I've been wanting to do this one for awhile now. I have been following Jennifer Miller (Jin Wicked) on Facebook for a couple of years now. She is a very unique individual and holds nothing back. She bares her soul for the world to see and is obsessively ambitious. The woman has been through hell and back, and has still somehow managed to rise above it all and keep doing what she loves best: creating art. I've seen her produce some really amazing things, from her comics "Crap I did on my lunch break" and "Day late and a dollar short" to magnificent paintings, performance pieces, podcasts, and more. She has a broad range of talents, and I admire that greatly. I love seeing people pursue their passions and succeed. It's why I choose to write about them. What follows is an in depth interview with Jennifer on her works. I hope that you all enjoy it, and please consider supporting her work- she's an amazing woman that I hope gets everything she wants.
Did, 'Crap I Drew on my Lunch Break' begin out of frustration at the job or did the comics start first and the title come later?
Most of my project names come to me in a serendipitous way. With Lunch Break, I had been working a fairly Bog-standard retail job at the time -- custom picture framing, which is an industry I have been in and out of since I was 19 years old. Web comics were really taking off in 2003. I grew up reading the comics section of the newspaper almost daily, my main influence, and had drawn little comic strips or books from time to time while growing up. I had been toying with the idea of starting my own web comic, when I began scribbling the first few strips with a ball-point pen on copier paper during my breaks. Thus, "Crap I Drew on My Lunch Break" was born.
The mice, I have to ask about these characters. Are they your logo for your brand or are they something more? They remind me of those old cartoons with the crows. I love them though and want to know more.
First, they're rats, which is a very important distinction -- please note that, Mr. Disney. For about ten years I had over twenty-five pet rats. They are great, affectionate, intelligent small animals but they do not live very long and can be quite expensive. Currently I do not have any pets. Over time my rat-centered comics became some of the most popular, and I built up quite a following in several pet communities. I became associated with the rats, which I embraced, because I like how they play thematically -- clever, misunderstood, sometimes-maligned underdogs, but ultimately good creatures at heart just trying to survive. Rats are survivors. The Happy Rats in their final form first appeared in the strip "Electronic Surveillance Counterintelligence" where they are dancing as I chant a list of NSA keywords. I adopted them as a mascot for my business, ultimately, because I have a lot of fondness for vintage and retro styles. They are recognizable and very versatile.
What other comics have you worked on as an illustrator or a writer?
I have two other core projects. "A Dollar Late and A Day Short," which was the sequel to Lunch Break, and my attempt to remain productive through a period of severe anxiety and depression. And "Queen of Assholes," my newest project, a long-form comic that is an attempt at genuine autobiography rather than the gag-a-day material I have traditionally worked with. Though I have illustrated for friends and colleagues from time to time, generally I do not like working with writers -- and this is not a knock against any writers. My artwork is so physically-consuming to create that I become miserable quite quickly illustrating anyone else's words or ideas.
I understand you also paint- which media do you work with? Or do you prefer a mixture?
My preferred media are acrylic and watercolour. With acrylics I tend to work in abstracts more so than watercolour, but with both media, I often incorporate elements of drawing and linework into the pieces. Going forward I am making more of an effort to tie my "studio" art in with my comics, and create a unified vision.
Who is Jin Wicked? Is she a character extension of you or a pen name?
Jin came before the Wicked. When I was a young teenager and really struggling to form my own identity, I started calling myself "Psycho Jin" in the manner of Weird Al. Visually I preferred the letter "i" and "Jin" was more interesting and unique than "Jen" or "Jenny". Weird Al was my first celebrity crush, and at some point I even drew a little comic book featuring both of us and mailed it off to him. (I received an autographed photo in reply!) Psycho isn't terribly flattering and I didn't use it long. Around the time I was seventeen years old I got my first computer with Internet access, and spent a lot of time in AOL chat rooms. (I am thirty-eight years old.) After sharing stories of some of my pranks and other exploits, someone called me wicked. I loved it. I used the name Jin the Wicked for a while, eventually shortening it to Jin Wicked.
For many years, it was a mask, I think unintentionally to avoid accepting my true self, being vulnerable, or working through my emotional issues. Shortly after beginning to resurrect my career in 2015, I revealed my legal name online, which is Jennifer Miller. It was an important milestone. There was a time in my life when I would not even allow boyfriends to see me without makeup, I was so walled up. But now that those walls are broken down, Jin Wicked is mainly a stage name. People call me different things based on the context in which they've met me, and when asked, I tell them to use the name they prefer or whatever is most comfortable. The label doesn't matter now.
Will you do more collected editions of your comics?
Yes, in the next few years I have definite plans to assemble a complete collection of both "Crap I Drew on My Lunch Break" and "A Dollar Late and A Day Short." I am also working on a colouring book featuring my Happy Rats characters.
What do you want to accomplish with your work over the next year?
Right now I feel very stifled, like I am not living up to my full potential. There is a lot of work trapped inside of me that I simply do not have the time to create. So all of my energy is being focused into doing what I can, and the steps that must be taken so I can devote more energy and time to creative work. My goal is to complete at least one full page per week of my new project, "Queen of Assholes," by the end of the year.
What will queen of assholes be about?
As I mentioned, Queen of Assholes is a much more sincere and honest attempt at autobiography compared to the style of gag-a-day material that I am known for. It is going to be told in roughly chronological order, starting with my childhood and school-aged years, though I may insert foreshadowing where the past influences more recent events. My childhood, which in many ways was materially-privileged, also was subject to violence, threats of violence, and emotional distance from my father, and judgement, complicity, and passivity from my mother. The most obvious symptoms of this were my continuous attraction to emotionally unavailable men, my own emotional unavailability, and difficulty forming relationships with women. The over-arching, long-term theme of the comic is how my upbringing affected my development, and how I eventually, in my late thirties, finally learned how to accept, heal, and love myself. Over the course of the comic there will be, of course, some humour, as the reader gets to follow along with my mistakes and my more bizarre adventures. It is the redemption story of a sympathetic villain (me).
You share a lot of your personal story online- do you feel more connected to your friends and casual readers?
My life is an open book and I have very few secrets. What is rarely noted is that I am an exceptionally nosy person, and am quite interested in everyone else as well. Many people identify their own struggles and trials in the things I have gone through, and I feel especially connected when a reader shares how my work has helped them in some way. So I do feel very connected to my friends and readers, most of all the ones that post comments frequently or share a part of their own stories with me. Over the past three years I have been making a concerted effort to improve my memory so that I can better hold onto these experiences.
How has sharing your experiences and struggles help you grow as an individual?
Having a larger pool of perspectives from all walks of life has definitely helped me center myself. In the past I have relied heavily on one or two people for the majority of my guidance, and I see now that was a mistake, because all things are limited by the bias of their authors. Someone largely cynical, negative, or affected by intense self-loathing, for example, has not navigated through their own issues and will be unable to effectively aid another. It becomes a circle of toxicity. I have also learned to recognize codependency in my personal life, and go to great pains to avoid it as a giver or receiver. Therapy did not help me (I felt more like a weekly circus attraction), but through a combination of self-help reading and research, and a wider variety of mentor figures both on and offline, I have grown and improved greatly.
What do you feel are some of the most important things an artist can do continue to grow?
The single-most important thing, in my opinion, is to never stop learning and pushing your boundaries. Make a regular habit of stepping outside your comfort zone in all areas of life -- try the new media you've never used before, experiment with different drawing styles, pick up a musical instrument, learn a new language, talk to the stranger you would normally never approach. Ask lots of questions. Do your best to maintain your childlike sense of discovery and wonder at the world. Art is an organic thing originating from organic creatures, it should grow and change with us throughout our lives. Fan your flames. Keep your spark alive.
What are some of the reward tiers for your Patreon account?
Originally I had reward tiers for my Patreon, but my current state is so chronically over-scheduled and over-worked that I was rarely able to fulfill them. Patrons choose an amount they wish to contribute toward my cause, and I do my best to produce new artwork and comics regularly.
Where can your work be purchased from?
My Etsy store, at http://jinwicked.etsy.com/, is where you can find all of my original artwork and merchandise that is yet unsold. While I do some digital work, the vast majority of my production is with traditional media, so I do have lots of original comics and other artwork for sale. I do also offer a small selection of merchandise -- books, T-shirts, vinyl stickers. I still pack and ship each order individually myself.
Do you set up at comic cons? If so, where will you be at for the remainder of 2018?
Last year I stretched myself too thin at too many comic cons, so this year I am dialing back to shift my focus to content-creation. I will be at the two MCBA shows here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in May and October. I will also be at Chapel Con in Albert Lea, Minnesota, in July. Those are all that I have planned.
Can you tell me what 2 to 4 pieces of the most influential advice you have received?
For myself, everything I have lived through is a constant lesson, learning opportunity, or chance to extract my own advice, so it's difficult for me to think of specific examples where someone has sat me down and shared something useful. I learn most thoroughly by beating my head against the wall and then studying the shape and number of cracks formed. Over time, you build up a very thick skull that way! The most influential "advice" I have received recently is not really advice, but more of a philosophy. It is the concept of sacrifice. There is an excellent article about it on a blog called, "The Art of Manliness," -- do not let the name discourage you.
The jist of it is that your actions ultimately reveal what it is you most want out of life, and if you are not getting what you want, you must reexamine your actions or your heart. To progress, these things must be in sync, and you must know what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goals. The thing I want most is to achieve notoriety and recognition as an artist and a creative. In the name of that goal, I have sacrificed material comfort and living a more traditional life. I did not follow a typical career path. I do not have children. I no longer have pets. My relationships are odd and complicated. I may never own a home. I own as little material goods as I can get away with, and of what I do own, it mostly comes from thrift shops. I consume almost no television, movies, or the things other people occupy their leisure time with. More recently I have severely restricted my diet. I work at my day job, and I come home, and I work more. Almost everything I do is in service to the end goal of establishing myself, and being free to follow all my creative passions.
Should everyone be that fanatical? Almost certainly not. But that is the advice that has mattered most to me.
My website and all my social media can be found at JinWicked.com. I appreciate financial support in any amount at my Patreon, http://patreon.com/jinwicked. You can purchase my original artwork and other merchandise at Etsy, http://jinwicked.etsy.com/