Jason Jam sees the world as one big cartoon strip.
His genius is in picturing the mundane paired with the fantastic. Take, for example, a fishing trip with dad. Jam remembered as a kid hearing his dad warn him for the umpteenth time, “Be quiet or you’ll scare the fish.”
The Billings illustrator tapped into his wild imagaination and turned the timid fish scared away by a young boy’s chatter into a monster rearing up from the lake. The finished cartoon is an elbow in the ribs for dad because only the kid sees the monster. I can relate to the dad seated up front, lecturing without paying attention to what’s really happening.
“You’ve got the above-ground story and then you’ve got this mysterty, this depth,” Jam said. “You’ve got tragedy and comedy to juxtapose to make a great picture.”
Now a parent in his 40s, Jam never quit thinking about the flip side of life. Primarily a self-taught artist, Jam zooms in on character, storytelling and humor.
To find subject matter, Jam often looks to his two daughters or the ridiculousness of life. Another cartoon shows a pink unicorn in a blacksmith shop. The idea came from a brain storming session two years ago
when Jam was teaching perspective to a group of elementary students in an art class at Rocky Mountain College.
Jam realizes that some people dismiss illustrations as not being a legitimate form of art, but he points out that illustrations connect with viewers in ways other artwork might not. He was turned down more than once when Jam tried to show at local galleries, which led him to open his own gallery on the second floor of the Carlin Hotel, 2501 Montana Ave., Suite 7. It will be open for the Friday ArtWalk and on Saturdays.
“Art asks questions and illustrations tell you something. I combine the mystery of art and the storytelling of illustration,” Jam said.
His style likens back to the comics of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. One of the works is a tribute to Stan Lynde, the Montana cartoonist who created Rick O’Shay, which Jam said he read as a boy in The Billings Gazette.
“These would be like the 1940s pulp magazines with the garish bright colors. The subjects are mysterious, macabre and dark and the colors are whimsical,” Jam said.
Jam will show and sell 58 framed works that he has designed since December 2011. Most will sell for $75 each.
He also creates at his day job, which is a designer for Fleetwood Gaming. His weekly comic strip ran in the Billings Outpost for four years.
“That kept me in practice and I learned about deadlines,” Jam said.
He tries to invent a new comic every four days and prides himself that none of the work is done on a computer, but the old-fashioned way with pen and ink and brush. Jam starts with a sketch in pencil and then ink to fill in the details and watercolor to add color. He credits two Senior High School art teachers with both inspiring him and teaching him the skills he needs to design his illustrations and cartoons.
“I remember talking with Mr. Olson one day about being interested in cartooning and he set up a semester just for cartooning. From Mr. Bailey, I learned the goofiness of life,” Jam said.
He hopes his former teachers will be able to make it to ArtWalk.
“I’d like to thank them for teaching me so much,” Jam said.