The Offset Past: Design and Comics Interview No. 3
Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find is easily one of the nicest comic shops I have been too. Bright, airy, and everyone is exceedingly nice — a far cry for a jaded New Yorker. Aside from congeniality it is one of the few comic shops that has a Creative Director in its employ, Rico Renzi.
Rico is a color artist, designer, and Creative Director — a jack-of-all-trades and a master of all of them. I admire Rico not only for his ability to create time out of thin air, but also that he is a self made man. Rico cut his design teeth in the back of a band’s tour van and studied in IM windows.
(left to right) Heroes Pop Swap Logo design Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find | Lookit – Cory Walker Sketchbook design published by Cory Walker
His designs are deceptively simple and clean, something that can‘t be taught. His color sense and style is what astounds me. Everything is made over in blues, lime greens, oranges, and red — one can almost hear the sizzle of neon and argon at a Southern-fried punk rock carnival.
Loose Ends #3 | by Jason LaTour, Chris Brunner, & Rico Renzi | published by 12 Gauge Comics
Rico was one of the first friends I spoke to about this project and I knew I wanted to get his take on the world of comics. He has carved his own path — completely different than Rian or Chris, my previous interviewees, and he has worked his way up from back issue longboxes to where he is now. I have to apologize to Rico for my tardiness in getting the interview up, but that is what Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Job position: Comic colorist, designer, & Creative Director
Location: Charlotte, NC
What was your first memorable interaction with comics? Were you a regular consumer of comics or was it an occasional thing?
Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman coloring books are some of my earliest memories. I would color those things all day. Then I saw a Superfriends water-skiing show at Seaworld in Orlando when I was 6 or 7. I was hooked. Batman and Wonder Woman had TV shows that I loved, Spider-Man was on Electric Company every once in a while. That’s the stuff that got me hooked on superhero comics.
(left to right) Coloring book Wonder Woman | Uncomfortable Superman water-skiing w/ friends
Did you get them from a comics shop or from a spinner rack at a grocery store/deli?
When I was little, I would volunteer to walk to the local 7-Eleven to pick stuff up for my grandmom, she’d always slip me a few extra bucks for a Slurpee and a comic. Slurpees, Nehi Peach and spinner rack, that’s where it’s at!
When I was in my early teens, I lived down the street from Geppi’s Comic World, so I’d get my books there. It was generally a pretty depressing shop but it was a shop full of comics, not just a tiny spinner rack so it was a step up I guess. Later, once I could get around a little better, I’d go to great shops like Big Planet in Bethesda, MD.
Was there a character you connected with or aligned with the most? Did it extend to other media? Movies, TV, et cetera…
Batman was always a favorite. I always liked the mere mortal superpeople best. That did carry on into my teens, I remember being sick with anticipation for the Burton Batman movie.
Maggie Chascarillo | by Jaime Hernandez
Maggie from Love and Rockets is the character I feel the most for now. She’s like a friend that I’ve grown up with, we’re both a lot older now but we do OK.
Were you inspired to start creating by these, did you trace the books? Color in them? Something else?
All my coloring books were comic book-based. Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin…I totally traced my comics too. I would take a sheet of tracing paper and find every full body shot of the superfolks and fill up that page.
Were their any other landmark motivators upon your creative development at this young age? Books, family members, et cetera… What was your career arc post high school/secondary school?
I found my uncle’s abandoned Famous Artist’s Course binder when I was 7. That binder held hours of quiet entertainment for me, I remember spending a lot of time trying out the various techniques that were described in there. It also had this great section on drawing animals which was really appealing to a 1st grader.
There was a magnet art program at my high school, I failed out of it, long story. Any technical skills I have, I learned from the F.A.C. binder, and friends. I learned how to use Photoshop and Illustrator IMing questions and screenshots back and for the while working overnight at a Kinko’s while I was in my mid-twenties.
I didn’t have any formal art education after high school. After high school I was in a bunch of bands and ended up doing flyers, logos, CD covers, and t-shirt designs for whatever band I was in and other bands when they asked. I was a display guy at a Tower Records for awhile. The pay was horrible but the perks were nice. Label marketing reps would give you anything they could to get you to create a display for whatever artist they were trying to sell that week.
(l to r) Color Stories designs 1 & 2 Personal brand work | Gojirra vs. Barkley Personal work
I had to quit that job when the band I was in went on a big tour. I kept a sketchbook during that time. I’d always try to figure out ways for us to make money on the road besides just selling t-shirts and CD’s. One time we went to a thrift shop and they had about 30 windbreakers, I talked the manager into giving us bulk discount and bought them all. We bought some thread and needles and spent that day sewing our patches on them, we sold them all that night. OK, I think I’m off on a tangent…alternate routes.
What could you describe as your first break? Can you describe your experience around it and how it steered your career?
I’d say I owe my first break to Chris Brunner and Mark Chiarello. Chris had been assigned a 5 issue run on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and asked that I color the covers. From what I understand this took some convincing. I’m very thankful to Mark for taking a chance on me.
(l to r) Loose Ends #3 by Jason Latour, Chris Brunner, & Rico Renzi – 12 Gauge Comics |
The Perhapanauts #1 Cover by Arthur Adams & Rico Renzi – Image Comics | Static Shock by Chris Brunner & Rico Renzi
Since then I’ve been pretty picky about whose work I’ll color, too picky to color comics full time probably.
How does comics/cartoons/illustration/creative work interact with your day-to-day work?
It’s pretty much comics 24-7 for me for better or worse. I mean — I look around but I’m immersed in comics, working at Heroes, coloring comics, laying out art books for comic artists.
What interests you the most about comics and their place in your world?
I like the purity of comics. One person or a very small team can control every aspect of a book from story to package.
What is your favorite aspect of comics in your life? What makes you sit back and smile about what you are doing?
I just love collaborating with friends and people whose work gets me excited.
(l to r) Key of Z #1 Cover by Nathan Fox & Rico Renzi – published by Boom | Crumb Poster by Chris Brunner & Rico Renzi
Where do you see comics and design heading, what is your personal perspective on the future?
I see a lot of folks stepping up their design and packaging game, actually trying to give their customers an interesting object to hold in their hands. People like Chris Pitzer, Craig Yoe, and Jordan Crane. That’s something we tried to do with Loose Ends.
What advice can you share with younger artists and designers towards their future?
Get yourself ready for opportunities, don’t undervalue your work, and don’t be a pain the ass or no one will want to work with you.
All artwork examples are © Rico Renzi and associated parties. They are used with explicit permission.