However, long before today’s guest lent his madness to Cartoon Network and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward he made his start the old fashioned way by self-publishing his own comics– inspired by his favorite comic artists at the time. The result is a body of work that is as splendorous as it is strange, driven by the mannerisms and phobias of its creator and fueled by nothing less than pure imagination. Let’s welcome Andy Ristaino everyone!
What’s more exciting: getting to hang with a Sasquatch or riding in an alien spaceship?
I would say riding in an alien spaceship, since there’s a possibility of going into outer space. However, with all the new theories about Sasquatch being from another dimension it would be pretty exciting to hang with a Squatch and go dimension hopping. Honestly, I think I’d be more than a little terrified if either of them showed up.
Would you say that you were creative/artistic as a kid?
Very much so. My two older brothers both are cartoonists [and] they used to draw all the time. I think I picked up drawing as soon as I could so I could draw with them. I come from a pretty large family by today’s standards, 5 kids and my parents were both teachers, so we didn’t have much money to spend on entertainment. My parents used to figure out all sorts of cheap arts and crafts projects for us to work on. Most of my memories from childhood revolve around drawing, building forts in the woods, making swords and so on. I think it was very rare to see me without a pencil and paper when i was a teenager.
You spent much of your youth being sick because of allergies. How did this time help build your imagination?
Well, there were definitely times when I was so sick I couldn’t do anything but sit around in bed… not much you can do there but sleep read and draw.
While it wasn’t your first work, what can you tell us about Nightblade: The Nearsighted Ninja?
Nightblade the Nearsighted Ninja was the first comic that I really tried to make a serious go at. I started working on it with my friend Greg in 7th grade and kept working on it till my senior year in college. I created about a hundred characters for the comic, but [I] never got past drawing issue two. My favorite comic at the time of creating Nightblade was Ben Edlund’s The Tick [so] it doesn’t seem like much of a leap to say Nightblade pretty much took place in The Tick universe. The comic centered around a clumsy nearsighted guy (a thinly veiled self portrait) and his quest to become a clumsy nearsighted ninja by purchasing a book on How to Be a Ninja from a late night television ad.
You self-published Nightblade while at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). What was your time like there?
School was pretty great. It was the first time I was really surrounded by so many people who were as obsessed with making art as I was and where I was encouraged to create 24-7. People were constantly making cool things at all hours– it was really inspiring, but it was also a lot of hard work. I think being in an environment that is focused on one thing is great for anyone wanting to develop skills in whatever arena they are wanting to focus on.
What’s the most important lesson you took away from your time at RISD?
The program at RISD focused for the most part on teaching you to think like an artist. Why are you creating? What are you trying to communicate? Are you going about it the best way? Are you reaching far enough out? I think the main thing I took away from art school was the tools I needed to develop my own voice in whatever medium I choose to use.
Your work typically seems to take up as much space on the page as possible. Would you say there a common theme of claustrophobia?
Definitely. I’m working directly from personal experience. There are times, more often than I’d like to admit, when the proximity and closeness of everything, sounds, smells, touch, are much to abrasive and overwhelming to deal with. I find myself seeking a very solitary and bland existence, avoiding social situations as much as possible. [In my] comics like The Babysitter I really tried to channel how it feels to not be able to really process anything because you have no choice but to process everything. I did find that when I focus on claustrophobia in my work [that] I feel it more acutely in real life. In my current comics I’m trying to focus more on space and clarity.
At what point do you know that you’ve reached a stopping point?
I guess when it feels like it’s the end… sometimes a larger project will end if I feel like my interests are moving onto some other things. Some pieces I’ve never finished, but have brought to a point where I am satisfied with where they end. I painted this huge piece for an album cover for a band I used to play with called Assemblehead in Sunburst Sound. I took a month of of working to focus just on painting, and I could have easily worked on it for at least another month or two, but it was at a passable end point so I called it quits. I like going back into things and fixing it but at certain point you just need to move on, or you need to create some sort of deadline and move onto other projects. I definitely try not to leave projects unfinished if I can.
You are currently the Lead Character and Prop Designer for Adventure Time. How’d you get involved with that show and what does that position entail?
I had fallen in love with the original pilot for Adventure Time when it was first busting it’s way across the internet. I heard that they were making into a show through my friend Tom Herpich when he posted on his blog that he was doing design work for the show. Immediately I emailed him and asked him if he could give me a heads up whenever there was an opening. I took a story board test and a design test [and] I ended up getting the design job. I worked for all of Season Two designing characters, props and effects.
Early in Season Three Phil Rynda, the old Lead Designer, left the show so I took up the position when he did so. [As designers] on Adventure Time we basically go through every episode and pick out anything that moves and has not been designed before and design it; whether it be a character turnaround, mouth charts, props, effects, or a special pose that the characters are doing that we want to make sure the animation company gets right. It’s our job to make sure we give the animators all the information they need to animate the character or object in space without any need for further communication.
Who’s your favorite supporting character from the series so far?
It changes all the time [but] Beemo is my current favorite.
Going back to your indie work– Little Billy and Dr. Otto has to be my favorite thing you’ve done so far. Any plans for future strips?
We shall see. I was going to try to do a one shot comic of all Little Billy and Dr. Otto strips and maybe try to get some guest artists to draw a few, but that fell apart a while ago. I actually have a really hard time drawing Billy and Otto strips because of how brutal Dr. Otto is to Billy, I end up feeling pretty horrified with what I’m putting my characters through.
The one with spiders reminded me of that old tall tale about spiders laying eggs in your ear… do you remember that?
Those sort of urban legends were the inspiration for that strip.
What’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
In 5th grade my friend Greg and I were really into black magic. We used to try to cast spells on people and trees and whatever (I don’t suggest that anyone try this at home). In the back of school there was an indentation in the ground on the field. Legend had it that the dent in the ground was created by a monster fart, hence it was called the Yega Fart Hole. Greg and I spent an entire recess trying to banish that wretched pit, chanting and carving runes around it. By the end of recess we were both in such a trance state that we hallucinated the ground shaking and rolling. We ran off screaming [and] the next day at recess we went over to the dent and it was gone (or so I remember it). This is probably not the strangest thing I’ve ever done but it was definitely sticks out a bit in my brain.