Friday, February 8, 2008

Cream City Conversations with AREX

Well, it's been a while. These 'conversations' have been great. I'm still waiting for others which may not even make it back to me. In the meantime, I thought I'd do something I was holding off on until I was ready to move on to next stage of 'conversations'. I'm gonna put myself in the hot seat.

Take it away, freakboy...

CCC: For those who don't know, Name and location?

Amado 'AREX' Rodriguez, Cream City WI... I'm known to change my pen name a lot, though.

CCC: How did you become interested in creating comics?

The earliest memory I have is my mother buying me a Marvel Annual with this cool Hulk versus Spider-man story in it. I'm not claiming it was then I knew I wanted to create comics but it certainly got me ultra-interested in them.

I became interested in creating comics in a roundabout sorta way, actually. I had this crummy job... but I worked with some pretty cool people. A lot of them were absolutely hilarious and I'd goof around... draw comic strips starring the lot. I guess that was in... oh... 1995 or 1996.

I can recall the time clearly 'cos Nirvana was still the biggest band in the world... even after Cobain passed away and Oasis was claiming to be the next in line. It was a great time to be into music. People say the '90s were like the '60s but they were like... the '90s. The underground was getting it's second or third wind.

I remember, at about the same time, there was a comic that'd been out for a little while called The Maxx. It blew me away... I'd taken a long hiatus from comic book reading. I probably thought I'd grown out of them. But there was no "too old" for reading The Maxx.

From the moment I read... I guess it was... erm... issue 5 or 6, I dreamt of being able to create something that impactful. No painting I'd ever put on canvas even came close to the power one panel of The Maxx held. I wanted to be a part of whatever creative movement was responsible for that level of vigor.

Thinking back, I need to give partial credit to my 7th and 8th grade art teacher, Carl Evans. He made me reproduce Frazetta paintings and encouraged me to look to illustration as the future of fine art. Hat off to you, Mister Evans. You had it pegged.

CCC: What was your first published work? Did you self-publish that work?

Actually, my first published work was in the fan pages of The Maxx. Sam Kieth was kind enough to print the doodles I'd included in the fan mail I sent him. I just couldn't contain myself. I feel like a total geek repeating this story but that's the power of comics. The artform is so damn free the creator can imbue the books with that much force. I felt compelled to write those letters!

CCC: If you self-publish, what do you gain from that experience?

I love self-publishing. I love the freedom it offers. No one to advise you to write/draw more marketable... that reminds me... check out Tom Hart's Unmarketable ogns. They're great. Anyway... yeah... it's about the freedom, for me. If the book is a success, it's due to what you chose to do with that freedom.

By the way... I've been meaning to drop out of the comics game for years now. Yeah... I've wanted to jump back into painting really bad. But something about these funnybooks won't let me go. Every once in a while I set time aside to complete a few paintings... some as commissions and others as gifts.

CCC: If you've been published by other publishers, compare the experience to self-publishing.

I've had my work published by Image (just those doodles in The Maxx and a pin-up in Mahfood's Grrl Scouts: Work Sucks) and Radio Comix. The Radio Comix gig was called Mangaphile. I think I made 2 issues of that. In every case, there was no Editor telling me what to do. If I impressed, they published. End of story. Not much different than how I judge my artwork for my self-publishing. I've also done work for a Young American Comics anthology.

CCC: Give us a list of your published works (self-published or otherwise)?

*The Maxx. Thanks, Sam. I appreciate you digging those doodles. 1995.

*Stratejo (with Jerod Luening). I also inked for another artist (at the time) but that's work I'd rather not mention. 1998-1999.

*Psyberverse which was a mini-comic anthology I did (solo) with three different stories... one of which was the second version of The Goon Squad. 1999.

*Host which was a book I did with a couple Milwaukee cats... one of which being the talented and funny Jerod Luening. The theme of that one was angels. I didn't come up with the concept but I thought it was a cool collection of pin-ups. 1999-2000.

*Radio Comix: Mangaphile. I believe that was issues 14 and 15. 1999.

*Cream City Comics: Inkblot anthology. 2002-2003.

*Cream City Comics: Corrupted Data anthology. 2002-2003.

*Grrl Scouts: Work Sucks. Yep... the 40 oz joint. 2003.

*One Wizard Place. I provided the illustrations for this download-only novel. I also co-wrote and illustrated a Super Depressed Girl novel which I never released. Thanks to Gabe for coloring those images. 2003

*Pulpo. This is an awesome anthology published by two brilliant cats out of Chitown, known as Galvo & Toast. 2004.

*I also co-wrote and illustrated an as-of-yet unpublished graphic novel called Super Depressed Girl during this time but I became blah on the book when people started hitting me up with money talk. I can't create under that kinda pressure. I like to create for the joy of creating. "Do what you love and the money will follow." The only reason I'm mentioning this sucker is 'cos some of the pages were used in Muscles & Fights volume 1. 2004.

*Element X Studios: Atomic. This is a really cool artbook with some of, in my opinion, the best artists you've never heard or read about... unless you follow Ain't It Cool News' Indie Jones section. 2005.

*Diary Of An Apprentice. Jennifer Young was kind enough to ask me to produce a pin-up and afterword for, I think, volume 4 or 5 of her amazing illustrated diaries. She's such a cool and talented person. 2007.

*Muscles & Fights volumes 1-3. This is a cool anthology I publish with Bud Burgy. We've a spin-off, Muscles & Frights, already in the works. 2007-2008.

*Young American Comics: small town/BIG CITY. They still haven't sent me my copies of this anthology. It's a great looking book, though. And YAC are some cool people. 2007.

*Alleycat: Cats On Bikes With Ninjas. This anthology has been mentioned several times but I'd like to add it's a testament to the spiritual nature of this artform. I came to know just how inspirational the subject, Eric, of the book is by what was done to make sure it held up to his level of exellence. 2007.

*Cream City Comics: Heavee Underground. "Consider Yourselves Warned!" 2007.

*Of course, I've created loads of mini-comics and whatnot. I've inked for a few artists but I can't be arsed to list all that stuff. I think that about does it. Whatever I've been foolhardy enough to omit can be lumped into this last listing. Each of those projects is just as important to me, though. At the time I gave it what I had.

*There's a book... an anthology... I saw recently which had some old work I'd inked credited to another artist. The same publisher reprinted a story I'd inked AND published years ago and credited it to AREX. AREX did not create that work. AR... or ARJR... or ROD... or whatever name I was using back then did. AREX hadn't been born when that work was produced. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear that up... for the record.

CCC: Describe the art scene where you live. If you've lived elsewhere and were producing art there, compare those scenes.

I'm from Milwau... Cream City. The scene is scattered here. I mean, you have all these cool groups of artists but they're segregated into gallery and art collectives... which aren't really collective at all. It's like a bunch of small cliques... which is too band 'cos if they'd all organize they could exact more change in the local scene. I give credit to everybody gutsy enough to tread the harsh terrain of the Midwest with art... it's a lonely journey, indeed. Too many people concerned with being cool... or trendy... or punk... or whatever is keeping them from getting together with other pockets of artists. It frustrates the tar outta me.

I'm really envious of what the Twin Cities have going on.

But... there are newer groups like MARN and AWE getting it together in Cream City. It's looking good for the future. Check out the links for MARN and AWE to see just how brilliant they are.

CCC: Do you belong to any online or 'real world' art groups? If so, list them and describe what that/those group/s benefit you.

'Real World'? The International Cartoonists Conspiracy which other 'conversations' have mentioned. They're awesome and I can hardly wait for Kevin McCarthy to move here so we can get the Cream City cell going.

There's also Artists Working in Education. I've just signed on with them to teach students how to create superheroes. I'll chalk Muscles & Fights up as being the training ground for this. I'd like to go into that more but I'll save it for another time.

CCC: What is your ultimate or immediate goal in creating comics?

I'm gonna come off as a pretentious idiot here but I'm also interviewing myself so... WHO CARES?

I hope I touch people through the comics I create.... even if what they feel is the urge to break my hands... just take me out. Have that!

CCC: What do you think is lacking from the underground art scene? If you had the power, what would you do to address that void?

Two things, actually. Self-belief and organization. The underground art scene's been around since, pretty much, the dawn of comics and it's still scattered. When are we gonna pull our heads out of our... erm... anyway... get it together so we can all benefit equally based on what we invest? And I'm not simply talking currency. Y'know?

CCC: Do you blog? MySpace? ComicSpace? If so, what kinds of things do you communicate through it and what is your ultimate goal in using that site?

This is my blog. I set it up to do rather than wish. I hope it's inspiring other people to take similar action. Cats like Danno and Stwalley are amazing. They continue to fill me with pride in the artform.

I don't MySpace... that monster can easily suck your time. I only learned of ComicSpace recently. I haven't heard anything about it positive enough to interest me in signing on. I guess it's another hit on a search engine, though. And that's not a bad thing... at all.

I'm not the big 'techie' type. So, If I'm gonna use the internet for art... it's gonna be to... I dunno... further my personal mission in regards to what I'd like to see done. This blog is a perfect example of what I've just stated.

CCC: Do you read any other creators' blogs? If so, what do you think of them?

I don't keep up with blogs religiously but I read them. I like a lot of the illustrated diary-type stuff. I think the people responsible for those things are some of the bravest artists ever. It takes a lotta guts to put yourself out there like that.

CCC: What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Y'know... I love history and philosophy... especially, the Far East variety. I don't read enough of it but I love it. I also love reading about artists I admire from, pretty much, every discipline. I also love slice-of-life comics... some of that stuff is something to aspire to.

CCC: What kinds of standards and/or expectations do you place on a comics purchase?

Knock my socks off, baby! Don't regurgitate something I've seen a million times before. I wanna see something I put down and wish I'd come up with. In fact, the best stuff fills me with the urge to break the hands of the creator... just take him or her out. Ring familiar?

CCC: What is your favorite indie publisher?

There are a couple and if you check out my publisher links you'll find them all there. Fantagraphics, AdHouse, Top Shelf, AiT/Planet Lar and FirstSecond have me the most stoked about the future of the industry, though. They're treatment of the artform is topnotch. You'd never see a Marvel or a DC give relative no-name creators the fine treatment these indie houses offer as a standard mode of operation. I also think Muscles & Fights Press rocks!

CCC: Who is your favorite creator/writer/illustrator?

They're in my heroes links.

CCC: Give us a short list of indie creators you believe are sort of shaping the future of comics (indie and/or mainstream)?

This list is always gonna be different depending on who's putting it together... another testament to the breadth of the artform. But what I really think is, every creator putting work together and making an actual honest effort to have that work seen by others is shaping the furture of comics. If you're trying something different or doing the same old crap someone else did before you... you're shaping the future of comics.

If you're a creator and you're reading this and you still don't feel an obligation to yourself...

CCC: If you could change one thing about the modern comics 'industry' what would it be?

Romance, monsters, crime, etc comics came first. The indies are the DIRECT and LEGITIMATE offspring of the original comics. If anything, the superheroes are the bastard offspring. If the indies can get together as a COMMUNITY there's no end to the audiences they can reach.

CCC: Give a shout out to any site and/or underground comic you think people ought to be checking into.

Check out my links... seriously. Take the time out to explore every one of them. And put aside the time to explore the links on the sites my links take you to. You'll be amazed at what you find.

Before I log-off, I wanna share a couple quotes with you...

"The future of comics is in the past." - Art Spiegelman

"Knowing is not enough... We must apply.
Willing is not enough... We must do." - Bruce Lee

That's it. I'm signing off for the weekend. Take care of yourselves and love one another.