Artist Jim Mahfood (aka Food One) is a busy guy. He's been working more or less non-stop -- in illustration, comics, murals, painting, photography, music, and animation. His work has appeared in the pages of Playboy, Spin, URB, and Mad Magazine. He's also a deejay, in-demand graphic designer, international Comic Con staple, podcaster. Mahfood has a lot of irons in his fire. And crazier still, it all happens in his really tiny West Hollywood apartment. He also illustrated Kevin Smith's "Clerks" comics, reggae hero Ziggy Marley's "MarijuanaMan," and becoming the first American artist to draw "Tank Girl" -- all the while releasing scores of titles and cross-platform projects of his own, including "Carl the Cat that makes peanut butter sandwiches" and last year's cult hit, the comics-form blog-turned-book hip-hop travelog "LA Ink Stains."
From this small pad, he makes it all happen. The view from that couch is like wandering around his brain. As we settle in to talk about what it's really like inside that cranium, he's occupied with customizing an early-edition copy of his newest, most ambitious publication to date. All the groovy, frenetic wickedness of Mahfood's multifaceted career is finally properly showcased in the overstuffed new tome, VISUAL FUNK. It's a big meaty art book just out on IDW Publishing in San Diego. He had "total creative control," and his frequent collaborator Jane Dope did the tricked-out design. There is planned a November book signing inside a solo gallery show at Hero Complex Gallery in Beverlywood -- known mostly for blockbuster pop-culture pop-up homages to properties like "Jaws" and "The Walking Dead" -- even though as Mahfood notes, "There's not a lot of pop culture references in my work on the whole -- hot girls, monsters, weird shit sure." And in a way he's right. His images are full of memes but only to the degree that occurs naturally in his adventures across the youthful wastelands of L.A. -- what people are wearing, drinking, listening to, etc. And while the scratchy, stylized, urban, visual jams absolutely telegraph the times that inspire them, Mahfood's approach is way too narrative and personal to be plain-old pop art. Anyway, it somehow fits and that's where the show will be, with original art and photography featured in the book, and some crazy installation design with comic pages, paintings, considerable ephemera, posters, all "in a mishmash, but with something for everybody!" Maybe he'll deejay when he's done signing copies and, presumably, body parts.
Mahfood's lifelong love of the bounce-inducing funk that enlivens his images finds sonic expression in his sporadically released but always free and uplifting Beat Bee Podcast, which he also does in partnership with artist, designer, and indie wonder woman Jane Dope. In fact, collaborating, he says, is his favorite thing; he does it every chance he gets. Collaborations with musicians, designers, other artists, he does it all. There's enough material for a whole new separate book with just the archive of collaborations -- and yes, he's already (sort of) working on that, too. A recent such undertaking has been Disco Destroyer -- one of the nuggets touted to come out on MTV's Liquid Television reboot. The show is a group effort between Jim Mahfood, Scott Mosier, and Joe Casey, based off of Mahfood's designs and art direction, with hot-shot composer Stephen Barton doing the music, and edgy, progressive Titmouse Animation Studio doing the production. You can watch some of the funktastic freakshow online.
In 2012, Mahfood released "LA Ink Stains" -- a compendium of chronic misadventures in the studio and the unruly streets of the city, starring hipsters, scenemakers, and amateur impresarios both famous and unknown perpetrating beer- and music-driven shenanigans such as only the young can dream up and survive. The first installment went up on his blog on January 1, 2009 and its vivacious four-row, one-sheet vignette set the tone for the whole phenomenon that would follow -- depicting a jaunty, stylish, black-and-white world where nothing much goes on but everything happens. "I started posting strips for free during the economic crash when we were all out of work. Jobs picked back up in 2010, but I still keep it up for the fans who love it." Everything in there is true, even the most dangerous and illegal and questionable events -- but he's not as much of a party animal as it might seem based on it. Well, he kind of is. The unrepeatable adventures that just went down at the Vancouver and NYC Comic Cons sound pretty epic. "Yeah," he demurs, "I meet some really interesting people."
But about those jobs he mentioned. His commercial success came in some ways before his critical or, say, "fine art" success. He credits this not to any business about selling out but rather to encountering "art directors with good taste." He's been working lately with Nike on some clothing designs, doing "gorillas dunking basketballs, shit I'd probably draw anyway," and the Bed Head campaign is same thing. "As long as I still get to be myself, I'm not ashamed to take their money." Illustration, graphics for publication, billboards, murals, tags, throw-ups, beer cans, album covers, comic books, paintings... it's all on a single continuum of art and circumstance, he postulates. "One thing leads to another. My first money was in comics. That led to album covers and music magazines, then to doing live art in nightclubs, and then showing in galleries. But I'm still doing all of those things now. In waves it flows, but I always jump around. I love to be doing lots of things at once. Draw all day, plan shit all night. Party sometimes. Sticker-bomb sometimes. I'd love to go out and paste more often, but I'm 38 and I'm not trying to fuck with the cops!" Time is scarce for Mahfood. He signs books and prints, personalizes deluxe editions, packs and ships, and he does that all himself (in this tiny apartment) because it has to be right and it's just easier that way. He's a one-dude army. He's a responsible businessman.
Still he isn't thrilled when asked to talk about what it's like going from Outlaw to A-List, but he mulls it over and gives an honest answer. "Wild Style became a hot thing back in its day too, with galleries and sponsors for a while. In the end, it's up to the individual artist to choose how to be. Street Art already means two different things as it is -- it's a noun and an adjective. The phrases have been uploaded into the vernacular. It's a real movement, of course -- but now it's also a sensibility, another stylistic category like "alternative" or "indie." But, hey, I'm in it for life, so who cares about being hot for two years?"
Follow him on every conceivable internet platform: jimmahfood.com
Want to read more? Check out more of Artbound's most recent articles:
Of Rabbits and Ronin: The Charismatic Characters of Stan Sakai's Comic Books
Japanese American artist and writer, Stan Sakai draws on the multi-cultural artistic nexus that is Los Angeles, creating characters, settings and imagery that are Japanese, but whose lettering and narrative style originate mostly in the West.