Dogfish's 2013 artist: An overnight success, 20 years in the making

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Before he was Jim Mazza the animator, he was Jim Mazza the welder. Day after day, week after week, month after month, Jim got up at the crack of dawn, drove through the Boston suburbs and put in his time at a job he didn't much care for.

He had always loved to draw, and he devoured comic books – X-Men, Moon Knight, just about anything with a superhero – but when it came time to grow up and get a job, drawing didn't seem like a realistic option. But five years behind a welding torch gave him a lot of time to dream.

"I was in my early 20s, and I just decided to go for it," Jim says. "I went to The Art Institute in Seattle. I needed to try, and whatever happened, happened."

Jim showed a lot of talent at school, but if you're expecting a boy-quits-job, boy-goes-West, boy-becomes-overnight-success story, not so fast.

mazza"I just kind of like to do weird-looking animals," says Dogfish 2013 seasonal artist Jim Mazza. "That's pretty much what it boils down to."

After school, he landed a gig as an animator at a Seattle Internet company. Although he was grateful to be doing creative work, the corporate culture wasn't for him.

"I was having a hard time fitting in," he says. "It just wasn't for me." And that's how he became Jim Mazza the hotel pizza shop worker. Back to the grind.

He still drew everyday and thought about getting back into animation, but he was afraid of being boxed in at another uninspiring job. There just didn't seem to be a market for the kind of work that he was into – comic books, skateboard art, cartoons – so he bounced around hotels for a few years. Jim Mazza the doorman, Jim Mazza the waiter.

Then one day he popped in a poster shop he'd been passing on the way to work. The art in there wasn't like any he'd ever seen. "When I saw these guys like Justin Hampton and Jermaine Rogers doing their own thing, that was really appealing to me," Jim says. "Not to mention I was a big fan of the bands they were doing work for."

The shopkeeper told him about, a website where up-and-coming artists showed their work and traded advice, and Jim dove in. He couldn't exactly just start doing posters for Soundgarden or Queens of the Stone Age, so he did the next best thing. He moved to L.A. and built a portfolio by doing posters for his friends' bands. That led to his break with the Knitting Factory and the beginnings of a career.

Maybe that welding job paid off, after all. Jim's artistic output has been guided by the same discipline and hard work of the daily grind.

"I just put as much out there as I can," he says. "I'm lucky enough to be paid for it. It's taken me a long time, but in the past year and a half, it's really started to take off."

Jim, now 38, has worked with Band of Horses, Eric Church, The Melvins and many others. Through concert promoter Goldenvoice, he's done posters for Snoop Dogg, The Avett Brothers, Chris Cornell and Seth MacFarlane. Whoever the artist, Jim says, the best source of inspiration is the music.

"Most of these bands, especially if they're hip to the poster scene, they pretty much let you do what you want," says Jim. "I'll listen to the music and try to find some inspiration from the lyrics or a song title. If that doesn't work, I'll just try to capture the vibe of the music."

It was a Wilco poster that prompted Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione to ask Mazza if he'd like to work together.

"I love Wilco and I loved what he did with that poster," says Sam. "Jim has a great way of giving striking and whimsical qualities to the characters, man and beast, in his work. I thought his touch would be a perfect fit for our off-centered ales and the off-centered people who dig our beers and our annual series of seasonal artist prints. Jim has been a total pro and a lot of fun to deal with."

All four of Jim's seasonal designs – Aprihop, Festina Peche, Punkin Ale and Chicory Stout – will be released March 1. Posters, coasters and a very limited run of signed-and-numbered screenprints will be sold at Dogfish Head's coastal Delaware brewery and at Remember, all four designs are being released in March, so don't wait for the season if you want the merch. When it's gone, it's gone. T-shirts will be released as each beer drops.

Also, catch Jim signing and selling his work at our annual Analog-A-Go-Go vinyl/crafts/cask beer fest on June 1 in Milton. For more info on Jim, visit