Intro: We chatted with UK-based writer and illustrator Marc Jackson. We discuss his love of all things Magnum P.I., his thoughts on when artists have the right to tell certain stories and how his unique drawing style was developed.
Modular: Magnum P.I. is one of your most popular comics. How did that project come together? Were you a fan of the show?
Marc Jackson: Yeah, I was a big fan of the show growing up. It’s just such an iconic looking character, you know? With the mustache and the hair and the shirt, obviously. And at the end of 2019, a cartoonist called Sean Phillips posted a painting that he’d done of Tom Selleck. This fantastic watercolor painting. And I know Sean a little bit through one of the comic festivals that I work with. When he posted this picture, my reply back to his post was that "This makes me want to make my Magnum P.I. comic.” Which wasn’t a thing. It’s just what I said to him. And he just replied back and said “Do it!” So I thought “Right. Ok.” So, January comes around and I thought “I’m just gonna do this in a couple weeks.” It ended up being this little eight page comic. I thought it was just a bit of fun. Then, I did an article for a website called Bleeding Cool basically just telling the story that I’m telling you now. I had 25 copies up for pre-order on Etsy when the article went live. And on Etsy—I don’t know if you know this—every time you make a sale, a cash register sound goes off. One night, I heard the sound go off a couple times on my phone. I said to my wife, “Oh, that article must have gone live.” And then, for the rest of the evening, my phone kept making that sound. Before we went to bed, it sold out. The 25 books were gone and we had to re-up. And the next morning, I sold double the amount.
MJ: Yeah, so it was influenced by that conversation with Sean, which then led me to—we used to have a magazine here in the 80s called Look In. It used to have little articles and interviews with the pop stars at the time, you know? Like Culture Club and Adam Ant and things like that. It also used to have comic strips of all the popular tv shows - Magnum P.I., Fall Guy, Chips. And then a couple more British ones. But the Magnum one was illustrated by a man called John M. Burns. Really beautiful work. He was doing two pages of Magnum a week. I had a couple of issues lying around so I was looking at those. I was also looking at the Mad Magazine parody of Magnum P.I. I was taking in both of those things. A realistic comic book version and a sort of parody and putting the two together. To come up with my version of it. And so I did that and it just kept selling.
Pictured: Page from Magnum P.I. #1
Modular: I understand that due to COVID, you, like many other comic book artists, made the transition from primarily print distribution to digital distribution. Could you tell us about that transition and what kind of impact it had on you both professionally and artistically?
MJ: Yeah, so, right at the very start, I like everybody didn’t really know what was going to happen. Everything just stopped. But I wanted to carry on making stuff. My brain was in the zone of doing stuff. And just before the lockdown, I had another idea for a little comic called Bring the Ninja. Everyone was putting stuff on Instagram—like free content—because they had an audience there and everyone was at home and people wanted stuff. So, I thought I’ll do Bring the Ninja as a weekly little strip on Instagram. It was the first time I’d done anything where it was just out and out action so that was nice. To just be drawing ninjas fighting robots.
“I was taking in both of those things. A realistic comic book version and a sort of parody and putting the two together. To come up with my version of it. And so I did that and it just kept selling.”
Modular: Did you you experienced anything unique about the interaction with your audience while the comic was exclusively in digital form?
MJ: Yeah, it was nice to put something out there every week. If a cartoonist or creator is putting something out regularly, you look forward to that. And it was nice to be able to play with the format as well. If you’re just doing week to week, you can get away with things a little bit. And deviate from the story and to just do a random thing one week. People seemed to respond to it. I had a little wobble with it at one point.
Modular: How so?
MJ: The comic kinda plays with the Blaxploitation genre. And some people could say “Well, you’re a white guy and you’re playing with these things that some might say that you haven’t got the right to do.” It’s tricky, you know? Especially when you’re doing humor as well. You’re possibly adding another element to it that somebody could come along and go “ Yeah… I don’t know whether this is something you should do.” It’s very hard to know, isn’t it? And then, right in the middle of me doing the comic, everything happened with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. The really weird part is there’s a superhero character in it named Floyd Fighter. And that’s purely coincidental. I just thought it sounded like a fun name. Floyd. Fighter. But yet, you’re putting this out week by week, in the middle of that, and I thought “Oh, I dunno if I should be putting this out.” I even asked a friend if I should take it down and they told me yes. But I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. Because there’s nothing in it that’s controversial. I think it was mainly the fact that I was a white creator playing in a world that some might say isn’t your world but nor is the world of Magnum P.I. It’s all fantasy stuff.
Modular: It’s so subjective, right? Ultimately, what you’re doing is you’re creating a pastiche. It’s clearly an homage to so many different genres and stories.
MJ: It’s exactly that. It’s pulling in from everything that I know. My love of hip hop from when I started listening to it in the early 80s. It’s taking all these things and just throwing them all together. And by the end of it, I felt it was the best cartoon that I’d done up to that point.
Pictured: Page from Bring the Ninja Book One
Modular: You have a quote by Bill Sienkiewicz on the back of Bring the Ninja praising the book. Tell us a bit about that.
MJ: I had a connection with Bill Sienkiewicz, the amazing cartoonist, on Twitter. He started following me, which is crazy. And I said “Can I send you this comic? And if you like it, would you be willing to give me a little quote?” And so I sent it off and I thought “This is going to go one of two ways.” *laughs* And he came back with this amazing quote that basically says what both me and you just said. It mixes everything up and it kinda spits itself back out and it’s just fun. I just want people to read it and think it was fun.
Modular: Could you tell us a little about your artistic process and how your drawing style came to be?
MJ: I have two young children. Well, one is 10. One has just turned 7. So, not really young. But they were really young when I first came back to doing comics again. And I think my style has kinda evolved into the style of “We need to get this done because I have not much time. Because I have two children in the house. And nobody is at full time school yet”. It’s amazing what you can achieve in such a small space of time. I do believe my style has definitely developed because I have not had as much time. I could draw things when I’m like half way out the door. And I’m not one for redoing things. I like to work fast. And I like the looseness of working fast. I teach cartooning in schools and libraries as well. And I always say it’s not about your skill. It’s about your confidence to say “Yup. That’s fine. Move on to the next bit.”
Download Magnum P.I. #1 here.