The Lowbrow Reader Reader: Addenda and Annotations—Meet Cover Artist John Mathias

The Lowbrow Reader Reader coverCrack open our eminently orderable book anthology, The Lowbrow Reader Reader, and one of the first things to catch your eye is the gallery of Lowbrow Reader covers, all featuring a bathroom gag by one John Mathias. The artist was also responsible for the colorfully disgusting illustration gracing the book’s cover. (The book cover was designed by the great Mike Reddy; the rest was designed by the great Matthew Berube.) Let’s check in with Mathias, the Picasso of the lavatory, to ask him about his decade-plus drawing people in bathroom situations for The Lowbrow Reader….

You illustrated the cover for Lowbrow Reader #1, back in 2001. What do you remember about that first assignment? And honestly, what in god’s name made you agree to it?

I remember that it made sense to me immediately. Guy on toilet using Burberry toilet paper? Sure! For some reason, he was supposed to be Japanese, so I based him on my upstairs neighbor who was a club DJ named Gak. He would do his thing into the wee hours of the morning inside the apartment without headphones. So in a passive aggressive way I was getting back at him.

Are there particular challenges inherent to drawing people involved in bathroom scenarios?

Just thinking about it makes me need to go.

You have illustrated nine Lowbrow Reader covers—eight issues and the cover of the book. Which is your favorite?

Issue #3, the wizard, is my favorite. Conceptually, at least.

In subtle ways, your style has evolved over the years that you have been drawing these gags. What are the main changes?

I think perhaps I focused more on the gag as time went on? I try to be as concise and direct as possible—that’s the elusive trick to illustration. You have to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Of course, that’s where an editor comes in handy.

Do you have a favorite artistic masterpiece involving a bathroom activity?

That peeing baby boy statue in Brussels? Just kidding. But I do love really crude bathroom graffiti, especially amateur drawings of anatomy.

Have you ever had an idea for a Lowbrow cover that proved too strange or tricky to execute?

Yes, there’s one that I did in which a meeting of business people is standing around a long conference table and all are excitedly applauding the boss who has just burst through the door in the background. In the foreground is the boss’s “chair” which is a toilet; in fact, everybody’s chairs are toilets. There are note pads, coffee carafes, and rolls of toilet paper on the table. There’s a tagline that reads: “Let’s get to work!” [Ed note: The drawing, below, ran as part of a house ad in Lowbrow Reader #7.]

You live on the Jersey Shore. Is there an artistic community there that gets ignored because of the area’s, er…reputation?

Ha! Not really, though there are a couple of hip gallery spaces here and there, such as the Parlor Gallery and Asbury Lanes of Asbury Park. The recession has put a damper on the arts since right after I moved from Brooklyn to Long Branch, which was in 2007. I think Snooki’s t-shirt shop might have been washed out to sea by Sandy, though.

Can you describe some of your recent non–Lowbrow Reader work?

I always have several pots going on the stove. To pay the bills I freelance for advertisers in Manhattan doing production and illustration behind the scenes. Also, I’ve been drawing sci-fi comics based on scripts by my friend Jeff Burandt. He’s the singer-songwriter from the band Americans UK (which I played bass in around 2009–2011). I do rather traditional landscape paintings and sell them locally in New Jersey and also by commission. I’m working on a very exciting book proposal at the moment with a writer I met through the Lowbrow Reader. Besides that, I help my wife run her jewelry business out of our home and I play dolls with my 3-year-old.

On Twitter, a search for John Mathias yields a right-wing fanatic. Does this bother you?

Does it bother you that “President” Barack Hussein Obama is trampling on our freedoms one after the other and instilling Sharia law?