Jim Richardson is an artist, a writer, a snorkeler and outdoorsman, a video blogger — in other words, a modern day renaissance man. He has a show of his cartoons opening tonight (Friday, Oct. 5) at the Red Herring Lounge. This week in Selective Focus, we get a preview of the show, and hear about some of the other projects he has up his sleeve.
JR: My current show at the Red Herring features recent cartoon illustrations I’ve done for transistormag.com, so I am wearing my cartoonist cap. The Perfect Duluth Day community knows me primarily, if anything, by the work I do as Lake Superior Aquaman. But cartooning has been with me the longest. I have always been a committed doodler.
I’m a native Texan but I was largely raised on the east coast. By the time I graduated college in New York in 1991 with a writing degree, I had participated in a group cartoon show in a small gallery in Brooklyn that I forget the name of.
Later, I’d moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and there I became caught in the gravity of its thriving underground cartoonist scene. This was 1994, pre-internet, but lots of people were going to copy shops and hand-making their own comic books, ‘zines, and whatnot. This was happening internationally and still is: networks of artists trading homemade work through the mail, at conventions, and peddling to local stores. Excited by this, I began drawing black-and-white comix with Micron pens and never stopped. I developed a simple style and a bagful of tricks.
I married a Duluth native out there, and by 1998 she had exported me to Duluth. The Ripsaw News was just starting. Now defunct, this alternative newsweekly was a window to a thriving art scene. They needed cartoonists, and I had material ready to go. My strip “Crackbrained Comix” ran for the life of the paper. Some alumni of the Ripsaw formed the Transistor, which is still in publication at transistormag.com. They always need cartoonists so I never left it. Between the two publications, my 20-year cartooning run in Duluth remains essentially unbroken.
What are the challenges and / or rewards from doing what you do?
One of my challenges goes something like this. For the Transistor, I have settled into one-panel illustrations under the title “The Guys Who Never Stop Fighting.” It’s just supposed to be something graphic and cool to illustrate the calendar. It’s a picture of fighting, every other week. The only goal is to portray a fantasy Duluth of endless conflict, danger, and action.
There is a concurrent fiction column of the same title, which I co-write with Allen Richardson, but there is no real relation there for the purpose of the illustrations, even though they are published together. There’s no continuity in any of it anyway. It’s just an excuse to write an action story. It’s a flavor. This is a long-running title, so some people think, “I’m not going to read that because I must be missing the larger story.” But there isn’t one.
Likewise, the cartoons are meant to stand alone: there is no plot, no story, and no characters. My stance as a cartoonist for the Transistor is that continuity isn’t important. The sardonic joke of the title “The Guys Who Never Stop Fighting” is: it’s just peak fighting all the time. Sometimes life is always the climax. And sometimes Duluth inspires visions of flying ore boats. So when I see a ship in the fog, especially if the horizon is otherwise obscured, I think, “It looks like it’s flying. I bet I can draw that, pew pew pew…” And that is the rewarding part, just doing the work and building a body of work. But also, making it about this place that has inspired me for so long. This show is a love letter to Duluth.
Where can people see your work?
My show “Ore Boats in Space: Cartoon Visions of Duluth, Minnesota” opens Friday, Oct. 5 at the Red Herring Lounge, from 5-7 p.m. It’s free. The show will also be on the route of Gallery Hop II, Friday, Oct. 26, 5-8 p.m. The show hangs through the end of November. “The Guys Who Never Stop Fighting” illustrates transistormag.com every other week. @lakesuperioraquaman is where I Instagram.
I post all my art events to the Lake Superior Aquaman Facebook page, and also to the Richardson Bros. Facebook page, so follow those if you want to stay in the loop.
Any upcoming projects, exhibits, or challenges you are facing?
I have a novelty rap track coming out this winter. This will be released on Perfect Duluth Day when it’s ready. I told Bob Monahan about it and he hugged me; I told Don Ness about it and he got very, very nervous. So hang on to your hats, that’s all I’m going to say.
Therichardsonbros.com is in development. We are working on book proposals for collections of our Transistor writing. And we are planning a reading of our most scandalous Duluth-based fiction at Zeitgeist in the coming year, so watch for that.
And look, this is neither the time nor the place to address rumors that puppet candidate Mr. Nice is planning a major announcement. But you may want to start following him on Twitter @MrNiceRules just to be sure.
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