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How did you get started in illustration? Like most, I started drawing as a kid, and fortunately I never stopped. My father is an illustrator, so I felt very encouraged. He would archive and date my earliest scribbles and write a description on the back, like “face” or “apple,” on things that looked like hairballs. My first real work came when I was seventeen and I started drawing for a local comic company. A year and a half later, they closed up shop, and I moved on to eventually write and draw my own comics and get my feet wet in commercial illustration.

What personal experiences or circumstances have most influenced your work or style? I think of myself primarily as a storyteller, whether it’s through writing, illustration or design. Most storytellers use tragedy as creative fodder, and for me, it’s not different—the less pleasant experiences of life have shaped my work most. Family dysfunction has been key—fortunately, nothing tragic enough to ruin me, but enough to drive me. And then of course there is always that intangible, unquantifiable variable that gives any artist their idiosyncratic style. Sometimes I have no idea where it comes from; my work can seem almost foreign to me, which I consider a good thing. I’m allowing the work to just come out without over-thinking it.

What would be your dream assignment? I’ve been fortunate to work with the phenomenal artist Dave Johnson on cartoon shorts for MTV and on my own series of animated shorts—both of which are dream assignments. I’d also love to write, illustrate and design an oversized, hardcover Spider-Man graphic novel without any editorial oversight. I no longer read superhero comics, but Spider-Man holds a special place in my heart.

You're like a Swiss Army knife who does everything from mobile design to comics. What made you interested in learning all these facets of both design and illustration? I’m the type of person who prefers to do everything myself—so I had to design my books in addition to writing and drawing the comics within. That’s when I discovered my love of design. When I moved to San Francisco, my first job was at a design firm doing a good mix of print and web work. It was a good starting point, but they were small, and there wasn’t more for me to learn after a while. I moved on and did a mix of freelance, contract work and salaried positions at large and small startups.

How did you come up with the idea for Champ City, and how did you pitch it to The Bold Italic? They came to me after seeing a comic I’d done about the tech buses of San Francisco and asked if I’d be interested in doing a regular comic about life in the city. I’d done a lot of design and illustration work with them before, so I knew it would be a fun opportunity to gripe about anything bothering me and also play devil’s advocate in SF’s hot-button topics. It’s amazing how upset people can get about a cartoon. I’d been doing a single-panel comic for several years for the San Francisco Chronicle, which had just ended, so switching to a three-panel comic was a much-welcomed change of pace.

What are some of the unique opportunities and challenges of editorial illustration? Editorial work can be a blessing or a curse. Actually, it’s hard to say it’s ever really a curse when someone is paying you money to draw pictures, but I’ve had a few projects where the clients and I were very much misaligned. In theory it’s my job to make what I’m asked to make, but it’s also my job to advocate for what I think is best. I can count these cases on just a few fingers, but when it happens, it’s no fun.

By contrast, I’ve had the pleasure to work with very talented art directors and editors who've helped focus and refine my work. This is invaluable and often makes for a stronger piece than I could have produced alone. One of the best things about editorial work is you can end up drawing things you’d never have reason to draw on your own, which can create some really pleasant and unexpected pieces.

What excites you about illustration right now? The things that excite me most also make me the most depressed. Some talented illustrators are truly unique and, when looking at their work, it makes me wish I had done it or could have thought to have done it. The work that seems far removed from my own, but still is within the same realm, excites me the most.

Al Columbia is one such illustrator, and he’s become my friend. An original piece of his work hangs in my living room, and I’ll often stop to stare at it. It’s sublimely beautiful, delicate and disturbing. Sean Murphy is another friend whose work makes me want to punch myself. His work is so wild and dynamic and loose, completely unlike mine.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? My advice for anyone who wants to pursue a career in any creative field is to make sure you have the constitution for it. It’s highly subjective and incredibly personal, which can make rejection tough. Be persistent and develop a unique voice and you’ll find success.

Jon Adams is an illustrator, designer and writer. He’s produced work for MTV, Bloomsbury, McSweeney’s, Chronicle Books, Wired, Electronic Arts, California Sunday Magazine and a slew of comic book publishers. His long-running comic book series Truth Serum was nominated for two Eisner Awards, has been translated into French and Italian, and, for several years, was part of the curriculum at the University of Toronto. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and their pet shrimp.
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