JARED GNIEWEK is a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in Tales From the Crypt, Earstage, and Audio Movies, and he is former lead vocalist of the band Snaggletooth. He is also the creator of the minicomic project GULP! and the webcomic Gamer’s Guilt. Jared is a karaoke DJ in New York City, and his current webcomic Scary-Oke has appeared online since 2009.
ON COMICS AND KARAOKE
When I started Scary-Oke, I was going to build a challenge game for people doing karaoke together. Each card would be a challenge—do a song standing on your head, whatever. As we were playtesting, it was good for a few rounds—but you don’t want more than 6 or 7 challenges, and if you play with extroverts everyone tries everything so there’s no way to win or lose. After I became a karaoke host and went pro, I could see karaoke challenges come into play naturally–it happens organically. So then I ended up doing the Scary-Oke strip just to fill in content on my site.
A publisher put out a book of the strips and gave me a little advance on it, but they didn’t so well. At some point I’ll call him up and buy the rest of the run from him. When it was first printed my friend who was an artist went to go pick it up from the printer, and he didn’t know it was my book. He was like, “Why are we printing this shit?” I heard back and I thought that was the funniest thing. I’m not going to apologize for my stuff. The fucking gall of me trying my best!
ON WORKING AND IMMEDIACY
I worked at this liquor store in San Francisco, and before that I worked nights at a gas station for ten years. I remember one night at the gas station thinking I should do comics on the back of cigarette cartons, because they were the perfect shape. I did one after Phantom Menace came out, saying “Midi-chlorians my ass!”—and then I didn’t do any more. But when I started working the liquor store I would find cartons, and I figured I could find 45 minutes and do one every time I worked. I did it for 9 months, about 90 strips, and that became GULP!
It did very well for me. People love “stunt” books. To me it’s the lowest form of entertainment—”I’m gonna do X for a month!” It’s a stunt. It’s a framing mechanism for bland introspection. I’d sell the originals for 15 bucks. To me, making an art object and having it on the fridge forever, that’s beautiful. Every time I do an art fest I sell between 20 to 50 copies and make my money back. But I don’t even look at those strips any more. I started doing Scary-Oke around the same time, and I wanted that to look superpro. I was doing that during the day, and then nights at the liquor store doing GULP! with a ballpoint pen.
The real reason I did GULP! was that I’d just gotten an iPhone and I thought it was amazing to make these instantly accessible strips with no lead time. It was just up on FB for my friends, and immediately you get 20 people liking it—instant gratification. My previous experience with comics was that you make something and you wait a year. Story of my life. I wrote a script for a horror movie in 2008 that got made last year. One of my pet peeves is making something and nothing happens. That’s why I taught myself to draw. I hate the idea of having to wait on people or asking them to work for free. I had some success with Tales From the Crypt and making radio plays, but I can’t stand the idea of half-ideas floating around. I need to see it. It’s the idea of getting it done, feeling like “I made this,” and moving on. Working in collaboration with other people is just a nightmare to me. Even when I was in the band it was the same thing. I don’t want to lead people. It’s hard enough motivating myself.
ON BOOZING AND CHANNELING
I’ve always been fascinated by bars after spending so much time there in bands and stuff. You watch Cheers—it’s like your home away from home. When I sat down to write a strip about monsters that sing karaoke, I came up with this bartender named Fred who’s basically a plague bearer for Nergal from Warhammer. And then there was this little slug named Ed who was like Belial from Basketcase—he was an excuse for me to draw pustules. And then I injected myself into the strip, which was kind of strange because I felt like Fred already covered it, but I tend to use myself as a bit of a straight man, whereas i think that Fred and Ed drive the narrative. I guess I couldn’t abandon myself. I love the way I look when I’m drawn. I’m sure Joe Matt says the same thing. There’s something about refining yourself down to this idealized cartoon form. I draw myself looking fairly repulsive, but it’s 100% how I want to be seen.
I can’t help but feel like I’m doing something special—like I’m channeling and not just writing. It’s been going for seven years and it keeps changing. I don’t feel like the work is refined to a state of saying “this is what it is.” It’s from a love of that world of boozing—I’m writing what I know. I come from the world of the band, and to me it’s saving up money to do it yourself because you’re passionate about it—you make CDs, you make shirts. It’s probably antiquated, but that’s how I roll.
For more Scary-Oke, click the top left thumbnail.
Want to be considered for future installments of The New Comics? Send your work to Comics Curator Keith McCleary via the Entropy submissions page.