Fenmere in Ferndale

Jonathan Sodt’s altered egos

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When Jonathan Sodt makes his “Art in the Park” debut Sept. 14-15 at Ferndale’s Hovander Homestead Park, the former Bellingham illustrator and cartoonist will be joining nearly a dozen other area artists sharing their work at the second annual event, which aims to draw attention to the creative folks making their home in the area.

Although he and his wife have only lived in Ferndale for the past two years, Sodt says they’ve settled in, and are happy to be there.

“My current neighborhood in Ferndale is a lot like how my old neighborhood in Bellingham used to be,” Sodt says. “It’s wonderful. We live on a quiet street a few blocks from downtown, and two doors down from my in-laws, so we’re always near family, and it’s good.”

One thing that has remained the same since Sodt vacated the ’ham and moved north is that the characters he created in Bellingham—such as Fenmere, the Worm and a host of other fictional personas he’s brought to life in his series of comics, Harmless Free Radicals and the Epic of Sally Robertson—have made the move, as well.

Sodt first created the character of Fenmere in high school after reading about an artist who’d invented a fictionalized and fantastical persona for himself.

“Fenmere, the Worm, was originally meant to be my voice as a poet, and I wrote many poems under his name,” Sodt says. “A lot of them were really bad, but he had a fictional background as an ancient being from the beginning of the Earth, and I wrote a lot about his history into that poetry.”

When he first released Harmless Free Radicals to the general public in the Whatcom Independent newspaper in the 1990s, Fenmere took the credit, and has continued to do so in various endeavors in Sodt’s life.

“When I started Harmless Free Radicals, I signed it with that name, remembering my original plan of creating this persona,” Sodt says. “It was a little like being a superhero, with a secret identity. And it does allow me to control any fame I might receive from my work. I can talk sometimes to people about my comics as if I’m just another reader. But when they find out I’m the author, their surprise and joy is gratifying.”

Sometimes, Sodt notes, he struggles with when to sign with Fenmere’s name, and when to sign his “real” name, because he does create artwork that isn’t associated with Harmless Free Radicals.

“I am proficient and experienced in all sorts of visual arts, from collage to painting, and I love doing it all,” he says. “However, my work in cartooning and illustration has led me to drift toward the traditional media for these things, which is pen and ink—or brush and ink, as the case may be.”

Most of the work Sodt will be sharing at Art in the Park was created using a Pentel Pocket Brush, Copic nib pens, and various other markers and brushes and pens.

“My illustration might be seen as a mix of cartooning and natural observation, with a little bit of obsessive expressionism and texturing thrown in,” Sodt says.

Although he’s hoping to sell his work at the Hovander event, Sodt hopes people who show up will also be inspired by his art, ask questions and perhaps leave with a yen to seek out a new cultural endeavor on their own.

“I want people to take away the urge to do it themselves,” Sodt says, “and to apply their imaginations to their own art, whether they collect the garbage, create music, deliver pizza, attend city council or the millions of other things people do with skill or passion.”

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