ECCC 2019: Jim Mahfood Discusses GRRL Scouts, Weed, And Spider-Verse
by Tito W. James
Tito W. James: You’ve done a lot of work including a weed-themed superhero called Marijuana Man. With the legalization of cannabis in more places, including Seattle, recreational usage has become more normalized. What are your thoughts on the shifting culture and how do you see that permeating comics further?
Jim Mahfood: I think the shift is a positive one, obviously, and I do see it effecting comics. I think it’s pretty well known that artists and musicians have been using psychedelics and mind-altering substances for many many years to further creativity and enhance ideas. And it’s not for everyone, obviously. But I think having it available to people to explore as an option be it for medicinal health reasons or mind-expanding and changing your outlook in a positive way. All those to me are beneficial aspects of it.
JM: I did this Marijuana Man book with Ziggy Marley…
[Our Interview was briefly interrupted by a convention goer geeking out about Mafood’s art.]
Fan: Oh my god you have originals! Holy shit. I’m sorry I was going to be quiet. But holy shit!
TWJ: I’m keeping that in the interview.
Ziggy was ahead of the curve with all this stuff. And he pitched me the idea by asking if anyone had done a weed-powered superhero. And I said “I don’t know but you doing it would make perfect sense so let’s make it happen.” I think the “Marley” stamp on it legitimizes the comic. And he wanted to do a whole spiritual take on it. The hero doesn’t kill people or use guns.
I also have a book at Image I do called Grrl Scouts. It’s about three girls who are weed dealers and go on psychedelic adventures. So I’m also representing a part of the culture in an old school way. Before there were dispensaries there were these people who would have to hustle on the streets to get you your “medicine” or whatever you needed. It’s representative of that older era where people remember having to deal with shady characters. I think removing that shady element with dispensaries is a safer and more productive way of handling all this.
TWJ: I think I’ve seen a short film for Grrl Scouts.
JM: Yeah, I teamed up with director Mike Diva, he’s brilliant, I love him. We did that for Ron Howard’s production company called New Form Digital; where they give budgets to new directors to make a pilot. So Mike found me through an agency and we co-wrote that short film together. He directed and I art directed it. It came out super fantastic I’m so proud of it!
TWJ: It’s really incredible. I dig the way it’s edited. I love the characterizations of all the girls. It was really really well done.
JM: Oh, thank you. I’m still shopping the property as an animated series or as a TV show right now. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if the world is ready for a show about women weed dealers.
TWJ: Digging deeper into the idea of an animated show. We’ve had superhero comics adapted quite successfully into animation. There have been multiple Batman animated shows and Spider-Verse just won an Oscar. I’d like to see more indie comics adapted because that would add more mature stories to the animated medium as well.
JM: Yes, I completely agree with you. That’s what I’m trying to do with Grrl Scouts. I actually did pre-production work and character designs on Spider-Verse and had an amazing time with it. When I saw the movie I had no idea that it was going to be so psychedelic, so experimental, and so layered.
After seeing that they could go that far with it with a mainstream property that ignited this fire within me. I felt it’s time for me to make my own show now. It’s time for an indie property to be taken to that level. Audiences are ready now, man. We’ve had twelve years of Marvel movies now. I think audiences are savvy enough that they are ready for the button to keep being pushed.
TWJ: Your art style is very atypical of standard superhero comics but you’ve still found success. What advice would you give to aspiring artists in regards to style?
JM: I mean my thing is like putting in the work; learning all the basics, the foundations of drawing, anatomy, the whole formula for comics storytelling. Stick to your instincts and you’re creative voice. It may sound risky but whenever I’ve taken a risk it wound up being the right move.
I developed this weird style because I wanted to go in a different direction with it. It’s served me well and it worked out in the long run. But I’ve had twenty-two years of work under my belt. So longevity also helps too. You just keep at it and don’t take no for an answer. Rejection just fueled me as a kid, man. We all go through it. But if you’re resilient enough and do the work you’ll just power through it.
TWJ: I’d like to end this conversation with a quote from Picasso, “You learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”
JM: Totally! Picasso learned how to draw photo-realistically as a kid, so by the time he invented cubism he’d already done all that. People only recognize him because of his weird shit but he knew how to paint and draw realistically and correctly. So then you take that knowledge and break the rules to create something magical.
I’d like to thank Jim Mahfood for this extensive interview. Grrl Scouts is available now from Image Comics.