Over the years I’ve become friendly with NHOJ aka John Cullen, a cartoonist who draws full-page webcomics almost daily. His work is extremely individual in its style of comedy and how it frequently plays with the framework of a comic page. I knew he’d that he’d have an interesting perspective on how the past year has influenced not just his work but the wider webcomics community, making him a perfect first interview of 2019. Check out our interview below.
2018 was obviously a crazy year outside of comics. Have you noticed recent events affecting your comics in a meaningful way?
Not to give a boring answer, but I can’t say personally that events outside of my comics have impacted me in any kind of meaningful way, at least not in a positive manner. However, that said…
Have you noticed the tumultuousness of 2018 impact other cartoonists?
…I absolutely have noticed this, in others and myself. One of the big downsides to the Internet is also one of its biggest advantages: being so hooked into everything that is going on. If you don’t have a way to filter out all the bad things going on in the world right now, it can be utterly overwhelming. So, yeah, if you’re not careful, that can absolutely have an effect on your work.
That said, one thing I’ve noticed is that there is a whole new generation of artists with comics that focus on social and political issues, which I think is great to see. So many people in the media bemoan the fact that younger people/Millennials are too apathetic, that they aren’t willing to do anything about the things they complain about. If anything, it is quite the opposite: the amazing turnout –and the result– of the abortion referendum here in Ireland is a great example of that. Young people are hungry for change –and positive change– and that hunger is expressed in a lot of art you see out there as well.
It is such a great thing to see and is a reminder that for all the bad things we see happen in the world, there are people who want to make a difference.
I’ve sensed an increased level of nihilism in your more recent work. Is that something you’re conscious of?
Absolutely, yeah, and I have to admit I’m worried that it comes across that way to others.
I used to wear my “I’m cynical” badge pretty loud and proud in the past, but am now attempting to get away from that, as I feel people saying they’re cynical –or their having nihilistic tendencies– use that as an excuse (and pardon my French here) to be a shitty person to others. I think a mild amount of cynicism is a positive thing to have, as it is good to question the world around you. However, if you become a cynic about everything? The world suddenly becomes a very ugly thing, and you along with it.
So, yeah, I’ve tried to dial back the more cynical elements in my comics, as I don’t want to encourage that sort of thinking in my audience, especially the younger members. That said, my comic is just as changeable as my mood, so there will be days when it will be just as dour as I feel on the day I draw it.
What webcomics are currently impressing you?
Currently, the webcomics that really grab my attention are the following:
Jake Likes Onions, by Jake Thompson. What I love about Jake’s work is that it manages to be absolutely pitch black in tone, yet is always hilarious. It is a very tough balance, and he pulls it off amazingly well.
Bird Strips, by Jess Thomas. If Jake Likes Onions is dark, Bird Strips is the complete opposite of that. Just a lovely series of comics which –as the name suggests– stars various breeds of birds, that always manages to put a smile on my face.
The art of Josh Mecouch. This guy’s work is so goofy and silly, and it always makes me laugh. What I love about Josh’s style is that it comes off as crude when you first see it, but if you look at it closely, you can tell it is done by a person who is a master of their craft. The crudeness is an obvious stylistic choice, and his single frame comics are all the funnier for it.
How connected are you to the wider webcomics community?
Pretty well, but that kind of happens by default when you are a member of the online comics community. Comics are a very, very small field, where everyone basically knows everyone, and the Internet only helps with that.
A lot of your work plays with structure. How do you come up with new ways to put twists on the traditional comic book page?
Honestly, it’s just a matter of throwing enough stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, especially when you draw so many comics as I do. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I really wish I could come up with a more interesting answer than that, but that’s what my process basically boils down to!
Are you interested in making comics at a larger publisher?
If my work and the publisher are the right fit, then absolutely! And, to be frank, if the pay is good, I’m all theirs!
You’ve never to my knowledge written a comic for another artist or drawn a comic scripted by someone else. Are you open to collaborating with another creator?
Certainly, though I personally find I work better by myself. I find –in the few instances in the past where I have worked with others– I tend to put myself under far too much pressure, so much so that it becomes crippling. When the only person on your team is you, that sort of pressure isn’t there, at least not to the same extent.
That said, I think someday I would like to write a story and have someone else illustrate it. I used to have a passion for writing stories, and often feel the itch to return to that, so who knows? Maybe I will someday.
You’ve well passed 1000 Daily Comics at this point. Do you have your sights on a new goal or are you taking things day by day?
A little of both. I’m at the point now where my comic is not only over 1000 pages strong but has also just hit the five-year mark, and I’m wondering where to go from here. The logical thing, of course, is getting a print book out, so I definitely think that’s what I need to get the ball rolling on next.
After that? Who knows
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].