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Studio visit: Jeffro in love


Jeffro Kilpatrick was planning to propose to his sweetheart, Joannie, at his May 7 opening at Fishtown’s Proximity Gallery. But that seemed too public. “I don’t know if I want to put that much of myself out there,” he said during an interview at his studio last week. Besides, he suspected Joannie had caught a whiff of the plan. He thought if he moved it up to the morning, that would catch her by surprise.

Jeffro Kilpatrick in his Fishtown studio holding one of his books

Then an email came to me on April 25. “I need to let you know I proposed to Joannie this morning. She said yes! I needed to do it today. She guessed all about May 7.” Awww.

Getting ready for his show at Proximity, opening May 7; the people are all alteregos of Jeffro and Joannie

Jeffro’s upcoming show, Dirtballs in Love, is all about his love for Joannie. The images are Beauty and the Best, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Guys and Dolls–he hopes to finish 30 pieces in time for the show.

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Almond and York

How does he love Joannie Newton, let him count the ways! Kilpatrick’s drawings are romantic and retro, referencing work by comic artists of the past. His men are strong but gentle; they are his alter-egos. His ladies are sexy, tough and loving; they are all Joannie. Jeff’s just a romantic guy, although that’s not how he used to think of himself. He’s also romantic about the neighborhood where he and Joannie each grew up, and where he still lives today–Fishtown. Fishtown is another character in the cartoons. It’s also a major character in his life. He’s the cartoonist of Fishtown and he’s committed to the neighborhood, just like he’s committed to Joannie.

When I visited Jeffro in his Fishtown apartment/studio last week, here’s what the 34-year old with the heart of gold had to say:

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Chupacabra.

Libby: Tell me about your show.
Jeffro: It’s about romance, and people passing in the night. [Pointing at a drawing he says] the houses are from the neighborhood. Joannie is also from here. She moved to New Jersey 12 years ago to get her kids off the corners. We went to the same school, but we didn’t know each other. But we have lots of people in common.

Libby: Has the neighborhood changed? For the worse, the better?
Jeffro: It’s now artsy and gentrified. But there are less drugs. It’s really a positive thing. Thirteen-year-old kids were dropping dead from oxycontin.

Libby: What’s your day job when you’re not drawing?
Jeffro: I’m a school teacher as well, at North Catholic–but it’s going to close–and I work part time at University of the Arts, in the summer in their pre-college program. I also work part time doing graphic design and video editing for a medical publishing company. My mom said to me, Don’t be a starving artist. But I still can’t afford to buy [a house] in the neighborhood.

Libby: And what does Joannie do?
Jeffro: She works for a law firm as a paralegal.


Jeffro Kilpatrick, How Deep is the Ocean, based on a cartoon by turn-of-the-20th-century German cartoonist Heinrich Kley
Libby: Who are your influences?
Jeffro: German artist Heinrich Kley. Every week since I began dating Joannie, I’d send her a hand-drawn envelope. I did one of a deep sea diver and a mermaid based on one by Kley; this is another copy. Kley did turn of the century industrial cartoons.


…R. Crumb. The pornographic stuff is a bit too much for me. I don’t know if I want to be that far inside his brain. Maurice Sendak, especially Where the Wild Things Are.

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Speak Easy, inspired by blues singer Big Maybelle and by Hoagie Carmichael

Hoagie Carmichael and Big Maybelle, especially The Nearness of You. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Sepviva and Frankford, with a gentle werewolf

I took my nieces and nephews to see the Spike Jonze movie (Where the Wild Things Are). The Hollies, Bus Stop. [see top image on desktop, lower left]. Tom Waits. He gave me permission to use his lyrics in my art.

Kilpatrick, Never Let Go,  Tom Waits lyrics and dude that looks Tom Waits-ish

I’ve had several long-term relationships, but it never felt like this. I never envisioned feeling this way. When I met Joannie, I thought we were just going to hang out together and be friends. I thought a guy writing a love song was just doing it for the money. I think of myself as down-to-earth and practical. I was trying not to find love. I was marking my calendar to next year with a big red x–no dating, just work.

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Tiki & Hula

It happened just after the beginning of the year. It was something that was out of my hands,. I felt I wasn’t capable of feeling this. I guess it’s chemistry.
Libby: How’d you meet?
Jeffro: She saw my book (Sketches of Fishtown) on a sister’s table and asked who I was.

Libby: Does her family know you’re going to pop the question?
Jeffro: I talked to Joannie’s sons and asked them how they feel about it. They were the important ones. It’s their life. They’re 16 and 18. I talked to her dad and he’s cool with it.

The rock

Libby: Where does Jeffro come from?
Jeffro: My name is Jeffrey. In my family when we were kids, my cousins, my uncles, everyone had a nickname. My uncle Eugene was called Corker. So I became Jeffro.

Libby: How’d you get into comics?
Jeffro: I began on telephone polls, in cafes, in the Star and the Spirit (neighborhood newspapers). Then the Star was bought out and the Spirit became an underdog, so I just put stuff in the Spirit now. [He doesn’t take money for them]. I have Sketches of Fishtown in The Spirit every week. My friend Roger Petersen‘s [cartoon] Gramps is also in the Spirit.

Libby: I remember when I first met you you were drawing with a group of cartoonists. Do you still do that?
Jeffro: I’m with the Philadelphia Cartoonist Society. There’s a core group of us that still are getting together. And I’m putting out my third book. And once a month we run Pictionary at Bob and Barbara’s. It’s the last Monday of any month [10 p.m]. People can bring a team of three or four. I like the camaraderie of the group, of bouncing ideas off of each other. We do barbecues, books, charity events. We do group art shows sometimes. We did a robots show at Brave New Worlds, and did skate board inspired pictures at Exit Skate Shop. I had a piece in each of them. We stay in touch with other cartoon groups, like Philly Comix Jam. Our group is 13 years old. Everyone is getting houses and getting married. We have some new members.
I also belong to Meathaus. It’s an international group. Most of the members were SVA grads who are in New York. I was happy to be invited.

Jeffro Kilpatrick, Preservation

Libby: Wasn’t your show at Bambi a charity event?
Jeffro: It was for the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, in my neighborhood. I volunteer there.

Libby: How do you get so much done?
Jeffro: I just don’t sleep much. Joannie kind of turned my whole life around. I know everyone is this neighborhood. I went to the same school. I know her sister. How do I not know who this girl is? Fishtown is such a tight neighborhood. If you throw a rock in the neighborhood, you hit a family member. So if you date someone from the neighborhood, you have to take a blood test to see if it’s your cousin.

Joannie Newton and Jeffro Kilpatrick making music together

Libby: Do the neighbors know what your up to, know you make art?
Jeff: The neighbors are super nice to me. …My family has a lot of stuff. Most people who know me have one or two pieces. This neighborhood is super-supportive. They treat me good.

Every time I try to do something and just do it for money, I get kicked on my ass. I want to keep making cartoons–on my own terms. Is there such a thing as a successful independent cartoonist? I don’t know. I have a story I want to make into a book. I’m taking a break from Fishtown. It’ll be a 50-page comic book–a child’s reaction to grief and loss. My mom died in 2004. It was crippling. It’ll be a Christmas story. During the holidays I feel the sting of the loss. The book will have cityscapes and children and an upbeat ending. It will be life-affirming.

Kilpatrick’s love for Fishtown has led to two books, Sketches of Fishtown, volumes 1 and 2, which will also be available at the gallery, $5 each. The books are collections of the cartoons in the Spirit newspapers.  If you look through them, you will see the story of his life, present and past. Volume 2 has a tribute to his mom. And it has a Foreword written by Joannie in which she tells the story of meeting Jeffro via his first Sketches of Fishtown. She wrote:

Jeff’s passion for Fishtown and his desire to do good for this community, old folk and up and coming, has exemplified the meaning of a ‘good neighbor’ which I haven’t witnessed in a long time. It’s not commercial It’s genuine and just comes natural to him. ….Every neighborhood should be lucky enough to have a Jeff Kilpatrick.

Jeffro promised me a picture of the two of them together. If I get it, I’ll add it to the post! (I got it and you just saw it above. Definitely better with than without!)