Three years ago, Jaik Olson had dropped out of art school, had no phone, and had quite a hefty drug addiction. This image of a twitchy, coke-addled aspiring artist is a far cry from the Olson we’re familiar with today. Making art under the moniker Puppyteeth since 2009, his career only really popped off two-and-a-half years ago when he put down the tiny spoon and picked up a pack of fineliners. Olson’s illustrations are evocative of comic books from the 40s and 50s — bold, high contrast, primarily black and white drawings of beautiful, if not slightly absurd, characters in states of peril.
The majority of his success is due to Instagram. With over 23K followers, he describes the text-based work he posts there as a kind of hand drawn meme. The signature brand of soul-crushing honesty in these images is relatable and easy to disseminate. Success Olson has experienced online has given him the opportunity to focus exclusively on his art, making a living selling prints and t-shirts. And while he’s happy with the freedom this platform has allowed him, Olson does find the role the internet plays in his career has had a strangely integral effect. “It’s weird how the internet dictates what I do, in a way. Like when I put out my first book, Instagram was just square format, so I did my book in square format. My drawings were square because of Instagram,” he says.
The likes and comments he receives on certain photos dictate what is made into prints and t-shirts. Instagram’s terms and conditions regarding nudity have steered his drawings into a slightly more wholesome direction, if you can call acute self-loathing wholesome. “I’ve always had a dark sense of humor, and to critique society, especially hetero-normative society, is really important to me,” Olson says, of the misanthropic themes in his work. “I think it’s funny how many pretty, rich, white girls follow me on Instagram and are like, 'This is so relatable! This is me!' And I’m like, 'Yeah, it is you.' That’s funny, that it’s translating and everyone is happy about it.”
Going forward, he hopes to make his cynical observations more political, making work that focuses on the supporters of xenophobic, misogynistic, and homophobic politicians. “I feel like I need to be more of a voice. Especially in the political climate right now, I need to focus less on quibbling straight relationships and more on actual issues,” he explains. Olson is currently working on the form this activism will take. Knowing that the majority of his followers share similar political beliefs, he hopes to use the accessibility of his drawings to make impactful connections with new audiences who might not share those views.
“I was thinking about making downloadable protest signs or something like that, but I feel like it’s kind of preaching to the choir unless I can make really viral images that will spread around. Those do have weight,” he says. To kill time while he figures out how to use bitterness and pessimism to usher in an age of understanding, Olson is self-publishing a book called Glamour and Peril at the end of February and will continue articulating his thoughts on subjects like love and drag queens in his opinion column for Vice Canada.