Nick Pitarra's Graphic Novel, Ax-Wielder Jon, is an Absolute Powerhouse!
How I came to discover Ax-Wielder Jon
Those of you that like to catch up on me, and my blog, know that I'm actually a huge comic book nerd. Matching a morbid, or precious story with artwork that either reflects the poetry spoken or opposes, can mean a thousand words and some. I initially got on Twitter to follow my favorite comic book artists like Ryan Stegman, Lee Bermejo, Ryan Lee, and Sean Murphy, to list a few. I had not been aware of the fun, and energetic artwork that Nick Pitarra had to offer until my time on Twitter had exposed me to the detailed pencils of a man with a scabbed face flinging axes like no one's business.
What caught my attention was the rawness of the first few sketches he uploaded. Nick's artwork makes me think of Frank Quitely and Seth Fisher, who Nick looks up to immensely. The linework is specific, and everything is made of familiar shapes. Not to mention that the colors, later added by Mike Garland, make the page come to life. His style offers complexity and depth without over hatching or the overuse of shadow.
Nick had tweeted out asking if any influencers would like to help promote his project, I noticed the tweet within hours, but I had doubts. I had thought that he was talking about someone who's already established like Bleeding Cool or CBR. Days later I noticed him still trying to get more eyes on these gorgeous pages. In fact, I remember rolling over in bed to point out to my fiancé how insane the detail is.
At the beginning of April, my relationship marked seven years on the calendar, and with that, we went on vacation. To keep this brief our commuter took a shit, and we were left stranded three hours from home, without our daughter, and waiting out a snow storm. I decided, fuck it, I'm going to purchase No Way Home from YouTube and I'm going to reach out to Nick Pitarra. I needed a pick-me-up. Nick responded the next day, stoked to hear from me. I am still floored at how enthusiastic he has been to share his work with me, a blogger who is still finding my corner of the internet.
Who is Nick Pitarra?
The Texas native is not the best artist you've met, or the second, or third, fourth, but fifth? Nick prides himself on being not-best, and I love that about him, that gives him so much space to look around and learn from his peers and affiliates. Do you remember that kid in school who instead of doing the homework just drew on the page, in the margins, maybe even on the desk? That wasn't Nick either. Nick was that kid's best friend, and Nick was going to be a construction worker. It is what his Dad does, what his brother does, and so on. It took the relationship he built with another artist to send him into the spiral that is comic-book fandom.
From the interviews, he's recently done with both JerkComic, and ComicTropes (click on their names for the links) Nick is eager to discuss his early work and remembers losing a contest fondly. In the contest, he drew Invincible catching a duck with his foot, something that was not exactly part of the script. He's eager to share these aspects of his creative process, and artists everywhere can learn a lesson from Nick. It's okay to be the not-best, it's more than okay to look at your competition and instead call them influential contemporaries, and it's also okay to interpret art with your own approach.
The Manhattan Projects
Nick Pitarra's artwork has come leaps and bounds since his debut with Johnathan Hickman in The Manhattan Projects. The detail of technology comes straight from the mind of French artist Mobius. I'm not the first one to draw that conclusion, and I won't be the last. All of these comparisons show you the quality of Nick's artwork and the range he is capable of.
Coming into The Manhattan Projects I was completely unaware of what I was getting myself into, I just knew that in order to write an article on an artist I had to do all the research I could. The story is one of duality and the harm that can come from giving the world's top minds a bottomless bank account. Around every corner, there is insanity and technology doing more than just co-existing. These entities mash together messily, and Nick's artwork matches that tone.
Some people judge Frank Quitely's artwork based on the way he depicts faces, and those same people may not take to Nick's work either. His lines are loose but filled with intent. Eyes small, mouths wide. He allows himself space on the page, that way he doesn't muddle it up with detail. Each character, even those we can see in our heads when someone mutters their name, like Einstien, is represented in a new and exciting way. These characters carry charm that Nick imbues them with.
Nick is always playing with the layout as well. He mentions in one of the interviews the idea of making a panel the size of a phone screen. This is important to understanding his layouts because we're conditioned to see images in a certain format and size. By creating his panels to be the same size as a typical phone he's assuring himself that there is no loss of understanding between technology and practicality. He uses this one-third layout as far back as The Manhattan Projects. This returns in Ax-Wielder Jon, but what's different is that Nick has now taken to creating each and every panel on a full 11" x 17" piece of paper now.
Jon, The Man Wielding The Ax
This beer-drinking, ax-wielding coin-stealing brute came to Nick in a time of uncertainty. He needed an unlikely hero, someone that had a hard head and was relentless in his endeavors. Nick was working on an Image comic called Leviathan when his daughter had to be hospitalized. Nick spent a lot of his time by her side working up the idea of Jon, and finding the world in which Jon inhabited. Leviathan has been on somewhat of a hiatus since, but Nick assures the fans that he has intentions of finishing the project, for now, though Ax-Wielder Jon is the blood-soaked journey he needs his fans to endure with him.
Anyone that comes into Ax-Wielder Jon expecting emotionless gore porn will be disappointed. There's true heart and care put into every panel, and the dialogue carries a meaning that can best be described as humorously empathetic. Every panel spins into the next like this cyclone of baddies hunting our protagonist, and we as the readers are falling ever deeper into Jon's psyche.
The world is beautifully illustrated, and Nick has improved his linework in every way imaginable. The Oracle character looks disgusting because she is, and at the same time I found myself staring into her wrinkled thighs trying to figure out how a man brings himself to explore the depths of detail that Nick is capable of. Every blood drop drips, every ax is heaved, and every character embodies some form of brutality.
There are some groundbreaking revelations in the first volume, there is also so much more to explore. I know I'll be right there pre-ordering each volume as this epic continues, and I urge each of my readers to do the same. Every comic is someone's first, and this is one hell of a first.
Nick has diverged from the typical publishers on this project and instead has taken up arms with the new online backers, Zoop. Zoop is a fresh take on comic distribution and Nick has assured us that this form of publishing makes the most sense. Fans will get their books on time, and most importantly the creators will get the recognition they deserve. Zoop has Nick's book on full display, and I'm sure they have a hand in Ax-Wielder Jon reaching its first stretch goal within hours. Atop all of this excitement keep your eyes open for Nick's presence among the comics publishers. He'll be under the guise of Keroshi Comics.
Ax-Wielder Jon has garnered about three times their expected funding, meaning that more content will be available to us, the fans. Right now they're offering digital copies of the book, and hardcovers (some signed). There are trading cards, and original artwork, and I believe that more figurines are on the way. I recently started a game of DND with my friends and oh, the joy it would bring me to plop down an Ax-Wielder Jon figure and explain it to all of my nerdo friends.
Nick has had to do a lot of his own marketing on this project. I'm proud to say I was there when the first couple of pages of Ax-Wielder Jon dropped on Twitter, shoot, I voted on the logo variants. I'm even more stoked that I got to see some of the behind-the-panel details. There is truly an inspiring story underlying this Conan-like epic, and I can't wait to experience it in its full. Today marks three weeks left to help fund this spectacular book. They're about 10K away from revealing the final stretch goal, which has been kept a secret. It will be a couple of months after the campaign ends that we can start expecting our copies in the mail, so anticipate reading Ax-Wielder Jon the same month as Halloween.
If you're interested in more information regarding Ax-Wielder Jon and Zoop I've left links throughout this post, and below are some articles I found helpful.
Stay tuned for some interview questions from Nick Pitarra himself!