Turning fear and paranoia into punchy comics: Alex Jenkins comments on our society
For Found in Adobe Stock, It’s Nice That has commissioned creatives to explore the world of Adobe Stock’s collection to make a new series of works. The project asks each creative to dive into the depths of Adobe Stock as a starting point, and then devise new short stories or create new worlds from chosen images. We follow each creative’s journey on their stock narrative endeavours and unpack how they used their individual findings to make innovative final pieces.
Hilarious, highly relatable and sometimes pretty gross, Alex Jenkins’s four panel comics are crowd-pleasing glories. Brimming with punchy narratives and archetypal characters, his comics resonantly pang with self-deprecating humour while commenting on society at large. A master of ironic storytelling, Alex captures a universal sense of desperation we all feel from time to time. Often using stock imagery as a starting point for his witty comics, we’ve commissioned Alex to create five comics each using an image from the Adobe Stock library as the first in the series.
Delving into the theme of therapy and stress, Alex’s illustrations are an example of the variety of stories that Adobe Stock can provide. Each comic expresses the theme with originality, touching on those feelings of paranoia and anxiety that we all experience now and again (but rather we didn’t) burying them somewhere deep within.
“If there’s ever a time when I’m really stuck for ideas, stock imagery is quite a good way of inspiring ideas that wouldn’t have necessarily been in your head at the time”Alex Jenkins
But with Alex at the reigns, the self-described “big bumbling guy with an awkward sense of humour” exposes deep dark moments of catastrophising doubt. Whether he’s satirising the health conscious millennial or drawing cheeky solutions for the dating-app serialists, Alex never fails to entertain with his stories. Blessed with the natural ability for visual puns while telling a pretty detailed story through four square illustrations, Alex’s comics stem from a single image (usually a stock image) which triggers the creative process.
On his search for the ideal Stock image, Alex tells us: “I don’t really look for a certain image in particular but more the subject of an image. Just going on the Stock image website helps spark something in my brain,” he explains. “If there’s ever a time when I’m really stuck for ideas, it’s quite a good way of inspiring ideas that wouldn’t have necessarily been in your head at the time.”
Setting in place the theme of “bettering yourself” Alex burrowed into Adobe Stock’s library. In search of images that others could relate to, Alex carefully picked five Stock images to craft a story around. Below, he talks us through the action and thinking behind each comic, starting with Clouds, which sees a relaxed woman enjoying the mossy greenery beneath her.
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As Alex first approached the project, one of the first ideas that popped into his head envisaged “something to do with clouds,” he recalls. “I started off thinking about things that are therapeutic and you know when you cloud watch, spotting shapes in the clouds as a kind of relaxing activity; I knew then that I wanted to go with that idea.”
Browsing the hoards of images that crop up when Alex searched for any variation of the terms “cloud watching”, “relaxing”, “therapy” and so on, he eventually decided to select a final image depending on the position of the subject and the emotion conveyed. “There was too much choice, but not in a negative way, there was just loads to choose from,” says Alex on the wealth of visuals he was presented with.
After deciding upon this first image, otherwise known as Woman relaxing outdoors and lying on grass in park in the library, Alex started thinking about how he could continue the storyline and present the viewer with an unexpected plot twist. “I started thinking about the idea of a pop up, but in a bad situation.” He considered a plane flying overhead, but then thought about a big fat advert popping up like when you’re on the computer. Thinking to himself, “how can I make this make more sense?”, Alex came to envision his subject in a VR headset, repositioning the comic as a comment on technology.
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Alex already had an idea in place for this second comic, Hygeine, previously thinking about the claustrophobia and stress of being on a crowded train. “This led me to think about germs and that paranoid feeling you get the moment someone heartily coughs next to you, or sneezes,” adds Alex.
A familiar encounter for us rush-hour dwellers, Alex looked to the 20th century German zoologist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel for inspiration. Known for his highly detailed drawings on microbe-like substances, Alex took the opportunity to draw large, cell-like beings in this comic (something he’s been interested in since university). But the smiley-faced germ was all his own doing.
For this four-panel, though there isn’t much movement from frame to frame, Alex exemplifies a different kind of storytelling where the drama unfolds amongst the incremental changes. “I quite like it when there’s just a fixed image and it only slightly changes,” he says. “If a comic’s too jumpy and the story goes from one image to a completely different one, the story can lose its way. But this one has a nice flow.” And, because most of the composition was apparent in the original Stock image, “there wasn’t that much to do anyway” as the scene was fortunately set up for him already.
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When Alex decided on the theme of “therapy”, one of the first things that came to mind was the Freudian image of a client reclining on a chaise longe, relaying their problems to a wise psychiatrist making notes across the room. With this scene in mind as the internationally recognised symbol for therapy, the sequential three frames came easily to the illustrator.
“Even before I’d selected the Adobe Stock image, I thought of the story about this guy who’s talking to someone and they’re letting their heart out, but then the person they’re actually talking to doesn’t even exist,” says Alex on his dark humoured depiction of loneliness.
Instinctively working to the four-panel format, Alex thinks of his work with four points in the story. Along with the beginning and end (which he sets in place first) Alex then drafts up thumbnails of potential middle-points. “Sometimes it’s not as simple as that though,” adds the cartoonist. “Sometimes there are elements of drawings that I really enjoy but don’t really fit in with the story so I end up discarding it. But if I really like the image, I can try and reuse the thumbnail in a different comic further down the line.”
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While pondering annoyances for his fourth comic Catch, Alex considered how something as supposedly therapeutic, such as yoga or a massage, would fail to induce relaxation if say, a buzzing fly was swarming around you at the time.
“I thought, what makes this a negative? If you’re in a bit of a grump and people around you are talking about how great they are and all the great things that they do, yoga is often one of those things that pops up a lot,” Alex adds.
He chose the particular Stock image in question because of the angle. In the library, amongst all the yoga poses imaginable including groups and solo yogies alike, Alex chose this lady in particular because of the awkward angle she was positioned in. Paying particular attention to a facial expression overflowing with irritation, Alex says on how he draws such vexation: “I just do them really simply. You can do a horizontal line to show you’re a bit peeved like in a lot of cartoons, Japanese ones especially. It’s just the simplicity of the brow and where its placed which determines the emotion, sometimes you don’t even have to include a mouth! It’s all about the brow.”
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We all know that feeling of sheer despair when your phone runs out of battery. If you don’t know where you’re going, this also means you’re in a pickle without google maps. Alex describes it “like being in the wilderness or the dessert” and for his fifth and final comic, he explores this feeling of pure loss at having no phone to busy ones hands with.
Searching the Stock library for relatable imagery, Alex landed on an image titled Positive adult man drinking coffee on his way to work. The happy-go-lucky worker is enjoying a multitude of pleasures on his phone until it suddenly runs out of battery which makes him feel like being in the bleak nothingness of the desert, or in this instance, he’s on the moon looking back at earth feeling very, very alone and “goes into a complete state of panic.”
In order to capture stories and images that are instantly relatable as demonstrated in this comic, Alex often carries around a small sketchbook, noting down little idiosyncrasies from passers-by as he goes about his daily business. “I find it really hard to do it verbally so I put all down by sketching. I used to have this Samsung which had a pen so I could draw with that, but then the screen cracked.”
All in all, for Alex using stock imagery means there is one less thing to worry about in the composition. “It helps you nail the composition instantly so using stock imagery almost cuts out that first stage of being like ‘how can I lay out the first scene?’”
Whether you’re an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer or any other type of creative, finding new sources of inspiration can feel like a dried up well. “Looking at stock images is always a reliable source of inspiration,” says Alex. As creatives inevitably experiment with different ways of working, drawing inspiration from all manner of things, for Alex, the creative process is cyclical. “It can chop and change but you can always come back to working in a certain way" and Stock imagery provides that variety and consistency.
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About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.