As an art instructor, it is such a treat to stay in touch with students who grew up in my studio. Recently, I caught up with one of my very first art students, Jacob Murray whose first creator-owned* graphic novel just made its debut! What better way to honor his achievement than with an interview on the school’s blog! I hope you find it inspiring.
[*Creator-owned means it’s the first graphic novel he generated from scratch. Jacob wanted to clarify he’s written one other published graphic novel on a work-for-hire contract for an established license. This new one is his baby.]
LRW: Our history goes back to before and during the “days of the condo”. Do you happen to remember how old you were when you started art classes with me? Had you ever studied art before?
JM: You were my first art teacher! I’m actually not sure exactly when I started, probably around age 9 or 10, which would have been 1994-95. I think I first took a class with you at Mission Renaissance. But most of my memories are from your condo on Burbank, which became a weekly little safe haven where nothing mattered but drawing.
LRW: Yay! It’s an honor to have been your first art teacher and provide your safe creative haven. Barry and I were still newlyweds when we opened the condo to art and piano students. Time flies! You were enamored with illustration from the start. Now you have published a graphic novel. I’m so proud of you! When did the idea to create a graphic novel begin? What was or were the inspiration(s)?
JM: Aw, thank you. So I wasn’t a huge reader as a kid. I loved comic books for the art and the characters, but didn’t actually start appreciating them as a storytelling medium until my early-mid twenties. I dabbled in drawing little comic strips when I was around 10, but I always hated drawing the same thing multiple times so that whim was short lived.
LRW: Same! My dad and I bonded over comic books back in the day, especially Mad Magazine. I totally get not wanting to draw repeatedly.
JM: I started writing short stories in high school, and moved on to working on screenplays in college where I majored in Film & TV at Cal State Northridge. It never occurred to me to try writing a comic until around 2014, when I had a dream that would later become The Eighth Immortal comic.
I tried writing out this idea as a short story and a screenplay, and it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t see it. But I knew I had this character and this world I wanted to explore. I had recently finished reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which was my first glimpse into what comics can do beyond superheroes. So I thought why the hell not try writing this story as a comic. It felt like it clicked instantly. And as a bonus, I could actually produce this for minimal cost compared to funding a short film. So it was a combination of necessity and opportunity, and the curiosity at trying out a new medium that first thrust me towards comics.
LRW: How cool that you studied at my Alma Mater, CSUN! I’ll have to check out The Sandman as I really enjoy comics that delve into subjects other than superheroes. Sounds like your comic is a dream come true! As a graphic artist and art teacher, I’m intrigued by the cover art. May I ask who the artist is? Were they hired by the publisher or did you get to choose?
She had done some covers for two of my favorite books at the time – DC Comic’s The Dreaming and Lucifer. I had written my scripts and was starting to formulate a plan for how to get the book produced, so I just asked her if she’d be interested in working with me. About 6 months or so later I contacted her, pitched her the comic, and hired her to do the covers. I didn’t have a publisher at that time. In fact, I met and hired the entire art team independently and found the publisher after putting together a pitch with them.
LRW: Wow! That took some cojones. I’m very impressed with your spirit of adventure and dedication to seeing your project through even before finding a publisher. I noticed an artist was hired for the graphic novel. Did you create sketches for the artist to follow or was just the story provided? My students will enjoy learning about the process.
JM: So, I’m sorry to say, my drawing days are well and truly behind me for now. I kept up with my art through high school and into my first two years of community college. I had almost chosen to go to the Art Institute in San Francisco when I was 19 to study concept design, which has always interested me. But it just felt wrong and scary, and I wasn’t sure I was good enough to make a career of it. So I kept up with some figure drawing classes at Los Angeles Valley Community College, and then when I transferred to CSUN, I took up film and writing more, and my time to draw slowly drifted away.
LRW: That’s totally understandable. At least the seeds of art were planted early to be returned to for enjoyment at a later time. That’s an interesting trajectory from the visual arts to film and writing. So tell me more about the artist you hired for The Eighth Immortal.
JM: When I began wanting to pursue comic book writing and production, I had to find artists. I’ve made some relationships along the way, mostly through social media and conventions. The artist for The Eighth Immortal, Alice Li Barnes, was another like Tiffany that I met at a convention.
Alice had a booth at the Long Beach Comic Con, and the moment I saw her art I knew it was how I wanted this book to look. We struck up a partnership and have had a great working relationship.
I don’t really do sketches for her, but I try to be thorough in my written descriptions of the narrative (overly so for many artists’ taste), and sometimes I’ll do really terrible sketches of how I think a page should be laid out. But generally Alice reads my words, draws what she sees, and then it becomes a discussion.
When things are really specific (a kind of bear, or a place, for example) or really vague (an amorphous, primordial spirit) I will search the web for picture references and inspiration and pass those along to her. But generally speaking, Alice is every bit as much a creator on this book as I am and the art is ultimately her domain. I only interfere when I think a change needs to be made to make the story clear, or when I botched my writing descriptions and led her astray from the start.
LRW: Thank you for sharing your creative process with my readers and students. Very insightful. I’m so glad you found an artist that could bring your story to light. Speaking of the story, a graphic novel on the supernatural is unique. The title “The Eighth Immortal” is engaging. Why this particular genre and title? Why now? Details, please.
JM: The title of the book is actually the last thing I wrote for it. The book was originally called “Amortal,” as the original inspiration was immortal beings who were denied many of the things that make one human. Eventually I decided that title was just a little too esoteric, and didn’t grab or tell enough about the story itself.
The plot centers around an immortal woman, Curipan, one of seven who walk the earth, whose task it is to snuff out immortality wherever it arises because of a prophecy that states the coming of an eighth immortal would lead to the undoing of all life on earth. Life and death exist in a delicate balance, and immortality fundamentality upsets that balance. I’ve always been drawn to fantasy, and devoured the Lord of the Rings books and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Those two properties heavily influenced me in crafting a story about immortality.
LRW: Fascinating story. I can see how those books inspired your writing.
JM: As I mentioned earlier, the original inspiration for the book was a dream. I dreamt of a woman in a bunker casting a spell on a baby. “With my right hand a blessing, with my left a curse,” her words rang through my head. I woke up and just had to know who this mysterious woman was, so I set about the task of discovering her identity, her mission, and the source of her obvious power and overwhelming sadness.
LRW: That gives me goosebumps. It’s as if the story found you. You were on a holy grail. So where may my readers and students purchase The Eighth Immortal?
JM: The book is available through any comic book store. It may not be in stock, as the first issue initially sold out. But any comic shop can order a copy upon request, or it can be purchased directly from the publisher at Oxeyemedia.com. It’s also available digitally through Amazon’s Comixology.
LRW: Good to know. I got my autographed edition at Collector’s Paradise in the NoHo Arts District. I’ve proudly shown it to my teen and adult students as I understand it is appropriate for ages 15 and up due to the subject matter.
JM: It’s definitely not for young children as it contains cursing, some nudity, and adult subject matter. I think 15 and up is the right age, unless you have a particularly jaded 13 year old. It’s more adult than Twilight, but less than Game of Thrones.
LRW: Thanks for the tip. Good to know. There are many publishers out there. Why Source Point Press? Did they approach you for the project?
JM: Finding a publisher is tough. I sent our pitch to several, never heard back from a few, was rejected by others. Source Point Press was the first one to love the project enough to offer me a publishing contract. I was put in touch with them through a mutual friend who works for them in the business side. I’m sure the personal relationship helped, it always does, and I’m not one to pass up opportunities. They are a small press publisher out of Michigan, and are putting out some really interesting properties. As a newer publisher, they are more willing to take a risk on a relatively unknown quantity like myself, so it was a good match.
LRW: Connections are important when it comes to projects, interviews and all things related to getting one’s foot in the door. I’m so glad you found them. I meant to ask, is this a standalone project or a series?
JM: There will be four issues released, with the second coming out end of February, and the third and fourth end of March and April respectively. After that it will be released as a compiled “graphic novel” edition. For now, the four issues of The Eighth Immortal are all I have planned with Source Point, but sales have been reasonably good so far, and we may yet do another project together in the future. I’m currently working on getting two or three other comics off the ground and will be on the hunt to find them a home soon.
LRW: Glad to hear. I’ll look forward to the release of the upcoming issues and more. In addition to creating this graphic novel, what is your current career? Can you describe to my students and readers what an average workday is like? What work experiences or life lessons would you like to share with my readers?
JM: My primary career is in sitcom television as an Associate Director. I’ve been working my way up the production ladder for roughly 14 years, starting in college as the script runner on the first season of the Big Bang Theory. I lucked out landing on that show and after winding my way through every assistant job they had to offer, I eventually landed as the Audience Switcher, doing a live edit of the show during tapings for the studio audience.
I’ve since become an Associate Director, responsible for making sure the show is shot well and that all the coverage the director, producers and editors need makes it on camera. A typical work day is watching the scenes and then compiling a shot list and then working with the camera operators to design a plan for shooting the show as efficiently and effectively as possible, and communicating with the other facets of production to ensure all the elements we need to make that happen are prepped and ready to go when the cameras roll.
LRW: One of our favorite shows! So cool to learn how you worked your way up to Associate Director. Thank you for sharing the behind the scenes work for which you are responsible. Quite an eye opener.
JM: I’ve been very fortunate in my career, and I’ll never discount the important role relationships have played, both those handed to me via family and circumstance, and those I’ve cultivated and sought out on my own, but I always tell people to just keep doing what you want, and say yes to things.
There is a level of burnout and you can say yes to opportunities that are counterproductive, but I’ve seen so many people hold out for something better, or talk themselves out an opportunity because something about it isn’t “right,” and generally those people are always searching, never landing.
I say yes to most whatever is thrown my way, and go from there. If something isn’t working out, I finish my obligation and then move on, but saying yes gets things moving, and keeping yourself in the orbit of the places you want to go is as important as the work you put into yourself in bettering your craft. Say yes and figure out the rest along the way.
LRW: Amen to that! Go for your goals! Speaking of which, may I ask, what are some of your future career plans or goals?
JM: I plan to continue making comics for fun, and hope that I build up enough of a reputation and a fan base to make it financially lucrative. Right now it costs me more than I make to get it done, but I’m doing it for my soul and so I ultimately reap more than I sow.
LRW: Good for nourishing your creative spirit. I applaud you for that.
LRW: On the sitcom side, I’m working my way towards one day directing, and hope to take that outside of sitcoms and into films as well. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing and creating. My ultimate hope is to create a world that others want to play in. Whether that comes through comics, film, or maybe a book when I work up the nerve to write a novel, I want to give back to the world of make-believe that I’ve spent so much of my life enjoying, and leave my own mark there.
LRW: That’s very spiritual, Jacob. I fully support your dreams as they mirror mine, creating artists and pianists who fulfill their passion to create art and music throughout their life and thereby enriching our culture. What impact did your art classes at Pastimes make?
JM: I still remember flipping through your art and photography books looking for things to draw. That was one of the most exciting parts of my week when I was a kid. My time in your art classes gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me the space to know that creating art was an end unto itself. You were such a supportive teacher, who encouraged each student to do the things that caught their fancy, instead of trying to infuse each student with a predetermined skill set. Even though I haven’t kept up with my drawing, I’ve retained that desire to create for the sake of itself, and for the happiness it brings me to do so thanks to the time I spent doodling in your condo.
LRW: I’m kvelling. Thank you for sharing this. Your words touch my heart. You were a pleasure to teach, watching you completely immersed yourself in your projects. I’m happy the experience gave you confidence as well as a safe place to create. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, Pastimes For A Lifetime partners with CoachArt.org to provide free art classes and piano lessons for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
JM: Regretfully, I haven’t found “my thing” yet with regards to charities. I’ve recently started exploring charities in the hopes of finding one to give to regularly. I like supporting free outlets for art and entertain and education, like KCRW and 91.5 Classical KUSC. But on a less fun note, I’m looking into charities that help prevent children in third world countries from getting parasites. They have several at an organization called Give Well, which is a charity resource that focuses on maximizing dollars to ease suffering and safe lives around the world.
LRW: Thank you for that. I hope my readers and students research and support this wonderful organization.
JM: On a personal note, the majority of my charity has gone to helping individuals around me when they need it. Whether it’s a young friend who needs to escape a bad situation at home and giving them a room to sleep in while they figure things out, or donating my time to a young artist that needs something done I can offer, which generally takes the form of editing music for dancers in competitions.
LRW: That’s very kind of you and good Karma all around. I’ve enjoyed writing letters of recommendation for scholarships and acceptance to schools and universities for my students. It’s very rewarding when they come through.
In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block or frustration, that you would like to share with my readers?
JM: “All art is quite useless.” – Oscar Wilde. I’ve always found that comforting. Blocks and frustration generally come when I take myself too seriously and stop having fun.
LRW: Hah! Love this. Indeed. Jacob, it was a pleasure interviewing you and catching up on your endeavors. I wish you much happiness and success and look forward to hearing about your projects and they unfold.
Did you enjoy this interview? If so, your comments below are sincerely appreciated. Please feel free to share it with others, too.
Want first notice on more upcoming student interviews? Subscribe now!