Josh Sullivan: "I' wanted nothing more than to make people laugh."

An interview with the local comic-book artist

click to enlarge READY, SET, DRAW: Josh Sullivan is one of Tampa Bay's most prolific comic book artists. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
READY, SET, DRAW: Josh Sullivan is one of Tampa Bay's most prolific comic book artists.

Who? Comic-book artist Josh Sullivan

Sphere of influence: Sullivan, 26, is arguably the most well-known, prolific comic-book artist in Tampa Bay. Since moving to St. Petersburg from Saginaw, Mich., in 2000, Sullivan has self-published over 100 comic books, and his strips of cartoony characters doing very uncartoony things have appeared in several local and national publications. He also fronts the local ska band Can't Do It, and up until recently, slung coffee at the venerable Globe Coffeeshop.

How he makes a difference: Sullivan says his goal is to make people laugh and push Tampa Bay creatives to express themselves. He is a constant promoter of other local artists and musicians and regularly hosts art shows. He's currently moving toward painting and other forms of art.

CL: When did you start creating comic books?

Sullivan: The real start of my comics was the first comic convention I went to in Detroit in March 2006. The friend I went with had picked up this book — I forget what the name of it was — and he had left it in my backpack. So, the next day at school, I was going through the book and I told myself, "I can do this." So, I started drawing comics. I wasn't mass producing them, but I was handing them out at school. And they were making people laugh. As soon as I figured out I could make people laugh through comics, it was a given that was what I was going to do.

Later on that year, I was doing a flier for the comic shop I worked at and my dear friend Lisa said, "Well, my dad's a doctor. He has a copy machine in his office. Do you want to make free copies?" And a light bulb just shot off. I was like, "Uh, yeah." So, I scrapped the whole flier idea. I never ended up making copies of the flier for my boss. What had happened is, people had known me for the comics at school because of me passing around these one-page scripts. This had been going on for a few months, and so I decided I'm going to do a book. So, what I did is I drew up a cover, and I walked around to everybody at school, and I'm like, "Hey I'm doing this book, it's going to be a dollar, do you want to pre-order one?" So I ended up selling out and I was like, "Wow. I just made all this money and I don't have a book." ... So I stayed up all night drawing the first book and the next day my friend Lisa wasn't in school, and I was like, "Aw, damn, I wanted to make this book." But the next day she was there and I was like, "We're going to your dad's office." I didn't know anything about copy machines or any of that stuff, but my friend Stu did, so he's like I'll take care of it, don't worry about it. So he made all these books and distributed them the next day and that's how it went. That was my sophomore year of high school.

... It sort of helped me be a part of every little clique. I was friends with the football players. I was friends with the stoners, the punks. It was cool because I was doing that with my art, with my humor, with something I was making, something I was doing that no one else was doing. Every once and while, I was telling my friends, "You got to do something for this." I kept pushing them. I wanted nothing more than to make people laugh, but past that, I wanted to get other people's art out there. That was high school pretty much.

Have any of your comics created a stir around town?

I was doing art for this St. Pete arts magazine called Stash Magazine. I ended up writing a column for them, too. But the first thing they ended up putting in there was this comic called "Jump, mutherfucker, jump." It was the first comic of mine that I had a swear word in. For years, I didn't have swearing in [my comics], because I was doing them at school and I didn't want to get in trouble. So I did this comic "Jump, mutherfucker, jump." When all the condos were first going up, I looked up at one that was pretty much done and I thought, "Man, that'd be really crazy just to see somebody jump off it right now." So, I did that comic, and then I got a hold of the Stash Magazine people. They're like, "Oh, we want to put your comics in our magazine." "Oh, OK, which one do you want to use?" And they go, "Oh, that jump, mutherfucker, jump comic." And I'm like, "No. I'm telling you, you're going to get hate mail." So he goes ahead and puts it in there and he ends up getting all this hate mail from all these old people. Apparently they're like, "How could you use the word 'mutherfucker' in an arts magazine?" And so he had to have a whole retraction the next issue, and apologizing left and right for it. And that comic, probably more than any other one, has gotten me some weird e-mails. I got an e-mail from some girl who was not pleased at all about it. I had it sitting up front [at the Globe] with all the fliers. She said, "My dad jumped off the Skyway and I was not amused by your comic. And I wanted to let you know that." I'm thinking to myself, "I don't know you. I'm not doing this to piss anyone off. It's not your personal story in this comic."

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