Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2]

Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 4

“Extreme and eccentric!” ━━ This was the reception Rockin’ Jelly Bean, a masked artist of lowbrow art 1 who has been making a name for himself worldwide, received in America, home of the genre. The illustrator has gained a reputation for his sexual illustrations of naked women.

He handled the artwork, including promotional posters, for live-action films such as Killer Condom (1996) and The Faculty (1998). He’s also very active in other ways, such as producing live performance flyers for famous artists and designing a T-shirt for EVANGELION: 2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE. (2009).

A book long in the making of this artist’s work will soon be released. I spoke with RJB about his background and his feelings toward his first long-awaited art book.

Rockin’ Jelly Bean’s Profile:
A masked artist from Japan. Influenced by Osamu Tezuka and Leiji Matsumoto, he began drawing manga at a young age. In his late teens, he joined surf band Jackie & The Cedrics as bassist. He produced band and event flyers, and in 1990, began to focus more seriously on being an artist. He moved to the U.S. in 1996, working in Los Angeles for seven years and honing his craft in the home of lowbrow art. After returning to Japan, he worked in Kansai before moving his operation to Tokyo.

TOM: Your goal of putting out a book of art has come to fruition, finally fulfilling your long-awaited dream. How are you feeling about this?

RJB: Finally, that is, I have numerous illustrations that I’ve built up to this point, but in terms of timing, I feel like the time has finally come for me to show it to everyone.

TOM: It’s been over 20 years since you started your career as an illustrator in 1990 designing flyers for the band Jackie & The Cedrics, to which you still belong. Are there areas where you’ve changed and areas where you haven’t?

RJB: Probably my illustration skills. I think I’ve improved since back then. Also, how I produce work has changed. Lately, I’ve been doing more projects using digital tools.

My artistic point of view and such have largely stayed the same. The illustrations in this art book mostly involve my earlier work from when I started illustrating to when I returned from America to Japan in 2005, which was done using traditional media rather than digitally. Seeing the work again brought back old memories about my inspirations and how I felt making each piece.

TOM: Has your illustration style remained the same since you were a child then?

RJB: Personally, I’m always trying different styles and seeing what works and what doesn’t. But, I went back home a little while ago, I found a copy I had drawn secretly in junior high school of a nude piece and was like, “This is exactly the same as what I do now!” It was surprising (laughs). My media has changed a bit, of course, but I would always tell my parents I was going upstairs to do homework and go to my room, and there, I would make my pencil nice and sharp, flip to the artistic pictures of nude women from other countries in the back of the art magazines I stole from my dad each week, and try my best to copy them. Which is exactly the kind of work that I’m doing now, so I realized it hasn’t changed at all (laughs). Though, of course, now lots of people give me feedback on it, which I’m grateful for.

TOM: However, when you came to Tokyo, you first started out as a musician, didn’t you?

RJB: Ever since I was in my teens, I’ve loved music and bands and I’ve loved art. I love them equally. But, I did have the idea that music would always be a hobby and when I became an adult, I would do some type of work involving art.

I went to art school, but my band was more fun than the assignments, so I wouldn’t do them. During my student years, I was completely immersed in my band. But at the same time, my band in art school was not just about the music; it also had an element of style that I personally really liked. The image of our T-shirts and jackets, the band logo, and the retro hair and outfits. I thought bands that didn’t have this kind of visual image were boring, and, this is true of art as well, I didn’t have an interest in anything where I couldn’t get a sense of the music or a rock style. So I think, for me, music and art can never be separated. It’s just that since art is my main profession, I’m being interviewed here about my art (laughs).

TOM: I saw a video online of your band performing in 1990. I got the impression that the passionate response from the audience during this time at the end of Japan’s bubble economy had a connection to the style of your art.

RJB: Yeah, that may be true. Without passion, the content can become boring. Yeah. It’s not interesting if it’s not passionate. I think I have a desire to demonstrate that above all.

TOM: I see. What was your reason for moving to LA in 1996 after that time and the end of the Bubble era?

RJB: The reason was simple. I’ve been really interested in American music and cinema since I was a child. Especially, when I watched Grease (1978) starring John Travolta, I thought, “Why can’t I be an American high school student!?” I really wanted to have that kind of life. With drawing as well, I kept feeling more and more that I could learn something if I lived there. Basically, going to America was a dream of mine. Then, when I first visited the U.S. in 1992 with the band, I saw once again the feel of the cities and how people live. I thought, “There’s something in this country that can only be understood not as a tourist or a stranger, but as someone actually living here.”

I had also been dumped by my girlfriend in Japan around then, so I also felt like I couldn’t take being in Tokyo anymore and it was my only chance. So, I told my fellow band members and the clients in my illustration work that I needed to go there to learn and went to the U.S.

San Francisco is edgier from a cultural perspective and I had a lot of friends there, but I was like, “Right now what I need is the climate and sunshine of LA!” My desire to be somewhere with a different climate from Japan helped me decide on LA.

TOM: The term “lowbrow art” almost always comes up in your bio. With “lowbrow art” being almost synonymous with RJB, what was it like seeing it in its home country?

RJB: It was at that time in America that things like hot rods 2, which had been hobbies up until then, were starting to be received as pieces of art and culture. But my impression was a little different. Rather than saying that people were jumping into that world, I think people around it were finding it interesting and finally turning to look at it. I could feel deep down that what we were was “lowbrow art.” When I first arrived in America in 1992, there was a Kustom Kulture exhibit being held at a gallery and I was enthralled by it.

TOM: Do you have any favorite artists?

RJB: That would be Coop 3 and Von Franco 4. I know both of them through music. When I first met Coop, he had just gotten popular, and I remember being really impressed when he showed me his studio downtown, which was like a really frightening laboratory of a mad scientist. When I went to hang out at Von Franco’s studio, he taught me how to do airbrushing and pinstriping 5. He approached it like a little boy who really liked to draw, and that always gave me guidance when I was lost.

TOM: I see. Later on, you were very successful in LA doing flyers and covers for figure magazines. On the other hand, your work was once called “extreme and eccentric.”

RJB: Yes, yes. It was called that. When I think about that now, part of it was a misunderstanding I had about America.

I think people in Japan get this idea from the media and magazines that America is a country of greater personal freedom than Japan. But if you actually go there and experience it for yourself, you see a different side. For me, I felt that America had a very nagging aspect to it. Basically, the lines are very strict. “If you’re under 18, you can’t do this. But, once you become an adult, anything’s okay.” It was like that. There weren’t any children where people were drinking alcohol, like places with live music.

I had thought my T-shirts with sexual illustrations would have been well received. But, I once had my design rejected when the employees at the factory, who were all devout Christians from Mexico, told me that they couldn’t print something so sexual.

TOM: Little by little, the image you had of America changed.

RJB: Right. The blonde girl in a swimsuit always roller skating around town that I had imagined was just an illusion, and I realized it came from what I had seen and heard through the media in Japan.

TOM: After that, you returned to Japan. You continued to be active in Japan as well. You opened a shop for your own brand called Erostika and you designed a T-shirt in collaboration with EVANGELION: 2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE. (2009). What do you keep in mind as you approach these different projects?

RJB: Hmm, to put it simply, that it be cool. If it’s not cool, there’s no point! With music, with film. I’ve always had an interest with what was cool in each era. Then, within that, my favorite inspiration is naked women (laughs).

^1^ A type of street art that came about primarily in Los Angeles during the later half of the 1970s. There is a focus on sarcastic humor and it often makes use of comic-like expression.

^2^ A genre of custom cars that started in America in the 1930s.

^3^ An American born in 1968. He is a comic-style illustrator known for his cigar-wielding devil character modeled after himself. He has done posters for Nirvana, the Sex Pistols, and Soundgarden, as well as album art for the Ramones and the Mono Men.

^4^ An American born in 1952. A leader in the lowbrow art genre. Influenced by his experience working for Ed Roth, the father of the rat character Rat Fink, he is famous for airbrushed T-shirts of horror monsters. He is popular for horror-style pieces that feature voodoo and Polynesian Tiki god themes.

^5^ A type of custom painting that started in America in the 1950s. Using a long brush, it is possible to make beautiful straight and curved line patterns freehand. Depending on the artist, these designs can be a pop style or a luxury style.

Rockin’ Jelly Bean Art Graphics

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 1
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 2
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 3
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 4
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 5
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 6
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 7
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 8
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 9
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 10
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 11
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 12
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 13
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 14
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 15
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 16
Creator Interview: Illustrator Rockin’ Jelly Bean [1/2] 17

You belong in the TOM Fan Club. Don't keep TOM Senpai waiting: