If you haven’t noticed – we at YouthCult have quite a passion for online comics. Perhaps it’s the bite-sized portion of the relatable content or it’s the differences in style that grips that put a smile on our faces, either way, it’s not an easy side project to be consistently good at.
That being said, one of the few artists who manage to continuously output and surprise us with great work, is James Of No Trades, a free-lance musician, and illustrator from Los Angeles.
I first learned about James Of No Trades through a BoredPanda article a couple of weeks, and while his hilarious comics and unique take on day-to-day life was the first thing that caught my attention, his take on art as a mechanism to help with depression solidified it.
If you’ve ever felt hopeless, anxious about putting your work out there, had a lack of creativity or just downright uninspired, give this a read (and while you are at it, quote him!).
YC: Before WE start with the questions, do you mind just giving us a backstory?
J: Oh boy, a backstory! I’m bad at these. I’m a 28 year-old music major from Maryland. I currently live in Los Angeles doing freelance film music and some illustration work. Uh, I think that about covers my super boring life? I don’t know what else to put here. Please help.
YC: What got you into illustration in the first place.
J: I’ve always been drawing ever since I was a little kid. My parents told me I would always get in trouble in preschool for staying at the table coloring after the class had changed activities, and I’d refuse to leave until my drawing was done. Growing up that turned into drawing the characters from cartoons I watched, and endless doodles in my school books rather than taking notes.
J: When I got to college it came down to a decision between majoring in art or music, and I ended up choosing music. Still not sure if that was the right choice, but drawing has always been a part of my life even then. There’s something about having these ideas in my head that I’m able to turn into something real through drawing that can be really rewarding. Or really frustrating when I’m not good enough to create what I was envisioning, haha.
YC: Take us through your early stages, did it feel daunting putting your content out there for the first time. (if you can try include something about managing your full-time job and still putting out content)
J: It actually wasn’t daunting at all at first, and I feel a lot more pressure now than I did back then. When I first started, I really didn’t expect anyone to see or care about my comics. My first comic was just something to try and keep myself productive between gigs that I didn’t even plan on showing anyone. Then I made one that I decided to put on Reddit just to see, and it ended up with way more views than I ever expected, which made me think maybe I’m not as terrible at this as I thought I was (spoiler: I am). Now that I actually have followers and know people are reading my comics everytime I post I feel a lot more pressure to not let them down. Before making a bad comic didn’t matter, because it was just for me, but now I don’t want to disappoint other people with a bad comic. Also once I decided to make it a more regular thing was a lot more pressure. Working freelance gave me time in between gigs where I wasn’t working, so I would use that time for my comics, but I also didn’t have a set schedule I could plan around. I’m still not very good at releasing on a set schedule, and often when I had gigs come up I would miss my comic deadlines completely because I didn’t have the energy. I really admire the artists that do a comic every day, or even three times a week, as it’s something I just haven’t been able to manage for myself.
3) Depression is clear theme throughout your comics, I find it amazing that you’ve managed to turn it into something productive which is gaining traction around the internet. Do you have any advice for those who are dealing with stuff they can’t really describe?
J: This is hard to answer. I feel like this a constant struggle and everyone builds up their own defense system along the way when they have to fight depression every day. What works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else, and I’m really far from great at dealing with it myself. I think there are the basic things that most people know: get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, meditation, therapy, etc. And these are all great, if you can manage to do it in the first place. But something that no one ever really told me, that I think is one of the most important things a person can do, is to forgive yourself. It’s so easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle with depression. If I have a bad day and don’t get anything done, I feel crappy that I wasted that time, that I didn’t follow through on plans, that I let depression get the better of me, and then I feel even more worthless. And then it becomes so much easier to let it happen again, and then you feel even worse, and it just keeps feeding on itself. We set expectations and goals for ourselves, and when we don’t meet them it becomes this self-hate that is a feeding ground for depression to grow.
J: So you have to forgive yourself. You’re going to have bad days, you’re going to fail to follow through on some plans, and you’re definitely going to fail to meet some of your expectations for yourself. And that’s okay. When I find myself having a bad day, struggling to get anything done, and just feeling a growing resentment for myself with each wasted hour, I’ll take a step back and stop. I’ll remind myself that it’s okay. Maybe I didn’t get enough done today, but that’s alright. Maybe I won’t do anything important the rest of the night, but I have to take care of myself. Then when I wake up the next morning, instead of hating myself for letting depression get the best of me again, I can think yesterday was a bad day, but I recognized that, and today I can do better. Depression is hard to deal with, and some days it’s going to win no matter what you do. And the more you let those things eat at you, the more depression is going to win. You have to forgive yourself to move forward.
5) For those that don’t really have an art form – how do we begin?
J: Honestly, this will sound kind of silly, but the best way to begin is to just do it. It’s so easy to overthink everything and get stuck in your own brain before doing anything. I STILL do it every time I start a new drawing. I can end up staring at a blank canvas for hours if I let myself start thinking too much about how to do it, rather than actually doing it. So my best advice is just start. If you want to draw, put a pencil on paper and just start drawing. If you want to learn an instrument, sit down, pick it up and mess around. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do, just start and the creativity will follow. And more than anything, you have to enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll never be able to put in the hours of practice and failure that eventually turn into something great.
6) Name some of your favorite comic artists!
J: Oh man, this is tough. There are so many great comic artists out there that are infinitely better and more creative than me. If I start a list it’ll just go on forever and I’ll inevitably forget some. Sarah’s Scribbles, As Per Usual Comics and Shenanigansen (Owlturd Comix) have great, relatable takes on life. Ice Cream Sandwich Comics, Extra Fabulous, and Mr. Lovenstein have fantastic senses of humor that make me envy how clever they are. The way XKCD and SMBC mix incredibly smart with incredibly silly is always great. Mondo Mango, Exo Comics, and The Pigeon Gazette are super cute and I love their art styles.
I mean, I can just keep going forever, there are so many amazing artists out there. Hannah Hillam, Safely Endangered, Poorly Drawn Lines, Cassandra Calin, False Knees, The Oatmeal, Awkward Yeti, Lunar Baboon, Chris Hallbeck, Beth Draws Things, Nellucnhoj, and so many more I’m forgetting or just haven’t discovered yet. They’re all way better than me.
7) Thoughts on South African (and will you ever visit? 🙂 )
J: I would love to visit! I really wish I could do more traveling (alas, I am very poor, haha), but South Africa is definitely on the list at some point. To be honest, I really don’t know much about it outside of basic history, so I’d love to visit just to learn more about everything. Hopefully someday.
Thanks for the interview James!