Character building 

How Josh Quick fills his comic universe

Page 2 of 4

Superhero comics were king until Josh discovered Robert Crumb, whose "Keep On Truckin'" strip was an underground commix fixture in the 1970s, and the satirical art in MAD magazine. "It was the introduction of those comics that totally set the stage for me," he says. "Not just superhero comics, but alternative comics, adult comics...They had alternative ways of looking at the world, and so I would...try and draw like those guys."

Peter Bagge, who managed Crumb's mag Weirdo, was part of that underground scene and an influence on Josh. His 1980s "Comical Funnies," about a dysfunctional family, inspired a 1990s offshoot, "Hate," about a twenty-nothing slacker. Quick devoured them. At the same time, he also liked that epitome of mainstream comics, "Peanuts."

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"I think it's really easy for people to forget about what an intelligent guy Charles Schultz was, because he's been in the popular culture for so long," Josh says. "But he was phenomenal."

Josh graduated from Sentinel High School in 1996 and enrolled in the fine arts program at the University of Montana. Almost immediately he knew it wasn't for him. He wanted to see his work out in the world in a commercial way—on bookmarks, across coffee mugs—or as art in service to community events and non-profits. "I'm not a megalomaniac, but I love the idea of a particular piece of mine being given a bunch of different homes," he says.

When Josh changed his focus from fine art to graphic design, says Ed, "I realized this was what he was going to do." His parents helped fund his transfer to the Seattle Art Institute, where Josh got a degree in illustration and design. Then he went to work at Cranium Games, which hired him to create and revise game boards tested on kids. He was floating along in the job just fine, he says, still unclear about what he ultimately wanted to do, when Gary Baseman, the artistic designer for Cranium, showed up at the office one day. A renowned illustrator, Baseman had coined the term "pervasive art" as a way to blur the line between fine art and the sometimes-pejorative term "commercial art." His passion for cheeky pop surrealism made an impression on Josh. "That day," Josh says, "I knew: 'I'm going to be an illustrator.'"



Satan's Big Gulp

Quick uses an Ellen Forney comic book as a mousepad so he can absorb her spirit. The I Love Led Zeppelin book, by the Seattle artist, features some of Forney's work from The Stranger, the L.A. Weekly and Bust. She's one of Quick's current comic idols, along with the Hernandez Brothers and French illustrator David B., who wrote a comic about his epileptic brother. On Quick's bookshelf is the "Russian Criminal Tattoo" series, featuring striking imagery rife with sex and whimsy, religion and violence. On the top shelf are his deities: the 1980s pro-wrestler action figures Junkyard Dog and Boris, which he got at a flea market, and a religious statue of the Virgin Mary from his 1992 trip to Mexico. None of these things feature prominently in Quick's work but they're all part of aexploration of symbology and style. And, as is the case with pro wrestling, they might help in figuring out how to establish a narrative. "I love professional wrestling from the '80s because those were the ultimate narratives: good versus evil, creating a storyline," he explains. "Sometimes I'll listen to the old professional wrestling commentary to give me ideas."

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Quick's first professionally silk-screened rock poster was done at Garage Tees for local new wave rockers the Volumen. He was thinking about adolescence at the time and he'd bought old high-school yearbooks from thrift stores to get a sense of how to draw a variety of hairstyles and facial images. It also helped him develop a narrative for the Volumen poster. "I just drew a bunch of kids that looked like they were having a tough time, that were dealing with hormones and growing up," he explains. "Some of them have acne, one of the kids has a KISS shirt on, one of the kids has a high forehead, and one has a weight issue...it looked like a page out of a yearbook, and then it says, 'Volumen.'"

Quick says he avoids narratives about alcohol or drug abuse or sexualized people, despite the fact that some of his comic-artist heroes have made much use of those themes. "There's already so much bullshit in our culture that I don't need to put that in my art," he says.

That doesn't mean his style is bland or teetotaler-esque, although some of his illustrations seem more benign than others, like the purple spray painted poster for the KBGA End-of-thon with two raccoons on bicycles who've stolen a bunch of loot and are having a night on the town. Or they're a little devious, like the one he did for The Lazerwolfs' Judas Priest tribute show, in which Priest singer Rob Halford rides a motorbike, flanked by Satan (as a goat) sipping a Big Gulp soda. And some of his ideas seem to come from nowhere, with a narrative that showcases Quick's hilariously weird viewpoint. For his Vampire Weekend poster, he decided to show someone listening to sad music and lost in a sad thought. When he tried to think of the saddest idea in the world, he thought of a burial at sea.

"For me, burial at sea is a totally sad thing," he says. "So I drew a woman sitting in her living room listening to a bunch of records, and you can kind of see in [her thought bubble] a burial at sea...It's just a little simple image and then boom! 'Vampire Weekend' in big letters. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to get anybody's goat. I'm really trying to create an aesthetic for people and a small narrative for them to think about."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

Quick's ideas have led to other funny images, such as the Secret Powers poster where all the band members are passed out, not from alcohol, but from being poisoned, and an apartment full of monsters that represent Quick's vision of the sounds he hears from his neighbors.

His attempts at a narrative that will engage his clients don't always work out. The poster he did for one of Wilco's shows at the Adams Center had all the elements for an interesting narrative—a deadman's curve in the Bitterroot where a ghost is haunting a driver whose passenger is a camel—but at the last minute, the band's manager cancelled the deal. A friend of the band had offered to make the poster instead, and Quick was pushed out. And then there was the band Clutch, which commissioned Quick for a poster and let him come up with a theme. Quick listened to their music. The word "rebellious" came to mind, so he tried to think of a rebellious scene. But this is Josh Quick. He wasn't into the stereotypes. Not motorcycles or James Dean or tattoos. He needed something off-the-wall. And then he had it: whalers.

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