“It’s Really Inspiring To See Comics Being Experimental”: A chat with Dynamite Diva creator Jasper Jubenvill

Photograph by the artist. Used with permission.

Coverage of Vancouver-based cartoonist Jasper Jubenvill tends to make much of his youth. It’s a fair place to start, since, at just 21, he has found success in small press circles with Dynamite Diva, which Jubenvill uses a vehicle to hone his cartooning skills, experiment with the medium, and pay tribute to creators from previous generations, such as Chester Gould and Spain Rodriguez. Those following Jubenvill’s trajectory have seen him grow by leaps and bounds in what seems like a short time on the scene, culminating recently in a successful Kickstarter campaign organized by Strangers Fanzine & Publishing to collect the first issues of Dynamite Diva, along with other early works and process commentary.  More remarkable than his age, however, is Jubenvill’s unvarnished enthusiasm for all forms of creativity. Jubenvill keeps a rigorous schedule, but it seems like the process is as appealing to him as the results. I interviewed Jubenvill via email in March and April of 2022.

-Ian Thomas

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IAN THOMAS: Can you talk about your earliest experiences with comics? Once they were on your radar, what kind of stuff did you gravitate toward?

JASPER JUBENVILL: Yeah, for sure. One of my first comics ever was one of the first books I ever got. I’ve still got the book somewhere. It’s called ‘the snowman’ or something along those lines. It was wordless and really big in size, especially to my young hands. I remember the book having a huge effect on me, probably because it was something I could actually slightly understand at such a young age. I was probably four or five, honestly. I think that book really nailed into my head the idea of telling stories through sequence, without really knowing that it was comics. Really, all my time growing up I had comics around. For the longest time we didn’t have a tv, and I didn’t like reading much, so comics just were great to look at. 

My dad used to resell old things on eBay as kind of a side business and he’d find some fun stuff. Our garage was full of antiques, I loved playing in there as a kid. I remember really key images from old comics my dad had picked up to resell. One of them was an old Blackhawk comic with a giant red spinning wheel with spikes rolling through a town. There was something really exciting about these strange visuals that interested me. There was also just such an excitement about finding new old things in my dad’s garage. I think that’s what really drew me to comics: the excitement of the unknown. You didn’t know what to expect when you’d open a box of them. My dad really got me onto comics. It wasn’t till I was about nine or ten that I really developed an interest in the actual comic medium. My dad had a set of comics he had as a kid, lots of '90s stuff. All really bad stuff, like Flash comics that clearly DC didn’t care about, because they’d put mediocre artists on them. That’s what my dad would say, at least. What really caught my attention though was the three issue run of Kyle Baker's Dick Tracy. I loved the look and feel of these. The art was so stylish and different! My dad also had a Gladstone reprint of the Chester Gould Dick Tracy comics, it was the story arc with the Evil Influence. This comic felt like a whole new world opened up. It was like this Dick Tracy character had been around for so long and had so many stories, it just got me really excited.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you started in comics with a strip in your local paper. What did you take from that experience?

Yeah, I did. It was a small four-panel strip that they’d include twice a week. It was a story that wasn’t very good at all. I don’t think I really took away a lot from this experience to be fully honest. It was really just me goofing around as a ten-year old and feeling really cool because I was just like my classic comic strip artist idols. I think maybe the most important thing I took away was just the idea of having fun and doing whatever I wanted. People were invested in it because they just liked to see the weird cute stuff I was coming up with, and I was having so much fun with it. I had a lot of anxiety about sleeping as a kid and could never sleep, so I’d just spend all my nights thinking up ideas. I remember having a thought as I laid in bed and just genuinely feeling so much joy that I couldn’t wait to put it down on the page the next morning. That’s what shined through in the comics, I think, just the joy the readers could see I was having with it. That’s something I still am always holding in my mind while I write or draw a comic. The reader is going to connect with the comic if they can feel my excitement in the page.

Your output ramped up very quickly over the last few years. Can you talk about some of the early mistakes you made and lessons you learned? What do you wish you knew earlier?

I think my output really ramped up because I quit working my day job. I saved up and just felt like trying to actually make it in comics. I still lived with my parents so financial risks were somewhat lower. A lot of my early comics that I was making when I first left my job were just trying too hard. Those were the mistakes I’d make. I’d really get caught up laying out a page, making the spacing just right, and just really get caught up in details. I wanted to feel like I was making comics the right way, the way the professionals did. Honestly, I just realized I needed to follow my gut. Just jump right into it and trust that my instincts about how the page will look or how everything plays out will work. Once I really started trusting myself and doing it my way, it all just happened faster. Recently though I’ve been getting more detailed with my art. I’m finding myself getting caught up again in very small fine details. I’m becoming much more meticulous, and that’s slowing me down. The end result does seem to be a lot more satisfying for me though, so I’m happy. I also realize the more I do this and practice the quicker it all becomes.

When did you know it was time to quit your job?

It was always the plan. Leave high school, work somewhere, get enough money to be comfortable to leave, and then draw. I worked after high school for about a year and a half, and then bought myself a scanner and left. I’ve been doing comics since, and so far it’s been doing not half bad.

Can you talk about your work schedule? Are you working on stuff every day?

Yeah, I’m doing comics full time. I spend a lot of time working on comics, I think all cartoonists do! I’d say I’m drawing for about 10 to 12 hours a day, every day of the week. I slow down on weekends so my hand doesn’t cramp up too hard.

Is it hard to pull yourself away from your comics work and have a life outside comics with such a rigorous schedule?

For sure! It’s a huge grind really and you have to put in so much time to really make it worthwhile. I remember early on in my relationship with my girlfriend she used to think it was cool having an artist boyfriend. Just the other day she wanted to go out and I told her I couldn’t because I had pages to finish and she whispered “Why’d my boyfriend have to be an artist?” Obviously, she was just joking and we had a good laugh about it, but it’s definitely a huge time consumer. I am always drawing and there’s lots of times where friends will ask to go out and I just can’t. It’s important to balance it out, though. The more I work and shut myself in, the more I start hating what I’m making, so it’s important to get out with friends once in a while. Comics is definitely one of those art forms that requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice. Being naturally introverted, I lean into that kind of lifestyle, but it’s good to balance it out. I’ve found it really helps me refocus my mindset and get back into making good art. Everything flows out smoother that way.

Do you work on paper or digital? At what dimensions do you generally work and are you lettering straight to the page or doing paste-ups?

I’m a traditional kind of guy, mostly. Everything’s drawn on paper with a 102 dip pen. I do everything right on the page. Draw out my pencils, ink over them, do the lettering right on the page, fill in blacks, even erase the pencils underneath the inks when I’m done. I’m very impatient in the sense that I want to see the finished page as soon as I can. There’s something really rewarding for me to see the full page with everything laid on it all at once. Ready for print as soon as I’m finished inking it. I think it gives my comics a bit of an amateur edge, like I’m just some guy making comics kind of the wrong way. There’s something about cut corners but still putting in a lot of work that people enjoy and I enjoy. I don’t know if that makes sense. I just wouldn’t have the patience to do everything on different layers. I think there’s a fine balance between doing things wrong and just being so passionate about comics that it comes out feeling right.

Are you holding on to your original art?

I am for the most part, but I also sell some of the time just to get a little extra cash. Comics is tough on the bank account. It isn’t always the most stable income, so if people want to buy, I’ll sell. I like to hold onto my originals that are from main story comics. For example I probably will never sell Diva pages from issues 1-4.

Has your approach to writing and scripting changed at all as you've accrued experience? Are you writing as you go?

I’m still sort of writing as I go. It depends. My early approach is always I’ll get an idea for something and then I write it down. I’ve been keeping an idea journal for the last few months, which was something I normally didn’t do. It’s a great way of just keeping track of every thought I have, even if it’s totally small. In the past, I’d just have an idea and go straight to penciling the page and run with it.

From "Grizzly Girl Gang" (2020).

Who are your cartooning heroes from the past?

For the longest time it has been Chester Gould. He was the first cartoonist I fell really in love with and he has just stuck with me up until now. His art really taught me so much, especially how he lays out black spaces and white spaces. I think that’s what I took away most from him, it really helped develop my art. Dick Tracy strips always have the perfect amount of ink in them, never too much, never too little. Unless the story needs a lot. There’s a story in the '40s where Dick Tracy is in a dark room fighting for a gun from the criminal. The panels are all black. When Tracy grabs the gun, he fumbles around trying to find the criminal. Not wanting to waste bullets he takes a rubber band and match and fires it off the nose of the gun, lighting up a corner of the room. He then sees the foe and takes his shot. That stuck with me as a kid. What many would say is just 'Chester Gould [was] trying to quickly finish a strip on time without drawing much' [but it’s] done extremely well. He pulls off the tension with very little drawing. If you take any panel from Dick Tracy, especially around the '40s onward, you see the balance. Most panels are conveyed so well even when the panel contains 50% black or 50% white negative space. I have lots of early inspirations, but Chester Gould was the biggest formatively for me. The early artists have a very practical way to their art, and as the years go by you see the experimental come out a bit more.

What contemporary artists do you admire?

I honestly don’t like that many modern artists, but I’m drawn to a few. Anna Haifisch is amazing. I love the weird world she creates and the emptiness I feel when I look at her art. Lale Westvind is also incredible. The manic composition of her pages and panels is really something else to look at. It’s really inspiring to see comics being experimental. I want to try and bridge that [gap] between classic comics and new more strange comics.

I feel like Spain Rodriguez is a strong influence based on the layouts and energy of your stories. If so, can you speak to the influence you take from his work?

Definitely. I really got into underground comics during high school, with the obvious names like Crumb. Comics from that time were important to me, I just really liked the rebellious qualities they have. That’s how I found Spain. He is probably my favorite artist from that time period. Originally, I just liked the content of his comics. "Trashman" had some exciting stories, but the art really grabbed my attention, as well. I think it’s similar to my liking of Chester Gould, except dirtier. Spain has lines very similar to Gould and also uses lots of black spaces and balances a page well. The main difference that I was really drawn to was how detailed he makes his pages, especially the early stuff. There’s so much packed into one page, that’s an aesthetic I really love. I like to pack my pages full of detail and line work as well, which was definitely inspired by Spain Rodriguez. Another thing I really took from Spain was these wonky proportions. The way he draws people is similar to Jack Kirby in looseness, but feels off slightly. Almost like he just eyeballs how a pose is going to look and then just goes for it. Maybe he didn’t do that, but it’s how it felt to me, and just gave me the confidence to go for it. I realized when things are slightly off it’s better than if they were perfect.

Are you happy working in the minicomics and zine space? What appeals to you about that space? Could you, for example, see yourself putting out something for a more mainstream audiences?

Yeah, definitely! I love the DIY aspects of comics and zines. It’s easy and feels like anyone can do it. That’s what’s so appealing to me, seeing something rough and raw that can be experimental and fun. It’s like, I don’t need to go and get this fancy book printed, I can just print a comic at my home printer. I think the format translates to the content and tone of Dynamite Diva specifically, as well. The stories are like off the beaten path and weird, it doesn’t feel mainstream. So the format of presenting it in zine or cheap paper comics seems to fit. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do something mainstream. I don’t read mainstream modern comics, like the big two. However, I like a lot of those characters and think it would be fun to put my spin on it. If DC came to me and said you can do anything you want, I’d be down. I’d love to do either Plastic Man or Doom Patrol haha.

You seem to have very specific goals when it comes to stuff you're creating. You did a mini-figure, for instance. Are you pursuing these things with longer-term goals in mind or do you tend to focus more on the short term?

I tend to focus more on the short term, I think. I’ll see something I like and then just try to replicate it. Like with that little mini-figure. I really like collecting [little] vinyl toys and one day just thought “this would be really cool to make one of my character.” So, I just reached out to some other artists that could help me with that and we got it made. Recently, I just had cloth Diva dolls made as well. Same thing, I saw some old cloth toys from the '50s and thought it’d be really good to get one of my character made. Diva works great for all these weird merchandise ideas. A lot of old comics like Popeye, for example, will have Popeye-themed everything. You just expect to see the character on everything from t-shirts to tooth brushes, lunchboxes to dolls. I want to give off that vibe with Dynamite Diva. She is one of these characters you could see anywhere. It almost builds her up in my mind, like in her world she is some sort of Popeye or Dick Tracy that’s just merchandised all over. Also it’s just really fun to make this kind of stuff. Design, packaging and layout, in the end you get something really unique and limited.

Do you see yourself working in comics for the foreseeable future? If so, what form would you like that to take?

Yeah, I do. I want to keep making comics as long as I finically can. I think I’d just like to keep exploring what I love about comics. Trying new layouts, new stories, new formats, just new ways of doing things. It’s always about having fun with it myself, and I will just take it [in] whatever direction I see is most fun for myself. Hopefully, people want to stick around for the ride.