FLINT, Michigan—Inside downtown’s Cafe Rhema Jonathan “Jono” Diener, 31, sits patiently by a window waiting for his coffee. Diener has spent many years involved in the Motor City working for Flint businesses and giving to the community in more ways than one.
There is no shortage of careers under his belt — Diener is currently a copywriter, marketing head, article writer, accomplished musician, and comic book writer.
“Normally when people ask me ‘what do you do?’ I have to take 10 seconds to figure out how I’m about to explain it to them,” said Diener.
Diener’s family migrated to Michigan through his father working in the automotive steel industry. When they finally settled in Fenton from Grand Rapids and Baldwin, Maryland, at 13, the eventual visits to Flint left a strong impression on the young Diener.
“The contrast of like the super white-collar west side of the state … to the super blue-collar Flint area, that was like a total culture shock for us,” Diener said. “But it was awesome because it taught us the value of actually working hard and not just getting things like everyone else that we grew up with. ”
Diener was formally introduced to Flint’s downtown scene as a teen when he and his brother played a gig at the Flint Local 432 on West 1st Street as The Swellers, which would become a successful punk group in the future. As Diener toured the world playing in various bands, Flint still captured his imagination.
“I first came downtown to play the Flint Local 432 when I was like 14 … as time went on, we were like okay this place taught us a lot so we kind of want to teach people about Flint itself,” said Diener.
Through songs, his band The Swellers referenced Flint and its struggles through songs like “Vehicle City,” and album titles like Ups and Downsizing referencing the housing crisis in the city. During the Flint Water Crisis, Diener contributed material to a charity album called Not Safe to Drink that raised $11,000 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. The money eventually went into their Flint Child & Health Development Fund.
Another one of Diener’s projects, Baggage, has also donated money to the Flint causes. His first EP Cheaper Than Therapy had all of its profits given to a friend whose house had burned down. Baggage’s second EP The Good That Never Comes dedicated all of its profits to Bethel United Methodist Church, which provided individuals affected by the water crisis bottled water and toiletries.
In 2015, The Swellers called it quits and Diener moved onto his life-long love of comics, continuing his passion for storytelling. Never having made a comic before, Diener buckled down and rallied some friends into teams of Flint writers and artists with firm deadlines to reach his goal.
The result of this new venture was A Comic for Flint: HOPE, released in 2019. A Comic for Flint contains various short storiesRanging from a focus on new love to monsters' conversation, each story is unique but also focuses on the hope theme. all themed with the idea of hope and getting through struggle. Published by Source Point Press with national distribution, all proceeds of the comic were provided to The Compass, a program of Michigan Community Services Inc. that helps adults with disabilities.
Related story: New comic book anthology focuses on 'Hope' in Flint
“There's been a lot of focus on kids especially with all the Water Crisis stuff, I felt like [adults with disabilities] was one kind of untapped thing,” said Diener.
In 2020, Diener still has a lot on his plate. Just in Flint alone, he is writing for a Flint paper and doing marketing for two different businesses.
“I am currently writing articles for the Flint DDA, I am doing marketing and social media for Foster Coffee. I am now the head of marketing for a company called Cell Core Creative, and that's like my main ‘job-job’ now,” said Diener.
With almost five different careers happening simultaneously, plus getting married in the near future, an average person’s head might explode from the constant grinding and work. How does one find the time to just sit down and relax? Diener’s solution is simple: scheduling.
“I started scheduling relax time instead of scheduling work time, and that's the best way I can describe it,” said Diener. “The reminders app in my phone has been my life source. So, I will write everything from like, I have an 8 a.m. meeting in Clarkston, I have this, I have this. But then I’ll write, ‘read a comic you idiot.’ And I write that in my phone, and at 10 p.m. it shows up, and I go ‘okay’ and I turn my laptop off … a lot of it is the discipline of understanding, I have to prioritize every single thing I do.”
In the next few months, Diener will be tabling for Chicago's C2e2, a pop culture entertainment expo. Locally, he will be hosting Comics, Coffee & Conversation event on March 21 held at Fosters Coffee Co. dowtown. His current main musical project Baggage is also making a stop at the Flint Local 432 on Saturday, May 9.