Jack Purcell graduated with a bachelors degree in Illustration from Massachusetts College of Art in 1996. He began his work both penciling and inking in various independent jobs with a variety of companies, in addition to freelance illustration for companies like Best Buy, New Jersey Fireworks and Digi magazine. Jack has taught workshops in comic book creation for the last 20 years in schools, libraries and museums and feels very old when he says that out loud.
He eventually focused on inking and has worked on various independent titles, Heavy Metal magazine, and a variety of titles for Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Titles include Gotham Underground, Teem Titans, Green Arrow, Detective Comics, Batman, Countdown, Batgirl and others. Jack considers it a dream come true to be working for the “big two”. He happily lives in western Massachusetts with his son, daughter,and WWE championship belt.
Looking over your career in comics you have been doing this for the past 20 years now. But you started back in 1996 after you graduated from Massachusetts College of Art . Before college, did you do freelance work before or after?
I did freelance before and after, beginning with independent comics and various smaller clients. After graduating I put my energy into getting work and have a done a wide variety of work but comics were always my passion. I was able to license my first creator owned comic for a tv commercial, do some work a Best Buy tv ad, various illustrations for newpapers, magazines, tattoos, t-shirts, fireworks etc..,.
How important is it to you that others out there get an education in fine arts?
That’s up to each individual. No one in comics knows or cares if you have a degree. I recommend it for several reasons and it helped me learn networking skills and how to take criticism well. Invaluable skills if you are going to be a freelancer.
During this time you stated that you did illustrations for variety of different companies before breaking into the majors. Why the change into comics? What are the lessons did you take away from working with companies like Best Buy & Digi Magazine, because they must have really strict deadlines and also changing layouts? Also was it very stressful?
Comics was always my focus but paying the bills is important too so I needed to get experience and learn as much as I could in different areas of the art world. Deadlines are the artists’ ultimate enemy with any jobs so it was really no different except that there is less understanding for missing deadlines outside of comics. Fortunately, I have always been serious about hitting deadlines so it wasn’t a big issue for me. I guess you could say every assignment is stressful because you want to do your best work. I am happy to say that editors were always happy with my work and I was never asked to make changes or re-do anything. Collaborating with pencilers can be more of an issue when artistic differences get in the way, but it’s the nature of the beast to a degree.
When you were going to MCA for school, was that your first choice? Did you ever think about going to The Kubert School? I was looking into your background and was amazed that you have started you own course. For our readers Jack has created workshops introducing comic book creation for the last 20 yrs. How did you come across creating this type of class?
Mass Art was my first choice after deciding that I didn’t want to live in NYC to go to SVA. I never considered the Kubert school since I wanted to work towards getting a masters to keep as many potential revolving doors moving in the future as I could. I also did not see comics as a solid long-term way to make a living, and my father was a teacher and saw that as a noble profession. Creating my own workshops was a gateway into teaching and I felt like it was a part of my skill set and I am still doing it almost 25 years later. This lead to teaching K-12 at various times as well as teaching at RISD in the continuing ed. Department.
These classes are amazing for young artist to experience and teaches them the skills needed to draw comics. What are your classes teaching that you think that major colleges will never teach on the subject?
I am definitely not re-inventing the wheel so I don’t think there is any exclusive information happening in my classes but there is a great deal of experience behind my teaching. I always felt like a teacher needed to have life experience to bring to the classroom in order to be effective so I am proud of that. At RISD I had some classes that focused on illustration and others that got very specific and dealt with comic book creation. These classes were fun and challenging for myself as well as the students. I am a fan of many of those students’ work to this day and am proud to have worked with them and hopefully helped them in a small way.
How important is it to inform your students on the difficulties between commercial and independent styles of work? Because when I was going to AIS, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. But when I was going I wanted to learn art, and found out what it meant between commercial and independent. The answer was money vs freedom. What would your answer be is the question?
I always begin by telling students who want to get into comics that there is no sense in doing so unless you are obsessed. Long hours that often don’t pay enough and can raise hell in your personal life are not worth it unless it is an obsession. I would have considered myself a failure if I did not achieve my goal of working for the “big two”, specifically on Batman and for me failure was not an option. If that is your attitude I recommend that you give it everything you have and work as hard as you can until you have reached your goal.
Working in the “indies” doesn’t always mean it is not commercial, but there are more risks involved. I always told students that the nice part of working for DC is that I know I will get paid and I will make royalties for the rest of my life, but I don’t have any ownership of my work. Creator owned work does have an element of freedom and certainly ownership, but the financial part is much more uncertain. It can be big rewards vs. bankruptcy and I think if you are smart about doing independent work, you find collaborators with a variety of skills and common goals. Easier said than done.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
I hope that in 10 years I am still having fun creating. Maybe my work will be primarily in a different medium or be less centered on fantastic subject matter. The only thing I am certain of is that I will never be satisfied. I often find U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For to be my theme song and in some ways I hope I never do.
Thank You for taking the time for this interview and Best wishes.
During this time you have had an amazing career in freelancing commercial art and also starting a workshop for others. But how are you able to also work in the medium that you are teaching in? It must be hard to keep up the deadlines?
I would describe some of those times as brutal but rewarding. At one point I was working full time for DC, teaching full time, working on my masters and my wife at the time was pregnant. It was critical mass for sure but tested my limits in a way that strengthened me personally. I slept very little for months and was known for falling asleep at family events. I feel like art is my chosen form of torture so I loved doing it but it was exhausting.
Shadow & Lines
Where you ever afraid or scared to work for someone you admire as an artist?
Also another fact that my other big dream (that I was too scared to ever articulate) was to work with Stan Lee which I did on a project called the Guardian Project.