As a Cartoonist, He Plays a New Tune

Port native James Murphy was working as a professional musician when he heard the siren call of cartooning

James Murphy of Saukville has returned to his passion of creating comic books and has self-published two so far. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Returning home helped James Murphy reacquaint himself with a lifelong dream.

In 2013, the Port Washington native, working as a professional musician, moved to Saukville from Milwaukee.

When visiting Port Washington High School a few years later, Murphy saw a mural he painted when he attended school there. It was a Mount Rushmore of jazz music, including heads of

Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton.

That, along with inspiration from young coworkers at Smith Bros. Coffee Shop who dabbled in art, helped reawaken his interest in creating comic books.

He found a YouTube channel called Strip Panel Naked, which sounds adult-oriented but is really a serious site that analyzes comic books.

Murphy, who grew up a fan of Superman and Batman comic books, became fascinated.

While novels and literature lay out the scenes for readers, he said, comic books require people to fill in what happens in between panels, creating a sequential juxtaposition. “The human mind creates a narrative,” Murphy said.

It’s an education he didn’t receive before. Murphy attended the University of Wisconisn-Oshkosh, but comic book art wasn’t taught and was even looked down upon.

Murphy focused on music instead and followed in his jazz musician father’s footsteps as a professional musician, playing guitar and piano. But after a while, “I just became inspired to tell stories,” he said, and comic book creation became his career.

The first comic book he completed featured a lead character called Sexy Sam the Guitar Man.

The hero “plays guitar and saves the day from musicians who have malevolent intentions,” he said.

“He’s definitely a little bit like me, the me I’d like to be — unfettered by the constraints of the real world.”

Murphy, who goes by Jaems Murphy as an author, describes his stories as positive in nature without gratuitous violence.

He remembers getting that first book in the mail.

“When I got the proof copy back it was a real joyful moment. The realization of actually holding a dream I didn’t know I still had,” he said.

Holding the physical books, he said, adds to the drama of the page-turn reveal, a standard technique in comic book creation.

Murphy has published a second book in the series, but said each one can stand on its own as a story. He already knows how the series will end.

The books are available at a comic book shops in Milwaukee, West Bend and online at

Murphy uses a four-step process to create the books. He makes pencil drawings, then redraws them with ink, scans them with a computer at the Oscar Grady Library in Saukville and then at home uses Photoshop to add color digitally.

While working on his comics, he studied more about the industry.

Murphy said he is in awe of comic book creators have, calling it a thankless job. They work 16-hour days six days per week without insurance, vacation or sick days.

“People basically do comic books because they love it,” he said. “I grew to appreciate the effort so much more.”

He remembers tearing up when seeing an original piece of artwork — a monster on the side of a skyscraper — by Jack Kirby, one of the industry’s major originators.

The medium, he said, is growing. And it’s not just superheroes. Successful comic author Rena Telgemeier’s primary audience, for example, is middle-school girls.

“I love the medium. It’s a great way to get kids to read,” he said.

Murphy would like to see more people creating comics.

“If we can get kids to put emotion into stuff they don’t understand, it’s a huge deal,” he said.

Murphy said he has seen comics used as educational tools about sexual harassment and rape at a college and about workplace safety.

“Comic books today are more reflective of where we are at as a society,” he said.

Unlike music, a secretive industry, comic book creators, he said, are supportive of each other. Murphy uses Twitter to learn Photoshop shortcuts and for moral support.

Doing comics, he said, is also much more lonely than rehearsing and performing music, which is usually done with other people.

He is looking into agents and publishers for future work and will add a new title later this year. He and his girlfriend are expecting a baby.

Murphy will do a presentation on his comic book process and the industry at the Oscar Grady Library from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25. Afterward, he and his Etherium ensemble will play popular cartoon theme songs.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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