The Skip-Raid interviews Jason Kieffer

Hey everyone, Happy Monday! I'm so excited to come to you with a very long-overdue interview (it's actually been over a year since I did an interview with anyone. This may seem normal, but when you consider that I don't actually interview people in person - that all I do is email them - this is proof positive that I may be one of the laziest people you've never met). Anyways, I have wanted to interview this person for a very very long time; he's one of my favourite Toronto comic creators, and once I found out what he's currently working on, he may be my favourite (but we're not really allowed to talk about it till 2012. I hope he releases it before the Raputure!) Here we go!

Full name: Jason Kieffer

Graphic Designer

Where you live:
Cabbagetown, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Explain to those readers who might not know who you are why you are famous:

I draw comics, most of which are autobiographical or come from an autobiographical place or whatever. Though I'm the main character in a lot of my comics, I feel like my focus is the city streets and the oddballs that inhabit them.

The first two issues of my comic series Kieffer were nominated for Doug Wright Awards in 2008 and 2009. The last book I published, The Rabble of Downtown Toronto, collects 40 profiles of street people in a mock-guidebook format. It caused a bit of a stir.

Your work sort of has an early Joe Matt quality to it, but without relying too heavily on "when in doubt, throw in a sad panel about 'bating". Do you think you'll ever hit the wall where you just start drawing really bummer comics?
I love Joe Matt's work! I don't think he overdoes the masturbation thing or anything. I want to see more masturbation content from that guy! As far as I'm concerned, he's just scratched the surface. I wish I could write and draw comics that were an eighth as good as Joe Matt's! He is truly a Master Cartoonist.

But anyway -- no, I can't see myself hitting a wall or anything... I really don't feel like I'm going to run out of ideas anytime soon. I've got way too many comics I want to draw and not enough time to make them all happen.

There were a lot of haters in regards to your last book, The Rabble of Downtown Toronto (from now on I'll be referring to it as TRODT). Did you ever just want to tell people to fuck off?
Well, it was frustrating dealing with angry people because I found that most of them didn't want to listen what I had to say -- but I didn't want to walk away from those situations. I wanted to get a dialogue going with people and in general, but that never really happened. There was a lot of yelling, lecturing, whining and stuff like that, but very little intelligent discussion. Those conversations, both in person and in the media, centred around whether or not it was right for me to do the book, instead of the many other issues raised by the book. So, yeah... whatever...

My favourite comments about TRODT were the ones where it was like "He's profiteering off of homeless/mentally ill people!" But it's like - really - how much money did you actually make off TRODT? I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I doubt you were swimming in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck every night laughing at what all that 'Crazy Money' bought you.
Yeah... I lost money publishing The Rabble. But that aside, some are opposed to the idea of an individual making a dime if it's related to someone else's suffering in any way. But I don't have a problem with it -- making money is great. Think of all the people who really cash in on the pain of others -- social workers, psychiatrists, drug companies, columnists who "tackle the issues" -- they all build well-paid life-long careers on the backs of people in less fortunate situations than themselves. But I guess they're helping, right?...

You were one of The Torontoists Villains of 2010. I was asked to stop writing for The Torontoist back in 2007 because my stuff was 'too creative'. Can I get a high five? Seriously though, why do you think you made the list? Does someone have a grudge against you?
Yeah -- I don't really know what's going on there... I'm not really sure why The Torontoist keeps mentioning my name... It's an unhealthy obsession, if you ask me...

Who are your favourite comic artists?
Some of the living cartoonists that I like are Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Rick Altergott, Jim Woodring, Chris Ware, Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown, Dave Lapp, Johnny Ryan, Peter Bagge, David Collier, Ivan Brunetti, Joe Ollmann, Adrian Tomine, Gilbert Shelton, Mark Beyer, Tony Millionaire -- y'know, a lot of the usual suspects... Some of the dead cartoonists I like are Charles Schulz, Chester Gould, Fletcher Hanks, Harold Gray, E.C. Segar...I'm also a fan of comics by the eunuchs know as Nick Maandag and Ethan Rilly -- they're my buddies!

Who is your favourite Toronto person (I wanted to use the word "crazy", but it didn't feel right. Also, it doesn't have to be just crazies):
Well, Zanta is one of my top picks when it comes to street people. I love how his antics fucked up all the squares. And I admire him for pushing the city to its limits and revealing what the power structure permits/does not permit. It's really horrible that Zanta was banned from the downtown core and that he was prevented, by force, to move about freely and express himself.

It's a shame that the "activists" that attacked me for The Rabble didn't step in and help Zanta when he needed it. Zanta's experience of being marginalized and displaced was, in my eyes, similar to and representative of the everyday experience of many street people. The difference with Zanta was that his story was regularly being covered in the media. It was a great opportunity for activists to step up and protect Zanta's rights -- thereby protecting the rights of all street people. It could have been a big move in the right direction.

Editor's Note: for all American/non-Toronto readers who have no idea who Zanta is, Zanta is a Toronto "character" (aka Crazy Dude) who wears shorts (sometimes like these, but usually cut-off jeans) and a Santa hat every day of the year, even in the winter time. Zanta does push-ups on the sidewalk and flexes his muscles to all who will watch. His catchphrase is "Yes yes yes!" and he's be banned from a lot of public events; lots of people consider him a public nuisance, but I consider him to be totally awesome (even though one time Zanta made a lewd gesture to me while I was stopped at a stop light in a cab. Oh Zanta, you mischeivous scamp).

What are your favourite pens to use?
I love old fashioned dip pens. I use Speedball nibs and my favourite size right now is B5&1/2.

Your next book is going to be amazing. I know you don't want to talk about it too much, but there is a little teaser on your website. We know it's about Zanta. Can I tell you how excited I am that you're doing a thing about Zanta? How much can you tell me about it.
Well, there's not much to tell -- the whole deal's in that strip you mentioned. I interviewed Zanta back in 2006 and I'm using that interview as the foundation to tell Zanta's story in this book. Unlike The Rabble, I'll be using a more traditional comic book narrative format. The book will be divided into a few different sections and should end up being 100 pages or so in length.

If there was any justice in the world, you'd be able to make a living from drawing, but that's not always the case with creative people. What's your day job like?
My job's great. I do layout right now and it's a lot of fun. I love arranging images and text on a page! That's where you want to be! I kind of wish it was the 80's though... That way, it'd all be cut and paste and hands on and everything -- y'know what I mean?

My favourite newspaper comic is, without irony or shame, is The Family Circus. What's your favourite embarrassing panel-comic?
I was going to say Far Side... but I actually think it's good... Maybe Bizarro... I dunno... Family Circus is pretty fucked...

What are your favourite cities in Canada, the US?
I haven't done much travelling, so I can't really say. I went to St. John, NB recently and I loved it! I visited New York City not long ago -- and I loved it too! But I'm kind of turned off going to the states right now... visiting an unfolding police state isn't my idea of fun...

Did you go to art school?
No -- I went to university. I took a few art classes there and I learned a bit from them, though not much in the way of technical skills. The focus there was more on the conceptual side. So, I consider myself to be self taught. I've learned a lot just doing life drawing and from copying panels that I like in my sketchbook.

Have you ever been mistaken for someone more famous that yourself?

I don't think I've ever been mistaken for a famous person. Bums regularly shout "Hey, carrot top!" at me. But I don't think they're making a reference to the world-famous entertainer know as Carrot Top. Once a drunk guy said "Hey, it's Robert Plant!" as I walked by him, but he was mocking me...

What do you feel about people who like to declare "I don't own a TV"?
Well, I don't own a TV. But I'm not the kind of guy who advertises the fact. Now, having said that, I will say, "I don't own a TV!" if someone starts a conversation about TV with me at a party or something. I guess I just want to let them know that I won't be able to hook into the conversation or future conversations about TV. Also, it's kind of boring talking about movies, shows and commercials and stuff. I'd rather talk about the fact that 9/11 is an inside job or UFOs or something instead...

Tell me a story about the last time you cried:
Uh... that's not gonna happen...

Are you really excited about summertime?
Yes and no. Yes because I like the sun and flowers and and all that. No because I burn easily in the sun. And I spend a lot of my time trying to find shade. Also -- the heat makes drawing uncomfortable and more difficult in many different ways -- sticky paper, blotting ink, sweating body... But I love the summer! And I love the sun!

When can I come back and ask you more about Zanta?
You can ask me more about Zanta when the book comes out. Hopefully that'll happen sometime in early 2012. But who knows, right?...

Your ideal sandwich:

Mennonite ham, old cheddar, tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, mustard with pepper on my Dad's bread.

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