Posted Jan 25th 2005 by

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An interview with
JAMES JEANwords by , January 2005

James Jean is a Los Angeles-based Eisner Award-winning illustrator who is best known for his cover illustrations for the Batgirl and Fables comics. He’s far from your run-of-the-mill illustrator though. We caught up with him to ask him about his work and his influences.

Hello and welcome to the world of Thunder Chunky. How do you do in 2005?

Swell. Trying to survive the rain in LA. It’s never rained so long and heavy before.

Some readers will be familiar with your work but for those unenlightened amongst our readers, could you explain the work you do and the sorts of people you’ve worked with?

I’m a painter and illustrator who has worked with a wide variety of clientssuch as Atlantic Records, the New York Times, the Washinton Post, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, Interscope Records, NYLON, Playboy, SPIN, Men’s Health Germany,TOR Books, ESPN the Magazine–but I’m most known for the covers thatI’ve done for DC Comics.

How did you get involved in the comic book industry. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Green Arrow Cover

Green Arrow No. 49

I’ve always wanted to be a painter, but doing covers is a pretty nice way to make a living. I approached DC like any other publishing company, and they’ve treated me very well these past few years.

You studied at the School Of Visual Arts in NY. What sort of work did you do whilst studying there? How did it affect your career?

I was in the illustration department, and I studied with great artists such as Jim McMullan, Thomas Woodruff, and Steve Assael. The practice and knowledge I gained at SVA is absolutely vital to the way I work now.

How did the Meathaus collective come about? Are you still involved in it a lot?

We were all friends at SVA who got together one night to draw 24 hr comics. We’re all still friends, even though we’ve moved apart geographically, but the website is a great way to keep in touch.

You’ve done some stunning illustration work, do you have any particular favourites that you’re most proud of?

Whatever feeling of pride I receive from my work vanishes after a short while – it’s never good enough. However, the series of pictures called “Recess” is probably my strongest work to date, even though it’s sadly neglected due to time constraints.

When you do a cover illustration for Fables or Batgirl, what process do you go through? How much of it is pad and pen and how much of it is done on the computer?

Batgirl Cover

Batgirl No. 43

You can see many of my originals at ProcessRecess. Nowadays, quite bit of it is colored on the computer, although there are plenty of hand-painted textures that are scanned in along the way.

Have you had to change your style at all to do cover illustration or do you have complete freedom when it comes to doing the covers?

I’ve developed a way of working that’s conducive to creating cover illustrations, although the FABLES covers tend to be more painterly. I’m not as experimental as I’d like to be as in my sketchbooks, but I suppose I should reserve something that’s solely for myself without any commercial intent.

You won the 2004 Eisner award for best cover artist. How important was this to you?

It was a great honor to be recognized after working only a few years in the industry, and to have met Will Eisner before he passed recently.

For anyone hoping to get into the comic industry, what would your advice be?

Self-publish. If the work the is strong, that initial investment will payoff in the end.

You’ve done some album sleeves as well for The Donnas and The Stratford 4, is this something you’d like to do more of or is it something you enjoy doing as a change from you other illustrative work?

I’d love to do more. I’m also doing some art direction on some short films.

Stratford Album Cover

THE STRATFORD 4 Album Cover Illustration

What sort of music do you listen to whilst working?

KCRW, a good radio station in LA.

If you could design the sleeve to any album, what would it be?

Miles Davis & Gil Evans, the complete recordings.

You’ve also got a book due out called Process Recess. What’s it all about and what can people expect if they purchase it?

It collects my sketchbooks, paintings, and personal illustrations in a tidy, hardcover format. We spent a lot of time putting it together, so it should be a nice object.

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?


Check out an assortment of James Jean illustrations and comic covers by visiting his site at


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  • […] explained in an interview, his work (like most in comics) is a blend of hand-drawn or painted layers and details added […]

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