While some of us may be delighted by the biggest and the most popular in the world of comics, we all realize that for every popular book, writer or artist there has to be a beginning. While there are many ways to success with each story finding its own route, there is one attribute that can be found in each one: talent. Up & Coming is a regular feature at Newsarama.com that seeks out the next generation of comic creators and profiles them today.
Enter Rachel "Ronnie" Freire. The NYC-based artist first came to public attention on the webcomic FCHS with writer Vito Delsante at Chemsetcomics.com. Her style, which Delsante aptly describes as "Dan Decarlo meets the Hernandez Bros.", seemed to perfectly match the high school humor that of FCHS. The strip quickly gained the attention of publishers, and the webcomic has been suspended while they work on the print comics debut sometime in 2009.
With her star on the rise, we took time out to spotlight Freire and her work.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Ronnie. First, I have to ask – is it true your middle name, Veronica, was inspired by Archie comics?
Ronnie Freire: Yeah, it was. My dad read comics like Archie, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Calvin and Hobbes... Y'know, stuff in the newspaper or from the corner store. So when they found they were going to have a baby, my dad wanted a name based on the comics he read. But he was set on me be being a boy, and while Hagar and Dagwood were out, he picked Calvin. Nobody told me about the plan though, so when turned out a girl he still wanted to name me Calvina! Thankfully my mom put her foot down and forced him to pick something else. I guess I could have just as easily been a Blondie or Betty!
NRAMA: Or maybe a brother named Hagar! With all the comics going on in the family, when you decide you wanted to become a cartoonist?
RF: I pretty much decided I wanted to be a cartoonist as soon I could grab a pencil. My parents are both artists too, though not professionally. My dad's style is a bit more cartoony and stylized, and my mom's is realistic and pretty, so I had both of them for inspiration. Plus, my dad was always reading me the funnies or buying me Archie books. I'm really lucky, I never had to go through a phase of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Although I did want to be a wrestler for a while, and now I'm thinking of trying out for roller derby next year. [laughs]
But being a cartoonist is definitely my priority.
NRAMA: Have you had any schooling for artwork?
RF: Yes, I went to the High School of Art and Design. Among the alumni for the school are John Romita Sr, Dick Giordano, Neal Adams and Art Spiegelman. I majored in illustration, though. At the time it seemed like the cartooning class was primarily focused on super heroes, so I took illustration and explored alternative and smaller press comics on my own.
Although since I graduated they started a 'graphic novel' class. Mr. Chinelli, our illustration teacher, gave us everything we'd need in a high school art class and more, giving us something like a crash course of college. That's one of the reasons I didn't go to college after high school. Also, no money. [laughs]
NRAMA: In our conversations before this interview, you mentioned that you were training yourself and mentioning your page rate per day. Can you tell us about the training, and what you’re aiming for?
RF: Well, after I heard about Jack Kirby's one-a-day page rate, I felt so unproductive! [laughs] I can do a page a day too, but they won't look like that!
I had the bad habit of scrapping and redrawing a page if I made a mistake or two. But I've since relaxed and discovered the magic of white-out! It saves me a whole lot of time. I've cut out any distractions except for a little music, and devote a whole day to sitting and drawing. Now I can sometimes get a page and a half, or even two, that I'm really happy with in one day. So when FCHS was online as a webcomic, I only had to do one page a week. But now, it'll be something like 4 to 5 a week. If I cut out friends for a while, I think I can do it! [laughs]
NRAMA: For this interview, you've sent us some of your older comics work. Can you tell us about that?
RF: Sure! The pages I sent are from the last couple of years of high school, and the year before I started work. There's 'Rocker Girl on Air Guitar', I think it's from my senior year in high school. I pretty obviously didn't know how to draw guns. But it was super fun to draw and experiment with the panels like that. Also from my senior year is 'Midnight Rompers Beware of Franken Futer!' This one's poking fun at all those old goofy but great black and white sci-fi/horror B-movies. Stay away from Make Out Point, kids! Then theres 'Paint it Red' from mid 07. I was reading a lot of old Mad mag digests at the time and wanted to use a fun visual gag. It's kinda ridiculous though. Poor husband.
NRAMA: Your current project is FCHS with writer Vito Delsante. How did you get involved with Vito Delsante and work on FCHS?
RF: When I started working at Hanley's almost two years ago, I had just come out of a year of complete laziness. I snapped out of it after I realized I had almost nothing to show for most of 06. Adrian Tomine was self publishing comics when he was about, what, 17? So I was already behind! Plus I needed to fund my comic-buying habit. So I turned to my favorite comics book store, Jim Hanley's Universe, where Vito Delsante is a manager. I always had some sort of sketch book in my bag, and after looking through a couple Vito had been talking with an old childhood friend/high school sweetheart (now his wife!) and I guess it brought back the memories of his high school days that inspired FCHS. He felt that my art style suited the sort of Archie-esque feel he wanted for the story, and so here he are!
NRAMA: Before we go, I wanted to ask this. You’re living in New York, working in a comic store – would you say it’s easier to get into comics than if you lived on some remote town?
RF: Actually, I think it might be much harder to be in a remote town. Here there are so many comic stores in each borough; you're never too far from one. Plus we have the Big Apple Comicon and the MOCCA con every summer now, and all those mini cons throughout the year. And if you're a cartoonist and you just spent the day drawing, even if it's late night, you can go out no matter what time it is, because so many places stay open all night! Take a walk through the city to get some inspiration. I have friends who come from smaller towns, who complain about there being only one comic book store, that closes at 7 p.m. Here, it's actually become cool to read comics. But we always knew that!