Some groups of friends have poker nights, or go to trivia nights.
Missoula-based comics artists Tony Gregori, Theo Ellsworth and Josh Quick along with Dave Johnson, Lauren Norby and Daniel Mrgan, have held “jam drawing” nights almost every week for the last few years.
The artists get together at someone’s house to sketch, color and goof around, which Gregori described as their chance to do art without the pressures of deadlines and the restrictions of whatever project they were currently working on.
“We would hang out and talk comics,” Gregori said. “It’s a fun way to express ourselves.”
Those nights inspired the group to start hosting annual art shows, which are hosted by Gecko Designs, during a summer First Friday.
The first couple of years they served as a showcase for the individual artists’ finished work, Gregori said, but this year, they’re showing several collaborative pieces as well.
The pieces are a series based off famed artist Jack Kirby’s work. Each of the artists would pick a panel or image from a Kirby comic, blow it up on a large piece of paper, then the group adds to it, creating a collage of doodles built off each other — or as Gregori aptly put it, "a potpourri for the eyes."
Other series took images from '90s comics, or Batman comics, Gregori said.
“These are the kinds of books that inspired us as kids,” Gregori said. “After a while we started looking at these pieces thinking, ‘This is kind of cool.’”
The pieces will be up on the wall or shown on a tabletop, the way they were drawn, the group of artists in a circle, each sketching in their own corner.
Ellsworth was impressed at how their disparate styles combined into something new — Quick and Mrgan’s cartoony characters and Gregori’s more classic comic art layering on top of each other.
“There’s definitely no one image that anyone drew,” Ellsworth said. “It’s just total freeform layered effect.”
The artists connected through their source material as well — despite their varying art styles now, all of them grew up reading and learning from similar artists, like Kirby or Rob Liefield, who drew X-Force in the 1990s.
Looking through those old comics together was nostalgic and somewhat therapeutic, Ellsworth said.
The group didn’t take their homages too seriously, though — lots of in-jokes from their late-night banter were made into doodles, and they riffed on comic book clichés.
“They’re pretty silly,” Mrgan said. “Anyone who likes superheroes and comic books will enjoy it. We’re making fun of it, but in a loving way.”
Mrgan only moved to Missoula last year, and has attended a small handful of the “jam drawing” nights since then. The collaborations reminded him of doodling with friends in a coffee shop or at a bar, but they were more purposeful — these pieces were actually finished and colored in.
The larger group made for more elaborate finished products as well, something Mrgan enjoyed being a part of.
“It’s kind of fun to draw something and pass it on, then 20 minutes later it comes back and you see what’s added,” Mrgan said.
Ellsworth, too, loves peering at the panels, finding little Easter eggs or jokes he forgot he had drawn.
He had the pieces in his studio for framing earlier this week and said he couldn’t stop touching them up, adding bits and pieces.
“It’s hard to stop,” Ellsworth said. “They’re so much fun to work on.”