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« Christians, Jews and Muslims at "Occupy Wall Street" | Main | Gridlock Can Be Good »

An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper

By Angelo Lopez
October 25, 2011

As I've connected with various artists on Facebook, I discovered a great cartoonist in Alburquerque, New Mexico. J.P. Jasper is a cartoonist who has been posting his witty cartoons under the name Russell Millard Fillmore on his Facebook page that has gained a loyal readership and as he writes, "I'm still 'looking' for a job but in the mean time I'm enjoying the life of an educated bum..." He is a grad school graduate with a degree in Economics. His cartoons star a group of young adults who make wry comments on politics and culture. You can see his cartoons at his Russell Millard Fillmore facebook page or you could go to his webpage.

So how did you get into cartooning?

First off, What up, Mom! I got into cartooning simply because I've ALWAYS enjoyed drawing pictures and telling stories. I used to love drawing wrestlers as a kid. In the fourth grade, every week the teacher would give us a sheet of paper with a design on it. We had to take that design, make it into something, and write a story about what we drew. A fourth graders imagination is ridiculous and I mean that in the best possible way. So cartooning is really what I've wanted to do since I knew it was a possibility.

Your early cartoons have a lot of autobiographical content in them. How much do your cartoon characters reflect your own views?

The autobiographical cartoons reflect me to the fullest. I'm conservative in my lifestyle but my political views tend to be progressive. I'm like an old retired man which is why I'm always sitting on the couch in the cartoons. You’ll see me at church EVERY Sunday. I believe any success that I’ve had is all due to God. But, I see nothing wrong with supporting the rights of individuals who happen to be gay. I went to college for business. But, I understand the roll government plays in our society and why a 39% tax rate for the wealthy isn’t socialism.

Who were your early influences when you first started out cartooning? Who are your artistic heroes now?

It's hard for me to say who my influences are when it comes to cartooning. Obviously, as a young black kid, watching Aaron McGruder let me know that being a cartoonist was possible for me. But, the reason I started making my own comics was because I saw I had something different to say. We all have our own experiences so I don't really look to others for inspiration. I will say my favorite running comic out right now would be Cory Thomas's Watch Your Head. That dude is ridiculous...

In your webpage, you sign your name J.P. Jasper. Is there any significance to that?

J. P. Jasper is my actual name. Russell Millard Fillmore was the name I came up with for my character. I was obsessed with "The Wire" when I started making them and my favorite character on the show was named Russell "Stringer" Bell. So that's where Russell came from. I wanted to name the character after my late uncle whose name was Thomas Jefferson. But then I decided wanted a more obscure President hence, Millard Fillmore. Later on I realized all three names had the double LL. That makes the name look beautiful...haha

Your cartoons all seem to be based on these wonderful conversations between characters where they give these insights into relationships, culture, politics. You have a good ear for dialogue. Do you get a lot of your ideas from conversations that you have with friends?

HAHA!!! I am an eternal Devil's Advocate. Because of that, debates just have a way breaking out when I'm around. I have a tendency to always take the minority view when a debate occurs. Regardless of what I really think, I just like to see how far I can take it. I have an ongoing debate with a six year old over why Bubblebee is better than Optimus Prime. I don't care if you're only six. Be prepared to defend your opinions…

Since you have a way with dialogue, have you thought of doing sketches or plays?

I don't have any real interest in sketch writing. Part of the reason I enjoy comic strips is the continuity. That's the same reason I prefer tv shows over movies. I want to grow with the characters. Playwriting would be pretty cool but I think I lack the patience and the sophistication. Plus I can be a control freak so I don't know how I'd deal with handing my script off to a director.

There is a great series of cartoons with a character named "That Girl" that tried to put sense into women in conflict or to stop women from making bad choices. What's helped you get that insight into women?

"That Girl" is completely based off of my big sister. The pink and green are her sorority colors. But if I ever have a daughter, I couldn't ask for a better role model. Somehow she's avoided a lot of the pitfalls that young women encounter on the way up. She's strong and independent. But at the same time she looks out for those around her. I do feel a little pressure when making that particular strip since I’m trying to write from a woman’s perspective. I don’t want to come off as a jackass…

You comment on politics and race in your comic. But you handle social commentary in your strip more like Bloom County, with a lot of sly humor. I haven't seen a strip of yours that has the angry assault on the political and social system like cartoonists Ted Rall or Aaron McGruder. How would you describe your politics? Who are your political heroes?

HAHA!!! I've been told I was a born diplomat. I'm grateful for people like Rall and McGruder because they do what I can't. I don’t have a cruel bone in my body. The people I know and love span the entire political spectrum so it's hard for me to completely ridicule somebody for their beliefs even if I think they're crazy. I'm pretty progressive. Sort of a weed-free hippie. But I'm also a realist which is why I probably like Obama more than a lot progressives. I understand he is but one man. Chuck Schumer seems pretty cool. I respect Ron Paul, but I'm not joining the revolution. I love Elizabeth Warren. She's so sweet that no matter what your political beliefs are, if someone dissed her, you'd be like, "That dude's a jackass".

Your facebook page says that you have a degree in Economics. Has that influenced your comic?

My economics degree has definitely influenced my beliefs about economics and politics. So it's had an effect on my cartoons. Plus I probably never would have thought of the term "Rusession" without it...haha My Econ professors were awesome. Getting that degree was probably the most fun I had in school after the 4th grade.

In your more autobiographical cartoons, you have three characters sitting in a couch, making witty comments while watching television. Is this based on you and two friends? Is this based on a real couch in your living room?

The only real character in the autobiographical cartoon is me. The other adult in the cartoon is just supposed to represent the people I came home to after graduating from college. It shows that in the end, I ended up back at the same place, but I'm a different person than I was before I left. The child just adds another dimension. He's neglected by his parents so the only thing that the three have in common is that they have nowhere to be. So they kick it together. The couch is real and looks very similar...

A series of your strips has an African American father and son making some comments on racial issues, sports issues, and such. I'm in my forties and I feel pretty old when my nieces make some reference to pop culture that I have no clue about. So I really enjoy the interplay between the father and son character. How do you write up the personalities of each character to capture the differences in generations?

The father is based off of my best friend, Stanley. He's a year or so older than me so I've always looked up to him. If I ever have children he will be my parental role model. He is the absolute best father I know, aside from my own. I wanted a father around my age because people in their late 20s obsess over getting old more than any forty year old. We still think we're kids so when we run across a real kid, it's a quick reality check. So the dad's personality is based off of my friend and for the son's personality I just used myself at age 8. I don't know any 8 year olds.

Living in New Mexico, how has that influenced your views on race, politics, culture? How would you describe the culture of New Mexico?

I love New Mexico; particularly my home in Albuquerque. It's one of those places where everyone under 30 complains about constantly, but no one wants to leave. And those who do leave always end up missing it. Race is a very small issue here. Our chili is world famous. We're on Cops a lot but it's still a cool town. Our culture is heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Native Americans. Politically we are the definition of a swing state. We have everything from farmers to rocket scientists...

Tell me how you create your cartoons. What materials do you use?

My cartoon making operation is quite primitive. I get a 20 pack of pens for about $2. I don't use pencils because if erasing is an option, I'd never finish. I use sharpies to go over the pen. I use regular computer paper and $4 markers from Walgreens. Oh, and I use color pencils on the skin of the characters. I made it a point to only use materials I can always get a hold of. I'd hate not to be able to finish something because I ran out of something I need.

What directions do you plan to take your cartoon in the future?

I've been having so much fun making these cartoons recently that I haven't thought much about the future. I do know that at some point, I'd love to see my cartoons in book form. The web is great, but I imagine that there's nothing like holding an actual paper and ink book that you created in your hands. “New Book Smell” is almost as good as new car smell. I told you I have the personality of an old man. I've also thought about doing a sports themed comic. Cowboys, baby. Respect the star.

More cartoonist interviews

An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen

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