Tommy Siegel, Man of Many Talents

A long-time Vampire Weekend fan, I first discovered Tommy Siegel's cartoons when I stumbled upon this comic: 



At the time, I assumed that he was just an up-and-coming cartoonist (albeit a brilliant one.) But after a little more digging, I quickly realized: I already knew Tommy Siegel. He was in one of my favorite bands, Jukebox the Ghost. Could someone really be that multi-talented? It simply seemed unfair. 

I’m pretty sure I spent an entire night just scrolling through Tommy’s Instagram, flooding the page with likes. Every single comic made me laugh. Like, actually laugh out loud. His work is chock-full of pop culture references, usually with a weird twist. Take, for example, this: 

Actually, Pringle Can Guy’s butt makes frequent appearances in Tommy’s work. 


But Tommy’s work is much more than just cartoon butts. His cartoons cover a vast number of topics, from politics to modern dating. In fact, one of his most popular cartoon series features “sweethearts” in the form of heart candies, usually in unfortunate and relatable romantic situations. 


Although Tommy absolutely nails what it’s like dating in 2020, it’s a wonder he has any first-hand experience with how busy he keeps himself. In 2018, he began his 365 days of cartoons: a cartoon a day, for a year. He then increased it to 500, and is now taking a well-deserved break. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped creating! In addition to his cartoons, Tommy is still actively playing and releasing music, not only with Jukebox but also with his other bands and as a solo artist. I truly do not know how he finds the time. 

Check out our interview below to learn about his artistic process, different mediums, musical inspiration, and more! 

Lithium Magazine: Hi Tommy! One of the reasons that I am so inspired by you is your ability to seemingly seamlessly bounce around between different mediums. Not only are you incredibly successful in Jukebox and your own musical endeavors, but you’ve also taken the cartoon world by storm. When you’re feeling inspired to create, how do you decide which medium to channel that energy into? Can you tell me a bit about your process?
Tommy Siegel: For me, it's never been much of a decision or a choice. I just like making stuff. Whether it's writing, drawing, or songwriting, it all feels equally gratifying to me. The funny thing about drawing is that it actually feels like I'm coming full circle, creatively. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with cartooning and drew and Xeroxed comic books of my own—"The Adventures of Gnat Man" was a long-running series, hah—to sell at school. When I hit puberty, I abandoned drawing for music and didn't look back until my late twenties—ironically, while trying to pass time in the van while touring. It's been nice to tap into something I was so passionate about as a kid, with fresh eyes as an adult. I still feel like a kid wandering around in the dark with cartooning, which is a blessing in some ways. As far as inspiration goes...creativity, to me, is just about turning on the inner faucet. It's more of a spirit of looking at the world around you and making new connections than it is a hardened practice. I have my best ideas when I'm not trying to think of an idea in a concrete way. And I find that if I commit myself to a medium, ideas start coming that fit that world. But in terms of the tangibles, I find that keeping a recorder around for melody ideas is super helpful. And for comics, I find that long walks and keeping a notebook around of vague ideas and topics is helpful. Sometimes I'll write down a topic like "parking meters" and it'll just sit around for six months until I come up with something funny related to it. But, without writing it down, it would just disappear and never manifest into something concrete. I also try to have faith during dry spells that more ideas will come. They tend to come when you least expect them. 

Lithium: That is so true. Who are your inspirations, artistically? 
TS: Jeff Smith (Bone,) Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes,) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) are the biggest ones for me. Post-childhood, I kinda fell off the map in terms of discovering new cartoonists, so it's been a thrill to re-enter that world in the last couple of years. Some of my current favorites who inspire me daily are Hannah Hillam, Josh Mecouch (PantsPants,) Branson Reese, Nicholas Gurewitch (Perry Bible Fellowship,) Joshua Barkman (False Knees,) Jackie Davis (Underpants and Overbites,) Zach (Extrafabulous,) Martin Rosner (Hot Paper Comics)...And I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting. 

Lithium: What songs have you been listening to lately? Do you ever listen to music while making visual art, and if so, who? 
TS: I tend to listen to a lot of seventies Afrobeat these days. It keeps me focused. If I listen to something with discernible lyrics and active chord changes, I find that it can be a little distracting. It makes my music brain turn on when I don't want it to be 'on.'

Lithium: What was it like doing a cartoon a day for 500 days straight? Do you have any plans to do similar challenges again in the future? 
TS: No plans at the moment, but maybe someday I'll work up the courage again! I got really burnt out towards the end, and it's been a long process to get regularly inspired again. It was a super useful exercise on a lot of levels, but it was very, very hard. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, from a mental health standpoint. But from a technical view, it was a great idea. I'm both glad I did it and wouldn't necessarily recommend that anyone else do it, for safety reasons. 

Lithium: How has your drawing style changed over time? 
TS: I find it just keeps changing and changing. I'm trying not to get too pinned down, because every time I open myself to a new technique or process I find that I get better. For years I was resistant to digital illustration, and I'm so glad I finally changed my mind. Hopefully I'll look back on my current style years from now and find it embarrassing! The 500 days of comics project really did accelerate my learning—I can tell what month I drew a comic in when I look back, just from how I was drawing the human form, perspective, shadows, or hands. 

Lithium: Do you have any advice for other artists who pursue multiple different mediums? 
TS: My only real advice is to try and find ways to take the financial pressure of day-to-day life off of your art. If that means working on your art slightly less and working on something else a little more, I think it's worth it. I love creating, but every time I try to put pressure on it in a tangible, capitalist way I find that it corrupts the whole process. Easier said than done, of course. I guess the other thing I'd say is that if you're good at one medium, you're probably good at others too. From my experience, the technical hurdles come later and in service of the ideas. So don't get too pinned down on identifying yourself within a certain medium—you're not trapped! 

For more on Tommy, check out his website. You can also contribute to his Patreon. 



By Charlotte Smith
Images courtesy of Tommy Siegel

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