Anthony, tell us a little about yourself – your background, your influences, your goals...
I'm originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, but I eventually moved to Minneapolis to attend MCAD (Minnesota College of Art and Design). After graduating I moved to New York City. I always drew a lot when I was young. It was the demon bear saga New Mutants by Bill Sienkiewicz that got me hooked on comics – that's when I really knew I wanted to be involved with comics. By time I entered high school I was full into being cool and hanging out. That's when I discovered some graffiti in this back alley and everything changed. Painting freight trains under bridges and in abandoned buildings was everything. Minneapolis had a dope little scene, a lot of different styles were being created in the city, so I wrapped myself up with the whole scene. My influences range from cats like Doze Green and Robert Williams to Todd McFarlane and Robert McGinnis to name a few. I hope to crack a mere fraction of what they have accomplished. I aim to keep testing and pushing myself as a creative, to learn something new, whether it be animation or some new software or traditional technique.
How long have you been working as a professional illustrator? Have you ever been employed full-time or do you move project to project?
I've been working as an illustrator for about ten years. It's gig to gig, project to project, some small and some large. It's a juggling act, that for sure. When I first moved to New York, I actually worked as homeless outreach social worker. That experience taught me a lot, and over the years I did a little bit everything to make rent – frame shop worker, after school art teacher, art handler… all jobs somehow relative to art. Once I started to gain more freelance work I made the leap to full time.
At what age did you realize illustration was what you wanted to do?
I've always wanted to be an artist since I was kid. My pops was into comics, so it was always around. I had Spider-Man birthday parties, so the influence was always there. I suppose the earliest memories I can recall were from second grade. I drew this big picture of the space shuttle launching and my teacher was so impressed that she had me show it to the other class. I remember standing there thinking about NASA while all the other kids where like Wow! I recall the teacher saying, "Well we all know what you wanna be when you grow up." I responded with such enthusiasm, "Yeah, an astronaut!" and the teacher was like, "Um, no. You're going to be an artist. Astronauts have to be good at math." My heart was crushed, yet risen up at the same time. I still dream about being an astronaut, but I simply express that dream through art and storytelling.
I see an urban influence in much of your work, and you have mentioned street graffiti as an influence on your style… Is this a byproduct of living in New York? If so, how has the hustle and bustle of city life affected you as an illustrator?
We had our own graffiti scene growing up in the Midwest. As I mentioned, we painted under bridges, abandoned buildings and freight trains, which are now all painted like the old 70's subways. It was a great scene. We did a few legal walls, the bomb shelter and intermedia arts building, which was a non-profit organization that supported alternative arts. They basically let us paint on their back wall. I had one of my first art shows there and I am still friends with the director who supported graffiti art. I rolled with crew members from all across the country… L.A., Chicago, Atlanta… We would trade flicks and share sketchbooks. We still have painting reunions and go to graffiti events like Paint Lewis and Scribble Jam. After moving to New York, I did less graffiti and focused more on being a professional illustrator. I still find urban decay as an aesthetic reference in everything, from an abandoned barn in the middle of a cornfield to an old freight elevator in midtown Manhattan.
Featured with this interview are a few of your top illustrations. Why are these particular images so special and what is your thought process while creating them? Are there any subliminal messages?
I think the griminess of some of these illustrations is something I've been trying to capture. I hope to convey a story, so the viewers can think for themselves and bring them to another place. I don't know, I still have a way to go honing my work out to a degree. I'm either trying to capture an eerie mood or simply demonstrate full-on colorful and energetic action. Atmosphere and attitude are two things I really try to consider with some of these illustrations. Secret messages? Well that's for me know and you to find out.
When a client recommends an idea, are you at the mercy of their vision, or do you provide variables on their concept?
It depends on the client. You tend to know by their tone during the meeting or briefing whether they want you to stick their concept or if they simply want you to let it loose. Being open minded and flexible to other creatives is key.
Who are some notable artists or mentors that have inspired you? What does their work represent to you?
Henry Ossawa Tanner is a big deal to me, his paintings are remarkable. It's the struggle he endured as a painter which inspires me. It taught me what an artist is up against even in the liberal fine arts world. There is a ton of prejudice and ignorance that one has to remain strong against. His concepts and work really resonate with me. I still look to his work for inspiration.
What methods do you use to create the final appearance of your illustrations? Do you start with paper and pen, or do you work straight from digital?
Always paper and a pencil first, starting out with small scribbles and doodles and working my way up. I scan that in, readjust the size, draw in the proper perspective and add additional details. Depending on the project, I would either ink it digitally or print it out in blue line on Bristol board. For programs I primarily use Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. With traditional illustration I use all kinds of inks like Dr. Martin's Bombay Black, brush pens, microns, and Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes.
I've noticed a lot of Marvel influence, such as some killer renditions of Spawn and Venom. Have you ever worked directly in the Marvel universe?
Marvel would be a dream to work for. They're on my bucket list of clients. My work may not be a fit, but who knows... perhaps one day I could see my work in one of their comic books. Marvel has had a huge influence on what I do as an artist. I even had an internship there before moving to New York. When I step back, I know for sure that Todd McFarlane has been an even bigger influence. His artwork is what I study and frequently reference as an artist, as well as his work ethic and attitude towards business. He has a good head about the industry. I love his positive attitude about life, family and friends.
I noticed a lot of horror in your work. Does this imply that you are a fan of the genre?
OMG, yes! Supernatural horror is my jam. When I was a kid I used to be afraid of everything. My little bro loved scary movies like Friday the 13th and Twilight Zone. I would cover my eyes, but one summer my pops took us to see Aliens and for some reason – we had no idea what we were about to see – I couldn't look away as I was so engulfed and amazed. I seriously thought it was another Star Wars movie. Ever since then I couldn't get enough of the creepy and darkness genre.
There is an extensive collection of ghoulish faces on your website. How do you come up with ideas for such menacing visions?
I was inspired by Inktober. I missed it last year, but for the month of November I challenged myself to draw a creepy head every day for a month. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad I did it. I have crazy dreams dude – my dreams are nuts – so I usually sketch something first thing in the morning. Even if it's something I can't forget I will sketch later in the day.
What are your long-term goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years?
Oh boy… Well I just got engaged, so who knows what will happen going forward. Getting married and starting a family is going to determine how I work, but I hope to keep growing and challenging myself to reach the next level.
What brings you the most satisfaction as an artist?
Being in the midst of creativity, that quiet moment at 3 a.m. where you can only hear distant cars and wind. Even in New York there is that sense of quiet when your brain bubbles between sleep and being awake. The darkness becomes your ally and the flow of thoughts come splashing out from the back of your skull.
As a freelance artist, do you struggle to find consistent work? I can only imagine the competitive nature of the comic industry, so how do you navigate with so many talented illustrators gunning for the same projects?
Oh god yes – it's a crazy hustle. I'm still figuring stuff out. Social media helps big time, but I do feel helpless at times when suddenly a job pops and it's like Oh, that was easy. For me, I keep myself rotating with other creative skills like motion graphics, mural work, graphic design, storyboarding, and other random gigs that keep you afloat. I always have personal projects going. I'm working on my own comic, a few large scale drawings and paintings, stuff that I may or may not show. It doesn't matter as long as I stay busy.
What seems to be the best method you have discovered to promote your services?
Instagram and surprisingly LinkedIn. I used to ignore it, but it has actually landed me a few gigs. Comic conventions also help out big time, but being part of a community has helped me the most. Meeting folks and maintaining relationships is key.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators hoping to make a dent in the comic industry?
I say make your own stuff. Make your own comic or write your own comic. Make your own animations… Do a kickstarter. Read every online article about breaking in to the business and listen to every podcast. There is so much free information.
Anything you would like to include about yourself? Feel free to elaborate:
I have cat named Hobbes. I love waffles and pumpkin pie. I miss Minnesota but I don't miss living in Minnesota… Brooklyn is home now, but it's not really home. And I would like to say Thank You for doing this and sharing what I do – it's much appreciated!