December 14, 2010

Just Beastly, Make No Bones About It

An Interview with Illustrator Jared Moraitis

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click any picture to engage enlargation drive

Okay, I have some more confessions. Yes, I know it’s starting to seem like I have something weighing on my conscience with all these admissions, but trust me, the concept of ‘conscience’ – and most probably ‘consciousness’ as well – does not come into play here.

It’s just that I like... no, correction: I REALLY like cool drawings of zombies. No, I don’t know why. I don’t particularly get into movies of that genre and I really have no interest to watch any films or shows that don’t either feature Milla Jovovich in various stages of (un)dress or knee-slapping British humorists (preferably dressed in the latter case). I just have some feeling in my head (heart? Which part is it again that has the feeling bits?) that if you can get your art to the point that you have mastered the ‘common’ depiction of Victus Mortuus (neat huh? That means ‘living dead’!! [Thanks
Uncle Google!!]), then you will go places! Hey, if a multi-billion dollar arm of the Disney Universe – formerly known as Marvel Comics – can even ‘go there’ with all their big money-makers in tow, then you know it’s got to be important. And no, I’m not talking about the next ‘Toy Story’ either, even though I do understand that some of the toys buy the proverbial plastic farm in Part 3...

But for better or worse, zombies are an indelible part of our public psyche (and yes, I caught the Freudian bit tied into marriage there as well). In addition, I think that in all honesty, many of us are drawn to not only the macabre but also the ability to tie-in and make cool cross-overs throughout a vast variety of our social and cultural markers as well as milestones over the past 40 to 50 years or so. Especially when they can be incorporated into talented art-work that is not only unique and stylish in form but also in the cleverness of how it is ultimately presented. And that is something that Jared Moraitis is very good at!!

I recently caught a glimpse of Jared’s work – just a ‘simple’ one of the ‘mascot’ icons for the new incarnation of his free-lance illustration work
BeastPop Artworks – and was immediately hooked! I went on to find that Jared is a masterful story-teller, using rich flowing lines coupled with an intelligent subtlety not found every day to get across his message. As such, I hope you’ll also have a good time getting to know this talented artist and developing a taste for his brains... no, no, I mean his very enjoyable abilities and offerings!!


Jared, welcome to ZN HQ. To get started, can you tell us a little bit about how your journey began in terms of becoming a freelance illustrator and pop-culture/pulp/sci-fi/comic-book fiend?
Like most young folks, I didn’t leave high school with a great sense of direction. I was struggling to find my way in life. All I really loved doing at that time was drawing – and making silly movies with my friends – but I wasn’t very good at it. But unfortunately, I didn’t pursue my interest in art with a proper sense of passion and motivation back then.

I tried going to college for fine art, but just wasn’t ready for it. So I dropped out, got married, and found a ‘real job’. Alas, neither the marriage nor the job lasted, but the seeds of my passion for and ability to focus on art began to bloom in the wake of my dissatisfaction with my factory job! So I decided to go back to art school and pour as much of myself into it as I could. And that’s where I began my journey as a freelance illustrator.

As I was browsing your galleries, I kept a list of different influences and inspirations I was seeing: rock and roll, magazine covers, video games and comics, vintage ads, television shows and movies, with even some iconic Catholic imagery thrown in to boot. If you had to choose (you don’t) a single sort of ‘that was it’ influence out of all that, what would you say it was/is?
I grew up with a pretty solid and advanced sense of curiosity and awareness of the pop-cultural landscape. I was one of those fortunate ‘Star Wars’ kids whose life was utterly changed by the sudden arrival of this majestic and imaginative behemoth. It ignited something inside me that still burns to this day, not only as an artist, but also as a collector of ‘cool toys’ and memorabilia.

Music has also always played a big part of my cultural foundation. I never really dug typical ‘kid’s music’ as a youth, gravitating instead towards some of the music my parents owned (on vinyl back then - I feel old)[ZN: no, you’re not, but this makes ME feel old...]. The music of Queen, Mountain, Pink Floyd, the Who, Deep Purple, Abba, the Rolling Stones, John Baldry, Led Zeppelin - all of these were on constant rotation at my house growing up. I would sit and draw while these bands and musicians took me to places in my mind that I just couldn’t get to with the help of the more juvenile fare I was ‘supposed’ to have been listening to.

Seeing the
original ALIEN film in the theater at the tender age of 5 was also a major cultural milestone. It stunned me, it terrified me, and it gave me nightmares for years to come; but it also touched me and awakened a love for horror and things disturbing (and a rabid need to collect all things ALIEN)! My father owned the original comics adaptation of the movie by Walt Simonson (published by Heavy Metal, which I still own), and I poured over the pages, copying drawings and trying to capture that beautiful nightmarish creature on paper.

So all of this began a thirst for everything from EERIE and CREEPY magazines to Frazetta paperbacks to Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics. And don’t get me started on the explosion of the video game arcade and home video game consoles! I was in heaven!

Jared, you’ve already had some ‘unpleasant’ experiences with ‘bootlegging’ or to put it bluntly, people just plain ripping off your images and selling them under their own name or brand. They’ve been seen being sold by street vendors in NYC, being pumped out en masse by manufacturers in the Philippines, and have even been offered by other graphic ‘artists’ and comic book companies (not to mention having someone even try to win a pumpkin carving contest with your ‘ZOMBAMA’ design). Shoot, even a few days ago we saw another version of a cheap ‘copy’, ‘move a bit’ and ‘paste’ version of this same shirt (noting that I will NOT give the copier the satisfaction of including their image here).

Obviously, this is maddening and difficult to defend. But how do you balance the need to get your ‘stuff’ out there in the ether vs. making sure it doesn’t get absconded and abused?
All I can do right now is put a watermark on almost every image I put on the web, to at least confound and create difficulty for these thieves. I’ve had to block a few folks on Facebook as well who hail from some countries that are hotbeds for bootlegging if they seem suspicious. All I can do after that is send threatening letters or emails.

Sure, ‘they’ say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but thievery? That’s just being a douchebag.

ZN extra: Jared recently included this ‘tale’ of a communication with one such bag of zee douche'ing: ebay bootlegger responded to my "firm" letter with this:

’I will definitely remove this listing. I'm sorry for the trouble and
if you could forward me something where I can see your other work so this issue will not happen again that would be appreciated.

Or unless you would like to keep the listing active and take 50% of MY profit.
We could leave it up. But that would be up to you.’

Still, you obviously need to get your message out. What have you found to be your most effective means of communicating with not only your current fans but also the poor deprived masses that are not yet hooked on your style? (btw: loved the entry: ‘GOD HELP ME, I'M ON TWITTER!)
I use Facebook and Twitter (as well as DeviantArt) to promote what’s going on with my design work as featured on my blog. I get far more response from those two outlets than I get comments on my blog, which I don’t mind.

I also like being able to keep up with other artists and what they’re working on (unless they post a bunch of political or philosophical mumbo-jumbo in lieu of art-related news). Still, I don’t like the amount of time I have to spend on the computer doing promotion, posting my work across multiple sites. I could be using that time to work on actual art! I need an assistant who is more computer-savvy than I (and knows how to build websites, because I am clueless).

I have to know: why do gorillas – beautiful and majestic creatures that they are – hold such a special place in your heart?
You know, I wish I had a cool story like I was rescued by a tribe of gorillas when my parents’ plane crashed in the jungle and they nursed me back to health until a rescue chopper could come... but the fact is I just think they’re cool! They have a very powerful form and there’s some fun shapes to play with there.

Same with squids and octopi. Fun to draw.

After going through your blogs and the often well chronicled steps it takes to get your works ‘ready to go’, I have a couple of questions:
You seem to ‘labor’ for lack of a better word with different color combinations for many pieces. Why do you think that is?
I feel sometimes like I don’t have a very good sense of color, or maybe it’s just that I don’t have much confidence in my choices. I have to struggle to remember all the things I was taught in color theory class and I do a lot of research and experimenting to give me several color choices to choose from.

Even then, when I think I’ve nailed it, I’ll let it rest, come back to it the next day and think it looks rubbish, so I’ll start all over again. Sometimes I’ll try to overcomplicate things and it takes me a while to step back and simplify.

How do you know then when it’s time to stop fiddling about and put the pen down? Do you have a kind of built-in ‘OK that’s enough’ mechanism (say something that acts as if someone slammed the piano lid down on your fingers)? For example, you share a number of postings with the aptly named ‘
She-Spartan’ as she progressed over time (ignoring for now the issues with Facebook concerning some specific bits of her bobs). When did you know she was finished?
Well, many of my pieces probably still aren’t ‘finished’. It’s funny, but as much as I complain about guys like George Lucas going back and constantly monkeying with his movies, trying to ‘improve’ them, I can understand that mindset.

As I constantly evolve and improve as an artist, I go back and look at work that was done years, or even months ago and think ‘I can do that much better now’ or see a flaw that wasn’t evident before that needs patching or tweaking. I have a whole drawer full of old sketches and roughs that I intend to return to for the sake of improving and really turning them in to something swell.

Usually, though, if it’s work for a client, the deadline or commission fee will determine when I ‘put the pen down’. If they need it by the 4th, then I better be done by the 4th. Or, if they’ve only paid me $500 for the design, I need to make sure I don’t spend so much time on it that I’m only making minimum wage by the time it’s done. I also have to try and avoid going back and revamping too many old designs because I need to keep moving forward. That’s a trap that’s hard to get out of.

Even though you do try out a lot of different colors and even shading combinations before you submit things, often your works are ‘adjusted’ by the end-user. How does that work contractually, I mean, once the image is sold, is that it for you? How does it make you feel when you see a slight or even dramatic change?
Oh, I usually hate it! I’m fine with clients coming to me and saying ‘this color in the zombie’s intestines doesn’t look right. Can we change it to more orangey than pinkish?’ I’m fine with that, even if I think it doesn’t look quite right. At least they’ve let me know so I can change it.

Still, I’ve seen some of my shirt designs where both parties have agreed that MY final colors and design are pretty good and ready for print. Then I see the actual printed shirt and they’ve either changed colors or ‘omitted’ certain elements that I thought helped the design ‘pop’. For example, one design I was particularly unhappy with when it was printed had some color changes that ended up being not only a bit garish, but had also obviously been done without the care and attention I would have given it, because they missed a chunk of color on something. The average person, of course, probably wouldn’t notice or care, but it stuck out like a neon sign to me.

You’ve mentioned that ‘I've always had trouble keeping a consistently updated sketchbook, and I've lately fallen into only doing sketches for whatever job I had currently on my plate’. Why is that and how do you eventually force yourself to ‘keep at it’?
A lot of that is because I just don’t have the time to do much ‘practice drawing’ or leisurely sketching, which is a shame and results in my stunted development, I’m sure. When you’re doing freelance and you’ve gotta bring the money in or the bills don’t get paid and there’s no such thing as a regular paycheck, you try to make every bit of drawing you do count towards that final image or design.

For example, if the job entails monkeys, I’ll get out all my monkey references and draw up some preliminary sketches. But there’s never any time where I’m sitting on a park bench sketching people or nature, unless the job calls for it. Plus, it’s hard for me to draw on tiny little sketchbooks. I need to have room to move around!

I do try to make it a habit of sketching from imagination whenever I can – you know, doing creature design and concept art and such, just to keep in practice.

Continued in
Part 2

Just Beastly, Make No Bones About It

An Interview with Illustrator Jared Moraitis

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click any picture to stop squinting at it

Jared, one thing I am curious about is that before BeastPop Artworks was ‘born’ this past September, you put your previous venture and even blog called ‘PopMonkey’ to rest. What’s it like ‘killing off’ a blog or an identity like that?
My life has changed so much from the time I was ‘PopMonkey’ that a brand new identity made sense and was necessary. My personal life has been pretty tumultuous since I graduated art school, and I wanted to make as clean a break from that time as possible.

Plus the name ‘Pop Monkey’ had recently been appropriated by several other business ventures, most notably I suppose is a new TV production outfit that goes by the name (and has a dreadfully poor mascot). Thus, BeastPop ArtWorks was born! BeastPop is also for me a bit more in-tune with what I do and who I am.

You’ve also mentioned that you are ‘continually growing and developing as an artist’ and at least trying to trend ‘away from the overly cartoony/simple aspects of (your) work that held sway earlier on’. What are you doing to push your own creativity in a new direction?
I’m trying to bring more detail, dynamism and unique techniques into my work. My skill at inking with a brush has improved ten-fold over the past several years, which also helps.

Plus, I’m looking more closely at the artists who influence me, spending time pouring over their work. But I’m going beyond just being impressed by them or doing something as basic as trying to copy them; instead, I’m trying to see the thought behind the decisions they make in composition, lighting, technique, design, and more.

I found your various inputs about your inking processes, including scanning and all, very interesting in a kind of ‘I wish I understood that’ kind of way (for example, with your ‘
UGLY STICK’ work). Can you talk us a little bit through your process please? Are you mostly a ‘pen in hand’ artist or do you primarily rely on the various soft- and hard-wares out there today to create your work? Or is there some sort of happy medium (every pun intended) between the two?
I don’t think I could ever depart from the tactile fun of inking and drawing by hand with real pencils, pens and brushes on real paper. But, having said that, this may just be because my technological capabilities do not allow me to produce work as polished and detailed as I can do by hand.

If I had a powerful computer with a Cintiq and the latest, coolest drawing software, I might be satisfied working solely digitally. But as it stands now I am working on an outdated iMac with an old version of Photoshop and an old Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. I would love to be able to do a lot more ‘painting’ in the computer, but my system can’t handle the speed necessary for me to open up Painter and tear into it. I need a grant!

Here’s a description of my current working method: first, I do the sketching and put the roughs on paper. Then I scan them into Photoshop, resize, manipulate, add text, etc. Print larger and refine and tighten the drawing with my lightbox. Scan again, blow it up, manipulate it or whatever other adjustments need to be made. Convert tight pencils into a blueline image, print it out on nice bristol paper. Ink with brush and pens over blueline drawing. Scan inks, clean and resize in Photoshop.

Usually I will print the inks again in blueline and ink the shading/ highlight elements on a separate sheet of paper, scan these in and layer them over the inks to assist with coloring so I don’t have to muck about too much with working out the shading in Photoshop. This also creates a nice hand-drawn look to the shading and is where I can imprint my unique style. The rest of the coloring, shading, halftones, text, etc. is usually handled in Photoshop.

Over the years, your work has been sold via tee-shirts (see also below), skateboard designs, logos, convention banners, coffee mugs, bags, buttons, posters, boxer shorts and
thongs (‘Dirty Rat’ themed no less = this year’s holiday gift to ALL my family!!). With all that in mind, where would you really enjoy seeing your work ‘presented’ in terms of where it hasn’t been yet (or as much as you want)?
I would love to have some of my character concepts and drawings turned into vinyl toys and/or action figures! The world of vinyl toys is expansive yet there’s so much repetition and boring design out there. I mean, how many stubby bear/bunny shaped characters can one stand before you go crazy? I want to see some radical cool designs captured in vinyl.

I would also love to create an animated series and do all the character designs and such. This would scratch my artistic itch as well as my creative writing itch!

I recently had the pleasure to interview
Chow Hon Lam of ‘Flying Mouse Designs’, a really great guy operating out of Malaysia who has become somewhat of a ‘modern legend’ in tee-shirt design circles. I asked him as well about what advantages or even disadvantages do you see trying to ply your trade in this area? And why tee-shirts instead of fashion or even more ‘traditionally’ oriented graphic arts?
I personally love to wear super-cool tee-shirt designs, whether it be rock band shirts, pop-culture based shirts or shirts featuring just plain cool designs. So to me it’s just natural that this would be something I’d want to be a part of. It just seemed the easiest way for me at this stage in my career to get my work out into the world.

Tee-shirt design just fits really well together with the kind of art I do. It doesn’t have any deep meaning: it’s fun and cool, and it isn’t designed to ‘sell’ anything outside of itself (except maybe furthering my brand name). I’d like to branch out more into CD album covers, skateboard design, and poster art, all of which are fairly closely tied.

I promise not to dwell too long on this but I do want to ask about the ‘ZOMBAMA’ design and what turned out to be almost literally the brain-eating mania that followed it’s release, with
one national publication calling it ‘one of the most stunning post-inauguration (graphic art) successes’.

On one hand, it must be quite satisfying to enjoy this kind of success with a piece (selling in just 24 hours more than 1,300 shirts on - triple the site's previous record-holder). What was it like for you when that took off like it did and even later when it literally would sell out printings as soon as they were announced?
It was thrilling and took me completely by surprise. Folks can go read my original blog post for the details behind the origin of that design, but I had no idea it would take off the way it did. I had approached TeeFury to see if they’d be interested in printing a different design of mine, but they picked the ZOMBAMA piece off my blog (and I really just considered it a fun throw-away design to poke fun at Shepard Fairey) and wanted to print that instead.

The sales figures stunned me, and even more so, when after the day of the sale, my inbox began to be deluged with a steady torrent of emails begging for another chance to own the shirt. I had to take matters into my own hand and get it printed by a screenprinter and fill the orders myself (it’s too dear to me now to sell the rights to the design to anybody). It went through three printings before TeeFury decided to reprint it, and I’m still getting emails from people who want the shirt. I may have to do another printing here soon.

ZN update 1: as shown here, the ZOMBAMA shirt is in fact on sale NOW for a limited time in the
UK via!!!

ZN update 2: in addition, the design ‘Glass Bast’rd’ shown at the end of this blog
will be offered via under the name ‘Not Kool’ starting December 21st!! Just in time for December 22nd everywhere!

On the other hand, is there any sense for you of 'oh no, I don’t want to be known as the ‘ZOMBAMA’ guy the rest of my life'? How does an artist eventually balance the two extremes, namely, a sudden and significant success with the potential ‘pigeon-holing’ that might naturally follow it? Like, do people phone you up and say ‘oh please please do me in Zombie form?’ (just thinking maybe Sarah Palin had called).
I have only had a couple requests so far for a Zombamafication-type design, but one was from a really distasteful ‘band’ that I simply did not want to be associated with, and the other guy just simply couldn’t afford me, I think.

In all honesty, I don’t mind being pigeon-holed for now. It’s the piece that started me on the road to recognition, so it deserves to be one of those things I’m most associated with right now. Most importantly, I definitely think I am growing and moving above and beyond that! I am convinced that there will be much more that I create that will cause people to take notice. So I don’t think I’m forever going to be known as ‘the Zombama guy’.

I would note though for our readers that more recently, your ‘historical Japanese’ take on PAC-MAN (shown above) has also experienced a good level of sales (true story: I had been looking at this pic for a while before I realized what the pattern on his skirt was... I’m still sore from the headslap). This raises another interesting aspect of the work of modern ‘pop art’: how important is it for an artist to really do his homework and research a piece before getting started?

In addition, and here I want to play devil’s advocate a bit: how do you eventually draw a line between ‘basing’ a piece on something you find and avoiding the very processes which have seen your own works ripped off?
With the Pac-Man samurai design, avoiding rip-off territory was easy:
the back-story I included in my blog post about the old scroll print and the ‘real’ inspiration behind the creation of the game was all baloney! I made it all up!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still did my research, and I always do, even if it’s just to make sure I’m not accidentally ripping something else off or ripping it off in just the right way (there’s a very fine line). For example, with my recent
Boba Fett/Speed Racer piece, I wanted to do a fun mash-up of Boba with some other lesser-known (to me) pop-culture icon. When I stumbled over the Speed Racer imagery it just seemed to fit, plus it allowed for some minor commentary on Lucas and his Star Wars empire.

I immediately scoured the Internet to see if anybody else had run with the idea before me, and this is usually what I do before sketching even begins. I’ve had many a ‘brilliant’ idea that it turns out were already conceived and executed by other artists.

You’ve also mentioned being selected to appear in various collections (e.g. the
SPECTRUM annual art book) but having just missed out on others, as with the Darkstalkers Tribute shown here. What does that mean to you both personally and also professionally when you get invited to be involved in something like this?
Well I wasn’t ‘invited’ to either, unless you count open submissions as an invitation. The SPECTRUM thing was a nice surprise and an honour to be included in. Things like the DARKSTALKERS TRIBUTE are disappointing, not only because my design didn’t get featured, but because I’m not too keen on that sort of ‘contest’ in the end. It’s just that you pour all this time and effort and passion into a piece, hoping to be published in the book.

But in reality, the publishers of things like that are essentially getting a lot of free work which they can make money off of by selling the book, and there are no payments or prizes to published artists outside of a free copy of the book. I’m probably going to stay away from such things in the future, but I will be submitting to SPECTRUM again this year.

My son and I have enjoyed looking through your character designs for ‘
COLLIDE-O-SCOPE trying to imagine what neat stories must go along with the gang. How did the concept pitch go?
COLLIDE-O-SCOPE was actually my senior thesis at Ringling School of Art and Design. I came up with a pitch for an animated series (or maybe comic book) based around a crazy, mega-popular rock band. This included a ‘series bible’, full character descriptions and finished concept art for all the major characters. It was tremendously fun to work on, but also tremendously stressful as it involved many sleepless deadline nights.

I have yet to really do anything with the pitch outside of simply posting it on my old blog, but I have every intention of dusting it off and doing something with it soon. I hope.

Can you share with us one thing that no one or let’s say not many people know about you that will not get you arrested or otherwise in trouble?
I collect spores, molds and fungus. No, really..

Other than that, I do seem to have a predilection for ‘starving artist’ type pursuits. I think that if I had not chosen to be an illustrator or had no artistic talent, I would have traveled the path of the musician instead. I love music and I loved creating music back when I had time to. I love singing, playing bass, guitar - I just simply don’t have the time to pursue both, so the world gets BeastPop ArtWorks instead of BeastPop MusicWorks.

What else would you like to add as we begin to wind things down?
I think I’ve been long-winded enough, so I’ll just say if you like my work, follow me on Facebook and at my blog (and maybe Twitter, if you’re nasty) and spread the word.

And, hey, if there’s any wealthy philanthropists out there looking to give a hand to a starving artist whose entire computer set-up is dangerously close to crapping out on him, I’d make a perfect candidate for a large grant of some kind. I promise to use the money wisely and put it towards fancy equipment that will boost my production speed... and maybe as well a screen printing set-up so I can print my own shirts and posters. I will also swear loyalty to you should you become the duke of your own uh... dukedom after the zombie apocalypse AND I’ll name my next pet after you.

Plus, if there’s any lawyers out there, I might soon be needing the pro-bono services of someone who is equipped to handle George Lucas’ attack dogs! BeastPop out!


Jared Moraitis and BeastPop ArtWorks are currently to be found in the foothills of the glorious and extremely visit-worthy Blue Ridge Mountain area in Hickory, North Carolina (yes, I have family from this region who would benefit from increased tourism, why do you ask?). He’s got oodles and oodles of honest-to-goodness talent and we are really looking forward to seeing how his next projects come out!!

Keep checking back at his blog and/or social media sites often, as he likes to keep his viewership and fans posted on how given projects or pieces are advancing!! Plus, it’s a great way to keep abreast (oops, sorry Facebook!!) of the tee-shirts or other design voting’s going on! In addition (or ‘Plus, The Return’), he occasionally re-posts some real-life ads for freelance illustration which are totally stupid but funny as ... well, they’re really funny, let’s leave it at that (for the kids, you know).

To help you with your own enjoying and finding actions, again you can find the following stuff at the, uh, following links:

Illustration Blog:


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Jared Moraitis, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.