Con Artists: Justin Peterson, Featured Artist

Justin Peterson and his work for Tijuana Flats in Winston Salem, NC
Justin Peterson and his work for Tijuana Flats in Winston Salem, NC

Artist Alley at any convention is easily my favorite place. I love art, as I’ve said repeatedly. I’m also a huge fan of comic book style art. It’s probably my favorite style of art, edging out anime style art by virtue of being exposed to it years before I knew anime existed. When I passed the Justin Peterson comics and art booth, I slowed to a crawl. You can see why in the image below:

Justin Peterson Art Display from Mega Con Orlando 2018
Justin Peterson Art Display from Mega Con Orlando 2018

There was something inherently engaging and fun in his art. I couldn’t shake the feeling I had seen his work before but I wasn’t familiar with the comic Very Near Mint and I didn’t realize that my intense love of burritos might be partially responsible for that feeling.  I kept wandering back to Justin’s booth and he was super friendly every time so naturally I knew I’d want to include him and his art in this series.

Justin Peterson is one of those rare people who knew what he wanted to do at an early age and did just that. From his first exposure to X-Men comics in the 6th grade, Justin was hooked on comics and set his heart on making a living as an artist. He was fortunate enough to have supportive parents and art teachers. By the age of sixteen, Justin scored his first professional art job and a legend was born… Okay, maybe not a legend (yet) but definitely one of the best comic artists I’ve seen.

Justin Peterson at work.
Justin Peterson at work.

Justin is a baseball enthusiast and by his own admission was a pretty good ball player growing up but he knew his true love was art. This was pretty apparent when I asked at what point he realized that art was his passion and he shared:

When I realized I was scared of baseballs hitting my drawing hand! Haha! Truthfully though, it’s hard to explain, but it feels like the passion was always there. Built in, you know? Good thing I like doing it! But it did feel like it “clicked” when I read that first issue of X-Men. It was like, “Oh! THIS is what I want to do! I want to draw this stuff!”

Naturally, I wanted to know about how he landed his first professional art job at the tender age of sixteen:

I had a fantastic set of art teachers my entire life, from elementary school through high school. All of them super supportive. My main art teacher in high school, Mr. Frank, did try his hardest to get me to embrace some “traditional” art styles, like painting or sculpture, but I was a teenager and all I wanted to do was draw comics! I eventually wore him down and, to his credit, he allowed me to explore the art I wanted to do. Most teachers would have thrown down the hammer!

He was the one who hooked me up with that job. They asked him if he knew anyone who could draw cartoons, and there I was, this punk kid in his art classes who ONLY drew cartoons! It worked out very well!

To this day, Mr. Frank has been very supportive of my career. A lot of very talented artists came from his classroom. I hope he’s proud of the work he did, helping mold a generation of artists and photographers.

Let me just send a quick shout-out “Thank you” to both Mr. Frank and Justin’s parents because all too often people discourage potential artists for fear that they won’t be able to make a living doing what they love. Speaking of support Justin is happy to give support to young artist. He shared with us part of what he love the most about going to conventions:

I  really enjoy meeting young artists and giving back the encouragement that I was given by my teachers and family. It feels nice to be their cheerleader, you know? Flip through their sketchbooks, give them some pointers, and see them the following year to see how much they’ve progressed!

I also love the reactions I get to my work…from someone who’s read my graphic novels (Very Near Mint) or seen my murals for Tijuana Flats in person, it’s very rewarding to see a fan totally excited about my work. That’s pretty awesome.

 

Naturally, I wanted to know if it was cool to encourage young, new artists, and even aspiring artists to hit Justin up for some advice. His answer mirrors exactly the behavior that I saw while at MegaCon:

They can ABSOLUTELY stop by my table and hit me up via social media to talk art. 

I was in their shoes at one point in time, I know what it feels like. In high school, I actually reached out to a number of artists I admired via e-mail. One in particular was Tim Townsend, who worked on X-Men. You can imagine my surprise when he wrote me back! I would ask him about paper and pens and ink and all sorts of art related questions. He was always very generous with his time and responses…again, I was a punk teenager, he didn’t NEED to be answering questions like “what kind of pen and ink did you use in this issue of X-Men?” but he DID write back, and I never forgot that.

So, today, if a kid comes up to the table and asks me questions, I remember that I was once that kid and it’s my turn to share whatever knowledge and advice I have. I wouldn’t say it’s my duty or obligation, even. It’s a privilege to do it.

I know young artists who I met when they were 10 or 12, who are now 20 or 25 and professionals. It makes me extremely proud to know that MAYBE, just maybe, I had something to do with that.

Hear that, all you wonderful aspiring artists? Make it a point to pop by the Justin Peterson comics and art booth, especially if you’re feeling a bit shy. Justin’s as much fun as his art so you’ll walk away with a smile and probably some good tips from a veteran artist who’s done work for MAD magazine. In fact, his favorite con story has to do with how he got started with MAD. He shared with me the story:

I was at New York Comic Con in 2012, sharing a booth with my friend Cole. At this point, I had a couple of my books available and had been pretty active on my social media channels, making sure I was posting frequently and interacting with fans. One of my best friends, Lee, kind of kicked me in the butt years prior about being better about my social media presence, he told me to post more and get active in the online communities. So, I had been posting a lot of art online, people who found me from Tumblr or Facebook were coming up to the table.

A day or two into the show, a guy comes up to the table, his name is Ryan, “Hey man, I follow you online. I love your stuff.” Thank you, I said. I noticed he had a DC Entertainment sticker on his shirt. I asked what he did for DC and he responded “I actually work for MAD Magazine.” WHOA, I replied, THAT’S AWESOME! I asked him, sort of joking, “How do you get a job at MAD Magazine?” He replies, “You’re getting one right now,” and hands me his card, tells me to e-mail him, and that they want me in the magazine.

Long story short, I ended up working for Mad Magazine, drawing comics! It really felt like all my hard work, YEARS of hard work, years of thinking “this is going nowhere” finally paid off. Even if I only ever got one piece of art in Mad Magazine, it would have felt like it was all worth it. A lot of cool things have come from the hard work.

Justin even offers some solid encouragement for artists that are at the “YEARS of hard work, years of thinking this is going nowhere” stage of the game:

Keep going. There’s no reason to stop, especially with all the tools that are now available to artists. Instagram, Twitch, Patreon, Kickstarter, self publishing book and art companies.

You don’t need to wait for your “big break” to get your work out into the world. Your only enemy is now time…and money, but those will always be your enemy! Don’t let that stop you. If you can’t afford to publish a comic, then sell digital copies online. If you can’t afford to go to comic conventions and get a table, put your stuff for sale on your Instagram page!

We live in the best time, right now, to get a ton of eyes on your work. You’re the only person in your way.

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Speaking of encouraging young artists, I noticed that Justin Peterson was a participant in Maker Faire Orlando and so I asked him if he could tell me a bit about the experience:

I’ve been involved in the Orlando Maker Faire since the very beginning, which was 2012. The team that runs the event reached out to me and a friend of mine and asked if we would be interested in setting up shop at the show. My wife and I have been very involved since then. I do all of the art and most of the graphic design for the event, so it feels very personal to me!

It’s a great show, because it’s such a wide birth of talent and creators from all walks of life. People who make robots and next to people who draw comics who are next to people who make race cars out of power wheels. It’s insane, but in the best way possible, and it’s always a lot of fun. Very family friendly! I can’t recommend it enough, because there’s literally something for everyone.

Being an Orlando based artist means there’s a lot of opportunity for events. Given Justin’s commitment to his fans and future artists, I asked about events that he tries to fit in every year.

Maker Faire, because they allow me to be a big part of the event. Megacon, because that’s a great show and it’s right in our backyard.

There’s a lot of different comic conventions across the country that I love, C2E2 in Chicago, SPX in DC, Dragoncon in Atlanta. They each have their own flavor and fan base. Chicago is a great city for comic readers. Atlanta loves art. DC loves indie comics. I would love to do those shows each year, but time and travel play a big part in doing so. I try to do every-other year, spreading it out, that way no one gets tired of me!

Between his art and his friendly and open personality, it’s hard to imagine anyone actually “getting tired” of Justin.

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Justin Peterson is proof that yes you can make a living as an artist, and yes, he is taking commissions currently. I highly recommend you contact him via his website. He has not only made a living, his art is probably something you’ve seen at least once (unless you are evil person who hates burritos) given that he’s done approximately 90 murals for the popular chain Tijuana Flats. Justin Peterson has done art and decor for the chain “all around Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North and South Carolina and Virginia Beach.” That’s prolific on a special level.

Being a bit of a burrito enthusiast, I realized that was what prompted the familiar feeling of knowing Justin Person’s art even though I didn’t know his name until MegaCon 2018. Looking for an excuse to go on a burrito-centered road trip, I asked if every Tijuana Flats had Justin Peterson artwork. The answer was a little disappointing but at the same time really cool.

Some locations have closed, others have been remodeled, so there’s no way to go see EVERY mural I ever did. I’m not even sure I can remember each one!

Most locations, even the new ones that I never had any hand in helping open, have some of my art in them. I did a lot of decor paintings that they still use, hot sauce bottle artwork, various other odds and ends. If you look hard enough, you can find something of mine there!

You can bet I will be looking. On the upside, as of last week, Justin’s favorite work (seen at the top of this article and on his website) is still there. I asked about the story behind that piece.

That’s a mural I did at the Winston Salem, NC Tijuana Flats (the mural is still there, a fan just sent me a photo of it last week!)

There was a note from the corporate office to tie in the murals to the local culture. Sometimes this meant painting a bridge, which is boring! And I know this from experience, because I’ve had to paint bridges on murals, haha!

Luckily, Winston-Salem is home to Wake Forest University, and their mascot is the Demon Deacon. I felt like it was a great opportunity to do an homage to their mascot while keeping it very “Tijuana Flats-esque,” and by that, I mean giving him a little lizard friend and holding a burrito!

Guess who now has an excuse for a North Carolina road trip to check out some art. On the topic of checking out some art, let’s talk about where you can check out some Justin Peterson art (other than North Carolina)

Store:

JUSTINPETERSON.BIGCARTEL.COM

Upcoming Convention Schedule:

Tiki Oasis – San Diego, CA – Aug. 8-12 (He won’t have table, but he’ll have a backpack full of art! Go find him!)

Maker Faire Orlando – Orlando, FL – November 10-11

Savannah Comic Con – Savannah, GA – April 6-7

More to be announced, stay tuned to social media channels for updates!

Social Media:

Visit Justin Peterson’s art on Instagram, Facebook, and Vimeo.