Tuesday, November 25, 2008

All you ever wanted to know about Jim Mahfood! Exclusive interview by Hunt & Gather

Jim Mahfood or Food One is a comic book artist, rad illustrator and a hip hop loving kind a guy, born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri. By the age of 18 he was getting an inch to pack up and start the road to adulthood so strolled on over to art school to the Kansas City art institute. After graduating and starting his own comics book company called 40oz Comics, he moved to Arizona and started to really develop a career in the arts and now he happily resides in downtown Los Angeles which he describes as “the place to be in the art world.”

Tell us Jim, how did you get addicted to comics?
I got in to comics when I was a little kid, I kind of learned how to read by reading comics. I must of been 7 o8 when I started buying comic books.

Did you have a older sibling who influenced you to get in to comics or did you just pick one up one day and you knew that was it ?
No, not really. I used to watch Sesame street and the Electric company on PBS , the Electric Company had these spider man segments on it, it was this live action thing were was guy dressed in a spider man suit going on adventures. And that’s really when I fell in love with Spider man, so naturally when I found out that there were spider man comics I started collecting comics and then it started..

So I guess spider man was kind of the reason I got in to all of this.

Wow, that’s a good story. So from that point on you became an addict to collect Spider man, but were you also drawing at the time?
I started to buy comics and then after that I started to draw my own version of comics, and started creating my own books and just stapling them together.

Were you in a lot of art classes in high school or was it only when you moved to Kansas City to go to Art school that you became so focused on wanting to become a comic designer?
I was never really around a lot of artists, I drew with friends in Saint Louis at my high school but I was really kind of the art guy at my high school, I drew the team logos and drew for the yearbook. I was that guy ya know. But even though I wasn’t good at all, people thought I was good. I did end up meeting this guy Lorenzo Lizana who was publishing his own comics so I stated to apprentice with him and he really taught me about all the right pens and brushes to use
But when I went to Art school I got my ass kicked, I was around people that were older and way better than me. I met these really cool dudes Mike Huddleston and Paul Friswald and we all made our own comic books.

You went off to art school and during your time there you formed 40oz Comics. How was your art college experience, was it all the broacher's said it would be?
The school itself wasn’t anything really that big, I learned a lot because I learned from the guys I hung out with. I met my best friend Mike Huddleston there who I think was the best guy in our illustration department, we both immediate clicked because we both liked rap music and comic books. So we started drawing our own comics together, we tried then to get in to the industry and submitted our comics to publishers, but we just got rejected for years.

So you formed your own comic book company instead?
Yeah, In school we had access to printing labs so we just started publishing our own stuff. We distributed it ourselves through the mid-west, and kind of developed a little following. That was the birth of 40oz comics. Mike pretty much taught me everything I know about drawing.

Are you two still best buddies?
Definitely, I still work with Mike, but I have also been doing my own thing and so is he, but we are still collaborating. We have a sketch book that we keep mailing back and forth to each other. He will draw on five pages that he will mail to me, Ill jam on those five pages and collaborate and then Ill start my own five pages and mail it back to him. When the book is completely done, then we will publish it. Its just a fun no pressure project.

No ones going to pay us to collaborate together, so we just decided to do it .

Who are your big influences in the comic book world?
Jack Kirby, is kind of known as the king of comic book art. I love his stuff. Jaime Hewlett, he did all the Tank girl comics. When I discovered Tank girl comics in ‘92 it really blew my mind. It was exactly what I wanted to do. Hot chicks with guns, and punk rock. He just really had his own thing, I actually was trying to figure out my own style, so I kind of used him as my main influence and started kind of coping his stuff.

Can you give us an example ?
I did my first Girl Scout comics in 95, and I kind of did the whole tank girl thing, the theme of hot girls and punk rock, and I just did it with my own version, hot girls and hip hop and guns. Its kind of that formula but different.

How do you find yourself fitting in to the more contemporary art and gallery world?
I think my generation of under ground comic book artist are the first to try to cross over to other scenes.
That’s the only problem I have discovered about art, you can be totally established in one scene, but when you try to enter another scene you have to start all over again.
Everyone knows me in Comics, which is great. but when I moved out here and tried to get a cartoon going, and started talking to animation people, I was like oh shit, you have to start from scratch. Its the same with the gallery world, no one really knew who I was .

When did you first start the transformation from comic books to gallery walls?
When I met Jon Gibson at Gallery 1988 and the I AM 8 bit shows, that kind of when I started getting in to the gallery scene. It just takes time ya know, you have to jump scenes and really just establish yourself all over again.

I know you have collaborated with Def Jux record label and worked on some hip hop album covers, can you tell us a bit more about your love for hip hop and how you have combined comics and hip hop?
I grew up just being a huge fan of punk rock and hip hop. When I was a kid, in 86 and 87 we were all riding skateboards and listening to public enemy. I was always really moved by all that culture. When I went to art school, I started going to underground hip hop parties, where there were Djs, and graffiti artists, and that when I really first saw live art. Then we had the idea of hanging art at the shows, doing hiphop-art shows. And my whole art style, I wanted it to look like the whole vibe of the Hip hop culture. I wanted the characters to really give the vibe that this culture, the attitude of hip hop.
I met Murs in Arizona, we met, I liked his music and he liked my art so he asked me to do art for some of his projects. He introduced me to slug and the rest of the Rhymesayers crew. And then I went on to write and draw a comic book for Murs and Slug’s Felt 2 album.

Through your experience you see Hip hop and comics having a lot in common?
Most underground hip hop people are comic book fans. I think its because both art forms are based around story telling. Like if you’re a good rapper your not just shouting out catch phrases, but your actually telling stories with your raps. Comic books are really just visual story telling. The art is meant to service the story. Both forms of expression are in the servitude of telling a story.

That’s a great way of putting it, I never thought of that.
You lived in Arizona before coming to Los Angles, why did you decide to change locations and how was that move for you?
My best friend in Arizona was Z-trip and he decided moved to LA, as soon as he moved it kind of killed things for me in Arizona and I was kind of left there hanging solo. I got then also an optioning deal to do my own cartoon show with Disney, so all the ingredients were pointing me to California. I kind of already had a crew established here, some good friends were working in Burbank at the animation studios. So I moved to Burbank to work on my show for Disney, but it never made it on to tv or anything.

That sounds like a great reason to move, but I don’t picture you the type of guy to work in a corporation like Disney, or be drawing in an office. Do you work with a company now, or are you independent?
Well I have always done my own thing; I have never been an in-house kind of guy. When I work on my own stuff I like to be at my apartment, alone with my music loud hanging out in my underwear. I couldn’t really sit in a cubical and draw, I can do live art in front of people but for me to really write and draw my own comics I really have to be in my own element.

How is that working out for you, don’t you find it can be harder running your career independently than just getting that office job?
I think I am lucky , I mean if you were with these big companies you get all the medical benefits and your set up for life. But the trade off you know, I just rather do it the way. Im doing it now and I have always done it this way. It does take a lot of self discipline you know.

You recently started doing something a bit different with your gallery work, I have noticed your now working with photos and incorporating them in your illustrations. How did that project start?
It all started when this guy named Jeff Shagawat aka “Bill Shag” moved in to my apartment building. We would hang out in my building just listening to records. He had all these clunky old 70 and 80s cameras, so we just started going out to the bars together and gallery shows and he would just shoot hundreds of photos. So he had a stack of photos, so I just picked one up and started drawing out of the photo.

How do you make your selection of what photo to use?
The photos I pick and choose are ones that are cropped. Like the legs or arms are chopped off. So I can go off of that and draw the hands.

How are people responding to this new collaboration and style?
People seem to really respond to them differently. All of a sudden there is a photo in it and it turns in to a different thing. I can actually charge more for them as well, they have almost become this new art think. I went on to art shows in Arizona, France, London and New York based on this really weird collaboration
The only other photographer I have worked with his Akriophoto, so me and him will be working together for the future shows.

Going back to your comics, how do you come up with your own stories since you write and draw your own stuff, where do you find that these ideas come from?
I just think about what I want to draw. Most of the comics that are coming out now, most of the stories are based around music. I wanted to tell a story where I could draw hip hop oriented things, like hot chics and violence. So I wrote a story about a guy who is literally a monster who becomes an international pop star. The whole joke is that in the future that our society will be so naïve and corrupt that a murderous monsters can become a pop star and people don’t really notice. It was just like my excuse to draw, and drawing him and the hot girls in it all came out really ironic and dark comedy, So basically its just wanted I wanted to do at the time.

What else are you in the middle of?
The book that Im working on right now is bit si-fi and Barbarella type thing. Its just me wanting to draw this sexy barbarella. So that’s the great thing about writing and drawing your own comics, you can do just what you enjoy drawing. So I don’t want to draw it I wont ever have to.

Your latest collaboration was with COLT 45, which by the way I had the experience of drinking a few during my travels, and I realized that in just one can I went from being Buzzed to drunk to hung over.. that beer is incredibly painful, but the art work is great. Is it just ironic that you go from having a company called 40 oz comics to having your own beer cans, or was that part of your dream?
No,, really its just a coincidence When me and Mike started 40oz Comics, it was because we would sit around at night drinking 40z, the dollar fifty beers because we were poor art students. So to have it come full circle, and to do work for a beer company, its kind of ironic. The Colt 45 guys didn’t even know I had a label called 40 oz comics, it was just one of the design guys who saw my art and thought it would fit with the label.

Are you happy with the turn out of that collaboration?
I think it worked really well, I mean they really let me be me, they didn’t really art direct me too much. Most of the drawings revolve around my characters partying and looking cool drinking beer. So as long as I was aloud to do my own thing, it was a perfect mix.

How does it feel going in to a liquor store and seeing your work cooling away on a beer can?
Im really excited about it, but I also think its really kind of funny. For me its kind of like I have put my mark on pop culture. When its all said and done in like 10 years when no one remembers it, I will have this weird memento when my art was on a beer can. I don’t think it’s the classy artistic achievement, its not like showing at the MOCA or anything. But hey, I have my own beer can so that really cool.

What should we call you Food One, or stick with the birth name Jim Mahfood, I see you use both ?
Its kind of confusing probably having two names like that but, if someone cant pronounce my last name. With my comic books I still use my real name, because I’m more known in the comics as Jim Mahfood, but Ive been using Food One more for my live art stuff and gallery work.

Did Food One start as your graffiti name, or why did you choose that?
True story, back in the mid 80s my older cousin, Mike Mahfood had this rocky balboa firebird and had a customized license plate that just said FOOD1, so it wast really the graffiti name influence but it was this license plate that my cool older cousin had.

To wrap this up, can you fill us in on what are you currently working on?
The new comic book is called KICK DRUM COMIX, and the first one came out Sep 10, and the second one comes out Oct. 29. Mix tape art book Vol. 3 comes out in early February, its my hard cover art book series. Its like an on going art book series Im doing, about 2 o 3 of those.

So the question of the day, where do you see your self and your art career in the future?
Im really interested in branching out, I will always have one foot in comics because I love it, I love telling stories. I want to keep branching out and keep doing my art on products. I just joined Andy Howells Artsprojekt.com, where there is a handful of artists participating. It’s an exciting project, its all on-demand art, I have about 30 skate deck images up and prints available. There is no waste, everything is produced once its ordered.

Are you interested in following the trend of making your own Vinyl Toy? I think one of those hot drunk hip hop chicks would make a great toy.
Yeah im trying to get that going, so hopefully I would like to have something be done by next year Comic Con. People are always asking me, how come I don’t have a toy.

If you were to meet a young kid just starting to draw comics, what advice would you give him o her?
The main thing is to really do your own thing, find your own style and your own voice. Every thing has already pretty much been done, but you really need to stand out and create your own style. You also need to have the discipline and the skills to sit down and make a 24 page book. Its a lot of hard work but its really rewarding.

Big thanks to Jim for a great interview.To see more work from Jim's work Please visit:

WEB: www.40ozcomics.com

BLOG: www.foodoneart.blogspot.com

MYSPACE: www.myspace.com/mahfood

1 comment:

Maia Dobson said...

I like his ideas, the unique paintings and hanging art. It's like comics coming out into life.