Creator Interview: Jason Copland - Part 1

Here's the first part of my Indie Pulp interview with artist Jason Copland.

I first stumbled onto Jason Copland’s work in Postcards: Stories That Never Happened

Edited by Jason Rodriquez, Postcards is a collection of stories inspired by actual vintage postcards gathered from flea markets, antique shops, and second-hand stores. The postcards may be limited by a single paragraph of text, but the creators that have contributed to this anthology have allowed their imaginations to fill in the blanks and tell the “true stories that never happened”. One of the stories in the anthology, “Send Louis His Underwear”, was written by Matt Dembicki and illustrated by Copland.

The story, particularly the artwork, made such an impression on me that I decided to contact Jason and hit him up for an interview. Big thanks to Jason for agreeing to the interview and providing some honest, insightful answers into his life and art.

Bernie Gonzalez: Alright, Jason. Let’s start by filling a few blanks in your bio. What's your background? Did you go to art school/take art classes? Self taught?

Jason Copland: Well, I've taken my share of post-secondary art education, that's for sure. My first stop was the Alberta College of Art, the school my father graduated from (and my Dad's friend, John Byrne, dropped out of!). After two years there, I decided to follow Byrnes' lead and dropped out, too. I moved back to Vancouver and, after spending a few years in music retail, I felt a need to go back to school. I enrolled in a two-year community college art program where the focus was more on practical skills and techniques of image making. From there I finished out my art school training at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Six years of post secondary education in total...and one huge student loan!

BG: Ah, the abyss that is the student loan debt. I know it all too well. So to beat that beast back where he came from, do you have a day job or are you able to make a living through your art?

JC: For part of the week I work a day job as a librarian assistant at the Vancouver Public Library. The other part of my week in spent taking care of Stewart, my two-year-old son. Comics are still a side thing, but with some luck and a lot of hard work, I hope to be able to make my living doing comics fulltime.

BG: Is Stewart already spending some time with a drawing pad and those jumbo-sized crayons?

JC: He just turned two-year-old in July, so it's still too early to tell if he's going to follow in his old man's footsteps. But, he has done some sketching while sitting at my drawing table, so you never know! Personally, I think he should take up a trade, that way he'd be sure to make a decent living.

BG: With Stewart and a day job, how do you organize your drawing time? Take me through a typical day/week.

JC: Almost all my drawing time comes at the end of my day. Monday through Wednesday I take care of Stewart. Those days start around 8am and go until my wife comes home from work at 5:30pm. I get a little work done during his nap time, most of which is emailing people and surfing the internet. After putting Stewart to bed and spending some time with my wife, I'll draw from 10pm to about 2am. Then, I'm up at 8am to do it all again. My Thursday and Fridays are roughly the same as above except I work at the library instead of taking care of Stewart.

BG: I believe “busy” is the appropriate word. So why comics? Why do you feel the need to spend all the time and effort creating art for the comic medium?

JC: Funny, I've been asking that question to myself for years. I have a hard time coming up with a concrete answer. I guess it's because of my love and respect for the medium. I've been reading comics since I was a wee lad and have always regarded the art form (and the creators involved) very highly. I'm fascinated with the sequential nature of comics, telling a story with a series of images is a very satisfying experience. Plus, the notion that you can create new worlds with nothing but ink, pen and paper is very liberating, too.

BG: Would you say that most of your artwork is comic artwork? If so, then do you think of yourself as a "serious" artist?

JC: Yeah, almost all my work is traditional sequential comic book work. I definitely consider myself a "serious" artist. And why wouldn't I? Because comics are considered a "Low Art" form? I don't believe in the notions of "High Art" and "Low Art". That offensive distinction was created by institutional art critics and historians to bring an air of validity to the art forms that they had a stake in, namely painting and sculpture. Comics are just as valid and important. In terms of "Art", I'd put Frank Miller's Sin City on equal footing with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Seriously. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox, now.

BG: No, no. Stay on your soapbox for a little longer. I'll even play devil's advocate.

In the grand scheme of things, aside from Hollywood's recent interest in GRAPHIC NOVELS (in capitals for emphasis and credibility), comics have primarily been seen as juvenile. Kids read comics before they grow up, develop their reading comprehension, and move onto "real" books, "real" literature. So how can you compare something like Sin City, a book that may have more illustrative/fine art qualities than the average comic, with an actual piece of FINE ART (in capitals for emphasis and credibility) like Mona Lisa?

JC: I think comics got a bad shake, historically speaking. Once Dr. Wertham got his crusade up and going, the US Senate started questioning the morality of comics and their creators, and the stifling Comics Code Authority was put in place, Comics didn't stand a chance to be considered anything but lowbrow amusement. Comics were too far ahead of their time and that scared too many people. In another reality, one where the fear mongering of people like Dr. Wertham never existed, comics of today would be regarded far more favorably as a valid form of entertainment and expression. As far as I'm concerned, all the Mona Lisa has going for it over Sin City is about 500 years of validation.

BG: Interesting perspective. Let’s give this fine art vs. comics comparison one more go around.

When people discuss fine art, names like Picasso, Monet, Klimt, van Gogh, Renoir, etc commonly turn up. When it comes to comic art, there is also a rich history with artists such as Romita, Kirby, Dikto, Toth, Eisner, etc. As a comic artist, how important do you think it is for a comic artist to know about comic art history? How much do you know about comic art history?

JC: If someone is interested in making comics, a general knowledge of comic history should be a high priority. Knowing the past helps inform decisions made about the future. I have what I would call a basic knowledge of the history of comics. I'm not so good with the finer details about particular "Ages" but I know of the overall rise/fall/rise again details of comic book history. Or, at least, I once did but my lack of nightly sleep is starting to take its toll on my long term memory.

To read the second part of the interview, click here.

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