Drawing with passion: An interview with comic artist Jon Kenzo Okeya
Here’s what one artist has to say about creating comics and struggling to perfect artistic skills.

I first came across Jon Kenzo Okeya’s Instagram (@kenzo_illustrations) when his wife Audrey (@audreyokeya) reposted a story that tagged Jon. I had an assignment in CCT336: Comics and Digital Culture that required an in-depth interview with a comic artist, so I decided to reach out to Jon.

From glimpses of their life on social media, Jon and Audrey are artistically talented, creative, and enjoy travelling. When I emailed Jon and asked him to do an interview with me, he kindly agreed.

Jon said he was inspired by Audrey to draw comics. To describe his style, Jon used words like “whimsical, wholesome, and silly.” 

“I’d say if I had to get close to a style I aspire to [replicate], it would be a cross between Bryan O’Malley [creator of the Scott Pilgrim series], Carles Dalmau, and Audrey Okeya—my wife whom I admire and adore,” Jon said. He admitted that browsing on Pinterest and Instagram for images he loves—like “old Japanese buildings” and “cool character designs”—inspires him to draw until he feels “loosened up.”

The time it takes to create a comic depends “on the scope of the project,” Jon explained.  “If I want to colour something fully, it will take me a week to get a spread out. If I’m only doing line art, I can finish two to three spreads a week,” he said.

Drawing inspiration “from mostly Japanese culture and heartfelt stories,” Jon designs his art through his “love [for] Japanese folklore and culture.” His favourite part about creating comics is when he sits down to start a drawing. 

“I love drafting ideas and hammering out scripts. I can get lost in the ideation process for a whole day.” He explained that his least favourite part of the job is when he “hits the wall of skill”—something that’s been an obstacle for him since the beginning of his career. “It’s been the thing plaguing me my whole career and it still messes me up to this day!” he said. “I had so many ideas that fell to the wayside just because I couldn’t draw something. I’d get so frustrated with myself and how much I was burning out that I would give up. Luckily, I’m learning how to slowly get past that [skill related] obstacle!”

On the topic of drawing traditionally (on paper) or digitally, Jon did not seem to have a preference. “I start with traditional and render in Procreate [a design software].  In my opinion, traditional is great for ideas whereas [using an] iPad is great for executing those ideas.”

Jon also spoke about his journey to become a comic artist and how it was not an easy road to follow. “I’d tell my younger self that it’s okay to feel defeated and sad. It’s actually something you are supposed to feel during the process.” He compared the creation of comics to “a video game.” 

“You must spend your time levelling up by beating more challenges and fighting more monsters,” Jon said. “After you figure yourself out, the art comes out so easily. But if you haven’t figured out how to beat those challenges, you’ll never get further in the game.”

For new creatives in the comic art industry, Jon proposed that “an artist is to develop [their] mind and soul,” and that “believing in yourself” is key. Through his struggles with anxiety associated with his “level of skill,” Jon thought that he would never find success through his art. “I really upgraded myself when I learned that I had to take it easy on myself and enjoy the process of drawing. Once I had found the fun in drawing, I started seeing myself develop 100 times faster,” he said.

Jon encouraged all artists to focus on the process of creating—rather than centring on “fame, status, and recognition.” He continued, saying: “The process of making good art and figuring out how to do it better every single time you pick up a pen or a pencil is key. Just keep working on how you’re drawing and writing, and you will get to where you need to be.”

Jon encouraged all creatives that are struggling with their artistic journeys to reach out to him on Instagram. Outside of his art, Jon aims to provide support for all artists who are still searching for their passions and strengths.

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