Amanda Verwey’s ART Monday #1: JANELLE HESSIG!
Janelle Hessig was the first person to pop into my head when considering who to feature in my inaugural Monday art blog! She’s one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and one of the funniest ladies I know (and I know A LOT of funny ladies). Janelle is a comic/zine artist, musician, animator and Marketing Director for Last Gasp! I love her and you will too!
Verwey: You’ve been making zines/comic books since 1991?
Hessig: I published the first issue of Tales of Blarg with my friend, Hollie, in 1990. We made a fanzine in art class instead of making bongs like most of the other bad kids did.
Verwey: Why did you start?
Hessig: I’ve been writing stories and making comics for as long as I can remember. I still have copies of comics I made when I was a little kid. In my teens and early 20′s, making fanzines was a way to connect with (aka hit on) people. Nowadays, it’s mostly a compulsion to make jokes and tell stories.
Verwey: I heard you used to sell your books out of those newspaper coin boxes. True or lie?
Hessig: Halfsies. In the mid-90′s, me and my old housemate Jeff published a one-page monthly house newsletter called “Jank”(which had regular features like House Guest reviews). I’m a wuss about stealing things, but Jeff was a true genius at thievery. He stole because he could and he was good at it – caviar, the Madonna Sex book, fashion magazines – and once a newspaper box. He spray painted it silver and we set it on a corner in downtown Berkeley, near the BART station, which was our main stomping grounds back then. We kept it stocked with copies of Jank. They were free, though, no coin box.
Verwey: When will you make another Tales of Blarg??!!!
Hessig: When I find a big sack of money in the street and can stop working so many jobs all the time. I’m less productive at home and can’t afford a studio so it would also help if I could find a decent coffee shop/hidey hole in Oakland where I can work. I have simple coffee shop needs – no bullshitty communal tables or dumb counters with tall stools. No cattle call, fighting for a table like it’s dollar days at Target. Somewhere a person can drink good or ‘ok’ coffee and draw butts and not be bothered.
Verwey: How do you feel your zines have changed over the years?
Hessig: On the plus side, I can draw better now and have a better sense of design. On the negative side, I’m less oblivious and self-centered than I was in the early years, so I refrain from telling a lot of great stories because I don’t want to exploit anyone or hurt their feelings. BORING.
Verwey: Tell me your fave Gilman memory.
Hessig: I have a lot of them! Every time I saw Bikini Kill. Every time I saw Blatz. When The Queers dedicated the song “I Can’t Stop Farting” to me. When I barfed in George Hated’s pocket. When me and Hollie almost got kidnapped. Drinking in the bathroom. Drinking in the bushes. A lot of making out. I miss making out with strangers.
Verwey: What’s the story behind THIS:
Hessig: Instead of the typical ‘dude writes pop song about girl’, Bratmobile thought it was cooler for girls to write songs about other girls. So they wrote an answer song to the ‘Janelle’ song that Ben Weasel wrote/Born Against recorded. In the “Real Roxanne/Real Janelle” parallel – I guess that makes Born Against UTFO and Bratmobile Roxanne Shante. This was in 1994. Maybe I will stop hearing about it in 2024. 2054? Maybe it will be on my tombstone?
Verwey: You lived in a house- I think it was on 54th street (?)- for about a million years, right? That place always seemed like a revolving door of interesting roommates and weirdo houseguests- what was living there like? Who were some of your memorable roommates/guests?
Hessig: That was just one out of the teeming heap of punk houses I’ve lived in. I don’t know if 54th St even qualified as a “punk house” because there were a lot of fancy products in the bathroom and we had cable. The best era of that house was near the beginning when it was a stable line-up of housemates for years and it was like family. We had parties where we threw dummies off the roof and did whip-its in the bathtub. We had really cute Christmases like when Jonny Makeup came over and sang Mariah Carey songs through a toy microphone Christmas tree face. There were always a lot of funny pranks, pathos, and hi-jinx, catching roommates trying to sneak one-night stands out the window, having fake potlucks, playing made-up games like “Guess who’s under the blanket?”. It was a golden era. Good times and bad times – I’m glad it’s over and I wish it never ended.
Verwey: When did you start animating? Is it as hard as it looks?!?!
Hessig: I went to SFSU for Film and Animation in 2006. Animating is really hard. It takes a long, long time. I thought maybe I would make some big bucks doing it, but I really hate that industry standard 3D animation. It looks ugly and I’m bad at it. Of course I wound up gravitating towards hand drawn and stop motion animating which is extremely labor intensive and you can’t really get a job doing that stuff.
Check out Janelle’s animations HERE!
Verwey: You’re also a musician- what do you play? What bands are you/were you in?
Hessig: I started playing drums in punk bands when I was about 15. I’ve been a lot of bands you’ve never heard of: Clit Wrex, The Clams, The Tourettes, Baby Jail, Panty Raid, Rat Attack, The Help, Suburban Bitch, Dirty Charlie, etc, etc. Right now I’m playing in a band called Wet Spots.
Verwey: I know you’ve illustrated a lot of record covers and flyers- can you do a quick roll call off the top of your head of bands you’ve worked with?
Hessig: I’ve done zillions of flyers. There’s no way to remember. I’ve done cover art for Raooul, Midnite Snaxx, Bobby Joe Ebola, The Criminals, The Knock-Ups, and some others.
Verwey: When did you start working at Last Gasp? What’s it like?
Hessig: This is my third time working at Last Gasp since 1997. These days I’m the Marketing Director. Last Gasp is a genuine freak sanctuary steeped in SF underground publishing history. They published my all-time favorite comics anthology, Weirdo, and also Dori Seda, and tons of other great stuff. I get to be surrounded by mountains of great books and art all the time. Ron has a gallery in back that’s like a combo of the best museum and thrift store you ever saw – vintage freak show posters, original art from J Bradley Johnson & R Crumb, taxidermy two-headed cows, Elton John pinball. It’s nice that there’s a job that utilizes so much of my unique skill set – vast comic book knowledge, video editing, publishing, event organizing, writing, design, etc. I get to be myself and I get to be creative and I get to work hard for people that I care about. It’s a good gig. I love them.
Verwey: What projects are you working on now?
Hessig: I’ve been doing a lot of freelance stuff for other people, but I’m trying to do less of that now so that I can start putting together a new Blarg. I’d like to get back to working on my book which was going to be a collection of both old and new stuff. I feel like my eyeballs might go on strike when I look at some of that old stuff, though.
Verwey: Who are some of your favorite artists that should be more famous than they are?
Hessig: Liz Suburbia, Dawn Frasch, Vanessa Davis, Nikki Burch, Chris Cilla, Lizz Hickey, Cassie J. Sneider, Mats?!, Avi Spivak, Jay Howell, Skinner. Dead people like Shawn Kerri and Dori Seda. This could be a really long list.
And if you wanna hang out with Janelle and I in REAL LIFE, we’re organizing a book signing for Hi-Fructose Magazine Box Set Edition 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Feb. 5. (Look at Janelle’s awesome promotional video HERE)