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Based in New York City, John Malta has recently asserted himself as one of the worlds most talented and fascinating young comic artists. Having been blessed with the opportunity to exhibit his award-winning work in numerous international locations, Malta has developed into a leader in his field, with quite the impressive client list, including, The New York Times Magazine, Vice Magazine and Asset International, just to name a few. We recently caught up with the artist to discuss the influence of his East Cleveland roots, his seven-foot pet lizard and his former Fresh Prince inspired haircut.

Self-publishing comics and zines of your drawings has been one of your hobbies for as long as you can remember. Can you tell us about your first ever self-made publication?

Me and my good friend Keith Pakiz self-published a comic in elementary school using a Xerox machine under the teacher’s supervision. We were around ten years old when we created the first issue of Shlump Palunk Comics.

Throughout junior high we continued to print these at school until we created a comic strip in which we comically murdered our classmate (who was our friend) in every panel. We tried to slip it by our teacher by putting it on the back page but obviously had no such luck and Shlump Palunk comics was banned from my elementary school/junior high from then on.

Keith is also still making comics and just released this insanely good graphic novel that you can read in its entirety at The Condiment Squad.

How do you come up with stories for your comics?

Most of the content within my illustrations are extracted from past experiences and important moments in my life, and the stories and movies that I was obsessed with as a child.  For example: The Professor and the Paperboy

When I created this I really wanted to try and convey a sense of adventure more than anything else.  That this paperboy who was living in the middle of nowhere could go on an insane journey and end up in places he never would have imagined he’d be and have the best possible time doing it.  Which makes it semi-autobiographical in the sense that the idea for this came out of the fact that I never would have imagined that I would be living in New York City and doing the things that I am now doing.

The inter-dimensional and other worldly elements came from the books that I was reading at the time – J. Richard Gott’s Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe, Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace, and several sci-fi pulps including one of my favorites The Doom that Came to Sarnath by H.P. Lovecraft.

I also spent two months of last summer living with some friends in Columbus, Ohio.  They let me use their basement as a studio – it was filled with Orb-Weaver spiders.  The spiders and I co-existed happily so I decided to write the part of the paperboy’s guide throughout dimensions based off of this experience.  His name is Herman the Elder and he is an enormous tarantula.

You grew up in East Cleveland, Ohio – what’s the comic scene like there?

It includes a super long and notable list of self-publishers. There is/was Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and Jerry Siegel, and Joe Schuster created the first incarnation of Superman in 1933 while living in Cleveland in a short story called Reign of the Superman (he was bald).  The story also appeared in their sci-fi fanzine, Science Fiction.

John Derf has been producing really amazing comics forever within his weekly strip The City and is finally getting all of the recognition that he deserves.  He was kind enough to give me lots of advice while I was in high school.

Robert Crumb spent some time working for American Greetings in Cleveland before heading out to San Francisco. This dude Jake Kelly who is impossible to track down makes really intricate black and white show flyers and hilarious mini-comics.

There is also a really sick video zine titled Condensed Flesh put out by a friend of mine named Jacob Schwartz – he’s currently chronicling the DIY skate/punk scene in Cleveland in a really beautiful way.  Otherwise there are lots of punks making really great fanzines with concert photography, poetry, and graphics that look like they’d be on Crass or Discharge album covers.

Also, 9 Shocks Terror (one of the greatest bands ever) is from Cleveland!

Where do you find your daily inspiration?

Through zoning out and concentrating on something like playing video games, listening to podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang! and the Pod F. Tompkast, riding my skateboard, watching television and movies, and reading. If I over-think things I hit a wall, so distracting myself is usually the best inspiration.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently I am working on these massive graphite drawings that are around 5 ft x 8 1/2 ft that depict “life in the city”.  I have been adding in characters and buildings day by day- even if it is something small like a pile of beer cans or some rubble/trash on the ground. They are taking forevvvver but have been so much fun to work on because the drawings are not being created for any specific reason (other than the fact that I really want to make them).

I am also working on the second part of my graphic novel The Professor and the Paperboy and just wrapped up four illustrations for the Willamette Week and a poster for a lecture that I am giving at the Columbus College of Art & Design.

Can you tell us about your pet lizards?

Throughout most of my childhood my family had a seven-foot long iguana as a pet and he was treated the way most families treat their dogs or cats.  He had a place to call his own in the basement in an old shower that we converted into a mini jungle gym of climbing branches, leaves, and pillows.  He spent most of his time hanging out with us though.  He occasionally slept in my and my little brother’s bunk beds, ate a steady diet of romaine lettuce and Team Cheerios, and was trained by my mom to use the bathroom outside. My family was featured on the local news a few times because of this. He was the greatest pet that I probably will ever have had.  He lived for seven years and was as loyal as a dog or any pet ever could be.

I also kept a myriad of other creatures as pets – frogs that my brother and I would catch in creeks, grasshoppers, lightning bugs, hermit crabs that were rescued from a hotel that was using them in some weird game, and a bearded lizard named after the lead singer of Leftover Crack.

Aside from drawing, what takes up most of your time?

Hanging out with my girlfriend, going out to see alternative comedians at places like the Comedy Cellar and Upright Citizens Brigade, seeing bands play (most recently OFF!), getting brunch with friends, skateboarding and sifting through thrift and second hand shops for comics, records, furniture, and weird things.

Apparently past memories of murky Ohio creeks feature as a significant part of your work. Have any good stories involving these said creeks?

When I was eight years old me and a friend were swimming in a creek. A humungous black water snake began swimming right for us – I made it to the shore in no time as I was terrified, and was used to running across rocks and logs.  My friend slipped and fell back into the water, the snake was inches away from him, and he hastily scrambled back to the shore.  We both laughed afterwards.

What other zines/ comics are you into?

Jack Kirby (particularly his work on the Fantastic Four comics), Fletcher Hanks, Mark Beyer, Hergé, Seymour Chwast, Art Spiegelman, Raymond Pettibon, Chris Ware, Mark P/Sniffin’ Glue, Carl Barks, Joost Swarte, Aaron Cometbus, Harmony Korine and Mark Gonzales’s old collaborative fanzines.

More current/other young dudes:  Nichole Senter’s Baron Von Badtooth, C.M. Ruiz/CMRTYZ, Alex Schubert and his Blobby Boys, Matthew Volz, Jeff Bowers/Prism Index, Paul Windle’s Baseball Dudes, Patrick Kyle + Wowee Zonk, Mack Pauly + Space Face Books, Cassie Gryzmkowski’s Shitty Reality Zine, Mike Marine’s Show Posters.

You’ve described your work as “mouldy magic”. In your own words, how would you explain this concept?

I wanted to come up with a name that encompassed all of the work I was creating.  At the time I was screen-printing a lot of t-shirts and wanted to put a name to them.  When I paint with watercolors I use different types of mould as color and texture for inspiration, so that’s where “Mouldy” comes from. “Magic” comes from the fact that at the time I was drawing lots of sorcerers and magical forest creatures.

You have quite a large client list.
a) How do you find time to do your own stuff?

I make it a point to have a comic or series of drawings that I am consistently working on.  I have a project list that I frequently update but do have way to many things that I would like to do and not enough time to do them.  Currently at the top of that project list is an animated short that I hope to have out by next spring/summer.

b) How much creative freedom are you allowed to exercise for these projects?

 A lot actually.  More than I would have ever really imagined. One of my favorite publications to work for is called Plansponsor Magazine. They have a really amazing art director named SooJin Buzelli who commissions super exciting illustrations.

After doing some research online, a particular site featured comments in response to your displayed work, stating:

–  “I love this, I really do.”
–  “drugs.” and
–  “so bad ass.”

 What is your response to these comments?

–  “Thanks, dude!”
–  “You don’t have to do drugs to have an imagination!” and
–  “Thanks, dude!”

If you could redesign the ACCLAIM logo, what would it look like? Would you be kind enough to quickly draw one for us?

(Ed’s note: see John’s ACCLAIM logo in all it’s glory in the gallery above)

I understand that you once shaped your hair like Will Smith’s character off Fresh Prince of Bel Air. How is your hair currently styled?

I actually need to get a haircut haha. Right now it’s sort of a weird shaggy devil look.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Getting to make drawings all day!

In 2011, you were awarded a Bronze medal in the 3 x 3 Student Annual. This year, you won Silver. Will you be taking home Gold next year?

Hah! Fingers crossed! But I am psyched to have won any sort of award.

See more of John and his work at:  
John Malta Illustration