Interview: Jessica Johnston Launches “The Pushpin”—a Site Designed to Feed Our Comic Art Addiction
Have you ever come across an artist’s work, in books, on comics pages, or online, and wished that you could “have a print of that” or “hang that on your wall?” Well, former journalist and current proprietress of Papergirl Press, Jessica Johnston, is here to answer your prayers with her new endeavor, The Pushpin, which just launched TODAY!
The Pushpin a curated website of collectible, high-quality giclée prints for sale by acclaimed graphic novel artists — including Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), Michael Cho (Shoplifter), Valentine De Landro (Bitch Planet) and Jeff Lemire (Royal City) — as well as 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 (Kaptara), Ryan North (Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure) and Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals).
I got to chat with Johnston via email about this exciting new site, and what she hopes to give comics fans and art lovers. Here’s what she had to say:
TMS (Teresa Jusino): You were a newspaper editor for a while. What made you decide to go the entrepreneur route, specifically in the art space?
Jessica Johnston: It’s true! I spent about 10 years working for a national daily paper in Canada, most recently as the editor of an arts and culture section, before deciding to make a break for it last year. A career choice that felt awesome a decade ago, felt decidedly less so in 2016.
I left my job with the intention of freelancing. As it turned out, one of my new projects was to start making and selling prints for my comic artist partner, Chip Zdarsky.
He had this idea to do a “Bat-Hero” print, which is this meta-joke-ode to knock-off action figures. I got a printer and some packing cardboard and took over a corner of our dining room. From the first print I printed, I was hooked. They were vibrant and gorgeous, and I loved sending happy mail to people.
Pretty quickly, I started hatching expansion plans. In my adult life, I’ve gravitated toward culture and politics, but as a kid I was a pretty entrepreneurial. I always had something on the go, including, in Grade 3, a thriving business making jewellery out of Fimo.
As an editor, I worked with a lot of really talented illustrators, so I started surveying them — do they make prints, would they want to if someone else was handling the logistics? Right away, there was a lot of interest, and that’s when I decided to make The Pushpin.
Soon I started reaching out to comic artists like Jeff Lemire, Ryan North, and Kate Beaton, and each time someone would write back ‘yes,’ I’d do a little happy dance in my office.
TMS: How will The Pushpin benefit art lovers, and how does it benefit the artists?
Johnston: I love a good win-win situation. I know that’s kind of an obvious thing to say — like, who’s going to say they don’t love a good win-win? — but when I land on something that can actually make everyone involved happy, I get excited. (Win-win-win!) This was a case like that.
On the artist side, The Pushpin provides a simple venue to make high-quality prints of work available through a friendly independent operator (me!). On the art lover side, I think most people use their walls as a form of expression, and if independent artwork is your thing, there is a lot to love on The Pushpin.
The site is made up of work from both comic artists and editorial illustrators, and all of it is special. We have high-profile comics people in the mix, alongside more under-the-radar illustration talents. I hope the site facilitates discovery — maybe you come for a Bitch Planet print by Valentine De Landro, but then you find out Sarah Lazarovic is your new favorite. I want the whole experience to feel personal, like one awesome human buying the artwork of another awesome human.
TMS: What does it take for an artist’s work to make it to The Pushpin? What do you look for?
Johnston: There is a sensibility to the work on the site, for sure — I think it’s a marriage of beauty and fun. There are a couple serious pieces on the site that are incredible, but overall the work is playful, like Pee Wee Herman’s loafers, rendered by Sarah Lazarovic, and Kagan McLeod’s amazing history of hip hop. If one part of The Pushpin’s mission is to connect people and art, another part is to spread a little joy.
Last week I was making test prints, listening to the radio. The news was all about Trump backing out of the Paris climate agreement, so depressing. But coming out of the printer, Kate Beaton’s “King Baby” is trying to hug a cat, and it’s pretty goddamn cute, and I have to laugh. Now, I’m not saying The Pushpin can fix the problems of the world — I wish it could — but I think sometimes it’s just nice to stop and admire someone’s work, and feel good about the parts of the world that are positive and creative. You know?
TMS: I know you’re only just launching! But what do you hope for The Pushpin in, say, five years? What do you hope to be and provide?
Johnston: Today, Canada — tomorrow, the world! Mwahaha! (All of the first group of artists are Canadian, BTW. But soon we will be geographically expanding.)
One of the exciting things for me about The Pushpin is that it is an experiment. I’m excited to find out how people relate to the site and the work. I expect the project to evolve, and feedback will help inform the directions it goes.
No matter what specific route that evolution takes, I want The Pushpin to become known as a place where people can go to buy art they love and feel good about buying it.
TMS: Is there an artist you haven’t been in contact with but whose work you LOVE and with whom you’d love to partner?
Johnston: Ah, good question! I did approach most of my favorite artists — this was an excellent excuse to do so — and luckily most of them said yes.
TMS: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like our geeky, feminist readers to know about The Pushpin?
Johnston: It’s so good! The work is awesome, and we aim to be as socially responsible as possible. I source shipping supplies locally (avoiding Uline, which is ubiquitous in packing cardboard, and also the worst) and bank with a credit union. Our standard paper is a luxurious cotton rag made from a by-product of cottonseed oil production that would otherwise go into landfill — a factoid I love almost as much as the art. Almost.
There are also a lot of artists featured on the Pushpin who are women. Their work may be new new to comic fans, but the prints by artists like Dani Crosby and Chloe Cushman are stunning. Go check them out.
The site will evolve over time as more artists join our community, but it will always be about good things made with love.
Prints currently available from The Pushpin range in price from $25 to $150, so there’s something for everyone at every price point. If you love art, and you want to support your favorite independent artists, check it out!
(images: The Pushpin)
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