Right now, we all need a few laughs and the feeling that someone understands exactly what we are going through. Luckily, Tommy Siegel has released his book of essays and comics, I Hope This Helps: Comics and Cures for 21st Century Panic, to help us through these crazy times.
Prior to entering the world of comics, Siegel was best known as a singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist for the band Jukebox the Ghost. A talented musician, Siegel’s touring capabilities were limited once the pandemic began. Following this development, Siegel decided to turn his talents to a childhood dream, becoming a published cartoonist.
With a strong social media following and countless celebrity reposts and shares, Siegel has captured the attention of audiences around the world. His relatable, humorous takes on real-world situations provide a positive way of coping with the struggles of 2020.
Earlier this week, Blast Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Tommy Siegel about his entry into the world of comics, the similarities between creating music and comics, and his best advice for future creatives.
Blast Magazine: Your comics provide a humorous look at the craziness that is our current state of the world. When you are creating each comic, do you have a specific theme or type of message you wish to convey to your readers?
Tommy Siegel: I feel like I have my own ideas about our culture and where our society is heading and our values that kinda bleed through the comics, but I didn’t really set out like an ethos for the comics themselves. I try to keep the comics as sort of a blank slate because I find that more freeing. I’ve been enjoying the fact that my comics haven’t been given a narrow set of things they can talk about. It can just sort of be different from day to day and I can just bounce to whatever I think is interesting.
Blast Magazine: In just a short amount of time, your comics have garnered interest from around the world. Your work has been tweeted about by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and George Takei, among millions of others. Why do you think people have connected so strongly with your comics?
Tommy Siegel: I just kept finding over and over again that I would have an idea that I would assume was some kind of anxious thought that would seem esoteric to anybody else. It was just stuff that I was going through. But, I found that every time I made one of those into a comic, there ended up being all these people saying it was “so relatable” and that I “nailed it.” It’s been interesting to me because I think what I’ve discovered is that everybody is really worried about the future, everybody is concerned about the present, and everyone struggles with their mental health. The more and more I specifically plum my own psychological depths, the more that it seems to resonate with everybody else. The more personal I think I’m being, the more it resonates with everybody.
Blast Magazine: Do you have a specific creative process when you are creating your comics or do you tend to just let your ideas flow onto the page without structure?
Tommy Siegel: It’s not much of a process and more just like a big mess. I always have a notebook of ideas so I’m constantly sort of refining and revisiting those ideas. Sometimes it’ll take like a year for an idea from the notebook to actually turn into a comic. I write down every thought I have, so it’ll be something that’s not even a joke. A year ago, the Quaker Oats man was an idea that I had and just a couple days ago, I posted a comic of the Quaker Oats man modeling nude, saying that he is the new brand mascot whose body I’m exploring. That just sat around for a year. There are a lot of ideas.
Blast Magazine: Prior to your official entrance into the world of comics, you were best-known for your work with your band Jukebox the Ghost. Do you feel that there are any similarities between your musical creativity and your comic creativity?
Tommy Siegel: I think that if you have that creative spark – which I actually think a lot more people have than allow themselves to know that they have – as long as you put out the welcome mat for creativity and give it the space, I think it just sort of comes. When I was a kid, cartoons were what I was super passionate about and so I had a million cartoon ideas. Then, I started playing music and totally abandoned the cartoons. I didn’t have any more cartoon ideas and only had music ideas. Now, making the conscious decision to draw comics again, all of a sudden, I have lots of cartoon ideas again. So for me, it’s about opening a door and allowing myself to know that I can enter the door if I want. That tends to work for me.
Sometimes it is hard to switch back and forth. I do find that the comics brain is a little more agenda-driven since your object is to make somebody laugh. With music, your goal is a little more nebulous. You have an idea and think that it says something and other people might find it interesting, but you’re not provoking people’s reactions in the same way. I guess that process is just a bit more nebulously creative. You’re not coming in with a clear objective in the same way.
Blast Magazine: I Hope This Helps: Comics and Cures for the 21st Century Panic was released on October 6 and has already been a hit. Moving forward, what are your plans in the comics world? Do you want to release more books or do more one-off comics to be released online?
Tommy Siegel: It’s been so much effort leading up to this book that just came out and I’ve got another book coming in early 2021. I’m now kind of in that weird space where I’m done with the big projects and trying to figure out what comes next. Certainly for me, a dream has always been to find a way to combine music and the comics in a way that feels organic. Right now, I’ve been working on them both separately and they have a lot of the same themes but they’re not meant to be ingested at the exact same time. So I’ve definitely started dabbling around with some animation stuff and hopefully, can find more ways to go down that path.
Blast Magazine: Now that you’ve had a bit of experience working in the world of comics, can you share with us anything that has surprised you (good or bad) about this industry?
Tommy Siegel: Something I found sort of shocking is just how vibrant and rich the world of web comics is. Before I started doing it, I wasn’t really aware of it. I knew it existed, sort of, but I didn’t realize how many great comic artists there are making web comics right now, so that has been very cool. It feels like a real treat to keep discovering more people who can hold me to a higher standard because there are so many people that are just better at it than I am. It’s inspiring. I’m almost glad I didn’t know about them before I started because it might have been counter-productive in an intimidating way but now that I am doing it, it’s very cool to see other comic artists out there who are super serious about the form in a way that I wasn’t when I started.
Blast Magazine: That’s fantastic that you’ve been able to be inspired by these other web comic artists. Are there any cartoonists or comic book artists that you drew inspiration from growing up?
Tommy Siegel: A lot but the two that I think are the biggest for me are Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. I was a newspaper comics kid. That was my nerdy obsession. I was just obsessed with both comics and totally devastated when they both retired within the same six months of 1995.
Blast Magazine: You have now built two impressive careers for yourself, both in very creative fields. What advice would you have for people interested in turning their creative passions into a career?
Tommy Siegel: I would just advise people not to think about it too much as “I’m pursuing a career.” That would be my biggest piece of advice. Just do the thing you want to do. I’ve seen it happen to myself and so many other people I know where you get your artistic sense of self-worth mixed in with the things which capitalism will pay for and those two things are not the same. We’re trained at a very young age in this country to see our own value as reflected back at us in the form of a salary and how much money we make and it’s just not true for artists and really never has been. Even for me, like Jukebox the Ghost, we’ve done really well for ourselves but there’s been many years where it was not a career. Even after we made it a career, it became not a career again, and then it became a career again. All just to say, it’s all really hard to make money in and make a living off of. But if you can maintain the passion for it that’s outside of the influence of capitalism, I think you’ll find the most happiness.
Purchase a copy of I Hope This Helps: Comics and Cures for 21st Century Panic at: https://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/book/i-hope-this-helps/ and follow Tommy on Twitter at @TommySiegel.