Drawn to Life
A tribute to Eric Jones
By Peter Zimmer
Empowering young girls. Standing up for underprivileged youth. Championing that the next generation of artists is needed in this world. Eric Jones spearheaded change.
The loss of that voice, that spark, that energy rumbles through the art community and beyond.
He was the comic book artist behind “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in Eighth Grade,” "Little Gloomy," and many more. But his legacy stretches beyond the pages of his impressive portfolio. Eric will be remembered as family: Caring son of LPC professor Ernie Jones, loving older brother of Ian Jones, cherished husband of Erin Jones and dedicated business partner to fellow artist Landry Walker.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, Eric died unexpectedly in his Oakland, California, home. He died in his sleep. His passing struck the Bay Area art community, hard. While Eric might be gone, his legacy will live on at Chapter 510, an Oakland-based arts and writing organization for youth. This organization supports Black, Brown and Queer youth in writing freely and confidently.
“Chapter 510 was near and dear to his heart,” Ernie said.
So even following his death, his work went towards supporting Chapter 510. On Nov. 5, 2022, Walker and Erin coordinated a charity auction of Eric’s artwork. His longtime friend and local pizza chain owner, Jon Guhl, hosted the event at The Star on Grand in Oakland, California. The intimate restaurant setting brought together loved ones and admirers to connect over Eric’s art and his memory.
“They sold everything,” Ernie said. “There was one huge wall, and they just covered it in Eric’s art,” Ernie said.
The auction amassed over $10,000 dollars, which was donated to Chapter 510 and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The nonprofit organization protects the First Amendment rights of comic book artists in classrooms, courtrooms, conventions and libraries all around the United States.
Eric was born on May 27, 1971, in Walnut Creek, California to Ernie and Mary Jones. Within mere years, Eric proved himself a burgeoning artist.
“He started drawing really early in recognizable things, even before he was age two,” Ernie said. “I came home from work one day when he was probably about three, and he was all excited,” said Ernie as he laughed. “He wanted to show me something and took me into his bedroom. He had drawn this big mural on the wall. It was just this big kid’s drawing.”
The mural invoked neither shame nor punishment. Instead
Eric’s composition maintained its place on the bedroom wall
until the family moved out.
As a child, Batman’s adventures and Star Wars galaxies
emblazoned their artistic influence on Eric. His passion for
art soared in the rich pop culture of the time. He continued
to improve his craft through adolescence, even garnering
public attention at 14 years old for his art. He submitted his
artwork to an art show contest, hosted by comic book artist
and creator or “Mr. Monster,” Michael T. Gilbert. Eric won
an art show contest in Berkeley, California.
It was the first triumph in his young career, hitting the
accelerator on his career.
At the age of 15, Eric joined The Advocate newspaper at
Contra Costa College as an artist. Eric joined the newspaper
by his uncle, Gary Barker’s recommendation. Barker was
editor of The Advocate, which was considered one of the
country’s most prestigious college newspapers at the time. Despite the newspaper’s shining reputation, it was in desperate need of an artist.
“His Uncle Gary said, ‘Well, you know, my nephew is really good,’” Ernie said. They brought him in, and he became
a staff artist.”
During his time at The Advocate, Eric rose through the ranks in the newspaper, as his adviser Paul DeBolt considered him to be an especially skilled staff artist.
At the age of 16, Eric was building his portfolio, big time. Green Day in its early days, big time. He drew the band’s flyer for their first show in 1987. Long before the band’s mainstream success, then drummer, John Kiffmeyer, was on staff on The Advocate. Eric’s connection with the band carried through the years and he submitted artwork for the cover of the band’s “American Idiot” album. His design for the album cover, while not the final artwork, was one of the pieces sold at the Nov. 5 event.
Creative partnership can come at surprising times, cultivating new possibilities for projects. This is exactly what happened to Eric and Walker, who met after a failed party.
“Eric and Landry happened to be at a party when they were both 18,” Ernie said. “They found out the party was a dud, and they came over to the house. It was about 10:30, and I got up saying ‘What’s going on?’ Landry said ‘Well, the party wasn’t any fun.’ That’s where they connected.”
It was a serendipitous meeting of two like-minded artists. Walker, a writer, wanted to pursue his craft and create comics. Eric, an artist, had similar goals.
They’d known each other since high school, but this pivotal night proved the two’s artistic compatibility.
Walker was awestruck by Eric’s capabilities. “He could draw, and he was exceptional for his age,” Walker said. “But mostly what struck me was trying to get a comic project off the ground with a couple of other friends. He was drawing full (sequences).”
The two began their artistic partnership, pursuing their mutual interest in creating comics. It was a fruitful friendship.
“(Comics) were escapism when we became fans of comics,” Walker said. “Then they’d slowly become our job.”
In 1996 they published their first comic underground: “Filthy Habits.” Shortly after, Eric and Walker began submitting their work to children’s magazines. Their comic, “Little Gloomy,” was published in the now-defunct magazine “Disney Adventures” in October 1999.
“Little Gloomy” emerged from the creative minds of Eric and Walker on a simple drive from San Jose.
“We were driving back from a meeting with our publisher,” Walker said. “I had always been a fan of (old comics like) Hot Stuff, Casper, Richie Rich and Little Dot. One of us said, ‘Little Gloomy like feeling,’ and we spun off of it because it is a comic book trope for Harvey comics.”
The idea ballooned into a full-fledged comic, geared towards a young audience, about a girl’s adventures in a monster town.
“One of the big successes was when they came out with ‘Little Gloomy,’” Ernie said.
“Little Gloomy” attracted attention from Hollywood. In particular, the attention of Chris Columbus.
He is a founder of the film production company 1492 Pictures and director of popular films like “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,’’ and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s novels by the same title.
1492 Pictures partnered with Largardere Animation (which involved the international productions company OuiDO! Production, AKA Timoon Animation) to create a 7 million dollar TV adaptation of “Little Gloomy,” first airing in France in 2012. The show was adapted into “Scary Larry” and ran for more than thirty episodes.
Eric and Walker had reached an international audience, a huge victory for them, as the two had published “Little Gloomy” more than a decade prior.
“When we were there, there was a three-story building dedicated completely to the concept of ‘Little Gloomy,’” Walker said. “The basement level was the animators working on all these computers.”
In light of their success with “Little Gloomy,” the two creatives kept at their craft, working together to produce more content.
Eric turned his artistic attention to social justice, specifically the empowerment of young girls. He aimed at creating an inclusive world of superhero, one that welcomed pre-adolescent girls. He wanted to change the comic industry, one where superhero worlds often excluded women. He made a simple but powerful reply to defy industry norms. He created female superheroes. “Supergirl” and his final project, “Pepper Page Saves the Universe,” are two of these game-changers.
Pepper Page is not a traditional hero, having no desire for public heroism. “What we both liked about the character was that she really had no interest in being a hero,” Walker said.
“She is a superhero for her(self),” Landry said. She saves herself with comic books, which she uses as an escape from reality.
The public raved about Pepper Page.
“They got feedback from parents of pre-adolescent girls that thanked them for producing something where you had a positive female character,” Ernie said.
Praise for Pepper Page illustrates the impact of Eric and Walker’s empowering comic.
Being a passion project, “Pepper Page Saves the Universe” remains unfinished by Eric’s hand.“He had drawn almost half of (Volume 2) when he died,” Ernie said.
Eric’s legacy lives on.
Friends, fans, and family have much to remember Eric by, whether it’s “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in Eighth Grade,” “Batman,” “Pepper Page Saves the Universe” or “Little Gloomy.” But his work transcended artistry. He was a devout champion for underprivileged youth and pre-adolescent girls and a community advocate in the Bay Area.
What a legacy Eric Jones leaves. An inspiration to all.