It was humbling to interview Erik. Not only is he passionate about his artwork and creating new ideas, he also shows passion about ideals he believes in. His decisions and thoughts are meaningful and important to him. He also showed time and again how he was willing to help others, and was honest and proud of the times he allowed others to help him. I hope those traits show in from this transcribed interview with Erik.
After introducing myself, the initial question from Erik was whether or not he could swear during the interview. After chuckling a bit, I told him to please be comfortable during the interview. I guess I didn’t do a great job at helping him feel like he could use profanity because he really didn’t swear often.
Q: What is your earliest memory of creating something?
A: I was about 5… 6 something like that. I was in first grade, and we were living in an area in Puerto Rico in this neighborhood called Shanghai. It sucked. That’s why it was called Shanghai. It was a very poor area. My mom handed me a coloring book and it was the story of the 3 Little Pigs. It was the type of coloring book with bumpy edges. She handed me a box of old crayons… I don’t know where she found them… I tore through it. But by the end of the day, I was asking my mom for another coloring book. I just tore through it. My mom was so cheap. She said, “Why don’t you draw your own story of the three little pigs? And then you can have your own coloring book.” And then that was that. That was the first time I was making my own stories.
Q: Did you ever experiment with different art forms before you decided to put something on a screen or a piece of paper?
A: Ummm… like play dough. You know usually kiddie stuff when I was in kindergarten. At that time I was making a lot of dinosaurs. More recently though I went to Minneapolis College of Art and Design and there they make you experiment. That’s the only way certain departments are going to get students. Because no one goes for furniture design and no one goes for sculpture… like they’re ridiculous. But, if you do them once, you are going to love them. They are so rewarding. I have done sculptures.
Q: So do you make and sell sculptures now?
A: I am not doing sculptures anymore but I have sold them previously. After that… it requires a lot. When you do metal work or woodwork, it requires so much. I decided I could do one or the other but I am not going to both. So I stopped doing that. But I do have a lot fine art that I show in galleries. I like to think that my work with Brad is my day job. My real job is making comic books. Brad has published my comics, which was great. But I also paint a lot of portraits of dead poets… the most pretentious thing that you could ever say…
Q: Which dead poet painting is you favorite?
A: Federico García Lorca. He was a Spanish poet. He was a leader in the communist party in Spain before the civil war against Franco. He was immensely gay and he was immensely talented. And he started fighting Franco. If you know anything about Franco… he made Hitler and Stalin tremble in their little booties. He was a fascist. Anyways… he got into war of wards with. And he one day appeared dead and kicked stared the Spanish war. Federico has a lot of poetry.
Q: What are you doing right now to support your fine art?
A: When you’re a fine artist you have to be vulnerable. I had a really bad time about 6 years ago. So I went and started hanging out with the punk rockers in Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a strong and thriving punk rock community. And I started to decide to become friends with them because I like their work ethic. Basically they don’t care what anyone thinks. They don’t care about the money; they don’t care if people listen to them. They just care that they have something to say. So I kind of tried to imitate them and learn from them. I wanted everything to be more important. I experimented with that for 3 or 4 years, and I lost my clients. Previously I had only worked for money. And when you loose all your clients you have a big problem. Basically I tried living more artistically and everything, and that’s when I wrote the Red Calaveras.
Q: Tell me more about the Red Calaveras? What is that about?
A: It’s really funny because Brad told me, “Hey, I will print your comic.” And I was like, “perfect!” And… the thing is, he said that sight unseen. (we pause and laugh a little here) And when he read it… I wrote it for myself. And I was very straight forward on it. Two things you should not do when you are writing. The book is very disjointed and rambles on. I am editing it now so that it’s less rambling. Well, anyways, when he read it he said,
“Erik, this is filthy. This book is vulgar.”
And I asked, “What do you mean by vulgar?”
He said, “You used the word F*** three times in one sentence.”
And I said, “Yeah, that’s how people speak.”
And he was like, “Who speaks like that?!”
“Your customers speak like that.”
“No! My customers don’t speak like that!”
I said, “No your customers and my customers speak like that! Your fan base is my fan base. Believe me they all talk like that.”
Well he kept saying no, so I am kind of fixing it now. It’s a little bit over the top.
Q: So do you agree that there should be less F bombs in your writing? Or you do think you can keep throwing it around?
A: I think I can keep throwing it around, but I need to know how to throw it around. In the daily life, you know, it’s another word and a comment. But the problem is that saying it is not the same as writing it. Basically, it closes a lot of doors. American audiences are very, very particular. I was watching Vice in Spain and they were having an interview with those people in Spain, and they swore in levels that I was jealous of… they have no censorship. The United States is such a weird animal because you can show as much violence as you want. I had this publisher… I know I am rambling a lot…
Q: No! It’s great. This is you. It’s interesting to hear about your opinions. What did your publisher say?
A: I had this publisher… I have a horror book, it was more of a physiological thriller. At the last part there is a psychotic gold digger who kills her husband and children. This lady is training to be an Angel of Death. Anyways… I never show anything. She’s never seen killing anyone and you only show shadows. At one part she is contemplating her various knives and thinks of the way she has made men “s@$% themselves.” And my publisher said, “I can’t publish it.” And I was like I know it’s dark and harsh… and he said, “No! I cannot publish this with the word, “shit.” (pause for some laughter)
Q: Yeah that is really true between movies that are rated PG-13 verses rated R. PG-13 movies show a lot of violence, but a couple F bombs make it rated R. Following up with the initial question though, what else are you working on other than Colorworld?
A: I work for them and I have two other clients. When you are a freelancer, you need three medium sized clients just to survive in a normal way, so that you can have a steady income. This allows me time to make my comics and paintings.
Q: After looking at your website for the Red Calaveras, are you working with a group of artists on that comic?
A: I have multiple assistants on that one. The main person was my friend good friend. He started as my assistant and became an art partner because he became so good. He’s dealing with a lot of stuff right now so he’s not working with me currently, but he’s an amazing artist. I have a lot of people who help me. I have a very strong discipline when I work. I work like a professional, and a lot of comic artists around here don’t. I believe that an important part of being an artist is being disciplined. A lot of artists don’t come from artist families so then they don’t know how to manage it.
Q: Your family is artistic then?
A: My father was in painting restoration and a college professor. He taught art. My eldest sister was a Flamingo dancer in Spain. My youngest sister is an amazing painter and is working to be a college professor. My aunt is a pianist, and members of my family own art galleries. One of my uncle’s is a skilled painter. So when I said I am going to be an artist, no one batted an eye. They were like, “Well, yeah, you are gonna be an artist.” My father’s side were all artists, engineers, or boxers.
Q: Boxers? That is very different from an artist or engineer. (both stop to laugh)
A: Yeah it’s kind of three sides of a triangle.
Q: But sometimes engineers can be artists. I guess it depends on what they are doing.
A: I went to school for engineering at one point… I wanted to lie to myself… (even though I wanted to stop to laugh, Erik very seriously kept going). When I first went to school, my mother said, “Why don’t you try something different.” And I tried engineering… and I sucked at it. Not so much in the math part. I really liked the math and hard sciences, but the social part sucked so much. I hated it. Socializing with engineers were terrible people.
Q: How were they terrible? Terrible like they couldn’t communicate or terrible as in they did bad things to others?
A: Umm… I had this friend… when I wanted to change to plastic art… plastic art is like screen printing but on steroids. That was the thing that they had in Puerto Rico. When I told my friends they were like, “oh, you’re gonna starve, you are going to flip burgers!” And the thing is, 10 years later, most of them were either stay at home moms (because they couldn’t find jobs), or working the floor of target (and he was summa cum laude). Yeah… And three of them hate their work. Also one was a Christian working for Raytheon building Tomahawk missiles. How can you be Christian and work for Raytheon? If there’s someone who’s evil it’s Raytheon. People who make bombs smarter, they have a special place in hell. I don’t care for who they are making them…
So those people had no passion for engineering. An engineer is someone who fixes problems. And they had no passion for anything… and it pissed me off to no end. My grandfather was an engineer in hydraulics and power stations. He loved making power stations. And ten years later I was working as a comic artist… so I’m pretty sure I won.
Q: It sounds like you were pretty passionate about art. Were there specific things that drew you to the art?
A: Everyone knew I was going to be artist. Some people have a hobby… I drew. Some people would play sports… I drew. Some people would go out and do stuff… I drew. It made me popular and be able to meet people. I would do graffiti and everyone would loose it. My teachers would be like, “He’s artistic,” and they would celebrate me drawing on the wall. Everyone was always very supportive. A lot of artists say it was so hard from society… I didn’t. The people all around me were always proud of me. I remember I had a physics teacher in high school, and I drew Wolverine outside of her classroom. It was really good… and she was very angry and wanted it gone. But the principal really liked it and wanted to compliment the artist. So then the teacher turned her class into the science behind X-Men. The class became very fun.
Q: That sounds amazing and totally different than my high school, and you inspired her whole curriculum!
A: I think she did it out of spite. (we both laugh at this comment)
Q: Well it still was fun!
A: The thing is, when you’re an artist there’s something inside of you that wants to come out. It’s very similar to being a mom. Literally you start thinking about something and then that idea starts growing. It could minutes, or it could years. And then one day it says, I’m coming out! It fights it way out. Sometimes it comes out easy, and sometimes it comes out hard, and sometimes you need someone to help catch it as it comes out… out of your chest… like an alien… and destroys everything with blood and gore… and it happens with all artists. Sometimes they don’t know that’s happening, but it’s happening to them.
(I let Erik go on this tangent because I am enthralled to see where he’s going.)
Artists are creators. We have the power of creation inside of us. Actually all humans have the ability for creation. I am sorry I am going Biblical here, I am not a religious person, but in the Bible (or any Abrahamic religious text) God said he created man or humans in his image. It wasn’t that we looked like him, it’s that we have the power to create… and we do all day. Every one of us creates.
Q: What about your fan base? Do you feel like your fan base is supportive, or do you have a supportive fan base?
A: I have fans. I don’t have as many fans as I want, but breaking that is a little hard. Sometimes it feels like it’s a concrete wall and you have a toy hammer. That’s all you have to bring it down. Sometimes you see people and think, “that person sucks, why are they more famous than me…” Obviously they are doing something right, and I am doing something wrong. I never blame others. I only blame myself. I never make excuses. If something is bad with your art, change it.
It’s okay to work on what you want and what makes you happy, and it’s okay to make money. Money is a tool… like a hammer. You don’t say the hammer is evil. It’s a tool. And it’s like using a toy hammer to knock down a concrete wall. If you can make everyone like what you like, then you can make it. Like, Michael Bay. No one likes Michael Bay (I mean someone does), but he makes a lot of money making the movie that he wants. He brings oodles of money. Is that bad? No. He’s doing the right thing. It’s like George Lucas. He made the Star Wars Prequels. Not a lot of people like them, but do you know why I like the prequels? Super easy. He went and did his copyright. He did his thing and made a s*** ton of money on the toys. He wrote the movie he wanted. He shot the movie he wanted. He brought what he wanted. He told his story. When he has no more stories, he goes, turns around sells it to Disney, and then takes a good chunk of the money to education. In Skywalker Ranch, he is building low-income housing. That is not only smart, it is powerful. I did what I wanted, and now I am showing what I am made of. He did what he wanted and he did it the right way. I wish everyone could do that.
So I am trying to find that tipping point. There are many days I wake up saying, “No one likes my work.” This year has been very hard. You go out to local conventions and you don’t sell as much as you expect. It could be that there are no people, or everyone already has your work, or no one wants to pay for your work. But then again, one of my favorite teachers told me, “all painters have to be at least 100 years a head of your time. If they like you when right now, they’ll forget about you later.”
Q: I admit that I have some empathy with this from playing the violin…
A: Oh awesome, I like you better now. I love musical instruments. I play the bass in a punk band.
Q: That’s awesome!!
A: I don’t play the bass. (we both laugh) I like to say it. Whether I do or not is another story.
Q: It’s tough putting yourself out there all the time. Do you feel like it’s tough to meet financial obligations? Are there times where you want to give up?
A: Um-hum (nodding). There’s a lot of times that I could be a studio artist. I could get a job doing something in an office. I could do something and then I could survive. The way I see it, I moved out from the Island, and left my family and friends, my everything, and went to a culture that was different from my own. To speak a language that was not mine. To be surrounded by strangers. So to me it’s not about survival, it’s personal. Like… be an artist or die trying. I sacrifice a lot. It could go the worst way possible and I would be fine with it. If I die tomorrow it would be totally cool. Next time you are wondering about your life, and you think things are so hard, think, “Is your family nearby, are you in your own culture?” Yeah. You’re fine.
Q: It’s so humbling to hear you talk about art and see how passionate you are about it. The sacrifices you have made for it is inspiring. There are very many people in the world who are passionate about something enough to make those huge sacrifices.
A: Oh, there’s a bunch of them… they’re called immigrants. Hang out with a couple of them. They are all going to tell you the same thing. And I am technically not an immigrant, but we’re Americans with our own culture and identity.
Q: That’s true. Most immigrants are here from those sacrifices, and it’s always a humbling reminder. (After a quick water break we come back) Do you feel like art for Colorworld adds or detracts from your creativity?
A: Well both. The way I create is by putting everything I have inside into it. I am empty at the end. I am always trying to get stuff inside. The good thing about Colorworld, it gives me a different exposure, and gives me a different frame… it gives you something that you cannot get by yourself. I live in my studio, which is in my basement. I go out for three things, go to the gym, to go to a gallery, or go to a concert. I don’t go out… unless it’s at night. The sun is scary. It’s a way to be able to not be in my head that much. To meet people and see people that are different than me. Sometimes I do not like seeing and dealing with people. I’m a diva. Believe me, ask Brad, I’m super difficult sometimes. But it’s because I expect a lot for everyone. I don’t take excuses from anyone.
Q: You and Brad probably get along well then, correct?
A: Very much so. We get very much along. He is very disciplined and very forgiving. He is way more forgiving than I am.
Q: What was your first experience with Brad and Rachel or when did you meet them?
A: About 3 or 4 years ago in Madison, Wisconsin. We had a table and I was hanging out with my friend Allen. We wrote a comic together. And my friend big Kevin was with us. It was a giant flop… it was just terrible. There was not a whole lot of people. No one was walking our way. And then there was this woman, and this random guy, and a bunch of annoying children. And I was like, “Who are these people?”
Q: Those annoying children?! (we both stop and laugh)
A: Yes, I will tell them to their faces. Especially Iyov. I don’t really know how to say his name so I call him kiosk. I love that kid. We are super friends. And the little one… uh… I call her Cosette from Les Mis. I am always trying to get her to quote Les Mis to me…
A: Yeah, you mean Keshet. Haha… How’s that going?
Q: Oh bad, badly. She doesn’t want to. She knows there’s something weird there. And I offer her candy and everything. And she doesn’t want to quote Les Mis once. I can’t wait for her to be older and discover Les Mis, and I hope that she likes it. And my dream is to walk around and have a Jean Valjean and Cosette moment.
Q: I love Les Mis so I support that. I will put in a good word for you.
A: Thanks. Yeah, and when Rachel cut her hair, I was like, “It’s just like Fantine.” I was like she’s going to be busting out I had a dream.
Q: So you saw their table and a bunch of annoying kids, and you wanted to check it out. What happened next?
A: Yeah… so I decided previously that I wanted to be more social able with comic artists. I had a lot of points of contention with other comic artists… due to personal problems and a bunch of drama. I decided, “I am going to go meet people, because you never know…”
So when I went over there to talk, and I thought that Rachel and Brad looked alike. I thought they were siblings. It never occurred to me that they were married. I thought, “Why do siblings have this many children…” It never occurred to me that they were married. Rachel told me about Colorworld and for some reason, the way she explained it to me, it reminded me of the Dark Tower (By Stephen King).
Q: Ohhh… I just barely started that series! I can see how you could get those ideas intertwined.
A: Yeah… I wasn’t paying that close attention because I was looking at the kids. So I thought she was explaining something like the Dark Tower, and it was funny. Eventually we talked. We had really bad communication at first. I don’t think they had ever talked to someone with my kind of accent. And you know they were just starting… it was only their second convention.
Q: You met them at the very beginning?
A: Oh yeah. Eventually I found out they were having a hard time getting to New York. And they were really broke. I called Brad and I said, “Here’s my portfolio. Use it however you want. Use that money to fix your RV. Later you can deal with paying me. But this weekend use that work to make money for yourselves.”
Q: That was so amazing that you did that for them. What motivated you to do that?
A: They were in really hard place.
Q: But there’s a lot of people in a hard place. That was extremely selfless that you just decided to help them over others.
A: I have been in a lot hard spots. And what a lot of people don’t have, that I have, are patrons. I have friends who have a lot of money, and if they have to give me a couple thousand dollars here and there to allow me to be an artist, they just do it. I think that I wanted to pass it on. People helped me, and I should help others. I have had many friends who have allowed me to move into their houses. These friends did not charge me anything. I lot of people have helped me achieve… so… why not help someone else?
Q: Did you give them your own unique paintings to sell?
A: Yeah I did. Eventually I started working for them and creating artwork specifically for them. I started doing commission work for them about a year later.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I recently pitched an editor three different ideas, and he didn’t like any of the ideas. They were all too safe. So I came up with an idea for a comic called Sophia October Goes for Hire. It’s about a girl, she is a Goth, and she is for hire. She can fix your paranormal problems. She does not only solve them, she fixes them. For example, a person died and he is afraid that his family has no money. Then she is called to remove the ghost and she gets paid. Only then she splits the money with the ghost’s family.
Well my next few weeks I am just working on Brad and Rachel. (after I ask why) I am illustrating Dreamworld for them.
Q: Have you read all the books?
A: Yes. I am a really bad reader. In English I am a really bad reader. Especially with puns… English as a second language… don’t tell me jokes that are clever and “punny.”
Q: How is it to creating illustration without set guidelines?
A: It’s annoying! You know they have a list of things that they would like to see… but it’s hard to make that art. Usually most clients have some specifics. They have some ideas about different things that they had visualized in their heads. Rachel wants me to, instead of bringing her vision, to bring my own… to make the book mine. When you get the book, while what you hear is her words, what you see will be my thoughts.
Q: You’ve talked about working with Rachel. How is it working with Brad and receiving feedback on artwork?
A: Brad is always coming up with a new plan. If someone can do it is brad. He is a very giving person and works hard to achieve his (and everybody else’s) goals. I can tell when a person is going places… and Brad is going places.
Q: Okay, last question… are you Team Brad or Team Rachel?
A: Definitely Team Rachel. I prefer working with Brad, but I like Rachel’s personality. Rachel is hilarious, I never know what she is going to say about anything… and how she is going to react either. She is always an adventure.