If you follow this blog, chances are that you read a ton of comics and can name your favorite writers and artists. E. and I talk about ours all the time, and many of our preferred illustrators are well known and probably working for the big two. But there are so many undiscovered artists out there who are just as good, if not better than your mainstream people. One in particular goes by the name Roc, and he is the shit.
John “Roc’ Upchurch hails from “a little gutter” in Philadelphia called Hunting Park. Named after his father, who inspired him to become an artist, Roc began his career as a video game concept artist in Georgia. He graduated to freelance work in almost every industry, and he’s now an illustrator of whatever you can imagine. His tools of the trade are pencil, paper and Photoshop. He can do concept art, comics, storyboards and pretty much any commission assignment you throw his way. When our friends saw the fabulous Vanessa G. and E. Peterman avatars Roc created for Girls Gone Geek, they pretty much lost their minds. We certainly did.
As a writer, I visualize stories and the characters I’d love to write about. One such character was brought to life by Roc’s hand, and his dope-ass illustration was even more beautiful than I had imagined. He’s done tons of commissions for others, and they’re all rock-star stunning. Simply put, this is a man whose work deserves to be discovered many times over.
The phenomenally talented John “Roc” Upchurch took time out of his busy, working artist’s schedule for the following interview.
G3: When did you first realize you could draw? Growing up, were you the kid everyone bumrushed for drawings of superheroes and aliens?
Roc: I realized I could draw early on. I use to watch my dad draw when I was around 3 years old, and I’d try to copy everything he did. In school, everybody would ask me for drawings. Girls usually wanted portraits of themselves, and guys wanted graffiti. I admit I learned pretty quick how to use my talents to get attention from girls. Good times.
G3: Who are your artistic influences?
Roc: My influences change constantly. When I was younger, I was influenced by a lot of artists in animation like Chuck Jones and Jim Davis, and cartoons like Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney stuff. When I got into comics, it became about Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. Then I got into painters like Rembrandt, Michelangelo (who didn’t consider himself a painter), Norman Rockwell, Frazetta and Brom.
G3: Did you have any formal art education? If so, where?
Roc: I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta for computer animation.
G3: How would you describe your style, and how has it evolved?
Roc: I guess my style has always been comic book-ish. It’s always been somewhere in between cartoon and realism. Before I got into digital color, I always used color pencils, so that was definitely a big change. Other than my drawing pencils, I rarely use any traditional media —other than the crayons with my kids.
G3: You obviously have an appreciation for the female form, and you do curvy and sexy extremely well — at all sizes. Is that a conscious decision to show a range of body types, or does it just depend on your mood or what the character calls for?
Roc: With personal art, I think it depends on my mood. I usually lean towards a more voluptuous figure, but every now and then I’ll throw in a skinny chick — still curvy, but skinny.
G3: Please describe for us your working methods. How do you develop your work?
Roc: When working on a commissioned piece, I start by gathering as much info and references on the subject as possible. I soak it up and begin sketching really loose thumbnails to get a feel for the character(s). After that, I begin to rough out the layout/composition in Photoshop. I want the art to flow and guide the eye in the way I want. It doesn’t always work out, though. After I get that working, I decide what my color palette is going to be by sloppily throwing down colors over the rough layout —colors that I believe work well together and work for the mood/tone of the piece. Once all that is out of the way, I pencil the whole thing with a 2h and finish with a darker lead like 2b. Then I just paint it up in Photoshop.
G3: As an artist, what do you think your strengths are? What is your favorite thing to draw, or what are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve done?
Roc: My strengths? I’ve never really thought about it. I’m always focusing on my weaknesses. But I would have to say it’s creating characters with “character,” meaning that when you look at a character you can immediately visualize a story: What they do, what they sound like, what they like and don’t like, where they’re from — things like that. I think that’s really important when creating a character. There needs to be a visual personality and things people can identify with. I don’t really have a favorite piece of art. I’m never satisfied with my work, so once I’m onto the next one I rarely look back. Going by my audience, I would say pinup-type shots are the most popular. Go figure. But the art I like the most is the rough, quick warmup stuff. Something about the freedom and uninhibited messiness of it is attractive to me.
G3: Do you read comics? If so, what are you reading? Who are your favorite characters and why?
Roc: I try to keep up with comics, but honestly, I haven’t read anything in a while. The last things I read were Umbrella Academy and Streets of Gotham stuff. My favorite characters were always the darker, slightly off dudes like Batman, Daredevil and Hellboy. I also love Conan. I thought (Kurt) Busiek’s Take on Conan was amazing, as well as Cary Nord’s art. I never liked soft hero types like Superman, but one of my favorite books is Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu. I still think that book is phenomenal.
G3: What’s your dream assignment?
Roc: My dream assignment is one of my own. I have some stories in me that I need to get out. I have worlds in me that can’t wait to be seen. My dream is to have those see reality and have people hear these stories, experience these worlds and, hopefully, take something positive from them that can inspire something in their own lives.
G3: Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about? What lies ahead for you?
Roc: Right now I’m working on a million different projects. It’s mostly comic work that I can’t talk about yet. The book Deep Blue will be wrapping up soon, and there a few more books coming after that. I’m also working on my own projects in my free time (about five minutes a week), so I hope to have something fresh soon. I figure if I just cut out sleep altogether, I’ll have more time to create, so we’ll see how that goes.