Jason Hart is the mastermind and writer, and one of two artists, of “Maroon,” a mind- and time-bending short comic in Oneshi Press Quarterly Anthology #05. We chatted with Jason about his creative inspirations, complexity in comics, and the holy grail of immersive and progressive storytelling.
Tell us about yourself, Jason. How and why did you get into comics?
I’m a graphic designer and art director for an ad agency by day. In the evenings, I’m a father and husband (probably my favorite job). And once everyone falls asleep, I write and draw comics. I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, originally and currently live just north in Dayton.
I had read comics all through my youth—from GI Joe and Transformers to Calvin & Hobbes, X-Men, the standard stuff. I made picture books a lot as a little kid, took some summer animation classes around middle school. In college, I fell away from comics for a while (which kills me now; I was in Pittsburgh where people like Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor, Rachel Masilamani, and Frank Santoro were making comics, with me completely oblivious). Out of college, I finally figured out that storytelling was the common thread running through all my passions—and a little later, that comics are the medium that does that best for me.
Can you tell us about your inspiration and process for creating “Maroon”?
“Maroon” was originally conceived for a Steampunk-themed project that folded. With Steampunk, it seems easy to rest on the genre’s tropes—so I wanted to give it some sort of puzzle to work out. I had recently done another comic where I had the anthology editor spread each page between other people’s stories, so they became little vignettes that built throughout the book to tell my character’s larger arc.
Off of that experiment, I started thinking about how to do a short comic where every page changes the reader’s expectation… So the reveal on page 2 is hidden, until the reader turns the page. But how do you surprise the reader on a spread (page 2 to page 3)? Well, you could switch artists… Okay, but story-wise, why switch artists? Because the main character gets a face-lift… And that’s how “Maroon” started. I wrote the script for 4 pages, and was lucky enough to get the crazy-talented Teemu Juhani to illustrate the first two pages.
“Maroon” is very complex for such a short comic. Do you have any words of advice for readers going into it?
Heh heh. Read it twice. Or a few times more. And watch the minutes…
Who are your inspirations as a writer and artist?
In comics, I definitely have Paul Pope/Milton Caniff in my earliest DNA. From there though, artists like Eleanor Davis, Romuald Reutimann, Nick Dragotta, Jillian Tamaki, Guy Davis, Kerascoët, Richie Pope, Antoine Cossé; I waffle between modern Image-style comics and more artsy, expressive cartooning work. I’m most interested in artists who can capture tone, motion, emotion with a simplified or abstracted style.
As far as comics writers, I enjoy a lot but not sure I pull inspiration from many of them. Eleanor Davis consistently tells heartfelt, provocative stories. I guess I aim for that. If I could, I’d be a Classic Russian Lit author in comics form (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lermontov).
What kind of entertainment do you like to consume while you’re creating something? Any examples of favorite music, movies, etc?
If I can remember to, I’ll put on music while I draw. Basically it’s either the Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack or punk rock from my youth: Strung Out, Gogol Bordello, Refused, Against Me!, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes. Something with high energy and rough vocals.
Sometimes I’ll put on the movie Porco Rosso, but that’s about it for TV/movies.
While I’m scripting or figuring out page layouts, it’s always complete silence.
What comic book character do you identify most with, and why?
It’s probably the silliest thing, but there’s a manga by Kaoru Mori called “A Bride’s Story.” It explores these idealized (but sort of historically accurate) lives of different brides/fiancées/wives in a region in Central Asia in the late 19th century. And there’s just a wonderful lack of pathos to it, like a celebration of familial bonds, community, marriage. I’d trade all the explosions, double-crosses, monologuing, and post-apocalypses for that. Plus my mother’s family is from roughly the same region, so there’s connective tissue there too.
What’s important to you in a comic book, as a reader? As a creator?
This answer’s the same for my reader and creator hats. Great writing and/or great art. And the other needs to be at least good. The quality of the craft is really important for me. I want the writing to feel organic, but also be as succinct as possible, without destroying the tone and pacing. (I think that’s why some of the best comics professionals were reporters first. Economy of words.) And a personal thing, but I can’t get into stories where all the characters are unlikeable. I need one character I can relate to or find intriguing somehow. Art-wise, I lean much more toward cartooning than photo-realism. I can forgive all kinds of liberties in anatomy, but if pages feel static or overworked, I’m usually out. Expressive or unexpected colors are a major plus. The designer in me cares a lot about paper stocks, book design, experimental typography (see: Tom Muller).
How do you make your work immersive and progressive (the Oneshi Press themes)?
You get to immersive by understanding the characters enough that they feel real. They speak from their own perspectives. The plot and themes move by the characters’ motivations, not vice-versa. Progressive comes from asking why a comic should exist—what is it saying, doing, showing, asking that hasn’t been done before? When you hit on an earnest question or you juxtapose two elements that change both of their meanings… those are the kinds of things to appreciate and to strive for.
Any new projects you’re working on?
I’m finishing a few short stories (1-8 pages each), with the aim of collecting my work from the past 3 or so years into a book. The story on the drafting table now is called “Lonely Satellite.” I’ve also been doing little story experiments with a world I’m building, that will probably become a series of 40-page comics. Some of that can be found on my IG and Tumblr under #streetwaerriorz.
Where can readers find you online?
I’m most active on Instagram. I also post to Tumblr and Facebook sometimes.
Get your own copy of Oneshi Press Anthology #05 in print or digital, featuring “Maroon” by Jason Hart and Teemu Juhani!
Check out the rest of our other Creator Interviews!
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