I’ve had a lot of day jobs over the years. I worked on a golf course, at a corner grocery store, a warehouse, did freelance art, and even designed tombstones for about 5 years. Mostly I’ve been working in and out of the t-shirt industry going on 30 years now.
I started off working at Talkin’ Tops in the Southland Mall in Memphis, TN the year after I graduated from high school. (That’s young, skinny me wearing one of the first tees I airbrushed with a single action airbrush.) A.G. Howard, one of the airbrush artists there I had been asking airbrush advice. He’d show me some examples, I’d go home and work on them, and then come back the next day. He’d critique my work, give me some more advice (like ditch the single action airbrush and buy a double action gun). During one visit he said the shop needed someone to work a few shifts for when he needed time off. He would be willing to teach me what he knew while I worked there behind the counter (doing iron-on lettering, heat transfers, and running the register). Well, not too long after I started there the owners transferred A.G. out to their Mall of Memphis location and hired another kid (Chris Marshall) to take his position.
Luckily I was a quick learner and soon became the back-up airbrush artist there, then a full time artist- especially around the holidays or at the Mid-South Fair. I also picked up a few hours here and there printing 1 color transfers at their screen printing shop. Greg Cravens, another airbrush artist I got early advice from was the new graphic artist there (that’s Cowboy Cravens above).
I started to learn how to do art and separations for silk-screening from Greg, and did a Beale Street shirt design that sold in the Talkin’ Tops retail stores.
Back in the ‘old days’ we did everything by hand using rub-down type sheets, Zipatone screen tone sheets, Amberlith/Rubylith/Emersaldlith, X-acto knives, non-repro blue pencils, tech pens, copy machines, clip-art books, and stat cameras. I spent many hours over a light table and in a dark room doing camera-ready art and color separations. The first Mac I got to use was at a company called Printech back in the late ’80s. It was small, had a black and white monitor, and I really only used it for basic typesetting- which I still had to cut and paste into my layouts. It’s all a bit prehistoric by today’s practices, but taught me a lot about graphic design, the terminology, and other production aspects of making art to be printed.
A few years later in 1992 I opened up a t-shirt shop with A.G. and another Talkin’ Tops airbrush artist, Mitch Foust. Talkin’ Tops (where Mitch was still working) and their print shop were closing. A.G. pulled out of the project after a few months, and Mitch and I worked the local flea-market on the weekends while getting the shop on Mt. Moriah open.
The business changed names from “The Wild Hare” to “Animated Jack’s” a year or two later when a clothing line contacted us about already using the name (this was back before you could just do a google search). We kept our rabbit mascot (that Greg Cravens designed) and ordered a new sign.
We later expanded from just airbrush, pre-printed licensed tees, and farming out any screen-printing to doing our own in-house custom screen-printing.
We had two manual presses- a 6-color and an 8-color, and did a lot of process and simulated process designs for our retail stores (Mt. Moriah, Mall of Memphis, and The Comedy Zone gift shop in Overton Square) and several of the local radio stations, the Memphis Ronald McDonald House, and some local musicians which was cool when they’d stop in with their recent demo tapes. We also got to do “Batman Forever” promo shirts for Blockbuster Video which was an exciting order for us. This was the first time for me to really get to know working on a computer, other than just typesetting. Dave and I would get excited every time we’d figure out how to do something new on the computer, and would have to share with the other. We had a few Macs with Aldus FreeHand, Streamline, Adobe Photoshop, and Illustrator. I later learned Corel Draw and Corel Trace and working with PCs at another shop when Mitch and I parted ways and I left around 1999-2000.
Animated Jack’s closed a year or so later. I’ve always hated that the shop couldn’t continue with the creative crew we had. We could be kicking butt at cons these days with printed tees, art prints, comic books, and more, but sadly it just wasn’t to be. I run into some of the old crew at local cons, but unfortunately I’m really only friends with a couple folks these days, talk occasionally to others, and would rather not talk to one. That’s life, and I learned a very valuable lesson- always get everything in writing..!
I’ve worked at a few print shops around town, and have done everything from art design and screen prep, to running manual, numbering, and automatic presses. I’ve printed tees, bumper-stickers, yard signs, jackets, safety vests, hats, and even circuit boards over the years. I’ve had to learn to problem solve and make do with what I had a lot of times. Whatever it took to get the job done and on schedule.
Currently I’m back running a manual press and occasionally offloading on one of the automatic presses. I have to watch my back around my coworkers (literally!), but enjoy working there- even though I have to deal with Memphis traffic to get there (I wouldn’t wish rush hour traffic in Memphis on anyone!).
Luckily I’ve gotten to do a bit more of the design work that I’m actually printing. One of my favorite things I loved doing when we had The Wild Hare/Animated Jack’s was getting to do art that I was printing. I recently got to do a new logo tee for my workplace. I did a few thumbnail layouts, and then did digital versions of them in Corel Draw. I showed different designs to my boss- I think I ended up doing around 8 variations. Once a winner was chosen and a few minor changes made I saved the file as an EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), AI (Adobe Illustrator), and high-res JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group). Usually an EPS file will do just fine, but wanted to cover my bases.
That’s the film positive on the left she printed out that we used to expose/shoot/burn the image in a screen on the right. (We expose the image on the back of the screen in reverse.)
This was one of the few times I’ve gotten to do the art, screens, and then print the design in a little while.
I know I’ve been doing this for years, but sometimes I still get a kick out of seeing a concept go from idea, to design, to finished product coming down the dryer. Now I see someone wearing one of these at work every day.
I’ve also gotten to do a couple new soccer designs for a contract customer, too. He keeps ordering more so they seem to be selling well. Working on a couple more for this customer right now.
I love doing my own thing most, though. I did this samurai cartoon long ago and haven’t printed any shirts of it since that first print run. It’s just a one color, and I originally did it in black on white tees. I printed this run in black ink on athletic gray and navy ink on shades of light blue and slate blue tees. I really dig the design on colors now. At the Memphis Comic Expo this year I had a lady buy some for the instructors at her Aikido dojo, and had several members of a martial arts sword demonstration group buy some of the first print run at AniZona in Phoenix, AZ. Is always cool to have folks into martial arts want it.
It’s based on a true story that happened back when I was taking Aikido. My art studio partner and sensei Dave Beaty (artist for Marvel Comics,DC Comics and co-creator of Bushi Tales with me) gave us a bunch of wooden bokken and bamboo shinai swords to practice with. One of the newer students picked up a bokken and held it by the blade end and took a defensive stance. We all started giggling. They asked why we were laughing at them. Someone in the group asked if they were going to beat us to death with it, and then let them know they were holding it backwards. After class I immediately went to the studio and drew the original cartoon. I wanted it to have sort of a Sergio Aragones feel to it. Dave walked in, liked it, and then said it would be really funny if their (hakama) pants had fallen down. I agreed and couldn’t believe I didn’t think of it!
This fall I did a short run of my Micky Myers toon (a 4-color print on grey). I originally did it as one of my “Scared Silly” web cartoons. I came up with it one afternoon while sitting in a mall food court. I was waiting to see the remake of “Psycho” and looking through an “Art of Mickey Mouse” book I’d picked up at the mall’s bookstore. It was one of those times when an image just popped in my head and I had to sketch it out on a napkin before I forgot it. I’ve learned the hard way if I just write down an idea and don’t at least do a quick thumbnail sketch to go with it I’ll have no idea what the heck I was thinking when I look at it later.
I’ve got a few other designs I may do to have at cons in the future. Trying to get more original merch together for shows- tees, buttons, prints, comics, and more. Need to find some more cons that are close enough to drive to this next year. Hope to see you at one!
My next appearance will be at Comic Cellar in Memphis, TN for next Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day. I’ll have sketchcovers for sale, and free copies of my “Bushi Tales” comics to give away. Check with your local comic shop to see if they are participating in FCBD and what they are doing to celebrate it.