Fans of comic art looking for a breath of fresh air should know Jim Mahfood. Sure, that air may taste of acrylic and leave a lingering aerosol scent, but it’s that combination of Basquiat and Ralph Steadman that gives an invigorating alternative in books like Tank Girl, Miami Vice: Remix and Howard the Human. Mahfood took a few minutes to talk about his origins and how his hip-hop graffiti influenced work fits in the growingly diverse world of comics.
Some people argue that art school breaks down the individual and turns out a sadly homogenous culture. Yet, with four years in fine arts, your style is one of the most fiercely individualistic. Did a formal education draw you more to the mainstream or enrich your own personal expression?
Personal expression for sure. I understood the structure of art school but I actually wound up learning more from my fellow classmates, who included incredible artists like Mike Huddleston, Nathan Fox, Paul Chatem and Paul Briggs. I learned more from those guys than I did at the school.
Most artists start their practicing within their high school notebooks. However, your grandiose style is more suited to murals and graffiti. At what age did you really start to come into your own artistically?
I definitely did the high school notebook thing. And then in art school I started hanging out with graffiti writers and I tried my hand at that, but I was never very good at it. I took the style and attitude, the fearlessness of graf and applied it to my work. When I was around 19-20 years old I started to develop my style and figure things out. It has continually evolved and changed from then and continues to do so through the years. I don’t ever want to be stagnant or boring.
There seems to be no chance of that. So where did you find most of your inspiration and influence growing up?
From comic books, music, skateboarding, hip hop and punk culture, hand-made zines, anime, movies, Star Wars, 60’s psychedelic art, the late 70’s NY art scene with guys like Basquiat and Keith Haring.
Which comic artists working today are your favorite?
Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Mignola, Jamie Hewlett, Jock, Jim Rugg, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham, Jason Shawn Alexander, Mike Huddleston, Dave Crosland, Troy Nixey, Corey Lewis, Ed Piskor, Frank Quitely, Ron Wimberly, Jason Latour, Robbie Rodriguez, Sean Murphy, Becky Cloonan, Rafael Grampa, Ming Doyle, Scott C. and so many more.
There’s an undeniably chaotic nature to your work. How much of the doodles, splash and spray that characterize your aesthetic are added on the spot? How different is your finished work different from what you have in mind?
Pretty much all of it is added on the spot. I like that spontaneous and unplanned feel. If it goes wrong I just destroy it and start over. I work very fast. The work is always different than how I picture it in my head but I think that’s what makes it so exciting and fun. The unknown, that whole kind of thing.
So much of your work utilizes mixed media. Do you feel it’s limiting working in comics which tends to gravitate towards more streamlined appearances?
No, not at all. I like the traditional look and feel of comics. I still pencil and ink on paper, scan it, and then have one of my colorists, usually Justin Stewart, do the colors digitally. I enjoy that look and feel for the comics. One day I will do a full-blown painted/mixed media comic book when I have the time and patience to figure it out.
When working with a licensed property like IDW’s Miami Vice much of the audience has a preconceived notion of what the feel should be and how the characters appear. How much pressure do you feel to meet those expectations?
None at all. Joe Casey (the writer) and I went into this knowing we were going to ‘remix’ the world of Miami Vice and make it our own version, our own universe. That being said, there’s actually quite a few nods and winks to the TV show that people who are paying attention will pick up on and enjoy.
Your passion for your work is always tremendously clear, but is it difficult to market your highly-stylized art to editors?
Not really. My style is now my brand so it’s pretty easy for editors and art directors to decide whether I am appropriate for a job or not. They’re not going to hire me and then ask me to change my style. They know what they’re gonna get. It’s been refreshing for me, because these days I get hired to be me and I just make whatever illustration or project I’m working on my own.
David Fincher said he’d chosen the Dust Brothers for the Fight Club soundtrack because they broke away from convention. In a similar fashion, when Dark Horse announced they were making Fight Club 2, I immediately thought you’d be the perfect artist for the project. If you were able to choose any projects you wanted, which do you think would benefit most from your style?
Honestly, my own projects, that I create, write, letter, and draw benefit most from my style. That’s why I’m gearing up to do a bunch of creator-owned comics as my next big project.
That being said, though, Tank Girl was definitely a great fit for my work. As was Miami Vice: Remix. And I would still love to do anything set in the Batman universe. Geoff Johns, call me, dude!