Here in St. Louis we already know and love Jason Spencer and the myriad of wacky artworks he creates with his Killer Napkins brand. Its demonic creatures haunt our galleries, its trippy sci-fi murals cover our walls, its monstrous tapestries keep us warm in winter.
Now, news of our hometown hero’s superlative talent has spread internationally.
Last weekend, Spencer competed in the Illustrated World Series and took home top honors in the digital division of the 2022 Illustrated Masters. The London-based arts-sports competition saw 16 illustrators from around the world compete in a bracket tournament, with the winner – that’s Spencer – taking home £1,750 (or $2,068.31 in US dollars). could.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Spencer clinched the win in his first year as a competitor after being asked to fill in for a competitor who had had to drop out just days before the event.
Spencer isn’t even entirely sure how he ended up on the organizers’ radar – but he suspects it might have something to do with a comment he made on one of the group’s social media posts.
“Apparently I’ve followed them on Instagram before – I think I saw something last year – but I saw a friend post about participating in it this year,” he explains. “And I was sitting at the bar just talking to my buddy, and I was like, ‘Yo, look at that. That looks cool.’ And then about 10 minutes later I got a call and asked to fill in at the last minute because the thing was going to happen in a couple of days. So I said yes and tried to make it happen.
Make it possible that he did it. In front of an online audience of more than 500,000 streamers, Spencer defeated his competitors from the US, Spain, UK, Venezuela, Russia, South Africa, France, Poland, Italy and Mexico to secure his victory. The rules for the event were pretty simple. Pairs of competitors were assigned headlines from Buzzfeed articles, which they were then given an hour of direct artistic interpretation using only black, white, grayscale and another color of their choice.
“Then everyone else had another headline that they were working on. And it took you an hour to draw your complete piece,” explains Spencer. “They did a big Twitch stream that started with eight people at a time, with an announcer and all that.”
Spencer applied his usual surrealistic, monster-laden approach to the headlines he was given. For the first round, he was assigned “#RIPTwitter: Elon Musk Is Buy Twitter For $44 Billion.” In response, he conjured a Grim Reaper figurine with dollar signs for eyes and a huge purse. In the second round, Spencer addressed “Worldcoin Promised Free Crypto If They Scanned Their Eyeballs With ‘The Orb'”. For this, he drew a fly-clad Cyclops creature drooling while its single eye fixed on a pooping orb. Round three was Twentysomethings Have Started Throwing Fake Weddings, for which Spencer conjured a pair of sinister, glowing eyes with a pair of tattooed arms , which moved crash test dummies in tuxedo and wedding dresses towards each other on a cake.
For these rounds, the headlines had been shared with the participants the night before, giving them time to develop an idea. But for the finals against fellow American Alex Solis, the pair got their headline just before it was time to face off.
“That last lap was basically, the judging was like 30 minutes or so,” explains Spencer. “And then they announced the winners and shared our new headlines with us, so we had to come up with an idea pretty quickly.”
This final round focused on an issue of significant concern to the two US citizens, entitled “Americans Take to the Streets to Protest Overthrow of Roe V. Wade.” In this case, Spencer drew no punches, drawing a sea of limbs and heads in a crowd approaching a pillared building that read “Supreme Shit,” some of which had signs with slogans like “Hands Off,” “Protect Women,” and ” Abort the Court.” That was enough for Spencer to take home the gold.
In addition to the cash award, Spencer says the level of awareness the win will generate for him is significant. The Illustrated World Series has a partnership with Comic-Con, he says, and some of the attendees are artists he’s long considered a fan of.
“I’ve known a lot of these illustrators for a while,” he says. “I had a few friends that I only recently met while I was in New York who attended… and then some other people that I’ve followed for years. So, pretty cool to see.”
His participation in the event came at the last minute this year, but Spencer already has plans to attend in 2023. After all, he has a title to hold on to.
“They told me that as soon as you participate, they will ask you to come back,” he says of the win. “So I have to defend it.”