This Ape Sets The Law: An interview with Jeremy's Jon Morris
Jon Morris may claim "the things he writes and draws make people sad," but he has had a hand in several well received webcomics. Starting with the Ignatz nominated Jeremy and moving on to current anthology project Open Book, Morris continues to expand the scope of material he brings to his particular style and approach to comics.
COMIXPEDIA: How did you first get interested in comics?
Jon Morris: My parents read and collected them long before I was born - after my father came to America, he actually taught himself to read English primarily using the original Challengers of the Unknown series - so I grew up surrounded by closets full of comics dating back to the mid-Forties.
My affection for the comics of my childhood is limitless, and just because of that particular environment, I get to claim ALL comics prior to 1986 as being part of "my childhood..." THIS IS LUCKY ME! Ask me about "Uncle Wiggly" and "Captain Marvel Jr," I swear, those books were golden...
CP: What did you first put online? How did it go over?
JM: Gone and Forgotten and the Online Sketchbuk preceded anything else on Ape-Law.com. G&F got rave reviews from the rare and few e-loiterers who happened to stumble upon it, and the Sketchbuk got occasional love from OTHER folks who'd thought to maintain online sketch diaries. Not a lot of non-artist affirmation coming in, other than that.
Still, it was enough to encourage me to put Jeremy online, after the University of Arizona paper had rejected it. (This was back in 1997, by the way, three years before I started doing Jeremy on a regular basis...)
I like to think I've grown into an audience that extends beyond artistic circles, but I'm hard-pressed to put fact to that. I still get some very nice mail about the assorted part of Ape-Law.com and Wheoum.com...
CP: Who are your biggest influences?
JM: No one you could tell from my style, most likely. Curt Swan is by far my favorite cartoonist, I spent more childhood hours swiping his Superman pages than I could possibly count.
Outside of Swan, I grew up on Kirby, Joe Kubert, Will Eisner and Winsor McCay, not to mention lesser appreciated folks like Lee Elias, Ramona Fradon and C.C.Beck. Inside of Swan, it's too dark to read.
Nowadays, I really follow Scott Morse, Jim Mahfood, Dave Cooper, Paul Grist and one of my resident Ape-Lawyers, Mike Hawthorne. And then there's always Mike Mignola, who may be the most flawless cartoonist working today...
CP: What inspires your comics?
JM: Jeremy is very much the product of remembering what it was like to be a little kid, or watching kids in action, firsthand. Which is not to say I'm trying to capture anything so ubiquitous and fantastic as the 'innocence of childhood' â€“ which is this terrific, self-delusional myth that adults subconsciously force on themselves, and no self-respecting child would demean themselves into buying in the slightest â€“ but instead that highly emotional, boundary-free transitive state in which children's psyches exist by default.
Kids are constantly feeling their way around social boundaries and rules, with very little or no understanding of where to draw the lines of their own emotional responses. Kids can be little beasts and little sweethearts in the same breath, they can run a gamut of different roles in response to the same situation, and this makes them great protagonists for these simple little stories that the Jeremy strip would tell.
So, "little kids inspire Jeremy," which is a buttery slice of irony, because I'm not sure a little kid should be READING Jeremy, per se...
There're other stories I've worked on recently, including short stories over at Open Book and the Boo! comic I'm doing with Manning Krull, plus the old "Superbad & The Bad MotherF---er" pulp stories. None of these were particularly inspired by little kids, thank God, because these kids would be drinking hard liquor and running down pedestrians.
I'm suddenly drawing a blank as I'm trying to answer this question in a general sense. I know I've never started a story idea before I've started a sketch, I'm just not certain what inspires the sketch in the first place. I can pin down Jeremy easily enough, mostly because I fell into such a routine with it. I'm working on another comic - trying to get the first three issues finished by January 1st - called Doc Homonculus, and it's pretty clearly drawn from the high-adventure, fun sensawunda comics reading on which I grew up. I'm less able to tell you where "Cain Been Rais'd" or "The Rascal King" might've come from...
Each story comes from a different place, I think. It wouldn't be worth trying your hand at different stories if they were all drawn from the same well. Some come from the heart, some from the gut ... some come from Toledo.
CP: How do you like running a site for several artists?
JM: I love it! Not to sound all precious here, but I absolutely feel privileged that I get to link my name to artists of that caliber! We just added Neal von Flue within the last year, and Justin Ison about a month ago, and I'm absolutely sure that both of those boys are going the way of the big time, same as Mike Hawthorne and Norm Scott. Which gives me additional warm jumblies, being part of the early days of an artist's success...
CP: What brought you to start your own online community?
JM: Happenstance and a long history of being the guy who buys the drinks. Norm Scott was the first fellow besides myself to reside on Ape-Law, mostly because he was having endless difficulty with whatever freeserver he was using at the time to host his Evil Monkey Archives. I knew him from the House of Fun board on AOL, really liked his work, and had plenty of room left on the site, so I gave him his own directory. Just to be a mensch.
A few years later, Mike Hawthorne ALSO ran into some difficulty getting his site up and running, and again I was an acquaintance of his from another board (The Indy Cred All-Stars) - and a terrific fan of his Hysteria book, so I extended the same offer.
Actually, as I think about it, I can't remember if Mike or Asa Taylor came first. In any case, Asa's verse is as same as the first, and the second...
After the first three guys, I started actively seeking out exceptional artists (mostly friends, or at least speaking acquaintances) who needed some assistance of some sort with their websites. Neal von Flue needed space for his webcomics work, and Justin Ison needed an online portfolio.
There are actually a few other folks currently in the queue to possibly join Ape-Law in the future, and I'm still looking for the occasional new recruit. Although the necessary front page redesign involved with new Ape-Lawyers really rides up my tuckus, so I like to space it out.
CP: How would you describe your art style?
JM: MEET THE QUESTION I'VE BEEN THINKING A LOT ABOUT LATELY! My pal Mikey D (no website, but he's here and there in my Online Sketchbooks) said he's growing frustrated with my work, because I seem to be working in four different styles. I can't really see it, but I get his point that there's a difference in the style you'll see in Jeremy versus some of the more dark stories in Boo!, for instance, or in the Sketchbook.
The preliminary work for Doc Homonculus has a very elastic realism, I think there's a lot of Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Lee Elias in how I'm approaching it, at least consciously - maybe some Mike Allred, just a smidge. Jeremy is Jeremy, as near as I can tell, I've been working on it so long that I think it might have evolved its own style. I've had folks compare it to a cross between Dorkin and Vasquez (I can see the Dorkin, but I've never really caught the Jhonen comparison), which I'll live with.