A Few Words With...Joe Pekar

Interview by John A. Wilcox

I love pin-up art. Good girls. Curvy cuties. Whatever you care to call them, Joe Pekar draws them incredibly well! I managed to pull Joe away from his drawing board for a few minutes to tell us all a bit about himself, his art, and his women...

PS: Where did you grow up?

JP: Toms River, NJ.

PS: What was the first comic book you remember buying?

JP: Punisher #2 from the limited series Mike Zeck drew in the mid-80s. I hated 'super´┐Ż heroes as a kid. Superman and Spider-Man never held my interest. So when I saw The Punisher, I thought 'cool, he's got a costume but he's loaded up with guns and shoots people! That's awesome!' (Ah, the ignorance of youth. :) ) I was a big action movie geek as a kid, if it was a war movie or martial arts flick, anything like that I watched it. I was way more into movies than comics when I was younger. Then when I saw someone drawing guns that looked 'realistic' it caught my eye. Before that point I thought all comics were based around the heroes being good and saying 'don't do drugs kids!', so the Punisher series really hooked me, he wasn't really a hero, but he wasn't a villain. Plus that cover that Mike Zeck drew and Phil Zimmelman airbrushed was so different at the time, it really stood out on the racks. (Yes, I bought it off a spinner rack at the local grocery store)

PS: In your childhood, which comic book / comic strip artists first caught your eye?

JP: Well for comic strips, I loved The Far Side by Gary Larson. and Bill Watterson's Calvin And Hobbes. I remember cutting those strips out of the newspaper and thumbtacking them on my walls in my room. I never had any interest in drawing a comic strip, but I loved the humor in those 2 strips. And from time to time Bill Watterson would show that he could really, really draw. :)
Mike Zeck was my first 'favorite' comic book artist. He was the first artist who made me search out back issues specifically for his work. But once that happened, comic art became a virus for me. I just kept finding other artists I liked, and so on and so on.

PS: Beyond, say, Petty, Vargas, & Elvgren, what pin-up artists drew you in?

JP: It was the book The Great American Pin-up published by Taschen in the late 90's that really got me interested in it. There were tons of pinup artists in there that I never heard of, like Elvgren (I was familiar with Petty and Vargas, mostly in name only at the time). But there was also Al Moore, Earl MacPherson, Fritz Willis, Edward Runci and a bunch more. I just loved the carefree style of the girls in those pinups. It wasn't overtly sexy, it didn't need to be. it was the girl's spirit that they captured. That book hit me like a ton of bricks. Like when you're a kid and say "That's what I want to do when I grow up! Mom, Dad, I want to draw girls!" Except I just had to tell my wife. Who, to her credit, has never had and issue with anything I draw. She just lets me do my thing (whatever that may be at the moment.)

PS: What about pin-up art hit that button in you where you decided to have a go at building a name at it?

JP: Well it wasn't so much that I decided I wanted to build a name at it, it was just what I wanted to do. I worked in video games for a while and started drawing the girls for fun, to impress (or embarrass) co-workers. And it just kind of evolved from there, to posting art online at sites like the drawingboard.org and deviantart.com.

PS: What, to you, takes a piece past glamorous to sexy?

JP: See, for me I never try to draw 'sexy' (for the most part.). I just approach it in a matter where I want it to look like she's having fun. Sexy sounds too serious for what I prefer to draw. A little bit of humor, a little bit of fun helps make it more entertaining for the viewer (at least that's what I try for...it's entertaining to me at least :))

PS: In 2007, you announced a Brandi Bare book that has yet to come out. What happened?

JP: Funny you should mention that...I'm working on wrapping that comic up in the next couple months. I got quite sidetracked with other work at the time, and as some people may know, I have a horrible attention span. If I'm not into something, I just can't do it. Some people call it 'flaky', I call it 'inspired'. So there were a bunch of other projects I found myself working on that I was really into, and the comic slid off my radar for a bit. But it came back with a vengeance in the past few months (after doing a few covers for other companies that made me realize I needed to get it done).

PS: Your background is in 3-D animation & game design. What titles did you work on?

JP: Let's see, my first game was an Austin Powers game for the PS2 that got cancelled after working on it for a year or two. Then I worked on a game called Mary-Kate and Ashley's License to Drive. (Yes I worked on an Olsen Twins game...and no, they didn't let me do any character designs. ;)). After that I spent a few years working on a game called Geist for the Gamecube. Though I ended up quitting the company before the game shipped due to not enjoying working late nights and weekends while my kids were growing up around me. After that I was out of the game dev loop for a while until a year or so ago when I did some concept art for a game on Xbox Live called The Maw. I've also worked on a couple other projects that haven't come out yet. (Pretty much just 2d art, not much 3d anymore for me).

PS: Has there ever been a commission you refused to do? If so, what was it & why not?

JP: I can't think of any that I've said 'No' to. I have done some...interesting ones, but nothing that said 'good lord, I can't draw that!'. Of course I don't post all of those on my site. :). Actually there's been a couple that could have gone that scary route, but I tried to swirl the idea around into something I thought I could have fun with.

PS: In addition to your Naughty Girls! book, your work has appeared in several Sal Q books. How did you first hook up with his royal Quartuccioness?

JP: Actually I got an email from Sal out of the blue one day asking if I was interested in doing a book with them. I was kinda floored actually, but we ended up doing the Naughty Girls! book and then when he needed something else he just emailed and asked if I wanted to do something for a certain book.

PS: You've done quite a bit of digital work. What does it make available to you that drawing/coloring by on paper/board does not?

JP: Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. So I try to keep a healthy mix of the two. Working digitally definitely speeds up the process. And gives you a ton of options to play around with (without wasting paint and money). Of course once it's finished, it's just ones and zeroes. Drawing and painting traditionally gives you an actual real world object you can hold and see how much effort went into it. You can look at the paper and say 'Ha! I beat you! I made something out of you!' of course as most artists know, that feeling doesn't last long and you see all the things you screwed up on. So working digitally has that going for it. It's much easier to fix or tweak little problems that would take more time and effort traditionally.

PS: You've drawn quite a few girls in pigtails. What's the attraction to you?

JP: Ha! sadly there's no special attraction...it was just something I did for fun that seemed to catch on with people, so I kept doing it. So when people look back at my work, they won't say 'This was his blue period...' like they do with Picasso, they'll say 'this was his pigtail period, and this was his tattooed girl period....and so on.' Well, hopefully they'll say that.

PS: Is there any one character, or type of subject that dominates your commission requests?

JP: Mostly super hero girls. I get asked to draw or paint a ton of superheroines (though I've had a great range of characters over the years). Which is great by me, just because I have such a love of comics and their history. So it's like getting to draw comics, but only doing the fun parts :) But I try to approach most commissions in a fresh way each time, just so it doesn't seem like I'm churning out the same picture time after time except with a different costume.

PS: What projects do you have coming up in the near future?

JP: Well, I have a new sketchbook coming out in the next couple weeks. It should be available at any of the cons I do, or off my website. It features some of my favorite past commissions and some new paintings. And it's filled with in-progress shots, for people who like that sorta thing. I also have my comic Brandi Bare just about done. I'll have news of that posted on my site when it's gets closer to being published. Definitely this year though :) and then some other game related stuff that I can't talk about yet.

PS: Please tell me 6 pin-up artists whose work you love looking at.

JP: Hmmm, only 6 artists? I'll try. actually I have a new favorite artist every few days. It's been like that since I was buying comics. I'd find a new artist and make him (or her) my new favorite. but the title never lasts long for anyone. :) in no particular order:
1. Gil Elvgren. Without a doubt my favorite pinup artist. He painted fun girls better than anyone.
2. Adam Hughes. On the comics side, nobody draws better than Adam. His comic con sketches are some of the best around.
3. Jack Cole. His playboy cartoons were just amazing, especially his watercolors. Can't get enough of those.
4. Shane Glines. modern day master. He does so much with so little. Great linework.
5. Alberto Ruiz. The man knows how to draw better than anyone, but he's an even better person. (Though Alberto would never consider himself a pinup artist, he'd just call himself an artist. :))
6. Everyone else. Whether it's cartoony or realistic, terrible or awesome, amateur or professional. I could have listed a number of people there, but I just love looking at art and seeing what everyone puts into it or gets out of it (especially if they're drawing girls :)). You can learn as much from a bad drawing as you can from a good one. Sometimes even more.

PS: Since we write about music here as well, tell me 6 CDs you can't do without.

JP: Well I haven't bought an actual CD in years. But I'll try to remember some I can't live without. I've never been a huge music buff. It's like those people who say 'I don't know art, but I know what I like.' That's me with music. I have a few random things I enjoy and listen to them over and over. no particular order...
1. Stone Temple Pilots - Core. I played the hell out of this when it came out in the early 90s. Still have the cd in my car. (Though it makes an appearance more on my ipod more than in the car)
2. Slayer - Reign In Blood or Seasons In The Abyss. A toss up between the two. though I probably lean towards Reign In Blood more.
3. Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hot (or Dynamite). Their first two cds were just gold to me. once I heard them in the middle 90's or so...(maybe late 90's I can't remember) I just couldn't get over them. Especially any of the songs Katherine Whalen sang. Loved her voice but always wished she had a bit more range ;))
4. Billie Holiday - any greatest hits cd. Now she had the range! I could listen to her voice all day.
5. Half-Life soundtrack. The music to both Half-Life video games. I tend to listen to a lot of soundtracks, but I just love the music to these games (and love the games themselves).
6. Crystal Method. Ok, now I don't have a particular cd of theirs, as I've just started listening to them in the past couple years. So I've just got a mismash of their songs off itunes. But they're always at the top of the playlist :) I've never been considered trendy or of the hipster sort. I don't know much about the indie music scene and the like. Basically as a music listener I probably suck. But I just get around to listening to stuff on my own time.


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