A Few Words With...Paigey

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

I first came across Paigey - aka Paige Pumphrey - at a convention a while back. Her bold illustrations immediately grabbed my eye. She has a brassy, strong, wiseass style that's distinct and wonderfully evocative. All very much an equally accurate description of the woman in question. Have a seat and join me as we discuss art, the roller derby, and much more...

PS: What was the first comic book / comic strip you remember reading?

PP: The first comic I remember reading cover to cover was Uncanny X-Men #236 when I was 10 years old. That's the one from the �80s where it opens up with Wolverine and Rogue fighting in Genosha against tons of armed guards -- completely naked. Then I had no idea what I was reading, it was a terrible jumping-on point. But it was so exciting and sexy and dramatic. It was like a big budget movie being played out right in my hands. That issue inspired me to delve further into comics, starting with X-Men and other comic series and eventually I started drawing my own from 7th grade on. It also started me on a lifelong infatuation with Wolverine. See, I didn't need Hugh Jackman playing him to realize that Wolverine was some hot stuff. I've always had a crush on him. Especially in the 70s-80s, before that whole bone-claws, James Howlett crap. Hell, I used to write what would be today's equivalent of 'Mary Sue' fanfiction in my junior high school diary where a character who was pretty much an idealized version of myself joined the X-Men and Wolverine was basically my character's on again/off again boyfriend. Ha ha, yeah, those books have LONG since been destroyed.

PS: Who was the first cartoonist you met & what was your impression of them?

PP: The first cartoonist I met that I actually was able to sit and chat with was Adam Warren, who wrote and drew the American Dirty Pair comics and has been a huge influence on my work since I first discovered him in high school. I met him when I was 19, at Otakon 1999, an anime convention in Baltimore (my hometown), where I had heard he was going to be from a friend in guest relations. To show my appreciation for one of my biggest heroes, I cosplayed as a character from one of his runs on Dirty Pair, which included wearing short shorts, a bare midriff tshirt and markered graffiti all over me. Kind a like a punk rock Judy Carne from Laugh In. Needless to say, I got his attention. Ha, but yeah, we talked a bit and I actually found out he went to the same college I was attending at the time, being the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in New Jersey. He's super-cool and down to earth for being such an amazing genius, and was really awesome to hang with for a bit. We traded stories of in-class debauchery and I got some commissioned sketches from him and after that I just headed off. I'm kinda kicking myself now that I didn't pick his brain further, since he doesn't do conventions anymore really, but I guess I gotta chalk it up to being a stupid kid. Nowadays I'd totally buy him a round of beers and really get into some heavy art/writing/philosophy of the world talk with him. He's one of the few comic creators whose work I follow religiously and always trust to deliver an amazing story with top-notch art. His run on Gen 13 was stupendous, that he could take 5 of the most obnoxious, vapid comic book characters created in recent memory and instill such heart and soul into them to the point I bawled like a baby over the issue they... *spoiler warning* died in says something. Plus the man understands the female psyche entirely too well.

PS: When did you first realize you wanted to do art for a living?

PP: Oh God, for as long as I can remember I've always wanted to draw for a living. I've always been a creative kid, I used to draw stick figures with tiaras and rings, make up stories for what was going on, give them all names. Before I even knew what jobs were everyone was like 'Oh she's going to be an artist'. The how-to-draw books of Ed Emberley had a huge impact on me as a small child. From there I took the route most 80's kids who exhibit illustrative talent go, and wanted to be an animator for Disney. All through childhood I wanted to be an animator, anything animated that I could get my hands on I watched and dissected, trying to figure out how to make my drawings look like theirs. I was also blessed with a very supportive family that went out of their way to foster my talent and continue to to this day. Anything my parents came across that was animated they'd bring home for me to watch, which lead to me having such an early exposure to anime via movie like Unico and The Mouse And His Child. I also saw the 80's animated feature Rock And Rule when I was about 5 or 6, which has lead to a lifelong infatuation with that movie in particular, which I see as the end-all be-all of where I would want my art to go. But yeah, I spent alot of my childhood in front of a TV with a pad of paper and pencils. When we went to Disney World on vacation when I was 8, my folks even enrolled me in an animation class and I went on the studio tour, while they got to go on rides. Hmph. Though it was also around then that I also realized how much repetition and commitment to say, one character in a whole feature, being an animator requires. I still loved the aesthetic of hand-drawn 2D animation, but I wanted to apply it to more of an illustrative context. Thankfully shortly after I had this epiphany I had come across my first comics and realized there were other outlets for my talents.

PS: What do you get out of drawing that nothing else in life brings you?

PP: Drawing helps me show what's going on in my head much better than words ever have. I've always had an overactive imagination, as a child to being an adult today. Growing up I've noticed my perception of something is usually way dissimilar from most people's. If someone describes something in words I usually am thinking about it in a completely different way from what the describer envisioned. Not sure why I'm like that, but I think it's part of why I'm not much of a reader of 'book-books', especially fiction, versus reading comic books. I'm such a visual person, I want to know what someone's world looks like right off the bat. Stop wasting words telling me about it, just show me! Plus just seeing black and white words on paper I know myself, when I get *really* excited about something, I have a tendency to stutter. It's because my brain is going way faster than my ability to talk. Mostly because I see a rapid-fire series of pictures in my mind that I then have to make sense of and describe to whoever. Because of this, I'm the *worst* at telling stories, it takes forever for me to get to the point. Especially if it's a funny story, as I'll totally see a mental picture of the funny situation that went down while I'm describing it and start laughing.

PS: What was the most important, most applicable thing you learned at the Kubert school?

PP: Suck it up and do the work. The place is rough; it's frequently referred to as comic book boot camp. You draw all day and all night. I was also one of the six female students among 200 male students, so it definitely toughened me up a bit. I found myself crying over unfinished Green Lantern pages at 4 AM on more than one occasion. You get such a deluge of work there that I quickly learned not to dwell on something being totally perfect on a piece of my art. There'd be way too many times I'd see something less-than-stellar on a finished piece of work after it was all said and done and I'd just have to live with it. Onto the next piece I'll be sure to focus more on whatever I ended up botching: be it perspective, or anatomy, or how I draw hair. Whatever. Every piece of art I do, even now, is a learning experience. And it always will be.

PS: Tell me a bit about your gear. What sorts of pencils, pens, brushes do you currently use most often?

PP: I use between an H-2H wood pencils for layouts and sketching. The harder the better, as I tend to sweat through my hands, like a dog, which can cause smearing and dirty-looking pencils. I ink with Microns, Copics and Sharpies. They tried so hard at school to get me to ink with a nib and brush but I just can't do it. My dad's a civil engineer, so I grew up with drafting tools in the house. Shoot, I used to pretend the neon pink clear plastic triangles were like She-Ra power daggers. So I think being around draftsmen tools from such an early age, coupled with growing up watching everything animated I could get my hands on may have subconsciously caused me to want to draw everything graphic with a bold outline. My tools need to be rigid, especially under my 'death grip', as I call it. I also hate painting. I get so frustrated, which is hilarious because it's supposed to be relaxing to most people. I think it's that I want my painted work to look like my drawn work, and that would be really hard to pull off. Especially since painting is all about building something up. I am way too impatient for that, I want it to look awesome right out of the gate. Plus painting is so damn messy! I color all of my work for the most part in Photoshop with a pen tablet. It's the best way I've found to get the flat, animation cel-like color I like to have. Plus the all-important 'Undo' button. When I feel like getting 'analog' for color, however, I have been known to bust out some markers. Prismacolors were always my favorite. From 2003-2005 I used nothing but. I still like busting them out every now and then, like at live drawing events like Dr. Sketchys and Drink & Draw.

PS: What's the most unusual thing you've been commissioned to draw?

PP: I have had more than a few portrait commissions that have included inside jokes amongst the customer's family and friends that I am completely oblivious to. Like 'when you draw her - she *needs* to be holding a rubber chicken'. It's cool that I can bring people's unique visions to life and make them that much more personal and appreciated though. I might be shaking my head in befuddlement while I'm working on it, but once I see how happy it makes them it's all worthwhile.

PS: Your work feels very confident. Is that confidence an extension of your personality, or an outlet for it?

PP: I'd say a little from both. It's weird, I think that through drawing I found confidence in myself. It was what ostracized me from people early on but now it's what puts me in the spotlight. I wasn't the most outgoing kid growing up. I was the girl who had more action figures than Barbies. Kind of like a non-sporting tomboy. I'd get competitive with boys over who could draw the best Ninja Turtles. I remember having an argument in 4th grade with another girl who was decidedly girlier and thusly more popular than me over why she stopped watching cartoons. Up until high school I'd say I was pretty much on my own as far as friends go, which meant with so few of life's distractions I had plenty of time to hone my craft and just draw everyday. Shoot, I had a 20 page full-color superhero comic coming out of 8th grade, that I'm sure is lost forever, followed by 2 1/2 issues of a vampire comic I made from 9th-11th grade that I sold at school to whoever would buy one. A surefire way to embarrass the hell out of me is to dig one of those puppies up. Oh my god, it's awful! But yeah, so I was just plugging away, doing my thing. Dressing crazy, acting crazier. Suddenly around 11th -12th grade people seemed to realize that because I didn't give a crap what people thought or their expectations of me to be a certain way, and thusly I had become 'the cool art chick'. Even though at the time I had no idea. Through college and into my 20's I just kept trying to figure out who I was and eventually blossoming into more of what my ideal version of myself would be. And I think I channel that through my artwork, making that more into my ideal as well. It keeps evolving a little at a time, and so do I. My artwork and I are kind of reflections of each other, in a way.

PS: How did you first become involved with the roller derby?

PP: It was around 2006 when Charm City Roller Girls were getting together for their first season. I had heard about roller derby a little bit; they had that reality show awhile back. Went to their first bout and was inspired, started emailing them, offering my artistic services and would show up for practices for impromptu life drawing. I started doing portraits of all the first season lineups, which got me some recognition in the Baltimore art scene and the beginnings of my portrait commission business. I owe a lot to them for helping me launch my artistic career. Roller derby bout and event posters are also a great jumping-off place as an artist to get recognized locally for your talents. You might not get compensated financially, but if you have the time to donate your talents to such an inspiring group of people - the exposure is more than worth it. Especially when you're just starting to get your name out there.

PS: Ever have any rollergirl aspirations?

PP: I've entertained the thought, but being the reclusive artsy-type in my formative years denied me the whole 'team player in competitive sports' mentality. I love watching it, though. It's one of the only sports I can follow. That and I'm already married to my art, and she gets jealous very easily. From what I hear derby takes over your life, and I already keep a pretty full schedule between my day job, my freelance work and keeping some semblance of a social life. I'd like to maybe do an over-the-top, Speed Racer-esque derby comic someday, I've been kicking the idea around in my head for a year or two.

PS: What creative desires do you have beyond illustration?

PP: I'm a total music nerd, I'd say every few years I have a tendency to crack open a new musical genre and completely engross myself in it and the culture involved. So far I've done it with ska, goth, trip hop, industrial, underground hip-hop, old school punk, psychobilly and now I've really been getting into some old 50's rockabilly, surf and lounge music as I've gotten older. Plus the culture really lends itself to the curvier female figure what with all the pencil skirts, bullet bras and and wasp-waists, which in itself has influenced me artistically. I love making mix CDs and trading music finds with like-minded friends. I think that one day when I get old and have really attained where I want to be with my art that I can finally kick back and relax a little I may take up DJing as a hobby. Maybe even have my own online radio station or something.

PS: When last we spoke, they were making some sort of statue or figure based on one of your drawings. What other merch are you working on?

PP: Miss Mary Jane (http://www.patchtogether.com/store/store/view/id/152) started out in 2007 as a little doodle I sketched out during lunch at my day job shortly after I moved to New York. I used to smoke ALOT, about 3-4 years ago and had kicked the idea around in my head for awhile. And it just came out one day, and I took it to finishes and it became one of the more popular pieces in my portfolio. A girl back in Maryland even got her tattooed on her arm.

It�s always bit of a �test� with those who see it, as it�s about a 60-40 split between those who think she�s a broccoli girl/ the Jolly Green Giant�s wife and those who realize she�s a girl made out of weed. It�s kind of like my little test to see who�s a stoner. Though as soon as anyone realized she�s a weed girl everything starts falling into place - the green tint to her skin, the hair texture, the plastic baggy hoodie with the multicolored seal/zipper.

I entered her into Patch Together�s (http://www.patchtogether.com/) ongoing design contest primarily for shits and giggles. I�m a big fan of Miss Monster (http://www.missmonster.com/) and have both her Foo Dog and Tentatiger toys, and thought I�d give a shot submitting and thought nothing of it. I was accepted and started getting votes and after it was approved for preorder I was all �Oh crap- this is real now.�

Seeing my artwork interpreted as a 3D sculpture and ultimately having my own toy out on the market is so surreal and awesome at the same time, and this is definitely not the last collaboration I plan on doing with Patch Together. The journey of making Miss Mary Jane into a toy has been a tremendous learning experience. The sculptor I worked with - Miller, has done an amazing job and had nothing less than the utmost patience with my 8 million revisions going back and forth. Kudos and high fives all around! Other than my venture into toy design, I have also gotten into making my own jewelry, magnets and brooches made of plastic featuring my own artwork. I'm starting up my own Etsy store (www.etsy.com/shop/paigeypumphrey) that I plan on having all my stuff available at for purchase. I'm currently putting together a large lot of my Spacegirl necklaces to be put in an all crafter/DIY sample bag for the Oscars in the coming month, which should hopefully get me some exposure. I also sell all of the plastic merch I make at the conventions whose Artist Alleys I attend from here on out. I'll probably also go the obvious route of getting t shirts made with my art on it once I no longer have a day job designing shirts, as I currently see designing anything on a shirt as the opposite of fun.

PS: What has been the most pleasant surprise you've had working in the illustration biz?

PP: It really warms my heart that so many people really want to see me succeed. From my family to my friends to fans that I meet at each convention/art show I attend, the amount of support I've received in my quest to follow my dreams is amazing. Especially since moving to New York City 3 years ago. NYC has been incredibly kind to me. Before I moved I was so scared that once I came up to the 'big bad city' I would be eaten alive and sent crawling home back to my parent's suburban basement. Now I'm kicking myself for not moving here sooner. But everything works out the way it's supposed to and I think I got here at exactly the right time.

PS: What new projects can we expect from you in the coming year?

PP: I'm hoping by the end of the year I'll have enough new material to put together a second art book to have finished by the 2011 convention season. I also *finally* got my Miss Mary Jane toys shipped out via PatchTogether.com, and have a new toy, being a roller derby girl named Laika Phenomenon up for voting now if you wanna see more Paigey toy goodness. (I know I do!) I'm also doing a total of 5 comic conventions this year, being MoCCA in New York that was back in April; Baltimore Comic Con in August; Small Press Expo in September; New York Comic Con in October and finally King Con Brooklyn in November. I'm also curating my first New York group art show at Niagara Bar in the East Village on Thursday July 8th for Girls Drawin' Girls, a collective of female pinup artists primarily from California who just started branching out to the East Coast. I'm also having a solo art show down in Baltimore at my tattoo shop Saints & Sinners at the beginning of August. Somewhere in between all that I'm also turning 30. Zoinks.

PS: Please tell me 6 artists that continue to inspire your imagination.

Ernesto 'El Chango' Cabral - My all-time favorite artist. A Mexican illustrator from the 20's to the 50's, El Chango did several magazine covers and movie posters. If you have a keen eye you might recognize his work from the movie Ghost World, where Steve Buscemi's character's record room had a couple of his posters. That was my first exposure to his work. His expressions, his gestures, colors, HIS WOMEN. I looove the way he portrays women, especially in his movie posters. They all have this energy to them, like they're mid-step in a samba.
Tex Avery and Chuck Jones - I put them together because they've both influenced me heavily for the same reasons. I grew up watching cartoons from a very young age and never stopped. Faves of mine from Tex include 'Swing Shift Cinderellla', 'Billy Boy' and 'The Cat Who Hates People', and faves of Chuck include 'Feed the Kitty', 'Robin Hood Daffy' and 'Duck Dodgers'.
Rockin' Jellybean - A Japanese lowbrow pinup and gig poster artist who specializes in silkscreen. His women are insanely sexy and his colors are through the roof. I also love that he's a character into himself. No one knows his real name or ever sees his face at public appearances because he wears a Mexican wrestling mask. It's so insane, I love it. You can barely get any of his stuff over here in America, maybe a couple t-shirts that are insanely expensive. Meanwhile in Japan, he's so prolific he's designed a whole ad campaign for Dr. Pepper.
Coop - I've been a fan of Coop since high school when I first saw his album cover for Lords Of Acid with the devil girl orgy. I've always loved his simplified color palettes and thick, demanding, sexy women. I've always wanted to do the kind of work Coop does - album covers, punk rock gig posters, spot illustrations for music magazines, lowbrow hot rod art. Before my suburban teenaged self even knew what half of that stuff was even about I knew that's what I wanted to do and be involved in.
JC Leyendecker - I was turned on to JC Leyendecker in college. He was the 'other' Saturday Evening Post cover artist to Norman Rockwell, who's great n' all but JC has such amazing dynamics and the chunky stripes of color technique he uses fascinates me to no end. Plus him being gay, all of his Arrow Collar men are stupid gorgeous.

PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you never tire of listening to.

PP: Ever since the introduction of the iPod and mp3 playlists into my life I rarely buy albums anymore. My ADHD keeps my 6000+ song iPod constantly flipping on random. But these are definitely some of the albums I love in their entirety.
Pixies - Doolittle: My all-time favorite band. So much do I love the Pixies that I went and got their winged 'P' logo as my first ever tattoo. Still have no idea what they're singing about (does anyone?), but that music- ohhh THAT MUSIC.
Mary Prankster - Roulette Girl: Clocking in at a little over 20 minutes, this is a collection of quick as hell punk rock ditties and drinking songs from my hometown of Baltimore that I love sharing with out-of-towners.
The Cramps - Songs The Lord Taught Us: I have a confession. I totally slept on The Cramps until about 2 years ago. I know, I'll leave my punk rock ID card on the front desk on my way out.
Andrew WK - I Get Wet: A callback to my days slaving away at Hot Topic, this is my go-to album for when I'm down in the dumps. It's a musical shot of adrenalin right into my heart.
Patton Oswalt - Werewolves And Lollipops: In my humble opinion, one of the funniest stand-up albums of all time. I love Patton Oswalt so damn much, I'd totally hang out with him and look up funny internet videos.
Phantom Of The Paradise Soundtrack: My second favorite movie of all time (behind Rock And Rule, of course), being not only a 70's psychedelic rock opera based on Phantom Of The Paradise, but a 70's psychedelic rock opera with songs penned by master songwriter Paul Williams. Whom you may know from writing a little ditty called 'Rainbow Connection'. Yeah.


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