Meet the Cartel: Underpants and Overbites
Welcome back to our new interview series Meet the Cartel, a spotlight on Big Cartel shop owners. For today’s installment, we introduce you to Jackie Davis of Underpants and Overbites, a comic artist from New York.
How did you get into making comics?
I graduated from art school in 2011 with a degree in illustration. I was working as a barista unsure of what direction to go in with my art, when I discovered graphic novels. This was around 2015. I’d been vaguely aware that they existed - ya know, Spider Man and stuff, but I had no idea how many more there were and the incredible stories they contained. I rented hundreds of them from my local library that year and decided making comics was what I wanted to do with my life. I’d been drawing in a sketchbook and writing in a diary forever, but only after reading stacks of autobio graphic novels did I combine those two things into the diary comic that is Underpants and Overbites today. It’s hard to explain but it all just kind of clicked. Like falling in love, but with a language and a way to express myself.
After making comics and serving coffee for a couple years, I eventually struck out to make comics full time and I’ve been doing it ever since. Some weeks are definitely harder than others, but now that I’m self-employed and get to fully dedicate my time to my art and this online store, I could never go back.
Why did you choose Big Cartel?
I think I chose Big Cartel because my friend Randall had one and he seemed like he knew what he was doing. He was running an indie cassette record label thing at the time and from my perspective, he was killing it. Also, I liked that the first 5 items I posted were free and it wouldn’t charge be per posting the way Etsy does. I love a good free option when it comes to testing things out.
Tell us about your most popular item in your shop
My most popular item right now is my new book “Vulnerability Is My Superpower.” It came out in April of 2021 and was published by Andrews McMeel. You can buy the book all kinds of places, but I decided to also offer it from my online store with a personalized doodle option. My readers seem to really enjoy that personal touch. For a weeks when it first came out, I didn’t have time to make new comics, I was just doodle doodle doodling.
And what’s your favorite item in your shop?
It’s not a singular item, but I love all my originals. I make all my comics on paper with ink and watercolor, which is a bit uncommon these days, so I think it’s super cool that people have a chance to buy the actual first version of a comic as I created it on paper. They’re difficult to part with, but I love thinking about what it might mean to someone else.
Why did you choose your current theme for your shop?
I think… I probably picked it for its simplicity and the way I could add a little sub-header on the homepage. Something like, “I’ll ship things out as fast as I can, but I’m just one human doing my best.”
Check out the Ranger theme for your own Big Cartel shop.
What does a regular workday look like for you?
Gosh, a regular work day is hard to come by as a self-employed artist, but I have been at it for about 4 years now and have honed in on some techniques and patterns that help facilitate working in a way that doesn’t totally melt my brain. I’d say there are ideal workdays and non ideal workdays where I just can’t seem to get anything done. Let’s go with an ideal one, though.
I wake up at 6:26 am and crawl into the next room. This is the room that isn’t the bedroom in my one bedroom apartment. I turn on my computer and the light sears my eyeballs, but I must persist to make it to my virtual yoga class on time. A minute too late and the link is dead. I do yoga to help uncrinkle my artist’s body and I like doing it early before I’m even really aware it’s happening. When it ends at 7:30 I tidy up and eat some breakfast while reading a book. I’ll take a shower if I’m slimy, but I have a very high slime tolerance, so it depends. Then I get dressed and take a walk around the block. I pretend it’s a commute!
When I get back around 8:30, it’s time to hit the office, which is just a corner of the non-bedroom room. I set a 90 minute timer and draw or ink or paint until 10am. At 10am I’ll have a snack, check an email or two and think about my day. At 10:30 I set another timer and draw for another 90 minutes. At 12pm it’s time for lunch! I take an hour lunch break to read a book, poke around the internet, and walk another block to stretch my legs. By 1pm my brain is starting to lose some of it’s sharpness so I reserve that for less creative tasks like admin, emails, and posting online. I work from 1pm - 2:30pm in another 90 minute increment. Take a 30 minute break from 2:30 - 3pm to do stuff like text people, make appointments and whatnot. I work for one more 90 minute increment from 3 - 4:30 pm. Then I’m free to do whatever. Sometimes I go on walks with friends, make food, read some more, sit at the park, or keep drawing. I try to not have super grueling expectations for myself otherwise I’ll be so stressed I won’t get anything done.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m deeply inspired by the beautiful, complicated world around me. My work focuses a lot on the little joys of life and every time I go out into the world, I can’t help but notice them. One of those lawn pinwheel things, someone learning the drums, a snail crossing the sidewalk. Things other people might overlook, but that I seek out to ground me in a world that can feel so stressful.
I’m also inspired by children and their ability to live in the moment. I live very close to a popular playground and if I ever need a pick-me-up, I just open my window and listen for their screams.
Of course I’m inspired by all the comics and graphic novels being created, but unfortunately, there are too many to name.
What’s a moment in your career, or life in general, that you’re proud of?
It’s difficult for me to have perspective on my own accomplishments. I try to take a moment to celebrate and sometimes get takeout or go camp in the woods and pretend it’s to commemorate some milestone, but I quickly forget and usually end up back at my desk toiling away. I just had my first official book come out that I didn’t self publish, which is pretty sweet but if I had to pick a moment, it would be about a month ago. Since I started in April of 2016, I made 500 comics!! They’re not all amazing, of course, but they do all exist. I made 500 things that didn’t exist before and when I stop to think about it, I’m very proud of that.
What was the most unexpected challenge you have encountered while running your own business? How did you overcome that challenge?
Aside from myself and terrible bouts of self-doubt, it would be the inconsistency. It took a long time to get used to that, and I’m still not sure if I am. But my uncle, who ran his own business for 35 years, has really helped. I just get so overwhelmed by how quickly things can change and how difficult it is to make the “right” decision. It’s like I’m on some rollercoaster with only a flashlight right in front of me. I can barely see what’s coming next. One minute I’ll be making money, the next, I’m not. I’ll be selling books to the point where I need to order more, but the second I do, all the book sales will stop. Now I have a closet full of books! It’s taken a lot to not blame myself, it’s just kind of… how it works I guess. And in the words of my uncle, “It never gets easier, you just get used to it.”
How do you like to unwind after a particularly busy day?
I love going for walks - either alone or with a friend. Nothing gets me out of my own head like the outdoors and other people.
Any advice for someone thinking about opening up their own shop?
Do it!! You’ll learn so much more in one week of running a shop than in one year of reading about it. But don’t try to do it perfectly - that’s impossible. My shop is full with all kinds of errors, but hey, it’s still running, so I guess it works.
Also, shipping costs can be intimidating, but don’t be afraid to mess those up. The first time I sent something internationally I gasped at how much more it was than I thought, but the more orders I ship, the closer I get to pricing things right. Ya just win some and lose some but I’d say if you’re learning, even the hard way by having to pay $20 for a mistake, you’re still winning.
Twizzlers or Red Vines?
Unfortunately I drank too much sambuca once upon a time and now licorice in all forms is my nemesis.
Give us three recommendations… for anything!
- Blankets by Craig Thompson - The graphic novel I read that started my love for them and comics
- A hot water bottle - my absolute best friend when it comes to any pain or just wanting something warm to snuggle, especially in a long winter
- Camping - my favorite way to get away from the stress of The Internet and just soak up being alive
Where can people find you online?
underpantsandoverbites.com, underpantsandoverbites.bigcartel.com, @underpantsandoverbites on Instagram, @UnderpantsAnd on Twitter, and on Facebook.