Brooklyn, New York’s Paigey Pumphrey, pin-up and comic book artist extraordinaire sits down to talk Ed Emberley, superheroines, Mary Jane, curvy gals, and sausage fests.
Interview: Shoshana. Illustrations: Paigey. Photograph of artist: Atomic Cheesecake Studios
Q: In your blog, you credit Ed Emberley with teaching you to draw. How serious are you about this claim, or is it more tongue and cheek?
Oh I was indeed serious! Ed Emberley provided me with the foundation for which all my drawing skills have been based on. He taught me at an early age to break down something visually into simple objects to better process them from eye to hand to paper. Without him providing such early guidance I probably would have had a lot of trouble later on with learning basic anatomy and composition. I’m still a hardcore Emberley fan to this day. One of my next tattoos I’m planning to get is the werewolf from his Big Drawing Book of Weirdos. There’s even a documentary currently being filmed about his Make a World book. If there’s a child in your life who has an interest in drawing I highly suggest picking up a book or two of his, they go for pretty cheap and you never know- they might be an investment in that kid’s future.
Q: When did your love of comics begin?
I started out originally wanting to be a Disney animator til about sixth grade when I discovered my brother’s issue of Uncanny X-Men #236. 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 and 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 my brother’s stash of X-Men and Conan the Barbarians laying around the house and eventually I started buying and drawing my own comics from 7th grade on.
Q: What have been some of your favorite illustration collaborations to date?
At the risk of sounding corny, I’d have to say my boyfriend, Phil Balsman, aka Ballsy is one of my favorite collaborators. Not only is he a great illustrator, but he also does about 95% of my lettering, typography and title treatments for my pieces. We both attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts back in 99-01, though back then we were just friends.
A former letterer for DC Comics and now an Art Director/Designer for Del Rey manga, he creates the perfect marriage of type to my pictures. We started working together about a year into going out on a series of old EC-style comic covers that were used in group art shows. I’ll create a ‘cover illustration’ based on that criteria, then Ballsy will come in and do the title block and any word balloons or sound effects. There’s few people if any I have that complete of a trust with regarding my artwork, he is definitely one of them.
Q: How does your love of comics translate to pin-ups?
I’ve always had a fascination with drawing pretty girls. My definition of ‘pretty girls’ however has changed throughout the years, it’s evolved from generic spandex-clad superheroine to straight up heroin chic through my teens and twenties to the plumper, softer, bubblier girls I draw now. I think it has to do with what artists look to for inspiration.
When I was drawing nothing but superheroes, that was because that was all I was reading and for the most part the only artwork I was exposed to that caught my interest. This was also during the big 90’s comic book boom when everyone was drawing more ‘extreme’ than the next guy and female points of view in the comic realm were so much harder to find. Then I drew these super-skinny, miserable-looking heroin chic girls in the late 90’s, when I started getting my influences from fashion and club culture, especially raves, gothic industrial clubs and Gregg Araki movies.
I think it’s always been that I draw the kind of girl I’d want to live vicariously through. Now it’s these perpetually giddy girls with hips and thighs and tummies and smiles that are dancing and eating bon bons and having a great old time. The stuff I do now seems to make people happy. When I see people flip through my art book or portfolio they’re always smiling, and I like seeing that.
Q: You now have a resin figurine Miss Mary Jane, obviously inspired by a love for pot and pin-up, available via pre-order through Patch Together. This super cute figure even wears a plastic baggy inspired hoodie! Explain the process from sketchbook to completed toy available for purchase.
Miss Mary Jane 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 a 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 ongoing design contest primarily for shits and giggles. I’m a big fan of Miss Monster 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!
Q: Roller derby, pin-up, and burlesque seem to be reoccurring themes in your comic book characters. All three have experienced cult revivals over the past five years. What is it about these particular muses that have you so captivated?
I think that all three are so inspiring to me. Roller derby because I love the names and personas those involved all have. I insist on calling those involved by their derby names, mostly because they’re easier to remember, but also cuz it’s so damn cool. It’s like knowing a superhero.
It’s also a great jumping-off place as an artist to get recognized locally for your talents. My first derby experience was the inaugural bout Charm City Roller Girls in Baltimore and was inspired. I started emailing them, offering my artistic services and would show up to 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.
Pin-up was a natural transition from my time going to comic book and anime conventions as a fan and taking part in ‘cosplay’, where I and several other girls I knew would dress up in homemade costumes of different characters and run around the con floor getting our pictures taken. I was actually getting pictures taken of myself in pinup style before it dawned on me to draw like that as well. Once I started drawing my girls cuter and bubblier people really started taking notice, and my work was progressively more well-received.
It was then I found my artistic niche and I’ve been running with it ever since. With burlesque, I was only recently introduced to this amazing subculture a little over a year ago, shortly after I moved to New York City. I barely knew anything about it until I moved here, let alone that there was a whole revival. I think my first real exposure to it was through Dr Sketchy’s Anti Art School, which is a life-drawing session in a bar with a burlesque performer as a model. I was blown away, I started going to shows, making friends with performers.
Now I can’t get enough! I love it, it’s so appealing to me on so many levels. I’ve even taken a few classes at NY School of Burlesque. If I had more time between drawing and my day job I’d be up on stage myself.
Q: You spend a lot of time on the comic book circuit. Is it still a male dominated scene, or are female artists more prevalent now?
It’s getting better, but there’s still a pretty strong ‘sausage party’ vibe, which can work both for and against you when you’re female. If you play your cards right you can definitely get a little extra attention from passerby in the Artist Alleys section of the con, where the up-and-comers usually hang out and hock their wares. I always dress up for conventions, so I can work as basically my own ‘booth babe’.
Instead of the fans talking to a paid representative of said company/artist, they actually get to talk to the artist herself, being me. Plus with my 6+ years of retail experience I feel I get the best response from customers and hopeful future fans when I’m standing at their level, making eye contact and greeting them as they enter my ‘store’, aka the front of my booth.
There’s so many times going to comic cons as a fan that I’ve found myself in Artist Alley and have a whole ‘Don’t look in their eyes!’ moment. I hate when artists are pushy pitchmen over their work. I’ve left Artist Alley way too many times as a fan with books and ashcans and such I didn’t even want in the first place, but was guilted into buying or taking, and I end up throwing them away only days later.
As an artist, I try to just be friendly and personable, and barely even mention my work, even though it’s displayed all around my table. I let my work speak for itself, and I only talk about it to folks that seem interested. As it should be, I’d much rather 20 people take my card of their own free will with them back to their house than see 100 cards I’ve pushed on people ending up on the floor or trash can.
Q: What does the future hold for Paigey?
In the next year I’m hoping to hit at least 5 east coast comic conventions between Baltimore and New York. The plan is to do as many cons as I can on the east coast that I don’t need a hotel room or crazy travel expenses for. And since I live in Brooklyn and my folks live in Baltimore I’ve got a nice centralized area to work within the con circuit.
Hopefully, all that will be able to pay for me to head out to the BIG one, San Diego Comiccon, in 2011. I recently joined up with an art collective called Girls Drawin’ Girls, a group of 40+ all-female pin-up and girlie artists, primarily based out of southern California. Through them, I’ve been able to get some much-needed west coast exposure and they have a table at SDCC every year that I’ll work at when I go.
I also plan on doing more toys through Patch Together, including an original roller girl character I created and hopefully I’ll have enough material to release a new artbook by the end of 2010.
“Comics, Commissions and Camaraderie!”
You can view more of Paigey’s work at www.theartofpaigey.blogspot.com