You've probably seen Jaik Puppyteeth's vibrant, oft-unsettling pieces already on social media—that is, if you happen to follow any of the world's most prominent drag personalities, like Trixie Mattel, Katya, or Miz Cracker, all of whom are among those that have shared the artist's work on their respective platforms.
Puppyteeth's work features realistically-proportioned figures sporting tiny, keyhole-shaped eyes. His caricatures are sometimes sexual, often startling and unnerving, and always entertaining. Their simple yet instantly recognizable humor has made them favorites in the queer community and internet sensations—head to Mattel's merchandise page and you'll find several of Puppyteeth's designs.
Portrait of 'Drag Race' season 10 queen Miz Cracker.
The artist, who currently works out of Chinatown, Vancouver, is launching his new graphic novel this week—Pop (pre-order here)—on Friday the 13th, with a live art show and discussion at Portland State University. The book follows the unhappy life of its title character, a "grumpy old man who hates general 1950s suburban, happy culture." Like much of his work, Pop is heavily influenced by early and mid-19th century American cartoons—it's based upon a real 1955 comic called Poppo. And the subject matter, true to form, will see Puppyteeth exposing himself in often uncomfortable honest ways:
"I’m a very neurotic person in a lot of respects," he explains to us. "So I found this clown from 1955, and I made a clown named Pop who is grumpy and hates children but is influenced by that. In the book he meets a kid who is reading an actual issue of the comic from 1955. It’s very self-referential. I feel like nobody is going to care about it except for me. It’s more of a personal project, but I have to make personal projects that sell. I basically make a living off of oversharing."
The new work comments upon the warped difference between reality and falseness through presentation—a particularly intriguing focus since the bulk of Puppyteeth's work is digested online. His artist statement accompanying Pop emphasize that his style's "major themes critique societal presentation of mortality, sex, heteronormative family ideals, and childhood," and that Pop is "is a synchronized satire of a desperate outsider’s interpretation of the American dream, and the gaudy remnants of saccharine 1950’s nostalgia."
Excerpts from Puppyteeth's new book, 'Pop.'
Puppyteeth grew up in British Columbia, in a tiny town surrounded by horses and chickens. But he'd always known he was destined for creative endeavors.
"I’ve always been making art," he says. "There was never a time I didn’t want to be an artist in some way—creative somehow. But I didn’t know if I wanted to be a writer, or a visual artist, or how I was going to make money in the world. But I ended up focusing on visual art."
After high school, he moved into Vancouver and enrolled to study painting at Emily Carr University. After blowing his money on drugs, he dropped out, but returned after a year away to finish his degree.
"I felt like art school was too highbrow for me. I’m more lowbrow, I guess. That’s why I like to do things on Instagram, and sell T-shirts, and be focused on social media."
The name "Puppyteeth" emerged early in his career, while he was attending art school and working under an anonymous moniker. He'd been drawing people and animals with giant gums and tiny teeth; hence, 'Puppyteeth' became his alias. He developed a character, Reverend Puppyteeth, and a website, and a whole cult around Puppyteeth, posting strange religious cartoons in public spaces around Vancouver, outside churches, on buses.
"It wasn’t until the last year of art school that one of my professors—I was explaining how I have two different personae, for art, and she was like, ‘That’s really unhealthy,'" he laughs. "So I just started making work as Jaik Puppyteeth. So that’s when I came out. And by then I had kind of shifted away from the whole cult aspect of things. So I had built a new website that wasn’t as wacky."
At that time he was still very much under-the-radar—it wasn't until he got sober, four years ago in June, and quit his day job designing for a Canadian shoe company to pursue art full time, that he began to find internet fame.
"It was actually quite liberating, to not have an actual job," he confesses. "Because I had more time to focus on my art and my work. So having the pressure to actually feed yourself by selling your work—it’s stressful but it’s good."
Before long, his work was beginning to find traction on Instagram. Then one day, he checked his notifications to find that Katya had shared a portrait he'd done of another drag queen, prompting thousands of new followers and a whole new audience for his eerie cartoons. He's risen to become a favorite in the drag community—he even created portraits of all the Drag Race girls for Canada's OUTtv last year. With the drag and queer worlds of the internet, he'd found his audience.
One of Puppyteeth's snarky cartoons.
While his work is queer, it's often making fun of itself, and of heterosexuality—with cartoons saying things like "I just felt like divorce photography was an untapped market" and "I'm not a narcissist, I just have a lot of good stories." His creepy style evolved from a worship of early 20s and 30s animation, which saw similarly tiny eyes to the eyeballs he employs:
"A lot of characters who are very cartoony-looking have those kinds of eyes, but I like to put them on more realistic looking people. It’s a more interesting contrast to me. I transpose them onto a more proportionate face so they look more hollow. I like them to be kind of dead inside… smiling but hollow."
Drawings for Trixie Mattel's official merchandise.
He looks to artists like Ryan Heshka, who draws pulpy, film noir women, and graphic novelist Michael Kupperman, for inspiration—both make use of a similarly unsettling, period piece aesthetic.
In regards to this season of Drag Race, Puppyteeth does have his favorites: "I think Miz Cracker is really funny. And I like Monet X Change as well. I followed both of them long before I knew they would be on the show."