José-Luis Olivares on Mixed Media Comics

José-Luis Olivares is a recent graduate from The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since I first encountered José’s comics, I’ve been impressed by his unique approach to picture-making. José goes beyond the traditional pen and ink, incorporating a variety of mixed media on his comic pages (paint, food, junk, you name it).


José lectures about mixed media comics, using a Kirby collage page as an example.

One of José’s more ambitious mixed media comics, First Flower, was created for his senior thesis project. It’s now on permanent display in the Schulz Library, and on José’s website. I asked José about First Flower, and his other mixed media comics. Below you’ll find his detailed and insightful responses.

What motivated you to create mixed media comics?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing and playing with different materials. I feel more comfortable holding a graphite stick than using a nib. I like being messy and freeing myself up when I draw. At CCS, too, I loved learning about the history of cartooning, and became inspired by all sorts of visual arts out there, like fine art, children’s books, and comics.

Does the computer play a role in your process – or is your method more hands on?

For First Flower, especially, I enjoyed dabbling in the digital dark arts, but I like to jump back and forth and sometimes do things the old-fashioned way. Some of my mini-comics are made entirely computer-free. The third installment of my personal anthology, Polite Fiction, was made using a copy machine, a pile of sketchbook pages, and markers.

What are some materials you’ve used in your collage comics? Where do you find these materials?

Eggs, lube, chalk, transparencies, grapes, receipts, glitter paint, sparkly stickers, highlighters, a stick… I like using different materials for each project. Right now I’ve got a basic brushpen-and-graphite-stick combo going on, with added digital tomfoolery. Sometimes people give me materials, like the stick, but I usually just buy them at grocery stores, art stores, or kid’s stores. I like doodling with materials meant for teenage girls, cavemen, or office workers.
Ninja Turtle Gaughin (drawn with a stick).

What is the most unusual item you’ve integrated into your mixed media artwork?

In high school, I made giant Picasso recreations out of spray-painted beans.

Could you walk us through some of your process? For example, how did you go about creating page one of First Flower? In the comic there are two narratives occurring, one in color with more digital techniques, and the other penciled in grayscale. I started First Flower with a series of messy versions of thumbnails and then kept on building up layers until it was fleshed out, combining many hand-drawn elements in Photoshop. For example, the background of page one was drawn on Bristol paper using colored markers and then later digitally manipulated. The characters were created by scanning in cut-out shapes and textures.

What mixed media artists have inspired you?

I’m inspired by tons of artists and spend most of my time online looking for inspiration. Eric Carle, Virginia Lee Burton, Richard McGuire, Keith Haring, Frans Masereel, Steve Bissette, Souther Salazar, Mo Willems, William Steig…I could go on forever! I get big new art crushes on a daily basis. My current crush is Remy Charlip.

Could you tell us about the children’s book you are working on? How are you using mixed media to illustrate this story?

I’ve been working on an adaption of the classic Spanish-language nursery rhyme, Sana, Sana, Colita de Rana, that my mom would sing to me as a kid. The book is a simple story about a tadpole who injures his tail and learns that it takes time for the wound to heal. After sketching out the pages on the computer, I paint with watercolors, draw with graphite, and create digital patterns, then assemble everything in Photoshop. I’m still working on the final look of the book, but I’m having a blast experimenting with styles and techniques.

Thanks, José. Editors, publisher, take note! I think Sana, Sana, Colita de Rana will be a big hit.

- Robyn Chapman

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