Meet the Author: Jessixa Bagley
Well, I’ve always loved to draw and ever since I was a kid I’ve made comics and books. I when I grew up, I always wanted to have my own comic strip and illustrate picture books. Eventually towards the end of college I started to figure out the whole comics thing and started getting published. The book thing took a lot longer to turn into a reality, but it finally did and now the 7 year old inside me is finally satisfied.
I graduated from Cornish in 2004 for painting and printmaking so my “training” comes more from fine art. I really feel like though my fine art background helped forge my visual voice as an illustrator though- I’m always trying to bring fine art sensibility into my illustration. Being from Portland, Oregon was also very influential in my artistic style. The dark woods from my childhood is a big part of the world my characters come from. My work is also inspired by a mishmash of classic illustrators like Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter. You just can’t beat little animals in olde tyme clothes.
Both ‘Boats for Papa’ and ‘Before I Leave’ deal with themes of loss and cherishing moments. Did you intend for these books to deal with “heavy” issues, how did the stories develop?
I didn’t set out exactly to write books with heavy themes. The first picture books I tried to write were much more along the fun and silly side. It wasn’t until I opened up my heart and looked at my own life experiences that my work became more emotionally rich. That old saying about writing what you know is a cliché because it’s true. Honesty really can create the best work.
Boats for Papa was a very inspired story- some sort of intervention by my muse or something that was sick of me writing bad stories- it just sort of came to me one morning. But the truth is that after I wrote it I realized that it was so completely about me and my childhood. My parents divorced when I was young and my father lived in New York (he later passed away when I was 17) and my mother and I lived in Oregon. My relationship with my dad was mostly through correspondence, letters and phone calls. So my mother primarily raised me and she was always encouraging me to make art -like Buckley.
Before I Leave came from several experiences from my childhood of having to move away from best friends. It’s a common theme in books, but I feel like it’s a very hard thing to go through as a child. My take on it is that it’s almost being written in the style of a letter from one friend to another.
Buckley seems so perfect as a beaver, I can’t imagine him as anything else. How do you develop the characters, do you have an animal in mind or does the personality shape the visual?
Buckley was a beaver from the initial thought. It was just how it had to be. People have asked me why, but beavers make things out of wood and they eat it- so it was only natural to me that they would be the best woodworkers! Also being from Oregon where there are beavers everywhere, I’m sure that had something to do with it. I did live in Beaverton when I was kid!
I love your work I’ve seen in The Stranger! Your comic work is more ‘adult’ but also seems to lean towards the anthro-food more than animals. Why does a talking ice cream seem more likely to cuss than an aardvark? Any food-themed picture books in the works?
Thanks so much for the comics shout-out! I love that side of my art and don’t get to do it nearly as much as I’d like. I could geek out for way too long talking about my favorite ink and brushes for making comics…Yes my comics skew a little more adult than my picture books, but I’m a pretty clean cartoonist by comparison to most. I can’t help it. I’m a bit of a square and never felt like making “adult” comics was exactly my bag. My clean-o-meter is closer to Calvin and Hobbes than Black Hole.
The anthropomorphic food thing to me is similar to the anthro-animals. They are just more interesting than drawing people. And for comics, talking food is just funny. Especially hot dogs. It sort of softens up the potential for the work to get too adult I guess. And I have no clue why an ice cream is more likely to cuss than and aardvark- but you are absolutely right! The ice cream would be the one to dish out a choice swear word to James Lipton without a blink of an eye. It’s an ice cream world and we are just living in it.
What’s next? Tell us about any future projects, shows, etc you have coming up!