JD King Profile
posted: July 2, 2007
I flew up to Syracuse a few weeks back to meet JD King, age 56, who has been tickling our imagination with his art and music for decades.

"I was born in New York City, in Hell's Kitchen. My parents moved there from Minnesota, and then about a year later they moved to Flushing, Queens and then when I was four they moved to Middletown, Connecticut, because my dad got a job with The Weekly Reader. Then he got a job being a ghostwriter with Aetna and we got a house in the burbs, but it wasn't like a development where there were other suburban kids. There was just one house that was built at the same time as ours next door, but both of those kids were older than me and there was a house across the street and down a little ways, but it was a girl who was years older than me, and her really whiny, bat-blind kid brother.
"In my freshman year at The Maryland Institute College of Art, one of the first things that happened to me was an attempted mugging, then another attempted mugging right after that, which made me really paranoid about going out at night, so I stayed in a lot. Then I transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
"When I was at RISD, I switched majors like crazy. When I first got there, I was in illustration, and the teacher gave us this assignment to do a poster of a rock band or peace or an ecology theme. It seemed really lame to me. I kept putting it off until it was the night before it was due. For some sort of inspiration, I turned to a bottle of Ripple or some awful kind of soda-wine. I got bombed and I didn't do the assignment. Hungover in the morning, I said to myself, 'I'm going to switch majors. I have friends that are painters, I'll switch to painting.' I didn't know anything about painting.
"It was the early '70s and you just got a pass-fail grade, and you could do just about anything, really. One of my painting teachers was Richard Merkin, he does a lot of New Yorker stuff now, and I would only show up to about one third of the classes. He was going to flunk me, but at the end of the semester I brought in some comics I'd done and he liked them, so he gave me a pass, even though they weren't paintings
"At that time I was really influenced by EC comics from the '50s, so I was doing crude versions of that. I didn't know anything about the right kind of pen points to use. I just went to the store and got calligraphy pen points, and used those. I didn't know what I was doing. But I can tell you exactly what I thought was going to happen in my life. I thought when I graduated I would get a really cheap apartment back home with a few high school chums of mine and I would break into underground comics. But, number one, my work wasn't good enough and number two, underground comics were already imploding in 1974 when I graduated. So, I just had crummy jobs, lived with my parents for about a year and a half and then I heard about a job opening in Providence at the local art supply store. I applied for that, got it, moved back to Providence, lived there for a year and a half, met new people, played guitar in a punk band, hung out. Some of the musicians were moving to New York in '77 so I thought, 'Hey, I'll give it a shot.'
When I moved to New York, my little dream was either to break into comics somehow or get a band together. My biggest ambition, musically, was to play the CB's and Max's circuit. Nothing national, let alone international; just get something up and running. And when I first moved to town I started doing some comics for The Village Voice, so I had this big rush of, 'Yes! I'm here, I'm doing stuff for the Voice, this is great!' Then that came to an abrupt halt. But the music stuff with my band, The Coachmen, started to take off a little bit, and we were playing around a bit, at CB's a few times, Max's once, and loft parties, stuff like that. But I was getting real sick of trying to find gigs, making the booking calls, and in 1980 I said, 'Okay, I'm not making any more phone calls,' and that was the end of The Coachmen. One of the guys went on to another band and did very well and the rest of the people went off and did other things.
"That summer, in 1980, a new comic publication came out called Comical Funnies. It was put out by John Holmstrom, who had done Punk Magazine, and this new cartoonist, Peter Bagge. I loved the first issue and I sent them some samples and Bagge called back and said they'd like to put my stuff in the second issue. That was the happiest day of my artistic life! Then I got to meet other cartoonists, because all this time I hadn't known any other cartoonists - at RISD people were illustrators. They might have liked comic books, but they were illustrators - serious illustrators. I had a friend at RISD who loved comic books since the time he was a kid, but he was too embarrassed to buy them in public because he thought it made him look like he was mentally feeble or something. I loved walking into a drugstore and buying GI Combat and Swamp Thing.
"So the second issue of Comical Funnies ran some of my stuff and with the third issue I was very involved. And when that died, John Holmstrom and I put out something called Stop! Magazine. It was sort of like Comical Funnies and sort of like his previous publication, Punk.
"My style at that time was somewhere in between underground and punk. It wasn't the jazzy kind of look I have now. That started around 1986: I had got to this point where I felt like, 'I'm doing what I'm doing and it's never going to change.' I was happy with it, but also a little bored with it. One day I went to the Museum of Modern Art and I was looking at Cubists and Klee and Miro and I thought, 'I love this stuff!' and I also felt like there's something in it that I could take and apply to comics or graphics. So I started edging into it and I got a little experimental. Also around this time I got serious about jazz, and that began to influence how I drew. By '88 I began getting real illustration work, for New York Magazine and, again, the Voice and New York Press, etc. and could support myself.
"What was really odd is that my first marriage was falling apart around then, and I had to move out of the apartment, so that summer of 1988 I had three addresses. I stayed at a friend's painting studio for about a month, I stayed at another friend's place for about a month and I stayed with my brother and his roommate, way the hell up town, on 72nd Street, all the way east, for about a month, before I wound up finding a place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. So I was moving all around, and had different phone numbers and all of a sudden art directors were calling me and I hadn't been getting work before we broke up and here I am, bouncing around and sleeping on floors and all of a sudden the phone starts ringing, messages were being relayed. I moved to Brooklyn and, eventually, upstate, and the work was pretty good from 1988 until 2001. But In 2001 things just took a nose dive.
"After 9/11 there was a big shift from illustration to photography. Prior to 9/11, photographers were singing the blues about how there was no work, but illustrators were doing okay. And then after that,  for a while all people wanted was photography. I think people just wanted the facts, something concrete. Like I used to read a lot of poetry and a lot of novels prior to 9/11, and afterwards it was almost like somebody hit me in the back of the head with a frying pan. If I tried to read an op-ed piece, my eye would just kind of bounce all over the place - I wouldn't start at the beginning and go to the end, it would just be like, bing, bing, bing, like a pin ball game. I've recovered, but I don't read as many novels as I used to.
"One thing that I like about doing music, like putting out an LP or CD, is that it's exactly what I want to do. Also, much of what I put up on Drawger is exactly what I want to do. I'd love to be doing posters or prints. I love to draw. And play guitar!"