I met Jason Martin at my first SF Zine Fest all the way back in 2008 and was blown away by his zines. He's not the kind of guy to wow you with flashy illustrations or sensational concepts, but rather, an approach that is perhaps a perfect representation of his personality -- honest, earnest, and down to earth.
His ongoing title, Laterborn , is a zine brimmed with poignant true-life stories of Jason's everyday life. Co-workers, childhood memories, and house shows are all tropes of auto-bio comics that have been explored before, but he brings a sense of depth and delight that is rarely found elsewhere.
I got a chance to chat with Jason about his work and process -- here's what he had to share.
Your art has a minimalist style that still manages to convey a lot of thought and emotion -- what influences that style of storytelling?
That’s pretty much the only way I can draw, but luckily it seems to fit my stories. I try to make up for my limited drawing skills by working harder on the writing half, so it’s a good motivator in that way. Kind of like when a singer doesn’t have a great voice, so they step up their songwriting.
How was your creative experience writing for other artists in Papercutter #17 different than stories you draw yourself?
Oh man, everything about that project was different and exciting, and also scary. I knew a lot of people would be reading that issue that had never seen my work before, so I felt a lot more pressure than usual. Another difference is I tend to do a lot of revising even while I’m drawing and inking, so it was hard to let go of my drafts and know I couldn’t make any more changes. But I also had an editor (Greg Means) who’s really good at giving feedback, which balanced things out.
When we got the finished comics back everyone hit theirs out of the park, and it was obvious I never had anything to worry about. My two favorite panels in the issue are things the artists added on their own (like the second to last panel of Vanessa Davis’ comic, which totally nailed what I was trying to say).
In Laterborn #8 there's a part of the story where you flashback to a childhood memory and the art style radically changes. Can you talk a little bit about where you took that artwork from?
Those drawings are from a book my mom and I made when I was a kid. I would tell her stories about my life and she would write down what I said (probably polishing it up a little), then I’d draw a picture to illustrate each page. Looking back, it was kind of like proto-Laterborn. I still have the book (actually two books) on my shelf, with stories like “Jason Goes to Canada” and “Jason Has a Bad Dream.” Good stuff.
In one issue of Laterborn you mentioned your house had caught on fire. Three years later you wrote that story as one of the shorts in Papercutter. How did you know it was the right time to tell it?
I was writing that story in my head for years, but whenever I thought about working on it for an issue of Laterborn I’d start to feel really bogged down and drained. I figured it would take me around two months to draw the story, and didn’t want to be in that “head space” for so long. So it was nice to be able to hand this off to my friend Calvin to draw (who did an amazing job). I probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise.
Have you ever considered a fiction project?
I majored in creative writing, so I’ve written a lot of fictional short stories in the past, and hope to pick that up again when I’m more caught up on my comic ideas. But for whatever reason I don’t feel like I have what it takes to draw a fictional comic... I’d probably be more down to do this with another artist. One way or another, I definitely want to write fiction again someday. There’s a thrill in creating a new story that you don’t get when you’re retelling something that already happened.
From your perspective, what makes the Bay Area a special place for writers, artists, and creators?
I love that we have all the culture that comes with big cities and college towns, but we’re also never too far from a beach or forest. The only thing that makes it not so special is the skyrocketing rents, but even though we keep losing artists to cheaper cities, it feels like there’s always an influx of talented young people to keep things going.
To see more of Jason's artwork and pick up his zines, head over to driftwoodcity.com; Jason will also be exhibiting at this year's SF Zine Fest, so be on the lookout!