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Interview with comics creator James The Stanton

Originally published in Reglar Wiglar Magazine.

Cartoonist James Stanton

James "the" Stanton is a hardworking comics artist of the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys creating the many strange creatures you'll find in the forest if you're very, very lucky.

Some pundits have called his comics "trippy." Others have used the term "psychedelic." Some have even gone so far as to say that Stanton's work is "dense, adroit and textural." In other words, it's far out!

When he's not brewing kombucha at his day job, James is hard at work migrating the inhabitants of his forest brain onto paper. Stanton's recent book Gnartoons (Silver Sprocket) is a collection of sketchbook pages, posters, one-pagers, and longer stories Stanton has created over the preceding decade and then some. It's populated with weird, funny creatures that are kinda cute but gnarly in their own special way.

James agreed to the Reglar Wiglar interview this summer, but first, he had to get married, which he did. So, for your

reading pleasure, here's the James Stanton comics interview. —Interviewed by Chris the Auman

REGLAR WIGLAR: Why James ‘the’ Stanton?

JAMES STANTON: When I was drawing comics as a youngster most of my characters had names like “Icky the Melting Snowman,” “Snrmphk the Slob,” et cetera. Eventually, I noticed the trend in my titles and started writing “Snrmphk the Slob by James the Stanton” on my comics. Over time it stuck, at certain points I’ve thought about dropping it — I published some stuff under J. Stanton like 10 or so years ago, I think that was in Henry and Glenn Forever. But ultimately I’ve been using the name so long I just keep writing it on my comics even though it’s kind of dumb and doesn’t make sense out of context, haha.

RW: You live in Seattle and you draw a lot? What else do you do in Seattle?

JS: I do really spend most of my time hanging out at home and drawing. My wife is an artist too, so even when we’re watching TV shows or movies we usually have sketchbooks on our laps.

I really love camping and hiking and wish I found time to do more of it. There are a lot of opportunities to get outdoors and immerse yourself in vegetation within the city, but nothing beats being out on the Olympic peninsula.

I also enjoy my fair share of inexpensive mischief with my similarly dirtbag artist buddies. Most of my friends in Seattle also fall into the “starving artist” category, and it’s virtually impossible to get an open container ticket in Seattle, so we make our own fun out on the town without ever setting foot in a bar.

My day job is brewing kombucha, I brew for a small Seattle company. We flavor all of our kombucha using locally sourced whole fruit. Well, the pineapples aren’t local, but it’s Washington State, what can yah do? Haha. It’s hard, physical work, but I enjoy the contrast against sitting at my drawing table.

RW: I believe you did a Eugene - San Francisco - Seattle migration. Are you from Washington State originally and what prompted the move to Seattle specifically, was it to be a part of the legendary comics scene in that city?

JS: I was born and raised in Michigan and moved to Eugene when I graduated high school because I got into the architecture school there. After I graduated from U of O I moved down to SF to be a big boy architect, which I did for a few years before the recession really bottomed out and a lot of planned building projects were canceled and I got laid off.

I have been drawing comics non-stop ever since I was a little kid. I drew comics for school newspapers in elementary school and high school and had comics published in Eugene Weekly, the Oregon Voice and the U of O student newspaper the Daily Emerald while I was going to school in Eugene.

I also started self-publishing comix zines in Eugene and getting them into bookstores and comics shops. When I got laid off, it was like go-time on drawing and I just drew so much for those first two years after the full-time job ended. I kept myself afloat on seasonal farm work up north and a few unemployment checks early on.

I started traveling a lot and tabling at zine shows and comix shows up and down the West Coast. I missed Oregon the whole time I lived in California and had a hard time finding community in the Bay Area. California’s great in its own ways, but the Northwest is definitely home for me.

While tabling the 2012 Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland I met a crew of people who I really hit it off with, they all lived in Seattle, drew comics, had weekly drawing hangout nights, and got into some wild hijinks on the weekends that I enjoy. They had just started publishing a comix newspaper made up entirely of Seattle cartoonists called The Intruder.

It was really something, so much care and attention to detail on every page, I was in awe. They told me if I moved to Seattle I could be in it. A month or so after Stumptown was Olympia Comics Festival, the Intruder crew convinced me to come back up and table, I had a friend in Olympia to crash with so it all worked out. On that trip I visited a house in Seattle mostly consisting of Fantagraphics employees who happened to have an open room, I went back to the Bay, put in my 30-day notice on my month-to-month apartment, and still live in the same house to this day.

RW: How do you find the comics scene or creative environment in general, in Seattle? Has it lived up to your expectations?

JS: Seattle is still my favorite place I’ve ever lived, and I see cartoonists regularly at art/comics events and small hangouts. Comics community is what brought me up here and it is still alive and well.

The pandemic messed a lot of stuff up in terms of cartoonists getting together regularly in big groups. Max Clotfelter started a drawing night, later taken over by Marc Palm, called Dune. It took place every second Tuesday of the month at the same bar/cafe. Each month everyone would show up and draw a one-page comic and hand the original art over to the organizer along with a couple dollars. The next month you would show up and get your art back along with a zine that contained everyone’s art from the previous month.

We got up to like 80-some issues before COVID hit, it went on for years. It was a totally open event, anyone and everyone was welcome to show up and participate. Initially, it was a way to see friends, hang out, chat, and make something cool. Over time so many different people started coming out it became a way for social circles to intersect, creating long-lasting friendships.

I actually met my wife at Dune Night about six years ago. Even though COIVD dimmed the lights on events like this, new things are brewing and there seems to be a never-ending stream of enthusiastic cartoonists looking to make connections. So, I would say that the Seattle comics community has far exceeded my expectations.

RW: When and how did you start drawing comics and who or what were your early influences?

JS: My earliest influences to draw comics definitely came from reading "Calvin and Hobbes" and the "Far Side" in the Sunday paper. Later on, I would read X-Men, Aliens, and Ren and Stimpy comics. I liked looking at the art in X-Men but reading the dialogue felt like a chore, haha. So, I always gravitated towards comics that aimed for punchlines, and once I found out about “underground comix,” I knew exactly where I fit into the comics world.

RW: Do you come from an artistic family?

JS: I do, my mom and all three of her brothers went to art school and are all pretty talented, and my dad’s not bad at drawing either.

RW: Were you encouraged to draw as a kid?

JS: Drawing was my favorite pastime throughout my entire childhood, and my parents were supportive so far as keeping me in Crayloas. But academics were emphasized over art and I never actually got to take any art classes after middle school. Like, to this day I haven’t had any art training beyond middle school, but I think that’s fine. I really don’t think any sort of art school training is important when it comes to cartooning and comics. The way I see it, it’s really just all about putting in the time and energy to practice.

RW: How much time do you devote to comics these days? Like, what’s a typical day like for you?

JS: Ah man, honestly for the past year I have been slackin’ on comics. I got married in August and that took a lot of planning and brain space. We also had a big growth spurt at work that required me to work a lot of extra hours. Sounds like I’m making excuses, haha. I have some scripts written out and am excited to work on some new stuff during the rainy months this winter.

RW: At this point, have you found a good balance between for-hire illustration work and your comics?

JS: I go through periods of doing only freelance work and comics and then switching over to having part-time jobs and reducing the freelance load. So, for the last year that I’ve been brewing, I’ve dropped a lot of freelance work because I don’t need it to pay the bills. I’ve found it’s best for me to have a part-time job with a reliable paycheck and then pile the rest of my time into whatever I want to make. I still take on freelance work, but I found that it’s pretty stressful to rely on it for income.

RW: Your work in Gnartoons has been described favorably as “squelchy” and your coloring as “eye-gouging.” Terms such as “psychedelic” and “extreme weirdness” have also been used to describe it. I’m wondering, do the stories develop in your brain first or do you just start drawing and see where it takes you? In short, what’s your process for creating weirdness?

JS: Swamp Mythos is the outlier, that’s my self-published series and it tends to be more free-form. But I write out scripts and draw very loose thumbnails for most of the comics that I make. Sometimes I’ll punch up a script with some jokes or some wording that I thought was funny and jotted down somewhere. I fill sketchbooks with doodles of cartoon characters, so when I need a new character I just dig through my sketchbooks and find somebody to cast for the role.

RW: Have any real-life woodsy encounters inspired any of your Gnartoons stories?

JS: It’s funny because as a cartoonist I have to be a very “indoorsy” person for long stretches while I’m working on finishing comics projects, but I absolutely love camping out in the middle of nowhere for days on end — it really helps clear out and reorient my mind. The Swamp Mythos comics are inspired by a lot of things, but I can pinpoint visits to the Olympic National Park and years of roaming the same familiar handful of acres in northern Michigan when I was a kid as being the fundamental influences for my love of drawing foliage and nature.

RW: What’s next for James the Stanton?

JS: I really want to start making a Gnartoons “floppy comic” series, each book being its own stand alone issue comprised of comics of varying page counts. It’s honestly what I’ve always wanted to do and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to push for it.  

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