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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

His Doomed Affair: Jacob Hunt on turning your life into art

Jacob Hunt is a man of many talents. He is predominantly a visual artist whose comic strip, My Doomed Affair, appears regularly in the Athens, GA rag, the Flagpole, and whose anime-inspired artwork can be seen gracing the walls of studios across Atlanta. But Jacob is also a musician whose band Tracer Metula has recently released their first CD and have begun scheduling shows to promote its release.

His main gig is My Doomed Affair, which follows the decline and fall of one of his real-life love affairs (albeit highly fictionalized). The strip is witty and cleverly drawn and has been steadily growing a following in the Southeast and on the internet since its release in 2006. I caught up with Jacob recently and we had a little chat about his artwork and music and the difficulties of mixing business with pleasure.

You can find links to Jacob's website and artwork within the text of the interview.


The Crow: I always like to start at the beginning, so where are you from? When did you discover your talent for art? When did you realize this was something you wanted to do for a living? What early experiences have had a lasting effect on the art that you create now?

Jacob Hunt: I went to high school in Columbus, GA; lived in Athens for seven years during and after art school at UGA; and have been in Atlanta since summer 2008. I was already a drawing fiend by the time I emerged from infantile amnesia, though actual recognition of my talent might've occurred in second grade when I drew a stunning depiction of Super Mario that had my classmates flipping their lids.

Career aspirations developed in fourth grade when I discovered the Marvel Universe and decided to one day make comics. So my early art has a very nerdy foundation in comic books and video games: I've long had an interest in characters and world-building. Of course, Calvin and Hobbes had a huge impact on my cartooning and sense of humor. But most significantly, my general love of reading and storytelling has pushed me towards creating art with some kind of narrative. As a tot I spent tons of time at the library.


TC: Obviously you are most well known at this point for My Doomed Affair. What inspired the strip, and what sort of growing pains did you go through in bringing the story to life? How much of the strip is autobiographical and how much is purely fictional? What are the difficulties of being identified with work that is so personal? Have there been any ramifications for your personal life?

JH: My Doomed Affair is inspired by the girlfriend I had in college––or rather the absurd dynamic we shared. From creative writing classes I developed the habit of journaling any inspired thought or notable experience, and eventually I accumulated enough anecdotes about her that I recognized the potential for a larger work.

The growing pains have occurred along the way as I've struggled with consistent character design, depicting setting, and choosing the best flow of words and images to convey the point. It takes loads of self-motivation to keep at it.

The autobiography and fiction blur quite a bit, but it's increasingly made up. Many of the early strips were very close-to-life––if exaggerated and sporting a tidy punchline––but for a while now I've let any amusing idea shape the strip rather than events necessarily true.

Sometimes it is mildly disconcerting being identified with the work. "Apryl" and I have mutual friends who have said That's just like you guys! which I consider a stretch for the most part. But maybe some essence of our mutual antagonism––albeit caricatured––exists in the portrayal.
People who don't know "Apryl" will ask Is she aware of this? (Yes.) Isn't that awkward? (No.) Some non-fans have accused me online of being bitter and fixated, which makes me question their reading comprehension skills. But every now and then I get a strange feeling from writing this comic: it's like a contrived "hungupness" that only exists to fuel the comic strip. And it can feel odd putting words into the mouth of a stand-in for a real person––but I'm sure many writers of recurring characters have "conversations" in their heads as they plan dialog.

I don't have a personal life.


TC: My Doomed Affair has been published in the Athens, GA print ‘zine, the Flagpole. How long has that relationship existed and how long do you see it continuing? What are your future plans with My Doomed Affair?

JH: My Doomed Affair has appeared in Flagpole since spring 2006. I suppose I'll send them strips until it becomes illegal for me to do so. Soon I hope to self-publish a collection. And I want to widen MDA's scope with other characters and scenarios beyond the bickering couple; then expand the pseudo-autobiographical timeline of the strip into the past and future––respectively My Doomed Innocence and My Doomed Career. Ultimately I'd like to write longer narratives; not just four-panel gags.


TC: One of the most iconic images you’ve created is “Hula Girl”. Could you shed a little light on what inspired her, how you created the image, and provide some background into her struggle against the Fish People? Will there be a series of Hula Girl paintings? A comic with her?

JH: A friend suggested I do a piece for this "superheroes vs. villains" art show, and I thought it'd help me push my abilities since I mostly just work on MDA. I definitely didn't want to draw some grim, musclebound jerk or a violent slugfest. I wanted something lighthearted, fun, and suggestive of a bizarre backstory. A cute, smirking girl using hula hoops to battle a creepy gang of fish-men seemed to fit the bill. I created the image using my usual techniques: pen and ink over the pencilled drawing, scanned and digitally colored.

The Fish-Head Gang is motivated by their lack of respect for the axiom "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" but they wouldn't know what to do if they actually subdued Hula-Girl. That's unlikely though because clearly she has the situation under control. I would love to do more Hula-Girl pieces when I get some time, but I doubt I'd put her in a comic.


TC: Your style is at least partially inspired by Japanese animation sensibilities. Is that a conscious thing, or something that has simply become hardwired when you sit down to paint/draw?

JH: I've never really followed manga or anime but have always loved the visuals. And two of my favorite comic book artists, Chris Bachalo and Joe Madureira, borrow heavily from it. So that aesthetic must be ingrained. Barnaby Ward, a manga-inspired artist I recently discovered, definitely influenced Hula-Girl. Lately I've been looking at Miyazaki and Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy character designer) so I might try and get more deliberate with it.


TC: If there were an overarching theme to your work, what would you say it is? My immediate reaction is that you are clearly inspired by, or enmeshed in, the current millennial zeitgeist of ironic comic art. Yet there is a tenderness that pokes through in the dialogue of My Doomed Affair, or in your portraits of children, that suggests a desire to reach beyond irony into something deeper. How do you want people to understand your work? With sadness? Happiness? Joy?

JH: My theme is: laugh at your broken heart. I'm glad you perceive something deeper in My Doomed Affair; I worry sometimes it reads simply as snarky insensitivity. Which it usually is. But overall I might like people to understand my work with humor and bittersweetness––as an amused reconciliation to hopelessness.


TC: Continuing with your series of portraits of children. I think it is some of your best work. It is tender, and adorable, but slightly heartbreaking as well since each child seems to be striving for something, perhaps trying to be older than they really are. What were you trying to “say” with that series and will there be more of them?

JH: I've worked in several schools as special education support and initially drew the students as an exercise. But after spending so much time with these kids, it became important for me to capture and preserve their images. So I guess I'm saying they matter to me. (Also, it was cheaper than buying a yearbook.) I've sort of "retired" from the school system, so I don't know if I'll again have the opportunity to draw entire class portraits.


TC: You are a musician as well. What’s the name of your band, what sort of music do you play? Can your music be purchased/listened to anywhere? How does your music inform your art and vice versa? What are you listening to right now?

JH: My band is Tracer Metula and we play rock music with snarling guitars and melodious vocals. Sometimes like early Weezer but darker. We are about to release an EP entitled Prey, and it will certainly be available thru all the major digital outlets. Details at http://www.tracermetula.com/.

I want the band to have a strong visual identity, so I put great care into designing our logo and flyers and album art. It is also nice to integrate creative pursuits that compete for my attention. The cover artwork for Prey could be seen as a companion to Hula-Girl. As far as the music itself, many of the lyrics make allusions to visual art, especially the song "Javelin." Other than that, I do plan on featuring Tracer Metula in My Doomed Affair. After all, "Apryl" used to be in the band.

This month I've been listening to the new Spoon and Vampire Weekend records, My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything, the Children of Nuggets box set, and two old New Zealand post-punk bands: the Chills and the Clean.


TC: Do you have any art openings or exhibits planned for the near future? Where is the best place for people to view/purchase your art?

JH: No shows on the horizon really. The best place to see my art is http://www.mydoomedaffair.com/ unless you want to come over to my place some time. There's a link to my Etsy store on the website, but the best way to purchase art or hire me would be to send an email to juncobath at gmail dot com.


TC: What are you working on now? Where is the future of your work heading?

JH: I just finished the covers for my band's EPs and am now trying to up my MDA productivity––a few strips a week instead of two a month. Meanwhile, I'm beginning work with a friend, Hudson Phillips, on a graphic novel about an Amish teen who stumbles into a Narnia-like fantasy world. I'd like to draw all manner of oddities for this project. If that goes well, I want to delve further into sequential art as well as create more standalone pieces like Hulu-Girl vs. the Fish-Head Gang. Also it'd be nice to find someone that pays me.

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