The Heart of Pon and Zi: An Afternoon with Jeff Thomas.
Type in your search engine ‘Emo Art’ and your results will immediately include two creatures with hollowed out eyes, big heads, and cute catch phrases. Addicting, aren’t they? Pon and Zi have been capturing the hearts of thousands since 2004. They are endearing, sweet, and a smile to brighten any gloomy day. But to the creator Jeff Thomas, they are a dream come true. This is his side of the story.
Over an afternoon of tea, I asked Jeff a question everyone’s been thinking: “How does it feel to be the face of Emo Art?”, shyly he replied “Crazy.”
You see, Jeff began drawing Pon and Zi in high school as a quick entry for his journal in Illustration class. “I did quick things” He explained, like most of his classmates. Thinking nothing of it he placed his doodles on DeviantArt, thats when the dream took off. Within a month his page views went from 50 to 1 million hits.
“I noticed my students with pictures of my son’s art on their binders.” mentioned his mother Judy, who teaches Elementary School. She has been in full support of his art since childhood.It didn’t stop there, he was recognized and stopped when out in public, people had recognized him from his MySpace and Deviant Art photographs.
And then it happened, he had been approached by licensing companies. Jeff currently has stationary and school supply products licensed in both France and England. He also continues to sell his signed prints at Anime Expo’s Artist Alley for the past couple of years, a venue that he has grown to love. “Most of the vendors (Artist Alley) have been there for years. In a way, we all grew up together.”
If you think that this is all that there is to Jeff Thomas, I’d like you to think again. For this young talent has only begun his career as an artist. As Pon and Zi had began to grow in the public eye, Jeff was still thinking college bound. With artwork in hand, he attended Art Center College of Design’s Portfolio day; an event held by the college for students to get critiques from various art colleges.
“I knew that I wanted to go to the Art Center, even before.” Explained Jeff. Being a residence of Glendora, the drive would not be too far from home, and he would get the college education that he desired. After a critique from an Art Center representative and a the process of enrollment, Jeff became an Illustration major. But to assure that he would be able to focus on his schooling, Jeff made sure to keep from mentioning the booming success as the creator of Pon and Zi. “I kept Pon and Zi a secret, I was there to learn.”
It was a good decision, because Jeff began to develop further in his skills as an artist. He expressed that his ‘real portfolio’ was quite different from his characters online. He focuses on realism and human portrait design, something that was a weak area for him in high school. I had asked him about his desired career with the direction of his art and he answered, “I’d like to sell my portraits in an Art Gallery someday.”
Pon and Zi still had their working in his agenda’s as an art student. When he was given the licensing deal for Pon and Zi in England, his boyfriend Matt took the train from his town and had met him in London to act as a guide for Jeff in his breathtaking country. After the first visit Jeff was hooked, “I fell in love with England. I knew I wanted to live there.” Currently Jeff and Matt travel back and forth from California to England as Jeff is trying to get accepted into an University in England to complete his major in Illustration.
Until then, Jeff continues to enjoys working on Pon and Zi. He hopes to continue selling at Anime Expo and perhaps expand onward to Comic Con, the largest comic convention in the United States. Recently he signed his third licensing contract, this time in the United States! Expect to see t-shirt, Plushies, and even an Artbook in Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic, and Target in the near future.
I had asked him for any words of advice for young artist that are inspired by his work. Jeff recalled the discouragement he got from his teachers, and how he needed to ‘get serious’ with his art. “I would like to say, don’t give up, even if people tell you too. You never know what will happen.”
Please visit Jeff at his website Azurezephre. He enjoys getting feedback so don’t be shy.