Art Spotlight: Jim Kettner

Russ Rankin, Ian MacKaye, and Martin Sorrondeguy (Illustration: Jim Kettner) 

Jim Kettner is a talented artist whose work I recently came across while doing some research for a future No Echo project. After seeing some of his illustrations of hardcore musicians like Ray Cappo and Martin Sorrondeguy, I found Jim's website and dug further into his many projects. I instantly became a fan.

Throughout the years, the New York native's artwork has appeared in print and on the web in such places like RazorcakeMaximum Rocknroll, and SF Weekly. His debut full-length graphic novel collaboration with writer Lacy Davis, Ink In Water, debuted in 2017. 

But I'll let Jim tell you more about his work and journey in this new Art Spotlight interview.

What came first, your love for music or your love for comic books/illustration? 

Oh gosh, definitely comics. I grew up reading comics and science fiction, and just love the crap out of stories and storytelling. I honestly didn't have any kind of musical inclination or identity until I found punk. Nirvana hit big when I was in 8th Grade and so I was kind of punk before I was anything else, from there I got heavy into the scene in New York and it wasn't long before punk was influencing my comics work. I actually really love and appreciate how there is definitely a throughline between the worlds of punk/indie records and small press/indie comics. It sort of makes sense that the two go together so well. 

Were your parents supportive of your art interests?

I was raised by a single mom and she was always so supportive of all my interests. Even driving me to shows and letting me listen to obnoxious stuff in the car with her. She grew to even like some of it. 

Illustration: Jim Kettner

What was your introduction to hardcore? Did someone put you up on that, or did you discover it on your own? I saw that you grew up in Westchester, New York. Did you start going to shows right from the get go? 

Yeah! I grew up in the suburbs right outside NYC, so I was not far from a really active scene as a teen. I was definitely intimidated way back then and had only been to a few local ska-punk shows before seeing Sick of It All for the first time when I was 15, and that was a legit transformative experience. I even made a short comic about that time, and learning how to mosh for an issue of the As You Were comics anthology (a great anthology of punk cartoonist work from Silver Sprocket comics, check them out!) And yeah, from then on I was going to shows as often as I could and ended up moving into the city for college, so was living in NYC and active in the scene from 96-06. 

Part of the Beamswords & Bazookas series (Illustration: Jim Kettner)

Who were some of your favorite bands during those formative years?

My inclination has always been towards "posi-core". I adore the classics like 7 Seconds and Minor Threat, Youth of Today, and Gorilla Biscuits, of course. I had gotten to NYC right after the first wave of Youth Crew had crashed, so I was really into the bands in the aftermath of all that.

CIV, Shelter, Quicksand. H20 was just starting up then and played so much, and that was great because back then I didn't respond to the more tough-guy NYHC nor the more hardline straight edge stuff that was popular in the '90s.

But I really love so many branches of the big punk family tree and was interested in exploring them all, especially back then. I loved the sing-along stuff like Bad Religion and Bouncng Souls. The joyful big hardcore hugs that were Avail shows. Goofy stuff like Good Clean Fun and R.A.M.B.O. Serious political stuff like Born Against and Kill the Man Who Questions. Sensitive boy hardcore like Endpoint and Falling Forward, post-rock like Karate. Great queercore like Limpwrist and Team Dresch. There was so so much to discover and fall in love with, and I guess there still is. I just wish there were some young punks sending me mixtapes and keeping my old ass current on what's good! 

Rob Pennington of Endpoint, By the Grace of God, and Black God (Illustration: Jim Kettner)

Tell me a bit about your commissioned work through the years. 

Oh sure. Well, I guess my biggest project to date has been a full-length graphic memoir titled Ink and Water that I Illustrated and co-wrote with my ex. It deals with eating disorder recovery and actually has tons of punk stuff in it, as the scene has been such a big influence on both of us. That book came out in 2017. I'm currently working on my follow up, another comics memoir project called Adult Crash. As you can probably tell from the title, punk plays a big part in the story. I'm self-publishing the chapters as individual chapters while shopping the project to publishers. But yeah, I've done all kinds of stuff over the years and a lot of it has some punk crossover. 

My early published work was all sort of scene report webcomics that I did for a defunct website called If You Make It. I had a series of short nonfiction comics published as part of the aforementioned As You Were Anthology. Some of my other comics work is more out there though. I have a science-fantasy comic called The Black Land, that's sort of a gritty murder mystery but in a very weird Masters of the Universe barbarian kind of setting. Very fun and different to draw after doing so much grounded memoir work. I'm also working on a more all ages kids sci-fi comic called Real Einsteins with my buddy Kane Lynch. 

And as far as illustration goes, I've busted out show flyers and merch designs for different friends bands over the years. The biggest thing I've done in that regard is designing the front and back cover of Tørsö's full-length record. I designed a really fun 7 Seconds homage shirt for them too! But yeah, people commission me for all kinds of stuff. It can be so random.

I illustrated a comic project for a local coffee roaster here in Portland, Oregon about fair trade coffee practices, and then that led to more illustration work for an international coffee magazine. So, it's kind of like that, people see something that's somehow related to their field and then get at me to do more of it for them. I'd love it if more punks reached out for album covers or merch designs. That's definitely more fun than coffee! 

From As You Were #2: The Pit (Illustration: Jim Kettner)

You’ve done illustrations of musicians from the hardcore scene like Ray Cappo, Walter Schreifels, and Ken Olden (!). I would love to hear about some of those reactions once they saw your work. It must have tripped them out!

Oh! It was so neat! Yeah, so how all that started was that every October there is this popular artist hashtag called #inktober, where artists post a daily ink drawing all through the month. So my pal Steve Thueson (another straight edge cartoonist, great fun comics, check them out!) reached out to me about doing "#inksober" and because I'm an aging hardcore kid, and because that theme...getting old and being punk is a big part of my memoir, I decided I wanted to do a series of punks I admire who are getting older but are still active and inspirational to me, and keeping with the theme for the month, I just started with the straight edge-related folks, though of course I admore tons of punk artists who never drew an X on their hand. 

But yeah, the reaction was so wonderful and surprising.

Generally people are flattered and might be like "yeah cool" but occasionally there are bigger reactions. Like years ago one of those webcomics I did featured Propagandhi and Todd the Rod still follows my work and checks in from time to time. But yeah, with that series almost everyone at least checked in to say "cool thanks" and Toby from H20 reposted it, which led a bunch of new folks to my work.

Toby Morse of H2O (Illustration: Jim Kettner)

The coolest ones though were with Kevin Seconds and Duncan Barlow from Endpoint, By the Grace of God, and Guilt. Those drawings that I did in an afternoon allowed me to strike up really cool conversations and acquaintanceships with two of my hardcore heroes. I sent both of them the original drawings and follow each other on the social medias. Me and Duncan hung out at a literary convention last year and have chatted about collaborating on something down the line! 

And yeah, I love that you emphasized Ken! Part of what I wanted to do with that series is shine a light on some of the more unsung figures. So yeah, while lots of casual visitors at my page, or table at a comic convention might be like "oh yeah, that's Ian MacKaye" they have no fucking clue who like, Rob Pennington or Mr. Issa are. But I love those folks bands, and with that series I wasn't trying sell anything, just make myself happy by taking time to draw punks who've made an impact on me. I really want to get back to that project this year. 

Duncan Barlow of Endpoint, Guilt, and By the Grace of God (Illustration: Jim Kettner)

What’s coming up for you on the work front, and if someone wants to commission an illustration, is that something you would be into doing?

Yes! Commission me! I'm bored and quarantined [laughs]. 

But seriously, next on deck for me is the next issue of Adult Crash Comix. I'll hopefully have that ready by the end of May. I'm also working on several other graphic novel proposals for my agent to send out. Book publishing can be a lot like fishing (not that I've ever fished.) but it's just kind of putting an idea out there and seeing who bites. 

I also teach for California College of the Arts MFA in comics program so I'm sure that will be keeping me busy before too long, but I am always always open to freelance commissions and would certainly be stoked to work with punks who want to something illustrative for an album, T-shirt or whatever. 

Jim Kettner

Jim Kettner links: Official website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads


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