Artist Spotlight: Jesse Kwe

Jesse Kwe is an comic book illustrator and graphic artist from North Carolina, currently living in Saint Louis, who enjoys watching action/sci fi/fantasy movies and exploring new cuisine. Jesse illustrated my story “The Day I Fell Into the Sky,” part of the children’s anthology “Juice Box” published by the Saint Louis comic community, Ink and Drink. His work can be found on his webpage or Instagram (username: jessekwe).

  • Tell us a little about your journey of becoming an artist.

A lot of people draw when they’re kids, but I really did start drawing when I was three and I always got compliments on how good my drawings were. I started off drawing Knight Rider then moved on to drawing what was back then WWF wrestlers. I was a HUGE Hulkamainiac! It was at this time that I also started drawing comic book characters, specifically Spider-Man and Superman, but it wasn’t until I reached middle school that I started to take my drawing seriously. I started studying proper anatomy and adjusting my style. I then took various art classes in high school, including theater arts. It was at this stage that I also started to open up to criticism and not take it so personally.

In college I started studying multimedia technology (Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, 3D Studio Max, After Effects, etc.) and shortly afterwards I landed a job at VSD, LLC., where I met Donna! For seven years I focused on computer artistry and every once in a while I’d produce a drawing that I was proud of, but by the time I decided to try my hand at the comic book industry I had lost a lot of the skills I had developed as an illustrator. So I spent a couple years regaining everything back and I’m now planting my feet in the comic industry drawing indie and small scale comics.

  • What is your “go to” style?

I guess I would say that I have a mainstream style that would fit in any Marvel/DC comic. Of course, I have other styles such as anime, horror, realism, noir, and super cartoony…but my mainstream style has realistic proportions and anatomy, a good dose of heavy shades, a touch of anime, and a sprinkle of exaggeration.

  • What is your least favorite style to use and why?

I don’t think I have a least favorite, but I’d say the most difficult one for me to grasp is Noir because it’s more abstract than the others. I tend to be literal with the way I light scenes and if a light is shining on top of someone then I tend to draw it the way it would look if someone took a picture. Noir requires you to break those rules and just put the entire person in a solid shade of black with maybe one or two white spots to show intention. It’s sort of a minimalist style and I love pouring detail into my art.

  • How did you continue to develop these skills as an artist?

Sketch, sketch, sketch. Sketching is the illustrator’s version of studying and in fact, that’s what they’re doing most of the time…studying. If I don’t know how to draw something, I’ll take some time to attempt it a few times before I draw it into my actual work. That includes everything from positions, anatomy, proportions, perspective, vehicles, and buildings. I can draw a lot, but there is also a lot I can’t draw.

Pinterest also helps a ton. It’s one of the best places to find references and references are an absolute necessity…unless you’re Kim Jung Gi (illustrator who lays down inks with NO penciled guides).

  • Where do you find your inspiration?

My inspiration for art is really all over the internet. I sometimes spend too much time just browsing IG or Pinterest because I’ve found a style or an artist that grabs my attention. But lately I’ve found inspiration in non-visual art such as writing and character building. I recently started writing a couple of stories so I look to good storytelling (James Cameron & Steven Speilberg movies) and strong character development (Quinten Tarantino films) for reference.

  • Tell us about your Ink & Drink artist group.

Absolutely! Ink and Drink is a collective of artists, mostly local to Saint Louis, who submit short stories based on a certain theme (horror, romance, western, sci fi, etc.) and then the three amigos in charge take all of the qualifying stories and put them into an anthology. They do this twice a year.

They also hold monthly gatherings where we drink, draw, and converse about everything geek and then some. It’s a great way to meet fellow creators. In fact, the first night I attended one of the meetings a guy came up to me to compliment my artwork and he ended up hiring me to draw the Kickstarter funded “Ghost Town: A Mystery” which we’re in the process of finalizing!

I might not be pursuing my dreams if it weren’t for Ink and Drink.

  • You are working on a large project that was a success through KickStarter, and that I was happy to support. I am so impressed by the issues that have already been released! Please tell us a little about your project and your roll in this venture.

Sure! As I mentioned earlier, the comic is called “Ghost Town: A Mystery” which we would ultimately love to turn into a trade paperback, but for now we’re releasing them as three single-page issues, 32 pages each. These three issues make Book 1 and the writer, Alex O’Neill, plans on producing two more books. I was hired to provide the line art and I took it upon myself to also provide the shading to help assist our colorist, who was a novice at the time of the Kickstarter.

The story takes place in a dystopian, alternate America and revolves around Arthur Saulos, a former boxer turned auditor for the “Lollipop Corporation,” which bought and paid for the American government when it went bankrupt. Arthur is suddenly sent to the abandoned “Treble City” to investigate strange occurrences that will lead him on a journey of danger and discovery. It also has Vampire Nazis! For more information please visit our Ghost Town website.

  • What other projects are you currently working on, or have up your sleeve for when Ghost Town is completed?

I just finished a short story called “Jody and Jamal’s Cosmic Kwanzakah” written by Jim Ousley who also wrote “Rough + Tumble” and “Dead Palace”. It centers around the Metro Theater here in Saint Louis and has two kids going on an imaginary, fun adventure that combines Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. It will be featured in “Joyful Noize”, an anthology of Holiday themed stories being released this December.

I just started preliminary designs on a horror comic book entitled “Snakes and Spiders” which is written by Josh Barbeau who wrote Tyrants, published by Hollow Harbor. I can’t talk too much about it but you can tell by the title what the story is about.

I’m also working on a project with Carlos Gabrial Ruiz, who I worked with on the Croatoan portion of his comic “Roanoke”. It’s called “Samurai West” about a ronin samurai who, at the end of the samurai, sails to America and searches the wild west for the revenge of the murder of his master. It was an idea that I originally created for the next Ink and Drink anthology (western themed) but I fell in love with the idea so much that we’re also going to develop it further to pitch to other publishers.

  • What advice would you give hopeful artists trying to break into the world of comics?

There are two fighters that sum it up better than I ever could.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits…” – Rocky Balboa

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

So basically, don’t give up. If you get rejected, get back up and go again. Stay persistent and you’ll eventually make progress. It’s great to have a goal, but the JOURNEY is more important. And ALSO, stay malleable and flexible. If one path doesn’t work, try another. Learn when to hit hard (crash like water) and when to roll with it (flow like water). Find your way, don’t let anything stop you.

  • What advice would you give hopeful artists trying to make a name for themselves?

Social media is where it’s at. I know a few artists who, frankly, aren’t very good but they make a killing and they’re pretty popular because they know how to promote themselves. Don’t worry about coming off as stuck up or egotistical. You can be confident without sacrificing your humbleness. Besides, you know you’re awesome so it’s okay to flaunt it every once in a while.

Basically, put yourself out there and learn to promote and sell your skills.

  • Tell us some more about yourself!

My favorite number is 11!

My favorite movie is “The Last Dragon” and my favorite comic book character is Superman. I love Batman be he’s overrated. YEAH I SAID IT! 😛 Currently my favorite illustrator is Sean Gordon Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus, Wake, Chrononauts, and Batman: White Knight). I currently don’t have a favorite writer, but my favorite story is Superman: Birthright, written by Mark Waid. My favorite video game series is Metal Gear Solid, which makes my favorite video game creator Hideo Kojima. My favorite TV Shows are Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and Game of Thrones…and maybe Westworld.

I like dancing and singing. I like being with my friends. I’ve recently caught a travel bug on my trip to Germany and I’ll be visiting the homeland of my parents, the Philippines, in January! I have one tattoo (Standing Rock Tribe’s Thunderbird) but definitely plan on getting more, including my favorite symbol (the Yin Yang). I studied Kung Fu with Donna for two years (she continued further studies) and I plan on attending a Wing Chun school in Saint Louis. Oh….and Saint Louis, despite the reputation it has as being sort of a war zone right now, is one of the best cities in the United States! (Pictured: Patterson with a broad sword, Kwe with a staff, and their friend Katya with a spear.)

Shout out to my boy, Brandon Daniels, who has helped me tremendously on my journey into comics.

What are your thoughts?