INTERVIEW: Kelsey Wroten
Kansas City based artist Kelsey Wroten is a name you've probably heard before. Working as a freelancer illustrator and comics artist (under the name Jukebox Comix), she's won several awards including an AIGA award and final nomination for the Jay Kennedy National Cartooning Award. Wroten has also worked with The New Yorker, Nike, Nick Magazine, Hershey, Warby Parker, Vice and Bitch Magazine. Learn more about Kelsey in the interview below!
When did you first start taking an interest in art?
I guess I always drew, even when I was little. I didn’t start considering it as a potential career until I was in college. I was attending a community college studying computer programming (and sucking at it) when my elective credit art teacher who really dug my work told me I should probably be in art school. I had just never considered it as an option. I dropped out of community college shortly thereafter and enrolled at KCAI. So far it seems like it was a pretty good decision. I really like working as an illustrator.
You’ve been self publishing your comics under the name Jukebox Comix since 2008. Is there a story behind the name?
I was 17 when I started making Jukebox Comix. I remember having a really cool reason behind the name, something to do with greek mythology, but I think i just liked the way it sounded. I was reading a lot of stuff from Eightball at the time, and I thought PictureBox (a now RIP publisher) was cool, so maybe I was subconsciously influenced by those names. I think I later explained the name to people by saying that the comics were a bunch of shorts existing as a larger whole and you chose to read each one independently. Like choosing a song from a jukebox, but really that was just me ret-conning an answer ha.
Did you initially start off drawing comics? If so, what gravitated you toward them?
I always enjoyed drawing comics. I started doing them after watching a lot of Invader Zim in middle school and reading Johnny The Homicidal Maniac. I really liked that creepy Slave Labor style. Needless to say, these comics were pretty weird. I had a couple hundred or so pages of comics on notebook paper by high school. Then I just kinda stopped. I made a few here and there, but really nothing like what I was doing before. I didn’t start again until college.
I feel like I came to comics through a love of writing and drawing. It is the perfect medium for that. You basically get to make movies with an unlimited budget that you can cast and everything to whatever extent your skill and creativity allow you to.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned over the span of your career?
Well my career is just starting. I only graduated from KCAI for about a year ago. (2015 grad). That being said, folks say that the first year freelancing is the hardest, and I think I feel that. I’d say the first minute freelancing is the hardest. It’s a hard decision to make, to work for yourself. I think learning the ins and outs of that is really hard. However, once you start working as a freelance creative, it seems like “mighty forces come to your aid” or whatever. By that I mean if you work hard, things seem to work out. Another rule of thumb I’ve found is something I call “the law of inconvenience.” This means that you only get work when it's inconvenient ha. It’s best exemplified by this: sometimes when there is a lull in freelance gigs I try to start a personal project to keep myself creative and engaged. I love doing personal projects. Every time I set time aside/get time to work on something like that I get like a dozen emails with jobs that day. Like the minute I put pen to paper! A friend of mine tells a similar story. That’s the law of inconvenience! If you want to get new client illustration gigs, start a personal project you really care about ha! Oh, and I’ve learned that freelancing is just like any other job. If it’s not for you, that’s fine. It’s not magic, it's really hard work. When I started I felt like a cowboy or something, doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, but after a while I just started working 9-6 like everyone else, to keep my life from getting out of control!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
I guess advice I’d give to illustrators would be to constantly draw. Believe in yourself, and if you don’t, at least make others think you do. Eventually you’ll trust your skills. Don’t be afraid to cold call and email, the worst they can say is “no” or worse “take me off your LIST!” but most of the time (99%) they say nothing at all, and that’s fine. Another bit of advice, get used to constant rejection. There is not “best” illustrator, so most of the time you won’t be right for a project, and that’s fine. Just keep working and putting your work out there. When you don’t have work, work on a personal project and share that! Just keep yourself working and visible! Its great practice and it will get you jobs eventually. Lastly, update your Instagram.
Any big plans in store for the rest of the year?
I’m trying to get the ball rolling on my “first” graphic novel. Trying to get it published and on shelves! I say “first” because it's actually my third! It is just the first one that i’m trying to get published as a whole instead of individual issues. Speaking of, a graphic novel of mine is being serialized on the app Stela starting Tuesday June 28th. It’s called Dungeon Punchers. I describe it as the breakfast club, if it took place in a dungeon crawler. Check out the app! It’s pretty sweet.
Written by Cameron Capers
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