Character building 

How Josh Quick fills his comic universe

Josh Quick is being sawn in half by the woman he loves.

The mouth of a giant hippie is about to engulf him.

He's being followed by the devil, who's about to destroy the world.

He carelessly leaves his stove on and sets Missoula ablaze.

Those are all ways in which Quick, an illustrator and comic artist, has depicted himself. But if he were to draw himself realistically, you'd see a lanky, russet-haired, 33-year-old Montanan with a big grin, sitting at his desk with a 5 a.m.-strong cup of coffee, populating worlds with his red Col-Erase pencil.

You've seen Quick's work around town. You've probably spotted his concert fliers. He also designed the Open Road bicycle shop sign and the Big Dipper Ice Cream's yeti mascot. He's devised T-shirts, posters and stickers for KBGA. Perhaps you saw his recent posters for Hempfest and Sunday Streets Missoula, and you probably have one of his bookmarks from Shakespeare & Co. His work is on the label of Black Coffee Roasting Company beans, he designed T-shirts for the Poverello Center and he does illustrations for the Missoula Art Museum's monthly Artini and the Missoula Art Museum's Teen Open Studio Night.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

Quick works at a metal desk that he extracted from a dumpster at the Missoulian, where he works as a layout designer. He stationed it in his home studio, in a hip, green-built apartment complex on the Northside, where he lives with his partner, Tricia Opstad. The desk was a serendipitous find. It was the daily's comic station for years, and on the front drawer it says "comics" in small raised letters. Commissioned illustrations are Quick's bread and butter, along with his graphic work at the newspaper, but his biggest passion is his weekly comic strip "Camp Sleep Over," a sometimes humorous, sometimes philosophical take on life in Missoula that he posts online ( His oddball "Sleep Over" characters navigate issues of temptation, honesty and miscommunication in ironic and playful ways. And, often enough, the story behind the story is personal.

One recent episode is about a guy talking to himself.

"It was exactly what I was doing all last week and I don't know why," he says, laughing. "I was talking to myself so much in public, and I rarely ever do that. So the character is basically me, and he says, 'Do you talk to yourself?' And he answers, 'Yeah, I talk to myself all the time.' And in the third panel, he goes, 'You're crazy.' And in the fourth panel, he says, 'I'm not crazy, you're crazy.' So it's the concept of having that dialog external as opposed to internal."

On paper, Quick lives in a mad, mad world.

From blood and guts

The Quick family spent summers in Ninemile, at a cabin that parents Kathi and Ed Quick built together. Kathi is a ceramacist and carpenter and Ed is a physician who also takes photographs and translates German poetry. The couple tried to encourage their children's creativity.

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When they weren't at the cabin, they'd take Josh and his older brother, Troy, backpacking in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. For Troy, Montana summers in the outdoors offered free-roaming opportunities to burn off energy. But Josh would sit still for long stretches, sketching blood-soaked scenes inspired by X-Men and other comics.

"He had a little coffee can full of crayons and pencils and some of his toys, and he spent hours drawing half-pipes and skateboard parks and G.I. Joe guys, and then some scary things that a mother worries about," Kathi recalls. So she asked a psychologist friend to take a look at Josh's drawings. The psychologist assured her that it was normal for a little boy to draw blood and gore like that; he'd grow out of it. That psychologist was half right.

Kathi laughs talking about this, in part because she grew up doing scary things, too—she liked to melt wax to watch the wax drip, and there was always the potential of burning down the house. "But my mother was always really good about it," she says. "She would say, 'Well, if you're going to do that, dear, you need some foil underneath."

During the school year, Josh frequented Missoula shops Garden City News, The Joint Effort and Freddy's Feed & Read, where comic books could be found among the candy, tobacco and newspapers. "My folks were really open-minded," he says. "They let me read whatever I wanted—not pornography, but anything else...that was awesome for me growing up."

Troy, who is seven years older, recalls that he and Josh shared an interest in alternative culture, including magazines such as Thrasher, with art inspired by punk rock and skateboarding, particularly cartoons that he thinks sparked Josh's interest in art. Troy, now a carpenter who calls himself the jock of the family, says he spent most of his young adult life skating and snowboarding. He drew sometimes, but mostly he just copied what he'd seen in the magazines. Josh was different, Troy says—he was more serious about it, more dedicated. And he worked to perfect his own creations. "He was always drawing," Troy says, laughing—"and drawing really late at night, at really odd hours, past our bedtime...He's always drawn some kind of comic."

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