comics. Instead, they see this random game controller or they see one of Barry’s weird toys and would want to buy it. But never the comics. Sometimes they like the art on the wall.

I: Does that feel insulting?

J: Errr… yeah, but you never know what’s going to catch someone’s eye. It does say gifts and toys outside the window. This place use to be a jewelry shop before we moved in. Outside there were two signs which read “custom jewelry.” So people would come in, look around, and pick up a few books. After 20 minutes or they then asked, “Where’s the jewelry?”

One time, a mom came in with her kids. She wasn’t paying attention and thought this place was a toy store. The mom sat on the couch while her kids checked out our books. The daughter picks up Barry’s book while the son starts staring at this picture by Erika Moen. The picture is a cartoon of an orgy. Both of the kids are like 6 or 7 and they’re here for a half an hour. Finally, the mom gets off the phone to see what they are doing. She ask her daughter if she liked the book she was reading. She then turns to her son to see what he’s looking at and then starts screaming! The mom tucks her son under her arm, grabs her daughter, and then turns to me and yells, “How dare you!!! How dare you have PORN in a children’s store!” I said, “Ma’am, you’re actually trespassing…” The mom stormed off.

I: Ouch… that’s tough. It’s adult content but not straight up porn. I mean, I get it. With normal people, there is a hard division- innocent cartoons and adult content.

J: Adult content has a connotation of harm, which is not appropriate in Erika’s case. Art is a great example. Art is very often porn but it’s very often not, yet it is still adult content.

I: There is a lot of creators that I like with books that are not, innocent, but there is adult content. They are not being subversive. But, at this point, I guess you got to put out what you feel is your best. I don’t know.

I: So you lock your doors now?

J: Always. A few years ago we had a guy knock on the door at 11 at night. I asked, “What do you want?” He asked, “Can I come into pee?” I told him he couldn’t, put my headphones back on, and got back to work. About 10 minutes later I heard something in the back, which was weird because I was the only one here. The guy was standing there, with his pants down, peeing in the back room. So yeah, we always lock the doors now.

Jack Kirby and Doctor Who

J: After the Thor movie a few months ago I went on and on about old Jack Kirby stuff. I was seeing someone at the time and then she stopped seeing me. I asked, “How come we haven’t gotten on?” She replied, “You know a lot stuff about Thor.” I was like, “Oh, okay, I didn’t realize it was a disqualifier.” It was too much Thor. I don’t regret that.

I: Jack Kirby’s Thor is awesome! It was him at his best.

J: I kind of have the impression that during that time, Kirby was throwing stuff out as fast as he could…

I: He was up to 15 books or more.

J: Yeah. It feels like Kirby would often get in a groove where he was throwing stuff out there and everything was crazy. No one was keeping with up with him and they weren’t trying to fix his comics. They were like (with Thor), “Ah, let him do whatever.”

I: From what I understood, Thor was Kirby’s personal favorite. He loved mythology.

J: Yeah, you can tell with Thor. It’s weird because if you don’t have an appreciation for Kirby, it’s really easy to look at his work and not understand it. They were the first comics I read. I got a bunch of old Captain Americas and I fucking loved them but I didn’t understand the art. I couldn’t figure out why it looked the way it did. It took me a few issues to understand and then I got into it. Like, back when we were kids I would see Robotech and video game art and I thought one artist created them. Kirby’s art was a style that I didn’t understand although it was cool. I couldn’t wrap my head around it because it wasn’t generic cartoon art. It was almost alien.

I: Generic cartoon art… like Hanna Barbara or Filmation?

J: Yeah. I had this expectation in my head of what generic comic art style was. I wasn’t reading a lot of comic but generic was more like…

I: Curt Swan?

J: Yeah! More clean-cut and polished like romance comics.

I: You know… years ago my intro to comics was through a local Connecticut illustrator. He taught a comic illustration class. My teacher did some interning under Curt Swan. He said that Swan’s studio was immaculate. Everything was clean and perfect. My teacher said that he wanted to mess it up because it looked too perfect for an illustrator.

J: That doesn’t surprise me.

I: My teacher also talked about interning under Howard Chaykin. Chaykin’s place, he said, was a disaster. Cigarette butts and beer cans everywhere. Chaykin’s studio was the kind of place you felt an unconscious urge to start cleaning.

J: Wow. That also doesn’t surprise me. Do you ever feel like when you meet an artist and are not surprised by what they look like? Like, every so often I’ll meet someone and say to myself, “Oh yeah okay… that’s what he looks like. I get it now.” He looks like… not exactly like how he draws but I can see elements of him as a person.

I: Yeah. Mike Allred was like that. He looks like Madman.

J: Dan Brereton. When I first saw him I was like “Holy Shit! He looks JUST like one of his paintings!”

I: With the eyebrows?

Shared Space Poster Wall
Shared Space with the forbidden poster.

I: I don’t know… your personality coming out in your style? But I get the term “generic style.” I dismissed it a lot as a kid in favor of guys like Jim Lee. I thought Jim Lee was awesome. The older I get, the less I like his work.

J: I appreciate his technical work. Earlier in his career, he was more adventurous; exciting layouts and he took chances. As he gets older he kind of settling into this rut.

I: There is nowhere else to go.

J: That’s might be it. I get the impression that Lee is not particularly excited about his work. Like, you can tell when an artist wants to work on a project. I don’t know. it may be me projecting. I get excited about my work so other artists may feel the same.

I: I can see that. Back to Kirby, and Swan, I regret overlooking their talent. As a kid, I thought more lines meant more talent. As I got older I learned and appreciate Kirby’s illustration power. I wish I wasn’t such a jackass loudmouth kid denouncing their work.

J: It’s easy to do and that is the mistake everyone falls into. I see the same thing when I was teaching and working with teenagers. They would come in with an artist they like and say, “Check this out! It’s the best artist ever!” I look at it and I’m like, “Uuuuuuh… I can see why you’re attracted to this. It has a very nice polish, but the person can’t draw.”

I: Style over form, I guess. Like when kids pretend to be adults so they wear make-up and “adult” clothing yet have no idea what they are doing.

J: Yeah. It was Alan More who said (and I’m paraphrasing), “part of the appeal with Image, especially with Rob Liefeld, is that if you’re some random fan and you like to draw, you could look at Rob’s stuff and say ‘If I was a little better, I could be the next Rob Liefeld.”

I: You know. It’s funny, one of my favorite Alan Moore Image books was Violator vs. Badrock.

J: Oh yeah. I never read it but I’ve seen art from it.

I: It’s horrible. The art is not good but it’s so self-deprecating. It’s not meta nor does it break the fourth wall. But there is a lot of snarky humor and weird demon incense jokes. It’s a great read. It’s like eating a bunch of those $.99 chocolate cream pies. It’s a guilty pleasure even though it’s not good for you.

J: There was another Violator comic series drawn by Bart Sears? He’s a great illustrator. From what I remember, Alan Moore did all the layouts for it. Like, he turned in the script with complete layouts, which looked incredible. They could have polished it up but he’s a completely competent illustrator. Sears took it and it was technically better but it didn’t have any emotion in it. Moore’s work wasn’t super polished but it was good. I guess it wasn’t a good fit for an Image book at the time.

I: Neal Adams came over to a local comic shop in Vancouver one time for a signing. Someone asked him what was his favorite character to draw. Adams responded, “I have no favorite character. I’m a professional. If you want the comic book answer, then I’ll say BATMAN’S MY FAVORITE!” It was clear he was being sarcastic with the comic answer. So to Bart Sears, it’s a job and he’s a professional. Its ‘this is how I draw. I will take a story and draft it because it is only a job.’

J: You know, that wouldn’t actually surprise me. I always got the impression that Sears was a real professional.

I: With some people who don’t read art they are not going to see anything. Once you learn how to read art and read comic book art then you can tell what has energy and what doesn’t. A comic reader can tell something means something and when something doesn’t.

J: It often frustrates me. Some people will say to me, “Oh man, I love this comic,” when the comic lacks any energy or emotion. It’s easier for those who make comics and fans who can read comic art to spot. It shouldn’t be frustrating but it is. Lecturing people about it doesn’t do any good.

I: Well no, because it’s about what sells. Money talks and losers walk. I get it. A while back I went on a tirade at my local comic shop and I shouldn’t, because no one likes to listen to an old man in the corner. In the bargain bin was a ton of Steve Rude’s Nexus comics which were $.50 fodder. At the counter, some fans were debating about the latest Green Lantern story arc. In my head, I thought, “You’re debating on the latest manufactured garbage you’ll always get.” It’s the power fantasy story. “If I had a magic ring, I can rule the world.” But, the average comic fan is buying what they enjoy rather than a good story… like porn I guess.

J: That’s actually a good analogy.

I: They are buying what makes them feel good for the moment. When you’re a creator, comics have a different meaning to you. But if you’re not… then it’s like fast food I guess. That is why there is a lot of miscommunication and arguments on Twitter over comics. People going online and yelling at stories being “a part of the social justice warrior agenda.” Why? Because you’re not getting your traditional pop culture fix? So what if Thor’s a woman or Captain America is black. What is wrong with exploring new themes? Why? Because it breaks your buying habit? If you don’t want to see it on the stands, fine don’t buy it. I don’t like Brussel sprouts in a grocery store but it doesn’t mean someone doesn’t enjoy them.

J: It’s an insane idea that everything has to be for you and if it is not for you it’s an assault. I was discussing this with one of my regular readers. They’ve been reading my comics for 6 years or so. We’ve communicated before and been friendly. The reader posted a rant about the new female Doctor Who and how this decision was going to destroy the series. In my head, I thought, “that doesn’t sound good. Maybe he doesn’t like the actress.” I didn’t know but I asked for some clarification. He said, “I don’t think women have earned it.” I responded with, “I don’t feel like you have to earn Doctor Who as a gender.”

I: I’m sorry. For some reason, I didn’t hear that right and thought you meant women doctors, not a woman Doctor Who. I didn’t hear the “Who” part. In my head, I was thinking, “What the hell?!? She went through medical school!!! What do you mean she didn’t earn it?!?”

Modest Medusa Books
Modest Medusa on the shelves of Shared Space.

J: Ha, yeah, that is so much worst! Anyway, the reader was not into my response. I asked him to explain why. He said, “This just cheapens it because the Doctor is a man and male, WHITE male fans have been paying for this for years. Now it’s just ripped away and these women haven’t done anything to earn it at all. They are just standing the shoulders. Why can’t they make their own character instead of standing on the shoulders of white men who’ve done this?” I was like, “Oh my God! There is… so much wrong with that line of reasoning.” It was such a messed up backwards point. It came down to that he didn’t like the change so it shouldn’t exist for anybody.

I: There are so many female Doctor Who fans right now. So why not make the Doctor a woman?

J: Right. There’s been, like, 12 of them? I’m not a Doctor Who fan. If you have 12 of something and someone asks, “Can we have one?” and you’re like, “NO!”… I mean… that’s greedy.

I: If it doesn’t work out for BBC and the ratings crash, they’ll kill the Doctor. I mean, come on. I trust the show is not going to be about vaginas or anything where is the fear?

J: It could, but that would seem like a poor idea. People like to get angry when things are not exactly the way they want them to be.

I: And those people have equal access to social media… the loud minority. It’s hard sometimes NOT to pay attention because sometimes it triggers a self-doubt. That is what the loud minorities strength is, you know. If one or two words hits that self-doubt and fear and you’re left with asking yourself, “is what they say true?”

J: It doesn’t take much either. Years ago at a convention, I was on a panel… I don’t remember what it was about. I was one of two people when it was to be ten people. There was a ton of people and they were there NOT to see me. Somebody stood up and asked, “How are you?” I told him and he went back to his seat. I could see him searching for something on his phone. Minutes later, the guy stood up and said, “I just looked at your comic and your art isn’t very good!” That was it. That was his whole comment. We moved on to other things but that destroyed me. It took me about a year to get over it.

I: How come?

J: I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like you don’t hear that kind of stuff all the time. It was weird because after that show I was sick for two months. My output crawled and I was putting out one strip a week instead of three.

I: It’s a nasty comment.

J: It was and it was in a room full of people and it was in person. Online hurts as well but… The other thing about that comment was that I didn’t feel angry, just defeated. When someone says something like that I’m like, “whatever, that’s your opinion,” or “fuck you!” But this time I thought, “Oh no!”

I: Well your art doesn’t suck.

J: Well, thanks. It’s weird that a tiny little comment can find its way into you. Sometimes the comment may not be a negative comment. A few months ago someone said to me, “I really like your comic but I wish it came out more.” I don’t know why that go to me because I’ve been hitting my updates. I haven’t missed a comic in over a year. I was feeling good about my work. For some reason, I went into this weird tailspin of “Oh Shit! I’m letting people down! I’m not putting out my comic enough.” It’s weird what gets to you and what doesn’t.

I: Like, “I’m done! I’m a failure! Everything sucks now!”

Creating Modest Medusa

J: Yeah! So… uh, what are we supposed to be talking about again?

I: We’re actually supposed to be talking about you and Modest Medusa. Like, where did you get the idea for Modest?

J: Oh! Do you remember MewCon?

I: No.

J: Oh… okay. What about NewCon?

I: I sort of remember it but I’ve never been to one.

J: Okay. So NewCon folded this year. The guy who ran it stole everyone’s money and ran out. But before it was NewCon, it was a show called MewCon. It was an adults only Anime show, which didn’t meant all porn all the time, but it was pretty much that. I went to MewCon with my friend, Nathaniel Cole…

I: Please, no name dropping.

J: Ha ha, this would be the lamest name drop ever. We were making role-playing games at the time. We released some games and we were trying to sell them at Anime Cons… and nobody came for that. People were at MewCon to hook up, dress in sexy cosplay, buy porn, get high and go to raves. There were some positives to the show. The hotel was at the airport and the bar was in the middle of the lobby. Nathaniel and I would sit at the bar, drink, and people watch.

I: How long ago was this?

J: About 7 years ago.

I: The airport area has changed a lot so it depends on where the…

J: It was down airport way, towards 82nd. The Sheraton? I’m not sure. It was a little seedy. Anyway, we had a booth and it was NOT in the vendor’s room. It was in the lobby so we were across from the bar. We didn’t sell anything the entire weekend. Nobody talked to us. Every now and again a super high sexy cosplayer would stop by. We would try to flirt a little bit but we were unsuccessful. I had these t-shirts, besides the role-playing games, that no one wanted. On one of the shirts, I had this little medusa drawing I came up with.

I: Just some random…

J: That’s it. Something I thought would be a cute t-shirt idea. I was still teaching classes and all the teenage girls drew mermaids. I started drawing mermaids with them and they made fun of my drawing saying, “That’s not a mermaid, that’s a snake girl!” Like… what? With Medusa hair? So that was it. That was the whole origin. We didn’t sell anything that day, and we got drunk. I took the bus home, oh and it was on New Year’s Eve, right? It was depressing. I got home, walked into my bedroom and my toilet flooded. My bathroom was connected to my bedroom. There was about 2 inches of water and it was, like, pee water. It was all over everything. I didn’t have bookshelves or a chest of drawers. My laundry was in stacks all over the floor. I also kept my books in stacks. My mattress was also on the floor. So everything’s ruined. Everything smelled like pee and it was horrible. I was so pissed. It was the end of a long day and I was pissed off. I had started to rent space at Share Space because I was working on Hereville with Barry. I wasn’t very far into it. I had finished the pig story and took a few days off before Christmas. So I came back to Share Space at midnight, frustrated. I was to start Hereville the next day but decided, “Nope! Fuck that! I’m going to do something else!”

I: Do you draw by hand or by Photoshop?

J: I do some market work but the vast majority of my coloring is in Photoshop.

I: Gotcha.

J: My friends, Addam and Huynh gave me a stack of storyboard paper. It was sitting on my desk so I thought, “I’m going to make a comic about how my toilet flooded.” I sat down and was like, “Jake comics home, he’s happy,” even though I wasn’t. “As Jake walks in he sees that his toilet flooded and says ‘God Dammit!’” The next panel, he talking on the phone with someone, which is what I did. I called my sister to complain about it and she said, “You should get out of the house for a while.” I couldn’t figure out what could happen but I thought about my medusa character. So the Jake character finds Medusa in his toilet. I posted this on Facebook that night and enough people liked it. I felt good about it and kind of got over being super angry. I didn’t go home because my room smelled like pee and flooded. I also didn’t tell anyone about it, not any one of my housemates.

I: Oh…

J: Yeah, I know. I stayed at my sister’s house, who lived down the street. I came back the next day and saw the positive reaction, so I drew two more quick. There wasn’t any effort to them. Recently I’ve been reposting my comics on Webtoons and… My God, they were crappy. I’m pretty happy on how they hit the beats and they’re funny but the drawing is something I’m not happy with. But that’s how it is with when you look at old work. So, yeah, I posted 4 strips in 2 days and I felt pretty good about it. Like, “People like me! People are paying attention to me!” I had a previous webcomic no one ever looked at. I had done 30 pages over a few months and only my mom looked at it. Having anyone look at my work made me feel pretty good. I went home to deal with the pee room. I dealt with it by abandoning it. I moved across the hall to a different room. It did get cleaned up.

I: Oh, okay. It wasn’t you closing the door, walking away, and not allowing anyone to enter again.

J: Yeah, ha, and to this day it’s still cover in pee! No, we replaced the carpet. I had to throw away a ton of books. It was awful. You know those Cerebus phonebook collections? That was the foundation to my stacks of comics along with a bunch of Invincible hardcovers. They’re all ruined. Over the first 12 weeks I did 12 strips. I didn’t have any intention of it being an ongoing thing, especially since I was working on Hereville like crazy. I had no time. But, people liked it. Barry suggested that I not only post it on Facebook but actually somewhere for webcomics. I started posting on Webcomics Nation, which died almost immediately, and Drunk Duck. That was it. I got lucky. I got lucky because I already had a following of people who liked my art from my role-playing game stuff. So I developed an audience fast.

I: You started as an illustrator for board games? Was that your trade, if you would call it that?

J: I always wanted to be a comic guy. Since I was 16 I would draw comics and mailed them off to Marvel and DC. I also mailed my work to Comico, Archie, Slave Labor Graphics. It was always shitty work, like 3 pages of Captain America fighting Dr. Doom.

I: Did you use the guide in Drawing Comics the Marvel Way?

J: No, because I could never find a copy. I had this shitty book my mom gotten me. It was like Drawing Comics the Marvel Way, but by someone you’ve never heard of who doesn’t know how to draw comics. It was awful. I got a stack of rejection letter because back then you still got rejection letters in the mail. Right around the time, I turned 18 I got an acceptance letter from Marvel. They said, “We’re going to hire you to draw a Spider-Man comic.”

I: Seriously? Wow!

J: Yeah! I asked, “is it Amazing Spider-Man or Spectacular Spider-Man? Or is it Web of Spider-Man?’ They wrote back, “It’s for a new Marvel Website.” I asked, “What’s a website?”

I: That… is something! That is huge!

J: They were making their website and they wanted a comic on it. So yeah, they hired me to draw… it was Spider-Man vs Electro. It was a simple story. Electro is robbing a bank, Spider-Man shows up, says something stupid. It was by Tom DeFalco, and it was not a good DeFalco script. So they fight for a bit, Electro gets away, and Spider-Man saves a little kid. Then there is a weird plug for the website about this new technology “The Internet!” You can follow Electro on The Internet and find… anyway.

Jake at his desk
Jake at his work station.

I: I guess it makes sense. The Internet powered by Electro.

J: Yeah! And I was, like, “Cool! Is it Amazing Spider-Man or Spectacular Spider-Man? Or Web of Spider-Man?” And they were like, “It’s for the new Marvel Website.” And I was like, “What’s a website?”

J: Yeah, that totally was the story. He had to use The Internet to figure out how to rob a bank. It was bad but I was so excited.

I: Well, who wouldn’t. It’s Spider-Man, no matter what the project is.

J: They paid me $70 a page, which was a lot more money than I’ve seen for anything. My only job up to that point was working at AM/PM for one weekend. I busted out the whole story in two weeks. They gave me 2 months to do it and in two weeks I’m done. They didn’t ask for any changes. Then… nothing. The comic never appeared anywhere. It never got published. I waited for years. We got a computer and AOL to see my comic. Every single day I was typing in “marvel.com,” “marvel.com,” “marvel.com,” and nothing. That was the end of my professional comic career. In the next 5 years I would send new comics to all these companies. I got an offer from Comico but they went under a few weeks after. So that was it. I gave up. In my mid-twenties I worked for a game store called Game Keeper. We were selling Pokemon and Magic cards. Wizards of the Coast bought out Game Keeper and we became the official Pokemon store in Portland. After Game Keeper closed for a brief time, my job was to travel around and run Pokemon leagues at other stores. During that time I met a bunch of people who played role-playing games. I worked a bunch of bad jobs for years. I said to myself, “I’m tired of this. I can’t do this anymore. I hate my life.” I turned 30 and I told myself, “I have to stop doing this.” I gotten fired again. I had 38 jobs in one year. It was also during the recession we went through 10 years ago. I was getting hired and the businesses would go out by a week later. I decided to finally make a go of drawing. The only place I knew how to get freelance work was from these people who make games. I emailed everyone I knew and asked, “Do you need any illustration work?” It took months to get anything going but I got a trickle of work for shitty collectible card games. Some role play work, some board game work.

I: Well, you got some experience to beef up your portfolio.

J: The pay was awful but it was enough to survive. I did this off and on for three years…. I guess it was more than 10 years ago. It must have been in my late twenties. I did freelance for three or four years until I decided I wanted to make my own games. That did okay. I built an audience of people who liked my work. That helped my comics. Without it, I would have had to spend 5 more years building a new audience.

I: Which strip is more popular? Modest Medusa, Ghost Kiss, or the other one, Korra Loves…?

J: Not Ghost Kiss. Ghost Kiss is the least popular thing I’ve ever done.

I: Do you have a favorite comic?

J: I don’t know if I have a favorite. Ghost Kiss is different from Modest Medusa.

I: which strip is more popular? Modest Medusa, Ghost Kiss, or the other fan-art comic… Korra Loves….?

J: Definitely not Ghost Kiss. Ghost Kiss is the least popular thing I’ve ever done. It lets me do a bunch of different things, so I enjoy it. I do Ghost Kiss every few months. Modest Medusa is definitely my most popular comic. My Korra fanart brings in a lot of eyes from Tumblr. But it’s something I do for fun. Art stop being a hobby for me a long time ago by that is the hobby aspect of my art. I don’t do a lot of freelance work anymore. I kind of wish I did but I don’t have time. I did a role-playing project a few weeks ago. The game I’ve been working on is a spin-off of Modest Medusa. I’ve been working on it for over a year. Apart of the reason why I can’t do freelance work is that my attention goes to completing my projects. I do Modest Medusa every week. I try to work on Ghost Kiss every week, even though there is a new Ghost Kiss script every few months. I have another stack of stuff I do every week. Then it’s 30 hours of work on the game project. It’s never-ending. We’re finally getting close to the end of the game. I am looking forward to putting it to bed. Then I can finally spend some time doing anything else, including taking on some paying work.

Jake Richmond’ Modest Medusa is at modestmedusa.com. Jake can also be supported at https://www.patreon.com/JakeRichmond/posts