Josh Freydkis: All That Magic
I had never met a single person in my life who plays Magic: The Gathering until I met Josh Freydkis. At the age of ten, the intricate illustrations on the cards fascinated him, and he is still committed to weekly MTG meetups and speaks animatedly about his interest in the game. After showing me a few of the card illustrations, I began to understand the appeal for him and how it has influenced his drawings. The San Francisco native, who spent time out east before returning back west to work as an animator, now finds northeast Los Angeles a good place to call home.
“Much like zines,” Josh tells me, “my favorite aspect of animation is the medium’s inherent accessibility. Cartoons utilize a basic language that can be understood by children and adults alike, regardless of their background.” Josh’s output doesn’t simply idle outside his day job. His humorous, playful and frequently capricious imagery comes in the form of zines, T-shirts, Risograph prints, stickers, pins and whatever else he can print on. His web store’s title, a personal favorite, is aptly named Future Trash Worldwide. Starting 2016 off with a bang, he attracted the attention of the big kids at Adult Swim, who invited him to create work for the shows Mr. Pickles and Rick and Morty. For all the enjoyment he’s brought me, I’m pleased to facilitate Josh’s first in-print interview so that his work can reach a wider, appreciative audience. —Austin McManus
Read this feature and more in the April 2017 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine.
Austin McManus: We’ve both made similar moves over the last few years, San Francisco to Brooklyn to Los Angeles. How have all these cities differed in informing your work, and how’s life in Los Angeles these days?
Josh Freydkis: Even though I haven’t lived in San Francisco for eight years, it will always be my home. Like my father, I was born and raised in the foggy avenues of the Outer Sunset. Growing up in SF in the late ’90s-early 2000s was a truly unique experience. The City had a tangible spirit, a special funk that it unfortunately seems to be losing in the wake of the tech boom. As a teenager, I was very involved in graffiti and punk, subcultures that were thriving at the time. Both served to lay the foundation of my creative practice. Moving to New York really helped to define my work ethic. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a grip of artists who were way more talented and accomplished then I was. I had no choice but to put my head down and make as much work as possible. I held a ton of odd jobs so that I could have as much time as possible to sit in my tiny room and draw. I’ve been in Los Angeles for three years now. Luckily, I got a job offer that forced me to relocate; otherwise I may have never ended up here. I love LA, and, in many ways, it is the opposite of New York. Both cities boast many of the same cultural amenities, but I don’t feel the social pressures here that I did when living in NYC. I am a homebody at heart, and spend a lot of my free time gardening and hanging with my two dogs.
The first time I saw something you made was when I picked up your zine at Needles & Pens. It was The Young Adult’s Pocket Guide to Ritual Sacrifice. I don’t even think I looked inside. I was sold on the title. What got you into making zines, and is it something you still enjoy doing?
My introduction to zines was actually through Needles & Pens. My high school girlfriend lived around the corner from their storefront on 16th Street in San Francisco, and I would always poke my head in on the way to the bus. I was immediately drawn to the autonomy of zine making and the practice of self-distribution. And, perhaps most importantly, I liked that they were cheap to produce and easy to make a lot of. Unfortunately, I haven’t been making any zines recently because I’ve been so busy with other projects. I just bought a Risograph printer, though, so I hope to be making more zines and publications in the coming year.
I can’t wait to see what you make with the at-home Riso. At some point, you worked at a print shop, something I always wanted to do. What kind of stuff did you take advantage of while you were there?
I worked at a print shop the last two years I lived in NYC. We were mostly printing huge runs of T-shirts for crappy bands, but it was an awesome job, nonetheless. The shop had a ton of insane equipment, including a vacuum table, multiple conveyor ovens, and an eight-arm automatic press that once broke my boss’s arm. My two co-workers were also illustrators (Tom and Devin Toye), so we would all stay after hours to print our own shit. I had some basic printmaking knowledge prior to the job, but Tom and Devin really taught me the finer points of silk screening.
You’ve been working on projects for one of the most awesomely grotesque cartoons currently being aired, Mr. Pickles. How did working with Adult Swim come about, and how has that experience been?
I started working with Adult Swim at the beginning of 2016. They saw my illustrations online and reached out to see if I wanted to work on some promotional graphics for Mr. Pickles. I recently finished up another batch of Pickles graphics, and am currently designing a bunch of Rick and Morty T-shirts. It’s been such an honor working with them, and I’m looking forward to many more collaborations in the future.
What do you enjoy most about animating besides it being a cool way to make a living, and what is an ideal scenario for you at this point in your profession?
Much like zines, my favorite aspect of animation is the medium’s inherent accessibility. Cartoons utilize a basic language that can be understood by children and adults alike, regardless of their background. While the narrative inevitably varies with each show, they are all united in their use of movement, and continue to recycle visual tropes that were pioneered decades prior. I think there is something incredibly comforting in finding the same rake gag in an episode of Looney Toons, The Simpsons, and Adventure Time. Currently, I have a day job as a GIF animator over at Giphy Studios. We’re afforded a tremendous amount of creative freedom, and I work with a group of incredibly talented artists. I don’t think it gets more ideal than that!
Awesome. I’m really feeling your Globey animations, especially the one where he’s smashing his head into the wall. Are those types of animations a form of creative catharsis?
Definitely! Globey is actually a character I developed for my job at Giphy. I needed a PG way to communicate my growing sense of misanthropy and general frustration with the world. He’s a fun character because I can have him doing literally anything and it will still somehow feel topical.
Speaking of characters, I know you had some previous alter-egos, but what about your newest one?
You mean Paper Boy? I think I am unfortunately going to have to change his name because of that FX show, Atlanta. Paper Boy is a Cisco-drinking, turtleneck and tracksuit-wearing b-boy who has been known to charge it to the game. He also has a pet dalmatian named Chavy Dawg who wears a matching tracksuit. Then there’s Bloodman, a participant in a botched experiment in which his organs were harvested and skin replaced with a plastic polymer made from melted bodega bags. My most recent character is a towering professional wrestler named Tandy. He is often accompanied by a balding ringside announcer who’s a throwback to Mean Gene Okerlund. Both are employed by FTW (Freydkis Team Wrestling) and are featured extensively in a recent project for Giphy Studios.
I understand that you’re a little plagued by OCD. How does it play into daily life?
Thankfully not as much as it used to. A few years ago, my OCD got really bad. Up until that point, I had never been diagnosed and always just assumed I was “an anxious guy.” But when my compulsions started to get out of control, it became very clear to those around me that something wasn’t right. My family and girlfriend were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to get some professional help. After a bit of research, I found a local specialist that helped me understand the disorder and how to better respond to it using a combination of preventative practices. To be clear, OCD is not a personality trait or some quirky adjective. It’s a clinical disorder that can be completely debilitating, and symptoms are often hidden out of shame. The media has led people to believe that having OCD is synonymous with being clean or organized, but there is so much more to the disorder that goes undiscussed. It often feels like I have another voice living in my brain, constantly trying to hijack my attention with intrusive thoughts about my worst fears. When that voice first surfaced, I thought I was losing my mind. These days, however, I’m able to treat it with much more humor and compassion.
We’ve talked about ways to spend time when not zoning out on a glowing screen, like how therapeutic gardening can be, but you have been doing carpentry too.
Yeah, I love working with my hands. Recently, I’ve been making a lot of furniture for around the house, although I’m most proud of the hardwood bed frame I just built for me and my lady.
You’re heavily into Magic, and play religiously every week with others, which a lot of people relate to “nerd culture.” What is it about Magic that attracted you so much, and how long have you been into it?
I’ve been into MTG since I was ten years old. I think my initial interest in the game was purely aesthetic. Every month, I would buy a few packs with my allowance and then redraw each of the cards in my sketchbook. To be honest, I don’t even think I learned to properly play until I was teenager. But yeah, I have a dedicated playgroup of fellow wizards. We principally play Commander or we will draft at our local game store, although a few of us have recently gotten into Standard.
You play guitar in a black metal band. How long have you been playing music and when do I get to see you guys play?
I started playing music when I was in elementary school (started with jazz piano, baby!) I stopped playing piano and picked up the guitar when I got into punk as a teenager. My black metal project is called Skull Clamp, aptly named after one of my favorite magic cards. It’s a solo project, so I don’t have any plans to play shows. I’ve played in a bunch of other bands in the past, but this is my first foray into making music by myself. I can get pretty controlling with my creative endeavors, so it’s been nice working at my own pace. I have a tape coming out this winter, but you can check out some tracks over at skullclamp.bandcamp.com.
Your girlfriend told me you’re always at Target, like it’s a home away from home. Why there? The fluorescent lighting in that place kills me.
It’s true, I do spend a lot of time there. It’s not even that I specifically love Target, in as much that I fucking love organizing—Target just happens to be right down the road. Plus, they sell Magic cards.
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine, on newsstands worldwide and in our web store.