I met Jason Axtell at the Big Planet Comics launch party for Magic Bullet #4. Axtell had just finished coloring Matt Dembicki's Mr. Big story for its reissue this summer, and Matt made a point of introducing us. I'm glad he did as Jason's put quite a bit of thought into answering my usual questions. I personally look forward to catching him at a con so I can buy a set of his comics, as seen on the right...
Mike Rhode: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
1978. Jersey, originally.
Why are you in the Washington sphere now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
I moved here after spending nine years in the south, primarily Savannah, Georgia. After a failed relationship, a layoff and my general distaste for the southern "hospitality" I decided I had enough and needed to get out of there. When the Art Institute of Washington (in Arlington and Sterling) hired me on as a full-time instructor three years ago, that was all I needed to hightail it out of the south. Though I still like to visit some friends down there, I don't regret leaving it. The DC area is more to my liking. I live in the Vienna/Oakton area.
What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
I earned a BFA in Illustration from VCU and an MFA in Sequential Art from SCAD. Neither really focused on 'cartooning.' VCU trained me in traditional as well as digital media, and mainly as an illustrator. But since I started out trying to be a cartoonist and comic artist, a carry-over from my high school days, much of my early work yielded a mix of both cartoony and painterly aspects. SCAD trained me as a visual story-teller, allowing me the chance to hone my illustration techniques while also applying them to a comic format.
Who are your influences?
Too many. Primarily my Uncle Dick (not a joke) and my good friend Ben Phillips. I've known both since about the age of 6 or 7. For years I didn't know much about my Uncle except that he was a teacher and a painter. He taught at University of Memphis for 30+ years. When I was young he gave my parents a few of his paintings, which my parents proudly framed and hung in our dining room. Every night I would look at them and try to decipher them. He was an abstract artist that experimented with line, color and shape, frequently going through different phases and evolutions in his art. My favorites as a kid dealt with his attempt at capturing the effect of light and color in water. It wasn't until I was older and in the midst of earning my MFA that I began to delve a little deeper into what he was all about. Other people in my family have demonstrated terrific artistic and creative talents but for some reason I'm the one that pursued it to the similar lengths that he did. It wasn't until the last few years of his life that I really tried to figure out where he was coming from as an artist. It took a few visits and recommendations (Kandinsky, Rothko, Matisse and Guston) before I became aware of how he saw the world and what he was trying to do with his art. It was a profound discovery and a tremendous influence that I would not have made had it not been for him.
Expand my boundaries a bit outside of the 2D art. It appears that 3D art, software and graphics are the thing which pits me with the Neanderthals of the art world.
Not sure. I worked on the Family Guy comic but you wouldn't know me from the billion other artists that worked on that book. My first publication, "The Strange Fungus in Mr. Winslow" always catches people's eyes at cons (almost literally - the cover was billed by my late friend Jeremy Mullins, "The best cover EVER!"). "Reasons I Should Not Be On A Talk Show" is another con favorite. My last real publication (before this summer's colorized version of Matt Dembicki's "Mr. Big") is a comic strip called "Strays 'N Gates."
What work are you most proud of?
A portrait of my Uncle Dick I completed after his death. You can see it on my web site in the "Illustration" section.
Every so often I think about how much fun it would be to create my own interpretation of Ghostbusters and MegaMan. There's so many crappy manga versions of MM out there that I feel it, like much of the comics universe, needs a facelift. And while I have a few of my own stories on the backburner I, for some reason, have a really clear image of TC Boyle's Drop City in my mind. Done in the right style and format, I think that would be a great book!
What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
Hard to tell. It's already changed so much since I went to school that I feel obsolete in so many ways. I'd like to think the digital revolution that we are still experiencing won't kill off the old fashioned book, that people will still paint and draw with pencils and brushes. That there will still be room for doing something that doesn't involve a computer. But then again, I've spent the last week almost completely glued to my computer for various purposes, so my hopes are dwindling.
The museums and extensive list of restaurants and places to visit. I didn't get that in Savannah. Here, it seems that there's always somewhere we've never heard of that peaks my interest.
The f*ck*ng traffic. What else?
As much as I love the National Gallery of Art and National Portrait Gallery, I always seem to take friends and family to the Natural History Museum instead. I don't mind. It is quite fun there.
Do you really want another list? It's probably start with Tara Thai or The Melting Pot.