Killer Serials: J. Scooter Harris, the Tarantino of Comic Books

Categories: Geek Beat

X-Men. Archie. Sailor Moon. If you thought comic books were limited to namby-pamby superhero tales, Manga and All-American "good guy" serials like Richie Rich and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, take a peek at local artist J. Scooter Harris' graphic novel/comic book series, True Crime Theater, and you'll be shell-shocked.

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Courtesy of J. Scooter Harris, www.studiohadra.com

​Drawing inspiration from hard-boiled detective fiction and live burlesque models, Harris' True Crime stories generally involve three things any media guru will tell you is marketing gold: sex, violence and murder. Oddly enough, this is a guy who was once offered a job working on Veggie Tales. (We imagine a banana in a corset and heels gunning down a sleazy, drug-dealing asparagus stalk wouldn't really have worked in the kid-friendly, Christian-oriented videos.) 

We dig Harris' gritty storylines and old school black-and-white drawings. We also recognize that his style isn't necessarily appropriate for those delicate geek flowers who think Quentin Tarantino flicks are "grotesquely offensive" and prefer Strawberry Shortcake to Lady Death. Oh, and if you blush at the sight of a Castle Boutique, you're toast.     

For the rest of you, Harris kindly shared a few gritty, real-life stories about censorship, his art, and deflecting a potential fist fight at Comic-Con. Read 'em and weep.

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Courtesy of J. Scooter Harris, www.studiohadra.com
New Times: How do you get the inspiration for your art?

J. Scooter Harris: A lot of it came from the old 1930's pulp novel covers and golden age comics (1933-1954). That also led me to pinup legend Bettie Page (via the late great Dave Stevens's The Rocketeer comic book series), burlesque legends like Satan's Angel and everyone involved with the Burlesque Hall of Fame. And of course, the neo-burlesque movement like Mimi LeMeaux and Scandelesque. Then there's the inspiration from the quiet life of a reluctant outlaw that I sometimes would rather not have. 
 
NT: Your work has that gritty, film noir look. Did you read a lot of detective fiction as a kid?

JSH: Yes! It started with Batman and The Shadow in the early 70's. Then films like Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

I studied a lot of books by Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Mickey Spillane and James Ellroy, while doing the True Crime Theater project. Now for fun, I just finished Donald Westlake's The Cutie.  About to finally start Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man

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Courtesy of J. Scooter Harris
Pyra Sutra of Scandalesque Burlesque was the inspiration for this buxom beauty.
NT: What would you say to detractors who think your art is too dark, or too explicit?

JSH: It's all about personal taste, really.  What I do artistically cannot be compared to pornography, like some of my critics have done. 

The difference between art and pornography is more than just lighting.  Art has a context and a subtext, whereas pornography has neither.  My True Crime Theater paintings are meant to be clues in context with the much larger graphic novel project, as well as inverted homages to pulp novel covers past. 

A group of so-called "music students" in Scottsdale Community College tried to take down one offensive painting of mine called Left Handed Mansize, which featured a woman in lingerie playing a violin.  For my trouble, I got a scholarship that paid for my next semester.

The lesson is to all those right wingers out there who want to censor everything is to don't do it.  Just ignore it.  The world is a big enough place to do that.  Live and let live.  If those geeks really believe in the free market system, they shouldn't bitch about any sort of art then.  Censoring art only winds up promoting it. 

Why did Scooter get booted from Phoenix Comic Con? Find out his take after the jump...

NT: Have you always wanted to be an artist?

JSH: I always wanted to be a cartoonist, and used to copy various characters from Snoopy, Batman, and Dick Tracy. I would create my own stories based on those characters. 

Not having a lot of money, or TV, can sometimes lead to a healthy imagination.  Of course, this was back in the bad ol' days where TV had only 4 channels at best, and comic books [could] barely be found in convenience stores.

NT: Did you have any formal art training? 

JSH: At first, no.  Then I went to Scottsdale Community College, which turns the answer into a yes.  Many of the art dept. instructors encouraged my creativity and helped me a lot. And then no, after I was asked to attend Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, MO.  I managed to graduate with an illustration degree and in the top 10% percent of my class under threats for my expulsion and death by both faculty and student body. 

(I did my True Crime Theater project as an independent student back then. Who knew that things like detectives, dominatrixes and Texas would offend the country club sect of KC, MO?)

NT: Do you support yourself through your art, or do you have a "day job?" 

JSH: More like various "day jobs."  Most recently as a substitute teacher for various charter and public schools in South Phoenix. Before that, I was a graphic artist for a clothing company.  That business fired me for liking Willie Nelson's music.

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Courtesy of J. Scooter Harris
NT: What's your favorite comic book, and why are you attracted to it? 

JSH: I love comics in general, so I try to read everything as much as I can.   Great art and production value can only get a reader so far without a decent story.  So for starters, anything by Will Eisner.  Particularly A Contract With God, which captures the Jewish experience in 1930's New York so beautifully.  

I do have a guilty pleasure in Vampirella, particularly the Warren years of this ultimate B-movie concept in the form of a barely dressed, buxom vampiress from outer space.  And those painted covers of her mag were a knockout!    

NT: Artistically, what would you love to do that you haven't done already?

JSH: Directing and producing a film.  Just don't have the funds for that at the moment.  I would also love to do a Batman storyline for DC.

NT: We heard you got into trouble at Phoenix Comic Con (P-Con) this past year. What happened?

JSH: Oh, Lordie...The white elephant in the room. A certain small boy thought my work was too offensive for Wil Wheaton. (I thought it was funny that Pyra Sutra of Scandalesque, who was my guest, shot down the advances of actors Gil Gerard and Brent Spiner with a "Who are you?" and a "No thanks, I'm with Scooter Harris.")

So he put my booth in a far corner facing away from the crowd. He and his subordinates [said] my booth had to stay where it was for "fire safety" reasons, after ignoring my requests for over a day and a half. [He] tried to pick a fight with me.  Guess he wanted to prove to his mommy what a "man" he was.  The kid tried, but found that difficult.  I removed his hands from my shirt....and in front of his mommy too.     

When I called him on that, I was then banned from the next con.

I'm not worried about the P-Con anymore. Besides, next year's P-Con would've conflicted with the Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Vegas.  And believe me after years of working with these folks, the Burlesque Hall of Fame is a much better show.

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Courtesy of J. Scooter Harris
Wil Wheaton might've been offended by Harris (right), but clearly actor Bill Moseley of Repo! and The Devil's Rejects wasn't.
Of course, now you're likely wondering what all the fuss is about. Pick up a copy of True Crime Theater: From Blonde to Morgue at The Trunk Space in Phoenix or through Harris' website at www.studiohadra.com. You can also peep some of Harris' art via Bachelor Pad Magazine, at this weekend's Black Friday event at Tempe's MADCAP Theatres, and at Alwun House's upcoming Monster Menagerie show. Look for his next (and possibly LAST!) True Crime Theater series in 2010.
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