Illustrator Jess Rotter’s Debut Book Seeks Solace and Smiles in Boredom

Comics Features Jess Rotter
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Illustrator Jess Rotter’s Debut Book Seeks Solace and Smiles in Boredom

“I’m bored.”

It’s a quibble usually uttered by petulant children, listless students, and disenfranchised desk jockeys. Yet, in the capable hands of Los Angeles-based illustrator, designer, entrepreneur and debut-author Jess Rotter, “I’m bored” becomes a statement of social commentary. “I’m bored” becomes the lethargic rallying cry (emphasis more on the crying than the rallying) among those who are just over it. “It,” of course, meaning anything from this year’s toxic presidential election to the incessant nature by which we check our phones to the exaggerated perceptions of reality depicted everywhere from Instagram posts to glossy magazine covers.

Like everyone, Rotter occasionally falls victim to the cloying allure of the many things she laments have “buzz.” The New York native recalls the rat race less than fondly.

Calling from her new home in Los Angeles, she recalls, “When I was living in New York, I was going trough a lot of that chase and going through a lot of tragedy and frustrations. When I moved to California, a lot of those issues were alleviated and I feel like that was the moment when I was like, ‘now I’m bored! I don’t have anything to complain about!’

She quickly follows up, “But that’s the sarcastic tone of I’m Bored: ‘Are you serious? You’re really bored right now? Everything’s fine!’”

I’m Bored, just released by L.A. print collective Hat & Beard Press, is intentionally small at just 37 pages of actual illustrations. “We’re all trying to have daily salvations,” says Rotter. “It’s supposed to be a daily salvation friend that you carry around with you!”

Over the course of her 13-year career (which also included stints in music publicity at Mexican Summer and Girlie Action), Rotter’s work has appeared as part of fashion campaigns for Rodarte, Target, Urban Outfitters and Converse. She’s designed album art for Light in the Attic Records, Third Man Records and even drew the cover for Best Coast’s 2012 breakthrough, The Only Place. She founded a company in 2007 called Rotter and Friends focused on designing t-shirts for bands, often from the ‘60s or ‘70s, that she loved and felt were underrepresented.

Among those friends is DJ, reissue producer, former tour manager and Master of None Music Supervisor Zach Cowie. The two have been both colleagues and collaborators for more than a decade, and as Cowie says, “She and I have been saying, ‘I’m bored’ to each other for like 10 years!

“It’s a funny thing to think about when we’ve never had more options to occupy our time, but we’re still bored,” he continues. “Any time there’s a hype about something or too much information about something we just write back, ‘So bored. So bored.’”

Rotter’s style of illustration is fairly minimalistic. She sometimes refers to her drawings as “scribbles” and how the stories intertwine as a “variety show.” Her work could be compared to a not-sexist R. Crumb (musically and stylistically) or evocative of Gapingvoid’s illustrated motivational posters. Emotionally, though, her work emphasizes characters and the existential crises they endure, conveyed though brief thought bubbles or pithy captions.

Another collaborator and friend, Fruit Bats’ Eric Johnson, describes her style simply as, “singular.” Rotter designed two t-shirts for the tours in support of this year’s equally heartfelt Absolute Loser. And as Johnson continues, “I love things that alchemize lots of familiar things. It’s like mixing all he paint together, so it makes a weird color that doesn’t exist! You could make a comparison to Harry Nilsson’s The Point! or that it kinda looks like weird groovy ‘70s comix, but it doesn’t really look like any of those things…It’s the greater sum of many parts, I think.”

Naturally, though, the cover of I’m Bored features a bored-looking character. Urp the Walrus (the only character in I’m Bored she named) stares straight ahead dolefully with the top half of his AC/DC t-shirt peeking up at the bottom of the cover. Although Urp is not a recurring character throughout the book, Rotter hopes that she’ll eventually create a series just about him. “The back of the book is the back of him and he’s just so bored,” she says with a laugh.” But for this purpose he just felt like such a host.”

Other characters include The Ostrich, donning a bolo-like necklace and pink boots, who tries to find the strength within herself to fight lonliness. There’s The Dog who seeks validation for being cool and The Robot who got its heartbroken and toes the line of ending it all.

“All these characters are like tiny alter egos,” she describes. “They’re not exactly me, but they’re moments that I’ve felt.”

As a friend—and even before that, a fan of her art—Cowie can attest. He describes the unified theme of I’m Bored as, “how a sensitive person can be kind of confused and lost in the world that we’re in right now.”

He continues, “A lot of the images in this book are pretty heavy. But [Rotter] has a way of smiling at the heaviness, which is kind of the ultimate trick in getting through things. I’ve always really appreciated that.’

Although Rotter recently finished another Fruit Bats shirt, a major merch project for Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam and has plans for an animated film, the lessons in I’m Bored still keep her steady and present throughout the upcoming book tour dates and everyday life.

“We’re so over-stimulated and we’re always pressing the refresh button. We’re complaining all the way to get to Point A and then when we get to Point A, we’re like, ‘Alright! Let’s get to Point B!’” she says. “It’s hard to be satisfied in today’s society. We’re always on this constant wheelhouse when in the end, it’s really about just enjoying the process and being there in the moment.”

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