Colum Alum Spotlight: JJ McLuckie

Manifest Creative Director JJ McLuckie talks with us about how he turned his childhood obsessions into a Manifest masterpiece.


Illustration major JJ McLuckie wants to draw like a 7-year-old. Not in technical skill, of course, but he wants to harness that creative energy in this year’s Manifest designs. McLuckie was elected Manifest creative director in a campus-wide vote, and his designs for this year’s urban arts festival nod to some throwback muses like Lisa Frank, Legos, board games, and ’90s Nickelodeon. As creative director, McLuckie designed everything from posters to t-shirts to “Emergeling” monsters—quirky little characters that represent this year’s theme: Emerge.

McLuckie took a break from gearing up for Manifest and his fast-approaching graduation to talk with us about turning his childhood obsessions into a Manifest masterpiece. Manifest will electrify the South Loop on May 12—including an exclusive alumni party.


How did you start drawing and illustrating?

I was always drawing since I was really little.  I’ve been channeling my childhood drawings lately. When I was a kid, I would endlessly draw patterns and board games. [In high school,] I realized I liked making posters and making things for a purpose versus just making a piece.

There’s something childlike in your Manifest designs.

[Illustrator] Andy J. Miller, when he came and talked, he mentioned that being an illustrator means channeling the things you loved when you were 7 years old, but then [illustrating] with a professional viewpoint and skill set. So that’s what I’ve been embracing a lot more lately: Taking all the things I loved when I was 7, and then bringing it to 15 years later, with experience and knowledge, and then pushing it into more ideas.

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What kinds of things did you love when you were 7?

Very like tactile toys, like the slime toys. Lots of board games, stickers, Hot Wheels—not the Hot Wheels themselves but like the shapes of the tracks and the designs of all the toys.  I loved Legos and things where you could follow instructions or you could also just mess around with yourself, endlessly.

The Manifest designs have to have these base elements, like the star. But throughout Manifest, I’ve been taking all those elements and like rearranging them like Legos to build different shapes.


How would you describe your Manifest designs to some who’s never seen them before?

If Lisa Frank, Tim Burton, and MC Escher combined into one mesh of cartoons, with Robert Crumb in there somewhere, and then you put it into a 7-year-old’s hands and built it up like a Play-Doh set. Then add a Nickelodeon edge from the ’90s, but with a modern twist.


What does this year’s theme, Emerge, mean to you?
It’s more apparent recently, but when you graduate or move onto the next step of your life, you don’t just float on to it. You actually have to push yourself out, emerge out.  It’s more of an active method of movement verses just a passive transition.  So to me, “emerge” is like this entire last semester: pushing harder and harder and then shooting out at the end, exploding into graduation and Manifest at the end of the year. 


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