Formal Sweatpants is a webcomic that came onto my radar one day through Twitter. I became an instant fan not only because of the funny content, but because I really like the artistic element to the comics themselves.
Through each comic, creator Josh Mecouch eloquently balances a somewhat random subject with a beautiful black line of varying weight and a subtle, yet interesting color palette of different gradations. OK- so maybe that is too artsy of talk for many comic lovers. However, I think that it is important to look beyond the humor and consider the other elements that make a comic stand out. According to me, Josh’s artistry makes each panel much more interesting than his observational humor alone.
In addition to Josh’s works on Formal Sweatpants, he has also created numerous illustrated tweets, bringing visual life to some of the more colorful dialogues on Twitter. I contacted Josh Mecouch for an interview to learn more about his style and what inspired him to start these endeavors.
Interview with Josh Mecouch, creator of Formal Sweatpants:
Q. When did you first start creating comics?
A. I read comics and doodled growing up but stopped for the most part in high school. After graduating with a liberal arts degree, I was able to secure a job as a busboy and started drawing consistently again. I was sketching on napkins and drawing more after work so I decided to try and get some comics published in a newspaper. Being in the papers would mean I’ve made it! I quickly found out that was one of the worst places to take comics, learned a bit about webcomics and created a site. I think that was 2009.
Q. I personally love my sweatpants that look like jeans, and am assuming that you may have a similar love. How did the name Formal Sweatpants come about?
A. I actually don’t own a pair of sweatpants but have nothing against them (just made a note to myself to purchase sweatpants). I think it’s interesting though, that the most comfortable clothing you can wear is frowned upon if worn in public. We should all be walking around shirtless in sweatpants & Crocs™.
I don’t really have an answer for why it’s the name of my comic. I liked that Formal Sweatpants had the same initials as Gary Larson’s The Far Side (if you ignore the “the”) but I came up with it only as a placeholder until I found a better name. Many readers first thought I was selling clothing when they would come to my site. Nooope, just drawings of hairy men.
Q. You have two side projects, Illustrated Tweets on Tumblr and your Mitt & Rob series you illustrated during the 2012 election. What inspired you to start illustrating tweets and how have they been received?
A. Back in 2012, during the Republican primaries, Rob Delaney created this fake persona on twitter as an ardent supporter of Mitt Romney who was simultaneously homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, & just aggressively right-wing on every topic imaginable. He’d offer Romney political advice but also invite him over to just hang out. It was a wonderful satire of the Republican election and actually became a problem for Romney’s social media team. I thought the contrast between Delaney in a beard, covered in body hair with only a speedo on and a clean shaven Mitt in his political uniform was a great comedy duo and I was lucky to be able to illustrate it for a few months.
Drawing others’ tweets is a fun break from writing my own comics. Twitter is filled with so many incredibly funny, creative people that it’s nice to be able to do even small collaborations with some of them. Recently this Waldo comic I did with @SaraghAdams made it to the front page of reddit.
Q. What is the main message you are trying to get out to the world through Formal Sweatpants and your side projects?
A. I like the sound of that! “Formal Sweatpants’ message to the world.” I read once that “A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images” so maybe these comics are my philosophy put into images. That sounds pretty good. Usually though, I’m just scrambling to come up with an idea for Monday’s comic. Here’s an example of my philosophy and message to the world – 3 Wishes.
Q. Last month when Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal commented on Facebook about how he loves your comics, the demand from his massive following ended up crashing your website. How did that feel to receive such great publicity and how did you handle it?
A. That was incredible. I met Inman briefly at a book signing and have always been a big fan of his work. It was certainly one of the best moments for me as a cartoonist and I’m thrilled the Oatmeal army crashed my site. I’m very thankful for the chance to reach a larger audience.
Q. Any comics/webcomics that have inspired you to start and/or that you like following today?
A. The Far Side was one of my favorite comics growing up and I still refer to it occasionally. Larson never considered himself a great artist but his drawings were always funny to look at, which is something I try to achieve in my own comics. If you asked me to draw a realistic horse I would struggle mightily, so please don’t ask me. But if you asked me to draw a funny-looking horse, I think I could pull it off (just give it a heavy brow, misshapen teeth, and make it extra hairy).
The Perry Bible Fellowship is as good as 3 panel comics can get in my opinion. I love the way he plays with different styles as well.
Some other comics I read: The Oatmeal, Space Avalanche, Mercworks, Caffeinated Toothpaste and Zen Pencils.
Q. I love your characters and the complexity of each panel. Your style has changed slightly, adding more depth and variance in line stroke over the years. Is this a result of any profound inspiration?
A. Thank you! One of my goals with comic making is to continue to improve as an artist. I like looking at others’ styles and trying to push my own to get better. I mentioned Gary Larson but I also look at artists like Ralph Steadman or painters like Otto Dix to try and learn from them. Oh, and R. Crumb. He probably is the biggest influence on how I’d like my comics to look. Here’s a great documentary on him if you’re interested – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR9vfcNYBhc).
Q. How do you create Formal Sweatpants and your illustrated tweets: paper, Wacom, etc?
A. I draw almost everything by hand first in a sketchbook using a blue drafting pencil and a mechanical pencil (#2 0.7mm lead – I press pretty hard on the paper – making note to myself to not draw so hard). I like part of the process to be away from the computer but I also struggle to draw just using a Wacom tablet (I have trouble getting proportions correct). From there I take a picture of the image, drop it into Flash, draw over it and color it in. I used to do some animating in college so I just got used to Flash’s interface. It’s certainly not the best program for illustration so I’ve been meaning to try working in Photoshop more, at least for the coloring.
Q. What few Formal Sweatpants’ comics would you say best sum up your message?
A. These comics:
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists and artists trying to get into the field?
A. Anything I say here would be a regurgitated version of something from the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, so I would say get that book. Also, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is probably the best breakdown of what comics are capable of doing as a visual medium that I’ve read. Get that book too.
Here are a few ideas that have helped me:
- Come up with deadlines for yourself and publicly commit to them. It’s easy to give into moods or tell yourself you don’t have any ideas, so creating some sort of structure is important. I think if you hold yourself accountable to creating something new regularly, you’ll be surprised by how you’re able to come up with stuff.
- This is probably the thought or idea that helped me the most over past year: On the Joe Rogan podcast he once said, “Let others’ work inspire you to do your own best work.” That really resonated with me because I used to get fairly disappointed in how my own comics were doing, especially when comparing them to others. Once I started practicing this mindset it not only helped me appreciate and genuinely enjoy others’ work but my own started to improve.
- Draw everyday.
Q. You touch on a wide variety of subjects. Where do you get your inspiration from?
A. I buy a lot of books, skim the first few pages or they just sit on my shelf unread and unloved as I mindlessly refresh twitter (I have two unread Cesar Millan books & no dog?). But if I do actually read one, I like to try and come up with illustrations based on the ideas. For example, I was reading how samurais used to meditate on the image of their own death and that led to this comic -Death Meditation. Another book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, broke down how humans can’t grasp the fact that we’re actually going to die one day. That led to this comic - Existential Flatulence (haven’t finished that book, btw. Maybe there’s a twist ending). And this comic about a giant bird giving a man a wedgie was based on me thinking about wedgies – The Bird. I bounce ideas around with other cartoonists and some friends from twitter, too. Anything to have a comic ready for Monday.
Q. Webcomics take a bunch of time, from inspiration to execution. What makes it all worth it?
A. I was talking about this with another cartoonist friend but some comics take well over 10 hours to finish and they’ll be read in 10 seconds. I’d say putting out an idea or joke and seeing if it resonates with others is a great reward, though. My plan is to keep making them because I enjoy the process of creating comics.
Q. What’s your favorite social media platform for your webcomics and what do you feel you get from it?
A. Twitter is great because you can test out ideas or post drafts of comics. Facebook has also been a nice way to share everything in one place. I don’t use tumblr (except for the illustrated tweets). Am I missing out on any? Should I do Pinterest?
Q. How can your fans best support you at this point in time?
A. If you like Formal Sweatpants tell a friend, a parent, a lover, your dentist, that girl or guy you have a crush on but are too scared to talk with, your neighbor Alan, your driver and/or maid if you’re wealthy, your cat if you’re lonely. Help me by sharing my comics & I’ll keep them coming.
Some Favorite Comics:
Follow Josh and Formal Sweatpants:
- Formal Sweatpants Website
- Illustrated Tweets
- Mitt and Robb on Tumblr
- Formal Sweatpants shop
If you would like to submit a webcomic for review, please contact me.