The Generator: Joe Garber

AGE 28
Whitefish, Mont.
and Larry David
“Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes

As a kid growing up in Montana, Joe Garber made animation the old-fashioned way: twisting figures out of clay, then shooting each frame manually by hitting the record and stop buttons really fast on a VHS camcorder. Like many children destined to be artists, he was also fond of doodling; now he draws and animates using high-tech digital tablets. He’s both lowbrow and corporate cool, creating deranged, screwball cartoons as well as classy commercial ads. But the most ensorcelling thing about his work is its wit, at turns scathing and empathetic.

Garber began working as a full-time freelance animator in 2010, for companies like Microsoft and Vanity Fair, making short films and illustrated histories. He’s written several books, published cartoons (he contributes to the bombastically weird Intruder) and makes fine art. Last March, he unveiled a series of ink drawings at the Factory gallery, each tinted with colorful pops of gouache. In them, lusty nude subjects tear through the foreground with the surreal gusto of Hieronymus Bosch, riding on the backs of swans and lions or sliced in half with guts pouring out, swearing obscenities.

“It’s all pretty fatalistic,” Garber says of his work. Then he breaks into an easygoing, mischievous grin.

“I’ve only recently begun to use humor,” he continues. “I came to the realization that I constantly listen to voices in my head—one that says you need to do really serious work so that people will take you seriously and the other that says, no, you need to just do what comes naturally.”

In his first book, Happiness, a morose character is continually ripped apart by wolves—a metaphor, Garber says, for depression, which has plagued him off and on since his early teens. “The work reflects reality,” he says. “I’m not saying this is what it should be, this is just how it is.” He credits comics with helping him navigate his way out of his darkest periods.

Garber’s personal projects take many forms. For his 2013 graphic novel The Odyssey of Blue Boy, he invited strangers to send him chapters and then illustrated 20 of them. Imps, which he sold at last year’s Short Run festival, is a graphic novel about a listless girl transported to a magical, wild world. Penta Station is a weekly serial online comic about a space station where humans and aliens live in harmony while the resident robots are going crazy. His current project is a collaborative comic called Loose Karma, to be published by Yeti Press this year.

“When I make a book, I love it to be surprising even for me,” he says. “In the moment I wonder why the story is going one way, then realize later that all these little synchronicities are happening, within me and on the paper.”

Photo by Steve Korn.