Cult cartoonist Jesse Jacobs selects his favourite frames

Guiding us through some of his favourite work, the artist unpicks the secrets of his psychedelia

TextAlex DenneyIllustrationJesse Jacobs

Like the alien creatures he so lovingly sketches, Jesse Jacobs’ comics seem to have “evolved along a different evolutionary pathway”. The Canadian comic-book artist has spent the best part of a decade honing his talent for bizarre flights of fancy on cult indie imprints like Koyama and Hollow Press, taking in parallel universes hidden behind washing machines and safari trips through planets populated with strange Lovecraftian beasties. Tapping deep reservoirs of the uncanny, his art is sinister, sublime, funny and, you suspect, on first-name terms with the kind of psychedelic drugs that’ll melt your face clean off.

“I think everything is strange and psychedelic if you pull away from it,” says Jacobs, who is reluctant to go into the gory details of his own drug use – though he does admit he’s had some pretty “cosmic” experiences with salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic plant used by shamanic cultures in Mexico. In an interview with Hazlitt from last year, the artist complained that “so many people (now) are allergic to ideas of spirituality”; when I ask him over email about the militant atheism espoused by Richard Dawkins et al, you can practically hear him rolling his third eye. “It’s dull to me,” he writes. “The extreme atheist point of view assumes that our consciousness is capable of understanding the cosmic order of things. Maybe it is, but if so, it’s going to take a lot of work. Inner work, I mean.”

Jacobs is currently developing his first video game, the rather cool-looking Spinch; in the meantime, we invited him to share a selection of his favourite frames.

Tree Creature, Safari Honeymoon

“I was so happy with this tree creature that it ended up becoming the opening page of my book, Safari Honeymoon. Though it is a scary and gross comic, it is a love story, and this panel encapsulates the general vibe of that book. It is a message of hope couched inside a bizarre and alien framework. When I drew the book, I was interested in contrasting the natural world with our constructed one. The idea of portraying a wealthy newlywed couple on a luxury safari in a hyper-dangerous landscape was a device to do that.”

Animals, By This Shall You Know Him

“I enjoy drawing from nature, but my life drawing skills are limited so I’m forced to lean heavily on my imagination. I used to do it much better, but I let those muscles atrophy. I had a hard time finding reference photos of animals from an aerial view, (so) I used a picture of a Noah’s Ark toy set for a lot of these animal poses. Also, in the bottom right corner is my dog Desmond, who is the only animal going in the other direction. She spooks easily.”

Ramen Man, Japan Comic

“A few years ago, I was lucky to travel to Tokyo for a big comics festival, and this is a panel from a short story I was asked to draw about the trip. I was only there for a week, so my takeaway was superficial, but this drawing summarises the two things I focused on while there – the food, and the incredible amount of cool cartoon characters on everything. Even the weather report had clouds and sun icons with happy faces on them. As someone who has long appreciated cute faces placed upon everyday objects, I was overcome with happiness.”

Strings, By This Shall You Know Him

“I remember flying over an expanse of farmland and being struck by the perfect patchwork of agricultural geometric patterns, contrasted with the uncultivated forest. It’s weird how, as humans, we are nature, but the things we make seem so aesthetically different from the things built by nature. We like straight lines and hard angles, but nature seems to prefer wiggly, wavy patterns, at least on the surface.”

Botanical Dimensions, Bumper Crop

“I spent five years working as a driver with an independent organic food company. I would drive to a lot of small farms and it was such a privilege to get to know these righteous farmers. This comic was drawn around that time, when I was inspired by people rejecting the incredibly wasteful and sick contemporary food system. We began growing our own garden. I was especially taken by a local permaculture farm. The philosophy of permaculture acknowledges the interconnectedness of everything, creating a system that encompasses not only the production of food, but how we structure ourselves as a society, modelling our lives on the patterns and features in natural ecosystems.”

Untitled, They Live in Me

“This was a challenging comic for me to draw for a few reasons. Hollow Press is an Italian horror publisher, and straight horror is not part of my wheelhouse. It was also the first black-and-white comic I had drawn in years. I drew this around the time I moved into a new house, which is over 100 years old. My girlfriend and I felt uncomfortable in the space. It could have been a reaction to the change of environment, but the bad vibes were apparent. We burned a lot of sage, cleansed the space, and with time it began feeling like home. I believe that spaces contain different energies, a tangible external force that permeates an environment.”

Untitled, Crawl Space

“I wasn’t sure which panel to choose from my newest book, Crawl Space. This is a from a spread when some children discover a gateway to new dimension, a sort of astral plane-type space, and they’re trying to figure out what it is. Some of the kids think it’s ‘chemicals in the brain’, while others accept it on a more profound level. It’s loosely based off of my own psychedelic experiences; they have informed my view of reality and influenced my spiritual life. But some of my materialistic friends, who have also taken the same psychedelics, simply dismiss it as nothing. I guess we’re wired differently, because I cannot understand how someone could dismiss the psychedelic experience as some kind of superficial recreational diversion.”

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