Greetings True Believers! Today we have a treat for you, as your Co-President Kim Belding conducts a second interview with the one and only President of the Root Beer Party himself, the great Jon Esparza. Across the Internet and towards the Twitterverse, you will find no one more dedicated to the craft of cartooning than Jon. In all of his creations you will see the result of hard work, passion and a love for all things CRAZY. His current project is Bubble Fox, which you can read at http://bubblefox.thecomicseries.com, and his past comics include Mike & Mindy, Mushrooms, and Peppertown, which can be read at http://jonscrazystuff.blogspot.com, and http://peppertown.thecomicseries.com respectively. It can’t be stressed enough that without Jon, the community we’ve created today would be non-existent. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the questions!
Question 1: During your last interview, most people in the Root Beer Party knew who you were. However, the Party has grown substantially since, and those reading this may not be familiar with your work. Could you quickly tell us a little bit about yourself?
But of course! I’m Jon and I draw! Hope that explains things.
Just kidding, I am in fact Jon though and I created the web comics Mike & Mindy, Mushrooms, Bubble Fox and Peppertown. I also do the CRAZY Toons found on my blog. Outside of that, I was born and raised in San Diego and work as a stagehand when I’m not drawing.
Question 2: Continuing with the Party’s growth, I’m sure many readers are unfamiliar with its origins, such as the tweets that started the Root Beer Wars, and the formation of the Party with you as President and I as Co-President. Would you be willing to give us a brief history?
Yes, as the history is indeed very brief. You and I were arguing about root beer, which led to a hilarious series of drawings I penciled and you inked that somehow led to a peace between us and then the formation of the root beer party. And oddly enough, everybody got a kick out of it and wanted in too!
Okay, that was a bit longer than brief, but you get the idea!
Question 3: The collection of all your works past and present (Bubble Fox, Mike & Mindy, Peppertown, Mushrooms) is referred to as the CRAZYVERSE. What made you decide that your comics should be…CRAZY?
When I was creating my blog, someone had already taken the name “Jon’s Stuff.” So, I decided to make it “Jon’s CRAZY Stuff” to set me apart! There’s the big reveal. I picked a word at random and it actually worked!
As far as the “CRAZYVERSE” name, my dear pal Mark Stokes had taken a look at my toons one day and said “Gee Jon, you got your own little crazy universe here! A CRAZYVERSE if you will!” Mark knows best, so I ran with it!
Question 4: What was the inspiration for Bubble Fox? What inspires you today?
Bubble Fox came about by chance. I had already planned on ending Mushrooms and M&M to launch Peppertown. One day, my friend Erika Meza had said she was bored with an assignment and wanted to draw foxes and bubbles instead. I told her why not a fox IN a bubble? Then we both started spouting off ideas for bubbles and foxes and drew them all! The reaction my art got was amazing! I took it as a sign from God that this fox was meant to be, so I created a comic!
It helped that ideas just kept coming to me for more things this goofy fox could get into! The CRAZY fans kinda named him. All the replies from the initial art I posted usually said “That Bubble Fox” or “The Bubble Fox,” so I just let it stick. I think the name has worked out for him so far.
Question 5: You and I go back several years, but one of the most defining moments between the two of us is the comic I submitted for your very first “Crazy Cartoon Experiment”. In it, my character Picpak inflates himself with helium and accidentally flies to Cactus World. Since then helium has become an institution of the CRAZYVERSE. Where does your love for helium jokes come from?
Aw, good old helium. The one thing that keeps the CRAZYVERSE afloat. All cartoonists seem to have trademark gags, although I didn’t actively try to have one at first. I will admit, the old Balloon gag is the funniest of all cartoon gags because it’s the most surreal. As for as how it became my trademark, much like everything else in my career, totally happened by chance! The first couple M&M strips didn’t really get much traction. Then I did one where Mike inflates, and my views, no pun intended, blew up! People really seemed to dig it, so I just kept throwing them in there!
Of course, this leads to the downside of having a trademark gag: Everybody wants it all the time! Fan demand has to win out in the end, but if something’s used so much that it’s no longer funny, then why bother? That’s why I keep bathroom humor to a minimum. Has nothing to do with morals. A fart joke should never feel stale! You probably even noticed I’ve cut down on certain gags in the last two years, including Helium. I never want the funniest bits to get old!
Question 6: Expanding on that (no pun intended), where do you get your ideas? Do you look for ideas or do ideas come to you?
Ideas just hit me. I wish I could say there’s a process, but more times than not, a situation will just present itself and I’ll say “Hey! This’d be great for Bubble Fox!” With M&M, it was usually a punchline that would come to me and I’d just work back to the setup, same with Mushrooms. Peppertown is a little more personal. I had no social life as a teen, so I was always the babysitter. A lot of Peppertown is just gross exaggerations of my encounters with my cousins when they were little.
Question 7: One of the best qualities of your work, in my opinion, is the heart of it. It always feels genuine and not saccharine. Where do you feel the heart of your stories comes from? How do you maintain its integrity?
I think it’s because I just keep things simple. A lot of comic characters today always seem to wanna benefit. Mine just wanna go about their business. Then things happen. They’re victims of circumstance, which, really, is a lot of us.
Question 8: What can you tell us about the creation process of your strip? Panels, characters, lettering, etc.?
All analog! I pencil, ink, scan, correct and post! Very little digital work is done! I do trace my pencils during inks using a light box because I was fed up with my pencils gumming up my pens and not erasing. It’s really streamlined things!
Question 9: You’ve long since been an advocate for traditionally drawn work. What advantages do you feel it has over modern techniques?
It just looks better, especially on colored work. When I see a comic at the comic shop, I can tell that every last pixel was done on computer because no human being can paint like that. It all looks so manufactured. Traditional art has so much more heart to it. It’s sad to see so many abandoning it. And I know time plays a big role too, but it’s still a bummer.
Question 10: Which products would you recommend for cartooning? Why?
I like the Staedtler pens I’ve been using since 2014. Great pens. Honestly, it really is a matter of personal choice. What feels right to me, may not feel right to others.
Question 11: Do you feel you have progressed as an artist over the years? If so, how?
I do actually. If you look at those early M&M and Mushrooms strips, they had a very angular look to them. Over time, I think my art has gotten a rounder feel to it, almost like 30’s and 40’s animation, which I love. Think my line work has also gotten more fluid over time.
Question 12: Have you thought of releasing Bubble Fox in color? Do you feel it would add or distract to the strip?
I think about it everyday! M&M and Mushrooms were in color, but they were also monthly. BF’s in black and white because I just don’t have the time to color them. Once Peppertown returns, I’ll be dropping the gray tones for the same reason sadly. I suppose if cartooning were my actual job, I’d be willing to reconsider. Having grown up on old school MAD Magazine and manga, I really dig B&W comics. They leave a lot to the readers’ imagination!
Question 13: Smaller artists like us have to “go on their own” and self-produce much of our content, such as books, merchandise, etc. What is the hardest part of self-publishing? What is the best part? Hardest part is primarily promoting your work. Too much promotion, you look like spam. Not enough promotion, you look like you don’t care. It’s a tricky balance to find. It’s also hard convincing folks to give your art a shot, especially at cons and shows. To the casual reader, if there’s no affiliation, i.e., no Marvel/DC/Hollywood tie in, it must not be special. That isn’t to say nobody will take a look. It’s happened to me and several pals many times where a kid will walk up to our tables showing interest, and their parent will grab them and say “Oh no son, you don’t want that. Come over here, this guy draws Batman.” Its crushing and frankly, kinda rude. It is what it is though. Those that have taken the time to read our work appreciate it, and that matters the most. The best part really is being your own boss. You set your own deadlines, take your own time and just plain have fun with it. POD services make self-publishing so much more affordable. I like that I don’t have to print 1,000 copies. If someone wants it, it’s on Amazon! I also like the creative freedom that comes with self-publishing. I don’t deal with an editor breathing down my neck demanding things. I work on my terms and that’s pretty damn rewarding to be honest. As cool as it would be to see BF or M&M go mainstream, I fear what would happen to them if they got picked up by a major network. For now, I’ll enjoy my freedom to create.
Question 14: Let’s talk about conventions. How many do you attend in a year? Do you feel they help gain you fans? Why or why not? I used to table at three shows a year, but now I only do one, which is San Diego Comic Fest (SDCF). I still attend WonderCon, San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and Long Beach Comic Con (LBCC) as a pro. But I just walk around at those. They’ve helped me gain some fans, but overall, not a ton. Cons can be great but soul crushing for a small timer like me. As I said earlier, not having any connections to a big publisher is almost like a repellent to some attendees. But sometimes, you do get some traction. In the last three years, my sketch cards have become a huge seller for me. They’ve also killed book sales! But hey, income is income!
Question 15: Bubble Fox is currently your breakout strip, but many of your old-school fans love and remember Mike & Mindy. Lately the two have been creeping into more and more of your sketches. Are there any plans in the future to give them another full-fledged strip? Are there other works of yours you wish to bring back?
Aw Mike & Mindy. It’s fun to toss them in every now and again, but for now, they’re gonna stay retired. Trust me, they enjoy not being trampled! As far as other works, I do plan on bringing Peppertown back at some point in the very near future. With PT being a long form comic, it’s tougher to find the time to work on full pages. But I have MANY stories already scripted, including the next five chapters. Just need the time! I also have a couple projects on the back burner, including a picture story using Warren Frantz’s Green 3 characters that I promised him years ago! I haven’t forgotten Warren, I swear! I also plan to do a graphic novel based on Jack and the Beanstalk, CRAZY-style! Outside of that, there’s a few other projects in development including animation and live action films!
Question 16: You’ve gained a reputation as one of the nicest and most active people on Twitter, sharing other artists’ work, leaving compliments and organizing some amazing collaborations and fan art. Unfortunately, Chris migrated the Root Beer Party over to Facebook, which you aren’t a member of. How has this affected you? Have you considered joining because of it? I was very hurt by this move. Twitter deserves its RBP representative! I will not be joining FB. Not a fan of its policies. Besides, I spend enough time on Twitter as it is! Chris can always just come back where he will clearly be welcomed back by all!
Question 17: What does cartooning mean to you in 2017, versus decades past? (Laughs) I’ve only been a cartoonist for a decade, so I don’t really have any experience to go off of with this one! If anything, it means a path with less obstacles because you can do it all yourself now.
Question 18: In what ways have webcomics changed your life for the better, or worse?
Web comics opened up a whole new world to me! Made me realize that Indy comics doesn’t mean “Adult” or mature comics. It also opened up new avenues. That I have a following in the U.K. and Holland is mind blowing! Seem to have a lot of fans up in Canada too, which is a huge thrill! Web comics gave me friends! Despite being a comic Mecca, the San Diego comic scene isn’t all that inclusive if you don’t have any accolades. In web comics, we accept everyone.
Question 19: What has been the biggest change in your life since your last interview? What plans do you have in the future for your comics, or for anything going on in your life?
Well, sadly, my dad passed away at the end of August, so that’s a pretty big change. Seen a lot more action at the day job which takes away time to work on other things, but hey, bills gotta be paid! Biggest thing for me right now is to just stay the course for now and keep BF going for as long as I can. I also hope to get Peppertown back on track soon. I just need the time to work on it.
Question 20: Sorry for your loss, Jon. One final question: are there any webcomics you really enjoy and would recommend for our readers? How do I only name a few? There are hundreds! Zombie Boy, Crunchy Bunches, Lunarbaboon, Picpak Dog and Galactic Dragons are my top 5, just best of the best! Don’t Pick The Flowers, Pirate Mike, Snarty, Tales Of Absurdity, Red’s Planet, Off Season, Max Overacts, Oops, Untold Tales Of Bigfoot and Mister & Me are also incredible reads! These comics ended their runs, but I’m always happy to go back and read Zorphbert & Fred, Gracieland, Tales Of The Brothers Three and Caaats! Vinnie The Vampire, Skitter and L’il Lety are also amazing web comics! Why they aren’t syndicated is anyone’s guess. And one more shout out is in order here for Bug Pudding creator, JP Keslensky. He tirelessly promotes so many other comics and since the start of Bubble Fox has posted an original poem for almost every strip in the comments box! He’s an amazing guy and I admire him to death! There are so many more out there though. I feel so bad for not being able to list them all, but my list is literally in the hundreds! Eh, I guess one more wouldn’t hurt! Austin’s Inferno is a hilarious strip put out by the Crown Prince of Web Comics, Austin Verburg. He’s the future of Web Comics! To all my pals I couldn’t get to, know that I love all your comics and I urge readers to give all Web Comics a chance! You never know when you’ll find a hidden gem!
That’s it from me, folks. I’d like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity to conduct this interview, and to thank Jon for taking the time to answer these questions. It was great chatting with you and we are honored to have you as our faithful President. While the rest of you fill your mug with your favorite root beer, I recommend you buy Jon’s Bubble Fox comic book at http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Gas-Bubble-Fox-1/dp/1508525668/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465255320&sr=8-1&keywords=jon+esparza, and Mike & Mindy’s collections at http://www.amazon.com/Fork-Road-Crazy-Collection-1/dp/1479148032/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1465255320&sr=8-2&keywords=jon+esparza, http://www.amazon.com/Bird-Bush-Crazy-Collection-Vol/dp/1482552523/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1465255320&sr=8-3&keywords=jon+esparza, and http://www.amazon.com/Blame-Dog-Crazy-Collection-Vol/dp/1495459306/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1465255320&sr=8-5&keywords=jon+esparza. As for me, you can check out my comic Picpak Dog at http://picpak.net. Until next time, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.