Too Many Fangs: An Interview with Jason Frederick

Jason Frederick is an accomplished artist, illustrator, printer, and all-around good guy from Chicago, Illinois. Originally from Athens, Ohio, he sharpened his teeth on the rock circuit, and has since made a name for himself designing and illustrating from LP covers to advertisements to gig posters, and everything in between. Jason was introduced to us through the handshake, as the designer of the poster for our upcoming release party to celebrate Joe Meno’s Office Girl. We recently sat down with Jason to talk about Chicago, art, and if there is such a thing as too many fangs.

ANOBIUM: Who is Jason Frederick, and what does Jason Frederick do?

JASON FREDERICK: I am Jason Wyatt Frederick. I am an independent artist musician who was born in Athens, Ohio, and who moved to Chicago in 1997 to record music, make illustrations and print posters, among other things.

I do whatever you want to do (I might say to a client)  – or – I do whetever I get a whim to try (I might say to a bandmate) – but I seem to settle most frequently on Rock n Roll, Pen and Ink Illustration (a lot of digital these days, though), posters and record covers… though I used to be big into hand printing LPs,  I’ve gotten a kick lately out of designing for off-sett. It’s a whole different game. It’s fun, but can be complicated. Imagine walking into a football stadium knowing nothing at all about the sport, and having to figure out the rules as you watch a game… or maybe a better analogy is watching a foreign film with the subtitles off. I have done this a couple times. It can be very calming to not have any idea what is going on.

It occurs to me that I may have just explained my take on creativity in general.

My wife, Maria, is awesome and a filmmaker and we have a little boy named Gianni (a total crack up!). Our dog Sally is on a diet and our cat just passed away. Very sad to see him go. He was a good old boy.

When I’m not working, I’m usually working on something else, out to diner with the Lady-friend, or just playin’ with the boy.

I wish I did more filmmaking.

From Sketchbook City

ANOBIUM: What initially attracted you to Chicago? Or, why did you choose Chicago, rather than some other city?

JF: I moved to Chicago because i was in Spiveys and was done living in Athens, Ohio – my home town (SKELETONWITCH rules!!!).

Spiveys moved to Chicago, I think because – while we had considered Prague and Cleveland as alternatives to southern Ohio – there were several bands here making music we were fans of and all that. So we came out, almost with the expressed intention of playing Lounge Ax, which we did. and had a blast. Then we put out a record, and broke up. (The Spiveys – ‘By Caesarian’ available here.)

I left Chicago for Columbus, Ohio, once after that – around 2001 – and lived there just as long as it took me to make the money to move back to chicago. I moved away and came back AGAIN after that. I have moved to Chicago three times. I like Chicago. I’d like to be mayor someday. I’d dismantle the religious infrastructure and outlaw cars. Imagine all the commuter cyclists!

I also think the flag is good.

A: How long have you been involved in printing and illustration?

JF: I started making fliers for my pals’ bands as soon as my pals had bands… so like, 14? I fell into Printmaking in school – there was no illustration or animation program at OU – Athens, Ohio – and I ended up in printmaking. I did a lot of intaglio and some silkscreen – but when I got to Chicago and started hanging out at SCREWBALL, Steve Walters urged me to start taking jobs here and there. One recurring client was Art Chantry for whom I’ve printed for several years – mostly posters, but a couple of record covers, too. Another job of note was in 2010. I did a run of 8000, 5-color, 18 x 24 ” prints for Kings of Leon’s summer tour. I don’t know if you can imagine what a marathon that was to do by hand – but it was crazy. Took months. 1,000 pulls a day sometimes – 40,000 pulls to finish… and that’s only couting the ones I DIDN’T screw up!

So, short answer: I’ve been doing it for a long time, but it has really ramped up as of late.

I love the physicality of printmaking. It’s where art and exercise collide… but I have really been into illo most recently. I’m working on a Television Show now for TLC in which my drawings are given to animators and they shoot ’em all over the screen, sparkling – swoosh, swish!! Ka-CHING! It rules. Very exciting, actually. It’s all about bridal gowns and stuff I would normally not draw. Like veils, for instance. I never really thought about veils as something i’d seek out to draw — but i’ve drawn dozens of veils now. I got a stack of veil drawings on my desk. Whaddya know about that!

Gig Poster

A: Is there a certain methodology you apply when creating your work, or would you consider your process more ‘intuitive’?

JF: I don’t consciously avoid using the same process repetetively, I don’t think – but I do, to some extent, feel lazy if I’m looking down and feel what i’m working on is a repeat of something I’ve done before. This might be to the detriment of my notoriety. I’m told it is hard to grow an audience if you don’t settle on a style people can recognize… and recognition is – of course – the path to prosperity (they say). At the risk of coming off as defiantly idealistic, I must say that I enjoy ideation and discovery, and avoiding a set process of image-making keeps it interesting for me. Repetition leads to grinding boredom, which leads to suicidal thought. At least, such was the case at my various office jobs.

This isn’t to say that I never do the same thing twice. I just don’t have a checklist I go through when I’m creating an image for myself or a client. Every project is different, in my opinion. I want them to be different. I want to try something I haven’t tried before.

Life is too short to do the same shit over and over again. And anyway, even if you try to stray from a rut, your own personal proclivities or limitations keep you close to one. It’s hard to really get out of yourself. It’s nearly impossible to surprise yourself, or tickle yourself. But that is what I long to do. I want to give myself goosebumps after a good jump-scare.

I really don’t mean that to sound masturbatory. I’m not just looking to make myself feel good. I’d love to produce something that could have a life of it’s own – and grow and become something I didn’t know it would become. I don’t know if that is even possible. but that’s the ideal I strive to. Seminal originality. Yeah, I know, it’s a high bar, but what the fuck. right?

A: What are some of the things you consider a ‘challenge’ as an illustrator and artist in Chicago?

JF: It is hard to do your own thing, i think. To avoid trends. I do what i’m told when I’m on a job, but as soon as I’m off, I’ don’t want that noise in my head. There are people doing really unique things here, but those people generally don’t seem to be making a lot of cash at it [Editor’s note: See Anobium: Volume 3].

The ad money in this town, at least what i’ve seen of it, stays pretty safe. I was on a job last year and was asked to draw a woman with a shopping cart. My original submission was rejected as having “too much character.” It was explained to me that they didn’t see their customers as “people” – that they saw them as numbers, and so the “woman shopping” had to be as generic as possible. We ended up with something resembling the icon on a bathroom door. And that’s all fine. I was working on their thing and gave them what they wanted. But that angle, or way of thinking, really has nothing to do with anything about me.

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised I get as much work as I do.

It’s funny, until you asked, I hadn’t thought about it. But it occurs to me now that i’m often asked to reference another artist’s style when i’m working for Chicago clients. The times i’ve been hired to “do my thing,” the job has been out of New York.

A: What artists/writers/musicians/filmmakers do you often cite for influence, conscious or subconscious?

JF: Oh man. I feel like I’m being tugged in a million directions a once. As if i’m trying to have hundreds of conversations with hundreds of different artists at the same time. If I see something that rings my bell, a response pops in my head and I have to try and hold it there till i can get it down on paper. Or just let it repeat and repeat in my head. i think the word I’d prefer to ‘influence’ is ‘inspire’ – on the conscious side of things, at least. I don’t know if I can speak to the unconscious.

I’m ga-ga over a gazillion comic artists like Sergio Aragones, or Bill Waterson, or Walt Kelley, but there are too many greats to mention. And the same goes with music and film. Though film is different in so far as I get really caught up with a film, regardless of the director. That’s not to say that I’m not a director junky. I’ve jumped into Brad Bird and Jim Jarmusch and Michael Haneke (I could go on) and have seen as much as their stuff as possible – but I think my favorite movie ever is Five Corners. I’ve only seen about 15 minutes of another film by the same director, but I’ve seen Five Corners a hundred times and if you wanted to watch it right now, I’d be all about it.

I will say, also, that I often turn away from something if I’m falling really hard for it. Like if I’m so overwhelmed with awe or just dumbstruck by how amazing it is – I will often walk away. Fearing, of course, that I might end up only emulating that, because it hit me so hard. It’s a great feeling, you now? When a song or a book reaches in and grabs you by the heart and squeezes you till you feel it in your balls (You know, ‘love’) and you get chills. I love it. It is a scary feeling. A real stomach sinker. I love that art can do that. But I think you can only really do it to someone else if you’re really doing your own thing.

So I guess I make art as a result of my enthusiasm for art. I’m not overly enthusiastic about artists, really. I don’t spend any time in lines at comic cons or book signings. I did live in New York for a while. That’s kind of like being at comic con. Bumping into someone whose work you’ve seen is a very real possibility.

A: As an artist, are you self-sustained, or do you work any jobs on the side to make the difference? What are some weird jobs you’ve had in the past?

JF: I’m doing really well these days, but I still bartend a few times a month. My ladyfriend is doing well, too. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘self sustained – I’m on a team. When my boy hits 2, we’re putting him to work. Stunt baby, or Muppet-extra, or something.

It’s almost like all I work are side jobs. When i’m busiest, I’m juggling several projects at once. Posters, animation, record covers, logos, etc. I had a couple of straight customer service jobs a few years ago. In chicago and in New York. Sitting there answering phones, explaining the Internet and shipping issues to people from the past (presumably).  That work is okay at the outset, but starts to really get to a guy. It can be dangerous. The frequency of liquid lunches increases exponentially. Dark thoughts follow in the afternoon.

I don’t know if i’ve had weird jobs, exactly. I unloaded trucks for rock bands during the day, and worked 3rd shift at an all-night pizza place in Columbus for about a year. It was abusive work. Physically demanding, building stages and hauling cable, then i’d get covered in dough while frat boys threw shit at me and teenagers OD’d in the parking lot. Such work begets bong-hits when you finally get home at 7:00 a.m. Especially when you have to rally at noon to start it all over again at 1:00 p.m.

But those are the kinds of jobs you don’t mind quitting to go on tour. And generally, the shittier the work, the more likely that they’ll give you the job again when you get back. Chuck-O (the production guy for every huge rock show in Columbus) was cool as hell about that. He understood that I would work hard, dissapear, and then reappear a few weeks later in a better mood.

I’ve washed dishes, waited tables, worked at an antique store for Cruella DeVille’s secret sister – by far the only boss I’d ever call evil. I mean, who hates the smell of food? “Ewww, it smells like food in here!” she would say.

The longest I’ve work anywhere was a video store at the corner of Damen and Division in Wicker Park/ Ukrainian Village. I worked there for eight years, on and off. the neighborhood was at the end of what was to be a complete makeover. I saw the end of big packs of gangbangers shooting at SUVs give way to packs of vodka-drinking blondies pouring out of cabs. I knew every bartender and barback and waitress and cop by name and we all took care of each other however we could. But the money was shit and the store’s slow decline grew quicker every day. I only had two co-workers for the longest time. One somehow found a quack online who wrote him scripts for several different narcotics and dove headlong into the oblivion of pills – drank Milk of Magnesia like it was Gatorade, lost weight, frothed at the mouth, and lied until he eventually disappeared. I never saw him again.

I could go on. There are a million gross stories from that video store. but they’re all sorta depressing. Where the store once was, there is now a sex shop. A step up in legitimacy? I bet they pay taxes – but i’m only guessing.

From Sketchbook City

Q: Talk about the Office Girl poster. It’s a great print, and people keep asking me about the ski mask.

Yes, what a great project! I worked on it mostly with Dan Duffy. The sketches of the individual elements were taken from my sketchbooks. I have a thing for women on bikes – specifically those in biz-cas attire obviously on the way to an office job. It just strikes me as so wonderful. A perfect storm of function and practicality that takes total concentration and guts to pull off. I mean, shit! It’s dangerous out there! But commuting to an office job was my life for a while. It’s like a boring sandwich made with two really exciting pieces of deadly bread!

I have to say – the ski mask was one of my favorite moments as an illustrator. Seriously. And I’d love to take credit for it – but I can’t. I usually work with people who are telling me my work is too dark, or too odd, or has too many fangs or something – asking me to dial it back. I was trying to keep the thing from being too “girly” or too “literary” – just fun. I submitted the thing as it looks now, pretty much. and the woman on the bike was plain, maybe cute. Nonchalant. But when the author [Joe Meno] looked at it, he said, “Can she be wearing a ski mask?”

It was a true SQUEE moment for me. Hell yes she can! It really completed the picture. Made the poster so… I don’t know – just this side of S&M. A great idea! It really spoke to my whole thing with women bikers. Like – there’s something underneath here – but you have to know me to get to see it.

I’d love to work with that guy again. Never met him. Never seen his face, either. does he need an illustrator for his next book? That’s all I wanna know. His is a great brain.

[Office Girl posters will be available for sale at the June 28th event!]

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