Papergirl Press Launches The Pushpin and we talk to Jessica Johnston about It

Toronto’s Papergirl Press has launched The Pushpin, a curated website of collectible, high-quality giclée prints for sale by acclaimed graphic novel artists — including Kate Beaton, Johnnie Christmas, Michael Cho, Valentine De Landro, and Jeff Lemire — and acclaimed editorial illustrators Julia Breckenreid, Dani Crosby, Chloe Cushman, Jay Dart (as his alter-ego Granduncle Jiggs), Sarah Lazarovic, and Christian Northeast. The site will also launch with Pushpin Originals — prints of new and never-before-seen art created specifically for The Pushpin by Kagan McLeod, Ryan North, and Chip Zdarsky. Prints currently available from the Pushpin range in price from $25 to $150.

The Pushpin is a project of Papergirl Press, a small printing company in Toronto committed to working exclusively with independent artists, run by former journalist Jessica Johnston.

At launch, The Pushpin will feature more than 40 prints including:

  • King Baby by Kate Beaton;
  • 2 Pisces prints by Johnnie Christmas;
  • Pee Wee Herman’s loafers, rendered by Sarah Lazarovic
  • A Sweet Tooth and an Essex County print by Jeff Lemire;
  • 3 Kagan McLeod prints including a portrait of Prince and a Pushpin Original History of Hip Hop;
  • 2 Pushpin Original prints by Ryan North;
  • 3 Chip Zdarsky pieces, including a Sex Criminals print and a Pushpin Original print entitled The Solar System: The Graphic Guide to Our Universe.

Artists who will have work on the Pushpin in the coming months include Bryan Lee O’Malley, Marguerite Sauvage, and illustrator Gordon Wiebe.

Photo credit: Steve Murray

We got a chance to ask Johnston about the launch and what we can expect and you can see the art below!

Graphic Policy: So how did the idea of The Pushpin come about?

Jessica Johnston: The idea came about late last year, after I left my job as a newspaper editor. (Print media is a bit of a freaky place to be in 2016.) I planned to freelance and do contract work, which I did, but I also started doing prints for my husband, comic creator Chip Zdarsky. He wanted to start doing regular prints, and the first was called “Bat-Hero,” a kind of meta joke about knock-off action figures of copyrighted characters. I bought a professional printer, and started making Bat-Heroes from our dining room. And I really loved doing it. The prints looked so good, I wanted to keep making more. But of course, there’s only so much one Chip can do. That’s when I decided I wanted to build a website for more artists to make work available for sale. So I guess the whole thing started with a bat-joke!

GP: How long have you been working on this project?

JJ: I began seriously planning The Pushpin at the beginning of this year. I knew a lot of incredible illustrators from my work in journalism, so I approached them first. I found people were pretty enthusiastic about the idea of having a trusted venue for producing high-quality prints of their work.

GP: It’s an impressive list of creators to launch. How’d they come to be involved?

JJ: I already revealed the secret to landing my first creator client, and that’s a decade of common-law marriage. Compared with that, the others were a breeze. All of the artists on board for the launch are from Canada, and most of those are from Toronto, which is where I live. There’s a lot of talent here, and it’s a small enough place that you just get to know people just through moving in media and arts circles. Some of the creators, like Ryan North, were already pals, and others, like Jeff Lemire, I introduced myself to because of this project.

GP: You previously worked in journalism at a newspaper as an editor. What has surprised you the most in working within the comic world?

JJ: Nobody lines up to meet journalists at conventions!

GP: The site includes comic artists and editorial illustrators. Do you notice anything different in what they’ve contributed?

JJ: There’s a surprising amount of overlap between comic work and editorial illustration — many artists do both. I love that we have comic work and illustration side by side, and we are giving both the fine-art treatment. I think there are more commonalities between the two forms than differences. Both tend to be pretty playful, and much of the work on The Pushpin has a good sense of fun. Where else can you find a high-quality giclée print of Pee Wee Herman’s white loafers? Sarah Lazarovic, who did that piece, is a genius of simple, lovable work, with just the right amount quirkiness. Then you have an incredible comics pro like Michael Cho, whose work on the site is mostly personal stuff, which is quiet and beautiful. He does these lovingly rendered portraits of Toronto’s back alleys that I can’t get enough of.

GP: How does the contributions work? Do you suggest ideas or is this all the artists?

JJ: It’s the all the artists. Once I’ve determined that someone is a good fit for The Pushpin, they have creative freedom. I like to think of myself as a kind of artistic matchmaker – connecting artists and the people who respond to their work to each other. And a big part of that is letting the artist be the artist. I trust that whatever they come up with, there are people out there who are going to love it.

GP: Seven decades plus and it feels like comics are still debated as legit art (video games suffer from the same issue). Do you see things like this raising that debate at all?

JJ: I like to think we’re past that, even though I know it’s still a challenge. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be treating comic art and illustration with the respect they deserve. There is so much incredible work happening in both areas, it’s crazy to ignore or dismiss it. Kagan McLeod is a great example of someone who does both illustration and comic work, and his stuff is mind-blowing, it’s so good. He has a piece on The Pushpin called Herc — a portrait of the guy often credited with inventing hip hop, and he’s made up of smaller portraits of famous rappers. You have to see it to believe it — it’s amazing. So ambitious, and perfectly executed. Any of the individual portraits could be in a gallery.

GP: The initial artists are all Canadian and you’ll be expanding from there. Is there any particular reason you started with just Canadians?

JJ: I decided to start near home when approaching artists, and work my way out. I am pretty lucky that felt in no way limiting. Jeff Lemire, Kagan McLeod, Ryan North, Sarah Lazarovic, Julia Breckenreid, Valentine de Landro, Michael Cho… they are all basically neighbours. I do look forward to expanding The Pushpin’s borders, though, because, really, there’s so much great talent everywhere.

GP: Do you know what the release schedule will be like for future releases? Is it a set schedule? And will any of these go out of print?

JJ: I have some artists lined up to come on board in the coming months, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Marguerite Sauvage among them, but I’ll be adding people on a rolling basis. Like the work itself, the number of prints is up to the artist. Some are unlimited, and some are capped. Jeff Lemire, for instance, has two prints on The Pushpin, a Sweet Tooth and an Essex County one. There will only be 100 of each of those, so if that’s what you’re after, you better get one quick!

GP: Thanks so much! And check out some of the art below!

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