Interview - JJ Kirby
If you've ever opened a pack of WildStorms cards, then you've seen this man's work! JJ Kirby is responsible for drawing roughly one-third of the 1995 Limited Set and contributed to the art in almost every other set. We're very happy he took some time to sit down and talk about that exciting era working at WildStorm.
By World Of WildStorm Staff
Let's start at the beginning! What inspired you to draw comics?
At 10 years old I decided to pursue a direction into comic work after marveling at the 1985 deluxe issues of the Marvel Universe Handbooks.
Were there any artists that you gravitated to at an early age?
My early comic art influences were Arthur Adams' X-Men annuals for his BIG, bold fun shapes and detailed texturing plus Alan Davis on Excalibur for his slick solid line weights and correct anatomy.
How did you first get started at WildStorm?
I got started in '95 after entering one of the talent searches in the back of one of the comic books and got hand picked by Jim Lee to learn how to draw comics as an intern at the studio in La Jolla, CA. A total dream come true.
It looks like the new talent that came in during 1995 got started working on trading cards. How was that experience?
In order to get paid as interns, we worked on the trading cards and chipped our artistic teeth on getting them done. It was a lot of work and kept us quite busy. We really didn't appreciate what we were doing at the time but it was a great fun, a challenge, and life learning experience. Like college life for us newbies.
JJ Kirby posing for the camera at Long Beach Comic Con.
How long after you started were you given art duties on the WildStorms CCG?
The card game was one of the early jobs we interns where tasked with because the timing worked out perfectly. Lots of new cards that had to be drawn and a brand new batch of hungry interns ready to prove themselves.
What types of instructions were you given when creating the art for the cards? Were you given free reign to design what you wanted?
They pretty much gave us free reign with the art styles because they wanted to see what we brought to the table. Plus they had the artist who's style fit the card best do the cards assigned them. Ted Adams and Kris Oprisko really had the operation working efficiently as card editors and worked with us artists to get them done. It was lots of fun.
I took a quick count and you drew over 120 cards for the original set. Can you talk a bit about that process?
Wow, 120 cards! I had no clue! I just knew I drew a lot of 'em and my editors were happy with what I was doing. I thought I was fresh. I was bringing some of my flavor to the table and was allowed to workout style on the card game. It taught me "Do's and Don'ts" for the future, like always draw you best even on a bunch of cards you don't think people would give a second toot about.
Working on that many cards and being fresh on the scene must be a lot of pressure. How fast did you acclimate to the WildStorm Universe? Were you initially surrounded by reference materials and character designs?
I was ready to get busy as soon as I got off the plane from Ohio. I was like, "What do you want me to draw?" I loved reading WildStorm books so I was already familiar with the material and ready to shoot from the hip. All I did was draw comic art back home so I was built for the opportunity to be a WildStormer. Plus, Jim Lee called me to be there. A place where comic book reference was everywhere.
Was there any art you drew for the game that was not included? Or any you had to redraw?
I don't think there was any unused art from the game. The process was pretty streamlined. We artists knew what we had to do when the editors gave us our to do list for the week and left us alone to get them done. Ted and Kris where cool like that. There was a level of trust and communication present that was to be respected. Great times.
Is there a piece that stands out as being your favorite?
I did so many cards and had to get em' done I really didn't have time to love one over the other. Boring answer I know, but its the truth! I promise!
Was there ever any in-house competition when it came to your workload?
Jason Johnson and I had a friendly competition going. He was faster, I thought. I was better for taking my time. But once he got on WetWorks and was exposed to anime, he blossomed into an amazing artist whose art inspired me to be better at my craft.
Were there any characters/cards that you wanted to draw but didn't?
Not really any cards I wanted to do that I didn't get to do with the game. Like I said earlier, Ted and Kris matched us up with the cards that befitted us individually as artist. We pretty much had to illustrate basically everybody in the WildStorm universe, so we got to draw every character.
Twenty plus years later, the game still has a following. Did you think at that time your art would have a lasting impact?
Twenty years is almost drinking age! And no, I didn't think it would have a following still in the new millennium. Shocked the funk out of me, but knowing people remember such a special moment in time was a part of what makes me smile and feel loved. Thank you, Jim Lee, always for seeing potential in the next generation. "You the man!"
Thank you JJ for taking the time to share some history with us!
Thank you for the interview it was fun! If anybody is curious as to what I'm up to besides drawing, I host a podcast called "I AM COMICS PODCAST" on SoundCloud and iTunes. They can also see my music videos on my group's YouTube channel "TheLoveCollective"!
Full art page of Plot Twist cards penciled by JJ Kirby. Cards include "Providence Intervenes", "Coda Blood Ritual", "Second Wind", "Breakdown", "Out Of Ammo", and "Anti-Aircraft Fire". Inks by Richard Friend.
Additional page of WSCCG cards from Kirby/Friend with artwork for "Orb Of Teleportation", "Clef Blade Of The Majestrix", and "Orb Of Omniscience".
Collection of artwork illustrated by JJ Kirby.
The Love Collective YouTube Channel.