Digital Reign Interview: John Rios
I have been a comic book fan since I was a kid. A few years ago, I came across an online comic called DEAD DAYS over at deviantART. And as the webcomic approaches strip number 400, I couldn't resist inviting the artist to this forum.

John ... welcome to Digital Reign. Say something to "the people".
Hi Stephen. I'll assume you called me amazing and good-looking in the introduction here. You're too kind! Seriously! Good-looking? Such flattery!

First, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What did you want to be when you "grew up"?
Welp, I'm John Rios, the writer and illustrator of the popular (not really) comic strip DEAD DAYS. I live in Fresno, California, the city made famous by Kevin Federline (ugh). I grew up in an even smaller little town called Del Rey, California where I knew since the age of about 3 that I wanted to be an artist. Or a karate master. Artist won out in the end.

How old were you when you started drawing? What was your first cartooning job? What made you choose the drawing style you are now "famous" for?
I've been drawing my whole life, really. As a kid I'd draw Ninja Turtles and as a teen I'd draw X-men. It wasn't until high school that I decided to bite the damn bullet and create a comic strip for my school newspaper. It was called "Nowheresville" and, surprisingly, it had it's funny moments. I really set the tone for DEAD DAYS, which I'd soon start for my college paper. My "famous" (yes, the quotations are mandatory) style came from years of refining it till I felt I had something new. I'm still refining it. Come back in 4 years and look at the strips I'm doing today. I guarantee they'll look like ass in comparison.

Do you have any formal training in art or design, or does your creativity and style just come naturally? What is your REAL job? Does it get in the way of your comic strip?
Well, I majored in Graphic Design and currently work as a professional designer at a local firm. That's my real job and it's what keeps me fed. Yeah, it gets in the way of my strip in lots of ways, but never enough that I can't crank out a new strip every week. Though if I wasn't working full-time, I'd love to be able to churn-out about 2 or 3 strips a week. So, I guess it gets in the way in that I can't do as many strips a week as I would like. Stupid "The Man" and his insistence on trying to "keep me down."

What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
S'more DEAD DAYS. I can't really image an end to the strip in the foreseeable future. I picture the characters growing up a bit... A BIT... and tackling an even wider range of subject matter. Who knows? Maybe it'll go animated or into comic book form. We'll see how things pan-out. And hopefully my wife and I will be living in a nicer place so that she doesn't leave me for an orthodontist.

Can you describe yourself in three words? Why those three?
Optimistic, Obsessive and Outrageous. I'm both optimistic and obsessive when it comes to my passions. I just chose "outrageous" to keep the alliteration going...

How and when did you come up with the idea for Dead Days? Do the guys (and girls) in the strip really exist ... are they friends of yours?
My college paper needed a comic strip and, being their line artist, I was forced to do it or risk being called a chicken. I AIN'T NO CHICKEN. So despite my part-time office job (to get me through school), my regular weekly workload at the paper and, you know, COLLEGE, I took on the task. It started as a weekly strip but quickly turned into a tri-weekly. Did I mention I'm obsessive? The whole time I was simultaneously posting them online and I soon realized that there was more excitement about it online than in my home town. So I created a site for the strip and have been doing it as a webcomic ever since.

The only character somewhat based on someone I know is the cat. All the other characters really come from my own noggin... not that people in my life don't inspire many of the strips. Coz they do.

You have been a member over at deviantART for 5 years. When considering the popularity of your strips, is there a "bigger plan" that we aren't aware of yet?
I like to believe that if you build and build and build, one day you're going to look around and find that you're pretty high up there. I'm not really concerned about "making it big" or that sort of thing, I just dig making comics and hearing from people who are truly pumped to read it every week. Trust me when I say that you don't get into comic strips for the money. That said, there will always be something neat going on with DEAD DAYS.

What is your favorite strip?
Of all time? Damn. Well, the best I can do is name only a few: Gary Larson's "The Farside," Berkley Breathed's "Bloom County/Outland," Jerry Van Amerongen's "Ballard Street," and Bill Watterson's "Calvin & Hobbes." A few of my online faves are K.C. Green's "Droop," Nicholas Gurewitch's "The Perry Bible Fellowship," and Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest."

Who (or what) inspires you?
The people listed above, good movies, good music, good comics and my amazing wife, Sarah.

Tell us about your biggest plan for the future? Is there something you are preparing for that will take you to new heights?
Just keeping my readers happy.

Since I know there are fans out there, are you selling collections of strips to the public? For the people that want to keep up with the guys in the strip ... tell us where we can order compilations.
Oh totally. I've independently published 4 collections of DEAD DAYS strips which are available by ordering them through me personally. All the details are at my site: DEAD DAYS

Who is your favorite artist?
When I was reading Marvel comics growing up, I was a crazy huge fan of Andy Kubert. His style was tops in my book. These days, I have to say that the man-God Frank Miller takes the cake.

What do you do for fun and relaxation?
I'm a pretty big Gamer. I'm an unabashed Nintendo Fanboy and love me some Mario and Zelda. I currently only own a Wii and DS (currently playing Smash Bros. Bawl and Phantom Hourglass), but I'll have to find a way to get my hands on a 360 when the new GTA comes out. Otherwise, I chill with Sarah and our cats, hit the beach whenever possible (a 2 hour drive from where I live), and love a great movie. And I draw. Even when I've been drawing all day.

Do you have any thoughts about online communities? Is deviantART a good thing for artists or is it becoming too "corporate"?
Oh, I think online communities are an awesome tool for artists! Not only do you get your stuff seen, but you meet people, network, make like-minded friends and, in my case, build a bitchin' readership! It's a great way to get advice and constructive criticism from more experienced artists that can help you improve your own work.

I try never to get too angry at something for becoming "too corporate" because big websites like deviantART need to make money in order to survive. Hell, even small sites like mine need income (Hence the ads. Don't hate me for em!). deviantART isn't forcing you to subscribe and there's nothing wrong with providing special features to those who do. It's still essentially a free exposure and that's more than you can hope for these days.

Have you ever been "ripped"? Has anyone ever stolen your work (or concepts) and claimed it as their own? If so ... what did you do about it?
Haha, it's happened a few times, but my comic is generally well known enough that someone eventually ends up calling them on their bullshit (those of you who have spoken up to an obvious rip, I thank you). Usually, people are really cool about telling me they're going to use one of my strips or expand on one of my ideas. I figure I'm a pretty nice guy and, as a whole, people are pretty nice right back to me.

If you could help people simply by making a public statement about one particular cause, what would it be, and how would you like to help?
Woah, we're getting into Miss America question territory here! But if you're going to make me be opinionated and serious here for a sec, I'd tell Americans to vote Democrat in this next presidential election. For the last 8 years our current Administration has been unconscionably running our nation's economy into the ground and ruining our reputation with the rest of the world with a war that should never have been waged. We now have a chance to help change direction we're headed and stop the rest of the world from thinking we're a country made up of a bunch of shitheads. Vote accordingly. *end serious tone*

We know you have the "artistic" bug, and as you close in on your 400th strip, can you give us a preview of the next 400 "episodes"?
The next 400 strips are going to rock your FACE. Expect the characters to grow, look for meaning and have their relationships to become more important than they have in the past... at times. For the most part, it'll still be a bunch of idiots doing idiot things in a stupid funny way. That's what the strip is all about after all.

Is there anything we haven't asked that you want to tell us about?
Um, I think after 20 multi-tiered questions, I've said about all there is to say for one interview.

Thanks for the time. Good luck in the future my friend.
Thanks for reading everyone and caring about what it is I have to say. Hope it's been, uh, enlightening? Or at least not boring enough to make you take your own life. Thanks to everyone who's read DEAD DAYS and has contributed to making it the strip it is today! Even after 400 strips, it's not going to end anytime soon, so stay tuned buds! Later.

Posted By: Stephen (25 March 2008)
deviantARTDEAD DAYS by John Rios
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