"The Ditch Diablo" Artist Profile of Barf
Photo: David Morton
OVER A YEAR AGO, we had the idea of putting an online comic book on the Thrasher site. James Callahan was the natural choice for the project. We had worked with him before (Slam Demons, The Journey, Skate Hieroglyphics) and his comic-book style was a perfect fit. He heard our idea and said, “Sounds cool but I'm really busy and you're gonna have to wait in line. It might be awhile.” Like a spurned romantic we essentially replied, “Yeah, whatever. This was never meant to be. We’re going to hire someone else.” We were determined to scour the planet for an illustrator who could complete the project in a more timely matter. Our search lasted about twenty minutes before we returned to James with our tail between our legs. We told him that we'd patiently give him as much time as he needed to get freed up. It was worth the wait. —Adam Creagan
Click here to visit "The Ditch Diablo" online comic.
What are your stats, Firing Line style?
Age: I’m older than I used to be, and younger than I ain’t.
Location: Los Angeles by way of Richmond, Virginia.
Occupation: Professional Disappointer/Melter of Minds; drawing comics, record covers, and skate decks for two decades.
What’s your skate history?
I grew up skating loading docks and vacant parking lots in a suburban wasteland outside of Washington, DC. I started to lose interest with street skating, then fell back in love with skating ramps and bowls. Then in 2004, I snapped my forearm in half at the Autumn Bowl. It was a double compound fracture that required two plates and thirteen screws and left major nerve damage in my hand. I decided I was finished with skating for life. Nine months later, I couldn’t resist the urge to get back on the board. I picked it up again and have skated more in the past decade and a half than ever before, and have no intention of ever quitting.
Describe your freelance artist workload and how you approach it. What’s the typical week like?
I draw everything, all the time. I’m typically working on at least to two to three smaller projects at a time, with one long-term, larger project happening that spans several months. For most people doing illustration work, it requires doing many, many projects to make ends meet. This means forcing yourself to have a disciplined work schedule in order to put in the many hours (more than most other jobs) needed to get all of these projects completed on schedule. You also need to be versatile and do many types of drawing and subject matter to get enough projects. It’s a fun gig, but you have to fight for it everyday, or you’re dead in the water.
What’s been your experience working with Thrasher?
I’ve loved it. Thrasher has a pretty dedicated audience around the world, and every time I do work for the magazine, I see a spike in new people discovering my work. It’s also been great to see the magazine go back to its roots a little, reflecting some of the early days that had a lot more art and illustration in the layout, heavy with Pushead contributions. I’m no Pushead, but if I can even stand in his shadow, that’s good enough for me.
Was The Ditch Diablo challenging or straight forward for you? What was your artistic process, start to finish?
All drawing is (or should be) a challenge. It’s about problem solving, and storytelling. An illustrator needs to find out how to communicate specific ideas necessary for a project or narrative, at a bare minimum to get across concepts clearly, and ideally to get those concepts across in an interesting and engaging way. The first step is always to draw the idea as a tiny sketch. If it doesn’t work as a tiny drawing, it’s not going to work as a large, detailed drawing. It’s a pretty crucial step, and if you do a couple of versions you’re likely to come up with a solution that you hadn’t even considered. After that, the bulk of the work goes into pencils. If you hash out all your problems at this stage, then inks and colors should be a breeze. I often color art digitally, for expedience and easily making edits, when needed. In the sense that “The Ditch Diablo” had all of these same steps, it was pretty straight forward. The aspect of the multiple story routes posed new problems, and made it a different kind of challenge. I love a challenge though. Without getting out of your comfort zone, the work feels static and dull.
What’s the Richmond, VA, skate and art scene like?
I’d say it’s pretty damn cool. Richmond has most of the benefits of living in a city while having a relatively low cost of living compared to other larger cities. There is a well respected art school here and huge music scene, so that creates a thriving environment for people creating and enjoying art. The skate scene has been exploding here in the past ten years. We’ve got thriving DIY with the Lost Bowl, Cardinal Sins, Jermside. There’s folks here navigating the legit process of advocating for skatepark building through the city and getting things done. The board companies Shipyard Skates and Solace of Mind are based here, and CHUM Media is making skate videos and photography, not to mention world-class riders like Gilbert Crockett, Josh Swyers, and Trent Hazelwood. It’s a rad town, killin’ it under the radar.
The Auteur is one of the wildest comic book series we’ve ever seen. What was that like?
Well, let’s say it was interesting. While working on the second volume, I expressed my distaste for the direction and tone of the book. I found the “shock” humor to be boring and at the expense of people that society was already stepping on. We were still midway through the series and had time to change direction. But my concerns were brushed off, and I simply was told not to worry about it. After all, I was “just the artist.” So, long story short, for the final issue I drew myself into the book killing off the main character, and then myself. This fictional suicide has also been my apparent career suicide in the comic book industry. For the most part, I’m dead to the comic book world now. But hey, what are you gonna do? Given the chance again, I’d still stand for my convictions over selling them out, even though working in comics is something I had dedicated many years of practice to, and had been a dream of mine since I was really young. I guess the consolation is that I never have to go to another comic convention again, which also means I never have to see another jackass in a Deadpool costume. So, that’s not so bad I guess.
What’s in store for you in the future?
I’m moving to LA this year, for better or worse. I’ve gotten involved in some animation, and am completing some writing projects that I’ve been working on. Maybe I’ll orange up my tan and sell out skateboarding for Scientology. We’ll see, I guess.
A lot of freelance artists struggle with the grind but you seem to stay very busy. What advice would you give to other artists?
Push yourself beyond your limits. Think big. Find the things you can’t do, and master them. Treat your work like a real job, and other people will too. If you want to do a certain kind of work, and no one will give you the chance, make your own version. Using skate decks as an example, if you are trying to draw graphics and no one will give you a chance, save up and produce your own run. You may not make any money, but people will take your work more seriously. People can imagine your work being produced more easily when they see a real example. Lastly, believe in your style and vision. If you’re a real trailblazer, your work will start as a foreign concept to everyone and end up being replicated by 1000 watered down imitations.
Any cool stories?
Just living, man. Doing my best to do good work, and treat people well. It’s a weird world out there, and we all have got to do our part to look out for our fellow humans.
Always a shout out to Lovenskate and Shipyard Skates, for making rad boards. Hail to Larbmaster Hitz, King Pat, Crud City, Blue Bones, Cardinal Sins Skate Cult, and The Nightowl. Crank up some Sick Bags and tune out this whole lousy planet. Barf or Die.
Check out more of James' art here and on Instagram: @barfcomics
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