Character building

How Josh Quick fills his comic universe



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"So I drew these guys harpooning a whale and taking the blubber...And I get contacted from [their manager]. He goes, 'Josh. Can you do something else?' And I had put all this time in, so I said, 'What's wrong with it?' And he's like, 'To be honest with you, I love it. But the band is insulted right now. They really love whales.'"

Eaten by a zombie

Shepard Fairey used a Russian constructivist propaganda style for his "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" sticker, which went viral in the early 1990s, but his work became mainstream when he created the Obama "Hope" poster that ended up on cars and walls and everywhere else during the 2008 elections. It then became controversial when it was revealed that Fairey, without permission, had relied on an Obama photograph taken by an Associated Press freelancer.

Borrowing styles is part of the deal (T.S. Eliot wrote it as "Immature poets imitate and mature poets steal"—which goes for comic artists, too), and if it's done in the right way, Quick says, there's nothing cynical about it. When he was first illustrating in Missoula, he tried different styles including inserting a female luchador à la Jaime Hernandez into a band poster. He also gave his characters noodle-y, no-elbow arms—something he got from Peter Bagge, and which he carries on today.


Still, there's borrowing styles and then there's the question of rights to an artwork, which might be where the line blurs for Quick. Commercial artists often find themselves in a mess, and, though Quick doesn't like to shed negative light on anyone, least of all local businesses, he's had his issues.

He designed the first set of cans for the Kettlehouse Brewery, which he proudly displays on his office shelf. That relationship soured when, after signing a contract with the local brewery, Quick started seeing his art on items he says he didn't agree to. The Kettlehouse, he says, claims that they bought the image from Quick. But Quick says the image is his, and that they didn't have an executive agreement to use it liberally. So he took legal action and the brewery ended up hiring another artist for the job.

"My theory is that these guys are going to go national in the next year or so," says Quick. "And that's part of the reason I got on this right away. I'm not going to be like the guy that designed the Budweiser logo and got $150 for it. And that happens to artists all the time."

Quick tells this tale because it's a good lesson, but he hates this story, too, because he still loves the Kettlehouse for the very fact that they do employ local artists. Both Kettlehouse owner Tim O'Leary and Quick say there are no hard feelings at this point. "And I was to blame, too," Quick says. "I was young and inexperienced back then. I was so bummed that our relationship had to turn into that. But I've learned from this to be upfront. I don't want to be a dick, but I don't want to be ripped off either, and it's really hard sometimes to explain that to other people, because they really believe they bought the image from you, when they didn't. I've talked to a lot of other artists about this: protect yourself, protect your copyright and be honest and fair with the clients."

This is Quick's optimistic spin, but he does have a dark side. And sometimes, between the light jokes and his surreal banter, he occasionally draws a dark comic that he squirrels away for safekeeping. "They're really dark," he says. "It's typically because I'm having a bad week or maybe I'm just feeling really emotional and the only catharsis I have is to draw it."

During the recent winter, the one that seemed to go on and on, nothing but dark illustrations were coming out, and Quick had to change them before he sent them out into the world. "I would take the stuff out of the speech bubbles," he admits. "I was kind of self-censoring." One example: An artist is selling his stuff for next to nothing to help out a charity, and in the last panel he's abruptly eaten by a zombie.

"Maybe one day—and I will get published one day, I'm sure of it—I'll put out a book of my dark comics."

Clothesline and cake

Quick had a friend named Gary with whom he often disagreed. "Tricia loved him, but he drove me crazy when we hung out with him. He was so confident it was annoying and I think he triggered my insecurities."


But even after Gary moved away from Missoula, Quick found himself drawn to Gary as a muse. He started drawing a comic strip he called "Gary Blast-Off," and he put his Gary character into all kinds of predicaments. He didn't really think about the consequences until he and Opstad visited Gary in Minneapolis. "I must have done 20 comics of this," Quick says. "And I realized I hadn't told him about it. So we're hanging out and I was like, 'You know, I gotta tell you, I've been doing this thing.' And Gary said, 'What is it?' So we went online to my blogspot and I showed him. According to Quick, Gary put his hands to his face in shock and said, "Oh my gosh!" over and over again. He was overwhelmed, and then, as Quick tells it, he warmed to the idea of being the star of his own comic strip.

Quick uses people he knows and conversations he has for inspiration, so if you live in Missoula, you might be his muse, too.

"Sometimes people will be like, 'You squished my head.' And I'm like, 'Get over it; it's a cartoon!' A lot of people will be like, 'Is that me? Are you putting me in there?' But it's usually not them, it's usually an amalgam of people."

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