Comin’ Straight From The Underground: Jim Mahfood

May 14, 2010

In the summer of ‘97, Marvel Comics released Generation X Underground, a cool-as-hell one-issue special featuring characters from an X-Men spin-off series. This under-the-radar gem was written and illustrated entirely by a then-little known creator named Jim Mahfood.

Fast-forward thirteen years and that very same obscure artist now has his own line of designer cans for Colt 45, had his art appear on Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program, has worked with director Kevin Smith — and is still making cool-as-hell comics.

“I originally just wanted to ink comics and that was about it,” says Jim, who sometimes goes by the moniker Food One. “I was obsessed with inking. But I couldn’t get steady work doing that, so I just said fuck it and started writing and drawing my own stuff — and that led to a whole bunch of unexpected shit happening. It’s been a totally bizarre ride.”

Jim may have found success in everything from advertising to gallery work (“Whatever pays the bills. It’s all fun, usually.”), but he’s always coming back to comics. Not only has he worked on the likes of Spider-Man (a character he’s been reading since he was eight or nine years old), but he’s also produced an impressive amount of creator-owned work over the years.

While Jim’s art is undeniably inimitable, his comics are also marked with a very distinctive voice. Whether he’s giving his own blunt brand of social commentary (like in Stupid Comics) or just having a bit of fun (like in his Zombie Kid and Smoke Dog strips), you’ll know when you’re reading a Food One comic.

His webseries LA Ink Stains, which he’s been posting on his blog sporadically over the last year or so, is no different. “I just wanted to do something funny and personal, and put it up for free,” he explains. “I didn’t even think anyone would care about it, and it wound up getting the most positive praise out of any of the comics stuff I’ve ever done.”

Another unmistakable aspect of Jim’s comics is how infused and influenced they are by music. Sometimes it could be as simple as including a personally recommended soundtrack and sometimes a song could be the focal point of the whole story. To him, the two mediums are a perfect marriage.

“Both comics and music have a flow and rhythm to them, ya know?” he explains. “They’re both based on a certain type of structure; an ebb and flow of sorts. The type of comics I’m into have a certain ‘attitude’ about them, whether it be a punk or hip hop/funk vibe. That’s a very musical sort of thing to me.”

Food One’s also a regular at a lot of live art shows, where he cuts loose in front of a crowd. “In the studio things are more controlled, more thought out and planned,” he says. “And Live Art is the complete opposite of that. I am usually freestyling off the top of my head, just making shit up as I go along, beer in one hand, splattering paint everywhere and totally rocking out, super loose style.”

His canvases at these shows? Everything from walls to women. “Painting and drawing on skin is fun and surreal; definitely a whole different vibe from paper.”

Jim’s had some art done on him too — but of a more permanent variety. “[My tattoos] were designed by my buddies Scott Morse and Troy Nixey. Both of these guys are amazing artists!” he enthuses.

“Troy did a half-sleeve piece with octopus tentacles holding spray paint cans and fish and stuff and my last name in Arabic, while Scott did another half-sleeve with robots, samurai, stars, the Fishbone symbol, boom boxes, and a bunch of designy stuff.”

Jim does plan on getting more work done, but in the meantime, he’s all too happy to help others get inked, by creating specially commissioned tattoo designs.

“My favorite is a full arm piece I designed for this girl. She’s half-white and half-Asian, so I did this half-Asian thing with a geisha and yin/yang symbols and stuff like that, and the other half of the piece was western-themed with a gunslinger and all this badass stuff. I guess her dad was a real cowboy or something. But that shit came out pretty sick and she had the balls to get her whole arm done up like that. I was like, ‘Damn, girl.’”

Aside from his commission work, Jim’s also seen his fair share of fan inks inspired by his art. “It looks good if it’s done right,” he says about seeing his work on skin. “Skin is obviously a whole different kind of canvas. I’ve seen good tattoos and shitty ones; it depends on the tattoo artist.”

“It’s flattering, of course,” he continues. “I’m always curious and surprised by the images that people pick of my art to have tattooed on them. Some of the choices are so random and weird, but I like that. It means that a certain image really resonated with someone in a profound way.”

Jim’s got a lot on his plate these days. April saw the release Web of Spider-Man issue seven, which featured another Food One-illustrated Spidey yarn. Aside from that, he’s just finished artwork for hip-hop artist MF Grimm’s new album You Only Live Twice: The Audio Graphic Novel and is working on another “top secret project” with a famous musician that he can’t announce yet.

“I just had a snazzy new art book come out called Steppin’ In It: A Funk Odyssey,” he adds. “I co-host a super-fun podcast with my friend Jane Dope called The Beat Bee Sessions that people can download for free. We’re making Beat Bee vinyl toys right now! They’re going to be super fucking rad!”

A Food One-designed iPhone case is also coming out soon from Artsprojekt and Speck. And, most interesting of all, Jim’s currently working with frequent Kevin Smith collaborator, producer Scott Mosier, on an animated series — for Disney.

“We’re really excited about it. We’re still in pre-production for the pilot,” he says, then adds with a laugh. “That’s all I can say. It’s very top secret and hush-hush!”

You would think that working with Disney seems strange for the same guy who created Grrl Scouts, a series about a trio of badass chicks who sell pot in cookie boxes — but even the animation giant can’t hold back Food One’s incomparable style.

“The stuff I’m designing is totally over the top,” he says. “I’m feeling super-stoked about it.”

You can keep up with Jim’s work on his blog and his Twitter.

(Black and white photos are © Akirophoto, artwork and mural photos are © Jim Mahfood)

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