“The idea isn’t to draw a specific musician, but to capture the feeling of making music.”
It’s always exciting to find a multi-faceted artist: The writer meets musician meets illustrator. It was that very combination that drew us into the world of Jesse Rimler.
Firstly, if you’re lookin’ for a good time, I suggest you plunk yourself down in front of a Jesse Rimler comic book. His work is funny, relatable, intimate, and wonderfully illustrated. Creeper, Rimler’s latest work, features a curious boy who gets kicked out of the house by his asshole older brother, leaves the semi-suburbs of San Francisco’s Richmond District and finds himself downtown, and eventually, sneaking into a peep show. “It’s based off of this real place called the Lusty Lady. Which actually doesn’t exist anymore,” Rimler says.
The story has a lot of Rimler in it: He grew up in the Richmond District, he had an older brother, he was a curious kid. “No, I never snuck into a strip club,” he laughs. When I point out the opening image of The City and ask where that is, he says all the images are based on different parts of San Francisco but adds, “This is actually a view that doesn’t really exist. The closest I can think of would be up on Lone Mountain College (now UCSF).”
The Creeper illustrations have just the right amount of detail, are funny, and oh so pleasing. I point out one of my favorite parts: A two-page spread that depicts a stripper dancing around within 24 tiny frames. It’s captivating. “Oh yeah, you know, a lot of people liked that page,” Rimler says humbly. He seems nervous to speak too highly of himself.
He explains, “I used to always say that I’m just a doodler. I like to doodle. It felt like it was the only thing I was capable of doing. Then at one point I realized it was time to try harder. I took my first drawing class a few years ago with Frank Santoro — which is an amazing online class — and it was the first time I realized oh, I can do more…”
Another favorite is Mute. This comic, like much of Rimler’s work, has a hilarious plot twist with a touch of the surreal. Mute features a couple at the resolution of an argument. After some fairly distracted sex, the woman says, “Still awake? I want to try something.” She rolls up her magazine, peers into it, and instructs her man to jump into the funnel and shrink down into her eyeball. It gets weird after that.
Although comic books are his truest passion — the curated collection on his website is just a taste — Mr. Rimler’s got his hands full with a number of different projects within the music scene. Which is what really piqued The Bay Bridged’s attention.
“The Jazz School in Berkeley has a quarterly catalog,” he says, showing me some of the cover art he’s done for the school in the last several years. “…because jazz is so improvisatory, I wanted to create illustrations that were also improvisatory in some way.” He goes to a lot of jazz shows and is always sketching. “I like that engagement of listening and drawing. It’s actually something I tend to do anyway. If I’m sitting on BART drawing from life I’ll be listening to something.”
I ask what his goal is with drawing from real life or people on stage. “I think what I like most in drawing — and I see this a lot from the artists that I really love — is that they draw people with a sense of weight and energy. There are obviously exceptions to that but I love when something feels like it’s seated; when it’s sitting in space. So that’s part of why I like drawing musicians: they’re moving but they can’t be running around. I’d have a hard time drawing a play or something but a musician is usually within a small sphere of movement and I really like trying to capture that.”
We look at the 2019 Summer Catalog and he points out that the technique he used was a dry brush. “These are all done with very few strokes. So for example, this leg right here, that’s just the brush going like that,” he swishes his wrist in an imaginary stroke. “So this is India ink, or sumi ink, with a dry brush. I’ll start with a bunch of sheets of paper, a brush, ink and I’ll just try to mimic musicians, performers, singers…I’ll do maybe ten or so sometimes before I feel like I’ve got something going. The idea isn’t to draw a specific musician, but to capture the feeling of making music.”
Over the years he’s developed a house style for the Jazz School. I pull out my computer and ask him to show me some of his influences. “It’s definitely influenced by stuff like Saul Bass, who was this great designer and illustrator from the ’60s.” Right away I see the iconic blocky style from the cover of The Man with the Golden Arm. We keep going. “He did Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder...”
We looked at an album cover Rimler designed for Mary D’Orazi. He says, “D’Orazi sings Bralizian music but was doing an album of Bacharach tunes so I combined those two concepts.” He used ink on paper, and the green, yellow and blue is actually construction paper he scanned because he liked the texture.
Rimler is all about experimenting with different textures. He designed the T-shirts for Weiner Kids using linocut, which is a printmaking technique where the artist carves into a sheet of linoleum and applies ink onto it. Essentially, an intricate stamp that you can use over and over to make prints. For a simple and lovely tutorial, check out SOMArts instructor Katie Gilmartin.
“I love the look of these because they always do something you don’t expect. Even linocut, which is made to be fairly uniform, when you put the ink on, press, pull it up: it’s not 100% what you were expecting. There are these little modelings that happen and it’s really hard to fake that.” He points. “There’s a texture on the legs here that came out different. Which I like.”
Who are some of his biggest influences? “Saul Steinberg is one. I think he’s one of the biggest geniuses of the 20th century.” We gawk at an illustration of an elaborate chicken, drawn in 1945. It’s amazing.
I ask what is his dream; his ultimate goal. “I think doing more illustration work and comics…the hardest thing in the world is telling a good story. And that you don’t learn unless you do it, and no one commissions that….No one’s making you sit there and work on it but when I think about what I really want most deeply? I want to make comics informed by good design. I don’t think I want all the comics to look like comics…for example, stuff like Roman Muradov. He does a lot of illustration work and his comics don’t feel like traditional Jack Kirby, Marvel type of stuff. He’s pulling from design.”
I ask if he’s got any tips. “What’s hardest to do is getting to that meta point: when your thinking and motion are simultaneous. You’re thinking with something else, some other part of you. It takes a lot of structure to get to the point of not feeling like you have structure. Oh!” he adds, sounding jazzed. “The other thing I learned, from Frank Santoro, is a very basic one.” He pulls out a simple black pen. “It’s The Rolling Writer. It’s the first roller ball pen. It’s like, the DNA of a fountain pen, but it costs like a dollar.”
We practice and he draws me a little dog. He says he’s actually very interested in doing dog drawings. “I actually kind of want to set up at a dog park or something and do dog portraits.” Now that’s an idea I can get behind.
Stay tuned for all the fun things coming up for Jesse Rimler, including, we hope, some new music. He is available for commissions and is an exciting illustrator to work with. We’ll leave you with a Rimler tune. Think Nilsson Sings Newman but Rimler singing Nilsson singing Newman.