Written by Neil Greenaway
At Denver Comic Con 2017 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Jake Roth of Art And Home Life about his take on publishing indie comics. This interview originally ran on Bleeding Cool on 7/04/2017, and you can read their version of it here.
Jake Roth does not write a superhero comic, nor do his books rely on the gritty pulse of a big city street. Instead, his comics tend to center around the small town of Bakerstown and feature the trials and tribulations of the people who live there. Citing old Dick Tracy comics as an inspiration, his characters have names like Reed Porter (the journalist), Lou Chadore (the retired wrestler), and Phil M. Griffey (the photographer). His charming art style lends itself easily to the small town aesthetic that he aims for. That art style, combined with a shared cast of characters through all of his books, make Bakerstown feel like a place we have all visited before.
Neil Greenaway: You have a new book out for DCC 2017: the second issue of Art And Home Life. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the series?
Jake Roth: Well, number two is the Christmas issue. I end up doing just as many Christmas comics as anything else. I’m trying to switch the balance away from that but we’ll get there. This particular series is about a photographer and his family. I have done it in like a daily diary comic style. I am just trying to show the balance between trying to be an artist, trying to work, and trying to be home for your family and stuff, too.
NG: And you said that parts of it were inspired by your own use of a Polaroid camera, right?
JR: Yeah. My parents did not know what to get me for my birthday last year. I wanted a Polaroid camera and they said “You’re not going to use that,” but I finally talked them into it. It was that or nothing. Now I just walk around my neighborhood taking pictures of fire hydrants, or that mailbox might look interesting. Right now I’m doing a lot of street signs, like if I find something where it’s “Speed Limit 12”. I’m trying to collect all the numbers.
NG: Are you able to still find Polaroid film?
JR: It’s expensive. Oh, man. The one I have is actually like an off-brand because it’s cheaper, it’s a smaller picture. But the actual Polaroid film, at the low end you are talking $4 a shot now. The film I use is like $1 a shot so I can be experimental with it, but I’m still kind of careful, too.
NG: Tell me about your other book here, the Good Reception Coloring Book.
JR: When I draw I’m very fond of old radios shows for background noise. I listen to a lot of old westerns and mystery shows. It started out I just wanted to draw a couple people recording an old western. Then it turned into a coloring book about all aspects of the radio, whether it was like the morning traffic report or people just dancing in the twilight to whatever is on.
Coloring books were pretty popular last year when I started on the book. When Denver Comic Con 2016 came around, I thought “This is my ticket to stardom! Finally I am riding a trend. I have never been in time before.” [Laughs] And it wasn’t my ticket to stardom, I’m still here. But it was the ticket to meeting people at the shows. When they see it, they tell me really interesting things about radio stations where they are from. Or radio memories they have from growing up. That has been worth it. It’s just interesting.
I was talking to this guy at Zine Fest recently. He told me that he grew up in Olympia, Washington and they had this station called “WBRD The Bird”, and there was this parrot that would be on in the booth with the DJ. So he’d be playing some old jazz record and if the parrot started making too much noise, like squawking, that meant it didn’t like the record. They would cut it and switch to the next one, and that’s gonna ruin payola for sure. But hearing things like that has been super interesting. That has been the payoff for that project. I’m proud of it. It’s the biggest book in size that I have done. Because it was a coloring book I tried to do a lot of different textures and different angles to make it interesting. So it was a challenge, too.
NG: Have you seen any of the colored results?
JR: A little bit. There was one page in there, I had an example book out at Comic Con last year and I had a box of colored pencils and a sign that said “Try me”. People would stop by and pick a picture and color for a while. There is one character that I do plan to make a book about. I haven’t done it yet. Her name is Madison and she’s just some indie rock chick, she will have an album out and that’s her thing. But these people started coloring her, and they were doing it wrong! She’s not supposed to be blonde, they made her blonde. Her shirt is supposed to be red, but they made it pink. They didn’t know. Why would they? But for about 10 seconds, that was really bugging me. This is something I need to learn to let go of. As soon as I thought about that, I did let it go — and yeah, it looked good.
There was also this other probably 12- or 13-year-old girl that I remember. It was opened to a blank page that hadn’t been colored in, and she was just staring at it for a while. I said “It’s OK, you can color it if you want to,” and she just grabbed a pencil and she just looked at me with hate in her eyes. I don’t know if you watch wrestling, but they often show this little girl who reacted when the Miz won the belt. She has this evil eye, and it was that face! Every time I see the Miz clip I think of this girl. But she just took a pencil like you would take a shiv and in this grand violent sweeping motion she stabbed at the book, but she didn’t actually mark the page. I wish she would have. It would help the story, or provide evidence, I guess [laughs]. She just sort of swept at it, then threw the pencil down and walked off. It was weird.
NG: Also you have a new enamel pin out, and I understand that it may turn into a line of pins. Can you tell me about that?
JR: That’s me riding trends again. One of my favorite things to draw in comics is city scenes. I like to do a lot of buildings where I show a lot of houses and a lot of trees. I always go for this medium-small town vibe and architecture is a great way to do that. I really like to show things in the windows. Lava lamps are a favorite of mine. I also like to put cats in windows, so the first enamel pin I made is of the window with a cat in it. I figured that had more appeal than a lava lamp. Maybe not as much as the Grateful Dead poster I was also thinking about.
If they work and it goes well, I’d like to do a couple more. I have plans for doing other windows to kind of represent my comics more fully. Do the lava lamp, do the air conditioner, bookstore window, café window, and things that sort of speak to my art. And if they really really take off and I get a few of them going, and they are moving well — I’d like to do a sweatshirt that has the city printed on it with kind of a space for each of the windows; like cat goes here, bookstore goes here. That’s a small dream, I admit, but it is a dream.
NG: One last question for you: if people want to see more of you or your books online, where would they go?