Enchanted Brooklyn Forest (Children’s Illustration)
TribeLA Magazine Acrostic Interview with Illustrator/Cartoonist Joe Rocco
Tagline: Give yourself and your work a tagline.
Bourbon and broken promises keep me young and vital.
Rest: How do you spend your time off?
I love reading in bed or just going for a run. And I love going to the movies, especially to see an old film or whatever Cinefamily is playing down on Fairfax Blvd.
Influence: What effect do you hope to have on us?
The work coming out of National Lampoon from the late 70’s to the early 80’s affected me so much as a teenager, especially the work of Buddy Hickerson who is a dear friend today and who happens to live in Hollywood. I also loved Mark Marek and Everett Peck who I likewise discovered through National Lampoon magazine in the 1980’s. And in the work I do for children’s publishing and magazines I would say that I’ve been influenced by the work of Mary Blair, Henrik Drescher, Theodor Geisel and Charles M. Schulz.
Back: If you could choose a past literary/art/music movement to be a part of, which would you choose?
I wish I could have been alive and working back during the heydays of American Illustration from the teens through the 1960’s. Illustrators were not only compensated really well, they were celebrated. It was an incredibly noble profession back then but with the advent of the digital world people today tend to think the software is doing all of the work.
Energy: What fires you up?
A lot of things fire me up and inspire me. I mostly try to tap into the way I felt as a kid and the fun I had when I discovered “being in my own head” and exploring a whole universe of endless possibilities. I’m excited when I get an assignment from an art director to solve their problems visually with my style, talent and choices. It’s challenging, and an illustration could go South so easily if I make poor choices so the challenge is in coming up with a strong concept and executing it with skill, craft and as much panache as I can afford. When working on comics I have to say that politics lately fire me up. It’s obviously an explosive time in our political landscape and everyone has a strong opinion about where they stand, so I can’t help but express that through my comics.
Los Angeles: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles? Where would you take visitors? If you could defend the city in one sentence to someone who doubts it, what would you say?
Max and I love the fact that we can drive to the back of the “Bewitched” house on Oak street in Burbank and imagine Agnes Moorehead floating above the roof. It still stands at the Warner Ranch and it tickles us that we can peek at it through the fence. I also love any of the old Hollywood gems that are still around because they hold a lot of stories and ghosts. If the Chateau Marmont or The Dresden could talk… I always defend Los Angeles as a place for people who love movies because everywhere you turn you will find a location from some famous life-changing film. It may be a cliche’ but there’s a reason why they used to call this the “land of dreams”. I’ll always be a dreamer and I’m proud of that.
Advice: What is the best advice you’ve received? What is the best advice you can give?
I’m rather fond of the expression “Under-Promise but Over-Deliver” when it comes to the work I do for any client. A former boss of mine said that she believed in that phrase as her modus operandi in her own work and later on I heard that it’s an old expression in business. I like the idea of not making too ambitious a promise about the work I will do, but then going that extra mile so the client feels that I went far beyond their expectations. So many people in life make ridiculous promises that they rarely keep or can truly deliver and they usually end up disappointing you. I NEVER want to disappoint anyone I’m working for – so I value that piece of advice and I share it when I speak to illustration students and anyone who asks me for advice in my field. It’s a nice surprise to exceed someone’s expectations about you. I also believe that you should take a breath and really be “in the moment” and enjoy what it is you’re doing…whatever that is. Why do anything at all unless you’re going to give it your best effort.
Aura: How would you describe your energy, style, etc.?
My energy comes from coffee and the fear that I’ll have to work doing something I hate just to pay the bills. My style is a cross between Rankin-Bass, the Muppet Show and Eastern European Children’s animation.
Room: Where in your home do you work? If not in your home, where do you feel most compelled to create?
I have a small studio set up in my apartment in West Hollywood. On my bookshelf I have all the books, knick knacks and personal items that inspire me, including a small collection of vintage television sets and a growing collection of snow domes from places I’ve been and places I would like to visit one day. When I’m not here at my home studio I like to work with other illustrators at their studios if possible.
Tools: What do you prefer to work with, physically and otherwise?
I work digitally most of the time for my clients simply because the pace in publishing dictates it and if I have to make a change on a dime for a client I can usually do that better digitally than if I hand-painted the work. But, I do enjoy painting with traditional materials when I can. My work was entirely hand-painted for the 1st 10 years of my career but I gradually went more and more digital over time and now I use mostly Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to complete my work.
Indulgence: What is your favorite indulgence? Do you cook? What is your specialty meal? What is your favorite restaurant in LA where you indulge yourself?
I LOVE to cook! I can cook almost anything Italian or Greek, but I would love to cook other types of cuisines if I can ever find the time. I love baking around the holidays as a stress reliever. Making cannolis for Christmas is something I usually do once every year. Recently, I have an obsession with that series of commercials for “Dump Meals” that air late at night. The red-haired lady in the commercials puts me in touch with my inner white trash side and I love it. https://youtu.be/gMz5xDZkWY8
My favorite restaurant in LA is Tam O’Shanter Inn in Atwater Village. That place has been around since the roads were dirt and cars were still a new thing. I’m also a fan of diners and coffee shops and LA has that in spades.
Special: Who or what holds a special place in your heart? How does this factor into your creative process?
My partner Max has my heart for sure. We’ve been together for almost 10 years now and he’s been there through thick and thin. Being partnered with someone who supports your dreams is the most wonderful thing and what it’s all about. Plus, we make each other laugh non-stop, so I’m grateful that this Louisiana man is my soulmate. Max is a landscape designer and we work in the same space together every day pretty much. That means there’s always jambalaya on the stove.
Time: What is your all-time favorite piece of writing/art/music you’ve created?
Lately, it’s for a children’s book that I’m developing about growing up Italian American in New York called “Badda Bing! Badda Boom!” It’s mostly a tribute to the Italian swagger that is my dad. And I love working on my comic strip “Fluffer and Nutter” every chance I get.
Thank you Joe for allowing us to see our culture through your eyes.