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Feature Wed Jul 21 2010

One-Shots: Aaron Renier

A recent resident of Chicago, Aaron Renier returns to the Midwest with The Unsinkable Walker Bean, available in late August from Quimby's and better bookstores everywhere. A seafaring adventure tale full of pirate ships and boy and girl heroes, drawn in a rich and beautiful palette, it's a slight departure from the mystery-solving animals of Spiral-Bound. Aaron talked about drawing people, drawing animals, and how his own migratory patterns continue to affect his comics career.

Name: Aaron Renier
Job: Cartoonist/Illustrator/Teacher
Age: 32
Education: BFA in Illustration, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD)
Awards: Eisner Comic Industry Award for Talent Deserving Wider Recognition (Spiral-Bound), and a nomination for best Children's Album in 2005
Location: Humboldt Park
Hometown: Green Bay, WI
Website: http://aaronrenier.com
Favorite place in Chicago: The amazing non-profit writing and tutoring center 826chi. I've been volunteering there as much as I could since I moved to Chicago in 2008. The staff is beyond awesome and inspirational, the students know this, and it comes out in their work. This place is hands down the highlight of my time here.

     
Self-portrait

You mostly create children's comics, right?

Yeah -- once in awhile I'll do anthology pieces, and those will be whatever the anthology is about, but that's my interest, is doing work for children.

Why do you focus on that?

It would be more of an effort for me to do something that was not for children...there's not much of me that goes through a process that's like this part of me is going to be for children. As I start writing and I start making stuff up, it just tends to have that meaning. When I started being into certain comics was in middle school, and there's something about what I was interested in then that has always been embedded in me. Whatever fascination I tried to feed, that's what I find interesting about comics and want to do.


Spiral-Bound

What kind of comics did you like in middle school?

I read a lot of Mad magazine and Cracked magazine, a lot of newspaper comics. Calvin and Hobbes. I always wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist.

It's kind of the first comic you really see.

It comes to your house every day. When I was little, in Green Bay there weren't any comic book stores, except for like a spinner rack of comics -- either a comic that would have something to do with a cartoon that was on TV at the time, like Transformers, and anything Star Wars-related, like Ewoks or something...I would pick up those more than I would pick up Batman and Robin or anything like that. I was more, I don't know...there's something about the more innocent stuff. That's the wrong word. I was a big TV watcher -- I watched a lot of cartoons.

Why do you think it's important to have comics for children? Not just comics, but children's books?

I think that art is important. I think that encouraging any sort of fascination in the imaginary is important. reading has always been really important to me. Whenever I'm reading something, I open my mind...that's one of the hardest things about reading for me, it makes me tangent, think all these other things.

It's really important to have kids grow up to be more creative people. I guess that's a good reason, having literate, creative people.

What kinds of books did you read growing up?

In the beginning, there was a lot of Beverly Cleary...anything she wrote, I read. And then the standards, Where the Red Fern Grows. I tried reading Lord of the Rings and could never get through. I did read The Hobbit, and I really liked that. Joan Aiken, eventually Stephen King.

I really liked The Wolves of Willoughby Chase -- Edward Gorey's covers were this amazing thing.

How did you get into drawing animals?

I used to doodle them a lot in my sketchbooks. I was trying to work on my first graphic novel, so I started writing, and I started drawing, and I was reading a lot of Eightball and Optic Nerve and Acme Novelty Library. I was reading all these things that were just so amazing, I guess I wanted to be like them. So I started drawing my comics, these people, and felt like I wasn't able to be myself. I was also trying to be an autobiographical cartoonist. I was really, really young. I think that I was 23 or 24 at the time...at some point I realized I'd always get really bored with myself.

With drawing people?

It wasn't interesting to me, I needed something that would pull me through it. I kept thinking that I wanted to have a world where I could draw anything -- I didn't want to have a world that was like, I have to go back to that coffee shop and draw that coffee shop again. I would get to page 15 or 16, and then I realized that I didn't like it, and then I would start over.

Then I realized what I did enjoy doing was the animals in my sketchbook, slowly adapting them into making a story that they would exist in without feeling weird.

Do you ever look at animals in real-life to trying to get a sense of them?

No. I made them all up. I have a dog, and his sensibilities and his character have been influences. He's kind of in the other book too. My rabbit doesn't look like a rabbit, it looks like a circle with ears on it. Same thing with the elephant, it's a round thing with big ears and a trunk. I didn't concern myself...I might have looked at a couple of whale pictures to draw the whale.


Portland City Bus

Speaking of animals, did you start writing Spiral Bound in Milwaukee, or Brooklyn? Do you think you had to move there to start it?

Actually, it was Portland. Yeah. There was a year of not doing anything. So I figured out all these things, and I figured out how to pay my rent, and I started hanging out with other artists. I started keeping more of a diary just to keep me drawing- that's what really got me through it, just doing it for myself. I got a well-paying job as a photo retoucher...having a really well-paying job also got me through Spiral-Bound. I would go home and work on my story, and I'd have the weekends to work on my story.


2006 Rainbikes

Why did you move here?

After I finished Spiral-Bound, I moved to New York, and I lived there where I worked on this [The Unsinkable Walker Bean]. I couldn't afford it the way I wanted to live. My family is here, my sister has a baby. In the eight years I've been away, I would come home maybe once year. Plus, I really like the Midwest.

Why is place important for you?

I feel like a lot of people love where they grow up, and stay where they grow up. I always felt fascinated by people who moved. My friend and I left once, we were so proud we crossed the border into Minnesota. It felt really good.

Oh, and I came here for the hot dogs. Except I don't eat meat.

Veggie dogs are one of my favorite unmeats. So, you're working on a second volume of The Unsinkable Walker Bean? Did you start here or in Brooklyn?

I'm working on it now. It's happening, very slowly...I wish it could happen faster.

Are you working on anything else right now?

I'm doing a window for Quimby's, that's pretty fun. I just finished the illustrations for the third of a series of books called The Knights Tales'.


Cover: The Knights Tales'

Was it different drawing a full graphic novel of humans?

I guess I don't think it's too different at all, because my characters are very simple, and it's sort of a tale in this fictitious, kind of golden era of pirates, set in my own imagination. I'm able to draw -- all of my characters are from a wide variety of backgrounds, but it doesn't feel forced to me. I have a cast of characters I'm pulling from everywhere...having these port cities where people are coming and going.


The Unsinkable Walker Bean

 
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