In continuing our theme of featuring artists with comics currently featured on The Fabler, for this week’s interview we caught up with Jordan Kotzebue (aka thejmon) to talk about his webcomic Hominids.
Jordan currently lives in Seattle, where we works with PopCap Games as a studio artist. Despite his lifelong interest in comics, the bulk of his illustrative career has been spent working in the video game industry. (Some of the titles he’s worked on include the Sly Cooper franchise, League of Legends, Zuma, and Bejeweled 3).
That’s right, Jordan has every kid’s dream job – he designs videogame art by day and spends his free time working on comic books.
While he has dabbled in comics in the past, Hominids represents Kotzebue’s first foray into an ongoing series. The comic, which is now two issues in, is set in an era of ancient history in which early humans coexisted with another intelligent prehistoric species – Neanderthals. The world Jordan paints is lush, mysterious, and filled with the potential for adventure. As a neat aside, it was a concept originally dreamed up by his twelve-year-old self that Jordan decided to return to later in life and flesh out more fully.
I talked with Jordan about Hominids, his early interest in comics, and some of his background in doing artistic design for videogames.
That interview is below:
KD: Is it a fair statement to say that most of your illustrative work has been for the gaming industry?
JK: Yeah, primarily. I’ve done a few comic things as well. I did one of the online books for Heroes back when the show was popular and still on the air. Then I did some posters and a couple of commission projects for DC.
But mostly my work has been in the gaming industry.
KD: Was that something you shot for right from the start, or did you sort of fall into that particular niche of illustration?
JK: I shot for it, definitely. My older brother Travis, he was always a big influence on me and he helped me get into the industry. We’ve always had each other’s backs that way. We’ve helped each other get work and jobs, and it was an easy transition pretty much right out of school.
KD: What would you say is the best part of working in the gaming industry for you?
JK: Definitely my favorite part is the storytelling aspect. A lot of my work on Sly Cooper was doing the cutscenes, and so I had the opportunity to contribute to the story there and push that forward, which was neat. Also when you’re doing concept art, you get to play around a lot and get creative with it. With the Sly Cooper franchise, we were pretty much working from scratch and we had the opportunity to take a lot of liberty with the designs. This is opposed to working on something like, say, Call of Duty or something super serious like that.
KD: Between the stuff you’ve done to date, from Sly Cooper to the work you’re doing right now for PopCap, do you have a project you’ve worked on that holds a special place in your heart?
JK: PopCap’s great just because they’re a super awesome company and they treat their people really well. When I started Hominids, they were really, really supportive.
A lot of the backgrounds I did on Bejeweled 3 were a lot of fun because I got to be really painterly and imaginative with it. The project I’m working on right now, which unfortunately I can’t talk about, is a total blast. It’s really hard to compare because they’re sort of different animals, you know? But at the same time a lot of the people that I worked with on those projects are the same people so a lot of us make the same moves between companies.
KD: How far back does your own interest in comics go?
JK: As far back as I can remember. I mean, I really got into it with like the Uncanny X-Men of the eighties, back in the Chris Claremont days. That was really when I started collecting comics and it just stuck from there. I got really into cartoons, like the Batman animated series and Gargoyles, and I grew up on G.I. Joe and Transformers.
I never really grew out of those interests, and I guess I knew from an early age that I wanted to be doing something related.
KD: Was your work on the Heroes online comic book your first real work in comics?
JK: It was, though the DC stuff happened right around that time as well. I think it was in ‘06 that me and my brother Travis decided to combine our portfolios together as a team. At the time, we called ourselves the Kotzebue brothers and we have that on our website.
Prior to that we were selling ourselves as individual artists and it just clicked that it made more sense for us to pool our efforts. After we rebranded as the Kotzebue brothers, we had more people start to take notice when we had a table at that year’s Comic-Con. That’s when things started to happen for us in comics.
KD: One of the cool things about Hominids is that its an idea carried over from some sketches you did as a kid. What can you tell me about those early years of Hominids?
JK: Back then they were just called ‘natives’, and it was something for me and my friends to pretend and play at in the park. Back in the town I grew up in, Bellingham, there was a city park that was reminiscent of a lush jungle. There were these big forty foot trees with massive leaves, it looked like something out of Avatar.
It was the perfect place for a kid’s imagination to run wild. We made up these characters and would run around in the park forest until we wore ourselves out, then we would draw sketches based on what we had dreamed up.
I kept drawing those characters and they sort of grew up as I grew up. I never thought I’d do anything with them, but then I wanted to do my own comic I revisited the concept. The idea that there was a time when we weren’t the only intelligent species on the planet was fascinating to me. You hear about how humans are unique because we’re the only intelligent species, but we’re not the only one, we’re just the only intelligent species that survived.
That whole era interested me, when there were humans as well as this shorter species of little hobbit-like guys running around. It would’ve been kind of like Middle-Earth without the magic.
KD: How much of the world you had created as a kid carried over to Hominids as we know it now?
JK: On the Hominids comic website, I have some early sketches and you can kind of see how it was laid out. I did try and do like a little comic when I was in seventh grade and it had a prologue page that is similar in a lot of ways to the new comic. I mean, it’s a lot simpler and more silly, but it features pretty similar characters. Originally it was set on a small island surrounded by mystery and magic, but a certain TV show kind of ruined that for me. (laughs)
That was fine ’cause it pushed me to go in a more interesting direction. Back then the Neanderthal characters were grouped into regular natives, mountain natives, then there were the cannibals, and some surfer natives in there somewhere. The chimpanzees they fight were called ‘peanut people’ in the first issue. They were just small little guys that always caused trouble.
There are some similarities, but the overall story is quite a bit different.
KD: Somewhere between the first and the second issue, you made the decision to switch from doing the comic in black and white to full color. What factored into that decision for you?
JK: The first issue was very much an experimental issue just to answer the question, ‘can I do this?’ Can I do a full issue while working as well? My original thought process was that I wasn’t going to have enough time to do full color. The more I got into it, the more I was rendering it and fleshing it out and I realized that wasn’t gonna take much more to put the color in there.
Also, when you have a lush jungle setting, you sort of want to see that world in color. I thought it would be worth that bit of inconsistency between the first two issues to have a higher quality book.
KD: Do you think you’d ever go back and recolor that first issue?
JK: I intend to, actually. That’s something I’m gonna do inbetween issues two and three. I’m also going to have a booth at the Emerald City Con, so my goal is to have it done before then.
- Interview by Kevin de Vlaming