Interview: The Pushpin’s Jessica Johnston

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Have you ever seen a comic cover so beautiful you just wanted a poster of it to stick on your wall? There is a way.

The Pushpin is a start-up project from Jessica Johnston, a former newspaper editor, and partner Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Archie). It was by reproducing Zdarksy’s art prints that Johnston realized, damn, she was good at this.

“Who would have guessed that comics would end up being a better career move than print media?” Johnston says in an email.

What started as a freelance project turned into conversations with other industry professionals. Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), Valentine De Landro (Bitch Planet) and Jeff Lemire (Essex County) are just some of the bigger names available on the site right now. However, Johnston is also using the site to call to attention some of the less well-known talent from the illustration world, rather than from comics.

Most of the proceeds from Johnston’s work go back to the creators, she says, and she makes a concerted effort to give back in other ways, too. The lengths The Pushpin goes to in order to do so are, well, intense.

“We source all supplies locally, bank with a credit union and our default paper is an irresistible cotton rag,” a FAQ on The Pushpin says, “that is made in the USA from a by-product of cottonseed oil production that would otherwise go into landfill.”

But it’s one thing to have a good product made from good stuff and another thing entirely to try and sell it in a market like this one. Fangirl found out just how this passion-projected-turned-lifestyle came about in an email interview with Johnston.

Print for sale via Michael Cho

Fangirl: What is The Pushpin, and why is it awesome?

Jessica Johnston: It is pretty awesome, thank you for noticing! The Pushpin is an online shop that sells high-quality giclée prints of work by comic artists and other professional illustrators. The artists involved are all excellent and the prints are gorgeous. I really like having comic work and illustration together, since they often share a sensibility that is playful. One of the reasons The Pushpin is awesome is because the work overall is pretty fun. On the comic side, we have people like Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, and Michael Cho, along with super pro illustrators like Christian Northeast, Julia Breckenreid, and Dani Crosby, who may be not as well-known but do amazing work.

My hope is that people will come for one artist and discover others. Most of the prints are limited, and many are signed. It is all pretty special. Most of the money goes to the artist, and the rest goes to supporting a socially responsible small business. Everybody wins!

Fangirl: You talk about how you “caught the bug” on the About page as you reproduced your partner’s prints. Had you always had an interest in comics, or was this entirely new to you? And why comics in particular, instead of creating a general online art shop?

Johnston: Until last year I worked as a newspaper editor, managing the weekend arts and culture section of a paper based in Toronto. This is where I met my partner, comic creator Chip Zdarsky. Last year I quit my job, with grand plans of freelancing, and one of the projects I took on was to make and sell prints of Chip’s work. I couldn’t believe the quality of the prints I was able to make. They looked so good. I was hooked right away, and quickly started plotting expansion. I knew I wanted it to be comic artists and illustrators from the beginning. So much of this work is lovable, and I like giving the fine art treatment to work that isn’t always taken seriously as art.

Print for sale via Johnnie Christmas

Fangirl: What has opening a business been like, and how steep was the learning curve? How does it feel to go from being a newspaper editor for 10 years to being a middleman/woman for selling comic art?

Johnston: I’m doing a very different thing now than I was a year ago, but the transition has felt strangely seamless. I loved editing, but working for a newspaper in 2016 didn’t feel super awesome (papers are not in the best shape these days). It feels good to have a project that is growing rather than shrinking. There has been a learning curve for sure — I’ve learned a lot about printing techniques and paper stocks; I’ve had to learn QuickBooks! — but much of the new biz is about project management and organizing people, just like running a newspaper section, so it feels pretty natural. I was a little nervous to work from home — I thought I’d go a little crazy working on my own, but miraculously, that has not happened.

Fangirl: Was it a conscious decision to pull from Canadian artists? Do you have plans to expand your empire?

Johnson: The all-Canadian roster was not intentional! It worked out that way, and it makes sense, since I am physically located in Toronto. There are so many talented people here, I didn’t have to look far for an exceptional launch crew. But for sure, we will  be expanding our geographic reach, very soon.

Print for sale via Kate Beaton

Fangirl: What’s on the radar for The Pushpin? Can we get any sweet deets as to who will join the site next?

Johnston: I’m really looking forward to experimenting with The Pushpin, to figured out what works best for people. There are all kinds of plans in the works, but what I can tell you now is that the next artists up will be Marguerite Sauvage and Bryan Lee O’Malley, which I am obviously pretty excited about.

Fangirl: Finally, what is the office cat’s name? (Can we get a picture?)

Johnston: His name is Monster Truck! He’s a tuxedo cat, and a grumpy old man, who entertains me endlessly. Because of his coloring, I particularly enjoy putting a bowtie on him to complete the look. Formal wear to work — that’s just how we roll here at The Pushpin.


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