Cartooning may not be the most lucrative or illustrious career in the world, but it does seem to inspire dedication bordering on obsession for a niche group of brilliantly creative artists.
Bill Watterson, the cartoonist behind “Calvin and Hobbes,” once said, “My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.”
Perhaps it is this demand for ideaphoria that self-selects for extreme creative fitness in the profession.
Ryan Stolp, the creative force behind “Lift Lines” is certainly a result of such self-selection. His Lift Lines cartoon appears in the Jackson Hole Daily and on the news app Hole Scroll. Stolp, who is the chief creative officer at Orijin Media (an independent subsidiary of Teton Media Works, the parent company of the News&Guide), has lived many creative lives. He has worked as a product design consultant, designed and fabricated outdoor gear from backpacks to “Alpine Hammocks” and he currently sells adventure-themed artwork printed on aluminum.
His latest project is a collaboration with local musician Joe Rudd that combines performance art, live music and cartooning.
Rudd is a regular musician in many local bands, where he plays saxophone and piano, DJs and dabbles in music production. He and Stolp initially bonded over a shared passion for ’70s and ’80s R&B, and they have been friends for years.
When David Fogg, co-owner of Jackson’s Moe’s Original BBQ, approached Rudd about playing a regular DJ set at Moe’s, Rudd wanted to find a way to take the night of dancing to the next level — make it unique.
“He had the concept first,” Stolp said.
Rudd told him, “‘You should totally figure out how you can draw to this.’”
The resulting collaboration happens every Friday night, from 10 p.m. until the wee hours of the morning, at Moe’s BBQ. Using a program on his iPad, Stolp cartoons in real time to the music that Rudd provides. The trippy illustrations are projected onto the TVs that broadcast sports games during daylight hours.
Last Friday, Rudd cycled through danceable R&B, funk and soul jams with ultra smooth transitions. Every once in a while, when a song left enough space for maneuverability, Rudd picked up his saxophone and soloed over the top. His playlist and embellishments alone were enough to draw in a crowd of post-Moose Hockey revelers and get people moving on the dance floor. At one point a dance-off broke out.
All the while, Stolp sat beside Rudd, laser-focused on his iPad. The resulting cartoons and animations seemed to grow out of the sonic atmosphere. Stolp alternated between manipulating colorful abstract patterns with the effects provided by the iPad software Procreate, manifesting emotive characters based on the thematic content of a song and flashing brightly colored lyrics across the screen.
What Stolp is doing doesn’t have much precedent. “VJing,” the creation of visuals to live music in real time, has become common, but it most often is practiced using automated visualizers or the manipulation of video content — not cartooning.
For Stolp, being a pioneer presents unique challenges.
“As a cartoonist, I had to go from having basically infinite time and space for something to something that is performative,” he said. “It’s been a challenge and something to rise to. It’s fleeting. It’s definitely going to be bad sometimes.”
As his performance has evolved since the beginning of his collaboration with Rudd, Stolp has improved at manipulating Procreate to create a more engaging visual experience, including creating undo/redo cycles that play animations to the beat. He also realizes, though, that there are limitations to not having a technology specifically designed for the unique format.
“I have a vision for a simple software that would empower me to create on-the-fly animations,” Stolp said. “It would allow me to play with it before it hits the screen.”
If a new cartoon VJing software hits the Apple App Store in a few years, you’ll know who to thank. ￼