Monday, May 10, 2010

Tony Piro - Cartoonist Survey #121

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Astrophysicist and cartoonist Tony Piro was born in San Jose, CA. In 2006 he received his PhD in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He started publishing his webcomic Calamities of Nature online in 2007. It consists of five funny animal characters, Aaron, Alp, Ferdinand, Harold and Raymond, who Tony has been working on since he was 10 years old. Tony covers everything in Calamities of Nature including social commentary, religion and science. Since 2007 Calamities of Nature has been viewed by well over a million people. It is updated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In his “spare time” Tony is a fellow in the astronomy department at the University of California, Berkeley where he does research and teaches. He lives in the Bay area with his wife and two beautiful children. Visit Calamities of Nature here and spend some time going through the archives. There are also some tutorials on his site that are well worth reading; “Making Money from Ads on Your Website”, “Coloring Comics Quickly” and a “Print on Demand Service Review”. Don’t forget to stop by Tony’s Spiffy Studios store where you can get books, prints and t-shirts.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I use a variety of tools for inking. I start with a Winsor Newton Series 7 brush. I use a crow quill for cross-hatching. Then I do the panel borders and lettering with a Copic Multiliner.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I use a standard, non-photo blue pencil.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I color in PhotoShop.

What type of paper do you use?
I use smooth bristol board.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
I hate it when I give myself a scene with way too many characters in a single panel.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I buy most of my supplied from Dick Blick Art Materials, usually at a local store.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Procrastinate. Drink.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
When writing, lettering, and penciling I like it quiet so I can concentrate. When inking and coloring I often listen to podcasts on topics of comics, art, or science.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Cerebus and Dave Sim were hugely influential for me.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Bloom County.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
When I was really little I loved the picture book "The Monster at the End of This Book." Soon after my daughter was born, I bought her a copy so I can share it with her as well.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I flunked my high school AP art test and have never taken an art class since.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Totally a blessing. If it wasn't for the Internet, there's no way I would be doing this. Comic strips are a unique art form in that they easily allow a singular vision expressed by one artist to reach a large number of people. The only thing holding this back was the multitude of gatekeepers (editors, distributors, syndicates, etc.) who would meddle with singular vision. With the Internet, this can now truly be realized.

Did either of your parents draw?

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
My wife Helen. A lot of the time I feel like she believes in me more than I believe in myself.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes, but it often is filled more with scripts than actual sketches.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
No, but that sounds like a fun idea. I would really love delving into the aspects of cartooning that make it such a unique art form.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
If I take myself as an example, definitely passion.

Are you a righty or lefty?

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
My art is still just a hobby for me. For my day job I do research in theoretical astrophysics.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
My drawing area is the family kitchen table. I don't recommend this if you value your neck and back.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I used to play a lot of guitar, but then I started doing comics. Something had to give...

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Draw every day. Drawing an hour each day is way better for your abilities than trying to cram all the drawing in a few times a month. If you want to do comic strips, draw and write as many gags as you can. You have hundreds of bad comic strips in you, and the only way to get better is if you get them all out.

Who is your favorite artist?
I don't know if I have an absolute favorite. One artist that really stands out to me is Mark Rothko. He's the only artist for whom the expression breath-taking is literally accurate. I think he's somewhat underrated because his work does not translate well to reproduction. But if you've ever had a chance to see his work in person, it's an amazing, emotional experience.

Thank you Tony!

UK cartoonist, political activist and campaigner Polyp shares his answers next.

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