The most fascinating thing about art is the many forms it can take and ways one can make it. This also applies to comic books and graphic novels. Known best as “Raul the Third,” this artist has a unique style; using only Bic pens for his illustrations.
On March 9th, Raul the Third gave a talk at the Logan Heights Bread & Salt building, presented by the Athenaeum Art Center and La Jolla Country Day School. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, his father a salesman and his mother with the equivalent of a 2nd grade education, Raul didn’t have access to much in the way of fine art materials. Instead, he he’d find pens on his walks through El Paso and take them. As he and his family would wait for the bus, he’d draw whatever he saw.
Eventually, Raul knew he needed more. “You need something to give you inspiration,” said Raul. “You need to follow in someone’s footsteps.” It was only when he went to the local 7-Eleven to buy his father a newspaper that he found a renewed passion to draw. “I’d been there many times before, but this time it was when I became aware of the tower of comics, it’s sign saying, ‘Hey kids, 75 cent comic books!’” From here on, Raul began to spend a lot of time at the 7-Eleven; it became his “art museum” he said. From those books, he copied the images of super heroes and villains every day. “You are absorbing through your fingertips their powers, which you can later call upon.”
He continued the use of pens for much of his art. “My first book had the budget of $6.50, which was the cost of the Bic pens I used,” said Raul. His reasoning for using pens is because he wants to show kids that there are things accessible for them to use; that they shouldn’t get discouraged if they can’t get the latest and greatest art supplies.
Since then, Raul the Third as taught children, illustrated books like Lowriders in Space and his latest Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (both books written by Cathy Camper), and traveled the country giving talks.
In a short interview with Raul the Third, I had the opportunity to discuss more about his career and his decision to focus mostly on children-friendly content.
How were your early years as an artist looking for work?
The early years are a bit of a blur. At first, I was terrified to show anyone my work so I drew hundreds of pages in secret, drawing and redrawing images and pages. In Boston I decided that I wanted to work as an artist and nothing else. Being a college dropout, I always had to let myself in using the back door. I think it was my willingness to try and do just about anything that led to my success in various art forms.
How was this journey been for you so far as a Latino artist? How would you say your culture influenced your art?
Being a Latino in Boston was interesting as there are not too many of us up here, but I used it to my advantage and cemented myself as the go to guy by using my artwork as a vehicle to introducing the art community to issues that I felt were underrepresented in mostly exclusively white art scene in the Boston area. My culture and upbringing led me to create dialogue in my work on various topics including border issues, the immigrant experience and to create books where the central characters were Latino. I am happy and proud that my work is in the collection of many museums and institutions and that I get to work and collaborate with amazing publishers and writers. All in all, I have had an exciting career so far and I look forward to the decades to come.
What sort of reactions did you receive from your family members as you followed through with your art career?
My family loves what I do and they are incredibly supportive. Of course early on they were a bit concerned, not knowing or understanding how I could materialize my ambitions. They didn’t know any Latinos who were successful artists, so they didn’t think a poor Mexican boy could rise to those heights. It is one of the reasons why I visit hundreds of schools. I want those kids to see themselves through me and to understand that they can accomplish their dreams and that their personal stories and experiences are important.
What/where do you take inspiration from these days?
Do you have a set schedule or a process when you draw?
I live to draw and create art. Luckily my schedule is set to make as much art as I can before I kick the bucket.
What have been some high and low moments in your career?
I don’t think about low moments. Every moment teaches you something. The high moments are simply the fact that I get to do this for a living, but winning the Pura Belpre award, the Brother Thomas and MCC fellowships were definitely life changing experiences.
Your books and the classes you teach are all directed to children. What would you say that is?
Because life is filled with disadvantages and there are so many in our communities that aren’t treated equally. If my books and presentations can help give hope to our youth, then I will continue to help create them.
What advice do you have for all the aspiring artists out there?
Don’t let the naysayers without dreams and imagination get you down. Read and digest as many images as you can. Learn about the creators, authors and illustrators of your favorite books, paintings and movies and follow their examples. Don’t be so quick to define yourself and take any and all opportunities that come your way. Be proud of who you are no matter your upbringing and background. I can’t wait to see what you produce!
At the time of this article’s publishing, Raul is working on his and Cathy Camper’s next book, Lowriders Blast from the Past.” Visit Raul the Third’s website to find out more about his unique style. www.RaulTheThird.com
Nicholas Eskey is an avid reader and writer. When not contributing to The Beat, he works on his personal projects, the latest being a fantasy novel called “My Personable Demon.” He lives in San Diego, California, and is frequently bossed around by his cat.