Jim MacQuarrie, CAPS President 2018
Where are you from, and where do you live/work now?
We moved a lot when I was a kid, so I’m kind of from all over LA. Born in Van Nuys, primarily grew up (if you can call it that) in Hermosa Beach, Torrance, and West Covina, with about 2-4 different addresses in each town. Since high school, I’ve lived in Rowland Heights, Azusa, Glendora, Sherman Oaks, Sylmar, Pasadena, Monrovia, San Marcos, Chino, and finally Pasadena again, where I’ve been since 1995.
How long have you been a CAPS member?
I think I joined in 2006, but it might have been 2005. Scott Shaw! sponsored me.
Please list some highlights from your resume.
More like low- to medium-lights… I illustrated an edition of the Hooked on Phonics reading program, including the packaging, flash cards, and work books; did a whole bunch of cartoons for SRA/McGraw-Hill textbooks; a bunch of logo designs and production work for several independent comics publishers, and for a couple of years I had an educational cartoon/text feature, “Word Nerd” for GeekDad.com
When did you know you wanted to be a cartoonist?
I drew Mickey Mouse on an Etch-a-Sketch when I was 4 years old, and the whole family decided that I must be an artist. In 2nd grade I had my first taste of popularity when the other kids found out I could draw Batman (it was 1966, and Batman was huge on TV). It seemed like a good way to avoid working for a living.
Did you go to school for art? If so, where?
I’m the only one in my family to graduate high school; I took classes at the community college, where the teachers were openly contemptuous of cartooning, but I learned a bit there anyway. Mostly I just swiped a lot and read every book at the library. Andrew Loomis is a god to me.
Who was the first cartoonist you ever met?
A fellow student in my 7th grade homeroom class, a guy named Matthew Goodwin, who had incredible talent and shared a lot of his knowledge with me. Looking back, I think he was heavily influenced by Sergio Aragonés. Today he’s a psychiatrist in the Air Force. First pro cartoonist I ever met was Bob Clampett at one of the local comic/SF conventions.He was very kind and encouraging.
What artists of all time influenced you in your formative years?
My first love in cartooning was Goofy, so I’ll cite the Disney crew. Then it was Charles Schulz and Walt Kelly in the Sunday funnies. At about age 10 I discovered MAD and stole heavily from Sergio, Don Martin, Paul Coker, and despaired of ever drawing like Mort Drucker. Al Jaffee left a big mark on my sense of humor. Later I studied pretty much every Silver Age artist at DC and Marvel, but eventually accepted that my style was never going to be realistic. I’m too ADD to spend a lot of time noodling over details.
What current artists inspire you today?
Travis Hanson. He makes it look effortless. Stan Sakai. Sergio will always be amazing and inspirational. Scott Shaw! and Mike Kazaleh have taught me a lot without even trying to.
What was the first cartooning gig for which you were paid?
My mom’s boyfriend was a bartender at a place in Inglewood where the members of what was then called the LA Kings Booster Club would meet, and he got me the gig to draw the masthead for their newsletter. I was 14. Hockey wasn’t the big money sport it is now, so it was a pretty seat-of-the-pants organization, but the check cleared.
What was your first big break and who gave it to you?
i got hired in 1978 by a silkscreen and embroidery shop in Azusa; my job was to create custom art for t-shirts, biker patches, bowling shirts, sports teams, banners, and so on. This was a big break because it was where I acquired an actual marketable skill or two, instead of just filling pages with doodles and sketches.
What was the worst job you ever had (not necessarily in the comics field)?
I spent a month as a telemarketer selling exotic but basically worthless gems as an investment opportunity. The bosses ran afoul of the SEC and people went to prison, including the guy who hired me, an old friend from high school. Thank God I never managed to sell any.
Cartoonistically speaking, what was your favorite project/job?
Probably the custom Bar Mitzvah comic book I co-created with Nat Gertler a few years back.
What is your medium of choice?
Fine-point Sharpie on card stock, scanned and colored and edited in Photoshop. I also do a lot of stuff directly in Adobe Illustrator.
What are your work habits/routine?
I sprawl on the sofa with my feet up and draw on a clipboard. Usually I do my initial sketches on scrap paper, in ink. That way I have to make bold decisions, but they don’t really matter because I have to redo them on decent paper anyway. I have an office, but I hate being isolated, so I take up space in the living room and ignore my family, but it’s nice to have them around.
What is your philosophy regarding your work – for instance, what are you trying to achieve?
A paycheck. My mortgage company doesn’t care if I’m fulfilled or not. I’ve worked in graphic design and related fields for so long that my philosophy is pretty much that I’m a taxi driver; you tell me where you want to go and I’ll take you there, unless it’s a really really bad idea, and then I’ll suggest an alternative. The customer is not always right, but he’s always the customer.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your profession?
Every good thing that has ever happened in my life and career has come through personal relationships. How you treat people matters a lot.
If something could be invented to make your job easier, what would it be?
A coffee IV?
Any interesting people you’ve worked with?
Ken Kragen, manager to the stars. I illustrated a workbook for his success seminar, “The Power to Win,” based on his book “Life is a Contact Sport. He was involved in creating “We Are the World” and “Hands Across America.” I also did some silkscreen setup work for Angelyne, but that was more gross than interesting.
Any side interests? “When I’m not drawing, I like to _____?”
I’m an archery coach, currently training the USC team and a whole bunch of great kids.
What is your best fan story?
Finding out that some people I knew at the archery range were regular readers of “Word Nerd” and didn’t know I wrote & drew it.
What are you working on right now?
The Film Noir coloring book. The crayons are gray. It proceeds at a glacial pace in between paying work.
What is your dream project to work on?
I’d like to do a charity comic or graphic novel illustrating song lyrics by Harry Chapin, with the money going to WHY Hunger, the anti-hunger organization he founded.
Any additional tales to tell regarding your career?
I think I covered the best of them at the last meeting. I will say that Scott inviting me to apply to join CAPS was a big validation for me, because even though I’ve been drawing cartoons for over 50 years, the reality is I was always too busy earning a living to ever try to be exclusively a cartoonist full-time; I didn’t think that being a part-time cartoonist really counted. I’ve always done production, graphics, and boring stuff like laying out forms to keep a roof over the family, and luckily every so often a cartooning opportunity would come along. Realizing that I’d done enough cartooning over the years to justify calling myself a pro was kind of a big deal for me, and I will always be grateful to him for taking my work more seriously than I did.
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