JJ McLuckie is a Chicago-based illustrator, cartoonist, muralist, and hand-poke tattoo artist. They primarily self-publish queer body-horror comics based on under-appreciated aspects of the world, gender/sexuality, mental health, and stream of consciousness writing.
STL SPEX (Brandon): To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is JJ McLuckie and live in Chicago, there I primarily self-publish comics, paint murals, and illustrate posters. I grew up in the woods and cornfields of rural Illinois without all that much human contact outside of school, so most of my work nowadays is in appreciation for those moments of calm that don’t seem to happen much anymore. I moved to Chicago for school in 2013 and while I do enjoy no longer having to drive a half-hour to get groceries, the comics community is what has kept me most excitedly drawn to staying here. Going from living in a small town with very few resources for making community within a niche interest, simply due to the size of the town, to now living somewhere with a club/community/event/space for every niche you can imagine. Being surrounded with this sense of endless things to discover and delve deeper into is what most excites me to draw nowadays. Communicating emotion visually, portraying and destigmatizing queer identities, and experimenting with different formal drawing/painting techniques tend to be the three recurring themes of each project I work on.
STL SPEX: You create comics, paintings, illustrations for events and musicians, and do hand-poke tattoos. Can you talk a little bit more about your art practice? How did you start doing each thing and how do you think they help inform each other?
One of my favorite things in life is just to be making or working on something while feeling productive or helpful, drawing/cooking/landscaping/cleaning/painting/organizing/woodworking/tattooing/etc, so most of the things I do in my art practice were formed from me just trying something out and having enough fun to want to keep doing it. I imagine everything as a puzzle or web of systems to be sorted out, so the highlights of learning a new skill is understanding how it works and the ways that you can use the tools available to accomplish the things you want them to with the most ease. Learning to use one tool often requires different muscles, mindset, and technique; the skills learned from one tool can then be used to inform the way that you use others. For example, drawing is always my core practice and there are many tertiary ones such as hand poke tattooing that focuses on steadiness, confidence in movements, and ability to work with a constantly shifting surface. If I tattoo for a while, then I will find that fine details within the linework of a drawing improves. Assisting with murals is more viewed as technical training in the way it involves painting someone else’s design as accurately as possible, such as by having to paint long straight lines that involve full body control. Drawing after a day of this creates much smoother and accurate linework. Painting is always the time to explore ideas formally while getting to experiment with color, style, and metaphors. In short, I worry a lot about utilizing time, so I often do a lot of mental rationalization for why every action done helps inform every future action in order to make each experience valuable and enjoyable.
STL SPEX: It does look like you have become a prominent figure in the Chicago small press community. Can you elaborate a bit on your involvement with The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE)?
I had first learned about CAKE in fall of 2014 from professors at Columbia College and excitedly volunteered in 2015; this was my first time really ever seeing alternative comics, particularly independently published comics. It was one of the first places I had been in Chicago that felt like a family and I immediately started reading every alternative/underground/independent comic I could find. Ivan Brunetti was a special guest that year and was going to be my professor at Columbia that fall, so we had a short awkward conversation as I naturally do when meeting someone new. He has played a major role in teaching and motivating me to keep making comics since and has also just became a good friend that I’m always excited to run into. I started going to comics events pretty regularly during this time period and volunteered with CAKE again in 2016 and 2017. 2018 was my first year getting to table, but since I wasn’t going to be able to volunteer there during the event, I started helping a bit with planning and set up. In order to help, I designed the poster for the Art Auction and Comic Reading fundraiser, painted at little sign at Quimby’s Bookstore to help advertise where some of the exhibiting artists’ books were on display, and the most exciting task was organizing and printing the 2018 CAKE Exhibitor Anthology. The 2015 anthology was the first book I bought at CAKE and had used it for years as a way to become more familiar with the artists in the Chicago Area, so it was exciting to hopefully have made that for somebody else. This year I made the Debut book tags, and have been trying to be a bit more involved in learning about how the planning of everything happens. I can’t give enough thanks to all the coordinators and especially the organizers: Matt Brady, Mike Freiheit, Chris Lopez, Jon Mastantuono, Jackie Roche, and Ed Witt. Everyone does an amazing amount of work to make CAKE possible and hope that I can simply just relieve some of their pressure.
STL SPEX: What are your thoughts on the increased popularity in small press art forms and the events that showcase them?
Having a rise in so many new artists is both overwhelming and really exciting. Often it feels like I find out about someone new making something fresh and exciting almost every day. Having people sharing constantly online is always inspiring me to try out new ideas or work on improving old ones; then getting to see someone’s idea in person at a small press event is what feels most exciting. Anyone making these books realizes just how much care goes into every step of the process and having a whole hall full of people with the drive to create so much is one of the most energizing feelings. After the last day of every event, there is a simultaneous feeling of complete exhaustion and a pure joy from having seen so many people actually doing something they genuinely love to do.
STL SPEX: You recently did a performance of your new comic, Folicle, that featured prosthetic make up. How did that experience come about, and what was that like?
There is a quarterly zine-reading series organized by Perfectly Acceptable and Bred Press called Zine Not Dead. What makes this series most interesting to me is that each person performs their zine; this could involve music/props/acting/outfits/other people/just simply yourself reading. The series is both a ton of fun and a reminder of why I love making comics and getting to be involved in such a supportive group of people since it feels like one of the few times when so many, often solitary, zine-makers are together in one room. Matt and Brad reached out to me to do a reading for the February date. The comics I was making at that time were all silent and those with words seemed too old and too depressing to read for a crowd. I decided to work on making a new comic with a more solid narrative since it’s something I struggle with a lot. I ended up doing so many transcriptions of Twilight Zone episodes trying to get comfortable writing concise narratives and can definitely see how it influenced the creation of the book. The comic, Follicle, literally is about an airborne virus that infects hair follicles and results in the hairs falling out leaving empty expanding holes in their place. Conceptually though, it functions more as a metaphor for the mental and social effects of incurable illness and finding the temporary support from others while trying to support yourself. Zine Not Dead was the first time I had read anything of my own in front of a crowd since my high school graduation, so naturally I was nervous for the month leading up to it. The night of though, I finally realized that of all the places in Chicago, there is probably no higher concentration of people that would feel just as nervous about reading in front of a crowd than in that building. That paired with the support of friends in the crowd and getting to wear a “costume” (I made a prosthetic of the dilated follicles and wore the same outfit as the narrator of the book) ended up making it a really fun experience that I hope to be to be able to get to practice doing more in the future.