Interview: Joëlle Jones, the artist behind Lady Killer
After this year's San Diego Comic Con, I talked to Joelle Jones, the artist and creator of Lady Killer, a hit comic about Josie Schuller, a midecentury housewife who also happens to be a professional killer. Read on to find out the secret long con of Jones' career, the difference between drawing and writing, and Josie's top tip on parenting.
Heather: How was the convention?
Joelle: It's horrible. I tweet about it. If you're not there, you're always like, "Why am I not there?" If you're there, you're like, "Why am I here?"
Heather: I love seeing friends, but then when you're out on the floor it's just, "What can I do to get out of here and just get a drink?" Someone told me they spread it out a lot this year.
Joelle: I don't know. It felt and looked exactly the same to me. It was the same mess as always. It seemed like all of the booths were in the same place, everything was exactly the same. The exact same place.
Heather: You've had an early interest in print advertising, but when did you first know you were going to become a professional artist and illustrator?
Joelle: I was really young when I declared it, I think. I was eight, and I was getting bullied by my brother's friend. He wanted to be a comic book artist and I was like, "Screw you, so do I." You know what? I did it and he didn't do it. This has all been a long con to get at Peter Stevens.
Heather: Have you called him to and let him know?
Joelle: I did! We were at a family wedding. I saw him and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to stick it to him. I'll tell him." It was not as satisfying as I was hoping.
Heather: That kind of stuff sadly never is.
Heather: When did you start getting any training? Are you self-taught?
Joelle: I went art school, gosh...years ago. I started painting, then dropped out after a few years after realizing fine art painting is not for me.
Heather: I was talking one time to Ed Piskor, who told me how he had originally gone to art school. It was kind of the same story. I took some classes and spent some time there and was like, "Nah, this just isn't for me."
Joelle: Yeah, they kept telling me that my work was too illustrative.
Heather: Too illustrative, what does that mean?
Joelle: It was like a...you know, they use so many words in art school that I think are halfway bullshit. I think it was maybe too obvious in the story I was trying to tell instead of veiling it with pasting trash to the canvas, I don't know. It was too straightforward. I don't know.
Heather: When you left art school, what made you say, "That's it, yep. Comic industry, here I come." How did you get stuff together and get going.
Joelle: I'd never given up on the idea of wanting to do comics, I just thought that it was going to be a difficult road but since that I had ran out of money and I had to drop out of college, I thought, "Well I've got nothing to lose."
There was a con happening the next weekend, so I just put together an art portfolio of comic pages. Took them to a convention here in Portland and … I showed them my portfolio and they gave me job on the spot to kind of give me a try. I've been lucky enough to keep getting work after that.
Heather: What advice would you have for young comic artists now, when you've got that eight-year-old kid now, or whoever it might be, who's having to deal and insists. "I want to be a comic-book artist," and people are like, "Yeah, whatever."
Joelle: Be delusional and stick with it, because it might work out.
Heather: Love it. Be delusional.
Joelle: I was. There's no reason for me to end up the way I did, but I made up my mind and I kept drawing towards it. Ever since I was eight, I never stopped drawing towards it.
Heather: Did you draw a lot already before you were eight? Did you find yourself...?
Joelle: Yeah, I was always a bit of a doodler. I loved it.
Heather: When you're looking at Josie, now that you're getting to bring this vision to life, what's been some of the most exciting things about working and creating this type of character?
Joelle: I'm having a blast. I'd no idea it was going to be so much fun. It's a little embarrassing, because it feels like I'm daydreaming and playing around. I find out people have been reading it, too. It's a bit embarrassing.
Heather: I'll be honest. Yes, I am definitely a bit of a fan girl about it. When I first saw the cover on the shelves... I kind of like to let myself be excited. I don't like to read what always comes. I just want to see what pops off of the shelf for me.
When I saw Lady Killer, I thought "This looks fantastic." I just fell in love with it. [laughs]
Joelle: Nah, that's great.
Heather: I got to do my little fan drop there, for a second. Because it is...
Joelle: No, it's super weird. [laughter] Super weird for me.
Heather: I would think it would kind of have to be.
Heather: If you were going to describe Josie in three words or less to somebody, how would you do that?
Joelle: Let's see. Conflicted, loyal, and fun-loving? [laughs] She likes to have a good time.
Heather: It's obviously a tough job, somebody's got to do it, and you might as well enjoy your work.
Joelle: Yeah, take pride in what you do.
Heather: You've said that there's no particular inspiration. I know you get asked that quite often, "What's the inspiration for Josie?" You've said there really isn't one for her. She's kind of a mix-up of different things. But is there anything you want to make sure she's emphatically not influenced by?
Joelle: Yeah, I came up with her while I was getting a divorce. I wanted it to really be...I didn't want any bitterness in her, and especially towards her husband, or maybe hurt a lot in life, and the fact that she does have dual roles. I don't want her to be bitter about it, and resent the things that she has to do to get ahead. Instead, turn it into lemonade of rolling up your sleeves and making the best of a bad situation.
Heather: You'd said very early on when you were showing...just doing the pictures of her that people were saying, "Oh, my gosh." They were calling her "Man Hater." [laughs] Are you still getting that?
Joelle: Yeah. I don't mind. I'm not, for the record. Yeah, it surprised me and its fine. I guess it is more of these old school things of, no reaction is the worst reaction. So it's evoking a response or doing something right, whatever that response may be. [laughter]
Heather: It's so obvious to me that Josie loves her husband.
Joelle: Yeah, I think so too. I think it's sweet.
Heather: A sweet relationship which makes you want to ask the next thing. Will we get to find out how Josie and her husband got together, how that relationship started?
Joelle: Yeah, I think in this next series, well I don't want it to be like a full-on origin story. I'm going to be definitely dropping a lot more of people's pasts in to. How they met or the grandma, the mother in law's past, and where she came from. Just to give it a little pepper spice on.
Heather: I'm rubbing my hands together about that. And of course mother-in-law, you've got to love her.
Joelle: Yeah, I think she's great.
Heather: Crotchety, but so wonderful.
Joelle: She's just the worst, she knits everything.
Joelle and Heather: [laughs]
Heather: The way she does, that's...except for, I think, possibly her son. She does seem to have...
Joelle: She does with reasonable affection.
Heather: That limited stoicism. There are things that people may assume about Josie's inspirations that aren't necessarily true, when you hear that. Betty Draper, those types of things.
Joelle: Yeah, of course "Mad Men" was happening. I think it threw the fuel on the fire of me being mean to Mid-Century advertising and illustration, kind of threw me right back in to it. I never saw "Hannibal" [laughs] , so I wouldn't say that was an inspiration, but people told me that it fits, so I went with it. I was like, "All right, it fits." [laughter]
Heather: And sometimes people definitely bring their own interpretations.
Joelle: Yeah, and I think that if it was the easiest way to explain it to somebody to bring him in, that's fine with me.
Heather: What is it about Mid-Century advertising that appeals to you so much?
Joelle: I think it's the story telling aspect beyond how it looks artistically and the beautiful renderings. There's a lot of storytelling behind images. Rockwell, he left that in...There is an entire novel in one image. I've always loved that. I grew up with the books around me, and pouring over these entertaining books of women setting tables, and you can see your home. They'd always place children in the scene, they had some toys, or they are coming home from Cub Scouts or something. There is always all these little tiny details thrown in to give you a complete picture of home life. I eat it up, I love it.
Heather: I've always felt that, if you really want to know about a culture, and what a culture values and how a culture changes, look at the advertising. You can see how this society shifts its point of use towards things. That's what I...when you were saying you were interested in Mid-Century advertising appealed to me, because you can definitely see how those changes happen. And you could see how Josie as a character, probably wouldn't fit if you put her now in a long time period.
Joelle: Yeah, and as the ads move on. I think this next series takes place in '64. I'm starting to move in to an era where the families aren't in the odds so much anymore. Now, it's single figures alone trying to sell you a dish washer instead of an ensemble cast trying to sell you a dish washer.
Heather: I like the forthcoming book cover, with Cocoa Beach.
Joelle: That's just a teaser image… I was in a rush to get that out, and it was my first done coloring, I've never colored before.
Heather: Oh really.
Joelle: Yeah, I was stressed out so the max so...[laughter] I said, "just one character," but I'm now trying to learn and do a bunch of characters.
Heather: So are you going to be doing the coloring on the second series?
Joelle: No, no, nobody wants…
Heather: [laughs] OK.
Joelle: I can't do it. We have Laura Allred, who's amazing.
Heather: She did a fantastic job. Those colors just pop right on.
Joelle: Oh, my gosh. I couldn't be happier.
Heather: You'd said that you were really surprised the way people respond positively to Josie. What did you expect the reaction to be to Josie, when you were sharing her with the world the first time?
Joelle: I didn't know. I didn't know what to expect, and I tend not to think about how people will look at it, or take it. Then, I realized when it is in somebody's hands and they tell me what they think, is that's when I start sweating. Tjat's when I think "Oh my God, people are looking at this," and I'm very uncomfortable.
Heather: Like putting yourself out on display.
Joelle: Yeah. It's all theoretical until somebody actually is looking at it. Then...I don't think I've come to grips with when the reality of when that happens. I was so surprised the way people reacted to Josie. I always set out to do it for myself, it was a bit of fun just to...I had the idea I wanted to get off my chest, and I wanted to get a little bit out there. I was shocked when I did, and people were like, "I would like more of this." I'd go, "Why? [laughs] How come? It doesn't..." [laughs] It was just for me always. So yeah, it surprises me every time.
Heather: You gave something of yourself to the world, and other people accepted it.
Joelle: I know. If you had put it in terms like that before I made it, I probably could have never made it.
Heather: You'd be like, "No never mind." [laughs]
Heather: Jamie helped a lot with the writing, and providing guidance. And the storytelling is superb. You've said that there was nervousness in writing the first time by yourself. How are you feeling that now coming into the second arc?
Joelle: I'm still nervous now I'm doing it alone. Jamie's gone, but he's always a quick email away to complain to. I definitely feel more confident with the flow of writing anyway. I sit down to write and I know what to expect. At first, I was getting frustrated because it just wasn't happening, or I had to walk away. Being an artist, I'm used to sitting down at my table and knowing how many pages a day I have to get through, and setting a schedule around that. Writing is more organic than that, for me, at least. Frustrating. It was like, "Well, I need to get through this many pages, and it's not happening." I feel more confident now—because now I know how to schedule it a little bit better.
Heather: It sounds like the first story arc was a whole new thing for you, and now it's going to be another whole new thing now with Jamie stepping aside.
Joelle: It is a bit scary, because you jump in. I think it's like somebody has a little bit of notice on their first album, and then they've got to go back to the studio and they're like, "Well, do I do the same thing or do I do something totally different?" I decided to stick to my guns and just do whatever makes me laugh and tickles me and write it like I am writing it alone. [laughs] Then nobody is going to read it. It seemed to work for me the first time so I'm going to approach it that way again.
Heather: Is there anything you want to be asked about LADY KILLER, about Josie, that you've never been asked before?
Joelle: Nobody's asked me the grandmother's first name. It's good because I don't know it.
Heather: I was thinking it might be one of those things where you're just… [laughs]
Joelle: She's always been Frau Schuller. I don't know what else to call her. [laughter]
Joelle: What about Josie? I know exactly where she comes from and how she … came to be who she is.
Heather: Of course, I would ask, but I don't think you'd say.
Joelle: [laughs] I guess not! [laughs]
Heather: What advice do you think Josie would give to today's working moms?
Joelle: That's a good question. That's tricky. I think the same still applies, that there's no sense bemoaning the situation you've been given but to make the best of what life throws at you.
Heather: She'd probably have good advice on getting out bloodstains. She'd be like, "Baking soda and boiling water…"
Joelle: That's right! And a little elbow grease.
Tonight in LA: Cory at the Last Bookstore (then Chapel Hill, Boston, Chicago, Waterloo, Phoenix, Santa Fe, San Jose...)
Tonight at 7PM, I'll be appearing on a panel at the Last Bookstore in downtown LA, with the title "Truth to Power: Genre Fiction in Post-Fact America," alongside of Gretchen McNeil, Jennifer Brody, Christina Cigala, Bobby Goldstein, CB Lee, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Kate Maruyama and Samuel Sattin.
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