May 2nd, 2018

Jesse Gussow


As is obviously no shocker to the world, there is something magical about seeing cartoons of animals in horrifying predicaments. This can be witnessed with Merrie Melodies, Hanna Barbera, Disney Cartoons and many others. American Artist Joe Havasy creates art that also satisfies this style. The situations his characters find themselves in is devastatingly hilarious. His line work is meticulous and the emotion of pain he’s able to display in the character’s eyes is sad and comical at the same time. It’s wickedly fun art!




Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Powder Springs, GA a suburb of Atlanta. Went to college at UGA and then ended up staying in Athens for 12 years; Athens really feels like home. Then I moved back to Atlanta and I’ve been here for the past 7 years. I just reignited my art career in the recent months doing art markets and new paintings, including a painting for the Squishipuss Birthday party, the first time I’ve painted since I broke my drawing hand in January of 2017. (A total nightmare)




How did you get interested in art?

I was encouraged at a very young age by my mother, she thought that my drawings were very creative. I really hated coloring inside the lines. I used to comb through encyclopedias and animal books from the library. I would often leave the library with a stack of 20 books and the librarian would be skeptical and my mom would ensure them that I would indeed read all of them. I would often make drawings of the creatures in the books, but even from a young age, I was more inspired than copying. I hated using those “how to draw books.” Even when I use reference now, I almost always look at it and then draw out of my head rather than trying to draw from the reference.




Where do you find your inspiration for your work?

So primarily my love of animals plays into my content, and a lot of it stems from my childhood and continuing curiosity. I used to love Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side in the Sunday paper growing up. I used to get a lot of inspiration from Transformers, Nintendo Power Magazine and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well. In 4th grade I remember collecting comic book trading cards, and that ultimately got me reading comics, about the time that Magneto ripped Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton out of his body. I was struck by the works of Sam Kieth, Joe Madureira, and Rob Schrab, and their artwork had a heavy influence on my drawing style and line work, among others. I also started drawing more graphically violent artwork which my peers encouraged. I remember drawing a guy that was shooting his brains out and a classmate got me sent to the principal’s office because it was disturbing to a teacher. The principal criticized my line work and sent me back to class! In high school I really wanted to be a comic book penciller. During college I started painting with acrylics and watercolor and fell in love with both. I tried to be a traditional artist with a semi-cartoony, expressionist style and loved classical painters like Matisse, Cezanne, and Egon Schiele among others. In my intermediate painting class with Jim Barness, I painted a cartoon giraffe and everyone loved it, and that cemented the idea that I could paint cartoons and still have them be treated as art. Jim is a fantastic, successful, illustrative painter who shows in galleries and he really inspired me.  From then on I pursued a more illustrative style with my artwork and learned about some of the artists in Juxtapoz Magazine (Tim Biskup, Glenn Barr, and Camille Rose Garcia) and also the Japanese Pop Artist Takashi Murakami, which were huge inspirations. I also started doing comics for the local free paper, the Flagpole and discovered Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, and Jim Mahfood who all influenced my comix style. Chris Ware in particular blew me away because of the fact that he not only writes, but inks, letters and colors amazing works of art. His first hardcover sketchbook that was released is something every cartoonist should own as well. I also really loved the art style of Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz, and lately have been very into Samurai Jack, the new Mickey Mouse shorts by Paul Rudish, and the unbelievably good Adventure Time. The films of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Jean Luc Godard, and Michel Gondry along with old Kaiju movies and shows have really had a profound effect on me as well.




How would you describe your style?

My style is a fusion of every artist I’ve ever loved. Good artists copy, better artists steal. I steal every trick I can get and Frankenstein them together. One of my friends called my work cute-sturbing and it stuck. Hence the @cutesturbing moniker for my instagram. I feel like my biggest focuses are capturing the gestures of my sketches, and pairing that with strong color combinations. While my paintings often have some kind of joke, or deeper meaning, my primary goal is just to make something that seems beautiful, and deliberate. I’ve been working in watercolor, acrylic, and digital for years, and I am always trying to master each, to have them all look like they were by the same person. Copic markers are my fun new toy, I can’t rave about them enough, and they’ve actually informed the way I create my paintings and illustrations. Copic markers are great for underpainting on wood!




What's you preferred canvas size to work with?

I design most things in my 5.5 x 8” Moleskin sketchbooks, but then I scan those images and do all manner of things with them. Once I drew about 48 characters from the Tatooine Scene in Star Wars (from youtube videos of the original print, not the special edition) and then combined them all together into one 24 x 30” painting. It was definitely the most challenging commission I’ve worked on. Right now I’m also enjoying drawing on Borden and Riley Bleedproof Paper for Pens, and Borden and Riley Tracing paper for designing when I’m doing pencil sketches. Tracing paper allows the pencil to glide and it’s very easily erasable. I prefer to work in the 11” x 14” range for a painting, just because it’s easier to manage in my current diminutive studio, but I’ve done paintings up to 5x8 ‘ in college. It really just depends on the project. Everything stems out of drawing! I’m still also very interested in drawing comix stories and will be working on some projects in the near future.

I will say that I am no friend to painting on canvas, I’m someone who really needs a hard surface, so when I paint, it’s always on wood. Cradled birch painting panels available at Sam Flax are my JAM.




What was the first piece you made that defined your work?

I remember drawing a bird flying directly at the viewer when I was 4 and that really made my mom laugh. I think that cemented my odd perspective of the world.

I think the giraffe painting I mentioned previously defined my style, but I’ve been ever evolving.




Your work has a very Happy Tree Friends, Joe Ledbetter and Luke Chueh feel, yet is still so different aside from you all using cute animals and putting them in horrible situations. The first ever piece of yours I came across was the "Bait" Love and how it looks like a cute scene yet the pain is imminent and brings a reality to Coke's campaign. Giving small wild animals sugary drinks isn't sexy, it's dangerous. How did this piece come to be?

As far as those comparative artists go, Happy Tree Friends almost made me give up on cute cartoon animals being mutilated, but since my work stems more from nature I decided we can live in the same world. They are great cartoons and I used to have them downloaded but they’re just too close to the work that I do so I’m afraid of stealing. I also have a hardbound copy of every Far Side ever, and I’ve barely cracked it because I am scared of subconciously ripping things off. Joe Ledbetter definitely had an influence on my painting style and I love his work. It’s also fascinating to me that he was responsible for a lot of the design work for Gama Go, and the Gama Go art book is one of my greatest treasures.

As far as “Bait” goes, at some point around 2006-2007 I found out about men’s adventure magazines. There were a couple of fantastic books, the Taschen one, and one called “It’s a Man’s World” which both feature tons of Men’s Adventure Magazine covers. The books feature a significant section showing animals attacking men, usually to protect women who have had their clothes partially ripped off. This, coupled by my love of pinup artists such as the excellent Gil Elvgren, Art Frahm who did his “ladies in distress series” and Dean Yeagle, who was/is the greatest playboy cartoonist in the world, lead me to do my “girls in trouble” series of paintings. I was seeing a girl at the time who loved the idea, and my friend Keith P. Rein ( was doing his own sexy art at the time, so that was also an impetus for the paintings. It’s definitely a concept I want to revisit at some point. I really wanted my pinup paintings to have my cute-sturbing spin, so “Bait” has a baby polar bear with a cute blonde offering him a Coke, the mom’s paw is shown creeping into the frame. I’m not sure if the baby polar bear is actually the bait used to trap unwitting women, or if the Coke is the bait for her to steal the baby bear. I abhor artist’s statements, and I want the viewer to decide!




What's the worst job you've ever had and why was that?

3 years ago, at the lowest point in my life, I worked in women’s apparel at Wal-Mart, during the overnight shift, in the months around and during Black Friday. It was a humbling experience that I don’t recommend for anyone. I experienced multiple layoffs from jobs I enjoyed during 2012 and 2013, the economic struggle was real. I’ve since found a much better day job that gives me the budget and freedom to work on the art projects I choose in my spare time.




What is your background? Are you self-taught or did you go to art school?

I have always been primarily self-taught. (Other than being obsessed with the work of other artists.) I had a couple of good illustration classes with Alex Murawski at UGA, and managed to learn basic photoshop coloring during that time. I learned a bit about techniques at UGA’s art school, but the biggest advantage of art school was taking art history, having studio time, and professors that pointed me to other artists that I should check out to learn from. Taking copious amounts of life drawing classes benefitted me tremendously, and I learned Xerox Transfer from Scott Belville, which has allowed me to work in just about any size I desire by blowing up my original drawings. Still want that overhead projector one day! But seriously art books are my addiction. I flip through one for about 5 minutes and the inspiration comes.




Do you stick to the one artistic medium or are there other styles you do as well?

Acrylic, Photoshop and Copic markers are my staples right now. I play with watercolor on occasion and I definitely miss clay work. I do not miss oil painting one bit.




Have you ever been asked to create something for a tattoo?

The best tattoo design I’ve been asked to do was Bigfoot, a chupacabra, and a jackalope riding the Loch Ness monster. It was a dream project! I’ve had at least 6 or 7 people get my art tattooed, often without telling me until it’s already done. I’m fine with that! I just want pictures to share!




Have you ever thought about being a tattoo artist? I've seen that your work translates very well to human skin. (I kind of like how creepy that sounds. ha)

One of my best friends, and stunt double Mike Groves ( did my first tattoo, one of my own drawings. For the most part, every tattoo I’ve gotten has been a trade for art with someone who works with him at Pain and Wonder in Athens. They are lovely people and I couldn’t ask for higher quality tattoos. For a minute I flirted with being their shop boy and going the apprentice path, but ultimately due to my dislike of commissions I decided it probably wasn’t the life for me. I’m constantly amazed at how Mike can get excited about every client’s idea and make it his own. It’s probably the reason why he gets to tattoo in his own style so often. I cannot say enough great things about the guy! --- I am highly resistant to commissions unless the project is something I would want to do on my own. I just feel like life is too short.




When I was little growing up, used to play this card game with the back legs of an animal on one card the torso on another and the face and front legs on another. There would be 10 different animals. You would flip the cards all upside down and then you were supposed to make the real animal trying to remember where the specific cards were. Obviously instead I would try to make strange hybrids. If you could create some mismatched animal, what parts would it contain?

That’s a clever question. Tim Biskup and Gary Baseman actually did a really cool postcard set with that concept. It’s super fun and I’m going to have to play with it tonight! The new Bears vs. Babies game by the Oatmeal is also a hoot, and is based on a similar concept. I guess the most badass thing I can think of would be a tiger body with a great white shark head and fin attached… and maybe the bottom legs of a chimpanzee just to make it weird and top heavy… I’m really going to have to Frankenstein some animals now. If you’ve never seen the character “Jeff” from Scud the Disposable Assassin you should Google it now. It’s a character design masterwork.




What is your entire process from blank canvas to completed piece?

When I’m working on a really complex painting the process is the following: First I’ll identify an idea from my sketchbook worth painting. Next I will usually scan it in, print it out 8x10 or so and then throw it on the light box and attempt to improve it. Then I’ll scan it into Photoshop and digitally ink if needed. Once I’m satisfied with the line work, I do a full color study in Photoshop. Next I’ll flip the image in Photoshop to a mirror image. Then I’ll take a Xerox print, exactly the proportion I want to print it, and use the large format Xerox printer to enlarge it to the size I want to paint at. Once I have my giant Xerox, I coat my entire panel I want to paint on with a thick layer of liquitex gloss gel medium. I will then slowly unroll the Xerox, image side down and smooth out any bubbles with a bone folder tool and my fingertips. I usually let the paper dry overnight, and then use a wet sanding sponge to sand away the paper pulp. The toner will chemically transfer onto the panel and will mostly remain after sanding is complete. After that it’s just paint by number using my color study as reference.

For less serious projects I may just freehand draw directly on the panel, but when I have the time and I’m working big, this process is how I do it. You can see more of it in my blog, which hasn’t been updated for a while. Another thing I need to do!




Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

Vanilla Oreos or the Lemon ones. Chocolate ones are disgusting.

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