‘I Just Have To Be A Part Of It’ – Renowned Artist Rob Prior Speaks On Art Collaboration With Tech N9ne [Exclusive]
With over two decades of pushing boundaries and delivering some of the most original music in hip hop, Tech N9ne’s career takes another turn for the unique in 2013 as the Kansas City King teams with famed illustrator and comic artist Rob Prior to give fans a stunning new look at the world of Something Else.
Known worldwide for his work in the field of comic books, Rob Prior’s resume expands far beyond the reach of superheroes. Extreme and compelling, art is just one piece of the puzzle for the man capable of simultaneously painting with two hands and his eyes closed.
Yes, you read that right.
With the massive success of the recent limited Tech N9ne x Rob Prior print, we decided to catch up with Rob for an exclusive interview regarding his career, working with Tech N9ne, and what we can expect in the future – a Tech N9ne comic book?
Two hands at work, Rob Prior took our call in the middle of painting a new piece. Humble and sincere, the conversation never suffered as Rob feverishly worked – a true testament to the incredible and unbelievable talent he holds.
For anyone not immediately familiar with your work, can you tell me a little about the most significant projects that you’ve been a part of over the years?
I’ve done so much that I don’t even really think about it anymore. In my comic career, Spawn The Impaler was my big intro to the comic world. That was my beginning – when it comes to mainstream comics. I had been doing stuff for a while. I had been working with Mike Grell. He got me into that field. I had already been working for Dungeons & Dragons at the time – TSR, I’d always been doing a lot of that stuff. I would say that working with the Dungeons & Dragons group was probably the biggest thing that inspired my career.
The very first comic I ever did in my lifetime was a comic called Chakan: The Forever Man. That one sticks out because it was my absolute first. I was fresh out of college – god, I don’t even know if I was out of college. I was working so young that I don’t even remember at what age I was doing what. I also worked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, sculpting, designing and painting creatures for the last season. That was pretty memorable.
I’ve worked on a ton of movies as well, along with creature design work. That’s a tough question because I’ve done so much. I used to do book covers all the time. I did a whole line of Star Wars and Star Trek art that I really, really liked. That was early on. There really is so much. I really enjoyed working on the Ghost Rider video game and The Darkness video game. I loved working with the video game teams. Doing that was great, I really enjoyed it.
Of everything though, probably the coolest thing that I’ve done to date – to me, is the Tech stuff. They are giving me the freedom that almost nobody else has given me to do what it is I do, rather than having to follow any set rules. I just get Tech’s crazy fucking ideas and go to town. This is quickly becoming one of those really super-memorable things for me to do in my career. I mean that. I said this to Travis, “Trav you don’t understand, I’m having more fun doing this than I’ve had in years on anything.” That’s the truth. Outside of doing anything, what I enjoy the most is creating ideas and creating intellectual properties that I get to watch be made into things. That’s one of my favorite things.
You’re famous for painting with two hands at the same time. Is this something that came natural from the beginning or did you have to develop that skill?
I was going to be an artist no matter what. My entire lineage is full of artists, but none by profession. So I was going to be the artist by profession, period. That was it, it was decided long ago. Practically before I could walk, I was being given paintbrushes and whatever else I could possibly paint with. In knowing that you’re going to be something and you’re training very young at it – I was very fortunate to be working at it from a young age. When I was about 10-years-old, I thought to myself - because I must have been a very neurotic child, I thought, what if I lose my right hand? So, I switched my left hand to be my dominant hand for the next two years. Then, I was published very young for Dungeons & Dragons.
I remember one day, I had math homework due and a painting due. While my friends were working at McDonald’s and all that, I was doing professional paintings. I didn’t know what to do and knew I had to speed up, so I picked up two paintbrushes and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Wow. Is it fair to say that you’re completely ambidextrous?
Completely ambidextrous. Right now, while I’m talking to you, I’m holding a photo with one hand and painting with the other. I’ll switch off. I don’t use one more than the other. It’s whatever is easier, but I will say this, my left hand is a little sketchier and my right hand is a little more dead on. It’s definitely a little more precise.
Watching you paint is its own experience. You’re using two hands at once, going faster than most and I’ve heard you’ll even close your eyes. What is that process like?
When I started painting – and there’s a lot of times when I’m painting that I guess I shut my eyes apparently, I had not noticed this until I started doing conventions again. What I’ll do is get everything ready with both hands. Then as I start, I figure out which hand will be the better hand to use or rather the paintbrush. Then whichever hand will start as the dominant one on the piece, I get a groove going and let it all fall into place.
In watching myself paint – which is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my life – I realized that I bob my head like Ray Charles, side to side. It’s weird because I didn’t realize I did that until I started watching myself like, “Holy shit, I look weird.” I usually get to a point where that starts happening and then I open my eyes and half the painting is done. That’s kind of the feeling I have while it’s happening.
I’ll never wrap my head around it.
(Laughs) That makes two of us brother. The funny thing is, that once I’m going I don’t even realize what I’m doing. I don’t even think about it. It just sort of starts to happen. Sometimes I’ll even forget I’m looking at anything for reference. When I tune out, I tune everything out. I just tune-the-fuck-out everything.
You paint to music as well, don’t you? Does that help the process?
Yeah, if you watch the Tech N9ne piece, there wasn’t music to begin with and I was painting at a normal pace. Once the music kicked in, because I have to paint to music, I was going at light-speed. The next thing I knew, I stopped for a second to get Tech to help me paint. Then when he stepped away again, I was in a different world. If music is playing, I’m gone. I can do two paintings or drawings simultaneously, but at that point no one can talk to me for like hours. I tune completely out. Now, when I paint with two hands on one painting, you can talk to me and I can converse and go through things. When I’m doing two separate paintings, I’m just not there.
This relationship with Tech and Strange Music seemingly came out of nowhere. How did this all start to come together?
It’s crazy. There’s a friend of mine, his name is Shawnee Demont. He kept saying to me, “You gotta meet the guys at Strange Music. I gotta get you to do something with them.” I had known about Tech N9ne through my son and had listened to some of the music and thought oh this is pretty good, but I didn’t know much outside of that. I turn a lot of art down. I’m fortunate enough that I can pick and choose a lot of the pieces that I work on.
Shawnee started talking about me doing this stuff for Tech and I said, “Okay, hook it up and we’ll see.” Nothing happened for quite some time. I got a phone call late one night and it was Shawnee. He said, “I want to get you involved with Tech’s new album.” I was like, “Well, let me hear it before I say anything.” He said, “That’s not possible. No one hears it.” I was like, well…alright, we’ll see. Then I talked to Dave Weiner who said, “Yeah, we’re going to get you the CD.” I guess a lot of people hadn’t heard it yet at that point. I listened to it and the second I listened to it I was like, I have to be a part of it. I don’t care, I just have to be a part of it. So, we got Travis on the phone and the next thing I knew, I was doing the paintings. Literally, it happened just about that fast.
Once I had heard the album, I was done. Tech had me in his grips. I went down to Strange Music and met Travis and Tech. I hit it off with Tech because he’s got crazy-ass fucked up ideas in his brain. We just hit it off. On the airplane ride back, we started going over all the songs. I asked him, “What does this mean to you visually? What do you see?” I tried to get into his head a little bit to figure out where he was coming from. It just happened to be that our worlds collided in a fantastic way because I got everything he was saying. That’s unusual, because I do a lot of work with bands. Once I realized that we were vibing, it was just great. I just kept pulling ideas from him and kept feeding him ideas I had. He was digging it. That’s what really mattered to me. That was how we came up with some of the ideas that everyone is going to see.
For example the poster that we just did for Wizard World, we were talking about one of his characters named E.B.A.H. and I was like, “You know, if you’re trying to show this guy and he’s trying to show his Angel heart, then he should be ripping the skin off of his chest and letting you see through with emotion and everything.” He was like, “Yeah that’s great.”Then I did it and he was pretty happy with the result. That’s what matters to me. That I can communicate that. This is his thing, this is his baby. If I can get into his head just bring that to life, that’s all I really care about.
I’m glad you mentioned the poster because I was curious as to that creative thought went into that and the three separate images.
On the poster, there’s the main one – E.B.A.H. That character is the main drawing, but then you have E.T.A.H., which is HATE backwards. I wanted to make sure that we had that version, because in that particular painting I was trying to get the point across that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have the good without the bad, it’s all pretty equal. Without that, none of it exists.
Then there’s another painting of just Tech. I wanted to show Tech as just Tech. So you have Tech, E.B.A.H., and E.T.A.H. I wanted to get out the good and evil and the inside of Tech’s brain. I think I’m just trying to help get across some of Tech’s brain. That’s the most important thing to me, for people to see that. He’s got so many great ideas. He makes people visualize them through music. So, now I feel like I’m able to help other people visualize them through images and tie it all into the songs. That’s my goal for everything.
Do you normally mesh this well with other artists?
Almost never. Most of the time, I get to sit there and listen to somebody talk about some stupid, fucked-up idea, which I’m like, “Oh God, why did I agree to this?” It’s so rare. The other thing is, I find that other artists get passionate, but they’re passionate about the wrong things in my eyes. A lot of times they’re passionate about seeing themselves or what they’re going to eat that night because that’s what’s the newest thing to them. With Tech, it’s all about the art. I never get that. It’s such a rarity to me that I was enthralled by the entire thing. To hear how he comes up with this stuff and to talk about older music – just to listen to it all is amazing. He’s a true artist. I don’t get that very often – if ever.
It’s great to see you working so well with Strange Music, seeing that they champion the indie spirit. Do you see similarities in what you both do?
Absolutely. Everybody there has been great. It’s so bizarre because the entertainment industry in general is iffy, so to say. I never know exactly what I’m in for, ever. This was easy. It was perfect. Once I found that it was the case, it was great. When we did the photo shoot for the stuff, Tech was just great, like, “Yeah, I’m up for whatever.” Most of the time, if I’m shooting a music video – there was a time I shot a music video and the lead singer was just wasted on Jager and refused to come out. I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” Tech is not like that at all. He was like, “Let’s do this. Let’s get this shit down.” I just never get that.
I know you both went to Wizard World: Chicago in August. What was that like?
Oh my god, it was awesome. The fans were crazy. Every other five seconds walking past the booth all I would hear is, “Tech N9ne! Tech N9999ne!” It was hilarious. It was a great experience and then just to sit there with Tech and watch him be there with the fans and for the fans. He really gives a shit about the fans. That’s my M.O. when I do a show – fans comes first, they’re great. For me, it’s the reason that I do what I do. He was right there with them. It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had. It was perhaps one of the best comic experiences I’ve had. I hope he does more shows with me and I think he will.
You were also a part of a panel with Tech and DMC, right?
Yeah. It was weird because I thought, okay, I’m on this panel for a reason, but I’m not entirely sure why. So I’m just going to sit here and throw a word in periodically. It was really cool, DMC was great. To be in between what I consider two music legends – I was in heaven. I love both Tech’s music and DMC’s music. The fact that Tech had never done a show before and there he was with DMC, that was definitely cool. It was really good and I think the fans really liked it.
At the end of day, we sometimes forget that we’re they’re for the fans and not necessarily the other way around. We’re there to make them happy. At the convention, there was a kid that had a learning disorder and spoke up about it. He blew all of our minds because he reinforced everything we were saying and said it so much better than we did. Anyone can be anything, if they want it bad enough. That was really the message that came across from the panel – don’t give up on anything.
I know that beyond the Strange Music stuff you have a lot coming up. What’s next on your plate?
I’ve got a TV show coming next year called Red Brick Road. I also have another TV show coming next year or the year after called Harvester. Then we’re working on a reality show with Kevin Eastman, myself, and a rotating judge. It’s like American Idol but for creators.
In November, I start principal photography on my first film, No Turning Back. Then, I’m scheduled to do two more films next year. They’ll be different genres. My first film is a bank heist, the second is horror/action, and then I have a drama at the end of it. In between all that, I’m selling a few ideas. I keep myself pretty busy.
Anything more in the world of comics?
Yes! I’m glad you asked. I’m finishing up the last graphic novel that I will personally do. There’s a producer in town, Mike Beneroya, and he came up with this idea. Friends of mine, Rider Strong and Shiloh Strong – Rider was in Boy Meets World, they’re writing it. I agreed to illustrate it and I didn’t realize what I was getting into. It’s 160-pages long and it will officially be my last full graphic novel, unless I get pulled out of my graphic novel retirement. I’m sure I’ll get pulled back kicking and screaming, but for the foreseeable future, it’s the last one I’m doing. I’ll still do some things like short stories and covers though.
That sounds insane.
There’s so many people – there’s just so many stars in this graphic novel. Everyone I know usually ends up in the graphic novel, usually dying horrible. I’m sure Tech and Travis will die horrible in the graphic novel.
Also, and I’m not sure if this will happen, but I would like to see E.B.A.H. made into a sculpture. I’m slowly, but surely trying to talk them into it. It would be the coolest thing ever.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I do want to give a shout out to my assistants Arianna and Gabriel. Just know that both of them are working real hard at pleasing my grouchy ass (laughs).
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BY ROB PRIOR
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