Friday, August 28, 2015

Backstage Pass August: Jackie Musto

Here's Your Ticket, Ladies And Gentlemen!

Come And Meet The One, The Only

Jackie Musto!

A great grrrl artist and dreamer, Jackie Musto is one of the most lighthearted and fun urban fantasy artists on the Net today. Come and get to know her!

So Jackie, Tell Us About Yourself

My name is Jackie, and I've been k̶i̶c̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶s̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶a̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶n̶a̶m̶e̶s̶ making comics since 2009. I also freelance illustrate just about everything and teach art. You can find me at my comic links below, and also on  tumblr, twitter, instagram and facebook.

What Are Your Current Projects?

I have two, really - the first being Kay and P, the story of a girl and a skeleton - who no one else seems to see. Kay is a college-aged girl with a skeleton for a best friend, but no one else seems to see him but her... and then the weird stuff really starts happening. There is a massive 16 issues so far, with lots and lots to read. (

The second is The Adventures of Lady Skylark: Lady Skylark and the Queen's Treasure. This is a more light hearted steampunk adventure story featuring the Lady Skylark, the captain of the fastest flying pirate vessel of the skies - until her first mate decides he wants a promotion and chucks her off the side of the ship! How will Lady Skylark survive, and more importantly - how will she get her revenge?! There are two acts so far, with a third one on the way. (

Both of these run as webcomics, updating on Tues/Thurs for Kay and P, and Saturdays for Lady Skylark.

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

I love other types of art, video games, music, gardening - I'm learning to play the ukulele right now! I just like to keep busy. When I'm not working on comics, my hands are always elbow deep into dirt in the garden, making something delicious to eat or just reading a book.

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?

It was really early for me. I remember sitting around with a friend of mine in grade school and we'd make up stories about mice or rabbits
(we were obsessed with the Redwall series at the time), passing a stack of paper back and forth, each of us drawing the next "scene". The storycrafting continued as I played with toys until the embarassing age of tweleve when I discovered roleplaying. With a bunch of people making up stories and characters, I was the resident artists who ended up drawing people's characters or what was going on in game. After a while I'd just start doodling little strips of the action in the columns of my notebooks and almost failing pre-calc.
Honestly I didn't think of it as a career or a full time thing until I was really late in college and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself post-school. When I realized my difficulty in illustration class stemmed from trying to cram too much narrative into a single image I had the "revelation" that I could just make a LOT of images and tell a story. Ta-da. For someone who makes comics, I honestly never cared much about them until then - I collected a couple issues of mainstream comics as a kid, but never a huge collection. I think that's why I gravitate to more of the indie scene - I mostly do my own thing and hope that it flies.

Can you tell me about your typical day or drawing session? How does your working process flow?

 I get up and have a cup of coffee (iced, always) and sit at my computer around... 8-9am. When cranking out comics, I'll work until the linework is done, take a little break for lunch and then crank out shadows, flats, and paints all in one day. In the early times of making Kay and P when I was still learning to use a tablet and Photoshop, it used to take me days to turn out a single page. Now I can usually do two pages in the same span of work time. I actually do all my comics digital now - I scan in my sketches from my sketchbook, then blow them up full size in Photoshop to draw right over them. Doing other illustrations I mainly draw straight in Photoshop, though I've been getting back into traditional media with Tombow markers. I basically like to work on something until it's done - if it takes two hours or ten. I hate leaving things unfinished until the next day!

While working, I put on some music, NPR or binge some Netflix shows. I actually watched the ENTIRE span of Star Trek: the Next Generation in a week when I had a particularly heavy workload. Sometimes I forget to eat or take breaks, which is really bad, but - when I'm in the jam of things, I don't like to interrupt myself. At night after the computer is off, I try to get the sketchbook out and doodle of panel out the next few pages of comic.

Does your production process for a finished piece follow specific steps?

Comics certainly do. When I'm making an issue of Kay and P for example, I start by outlining the contents of that issue. I like to plan out everything that's going to happen in a general sense so I make sure I have enough content in the story arc. Then I start writing the dialogue and "stage action" and break it into chunks that I think will fit into pages. I don't really plan out the panels until I'm looking at the script and I let it run like a movie in my head. I try to pick out the most important frames and then lay those out in an interesting way on the page. Then I scan those sketches into Photoshop, and set up my panels and speech bubbles first - that way I know what is going where. You always want to leave some room for text or you're going to run into problems later. Then comes the line work, shadows, flat colors, highlights and other bits. The last step for me is to "paint" it all together and add details. Then it's ready to upload online!

What media do you work in to produce your project?

Photoshop and an Intuos5 tablet. I used to use a lot of watercolor and pencil before I transitioned to digital, but I find the digital to be a lot more freeing. I don't have to worry about making a mistake and ruining hours and hours of work!

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

It's not painfully scripted out, but there is definitely a hammered out storyline. I know the whole general story from begining to end, and I have a swath of post-it notes hanging about with important details I add in as I plan each section out a little more. I think it's important to have an idea how your story is going to end so you can get there without too many wrong turns and wasted time. Having an idea of the over-all plan can also circumnavigate the problem of running out of ideas, or writing yourself into a corner.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep for your projects?

How much do I like, or how much do I have, ha ha! I would LOVE to have several weeks of backup, but usually I'm only about a week ahead. Now that I can blast out two pages in a day, it's a lot easier to keep that while still attending to my other commitments.

You use a great deal of mythology in your projects, and in fact "Kay and P" could be classified as urban fantasy. What draws you to this form of storytelling?

Honestly - and this is not a dig to people who write in this way - my life is way too boring to write something about my life or my experiences. While some things that happen to Kay are things that happened to me, she is a construction of the exciting life I wish I had. I've always loved fantasy, and still look for the wardrobe door or the fairy around the corner. I grew up watching Labyrinth, reading Xanth novels and roleplaying (which I still do, by the by), and that definitely bleeds through into what I do.

What are your favorite legends or stories? What stories inspire you? How much research do you do in order to bring the worlds you create to life?

Jeeeeez. I think my favorite legends are the ones where you just know not to mess with the magical being, but whoever the protagonist just does it anyway - like crossing a Baba Yaga, trying to steal from an ogre.... you just think, "If this was me, I would NEVER do that!" Kind of like screaming at a horror film for the actors not to go to the basement. Anything that has a story that I just can't put down is something I figure has something for me to learn from.

What is funny is, through teaching a Fantasy class and roleplaying, I've done a lot of inherent research into a bunch of fantasy critters. It's always interesting to go back and read through the early history of a well-known fantasy creature and find out something bizarre about them you never knew. As far as the real-world research, I lived near Boston for quite some time and was there often. I think it's important to interject some real-life experience into fantasy worlds, as it helps to give them a sense of realism among the madness.

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job?

I am truly lucky that it never happened to me except for ONCE in my life. My folks and friends were always extremely supportive in what I did, so that has kept me going through tough segments of my life. The only person who ever told me that art was a waste was a relative who I didn't care for anyway, so... I kind of figured they were jerk!

What keeps you devoted to telling the stories you’re telling?

Obsession! That is what it must be - for as positive as I am here, there are certainly days where I feel like I'm wasting my time, or no one cares about what I have to say, or I hate what I am doing artistically... but though I might throw myself dramatically on the bed and swear I'm going to quit, I wake up the next morning, make the iced coffee and get right back to work. Tomorrow is another day, as they say.

I don't know what I'd do if it wasn't for comics. There are just too many people and worlds in my head to keep it all to myself.

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