How many times were you told as a child to open the greeting card that came with your birthday or holiday present before you could open the present? For me, that greeting card was always a bit boring because sometimes, it just never spoke to me. Greeting cards weren’t always exciting and fun, and certainly did not do well in representing the wide spectrum of lifestyles and occasions to celebrate. The wife-wife duo of J.Caress Studio, Caroline and Jessica Kaplan, want to change that. With their line of LGBTQ+ greeting cards and art commissions, their goal is to reflect their lifestyle in all special occasions and celebrate love and Pride, giving the industry a much needed dose of visibility and inclusion.
At this year’s Flame Con, they expanded their art prints to include a line of superhero-themed prints. I chatted with Caroline and Jessica about their company and its history, their love of comics, and the message they want to give to the wider world.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the history of J.Caress Studios? As I recall from earlier interviews, this came about to fill a need in the market for a wider variety of greeting cards celebrating same sex marriages.
Caroline Kaplan: The way we started is that we’ve been together for 16 years. And when we got married eight years ago, we received basically the same exact same sex marriage card from five different individuals across the East Coast. And it was quite a eye-opening experience, because it made us realize: is this really all that’s available to the public?
Jessica Kaplan: Like could there possibly be just one card to give to the queer community?
Caroline: So a seed was planted in our in our minds. And then we have aunts that we respect very much, who are each entrepreneurs. And they’ve helped us in this process, taught us things. And when she married the love of her life, she actually had a similar experience with her gifts, where she was opening the cards, with three of the same. And this was years later, after Obergefell had happened. And it still hadn’t changed where there was only one for people in a large, vast area to get for someone. So it became all of a sudden.
Jessica: I mean, we thought how can this be? Because now Obergefell had happened, and you would think somebody would jump on the bandwagon for or just start thinking okay, well…
Caroline: And that and then so basically, when it came down to it, I remember opening the first card and crying, just being touched that someone cared enough to find a a card that said, “The love between two women,” and wanted to find a card for them, just to thank them for that. Then the second one comes around, she’s like, “Oh, this is nice.” The third one came around, she knew what I wanted to do, looked at me. I got that look from her and ever since we’ve been—
Jessica: —Going down this line.
Caroline: Yeah, yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing. So it really is about inclusiveness and visibility, as cliche as it does sound. People don’t realize how important greeting cards are.
Jessica: Even just go into any place that sells cards, even boutiques and seeing your own representation, not just the cookie cutter, male-female cards, to my daughter, to my son, to my wife, to my husband.
C.Kaplan: We’re lesbians ourselves. So we started with lesbians, and we wound up going to lots of different conventions and things and we have, from the input that we’ve gotten, expanded our whole line into LGBTQ+.
Jessica: And we have even gone further to aunts, uncles, siblings, parents.
For Flame Con this year, you debuted this set of superhero themed prints. What was the inspiration for dipping your toe into superheroes? Was it the fact you got accepted to Flame Con, or something else?
Caroline: I’ve actually always drawn comic books.
Jessica: This is true. I’ve seen some of her young young ones. They’re adorable.
Caroline: Yes. And I was constantly made fun of by my brothers for them because they were just all old jacked men. It was very hilarious, actually. But I have an idea in mind that I actually want to premiere next year, where it’s a full on comic that I want to do. But that’s where the interest really comes from. And I was brought up on Bernie Wrightson and on Frank Frazetta. So I have that kind of aesthetic that I love that I want to emulate, especially with Wrightson and what he does with his Frankenstein stuff. We have some tarot cards that we put out that are with that same kind of cross hatching stuff. So I’m trying to put all of my different inspirations together. And the fact that I’ve always loved comics, I’ve always loved Marvel and DC.
Jessica: Your father was really really big into comics.
Caroline: He was really, he was huge into comics. And now there’s this world of shipping. We’re both very familiar with it, on the lesbian side of it, shipping bisexual and lesbian people together on TV and seeing that representation. Now we can take that a step further, and now take these Marvel and DC characters that we love, and put them together. And it’s just the same kind of way of expressing our illustration.
Jessica: And being represented also.
Caroline: And being represented, exactly.
Who was your favorite to draw? You did Supergirl and Wonder Woman; you did Captain America and Iron Man. And Deadpool and Wolverine.
Caroline: I would honestly say, I think it was Deadpool and Wolverine was my favorite one to do. It’s just there’s so much contention. Even though there’s the kind of contention between Captain America and Iron Man. But I do like that one a lot. But I’ve always loved Deadpool. I’ve always loved Wolverine. For some reason, I just felt this violent need to put them together.
You talked about a couple of your favorite comic artists that you’ve loved. Are there other artists that you look to for your inspiration, or specific movements or time periods?
Caroline: Well for me, because I’m more of a portrait artist. I always actually really used to love Norman Rockwell. He was a big influence on me in terms of realism and expressions of people. So that is another big one for me.
Jessica: Mine’s more traditional. I guess you would say I’m big into Caravaggio. I really love his intense light and darkness.
Caroline: She’s the incredible painter.
Jessica: I’m the painter. I love the abstract things, and I feel like having that severe dark and light is an abstract way of thinking. So he really speaks to me.
That was actually my next question! You work in a wide variety of media: you do printmaking, you do oil, you do ink, graphite. Do either of you have certain strengths or a particular favorite that you gravitate to?
Jessica: Absolutely! I do have something which will premiere probably more towards next Flame Con; I’m going to start doing more of sculptural pieces or little trinkets, little tiny figures that will debut. So I’m more of the three dimensional.
Caroline: Being dyslexic, she has that architectural thing about her where she can see 3D things. So she’s very good with with her painting, with her color, with her colored sculpture. And she helps me a lot with actually putting color into my work. Because it’s a good balance. She actually ends up being kind of like an art director for me, because I do a lot of the actual prints and the cards and coloring book.
Jessica: Caroline’s more realism and she studied so much with the human body because she has her master’s degree in medical illustration. So she really knows the body and the form. She has a quite an eye.
Caroline: So I’m I’m very good with like, “If I need to draw what I need to draw, I can,” and Jessica is very good with, “I can come up with things.” So it actually kind of helps with the comic book thing. And in terms of our mediums, we tend to, when we’re doing our oils or acrylics, we tend to actually err on the side of more erotica.
Jessica: And you’ll stay more towards the oils, while I do a lot of the watercolor and acrylic.
Caroline: We feel that it’s very important, sexual expression. Why should we be excluded?
Jessica: Why should we be embarrassed about it, too? I grew up Catholic. And I feel like I remember, I think that maybe this is not appropriate, so who knows. But I remember priests coming in and saying that how masturbation was wrong. So I was like, “No, that can’t be right.” I remember convincing myself what I was doing was not masturbation. And so that is so ridiculous. Why should we feel so guilty? So sexual expression, I feel like it’s so very important.
Caroline: It’s very important for each of us in different ways. So that’s why we delve into that as well.
With something as personal as a greeting card, I’m sure you’ve received some very touching personal stories from customers, especially filling this need for that wasn’t in the market before. Do you have any that stick out in your mind?
Caroline: Absolutely. Actually, this one in particular where we did a Stonewall card for this year for the 50th anniversary. And we had a young woman reach out to us on Etsy wanting it as a print. We just sent it to her for the same amount of money; it wasn’t a big deal. She wanted it for her uncle’s 50th birthday, because it says on it, “You only turn 50 once.” On the outside, it depicts Stonewall as it used to be, and it has what the Mattachine Society had written on the glass to help keep the peace. And on the inside it says, “Happy World Pride.” But she wanted it as a birthday gift. So, lo and behold, a week later we get an email from a gentleman we don’t know who says, “Hello I am an HIV positive gay man. I’m 50 years old. I just received your artwork from my niece who got your stuff from Etsy. And I just want to let you know that it’s on my wall. I’m so touched by it. It brought me to tears, and it will be there for the rest of my life.” And you hear stuff like that—
Jessica: —That makes everything worth it. All the hard work the late nights, the nights of no sleep.
And that’s the message you want folks to take away from your artwork: you want them to feel visible, to feel included and, to feel loved.
Outside of your online presence, where else can we find your work?
Caroline: We actually have some of our selections are in the store Please in South slope. It’s an educational sex shop. Some of our cards are in Staten Island at Nitecap Megastore. We have some of our cards in Pennsylvania at I Love Excitement video. And some of our coloring books are carried at A Love Bizarre in California. So we have a little bit of things going on here and there and we’re—
Jessica: —Trying to expand
Caroline: Yeah, always trying.