While studying at Northbrook College, Worthing, West Sussex, England Hewlett, Alan Martin, and fellow student Philip Bond had created a fanzine called Atomtan. This brought him to the attention of Brett Ewins. After leaving college Hewlett and Martin were invited by Ewins to create material for a new magazine he was setting up with Steve Dillon in 1988.
The magazine was called Deadline magazine and featured a mixture of comic strips produced by British creators and articles on music and culture. Martin and Hewlett created Tank Girl, an anarchic strip about a teenage punk girl who drove a tank and had a mutant kangaroo for a boyfriend. The strip proved instantly popular and quickly became the most talked about part of Deadline. Hewlett's quirky style (he was a fan of Brendan McCarthy) proved popular and he started to work with bands such as Senseless Things and Cud providing covers for record releases.
By 1992 Hewlett had become a major creator in the comics industry, and one of the few to break into mainstream media. He had worked with writer Peter Milligan on Hewligan's Haircut in 2000 AD issues 700 to 707. The series was later compiled into a trade paperback. He was also involved in providing covers and art for Shade, the Changing Man, also written by Milligan for DC Comics. Tank Girl was also optioned to be made into a film by MGM after being considered by among others, Steven Spielberg. The film was released in 1995 and featured Lori Petty as Tank Girl. It was a commercial and critical failure and was criticized by fans who said it failed to capture the essence of the original strip. Hewlett however, was said to be happy with the film. He also drew a Tank Girl miniseries for the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics written by Peter Milligan, as well as helping adapt the film for Vertigo.
Hewlett was still involved with British bands of the mid-1990s, including illustrating a comic strip version of Pulp's song Common People".
He also designed décor for a nightclub called The Factory in Worthing. The decor featured red and green stripes, a wall of blown-up panels from Tank Girl set against '70s wallpaper, a Ford Escort hung from the ceiling and toilets pasted with pages from old comic book annuals. The Factory has since been refurbished and renamed.
Deadline was eventually canceled in 1996 due to falling sales in a changing market and Hewlett concentrated on working in advertising and designs for television, most notably the children's series SMTV Live featuring Ant and Dec. He also created the strip 'Get The Freebies' published monthly in British fashion bible The Face. The stories, such as they were, followed the exploits of Terry Phoo, a gay, Buddhist kung-fu law enforcement sweetheart and Whitey Action an enigmatic young anarchist with a bad attitude as they fight across London against their primary adversaries The Freebies Gang of the title. The dynamic between the two heroes was much like that of Tank Girl and her mutant Kangeroo boyfriend Booga (she being the smart one him being the dummy) with the episodes being told from the point of view of the female protagonist. The strips primary function was for Jamie to vent his spleen against the media idols and trends of the day, the story often taking second place to the jokes. The strip ran for one year, the second series was canceled due to a change of editorial staff at the publication.
Meeting Albarn and creating the Gorillaz
At this time he had moved into a flat with Blur's Damon Albarn after splitting with his girlfriend Jane Olliver (originally a member of (Elastica) and it was while sharing a flat that the pair came up with the idea of Gorillaz, one of the world's first virtual bands. Albarn would work upon the music, while Hewlett would come up with character designs, and both came up with ideas for the members of the band. The first Gorillaz single was released in 2000 followed by the first album, Gorillaz in 2001. In 2005 their second full studio album, Demon Days was released. Both albums were popular successes. The band also performed 'live' several times in 2005, including a performance at the 2005 MTV European Music Awards, a performance in the Manchester Opera House and a similar one in the Apollo theater in New York. The band plans a world tour which will feature Hewlett's designs. A feature film was proposed but never made.
Gorillaz remains Hewlett's main project for the foreseeable future. When asked if he would return to comics by Jonathan Ross on an edition of Ross's chatshow on November 25th, 2005, Hewlett said no, but he had several ideas which he may do one day.
I first met Damon the day before Blur’s album, Leisure, came out. We didn’t really get on very well at all for years, but then we both needed somewhere to live as we had split up from people at the same time. He wanted my opinion on a flat he was going to buy in Westbourne Grove, west London, and when I went to look at it with him he said, ‘Do you want to live here as well?' When I started sharing with him I was a little OCD - a bit clean and organised - while he was a total messy bastard. He used to have a pile of clothes in his bedroom that was just like that mountain of rubbish in Close Encounters. He is the sort of person who will sit down and money will fall out of his pocket. I am the total opposite. So the two of us living together was very therapeutic for us both - I relaxed a bit and he got more together, and of course we ended up doing the impossible, creating a cartoon band, Gorillaz.
Damon didn’t like me because I became friends with his friend Graham. For ten years, we dislike each other. Then we discovered we had things in common. We were born in 1968, under the sign of the monkey. Hence, the name of the band. I had proposed Chimpanzees, but Damon said no, Gorillas. I asked him why and he told me: “because they’re bigger”. Then we added a z. Because it’s hiphop! At the time, we shared the same apartment in London. We were 30. We had just broke up with our respective girlfriends, we were young, unattached and, most often, drunk and broken. One night we hosted a party at home with three Spice Girls, Marianne Faithfull, two guys from Radiohead and Kate Moss. Gorillaz was born from this period of chaos.
My kids, now 18 and 22, grew up with Powerpuff Girls. It was such a huge show back then. It bothered me that musicians cross over with ease but artists not so much.I liked the idea of mixing cartoon characters because, apart from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam, no one has ever had a character going in to another cartoon. Cartoon Network were great about it but they did say no alcohol or prostitutes!
It’s fucking Damon’s fault! We did all that touring last year with all the wasted time that goes with it, so he got writing. Some of the feedback for Humanz was that there wasn’t enough of 2D, Damon’s voice, and I felt that too. So we just said let’s do another one straight away and make it 2D The Album. 2D’s Achilles’ heel is Murdoc, the character who stops him expressing himself, so we stuck Murdoc in jail.
In Gorillaz, Damon makes the music, I do the drawings. I have to wait for him to send me his songs to draw the characters, so I’m always a step behind Damon.” As Prince Philip still walks behind Queen Elizabeth? “Well, I’m like the Duke of Edinburgh and Damon is such a big queen…I hope he didn’t hear me.
Drawing is an escape from all the unnecessary things in life that get in the way of being free.
In January 2006, Hewlett's artwork for Gorillaz was shortlisted for the Design Museum's 'Designer of the Year' award.
And in an interview with the magazine Icon Hewlett confessed he's trying to revive the whole Gorillaz-movie idea.
In May 2006, Jamie Hewlett was named the Designer of the Year Award 2006.
In his spare time, Hewlett plays a game called SecondLife under the name of Ferris Erato. (www.secondlife.com)
In April 2018, a forensics expert claimed that Hewlett could be Banksy, the notorious graffiti king known for her or his satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti.
Hewlett is married and has two sons named Rocky and Denholm, the latter of which is closely involved with the band and currently filming a documentary about Gorillaz.