This is the first in a series profiling prominent figures in the Bizarro community who are not authors. First up is Bizarro artist Jim Agpalza, who has done many book covers for Eraserhead Press, including two of this year's New Bizarro Author Series books; my own "Rock N Roll Head Case" and Chris Meekings' "Elephant Vice."
LW: Jim- Some of our readers might not be as familiar with you as they are with the writers in Bizarro. Can you give us a little info on your background- where you came from, art training, etc.?
JA: First of all, Hi Lee and readers! I come from a tiny sugar plantation town on the north shore of O'ahu, Hawaii. I was raised but never baptized as a Jehovahs Witness. I used to draw flip book cartoons of little stick figure people getting crushed by giant boulders or shot down by jets or spaceships or an explosion of lava from a volcano all on the pages of my JW bible or other JW publications. As for art training I'm mostly self-taught. When I did art in school my teachers just left me alone. I took a couple of art classes at the local community college when I moved to Portland, and again was pretty much left alone to my own devices.
LW: Has your work always been so deliciously twisted?
JA: Aww thanks. I'd like to think so, but I doubt it. There was a good chunk of my childhood drawing lowriders and dinosaurs and Superman and Garfield and other safe comic book stuff. My mom told me that the first drawing I did for her was of a man falling off a building. Comic books are actually the gateway to my twisted stuff. I'd always see hints of nipples on the costumes of the lady characters, and as a kid they'd always give me chubbeez in my undeez. I thought if I could make my own art- porn that I could masturbate to I'd be the envy of all of my male classmates. I then had to learn how to draw nipples. We didn't have the internet in the early 90's so I had to glean everything about the female anatomy from R rated movies and porno magazines, and once that door was opened I was pretty much a fat kid in a candy store screaming for DIABETEEZ FO MY UNDEEZ! From the porn I learned about the male anatomy and where things went. Soon kids at school were asking me to draw sexually explicit pictures to jerk off to. It took a while, but I eventually got bored with sex drawings. From there things got weird.
LW: Do you have a particular outlook or philosophy behind your artwork?
JA: I strive to make something that hasn't been seen before, and to make it look good as I possibly can. Which Bizarro has given me ten-fold.
LW: Do you have a particular medium you prefer to work in, or do you have a large bag of tricks?
JA: I started out with no.2 pencils and crayons to pen and ink to oils and acrylics. I'd have to say oils are my jam. I grew up on Bob Ross. It always blew my mind as a kid to see him scratch his pallet knife full of paint on the canvas and shwip shwip you've got a mountain. As a kid I watched this and knew this is what I have to do. I wanna go shwip shwip and make a giant vagina! For the book covers and illustrations I've been solely using digital.
LW: When and how did you get into doing book and magazine illustration?
JA: One of my closest and oldest friends(Gaetano Evangelista) and I did an animated short for Tony Clifton where he murders a guy and diddles with his severed cock.
LW: WHOA! Hold on there! You just went from drawing pornographic cartoons for your friends to doing an animated film for Tony Clifton! Can you fill in the blanks a little bit??
JA: Yeah, years went by between drawing porn for friends and Tony Clifton. When I say I got bored drawing porn for friends it's because their ideas of porn were so boring and not Japanese enough. I mean they never wanted to add anything to it. It was always straight up porn, no tentacles or animals or something I deemed interesting. At 16-17 I felt drawing nudie pics needed something for it to pop, and at the time I just didn't know what or how. It took years of messing around and experimenting to get to where I wanted to be. I took up painting and got obsessed with color and technique, and all the masters and their works. I'd try to incorporate some of the ideas I'd seen from Bosch, Dali, Goya and Van Gogh. It's still an ongoing process. I'm still learning from them, but now I'm influenced by comic book artists too. The big two I try to steal from are Junji Ito and Robert Crumb. I could cum just from their cross hatching. Movies were a huge inspiration too. The biggest influence for me was Sergio Leone, Igmar Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. I was in my own world, developing my own style.
I painted a picture of Marilyn Monroe whose face was half melted, helping a goofy Jesus off the cross with the help from a tiny Hitler holding up my Darwin fish(a fish with legs, the front legs has hooves and the back legs has hands for feet and a monkeys tail) which was suckling on Jesus's teats. I have to say this painting gave me months of giggles. A friend of mine was getting married, and wanted a painting from me as a wedding gift. After some reluctance I finally did one. It was of my Darwin fish and a half man with a Hummingbird head and a dead astronaut holding up a Japanese flag. A mutual friend saw the painting and became obsessed with turning it into a cartoon. And there my friends, is the birth of Spacefish. After some convincing, we started work on it. I painted all the characters, and my partner started on background collages. We had like seven minutes worth before we kind of gave up. At that time my partner started to work the lighting at Tony Clifton shows. Wha???? Yeah, he's badass. He somehow convinced Tony to let us animate a segment of the show where Tony went off on a story during one of the songs. I think you can find that video on YouTube I think it's called "Tony Kills A Man". I'm not sure, but I think Tony still uses it in his live shows. It's fucking awesome.
With the money from that, we got interested in doing a full length episode of something we had both been working on earlier which turned out to be Spacefish. We had done some clips of it (pre-Clifton) where all the characters had been hand painted in oils by me, which took a really fucking long time, then the animation alone and the computer rendering shit took forever. I had done the Clifton stuff entirely in primsicolor which was faster but murder on my hand and wrist. So when we got a producer and some funding to do Spacefish proper we got a bunch of cool equipment like an office in the pearl district downtown. We got other artists and writers and computers....and (cough cough) other stuff. I got a Wacom to do all the characters digitally which sped things up nicely. The writers turned out to be the power couple Cameron and Kirsten Pierce who Simon Ore our producer is a huge fan of and of the bizarro genre all together. I worked at the office when I could, and I got to witness these geniuses work on their craft. There were all these cool looking books lying all over the place in the office and I begged Cameron to let me do a book cover. I always wanted to do a book cover, and Cameron and Eraserhead finally relented. From there I've been involved ever since.
LW: What was the first cover you did for Eraserhead Press, and how many covers would you say you've done for them?
JA: The first cover I did was Unicorn Battle Squad by Kirsten Alene. I think I've done around twelve more or less including the one I did for various imprints of Eraserhead.
LW: I know for my book, "Rock N Roll Head Case" you didn't read the book before you did the cover, yet you captured the spirit and essence of the book perfectly. What's the process like, creating a cover for a book you haven't read? How much guidance do you get?
JA: Sometimes it's pretty easy. The writer or editor will send me a description of what they want, and I'll try to come up with something that's as close as I can get to in the description. Sometimes it's a grueling back and forth where I end up yelling at my wife and kids, and punching the couch cushions. And tons of crying in the fetal position in the shower as blood from my ass flows into the drain. Most of the time it's pretty easy and fun! Rock N Roll Head Case was fun to do because I got to draw Alice Coopers head! His face alone was such a joy to draw with the backdrop of the cosmos and psychedelic colors and Andre the freaking Giant. I was sold.
LW: Do you have a preference for one type of output over another? Do you really like doing animation, or book covers, or commissions, or the freedom of just letting your imagination run wild?
JA: I like doing it all. Like everyone else, I feel like my balls tighten up nicely when doing my own stuff. I'm also a level 3 guitar and bass player.
LW: Do you have an online gallery or website where people can see more of your work?
JA: Yes, I have a blog where I haven't updated in a while at JIMAGPALZA.COM .
I also have a redbubble where you can get my stuff on things and shit.
Jim Agpalza on Redbubble
LW: Jim, this has been FANTASTIC chatting with you! I love your artwork, and I hope everyone else will find it as compelling as I do. This is truly Bizarro in spirit and form. Let's finish this profile with one more image. Thank you!