Fresh Brewed Interview: Josue Menjivar

Josue Menjivar is an illustrator whose studio, Fresh Brewed Illustration, is located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He first came to my attention when I reviewed his graphic novel Cicada. While he was previously unknown to me, he has a long list of small-press credits behind him, perhaps most notably the series Broken Fender. His work is marked by an insightful bluntness about human character, and a singular creative voice that demands attention whether the subject matter is a lonely man who has ruined his own life or an illustrated guide to Bangladesh. He is currently working on a new graphic novel and is considering a compilation of his previous mini-comics. I look forward to both, as his work is an utter joy to read. I interviewed him Saturday, March 2nd, 2002.
-- Alan David Doane

Alan David Doane: How old are you?

Josue Menjivar: I am 37. I was born July 29 1964.

ADD: When did you first develop an interest in comics and cartooning?

JM: when I was a kid. I was pretty much a latchkey kid with my brother and sister.

ADD: What were some of the earliest comics that caught your attention?

JM: I started out with Batman. But the comic that changed my life was Jack Kirby's Forever People. His style was just incredible. I was already seeing Kirby's stuff, but that book just changed everything.

ADD: That's really surprising. I don't really see a Kirby influence in your work. Do you feel that he contributed anything to your style?

JM: Everything. Most of the people that know me have always commented on my "Kirby fingers." I have preached Kirby to anyone that will listen. I have even written articles for the Jack Kirby Collector. Kirby is mostly known for his action, but if you look at his subtle panel [work] he was a genius.

ADD: There's an air of sadness that hangs over many of your stories...and it seems very genuine. If you don't mind me asking, what are you tapping in to to get to these emotions?

JM: I came from a tough part of town in Los Angeles and my home life wa not that great, having an alcoholic father did not help. Just saw a lot of things in life, a lot of sad stories from other people. I guess I just jot down all those things. My experiences as well as others.

ADD: I hope you're a bit happier now? I noted in one of your mini-comics that you seemed to be exploring your feelings about your father. Do you find that sort of thing helpful in dealing with your life?

JM: It helped. Yes I am a pretty happy guy. I was once told that I only write sad stories, so I must be pretty sad. Not the case. I just want to write other types of stories now. Romance, even a cop thriller someday. But it did help at the time. I grew up watching Mexican soap operas with my mom so the cheesy sad elements also come from that.

ADD: What was your first published work?

JM: I guess Top Shelf's issue of Broken Fender #1. I had already been doing the book a couple of years before as a xeroxed mini-comic. Pretty much, Broken Fender is my only published book besides Cicada.

ADD: How many issues did Top Shelf's Broken Fender run?

JM: They only did two books. After that they wanted to only do graphic novels. Cicada was going to be issue three and then I had to lengthen the book. I guess that's why I am not that happy with the book. If I had to count how many broken fenders I have done in total, from minis to published, it would be at issue 12.

ADD: I have really enjoyed the few Broken Fender minis that I have seen, there's some great stuff in there. Is the stuff in the Top Shelf issues reprinted from those or is it all-new material?

JM: It's all new. Every time I was putting out a book, I would have my ideas all ready to go. I was thinking of the total of and it is actually, 26 books.

ADD: You say you're not happy with Cicada. Can you talk a little bit more about that? I thought it was a wonderful work, as I am sure you know.

JM: Thanks. I guess when I look at it, I can see where I was lazy with the art. I also copped out on the ending. Originally, Thomas, my character, was supposed to die. Then I changed it during production, to him surviving, right before it was going to press. I asked Brett Warnock to make it so Thomas does not say anything on the phone.

ADD: Well, I have to say, I wasn't sure if he died or not at the end, and I thought that was part of the reason the ending worked. It was kind of up to the reader.

JM: Yes. that's how I fixed it. So I pulled it off at the end. I kind of like it when the reader creates their own ending. In the '70s, a lot of movies were made like that.

ADD: And I think a lot of the best art is accidental in that manner; you almost could not have planned it that way. What inspired Cicada, anything from real life?

JM: Yes, when I lived in Texas, I heard on the radio that a big executive from a large Texas grocery store was found dead in a hotel room. He did not leave a note. I was intriqued by that and the story was born. I used elements of my father's life (a womanizer) as well as some of my own experiences and things I learned in life.

ADD: What has the reaction been like to the book?

JM: I really don't know to be honest, I don't really follow that stuff. I haven't really talked to Top Shelf yet. My friends have seen it and the ones that aren't close, loved it. The close ones, my brother as well, have seen the whole process up to publication so it means something else to them. By the way, the cicada part of the book was from an NPR segment on Cicadas.

ADD: That's funny, I work for an NPR affiliated station, and I've been surprised since starting six months ago at how comics-friendly the network seems to be.

JM: That's the only thing I miss from the US. Of course, I could listen to it on the internet, but with a dial up, I would never recieve pone calls.

ADD: Well, I can imagine that not receiving phone calls would be a good thing for an artist, but man, you gotta get a cable modem.

JM: I am not online enough to justify it.

ADD: So, you are working on a new graphic novel? Can you talk a little bit about it?

JM: Yes, its working title is Mt. Baker, and it will be my best story ever. I am so committed to making this story be better. It is about a guy who is thinking about leaving Vancouver, Canada to move to Toronto for a job. While he waits for the job in Toronto, he meets a woman who has the same fascination for Mt. Baker as he does. It has a lot of other elements but this is the main one. I like stories about relationships.

ADD: You seem to excel at depicting relationships between people, and characterization in general. Do you spend a lot of time observing human behaviour? Where does this fascination come from?

JM: Thank you. I do love observing people. I have travelled a lot and I have just learned whether you are in Bangladesh or New York, we all are really the same. We cry and we laugh. We love and we hate. It fascinates me. I also, since a kid, have been fascinated with radio talk shows. Especially the pop therapy shows. Joy Browne, Dr. Laura. So many sad stories and they have infuluenced the way I look at things. I also have a very active imagination.

ADD: What has kept you moving around all these years? From Texas to Banglasdesh to LA to Vancouver seems like a lot of travel.

JM: I grew up in Los Angeles, and I hated it. I just wanted to leave it. After the LA riots several years ago, I just left. I took off with a girlfriend to Wyoming. I think I was the only Hispanic there, and then kept moving East. I lived in a lot of places. I love it. I guess I was always just searching for a home. I found it in Austin, Texas. I met some good folks there and it became my adopted American home. I met my wife there, a Canadian, so when she wanted to move back home, I went with her. I love it here. Bangladesh, India and Nepal were places I visited while my wife worked in Dhaka.

ADD: I have to think travel is excellent fuel for a creative person. And I LOVED you Bangladesh mini-comic. It really gave me a feeling for what the place is like. You don't see a wonderful use of the comics artform like that often.

JM: I agree, travelling has really expanded my mind. Hey, Mark Twain agreed. I want to do so many things with comics, the money sometimes stops you though.

ADD: What do you love about Vancouver?

JM: I love the mountains, the ocean and the snow. People here can ski, I don't, and go swimming on the same day. The place is really nice. It rains a lot but I am a homebody so it does not bother me. I guess I feel like a kid who got out of the streets of LA and moved to paradise. I know it sounds cheesy but really, this is how I feel.

ADD: Tell me about Fresh Brewed Illustration. How much of your time does that occupy?

JM: It is my only source of income; my wife is a web programmer though. It is a real business and it has been good so far. I have managed to forge a small name for myself here in Vancouver. I use my comics work to get me other jobs, such as illustrating for magazines and doing covers for newspapers and mags. I used to work in digital prepress but the company closed down. I tell myself that if I succeed in illustration, then I can never lay myself off. I still manage to spend a lot of quality time with friends and my wife.

ADD:How much time do you get to devote to working on comics?

JM: I spend my days always thinking of stories, but lately I have been trying to do more self-promotion for my business, so it does take some of my creative time away. I usually spend the evenings working on a story and once a week I get together with my best friend over dinner, and we draw, work up story ideas and just chat about comics.

ADD: Well, I hope that the illustration work doesn't take you away from comics. You had mentioned to me earlier that you might do a compilation of your mini-comics work, to be called Big Broken Fender. Is there a good chance we'll see that?

JM: Yes, I plan on doing five new stories and then the rest would be only the "hits" from stories that were published in the mini-comics as well as stories that were in France, Belgium and Slovenia, that some people did not see.

Contact Josue Menjivar by e-mail or write to him at:

Josue Menjivar
103-1165 10th Ave. West
Vancouver, BC, V6H LJ2

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