From the Archives: Mr. Reas

Mass Appeal’s had a long relationship with issue #52’s back cover artist, Todd “Reas” James. Because Thursdays are apparently for throwbacks we’re going way back in time to issue #9 to revisit an early encounter with the accomplished artist. Enjoy the article and some images of Reas’s masterpieces from back in the day below:

Todd James wears Stan Smiths or Rod Lavers. His other kicks get the shine of maybe a tenth of those two pair combined. It’s not that he only wears Adidas, but they are an extension and reflection of who he is, a NY Classic. The shit hop stores on Broadway are stocked to the ceiling with snazzy sneaks maxed out of air and moola. You can always find though, down low and to the left, the Smiths and Lavers. They hold it down like a couple of blue chips stocks laughing at all the dot coms on the dick. So does Reas increase while other brands are up for lease. His work wears well, matches material from khaki to cashmere, looks good on the young bucks and old fucks, and does not need a pump or gas like some art does. So in art or shoes, when you get tired of the techno kicks, get yourself some classic sole. Tell em’ Captain Makeithappen sent you. — Mark Surface

How did you break into the game, who were your first clients?

My first client was a friend in junior high named Bert. I painted his jacket for fifteen dollars. It was a character with his name above it. It’s funny because a lot of the work I do now is essentially the same thing: Identity branding and cartoon design. Dave Scilken was the first person who really put me on to making money with graphics. He hired me to draw an elephant for Brooklyn Dust Music logo, which was the Beastie Boys Production Company. I was eighteen and I wasn’t really thinking about a career, It just happened. Dave was the art director at Jive Records, and he hired me for projects there: Kid Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Fresh Prince, D-Nice, and some others. We began to do freelance projects together. Perhaps the most recognizable icon we created was the logo for The Source.  With a good number of record packages and a few good logos we were ready to start our own company. Cey and Haze were doing the same thing, but they were fully established. I had minimal Mac skills and was totally under Dave’s wing. Just as things seemed to take off, Dave who was my roommate at the time, died. I tried to move forward with what he had taught me. I worked a bit with Cey and I did a lot of work for The Source. From writing I met a lot of graphic designers, and two of them were Chris Capuzzo (sub5/lawe) and Peter Girardi (Eros) who were part  of a new wave crew. I work with them now at their company, Funny Garbage. We do web design and animation.

Who influenced you?

I went to Art and Design in ’84. When you apply for enrollment you have to list your influences and I named Picasso because I thought it sounded good to me, and I named Tack FBA because it was true.

Half of my work is cartooning and character design and the other half is general design and ideas. I learned by sketching in my note-book, watching the trains after school. There was nowhere else to see this type of art, period. No school taught it, no comic book looked like it, there were no magazines featuring it, and I had no camera. So I sat in the stations and watched. Skeme and Tack were the writers I really wanted to emulate. They put heavier line of black on parts of their characters outline to make them more graphic and readable. Typical images from their wide-ranging repertoire included; kids wearing big exaggerated sneakers, big ski goggles, hoodies, Kangols, holding joints or big radios, with gold chains and sharks with shotguns. In 1989, at the age of 12, it was hip hop that was speaking to me in a major way. The graffiti characters of this time period forecasted a lot of trends that people use as reference points today, especially in the sportswear industry. Doze’s characters, for example, were infused with a lot of his attitude and personal style. Jay Ward who created Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Captain Crunch which is a great cereal. He made a lot happen with really minimal animation and simple design. UPA is a big influence, they did Gerald McBoing and Mr. Magoo with a similar method. The strength was in the cartoon design, which looked a lot like modern art.

What are you working on now?

I’m creating and designing some short animation for here at Funny Garbage. The first one is called Zoo Force, it’s about superhero animals with the powers of the other animals, who fight domesticated animals named the human league, who have the manipulative powers of humans and want to dominate the world Zooforce fights them in the name of freedom.


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