Jack Grayson doesn’t apologise for the mess in his bedroom/studio. A pair of battered black Doc Martens lies on his bed along with a small growing pile of clothes. The once-cream carpet looks like trampled, dirt-ridden cottage cheese. Comics, illustration books, and video games fill his shelves, with Star Wars and Guardian of the Galaxy pop vinyls stashed in every corner. Hyper-coloured drawings and colour charts line half of the bedroom walls, while posters of Jack’s favourite films – mostly animations – cover the others. A half-clay, half-cloth puppet lurks over Jack’s desk, its ridiculous smirk bordering creepy and comical. “He’s a puppet I made for my stop motion project,” explains 21-year-old Jack, a second-year RMIT student studying animation and illustration. He has a particular interest in comedy based 2D and animation stop-motion films, having stumbled across animation in his final years at secondary school.
“I just want to make dumb little stupid ideas that are funny for no reason. If someone’s having a bad day they can come home from their shit day at work, put on a cartoon and for 20 minutes it’s like their day’s not so bad,” he says. “I’ve always been into illustration and got into animation through watching YouTube videos and following different animators and artists online who were creating cool things,” Jack says. “Animation has a lot of problem-solving – you have to think how things move and where things have to go, which I love to do.”
Inspired by the people he found online, Jack started frequently posting his own drawings, most of them superhero based on Instagram. “I think cartoons were just easier to draw so that’s more so what drew me to them. I always made really bad, stupid short comic books and stuff as a kid. I read a lot of books as well, mostly fantasy novels, so I guess a lot of my inspiration and ideas and characters came from that kind of realm, as well as from cartoons like Dragon Ball Z and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As time went on, I started reading comic books and as superheroes became a bigger thing in media and pop culture, I drew superheroes all the time until I got better at that.” Jack’s Instagram feed is now saturated with his drawings.
Fresh out of secondary school in 2016, after having his work exhibited in Top Arts – an exhibition of Victoria’s brightest VCE student art pieces – Jack did a gallery with the Geelong Artist Society and its emerging artist program. He spent a year making seven photorealism and realistic landscape and portrait pieces. “I don’t know what really inspired me,” he laughs. “I think it was because I got offered to do this show and I was like, ‘cartoons aren’t marketable in a gallery space – I better do real person art.’. So, my version of real person art was photorealism.”
One of the illustrations, a stunningly realistic piece of a coffee shop created with soft pastels, caught the eye of Jack’s boss who then sent the piece to Express Graphics Australia – the Australian dealers of Rembrandt Pastels, the pastels Jack used in his piece, as well as Copic marker pens. The company was so impressed with Jack’s work that whenever it needed to promote Rembrandt Pastels, he would be asked to whip up a picture with them. “They then found my work online and saw I was using Copics as well,” Jack says. “I then became a Copic brand ambassador for six months of last year, and this year I became a Copic Lifetime Ambassador – which basically means they give me free markers if I post something. It’s always really cool to receive free stuff but also to have that relationship is great.” When Jack graduates, he’d be more than happy to gain a few years’ experience of working in a studio. “I’d love to work in pre-production side of things – working on character designs and writing stories and environments, that sort of stuff. That whole creative side of actually putting together the idea has been my favourite part of the process,” he says.
Jack’s long-term ultimate goal would be to work on a film like How to Train Your Dragon. “If I ever made a movie I’d want to make something like that, something that’s funny, that has a bit of soul, got nice characters and it’s for kids and adults, and it’s really really well animated – it’s just a great movie,” he says, gesturing passionately with his hands. “I want them to make like, seven of them, so by the time I’m in the industry I can work on one.” Another dream is to have his own short series, something girlfriend Pascalle Bailey and best friend Nick Conte agree on.
“It would be good if he eventually got his little show going,” Pascalle says. Jokes Nick: “I hope he makes the one where one of the main characters look like me.” Both have known Jack since secondary school and have seen his illustrations and animations develop, while also lending a helping hand with Jack’s voiceover work. “I name almost of Jack’s animations and do quality control,” Nick says. “He makes me look at his stuff and asks me if it’s good and I say, yes.”
Despite his ambitions, Jack doesn’t expect mega-stardom and a cult following for his animations. “I don’t really care,” he laughs. “There’s like a couple hundred of people on Instagram that know me and that’s fine. It’d be nice to be famous because money’s cool, but I’d rather people know the cartoons I make, rather than know who makes them.
“You just follow so many people online who are like, ‘oh you’ve got to do this and here’s tips for Instagram followers’.” But Jack admits to a contradiction. While he says he doesn’t care about fame, just wanting his work to be enjoyed, he admits to scrawling his phone scanning for likes after posting. “I think that’s more to do with validations and people liking my work as opposed to fame, you know? It’s nice when people follow and like your stuff and engage with you, but it’s not the reason I draw things,” he says.
“I’m not really interested in making world-changing deep thought-provoking cartoons. I just want to make nice little funny snippets of distraction for people to laugh at. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope people pay me to make pictures for the rest of my life.”
You can check out Jack’s animations on his Instagram