Richard Serrao finally speaks in a monster-sized interview

By Jason Thibault

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Rich for 14 years now. I met him back in 1994 when I was living in Montreal. After moving out to Vancouver we stayed in contact and eventually formed Optimum Wound Comics as a dual-city publishing unit and built it up on the back of his forthcoming book Memento Mori. He’s been a silent partner throughout most of the last three years. That ends today. Here’s a 3000-word interview that we conducted in June.

First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.

Well my first work that got published even though it was more underground than mainstream was a short story called 13 the Hard Way which was published by Vince Brusio in a little crazy underground anthology called Oh Shit and he just told me to do whatever I wanted, no restrictions, go crazy. It was 5 pgs long and I went xxx with how I portrayed a character I created for Silent Scream called Bouncing Betty and it was a homage to all the exploitation flicks that I grew up watching in the 70’s as a kid when I was extremely underaged and shouldn’t even have had access to see any of those movies. It was published in 2000 in a sort of ashcan format and in Silent Scream I’ll expand upon that story and fill in the blanks in the timeline of the character and her story. It was a surreal time for me as I was also being paid to do illustrations for a company that was publishing guide books to every destination possible and had over 1000-1500 pieces of artwork published in a bit over 6 months.

My first work that everyone will see, Memento Mori? Well that happened because my best friend decided he wanted to start a company to publish our own crazy stories and have it be like a boutique publisher and since I already had 42 pgs for MM already done I offered it to him and it started online basically putting the company’s name out there for everyone to see. I did another 38 pgs to finish the first volume, but I never planned on adding that many pages, it just sort of happened. The story just kept growing and took on a life of its own. In hindsight, I was having a lot of fun working late hours every night and waking up early and going to the gym at 4 am every morning. I wasn’t very careful about staying healthy while putting my body under a lot of stress. It resulted in me getting sick a lot in a relatively short time and always being on some kind of antibiotics. Even though I was sick a lot I still managed to keep updates coming for MM every week. If I had to do it again I’d be way more careful with my health and sleep a bit more and slow down when need be. Make no mistake it was and still is very exciting. It started back in 2006 and I haven’t slowed down since.

Self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)

Self taught for the most part. Had some training in High School and I had an awesome art teacher that totally pushed me to turn in as many pieces as possible and would even grade my year according to those pieces without me even having to take exams. Apart from that I grew up with a Mom that was cool enough to draw anything I wanted and she used to pick up comics for me. She worked right next to a magazine shop that had all of the old comics but were slightly damaged such as X-men 1-30’s or 40’s by Stan and Jack, Giant-size Batman comics, Giant-size Superman, Golden Age Classics super cheap. So every week when she’d pick up books for me, I’d bug her to do drawings of Iron man and Thor et all on cardboard and cut them out (this was in the early 70’s and I was around 5-6 yrs old) so I could have a slugfest of my own. I remember looking at her drawing and being wowed at how good she was and thinking I’d like to do that someday. Since then I’ve tried to pick up anything that had interviews, tutorials by some of the artists I like and even now I still do that as much as my budget allows .

Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?

Favorite tools — Well on my drawing table you’ll find a 102 Hunt’s crow quill nib in a holder, this is used for tiny detail work but I have to be careful how I use it as it sometimes shreds or bites into my boards. I have somewhere between 20-30 brushes of all sizes that I bought very cheap for filling in blank spaces with black quickly to save time. I also used a .25 technical pen (whichever brand is cheapest at the time) but have since started using a cheaper version that I throw away every time it runs out of ink. Last but by no means least are the technical pens I use the most, made in Japan. They’re called Pigma micron archival ink technical /calligraphy pens in various sizes -1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, so I can have varied line weights easily at my disposal and they dry very quickly which I find very important when trying to get work done fast. They’re made by Sakura Inc. in Japan. Sharpies and the like tend to bleed and any pens that bleed I avoid like the plague. Oh, there are 2 other nibs I use but they are so old that the numbers have been scratched off from use. They’re pretty big and I sometimes use them as they are easy to control and way faster and accurate to use than a brush when I’m tired and my hand /eye coordination might be off.

Favorite brand of ink:

Over the years I’ve tried quite a few types of ink because I tend to use a lot for drawing as most people have often made a comment that I must go through a lot of ink fairly fast and yes I do, but I pick up the industrial sized bottles so they last a bit longer. Pelican I used for a bit and it was awesome but pricey. Very pricey. There was one kind I bought that I didn’t even know the name of because it was written in Chinese but totally rocked. A little while after I couldn’t find it anymore so I switched over to Speedball and it’s really good for what I do. Have to grab quite a few more bottles and put them in storage for when I need them. One of these days I want to try Koh-i-nor as Jay swears by them. Whatever kind of ink is out there I will pick up if the price is right and I try very hard to be careful how I spend my money on art supplies to get the most bang for my buck. I’m a firm believer in the artist being the most important factor and the supplies being secondary.

Type of paper:

I’ve used so many types. 2 ply, 3ply, all types of brands but after a while all that became unimportant and I started using these huge sheets that I’d buy in bulk from the store and cut them down myself. My buddy Jay also gave me a ton of 3 ply boards that I use whenever I have the chance but they’re a bit heavy when having to send them anywhere so I tend to alternate between the 2 types. I also discovered that watercolor paper holds India ink really well and the pads I buy are 12×18 and I cut them down to 11×17 inches. Each pad has 15 sheets and they only cost about 10-12 dollars, again a factor I find very important but the big seller for me on the watercolor paper was how fast they dried. Almost 2-3 times faster than the regular sheets I used before and they don’t warp from me putting down a lot of black ink on the pages.

Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?

The artists or creators that inspire me most vary from time to time with a few artists being a constant throughout the years that I’ve been improving slowly.

Tim Bradstreet has been a huge influence on how I work. He inspires me constantly to improve. Every time I look at something he has done I’m always blown away and it pushes me to try and create better images for whatever story or project that I’m working on at the time. I’ve been a huge fan of his for quite a few years now. Most of the things that I’ve learned in the last few years has been because of him. He’s a super nice guy while still being a moder legend and above all a pro that has no attitude and is always willing to help another artist. Whenever I lose interest or don’t feel like drawing I just have to look at any of his stuff and BAM, I’m motivated to work. One day I hope to have Mr. Bradstreet do some pin-ups or covers for my Graphic Novels, maybe even work with him in some capacity on a creator-owned project jointly owned by the two of us. One day.

Jim Lee, I always look at what he’s doing at the time and he constantly amazes me with his output and how he lays out his images and panels. Another artist that makes me try and push my limits constantly.

Brian Stelfreeze, an amazing artist, amazing storyteller and without a doubt one of the best artists out there for how he paces a story. The flow of his panels and the angles he uses for a story. I met him once at a convention and was simply blown away by how articulate he was, a pro beyond reproach and an awesome teacher. I spent about an hour talking with him and I literally felt like I had spent a few years drawing at some school catering to sequential art. My head was simply overflowing from all of the information I had absorbed, it was insane. A gentleman and to say I’m a fan of the man is putting it lightly. I hope one day I can be as giving of myself to other artists who ask me questions. A true master of the medium.

Mike Mignola -The man is awesome, every time I look at some of his artwork I learn something new.

Will Eisner -A legend, pure and simple. A true visionary and a giving, humble human being. A master storyteller and artist.

Adam Hughes, Jason Pearson, Danijel Zezelj, Charlie Adlard, Lee Bermejo, Alex Maleev, the list could go on forever. Every artist offers something for me to learn from and inspire me to improve.

Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job? Could you give us a quick overview of your process?

Every job I’ve been given, I’ve approached with the client’s interests in mind and what he or she wanted being the priority. I put aside my ego for the sake of the job. After I’ve worked out the details of how I’m going to proceed I discuss it with the client at length. Once I get the go ahead, I put it together in my head first and if I need to scout locations for backgrounds and models I get going and snap some photos, get the angles down, try to get the lighting just right, weapons if needed, clothes, jackets, whatever. Then the real work begins. Sometimes it can take as little as 4-8 hours to get the piece done. Here’s a good example of a piece I did and it took me about 6-8 hours to complete. I even added stuff into the piece that the client didn’t mention but I knew from what he wanted that it would add a little something extra to the insanity he wanted me to portray. I actually really enjoyed doing this drawing and totally got into what I was doing so much that I wished I could have done more work for him. It was quite a pleasant surprise.

What’s currently sitting in your mp3 / CD player / turntable?

Mp3 player- Almost 400 songs are there and it is a lifesaver in the morning and on the bus and metro. All of them albums ( 1) Within Temptation-The Heart of everything.(2,3) Evanescence -Fallen, Open Door. (4)Rob Zombie -Past, Present and Future (5)Judas Priest-Defenders Of the Faith (6) The Cult – Pure Cult (7) Rammstein-Mutter (8) Misery Loves Company-Self Titled (9,10) Static X-Wisconsin Death Trip, Machine (11) Pink Floyd-The Wall (12) Fergie-Princess(13,14) Disturbed-Sickness, Believe (15) Aerosmith-Big Ones and I know I’m forgetting a few more but you get the idea.
Cd player (Discman) -I seem to be really hooked on a band called Slave to the Square Wave-Self Titled, Within Temptation-Heart of Everything, Soundtrack -Trespass, Soundtrack-(both) The Crow, these are just some of the things I’ve listened to this week while drawing.

What’s hanging on your walls and what is your favorite piece of art that you own (not created by you)?

In my workout/drawing room on the walls I have posters from Baise Moi, Kill Bill volume 2, 28 days later, District 13, Elektra Assassin by Sienkiwiecz, Typhoid Mary by John Van Fleet and Elektra by Moebius. In the hall ways I have 2 awesome prints (that are laminated on wood) they are both signed by Dave Dorman (Sleight of Hand and his famous Judge Dredd holding some serious artillery with I am the Law scrawled on the walls in blood behind Dredd). These two are my favorites though.

Last novel you read and last movie that you saw (that you’d recommend)

Last good movie-John Rambo—Loved, loved, loved this movie. Stallone has always been an idol of mine and it was awesome seeing him do a Rambo flick and not holding back anything. Every single time he was onscreen he dominated the scene even if he wasn’t talking. His presence was so overpowering it was quite something to see. I personally find it rare these days to see an actor have such a strong presence on screen, especially with all of the old icons no longer in films as actors. The scenes where he killed, well, let’s just say that I’ve never seen another human move that fast (and make it look believable), except for Jet Li maybe and let’s not forget Stallone is in his 60’s and he gained quite a few pounds of muscle to do this flick. To say I was in awe of the man and the training he must have put in for this film, well you get the idea…I only wished it was longer and by the end I wanted to watch it again. I know this film comes across as a horror movie but any kind of genocide against any persons be it for religious reasons or where you were born, is more of a real horror show than you or I can even begin to comprehend. He doesn’t downplay any kind of inhumanity in this film and the bad guys are as heinous as you could possibly get…If you like Stallone’s past films, run to your video store and grab this movie and bring it home. Better yet go and buy it. But remember it is not for people with weak stomachs or those easily traumatized. You’ll either love this movie or hate it but you’ll never be bored, like so many so called “action films” that come out these days. His skills as a director have always been solid but with this movie I felt like he added a certain amount of kinetic frenzy that was needed for this type of film. It showed me his growth as a director by taking his craft to a new level.

Last good book – Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite. Beware. Again another salvo of the insanity only Poppy can create to curdle your blood and make you want to have eyes grafted to the back of your head and carry a 44 magnum in your jacket for warmth. She is quite simply a genius in her field and if you want your world to be turned upside down, she’s the girl that can do it for you. Her talent is as scary and disturbing as her novels.

Current and upcoming projects.

Upcoming projects-Silent Scream Graphic Novel which will be starting online soon and I’m also working on Memento Mori volume 2 to follow shortly thereafter. There are also a few others (about 10 ideas I’m playing with right now) that I’m in the various process of fleshing out. Also Men of Cruelty with JayThibault

What would you tell an aspiring artist who is working his ass off but still needs and wants to break through to the next level?

Draw constantly, every single thing you can, no matter how insignificant you might think it is. You just never know when you might need to do it in a story for a publisher. If you get rejected by a company don’t take it personally. Work on your craft, try other companies but never ever give up. If you want something bad enough you might have to make sacrifices but it comes down to that old adage – How bad do you want it and what are you prepared to do to get it? You also have to develop a thick skin to deal with those people that bash any and everything they can because it will happen. Constantly try new techniques, pick up art books, never stop learning. Set goals for yourself, long-term and short term. Take chances.

Stop by Rich’s Myspace page and read 80 pages of Memento Mori.
Previous Masters of Ink:
Dan Mumford
Ryan Jones
Rufus Dayglo
Kody Chamberlain

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