Jesse McManus is afflicted with a rare genetic abnormality that causes his head, scarf, and longcoat to look exactly like those of Tom Baker as Dr. Who. His deformity is so grotesque that the first time I met him, I involuntarily asked if he was cosplaying the Fourth Doctor. He was not.
However, he can, as I discovered at Victor Cayro's Mark Ass Hoes show, draw in a beautifully cartoony way with great lines and fun sense and sensibilities. I don't know shit else about this up and comer. He hasn't done a whole lot except for his Vice comic and being around.
Vice: How old are you Jesse? Why are you making comics?
Jesse: I'm 23. I don't remember a time when I wasn't drawing, writing and trying to make comics. I feel totally wired to them in basic, intuitive ways. They're easy to share with people, easy to hide from people, and can be funny and scary at the same time without apologizing. Ideally, the process of making them relieves nervous energy and keeps me open to living life happily.
Why haven't I seen more of your stuff around?
I guess I haven't done as much marketing as some, or tried to get published as much, though I'm not opposed to such things. I try to stay occupied with doing more work as a daily practice. I love making mini-comics, often in very small editions, which I end up giving to friends and sending to cartoonists who I feel a kinship with. Kramers Ergot 7 is the only time I've been published on a large scale, and my page was black and white and fairly confusing, so I imagine it stayed hidden from many browsing eyes. I resolve to be more visible to you and the rest of the universe, starting now.
Look out world, here comes Jesse. I liked your comic in Desert Island's anthology.
Aw, thanks! I'm glad Smoke Signal is around. All of us involved owe our blood to the newspaper cartoonists of yesteryear and Paper Rodeo too.
It looks like you like animation a lot. What did you grow up reading and looking at?
Making and watching things move is super fun. I was kind of an omnivorous kid as far as animation goes. Living in Minneapolis, you have to stay inside and look at stuff all winter. Here's a brain-barf of old and new favorites:
Ub Iwerks, The Phantom Tollboth, The Neverending Story, Beetlejuice, Spumco, Lewis Trondheim, Jim Woodring, Henrik Drescher, Chris Ware, Steve Weissman, Scud the Disposable Assassin, James Kochalka, The Neverhood, Oddworld, Wolfenstein 3D, Deerhoof, Calvin and Hobbes, FLCL, Myst, Highwater books, The Dark Crystal, The Elephant Man, Harvey Kurtzman, Ico, The Hairy Who, Fort Thunder, Richard Brautigan, John Porcellino, Robert Breer, Donald Barthelme, Robert Walser, Harry Smith, Tove Jansson, Werner Herzog, Milt Gross, Yasuji Tanioka, Paul Klee, Steve Reich.
I consider all my family, friends and teachers to be major heroes, and will not make them blush or cry by mentioning their names on this filthy, snark-laden website. Rest assured, though, they are totally heroic and keep me standing with good advice and solid meals.
Myst is great. Do you like Lost? It's basically a TV-show version of Myst.
I have managed to never see a whole Lost episode. Some year I will plan my time and gorge myself on it. I'm married to Twin Peaks, and I will have to make more room in my brain and heart to accommodate another epic series.
How'd you get such a handle on poses and linework? You really draw more like an animator, someone who needs to be able to understand how these images exist in space and how to express movement well.
I took animation and figure drawing classes at school, but also watched copious cartoons and maintained OCD drawing habits.
For a while I cut my brush in half and only drew on rough printmaking paper. The half-brush allowed more control while learning and the rough paper had the opposite effect of smoother illustration board, i.e. you had to struggle to make a clean line. So going back to the Bristol was like driving from dirt roads onto pavement! When I got a full-size brush again, it was like a change of tires. I should note that I do not have a drivers license.
Also, it's not that good poses and clean line-work make "good" comics necessarily, but they're fun tools to experiment with and be astonished by when someone else thinks they're cool.
John K never liked to use the same pose twice in Ren and Stimpy. Are you the same way? You avoid sticking to a model.
Working "on model" feels wrong to me. I love seeing a cartoonist transform over the course of a book, and want the freedom to change and destroy every prop and character at my disposal (or leave them alone, for that matter). But I think there's often an intuited model in my head. I have an idea of how thick or thin or heavy or light a character physically is, the texture of their sweater, or whatever.
Often the point of the strip is for me to imagine what space they're in, if any, and try to make them move through it in a way that is fun to read. The practical aspects of doing this are rarely thought about until someone asks about it after the fact. I like things to be free enough for gut decisions, discoveries and mistakes.
The strip I drew for you got out of hand with dialogue, so I ended up somewhat ditching the spatial notions and just writhing in beagle technology and lazy teenagers.
INTERVIEW BY NICHOLAS GAZIN