Mr. Justin Jewett aka ‘Rocket Society’ is an American artist and designer whose art stems from a love of ‘GI Joes’, Stephen King, ‘Disney’, punk culture, metaphysics, and Spider Man to name but a few.
J is known to many in the designer toy world thanks to his collaborative work with Mr. Brian Ewing released under the ‘Meta Crypt’ label.
Lately, Justin has branched out lone gunman style with his ‘nul’ and ‘Hateball’ labels – releasing zines, patches and the Zine Wolf designer toy, to much acclaim.
And his artistic aim? “In the end, I really really—like REALLY—try to just avoid pretense and do what I’m doing for me.“
(Picture below of Justin mugging it up while holding one of his Zinewolf toys)
With great reception for his many past releases, and lots in the works, now is the perfect time to get to know Mr. Justin Jewett by reading the Art Talk, below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Justin Jewett, born in late June 1978.
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
I currently live in Sacramento, California USA.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have strong connections to SF and Seattle.
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together your pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, crime… ANYTHING man.
* age 10 – beginnings:
Things started with G.I. Joe for me.
Something about the scope and scale of that toy line was really formative to my imagination. For some reason, my dad decided that those were the only toys that mattered, so there was a lot of enforced (and welcome) focus in those early days. The way that the line sheets would come through, and even the catalog photography used to sell the toys really resonated with me.
It was both exhilarating and somewhat anxiety-inducing: I realized early-on that things go away and if you don’t get them when they’re there, you may not be able to get them at all.
* age 15 – getting serious:
High School was a glorious and miserable time for me…I was well-liked and successful but for some reason couldn’t shake the idea of being alone.
I became a voracious reader and spent much of my time on non-film-related Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels. I really invented what has become my internal voice during those long nights and will be forever grateful to that material.
King is mislabelled as a horror writer…he’s nothing of the sort. It’s pure fantasy.
* age 20 – adult mode:
I realized I would never be able to execute the pictures and ideas that I had in my head with a pencil and drawing pad.
If I wanted to be artistic or creative or whatever, I needed to find a different medium. That initially came out as very bad graphic design and digital compositions, but grew into writing, storytelling, and communication in general.
Rough Draft For Life.
A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed.
Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Fuck Buttons, Flying Lotus.
I listen to a lot of drum n bass/jungle.
I’m a sucker for good, hard trap…Clipse, etc.
Favorite TV show(s)?
Friends, Arrested Development, The Office, Parks + Rec.
I don’t consider the serious shit ‘TV Shows’.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
None. Played football in high school.
Fight Club. Matrix. Interstellar was amazing. The Fog of War. Ghostbusters. Big Trouble in Little China.
Favorite books and comics?
King’s Dark Tower books are super-formative for me.
Also The Talisman/Black House duo by King and Straub.
Much of Lovecraft’s library.
David Sedaris, Chuck Pahlaniuk, Chuck Klosterman.
I’m completely and totally influenced by Spider-Man (Web, Amazing, and Spider-Man) comics from the early 90s (Mcfarlane, Zeck, Larsen, etc.) as well as several Vertigo and Wildstorm titles from the early 00’s.
Favorite other artist(s)?
I’ve worked with dozens and dozens of artists in a vendor-client relationship, so it’s sort of hard to be objective.
I love much of what Aaron Horkey, Mike Sutfin, Arik Roper, James Jean, Mark Todd, and Zach Johnsen put out into the world.
I’m fascinated by James Jirat Patradoon and expect him to explode any minute.
Matt Fisher/SexualYoukai is the best kept secret in the whole world.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The mean-spiritedness of exclusivity.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The beauty of the art.
Watching a hard worker like Skinner or James Jean turn a corner and become something more than themselves.
I respond much better to art when I have context surrounding the artist. If they’re a cool or nice or kind person, I appreciate the art more.
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
You know, I spend a lot of time thinking about this and worry that there’s no right answer.
I don’t suppose I consider it art, as I’m much less savvy or ‘good’ than many of the people I look at. But! I also can recognize the fact that there are many many more folks who don’t create as regularly or with as much energy as I do, and they may consider what I’m doing to be art or artistic.
In the end, I really really—like REALLY—try to just avoid pretense and do what I’m doing for me. I am thrilled when people like it enough to express interest, but my strategy of keeping the stakes low is something that works for me and allows me to be delighted when someone is interested…as opposed to disappointed when most people are not.
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
I’ve always been a creative or imaginative person…but I’ve never really had the proper tools to translate what I want onto a page. Like: my hands won’t do it.
I’ve spent years trying to understand how to execute a human form or a properly foreshortened hand or foot or limb and I just can’t connect. I spent time banging my head against the wall and assumed that if I kept at it, it would be like learning to type…you just wake up one day and can do it. Alas, I cannot draw.
So I found other things to do…collaborating with artists to execute ideas that I have or that we share; using professional skills like layout and design to make more free-wheeling and personal versions of websites or publications, writing about weird shit, and in the case of my recent stuff—zines, patches, toys—making stuff that I would want as a collector.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
Likely the biggest influence is starting/running my company Rocket Society.
When we were most active, we were building websites for businesses and brands of all sizes…but we always maintained a healthy roster of artists who we would do work for trade with. I learned a lot about the ‘actual’ life of artists, as well as discovered ways to contribute to their processes, how to not be a taker, and really just how to maintain one’s personhood while doing whatever this is. That’s important. Be a person.
Sure: be an artist. But also be a person. Have something to offer.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
It really just sort of happened. I’ve always tinkered around with the brand for Rocket Society, and that turned into making pins and t-shirts, and then I started collecting toys which led to making toys which led to making other things.
I’ll do it as long as it’s fun.
Brian and I have known each other for about 10 years…he started as a client. Actually: I started as a customer of his, and mentioned in the comment box on Paypal that I would love to build him a website for trade…he responded and we began working together in that capacity.
Over the years we became friends, and my partner in Rocket Society and I would come to SD Comicon to staff his booth. In 2011 I had an opportunity to work on and ultimately produce a sofubi toy, and I invited Brian to collaborate with me on it…to be partners. We developed Shub Zeroth together—with Brian’s deft hands rendering the particulars of the design and my toy background guiding the ‘why’—and constructed the Metacrypt brand around him.
I would say that our friendship is a strange one…it’s pretty self-aware.
He (Brian) is a fully-formed artist in his own right…he’s got a bustling career and is quite prolific on a year-to-year basis. I’m kind of a business executive person in my ‘real life’ (not to mention being a freelance web person and a dad) and so Metacrypt is definitely a side thing…I don’t think either of us are prepared for it to blow up past a certain size.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging working—at the partnership level—with friends. You have to be deliberate about when you’re talking business and when you’re talking to each other…there’s a difference. But at the end of the day—for this project—I wanted to work with someone I admired and respected, and ultimately loved deeply who would challenge and augment and change my vision with their own and the thing would become something bigger (or at least different) than both of us…and I think we succeeded with Metacrypt.
(Picture below of Justin and Mr. Ewing)
Describe the method of making a ‘Rocket Society’ work – from initial idea, to production sketches/mock-ups and the eventual final product? (dot point all o.k.)
For clarity, ‘Rocket Society’ is the name of the web-development business I started with a close friend from high school in 2000. We were active full-time through 2012 and have each since taken on full-time work at other companies.
My person/persona/identity in the ‘art’/toy/‘making stuff’ arena is generally just ‘Hateball’. I’ll describe the Hateball stuff.
* your zines?
Working with zines is quite new for me…
I’ve always been a collector of books and strange printed ephemera, but until recently, I had remained convinced that I was a consumer only…not up to snuff with actually making something.
Brian and I had deployed a few very-short zines as headers for Metacrypt releases and I was instantly hooked. He and I discussed the potential for making more (totally probable) but I also wanted to go off into the desert and learn how to line up the spreads, manage the bleeds and crops, and actually construct the things. So I did.
The thing I love about zines is that there’s something that I value at the end of the process—there’s something about turning pages and going back-to-front that validates the form for me…more than just a postcard or less complicated ‘thing’—and I have my hands on it from start to finish.
In my first few releases, I prototyped and printed the zines in my garage on a laser printer…I’ve since started having the flats printed because the toner is so expensive, plus, I’m using color now. But the process is still very solitary, quick, and fun.
My goal for a zine project is typically structured by time.
I want to decide to make a zine by Friday night, settle on the theme by Sunday night, and have files sent to the printer by Thursday. All of the work happens at night and in-between things, and I like for there to be a written element involved with each.
Keeping it quick and refusing to allow myself the opportunity to overthink or overdo or over-edit is important…mostly because I have a fear of actually trying too hard at anything…I’d rather mostly fail at something I kinda tried on than sort of fail at something I gave my all to. It’s complicated.
Mostly, though: it’s about having fun. When it stops being fun I’ll stop doing it.
(Pictures below of some ‘Rocket Society’ zines)
* your patches?
I had worked with Brian on a patch for the seminal Metacrypt release (Bog Zeroth…a three-way collaboration between Skinner, Lulubell, and Metacrypt) and then did a patch for a little toy project I co-release with Luke from Grody Shogun (that patch has since become ‘Grodysign’ in the Arcane Sigil series) but didn’t get serious about patches until I decided to make a patch for my son. Jesus that’s a long sentence.
I customized a denim vest for my three year old son for Christmas last year and wanted to create something special to go on it. Patches, as you may know, sort of have to be ordered in quantities of 50 or above in order to be affordable, so the ‘UN’ patch was an unlikely overstock that I didn’t have plans for…but I caught the bug.
At the same time, I was developing my little ‘Duck Fink’ idea (Mike Jones helped tremendously with the vectorization of him) and I wanted to make a ‘flip’ patch that was based very closely on a vintage Donald Duck/Disneyland patch.
From there, my two main ‘lines’ developed:
— Revisionist is about using emotional and nostalgic imagery in some sort of clever or recombined way—a remix, really—to make images that I think I would have preferred from the get-go.
Rat Fink’s head on Donald Duck’s body.
The Ghostbusters ghost with a Pac-Man ghost face.
My favorite is actually ‘Unready’ which is a quote from Dune wrapped around a design that Walt Disney designed for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Maybe a little too esoteric with that one.
— The other line is Arcane Sigil, which is all about creating symbols and signs that look like they should mean something but don’t.
I’ve always been fascinated by military insignia, masonic imagery and symbology, and the use of numbers and numerology in those constructs.
So again: as opposed to settling for just being a consumer of those things, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and make some shit. Thousands of years from now, maybe somebody’s digging around in what used to be Northern California and bam: Ellipsogon is misidentified as the flag of an ancient civilization.
The art for these happens quickly and in the same fashion as the zines: if I’ve got a few spare dollars in my paypal account and half an idea for a patch, I’ll start on Sunday and have the file sent to the manufacturer by the end of the week. If it goes longer than that, it doesn’t get made.
(Pictures below of some ‘Rocket Society’ patches and the pivotal denim jacket that started it all)
* your stand alone sofubi work – released under the ‘Hateball’ brand?
Zinewolf is the only toy to date that I’ve done standalone.
I have a few other toys that have been released in collaboration: the original ‘Revisionist’ resin MUSCLE figures I did with David Healey, and the aforementioned ‘Droolids’ that I do with Luke.
I’m also working on some other resin projects that I’m excited about.
Zinewolf is meant to serve two main purposes: I wanted to produce a toy that was largely autobiographical and under my complete control. The tension of collaborating with Brian on Metacrypt or other artists is fun, but it’s only fun if there’s an escape from it. I wanted a project that I could use to temper all of the seriousness and portent of Metacrypt and just be goofy. Funny. Quick. Improvisational. And that’s what Zinewolf and any other toy that I currently plan to release directly through Hateball and ThereforeNul is.
Second, I wanted to be able to enter the conversation between creators. I wanted to be able to establish shorter-term collaborations, trades, releases with other artists that I respect and admire, and since I’ve decided to spend less of my time building websites, having a toy that others were maybe interested in painting or having or playing with seemed like a rational course of action.
(Pictures below of the Zinewolf soft vinyl by ‘Hateball’)
* your collaborative work with Mr. Ewing – released as the aforementioned ‘Metacrypt’
I would say that the biggest and most aggressive characteristic of the work that Brian and I are doing is that it’s deliberate.
We spend a lot of time planning and thinking and going back and forth about things…which is a nice change from how I do stuff when it’s just for me.
Brian brings a level of execution to things that is refreshing and awe-inspiring for me, and it really encourages me to bring my A-game and provide his artisticness the opportunities it deserves to really shine.
Brian and I think much more about the business logic and/or savviness of a release than I do with any of my other stuff. As I’ve mentioned before: I’ll make 50 of something just so I can have one…that attitude does not spill over into things with Metacrypt.
I think we’re both committed to making decisions that please us, but that also result in items or ideas that have a chance to make it out to at least a few dozen people with a little luck.
You have released a few vinyl toys thus far under the ‘Hateball’ and ‘Metacrypt’ labels – What are the character’s back-narratives and bios for…
Zinewolf—the figure—is me in a state of change. I am dressed in what—to me—passes as identity and appears as persona or costume to everyone else around me. My body is in-flux…I am becoming something else.
When the mask is donned, I am in a state of awakening…my eyes bulge and my tongue lols from my overstuffed mouth in crazed horror at what I see, but my third eye is heightened and calm and in control…the beast is altered and none shall escape my ironic gaze.
Drude is one of a faceless army of devoted acolytes to the old one Shub Zeroth. He worships and is thus transformed.
He is doom and therefore he is doomed.
(Pictures below of the Drude soft vinyl + header art by ‘Meta Crypt’)
(iii) ‘Shub Zeroth’
Shub Zeroth is an ancient god from beyond. He peers from behind himself, mad with age and power…he too is in state of flux and is becoming something much more foreboding and gruesome than what he started as.
He beckons his young to feed and yet there is no sign of them.
(Pictures below of the Shub Zeroth soft vinyl by ‘Meta Crypt’)
What are your thoughts on the current status of the art-toy ‘scene’, and why?
My knee-jerk reaction to anything that accepts me as a part of itself is that it is over, cheap, and easily fooled.
I believe the scene as a scene is cheap and petty, though there is work being done inside a little niche by people who I have met and enjoy who are thoughtful and kind that can’t be denied.
What are your thoughts of the toy forum scene as a way for fans and artists to communicate? Is it a real ‘community’ or just a virtual locker-room shit talk? – I ask as we are both members of Skullbrain…
I don’t think Skullbrain is a positive influence on the toy community. Just like I don’t think Expresso Beans is a positive influence on the poster community.
My feeling about what should be filling that void, however, is nebulous. I quite like getting news about creators I respect and like via Instagram, and do tend to gravitate towards that model for my own stuff.
I grew up on Skullbrain and purchased much of my collection on the B/S/T boards, but I really don’t think that the rhetoric, membership, or even the ‘official’ messaging there is beneficial to anyone except for a very very select few. Which of course defeats the purpose of community.
Favorite toy/figure? (I’ll allow self promotion)
Dokugan, Kaijin Dokugan, and Micro Dokugan by Blobpus.
Odds n Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood?
A large one.
I had better toys at my dad’s than I did at my mom’s. Dad made me focus on GI Joes, Mom did not.
I learned how to be a spoiled, demanding collector-consumer on the weekends and was forced to realize that things are just things during the week.
(Picture below of Justin’s grey vinyl collection)
Please describe your experiences growing up in the USA?
I had parents who loved me deeply but didn’t quite know what they were doing. Which is why my grandparents who loved me just as deeply were so important.
I was chubby—of both body and mind—and peered into some other ‘real’ American life through an imagined pane of glass that kept me firmly and forever outside. I’ve since painted over that window.
What does Disney and Disney culture – themeparks, toys, clothing, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, related brands like ‘Micfits’ etc. – mean to you and why?
I surrender to Disneyland.
If there was some way for me to get to the moon, I’d go there and surrender to it, but since there isn’t, Disneyland is my worldly paradise.
I maintain a proud double-standard here: I do not support or stand for everything (or even much of what) Disney does, but Disneyland, the characters, and some of the movies are allowed to be magical in my mind for some reason.
My fascination with Donald Duck started as a contrarian glomming onto The Second Banana in the grand scheme of things, and now I just love him because I do. No apologies.
(Picture below of Justin holding his ‘Micfits’ membership card)
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Either Cindy Crawford or Erika Eleniak (the original ‘blond from Baywatch’).
Does sex change everything?
I think it does.
If the metaphor is that we’re cars, I don’t think sex is an essential fluid like gas or water—we can live without it—nor do I think it’s something trivial or silly like windshield wiper soap.
It’s somewhere in a very nebulous and oft-misunderstood middle zone…something like axle grease or bearing oil.
You can white-knuckle your way through life without it—either on purpose, via neglect, or out of complete ignorance—but the experience is quite different an unfulfilled because of it.
None of my artistic or creative decisions are made from a sexy place. Not even the tits on Shub’s back.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I’m unable to summon anything at the moment.
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
I have not.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
The easy answer is my son.
When he unleashes his talent and charm and kindness on the world, I want to be remembered as the person who encouraged him to be the best version of himself that he could be.
If I’m speaking purely selfishly, I suppose I’d like to make an impact on folks by way of starting a conversation through a zine or a patch or an image.
They should know that they have a choice: they can either laugh with me at how absurd it all is or I can laugh at them for not understanding how absurd it all is.
(Picture below of Justin and his family – worshiping at the altar of Disney)
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
The closest thing to drugs I’ve ever consumed is tequila, so if it’s the gateway I’m missing out.
Please describe what you think the American Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
Complete and total shit.
It is all vapid and manufactured and performed and wrong-headed.
Our country is a beach of insanity and only those truly looking are able to find or to be shiny little flecks of humanity buried in the sand.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Nothing long-term, though I am working with Tru:Tek in the UK on some resin prototyping—something fun for Hateball—as well as a few collab releases for Zinewolf and Shub Zeroth with Luke from Grody Shogun.
I’ve been quietly working with a couple dozen artists that I know and respect on an art/illustration project for Zinewolf which will hopefully come to fruition in the first part of 2015. Fingers are crossed.
Any major projects you want to hype man?
I’m considering getting serious about creating a place at hateball.com where patches, zines, toys, and other things can be purchased.
Other than that, I’m just trying to put zines out as fast as ideas and inspiration come to me, and work on toys—either alone, with Luke, or with Brian—that make sense, are fun, and that I would like to own.
Thanks so much for having me.