Jason Little is a great cartoonist and illustrator, who just finished his recent, long-form serialized graphic novel, Motel Art Improvement Service, a continuation of the Bee series, started with his similarly serialized book Shutterbug Follies. He’s also the creator of Jack’s Luck Runs Out, the first full-color comic to be awarded a grant from the Xeric Foundation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the novelist Myla Goldberg.
Having loved Jason’s comics since following Shutterbug Follies online, I was excited to talk to him about comics, cartoons and other things that start with the letter C.
Part the First
KS: What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?
Jason Little: Right now I’m really excited by Roy Wood, who was in Electric Light Orchestra, Wizzard, and The Move. ELO is by no means obscure, but most people know only the Beatlesque-disco Jeff Lynne hits, and not the weirder early Wood stuff.
KS: What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?
KS: What’s the strangest thing you own?
Jason Little: A Burmese Stroh violin copy that I picked up in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
KS: Do you play the violin?
Jason Little: Not enough. Cartooning is like alcoholism, it pushes all hobbies out of the nest.
KS: Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?
KS: Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?
Jason Little: Right now it’s Hans Holbein the Younger solely on the grounds of his remarkable portrait of Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve (“The Ambassadors“, 1533). I think it had a big impact on George Perec‘s novel Life a User’s Manual.
KS: What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?
KS: What’re your top three movies?
KS: Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?
KS: What is your favorite game?
KS: If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?
KS: What are your five most favorite books in the world?
Jason Little: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov, Omon Ra
by Victor Pelevin, The Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco.
KS: What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?
Jason Little: I can’t remember. Next question.
KS: If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?
Jason Little: I’m pretty happy with the names we picked for our daughters. But two favorite rejects from my list are “Mielikki”, which is Finnish, and “Xixili” (Pron. “Shi-SHI-li”) which is Nahuatl.
KS: What is your favorite meal?
Jason Little: I do like a good sandwich. An Italian hero, or perhaps a muffaletta.
KS: What is reality?
Jason Little: Sorry, I never studied philosophy. Next question.
Part the Second
KS: How did you get interested in doing Stereoscopic Art?
KS: I heard that you worked at MTV Animation — what did you do there, and what projects did you work on?
Jason Little: I worked on Daria as a layout artist, and then was promoted to “storyboard revisionist”. I quit mid-season to spend more time on comics. Luckily, my desk was right next to Aaron Augenblick‘s, and he taught me everything I know about animation. He left to form his own studio, and flourished while MTV Animation went down the toilet. I’m working for him now doing storyboards for Ugly Americans.
KS: How is Ugly Americans coming?
Jason Little: It’s great. Preproduction on the first season finished a week ahead of schedule, so my responsibilities are done. Previous to this job, I had been out of touch with the animation for ten years, so coming back to a show as weird and adult as this one was a lucky treat.
KS: How is it animated? Flash, cel, or another technique?
Jason Little: The whole thing is being done in Flash, but without using any of the Flash shortcut functionality that makes the characters look like articulated paper puppets. The show will look exactly like cel animation.
KS: Do you have any plans for doing your own animated projects?
Jason Little: Sure. I have a short I’d like to do. I’d like to write and design an animated feature too.
KS: Motel Art Improvement Service was teased in the end of Shutterbug Follies, but it took a longer time to hit the web — how come?
Jason Little: I spent a lot of what was previously studio time in making people; the aforementioned two daughters. They’re both in school now so more time is opening up to spend in the studio. My career should be moving along at a somewhat more invigorating pace now.
KS: Will there be more Bee adventures?
Jason Little: Maybe. I have a story very loosely outlined. But I felt increasingly constrained by the narrow visual approach in the latest Bee book. If I go back to Bee it will have to be in a way that will let me range more freely and experimentally.
Jason Little: Sure, but at present that would be a very slim volume. I need to do more work in that vein before I can think about that collection. That sort of work is my top priority now.
KS: A lot of your work is based on formal experimentation; are there any experiments that you couldn’t get to work? Were you able to use the story in another comic?
Jason Little: Scott McCloud once said “if you know how it’s going to turn out, it’s not an experiment”. Thus, I use the word “experimental” to describe my formalist stories somewhat disingenuously, as I have a pretty good idea of how the finished product will look when I start working in earnest. I tend to come up with loads of ideas for forms, or gimmicks, for comics, usually with a very thin story (or often no story) attached to them. So I have a large backlog of formal ideas waiting for the right stories.
KS: Do you have any of the gimmicks that you don’t think will find a story — or any that you just rejected out of hand?
Jason Little: I haven’t really rejected anything; there are scores of ideas sitting in my old sketchbooks waiting for the right formula of other ideas to bring them to life. They’re sort of like little inventions, so I don’t want to reveal them until they’re ready to come out in stories. I have proprietary feelings about them. Even if there isn’t anything new under the sun.
Jason Little: No. I’m sure it’s lovely. Maybe he and I and the Australian rugby player should get together and sing trios.
KS: What do you like best about teaching?
Jason Little: I like that it makes me do the preparation to really know what I’m talking about before I lecture, so I minimize the likelihood of coming across as an idiot. My drawing has improved immensely since I started teaching. The downside is that my plans to streamline my style so as to be able to draw faster have gone down the toilet, as I enjoy taking the time to make the drawings as good as I can.
KS: Is there a favorite kind of illustration work that you get hired to do?
Jason Little: I like ambitious projects with unusual technical demands. I’d love to do a whole book with stereogram illustrations.
KS: What other comics are you enjoying lately? Who else does formal experiments in comics that you enjoy?
These three are all part of a movement I’ve recently identified, one that takes inspiration in equal parts from very self-conscious formalists like Chris Ware and Scott McCloud, and also from relentless experimenters like Gary Panter. David’s book draws a lot of technique from Saul Steinberg, who, I suspect, was a big influence on Gary.
Jason Little: If I were to edit an anthology I would need to be sure that I was serving a niche that no other publication was serving. I get the most stimulation out of formalists like Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Killoffer, FranÃ§ois Ayroles, Tobias Tycho Schalken and Stefan J.H. van Dinther. So, sure, I’d love to edit an anthology of formalist comics.
KS: Have you ever thought of collaborating with your wife on a comic?
Jason Little: We did once. It turned out okay. It ran in an issue of Top Shelf. Maybe we’ll do it again some time.
KS: Is there any relation to the naming of “Bee” and her novel Bee Season, or was it just a coincidence?
Jason Little: It was just a coincidence. I had called Bee “Beatrix” for a while, but decided she should have an unusual monosyllable name.
KS: Do you have any projects in the works you’d like to mention?
Jason Little: I’m trying to make up for the dreadfully long amount of time it took me to draw Motel Art by working up a number of graphic novel proposals in rapid succession, most of which are collaborative. I’m working on a horror book with my friend Jon Lewis (of True Swamp fame). I’m also working on a science fiction proposal with Daupo, in collaboration with the writer J.M. Tyree. Nick Bertozzi and I are collaborating on a children’s book. And I am itching to adapt a science-fiction novel whose name I’m keeping a secret.
KS: Any hints on the sci-fi novel adaptation?
Jason Little: It’s from the 1930s. It’s American. The author is deceased. I can’t say more, I’ve only barely begun communicating with the author’s estate.
KS: On the subject of adaptations, what do you think of the recent books like the comics version of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? from BOOM! Studios, where the actual source material is in the comic, rather than doing a more traditional-style of adaptation of telling the story in a different way with different words?
Jason Little: I haven’t read the new adaptation, I confess. I just read a review that said all the descriptive text is retained, as well as the dialogue. Frankly, that seems a bit silly to me. That project seems to be ignoring the advantages of the word/image alchemy that makes comics so great. If I see an image of Iran dialing her mood organ, I don’t need the caption to say “Iran dialed her mood organ”.