INTERVIEW: Bob Flynn

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For any readers that don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a cartoonist—working in illustration, comics, and animation. Some of your readers might otherwise know me as “Jinx the Monkey” or “bobjinx.” I tend to make offbeat nonsensical images, both digitally and on paper. I also design games, films, and websites for an educational media company called FableVision. In a nutshell, I’m obsessed with comics and cartoons and I hope you are too.

I’m always curious about influences and inspirations. Are there an particular artists that have had an impact on your comics and illustrations?

I guess it depends on how far back I should go. My earliest colossal influence was Bill Watterson—I used to draw comic strips for the school paper and I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes for many years. My influences later drifted towards underground/indie comics and classic animation in college, which I guess is where I still am today. It’s hard to draw the line between artists I like and artists who have consciously impacted my work. But if I were to rattle off the short list they would include George Herriman, Gary Baseman, Jim Woodring, Ron Regé Jr., Chris Ware, Max Fleischer (the studio, really), and John Kricfalusi. I can’t emphasize animation enough as a leading influence. Rediscovering the surreal and twisted animation of the 1920s and 30s really clarified a lot for me in college, and I’ve been pursuing that love of unbridled cartoony weirdness ever since. I follow tons of artists, both contemporary and from the past, but those are the big hitters.

I know from following your blog and corresponding with you through email that your day job is at FableVision. What exactly do you do at FableVision?

I’m currently the Lead Designer at FableVision—an educational media studio looking to inspire learners of all ages through media, storytelling, and technology. If that sounds like marketing-speak, it’s not. We are truly driven by a mission to help people reach their full potential. I get to work with an amazingly talented team of writers, producers, animators, and developers. As to what I do…on any given day I could be storyboarding a cartoon to explain how dehydration in the body works, or collaborating with MIT to design an online game with monsters and mythological creatures to teach math in the classroom. So my role is always changing—the problems to solve, always interesting. We do a lot of work for kids, so I think it all lends to my cartoony style and sense of humor. Imagine watching a cartoon or playing a video game to help reinforce what you’ve read in a standardized textbook. Stories can be a powerful way to teach.

How did you end up there?

It’s a little roundabout, but after graduating from college I worked for a company who secured a deal with Kurt Warner (star quarterback for the St. Louis Rams at the time) to create a CG-animated series called the Good Sports Gang—random, I know. It was kind of like Veggietales with sports balls. I asked about a FableVision-branded lunch box I noticed on a shelf in the studio. It turned out they had considered FableVision as an animation partner before they decided to go CG with the show. I didn’t stay long in St. Louis, however, so when I decided to move to Boston to return to the Northeast (I’m originally from Maine) FableVision was on my radar. They just happened to have a job opening when I got here. That was about 5 years ago.

Did you study animation in college?

I didn’t, actually. I would love to take classes now, though—especially in character animation. I studied Illustration at Washington University in St. Louis where my interest in animation stirred around senior year. I was learning Flash mainly as a design tool and decided to take a shot at a 3-minute cartoon for my thesis—which ended up being “Jinx the Monkey.” Though I was encouraged by my professors, WashU didn’t have much of an animation curriculum. Most of what I know now I’ve picked up from watching plenty of cartoons, picking the brains of fellow animators, and keeping up with blogs. But I still have a lot to learn.

You’ve done a lot of work for Nickelodeon Magazine, a real jewel of a publication which, sadly, was recently terminated. Has working for them effected your career in any significant ways?

I really couldn’t be more disappointed to see the magazine go for several reasons. They’re still putting out a few more issues, so be sure to pick them up. But yeah…second only to my work at FableVision, Nick Mag has been the highlight of my early career. It was great to periodically get a call to do some silly or gross illustration (they always had the best assignments). And then about a year ago Chris Duffy, Senior Comics Editor, called to see if I’d be interested in writing and drawing SpongeBob comics. I had to pinch myself….SpongeBob! …easily one of my all-time favorite cartoons. Now it seems like just another thing I do, but I will always look back on it as a significant moment. More than anything else, it has inspired me to go full force on my own comics. My goal this year is to venture out into the convention circuit with some mini-comics.

Nickelodeon Magazine employed a large number of cartoonists and illustrators on a fairly regular basis. For over a decade and a half, they showcased amazing comics and illustrations for kids. How do you think the cancellation of the magazine will effect the world of comics and illustration in the long run?

I’ve written about this a bit, as have others. I think I can speak for everyone that it certainly felt like home. It was safe haven where you knew you could do some of your best work with a ton of freedom and reach a large audience. What more could an artist ask? I planned on pitching a few of my own comics to the magazine…getting some exposure…the way many currently successful cartoonists got their start (Craig Thompson comes to mind). I fear this is a sign of things to come, though—representative of the shrinking print industry. Veteran cartoonists and freelancers can speak more to that. But if nothing else, this is a crushing blow to kids. I would credit those at Nick Mag with being directly responsible for the resurgence and popularity of quality comics for kids, so I suspect that will be the magazine’s lasting legacy. And hopefully these kinds of comics will find a home in another venue (maybe online?).

Click to see large view!

Click to see large view!

Is the children’s comic market something that you’d like to remain a part of?

If the opportunities continue to present themselves, sure! I think I can write for kids…kids with an offbeat sense of humor. My ideas are not always appropriate for a younger audience. But I can definitely dial it in that direction. And some of my favorite authors growing up, Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein, certainly treated kids like they were adults. I’m a fan of contemporary kid’s comics like Corey Barba’s YAM and John Lechner’s Sticky Burr, because they are so friendly. It’s weird to think of there being a “children’s comic” market as if it’s a new thing—especially when publishers start throwing around phrases like “graphic novels for kids.” Aren’t those comic books? Anyway, that was a rambling way of saying yes.

Is there anything you haven’t yet done as an artist that you’d really like to do in the future?

Oh man, there is so much left to do…I feel like I’ve barely started. Right now my goal is just to crank and make as much as possible. Getting some comics published would be great, but I’ll likely be self-publishing for now. Animation still seems like unexplored territory. I feel like an outsider even though I’ve made a few shorts and I’ve done my fair share of animating in Flash. But if I can dream, a tv-series would be amazing. Comics and animation seem to be the directions I’m heading in, so I’ll just have to see where they take me.

Are there any comics by other people that you’re really enjoying right now?

Steve Wolfhard’s “Cat Rackham” comics recently caught my attention. I’m really drawn to comics that can deliver the goods without a ton of dialogue. Matthew Forsythe’s Ojingogo is a great example of that. Michael DeForge puts up some wonderfully bizarre stuff, too. In the realm of animation (if I can add it), I’ve been really excited by the work of young film-makers like David O’Reilly, Rebecca Sugar (who doubles as a comic artist), and Jake Armstrong.

Do you have anything you’d like to plug? Go for it now!

Sure! I should definitely mention ARGH!, a Spanish comic zine/anthology created by Félix Díaz and Jorge Parras that I’m a regular contributor to—the only American, in fact. Which means I letter my comics in English, send them off to the guys in Spain who translate them, and then I re-letter them in Spanish. Fortunately I don’t use a ton of dialogue in my comics. It’s a fun group to belong to. Each issue is printed in a duotone process so we all work in the same color palette. They’re hard to get your hands on in the US, though I’ve heard they’ve been spotted at various conventions. I’m doing my best to circulate them in Boston. Issue #6 is due out this fall—you can find out more here: http://www.arghcomic.com/

As I start putting up comics you’ll probably see them first on my blog, Drip!: http://bobjinx.blogspot.com
I also have some Flash drawing and inking tutorials which people have found useful.

Lastly, a bunch of us at FableVision started up a group blog called Creative Juices (http://fablefolk.blogspot.com)
where we post inspiring work we come across. Every few weeks we also do WTD? (What the Doodle?) where anyone from the company can create an image or animation to represent a word spit out by a random word generator. The results are always interesting.

Thanks for sharing, Bob!

– Phil McAndrew

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3 Responses to “INTERVIEW: Bob Flynn”

  1. letterpreston Says:

    I love every wrinkle, crevasse, drip and hair of you illustrations.

  2. Chris Houghton Says:

    Great interview! Great illustrations!

  3. Dennis Flynn Says:

    Hey I really enjoyed reading your interview, having witnessed alot of it through the years!!

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