Jesse Atwell is the creator of TEX. He is a middle-aged Earthling with a wide variety of interests.
Jesse prefers the slow analog experience of life listening to vinyl records, shooting 35mm film, and reading books. He has been a musician, a record label executive, an artist manager, and an entrepreneur.
Jesse writes, draws, inks, and colors at the kitchen table surrounded by loved ones and their incredibly loud noises. While he is inking, his children often scream at the top of their lungs or jab Jesse with a fork at just the right moment to create the perfect line. Jesse’s watercolor process is driven by a sense of urgency creating a modern, whimsical palette so he can finish coloring mere moments before a glass of almond milk spills all over the place.
Jesse inks with Dr. Ph. Martin’s matte Black Star waterproof India ink with a variety of metal and glass nibs on Fabriano hot-pressed extra white watercolor paper.
He colors with Lukas and MaimeriBlu watercolors.
Jesse lives in Austin, TX with his wife, three kids, and two dogs. He can only be reached via banana phone.
Below: GoComics interview with Jesse Atwell.
New to GoComics: Welcome, “TEX”!
by GoComics Team
September 19, 2022
New comic alert! This week, TEX by Jesse Atwell joins the GoComics family.
TEX follows namesake character Tex Clapsaddle, an ambitious and imaginative eight-year-old learning to navigate the world outside his comfortable childhood. His parents, Barbara and Wayne, and siblings, Austin and Missy, are along for the ride as each character faces their own wild and momentous experiences.
“TEX is a comic strip about that time in your life when everything feels brand new,” Atwell says. “If you look closely enough—with a beginner’s mind—every moment in your life has the potential to feel brand new.”
We caught up with Atwell as TEX makes its debut. Get to know him a little better and learn about the inspiration behind the digital strip, which will run three times a week.
I grew up in the ’80s. Creators like Bill Watterson and Gary Larson were rock stars to a little kid; they possessed a tremendous amount of mystique. Cartooning was alluring.
Some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather and I reading “the funnies” together. My mother and father were supportive as well, keeping me well stocked in Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side collections. I remember my childhood being very sunny, with lots of open space and time for drawing.
I also heard that cartoonists could earn several dollars a year working eighty hours a week. How could I resist?!
How did the idea for TEX come about?
It’s a been a long process. It seems like every couple of years, I would develop a new comic strip idea. I developed a single-panel webcomic, a strip about a father and son, a comic strip about a guy who accidentally buys talking fruit at the grocery store, a comic strip about two brothers…but nothing stuck. I even dabbled in animation and screenwriting, searching for something that had legs.
I kept my head down, drawing these weird little characters and posting them on my @jesselikestodraw Instagram account—trying different character designs and artistic processes. I bought every variation of nib, pencil, ink, paper, watercolors, and other art supplies that I could get my hands on. The past three years have been an intense period of trial and error. But it wasn’t until some time during the pandemic when things started coming together and the idea of TEX came about. I kept drawing this little kid with three front teeth and two big ears. And, at the time, I didn’t know who he was or what he wanted from me.
The pandemic had a way of making everything feel brand new. I left my job and our kids’ activities were disrupted; the way we spent our time, energy, and money completely changed. And, of course, this was true for everyone else as well. So I thought to myself: What if I could capture this moment, where everything feels brand new? I’ve felt this way several times in my life. Every time I began a new job or started a new grade level at school, time slowed down. There’s something magical that happens when we experience things for the first time; details come into focus and memories are solidified. I imagined everyone else was experiencing some form of this during the pandemic. So as I’m drawing these odd characters on Instagram, I’m imagining a family where everyone is experiencing this feeling of newness.
And that’s when TEX was born. It was a very organic—albeit long—process.
How is the Clapsaddle family similar to (or different from!) your own?
Like the Clapsaddle family, my family is also two-dimensional. You get used to it, but it makes shaking hands with other people a bit awkward. Although, it’s easy to hide from people you don’t want to talk to at parties—you just turn sideways.
Tex, the kid, is an amalgam of a bunch of people I know and people I’ve invented. He’s a lot like me when I was his age. And I see a lot of my kids in Tex as well.
I absolutely love Barbara, Tex’s mother. I wanted a very strong and unique mom in the strip. I wanted her to break the mold a little; she gets easily frustrated and annoyed. That’s life. I imagine I’m a lot like Wayne, Tex’s father. I’m in the phase of life right now where I just want to hang out, be a dad, be a husband, and make my family laugh—whether they like it or not. Although, I absolutely hate cargo shorts.
Jerry Seinfeld has a great quote about family life and the time you spend with your loved ones. He says, “I’m a believer in the ordinary and the mundane. I don’t want quality time. I want the garbage time. That’s what I like. You see them in their room reading a comic book and you get to watch that for a minute, or having a bowl of Cheerios at 11 o’clock at night when they’re not even supposed to be up. The garbage, that’s what I love.”
We have a lot of garbage time in my house too. And I love it the most. I hope TEX captures that essence—the essence of garbage.
Wait, that didn’t come out right… can we edit this before it goes live? [Editor’s note: We did not edit this.]
Who are the readers you hope most connect with TEX?
I hope kids most connect with TEX. Actually, kids and their parents. Kids, their parents, and their grandparents.
Now that I think about it, I probably shouldn’t forget about their friends. I hope kids, their parents, their grandparents, and all their friends connect with TEX. But that’s about it.
Also, TikTok influencers—so they can, you know, influence people to read TEX.
How would you describe your cartooning style?
Frantic. With a twist of lemon.
What’s your routine for coming up with a cartoon idea?
I generally work at the kitchen table surrounded by art supplies and loved ones. My family normally eats dinner while I work on the strip. As I stare lovingly at my three little angels, dreaming up a fantastic new adventure for TEX, one of them pokes me with a fork while the other screams in my ear. I stand up, blinded by pain, only to slip in a puddle of water left on the tile by one of our dogs. As I fall gracefully to the floor, my forehead strikes the granite counter causing me to black out a little. With the wind knocked out of me, I awaken just a bit to experience a moment of clarity. It is in this moment of peace and tranquility that the muse reveals herself to me and whispers an idea into my ear…an idea so pure, it shakes my soul. I crawl on all fours back to the kitchen table, move a bunch of junk out of the way, and—with my mangled body pulsing in pain—scribble a barely-legible sentence fragment on a piece of scrap paper.
This process repeats once or twice a day and by the end of the week I have a pretty good list of starts.
Do you have any favorite comic strips that you look to for inspiration?
One of the most inspiring moments of my cartooning career happened in 2021 when my oldest daughter and I made an impromptu trip to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and happened to catch a Patrick McDonnell art exhibit while he was in town. We decided at the last minute to pack up the car and make a 20-hour drive from Austin, Texas to Columbus, Ohio.
My daughter is eight years old and she’s an aspiring cartoonist. She has a natural comedic gift and she’s a talented writer and illustrator. Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum sure know how to make a person feel special. The whole trip was magical and inspiring. My daughter and I had the opportunity to view original strips by Bill Watterson, Charles Shulz, Patrick McDonnell, Richard Thompson, and many others. Talk about a life-changing moment! In previous years, my daughter and I had read the Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection and the Complete Cul de Sac collection. But to actually see the original strips in person…oh, wow. The air in the room changed when we saw an original Peanuts strip.
During our trip, we attended a Patrick McDonnell art exhibit, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Patrick’s art exhibit was the original impetus for our trip. When we learned Patrick would be showing his paintings, it was a no-brainer to pack and up and make the drive. I can’t say enough nice things about Patrick McDonnell and how much we love his work.
I’m deeply influenced by lots of French illustrators like Olivier Tallec, Benjamin Renner, and Marc Boutavant. I also love folks like Matthew Cordell, Helen Stephens, and Quentin Blake. They’re absolutely fantastic. They do a really great job at walking the line between control and chaos. The spontaneity and urgency in their pen strokes are stunning and beautiful. Mo Willems too.
Borgman is amazing, of course. And I don’t know where Jim Benton finds the time to make all the funny stuff he makes—it’s insane. Same with Stephan Pastis. They must have clones of themselves working in the basement 24/7.
Richard Thompson… genius. Cul de Sac might be my favorite strip ever.
Patrick McDonnell has the most beautiful pen stroke I’ve ever seen in my life. Folks like Liniers and Will Henry are producing at an exceptional level of quality as well. Dana Simpson is making something really special too.
At the moment, my daughter and I are reading a strip called Baby Bear’s Bakery—which is very unique, funny, and charming.
I’m inspired by a lot of different creators, but each in a different way.
At the end of the day, I’m a fan. And it’s an exciting time to be a fan.
When you’re not sketching TEX, what are you doing?
I’m fairly old school, so I ink TEX with a nib and I color the strip with watercolors. It’s a long process. So when I’m not sketching, I’m probably inking, coloring, or scanning something.
My wife and I have three kids under the age of nine. They still rely on us for food and bills and stuff. I’ve been trying to get my two-year-old a job stocking groceries in the evenings, but the doctor said something about how he “needs his sleep” or some medical mumbo jumbo like that. So when I’m not writing or drawing TEX, I’m often putting on a show for the kiddos. I do lots of juggling and dancing around the house.
I also enjoy cooking. I can make a mean vegan mac and cheese. Oh, and archery.
But that’s it—cooking, archery, juggling, and dancing with the kiddos.
Don’t get me started on records. I love listening to vinyl.
So when I’m not sketching TEX, I’m often cooking, practicing archery, juggling, dancing with the kiddos, or listening to records. After that, there’s not much time for anything else.
Except for photography. I love 35mm photography. You can’t get the same look with digital cameras.
Cooking, archery, juggling, dancing with the kiddos, listening to records, and 35mm photography. But that’s it.
Oh, have I told you about my favorite books yet? I love reading!
Make sure to follow Tex on GoComics where it will be updated three times a week.