TOKYO VIA NEW YORK
Juan Doe isn’t your typical creative. From illustrating and writing comic books to graphic design and fine art, he weaves between multiple mediums with the ease and fluency of an international globetrotter and the skill of a martial arts master.
Juan Doe’s artistic style harks back to 1940’s propaganda with a street art slant, and his signature blend of digital design with traditional character illustration has placed him in the ranks of Marvel Comics, where he got his start producing covers for the X- Men #198 series. Since then, Juan has moved on from just doing covers to illustrating full-on comic books, often working with some of the most renowned writers in the industry. His latest project in collaboration with Brian Azzarello, America n Monster, takes the western format into a post-war landscape where it's impossible to distinguish the sheriff from the bandit.
These days, Juan Doe spends his time between New York City and Tokyo, fully immersed in his comic book projects, of which also include his own original comic book series debut featuring none other than Juan Doe himself as the main character.
When asked about where his inspiration comes from Juan holds nothing back, whether recounting hardships in his own life or observations on the world at large. These talking points, he says, bridge the divide between his work and audience.
What Do You Tell People That You Do?
I consider myself an independent creator. In the purest sense, I’m an artist, designer and illustrator. I use all these different mediums to tell some kind of story, either in painting, drawing, sculpture or performance art. I like to do projects and events that converge into multimedia experiences. I’ve used what I’ve learned to support myself.
I’ve had a few moments where I did more entrepreneurial stuff, and a few years back some friends and I started an agency. It started as a traditional gallery-style agency, and then evolved into our own thing that sort of collided with the art world at large. Going through this allowed me, once I left that part of the art world, to be fully in control of my work and negotiations. Nowadays I don’t have an agent, I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a lawyer.
Where Did You Grow Up?
New York City. Born and bred. I was in Spanish Harlem for the first seven years and then Jackson Heights until I was a teenager. As a crazy adult artist I’ve lived in every emerging art scene before it gets too expensive.
What Kind Of Impact Did That Have On You?
New York is what it is. It’s a very unique experience. You’re thrown in with every other country in the world, every other culture in the world. It’s all these different cultures colliding that make it unique. When you grow up here this shapes your whole dynamic and how you see the world.
As I’ve gotten older and more well travelled this dynamic has been just as informative in terms of what I do as a creator, and as a person trying to fit in this world. Am I American? Am I Spanish? Am I from New York?
Traveling has definitely helped broaden my definition of who we are as people. You go out there and connect with the same kind of energies and dynamics in those countries and with those same kinds of people. I know it sounds corny, but we really are all the same, and let’s not forget - New York isn’t the only place.
All characters ©Marvel Comics 2016
Where Do You Live Now?
I split my time between Tokyo and New York. Tokyo is one of those cities that I just fell in love with. I pull a lot of inspiration from over there, whether it's in manga or anime, or just the way they approach things. It’s really the whole Asian landscape to be honest.
There’s definitely a sense of back and forth between both cities, but I don’t feel stuck in either place. In some ways it makes me feel like I can bridge all of that. The next book I’m doing takes place in Tokyo.
How Did You Get Into Comics?
Comic books were one of the first things that I fell in love with as a kid. Whenever I got any kind of money or spare change I bought comic books.
When I got into high school I decided that I wanted to be a comic book artist, and majored in cartooning. I was well on my way until college when fell in love with fashion, fashion illustration, and then graduated with a degree in fashion.
I really liked the craft of illustrating clothes; to me it’s a total art form. Then came my first year out of college and I realized how terrible it was to work in the fashion industry. That was that.
“What really makes it all happen though is consistency, and through that we find evolution. Whether good or bad, this helps us evolve in everything we do.”
Did your experience in fashion infLUENCE how you illustrate?
Definitely. I mean, we have to draw people, we have to draw clothing, and we have to draw exaggerated situations.
I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve a few years of good training. As you get out there your own techniques. As long as you’re working everyday and you’re making something, you naturally develop a nice set of skills that you can use to execute start-to-finish.
That’s the most important thing - finishing something, having it approved, sending it in. If you’re freelance, like myself, your job depends on getting things done.
What's Your Process?
I get the script, I do pencils, I do ink, and then I color. I even letter my books - I do the whole thing.
When I begin a book, it’s very difficult for me to do anything else. I’m not good at multitasking, so the minute I start a project I go all the way until it’s finished. I don’t answer messages, I don’t write emails. It’s a really crazy marathon, where I don’t interact with anyone. Then I finish, and I get a week or so of pure nothingness.
How Do You Decide When Your Work Is Complete?
I think as you get older the reality of deadlines, paying the bills, and all that other stuff make you learn to trust when to let go of something.
You normally get a handful of weeks to produce 130 panels, and if you break down each individual panel it’s a hundred or so individual illustrations that all have to work together. It’s works very much like producing a movie. If you’re on a monthly book, and you want the story to stay timely you have to trust your ability to make decisions.
What really helps put things in perspective while I’m working are two questions I keep in the back of my mind: ‘could you read the story?’ ‘Did you get what was happening?’
Do You Get A Lot Of Feedback From Your Fans?
I do, and I’m thankful for all the positivity. I’m blown away by how many people connect with the work.
Let’s Talk About Your Character Juan Doe?
Juan Doe is my alter ego, my pseudonym, and my tag. Call it what you want - it’s just a character. Technically- speaking there’s no work attached to my real name. No paychecks either!
The name Juan Doe though, comes from way back. I remember one day painting in my studio when an art critic came by. They saw my work and asked my name, and when I told them, they responded, “Well, you’re Hispanic, why aren’t you painting things from your culture?”
I remember thinking, ‘Wow, the only reason this guy thought that was because of my name. He made all these inferences about what I should be doing because of my name!’ Thus Juan Doe was born, and he became my ‘fuck you’ to anyone that wanted to put me in some kind of category because of my name.
After that it just stuck, and everyone would say, “Yo, JD. Juan Doe!”, and that was it. Since then Juan Doe has evolved from a reflection on my own life experiences into something his own character and story.
Yes, he grew up reading Marvel comics. He’s also got super powers, and occasionally battles depression. Nowadays he’s got this Pinocchio Complex about him in that he wishes to be real. At the core of it all Juan Doe is a story about us, and how we deal with the world. This narrative works as an epic adventure, but everything is attached to experiences in our real world.
Looking Back What Is Something Important You Have Learned?
A lot of what I do with this character has come out of dealing with adverse situations. I remember a few years back when my studio got flooded, and I lost almost 15 years’ worth of works. I lost all my equipment; I lost sketchbooks, thousands of pieces of art and dozens of canvasses.
After that I stopped doing everything and spent two years drifting. I ended up working construction in Ohio and then in Pennsylvania on a military base. A the time I had no protection against anything like this happening, and it took a while to bounce back. How it all happened was a hard thing to comprehend, and I felt stupid.
Through it I really learned to embrace failure, and since then I’ve failed many times over. Regardless, I learned to take pride in myself and everything I do, come rain or shine. What really makes it all happen though is consistency, and through that we find evolution. Whether good or bad, this helps us evolve in everything we do.
Juan Doe, thank you for taking the time to provide us insight into your life. We look forward to seeing the new projects you’re working on and wish you the best in your career and personal life.