INTERVIEW with Robb Mommaerts, Comic Artist of ‘The Lookouts’ and 80s Nostalgist
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a special guest stop by the clubhouse for a chat, but luckily we were able to get the perfect guy to help us close out the year! Illustrator Robb Mommaerts has been doing what he loves ever since he could pick up a pencil. As a child of the 80s, growing up in a world filled with comic books and cartoons, Mommaerts embraces everything that the clubhouse was founded upon including a lifelong fascination with pop culture.
Thanks for joining us, Robb! Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up?
Great to be chatting with you! I love this site. I grew up in Wisconsin (still live there) in the best decade ever… the 1980′s. I was always a huge fan of drawing, starting at around 2 years old. I was inspired by stuff I was watching on tv and was also into comic books.
So would you consider yourself a creative kid? What sort of stuff did you draw?
Yes, I was always drawing or creating art in some form. I was big into drawing animals, monsters, also into sculpting creatures with modeling clay. For some reason I used to draw stage coach wrecks with dead people or skeletons in them… don’t know why. I also liked drawing maps of the “Well of Souls” from Raiders of the Lost Ark. That movie had a big impact on me. I loved comic book characters like Batman, Superman, Hulk, and Spiderman.
What got you started in illustration and what when did you decide to pursue it as a full time career?
I’ve actually been freelancing in some form since I was 15 or 16 years old. I loved doing that a lot more than working at a store or fast food place like most kids my age. Eventually, when I was 16, I got a job working at OfficeMax, but I would have rather been sitting at my drawing table. Being a freelance illustrator was something I always wanted to do, but was not keen on moving to huge cities like New York or Los Angeles. After college I became a graphic designer, which was really fun, and it set a foundation for the direction my work would go.
For several years I was an art director for an excellent graphic design agency named Arketype, Inc. I always freelanced part time over the years doing some comic book work, spot illustrations, children’s books and character design. Until one day one of my clients, Cryptozoic Entertainment offered me a position with them. I could not refuse! I also get to work remotely from my home in Wisconsin. This was also a perfect opportunity to do what I truly love doing and make a living from it.
What’s your experience at Cryptozoic Entertainment been like? Have you adopted any new techniques or tricks since you’ve been there?
They put me on a variety of other projects besides Lookouts and I get to render some different illustration styles as well, which is refreshing. Working in the Lookouts style has also helped my own signature look because it has inspired me to go bolder with color, stylization and character expression. Also exploring more environmental design as well.
I’ve been working with Lookouts colorist Rainer Petter, and learning techniques from his files. That has helped me greatly this past year.
Besides illustration, you also do graphic design. How do these fields intertwine themselves in your work?
Graphic design taught me layout skills, how to blend illustration with typography, custom typography, and use of color which all affects illustration greatly. I always admire illustrators who are also fantastic graphic designers, and there are many of them nowadays! I’m big on hand-rendered typography and I try to include that with my work as much as possible.
The bulk of your work has a very “retro” feel to it injected with a more modern, animated flair. Where do you seek inspiration from?
Thanks for noticing that! I’m a BIG fan of vintage illustration, classic Hanna-Barberra toons, and old b-films. That has affected my style greatly. I’m also a history fan as well, I love creating work that looks like it could cover several time periods.
Are there any specific artists that have had a profound impact on your work?
Jim Henson is my all time idol. If anyone has had the most affect on my creative development, it is him. I was a HUGE fan of the Muppets and Sesame Street when i was a kid… still am, and so are my two kids. Other artists that have affected me are legendary illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, and Norman Rockwell. Comic artists like Mike Mignola, Norm Breyfogle, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm… they have affected my work as well.
Awhile back you worked on a series of character designs for a proposed Richie Rich revival. Were you a fan of the original comic series?
Ape Comics brought back the character in a cool new comic series. They wanted to update Richie and his entourage to appeal to a modern audience [and] asked me to be involved doing some character redesigns. That was a lot of fun! I watched the cartoons as a kid and read some of the old Harvey comics. Redesigning Irona was the most interesting… she kind of kinda freaked me out as a kid. She reminded me of that horrible scene in Superman 3 when Robert Vaughn’s sister gets turned into a robot by Richard Pryor’s super computer. *laughs*
You mentioned earlier that you”re working on a new comic called Lookouts for Penny Arcade. Can you give us the rundown on the book?
Yeah, it is a great property created by the Penny Arcade geniuses Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. A few years back they started it out as a cool new web comic and it was a hit with the Penny Arcade fans. Cory Jones from Cryptozoic Entertainment wanted to develop the property into a comic book series and assembled the creative team from there. We have a whole new group of Lookouts lead by the strip’s original leader the grim, one-eyed scout master, Samson. The ultra talented Ben McCool is writing the book, I’m drawing it, Mike Norton is inking, and Rainer Petter is doing the colors. I was a fan of Mike Norton beforehand so when I heard he was inking the book, I just about fainted.
The book is a fantasy adventure series set in the magical Eyrewood Forest. Badges are rewarded to the Lookouts when completing different tasks. Each six-issue arc will focus on a new badge and an exciting journey for the young trainees, starting with the “Riddle” badge in the first issue. Each issue contains a two-page spread from The Lookout’s Handbook, there I get to illustrate some cool creatures and items in a more “field journal” style.
One of the coolest aspects of this book is all the monsters and critters running around in the vast Eyrewood. I also get to design the everyday creatures used as beasts of burden in the Lookout’s village.
Is this your first fully illustrated comic?
I drew a self-contained story for Courtney Huddleston’s character Decoy for Penny Farthing press about 8 years back and I created a short story for the IMAGE comics Anthology PopGun 3, but this is my first ongoing series. I was asked to draw in a style that is closer to Penny Arcade creator Mike Krahulik’s style, which is a sleek, animated style. It is really fun to do, and I’ve been learning a lot from it. I get to ink and color the covers on my own, which is so much fun, something different from being on the pencils.
Do you have any dream projects? Any comic or cartoons that you’d like to give a fresh new look?
I love to admit that Lookouts is a dream project! I would really like to do some quirky children’s books again based on some of my own story ideas. I illustrated a four book collection called The Solomon Raven Series for Raven Tree Press about 10 years back and that was a lot of fun.
As far as redesigning some characters, there are so many I’d love to try. I think a revamp of the 80′s cartoon, Thundaar the Barbarian needs to be done!
Agreed – that would be awesome! Okay, before we let you go… what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
There are SO MANY, but a couple come to mind… I remember me and my friend Shaun Cherry would act out nonsensical little skits we thought were hilarious (most likely the other kids did not think they were funny). In the middle of a class we would stop the teacher and perform them. Most of the time they would involve a dinosaur of some sort. Weird stuff.