Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 17 — Ludgy Jean-Baptiste

A Cheat Code

A self-portrait by Ludgy Jean-Baptiste.

As a child, Ludgy Jean-Baptiste watched a lot of Looney Tunes — to the point that he could tell which director was behind the segment, based on the way the characters were drawn. “I would record episodes on VHS and freeze frame certain parts to see how they had the characters go from Point A to Point B. I studied, but I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing,” he said.

Now, Jean-Baptiste lives in Dorchester, Boston where he works as an art educator and a freelance cartoonist. He has worked with companies such as Google, Hasbro, and most recently, PBS. He’s also the author-illustrator behind COMIXSCAPE, an ongoing graphic novel series that saw much of its conceptual development during Jean-Baptiste’s time at Artists for Humanity.

Jean-Baptiste working in the Painting Studio at AFH.

Jean-Baptiste loved to draw from a young age. As early as the first grade, he dreamed up characters and created his own comic books. He even priced his creations at 25 cents and sold them to his classmates.

“I just loved making people laugh with different stories that I came up with,” he said.

When he was a sophomore in high school, one of his teachers noticed how frequently he drew and suggested he apply to AFH. The night before his job interview, Jean-Baptiste sat at his desk and drew the characters that would eventually become COMIXSCAPE.

AFH was his first job — and it changed his world.

He remembered, “It felt almost like a cheat code. A new path opened up and I saw I had more options than I had believed.”

He was amazed that he could get paid to make art — and that he saw himself represented in the mentors and other teens at AFH. He also loved being part of a community of other young artists, who came from all different parts of the Boston area.

Jean-Baptiste began in the Painting Studio where his work was influenced by his love for cartoons. Later, he met Mike Guadarrama, a mentor in the Graphic Design Studio, who was excited by Jean-Baptiste’s work. Jean-Baptiste quickly made the switch to his Studio, where he found his niche.

In the Graphic Design Studio, Jean-Baptiste learned a slew of new skills; he had never before touched a tablet nor used Adobe Creative Suite. He also went from simply drawing characters to creating full-on comic strips, at the encouragement of Guadarrama. “I was drawing out these characters but wasn’t writing anything. I started filling my sketchbook with different ideas and then working on actually producing something with the characters,” he said.

A teenage Jean-Baptiste pictured at AFH.

AFH was instrumental to Jean-Baptiste becoming serious about his craft.

He explained, “It brought me from someone who was drawing all over my notebooks and assignments to being someone that was more disciplined in applying [my skills] towards specific things.”

He specifically remembers a client project he collaborated on with Guadarrama as a turning point. Guderamma had created a superhero-inspired character, Chili Pepper Man, for a project intended to encourage people not to litter. Jean-Baptiste had drafted various artwork and graphics centered around Chili Pepper Man, but wasn’t happy with the way it was arranged in the final comic.

“I took that weekend to create two new comics centered around that concept and then I showed them to [Guadarrama] and he was over the moon. That was when I realized that I was starting to gain [a foothold] on cartooning,” he reflected.

The cover of COMIXSCAPE Volume 1, one of Jean-Baptiste’s books.

Jean-Baptiste also spent time as a teenager working on the characters and plot lines that would become COMIXSCAPE. COMIXSCAPE centers on the life and adventures of Tyler Wesley, an imaginative, perpetually preteen boy who has just moved to a new town, and Rocky, his self-appointed raccoon sidekick.

To promote the comic, Jean-Baptiste took advantage of the Screen Printing Studio at AFH and printed t-shirts with the characters on them. He would have his friends model the shirts and post the pictures to his social media accounts.

After graduating high school, Jean-Baptiste enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He chose to major in Communications because he wanted to learn how to most effectively share his cartoons. His classes taught him how to brand his work, connect with his audience, and network with comic shop owners and publishers — all skills that have been crucial to his success as an artist.

“I came to realize that a lot of this comes down to the ability to connect with people in an effective way,” he said.

Jean-Baptiste also sought out relationships with other cartoonists. While in college, he visited the offices of Dig Boston, a local newspaper, in the hopes of speaking to one of his favorite cartoonists, Tak Toyoshima. Toyoshima made time to meet with Jean-Baptiste and look through a portfolio of his comics.

The logo for XSCAPIST PRESS, the printing press Jean-Baptiste runs and has self-published his books under.

He was impressed by Jean-Baptiste’s work and told him about Dig Boston’s Sunday Comics Project, an initiative that features comics by local artists on the newspaper’s website. Jean-Baptiste quickly submitted his work and later launched COMIXSCAPE through the Project.

So far, Jean-Baptiste has self-published three books of COMIXSCAPE and will release the fourth volume in 2021. He has also developed a motion comic series, which brings the comic to life with dialogue and music.

“I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to put these things together and collaborate with others without the foundation I got at AFH,” he said.

AFH has also impacted Jean-Baptiste as an art educator. “I’ll never downplay or forget [the importance of] having someone like Mikey [Guadarrama] be a mentor to me and what that did for me, professionally and personally,” he said. Because of his experience at AFH, Jean-Baptiste makes it a point to talk to his students about their passions and build relationships with them.

One of Jean-Baptiste’s recent comics.

As an artist, he said, he wants his work to be communicative. “I want to make something that feels imaginative and alive. One of the most important things to me is writing or showing what a character feels as a person. I want to use comics as a tool to help people understand each other better,” he explained.

“Words and pictures shape the world and are how we’ve processed information since the beginning of time. The fact that comics happens to be a medium that combines these two things to such great effect speaks volumes to the potential it still has for our means of expression.”

Today, Jean-Baptiste runs XSCAPIST UNIVERSITY, an art education digital hub which has proven essential and successful during the current pandemic. He has also completed a new full-color graphic novel centering female leads in collaboration with a major publisher.

Jean-Baptiste is also the winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) grant which gives him full creative control in artistic advocacy efforts for the equity of health, wealth, and inclusion in the Greater Boston Area.

Jean-Baptiste today!

“This work excites me because it is being crafted and presented to people in power who can affect positive change for people in underserved communities,” he explained. “[It is] a real opportunity for me to utilize my art through comics as an engine for real change.”

Written by Lena Novins-Montague.

CREATIVE JOBS FOR CREATIVE TEENS