Hail The White Rhinoceros Part Three (of Three): Josh Simmons

Posted by on February 23rd, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Shaun Partridge Part One, Part Two.

IAN BURNS: Are you still living in the theater?

JOSH SIMMONS: No, I moved in with my girlfriend about two years ago. We’re in a loft downtown.

BURNS: That’s where you’ve been drawing White Rhino, then?

SIMMONS: Yeah. My girlfriend taught me Photoshop, and at the beginning of 2009 I started drawing White Rhinoceros. The first chapter in Mome #19 took most of 2009 to do. I’m usually a lot faster than that, but it was ’cause I was learning how to use color. That was about 20 pages and took most of the year. I’ve gotten a lot faster with color, but I’ve found it’s still twice as much work.

BURNS: With White Rhino, using color now, what’s a typical workday or a workweek look like?

SIMMONS: Are you familiar with the Jessica Farm book?

BURNS: Yeah.

SIMMONS: I try to do that page at the beginning of the month, get it out of the way, and then, because I have deadlines for Mome now with The Rhino, basically I try to draw The Rhino next and get that done, and then whatever time I have left I’ll work on a short horror story or something else. With The Rhino, I do the pencils and the inks per page, so I’ll pencil the first page then pencil the next page, and then ink the first page, and then scan it and start coloring it. I do the penciling and the inking in the morning generally and do color-work at night. But that’s a really loose schedule. It’s scattershot, doing so many different comics at a time.

BURNS: Are you balancing that with a day job still?

SIMMONS: I’m balancing it with whatever little jobs I could get. I’ve been fortunate to be selling a fair amount of original art over the past year or two, so I definitely don’t have a 9-to-5, but actually I have a good amount of time to work on comics right now. I’m very lucky. I’m not sure how much longer that’s gonna last, but it’s been good lately.

BURNS: So you’re coloring White Rhino all digitally, then?

SIMMONS: Yeah.

BURNS: From a technical point of view, how do you approach a full-color comic differently than when you were doing black and white — other than obviously you’re using Photoshop, which is new — but do you prepare differently?

SIMMONS: Definitely: when I’m penciling and inking it I have it in mind that it’s going to be in color, so just stylistically speaking, compared to my other strips, there’s a lot less hatching and shading with the line-work. Because I’m just trying to have the panels be open, so that I’m going to be filling it with flat color. I was thinking ’60s or ’70s comics, like old Disney comics, is somewhat the look I had in mind for the way that The Rhino should look.

BURNS: What artwork and comics did you familiarize yourself with specifically?

SIMMONS: Well I was thinking of kids’ comics — superhero comics I read in the ’80s, when I was a kid. Not even looking like that: Just the feeling I got, how it was fun to read those when you were a kid, you know? I was trying to capture a certain look; I was thinking very loosely (I didn’t look at a lot of these comics, but the Disney comics from the ’60s or so — very nice, smooth, rubbery, cartoony line and bright colors) but trying to draw it somewhat realistic too. Not too cartoony. For me the main influences would be those kind of comics, and fantasy epic stories like Narnia, Lord of the Rings. And Shaun [Partridge] is a huge Narnia fan. That was a large jumping-off point for him.

BURNS: It might be silly to ask, but how do you build that color palette for White Rhino? Once you’ve decided, “I want a psychedelic palette,” or whatever you choose, how do you collect the actual colors you’ll use?

SIMMONS: Just Photoshop. I just go in. I might tweak the colors one way or another. Well, with this one I’m using — this is really boring technical stuff — if you look at the swatches, it’s the middle of the scale on the colors, so I’m trying to use the brightest colors for this strip. And I’m going to be doing more color work. I’m trying to do very different ways of using color, so some colors are going to be more pastel and some are going to be as realistic as I can get. But with this story it’s basically the brightest colors I can get.

BURNS: So you have more color comics coming; that’s something you’re experimenting with?

SIMMONS: I’m coloring, for the first time, an old story, which is going to be all pastels. And, a new story I’m working on now — a short horror story —where I’m trying to do, in a way, the opposite of The Rhino; I’m trying to make the art as naturalistic and realistic as possible and also have the colors very muted. ’Cause color’s new to me, so it’s fun to experiment with different ways of using it. It’s new to me as far as using it in comics.

BURNS: Are you feeling that you’re bringing more to the table now using color? Showcasing a talent your readers may not be familiar with?

SIMMONS: I don’t know. I’m liking the way the comics look. And I am hoping I’m not completely incompetent with colors. That’s hard for me to say. I’ll say it’s definitely a lot of fun doing a strip in color after working in black-and-white for a long time.

BURNS: Talk about how you met Shaun Partridge.

SIMMONS: Shaun I know from Jim Goad’s message board: Netjerk Lounge. Jim Goad did the Answer Me! magazine back in the ’90s, and he also wrote the Trucker Fags in Denial comic, and Shaun … well,l I know Shaun’s work because he contributed to Answer Me!, and I’d just seen some of his writing and interviews in various places and then he and I were both guests on Jim Goad’s message board in the early ’00s, and he was just the guy on there — I always loved the way he wrote. He was always dealing with similar subject matter. A lot of the people in Answer Me! like ugly or sort of tabooish subjects. But Shaun just had this really dark humor, but he always had this super rainbow-colored, psychedelic and manically gleeful spin on it. I always liked that and I think that our sensibilities work together pretty well.

So we were both on that message board. I recommended that he should just write a book someday, ’cause I thought his writing was so funny. And someone else recommended that I should draw pictures for the book. Shaun and I started talking, and originally The Rhino was going to be a children’s-book format with just me doing big illustrations, but we realized later on that it would make more sense to do a comic — that’s what I do.

It’s been coming together, this project, for six years or something. I think we started talking about it in 2004 or 2005 when I lived in Vermont. I was living in Vermont at the time, and then I moved to Portland in 2006, late 2006, which is where Shaun lives, and so we got to meet up and just work on it probably once a week or something like that. We wanted to get like the whole story mapped out before I started drawing it. It just seemed like a good idea to get the whole outline. So we spent pretty much a year doing that, and then I moved down here, and something like a year after I moved down here he sent me his finished rough draft, and my girlfriend and I read it and we thought it was just pure gold, hilarious. So I started drawing.

BURNS: You said you were interested in his writing from the start … did you ever have any experience with The Partridge Family Temple [a website that deifies the group] at all?

SIMMONS: No, not beyond when I started hanging out with him in Portland. He showed me some of the videos. I think The Partridge Family Temple is pretty great. It’s pretty funny. It makes more sense than a lot of religions, actually. So it’s cool. But that wasn’t my first interest in Shaun’s stuff. I really liked his writing and his aesthetic and his perspective on things.

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