Alumni Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School alum showcasing their work and journey after The Kubert School.
Talent from The Kubert School
Interview by Michael Kraiger
The Kubert School: Do you remember when you started drawing or perhaps drawing better than the other kids?
Henrik Jonsson: I started drawing and doodling early, like kids do, but I was told I had a good sense for detail that the other kindergartners lacked. I was also very obsessed with drawing and would spend hours a day drawing the same scene or thing over and over again. I was a weird little guy.
TKS: What were some of your earliest artistic influences?
Henrik Jonsson: I think I got my first Batman book around the age of four. That was a big thing. Other than that my dad and my uncles all had collected the Swedish versions of Secret Agent X9and The Phantom comics. These were all in black and white. During the mid-90s I started readingMagnum Magazine which had Judge Dredd and also reprinted Preacher in Swedish. Ten-year old Henrik would never be the same.
TKS: Is there an artist whose work that at some point you realized you recognized and that it was a single person drawing it?
Henrik Jonsson: Oh, yeah. I pretty much instantly started collecting books from my favorite artists. As a little kid I hustled around town collecting cans and bottles to recycle. I got a nickel for a can, and bottles ranged from ten to fifty cents per bottle. I used that money and all of my allowance to buy all the John Romita or Gil Kane back issues from the comic book bins.
TKS: Who were some of your earliest artistic influences?
Henrik Jonsson: Norm Breyfogle -- his and Alan Grant's Batman was so good! The figures were so dynamic and full of emotion, and even though I couldn't read back then I was hooked on the story.
TKS: At what point did you realize that being an artist was a career choice [that] you were moving towards?
Henrik Jonsson: Four years ago when I decided to quit my jobs and attend the school. I realized my old dream wasn't impossible, but it would take a lot of work.
I had been through so many different jobs already and, even though I enjoyed some, deep down I think that little kid who just wanted to draw prevented me from being truly happy with any of them.
TKS: Being from Sweden, how did you find out about The Kubert School?
Henrik Jonsson: When I was a kid I had some American comics that had the ad for the school. When I picked up some monthlies and saw it again I thought, why not ditch this place for a while and try my luck overseas.
TKS: Was there any type of cultural shock when you arrived in New Jersey and got to the school?
Henrik Jonsson: I had lived in Detroit with my family when I was younger, so I was prepared. I spoke the language better this time around, I just had to get used to people picking on me for how I pronounce my J's.
TKS: You were a very good student but I wonder -- did you ever doubt you'd made the right choice coming to the school?
Henrik Jonsson: Thank you! Glad to hear you thought so. Sure, I got homesick sometimes, but I was pretty focused and I was too stubborn to not see the three years through.
TKS: Did you ever doubt your abilities?
Henrik Jonsson: Constantly, and I still do. I never like the art I've produced one hundred percent, so I'm still chasing to get better, which I believe is a very good thing.
TKS: What's the best trick or most valuable bit of advice you received while at the school?
Henrik Jonsson: Most important is to do the work. Be open to constructive criticism and always stay hungry for new information. Ask questions.
Funny story… a friend and I, both students then, were at Big Apple Con hoping to talk to one of our favorite artists. This person had a razor lying with his art supplies and we thought there must be some kind of secret genius technique for how to use that razor. The table was pretty crowded so it took us awhile to get a chance to ask, and we built it up as this master technique that would blow our minds. When we got the opportunity to ask, we were super-excited. The answer we got... "I use it to shave."
TKS: Okay, after three years you had interviews with editors from Marvel and DC Comics. What came out of having those interviews?
Henrik Jonsson: I was very fortunate to get my first DC gig that way. I met Mike Marts the day he visited the school, which was a week after our class had visited the DC offices. Two months later he sent a script for an eight-page back up story for Detective Comics #0. I was so excited and I got to pencil a great little story about Alfred written by James Tynion IV.
At the end of the summer I was happy to be contacted by DC again. After having met Rickey Purdin, who was the assistant editor for Suicide Squad, at DC day in New York, I got to pencil three issues of Suicide Squad… which was really awesome to do!
TKS: Besides the assignments from DC you were chosen by Joe Kubert to do the art for a story that appeared in Joe Kubert Presents. How did that come about?
Henrik Jonsson: One day at the end of my third year I came into the classroom. Joe points at me to come and sit down in the chair next to him. He says, "How would you like to draw a short story for a project I'm working on. Is it something you think you could do?" I was pretty gobsmacked and my answer was a given, YES! It was my very first assignment that I would get to do out of school... and it was for Joe Kubert! I got to pencil and ink a story Joe wrote with Pete Carlsson. It was such a huge honor.
TKS: While you were here you were developing a creator-owned property The Norseman. What’s happening with that now that you've returned home?
Henrik Jonsson: I first created it in Darren Auck's Business of Cartoon Art class as a part of a project. At first it was just silly fun to create a Swedish superhero. Later in our third year we had Fernando Ruiz teach a graphic novel class where we had to write 45 pages and draw some of it. I combined and divided this project into three different classes. It stopped being just silliness and became something I seriously wanted to make happen.
During the summer I contacted the Swedish editor for The Phantom (which is a bigger comic than Batman in Sweden) by sending my portfolio to their subscription service. I was hoping to draw The Phantom initially. Three hours later Mikael SoI, editor for The Phantom, sent me an e-mail. He couldn't give me any Phantomgigs but mentioned the Norseman pages in my portfolio and told me I could do that if I wanted to. So we set everything up and after my DC work I started finishing the 60-page story that introduces Rickard Nord, the Norseman, a Scandinavian superhero with roots in Norse mythology. It's divided into four parts that will run as a feature in the Swedish and Norwegian PhantomMagazine. The first part came out September 12, and the project got a lot of media coverage and positive response. So I will definitely continue it with more stories soon.
It's been great to take this time during which I finished The Norseman to get familiar with the Scandinavian comics scene, too. There's a ton of talent here.
TKS: What's a typical workday like for you?
Henrik Jonsson: I wake up as early as I can, put on some tea, and get at it. I sit down and work between 8-14 hours daily. It all depends on that day’s workload. My girlfriend is a nurse so she works pretty irregular hours and days, so I try to adapt my schedule and working hours to hers when I can.
TKS: What are you working on now?
Henrik Jonsson: There's a lot of cool stuff going on, but as it is I'm not really allowed to talk about it. But there will be more Norseman and I've drawn some pages for a horror web comic to be released with writer Phillip Johnson called "The Lost Boys of The U-boat Bremen".
TKS: Any bit of advice you'd give to a first year student or someone considering coming to the school?
Henrik Jonsson: If this is what you want to do, then do it!
TKS: Anything you'd like to add about Joe Kubert?
Henrik Jonsson: Joe Kubert was the best! With the amazing art that inspires us to want to become creators ourselves, and the school that has helped so many of us follow our dream and make it possible, Joe was the man! I'll be forever grateful!