First Comics News: Russ, what say we start this interview by me asking you the following: where and when were you born, and where did you grow up and go to school, including for later art training? And how did you find that experience?
Russ Rainbolt: I was born in Dallas, Texas on September 21, 1957, which was a week before the Russians launched Sputnik into orbit. I’m a SPACE RACE baby, and I watched all the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo missions including the 6 Moon walks and bit my fingernails in fear with Apollo 13, the real thing and the movie.
(1. Author’s note: that very same day, Oct 4th of 1957,the very first roll-out of the all Canadian Avro Arrow jet fighter took place, a sleek 1950’s Canadian jet fighter fleet, which well exceeded Mach Two-! )
Russ: We traveled the US while my dad got his Masters, then his PHD in Math. We lived in Charlottesville and Blacksburg, Virginia for a couple of years each and spent summers in Denver, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin to name a few.
In the end I went to High School in Monroe, Louisiana where I spent most of my time in the Ouachita Band, an incredible music program directed by Ron Inzer, a guy that looked like Edgar Allen Poe and demanded absolute PERFECTION from his students… and GOT IT.
I was drawing all the time by then and heavily into comics but Inzer’s drive for perfection was really contagious!!!
And then there was Art School. School of Visual Arts in New York. Big move for me at that time but NY was in my blood and I took right to it. I started off in Illustration and then switched to Fine Art with most of my academic classes in Philosophy and Art Theory. The avant-garde and modernism fascinated me but I had such a classical streak in me that it caused a lot of distress by the time I graduated.
1st: Meant in the best possible way, I understand that you used to be a sign painter. How does a sign painter later end up doing numerous HUGELY MASSIVE, fantastic paintings of numerous iconic super heroes for Comic Book Conventions-? And how did you get started doing that?
Russ: Yeah, well, I wasn’t exactly a sign painter like little store signs and stuff. What happened was I decided to get some sunshine into my life after Art School so I moved down to Austin, Texas for a couple of months. My younger brother, Ric, had moved to Dallas a year earlier and when I went to visit him I saw a little ad in the Dallas paper that said “Billboard Painter, wanted, experience preferred”. A light went off in my head and I said that would be really cool…! I always loved James Rosenquist’s art and was fascinated with painting giant-sized art. So I took my portfolio over of all my classical paintings and photo-realist studies and they said “You want to paint billboards, fine, you’re hired!” I moved in with my brother and as it turned out, painting 14 x 48 foot paintings was a NATURAL for me.
Fast forward 3 years and I am in New Haven, Connecticut with my own freelance company, designing and personally hand-painting billboards on a rope and scaffold staging 100 feet off the ground through summer and winter but making a serious 6 figure income and having a blast. In the meantime I did independent art projects for Yale University, the Schubert Theater and tons of projects from murals to collaborations in Connecticut, New York, England and France. I honestly would work 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week for 2 or 3 weeks in a row. Then I would disappear for 3 or 4 days to relax and see some friends. It wasn’t even like work to me but it was very high production and very high demand and I was busy 24-7.
So 2001 rolls around, and I’ve got a double set of every Valiant Comic ever printed and I sell it to this guy out of Rochester, NY named Joe Petrilak. Turns out that Joe Petrilak is the producing a convention called the ALL-TIME CLASSIC. There was a 20 x 60′ billboard blank, a vinyl canvas that was pre-primed for painting that was sitting in the corner of the Billboard painting studio. The clients had changed their mind and wanted a smaller 14 x 48 foot painting instead of the more expensive 20 x 60 foot painting. And then I had the idea! What if I did an homage to all my favorite comic book heroes and then some like the cover of the Steranko history of comics?! …But on that 20 x 60 foot vinyl!!! Petrilak said he had space for it and that it would be a fantastic tribute to all the artists and writers who were there. I had 60 days to do it in though and he said I was totally crazy to even attempt it. That’s all I needed to here! It took several weeks to design it and it took one solid month of nonstop paining 12 hours a day seven days a week to get it done. I finished two days before with just enough time for it to dry before I took it to the show. I was finished at 4 o’clock in the morning on Wednesday and took it down on Friday.
That was the start! There were so many artists and writers at that show that I can’t even begin to name them all. One person in particular who was there was Roy Thomas. Roy printed a photograph of me standing in front of the all-time classic painting in Two Morrow
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Russ: I always read the strips in the newspapers and read Charlie Brown books over and over again when I was really young. At 8 years old I was even laughing in my sleep after reading Mad Magazines at my cousin’s house. It was the funniest thing I’d ever read. I was a Mad reader forever and a day…then there was National Lampoon’s High School Parody. I’m still laughing!!!
Then WHEN I was around age 13, a friend of mine had Creepy #20…! The art was amazing and Al Williamson’s THUMBS DOWN skeleton scared the hell out of me. And there was Reed Crandall on Edgar Allen Poe’s the Cask of Amontillado was GREAT. I was hooked on Warren comics and THEN, drum roll….., my cousin went to college and left me tons of his old comic books… Spidey 19, FF 48 and Avengers 4… mostly beaten up but right then and there…FOOM! I’m a MARVEL MANIAC from that day on. I went back and got all the FFs I could get my hands on, then Thor, then Spidey, then everything. I found a few collectors at school and we would spend our entire weekend talking comics. Carl Sharp introduced me to RBCC and Alter Ego. He was a big collector and I learned a lot from him.
Russ: It seems I was always goofing off and drawing. I have a drawing I did when I was four years old, a family portrait with my dad in a cowboy hat. He has never worn one but I guess the Roy Rogers shows on TV must have convinced me that my dad ought to be a cowboy. When I was in the 4th grade I drew a Mad fold-in that got me sent to the principal’s office. Opened up it illustrated my fourth grade class in total pandemonium Mad Magazine style… Throwing apples, ripping up textbooks, barfing little Mad fish skeletons and kids screaming and tearing out hair and crazy misspelled words on the blackboard. When you folded it in there was a picture of the teacher looking super angry wearing a pair of jackboots and holding a whip with all the kids in their chairs acting like little lambs! As I got older I would draw whatever came to mind. I did my own stories and even published a small fanzine thing that I sold about 20 copies of through CBG, the Comic Buyers Guide. By the time I was in Junior High I had started taking being an artist fairly seriously, enough to buy books on perspective and drawing from the figure. It was hard to imagine actually making a living as an artist though. I was completely enthralled by all the artists at Marvel and DC but we were so far from New York that it was just some distant fantasy that you could actually be part of that world.
I was determined to get to New York any way that I could, however and when it came to applying for colleges I shocked my parents by getting into The School of Visual Arts in New York. At 18 I moved to Manhattan and lived in the Chelsea Hotel, a place where Tom Waits happened to live and Arthur C. Clarke was known to stay when he visited New York.
1st: I understand, Russ that you often have on hard large paintings for sale at various comic book conventions. Are these paintings – some of them of a massive size – for sale, or just for display purposes? Either way, they are all jaw-droppingly gorgeous! Having looked at your Facebook page several times ie: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=russ%20rainbolt%20comic%20con
I understand that you do sell copies of these paintings (signed prints) of these paintings. How long have you been doing these types of paintings? Are these OIL paintings? And if not, what medium or mediums do you use in these multi-coloured, splendorous scenes?
Russ: Oh, the paintings are definitely for sale. I can paint in all sizes but I prefer the larger canvases. Most of my new work is 10 feet tall. It’s more of who I am and how I think about comic books. I mean, to me, comic book characters have always been bigger than life… so why not paint them bigger than life! Classical paintings did that. The Greek and Roman gods and heroes were painted and sculpted bigger than life and that’s what you see in the museums. There is a dynamic to some of those earlier classical paintings that almost seems lost now. I think that comic books have created an entire set of New Gods. They will see this in the near future, when they look back. It’s more than just a concept by Jack Kirby. It actually captures the essence of why this genre is so popular. The original Greek gods were very human in their own way with special powers, mostly from Nature. Comic book heroes take that concept and move it up a few notches, make it modern, make it breathe, make it powerful.
1st: Do you also do Commission art (either sketches, pen and ink, and/-or paintings) for fans willing to pay for exact scenes they’ve imagined?
Russ: Oh, sure! I’m open to all sorts of ideas, and fans have some of the coolest concepts on the planet, too!
It’s their imaginations that keep the comic book professionals on their toes!
1st: And if so, what is the very best way for someone to contact you for that express purpose?
Russ: My website, www.russrainbolt.com has a contact form. Or you can friend me, Russ Rainbolt, on Facebook. Just send me a message. I may be up to my elbows in paint sometimes so give me an hour or two to get back to you… because painted up fingers don’t work on phones and there was that time I answered the phone while painting and freakin’ dropped it into the turpentine…!!
1st: I also understand, Russ, that you’ve done a recent published comics art story for the relatively new comics magazine entitled THE CREEPS, which itself is an ongoing anthology horror comic book title, reminiscent of the classic Warren Publishing’s ‘CREEPY’ and ‘EERIE’ black and white over-sized horror anthology monthly titles, of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.
Was this your first ever published work in comics? And if so, does this mean that we will be seeing your further work in other titles as well? I sure hope so! How did you come to land that assignment?
Russ: The Creeps first came to my attention about a year and a half ago, when they were publishing their second issue. It was a black and white, self-published comics magazine in the old 8 1/2 ” x11 ” format that was a perfect copy of the WARREN PUBLISHING style books, which were such a rage during the Silver and Bronze age of comics. I was ecstatic that someone had taken that direction, and even been so bold, as to name it a near knock off of the original CREEPY. Even the mascot, the Old Creep, is little more than a hooded version of the original CREEPY, himself. I ordered issues one and two, and I found myself even more excited than before!
The interior was an exact copy of the original Warren format, printed on newsprint, with color covers by Ken Kelly and Sanjulian. Even the writing had that early Archie Goodwin inspired method with the weird humored retorts at the end of each horror story. It was not just any horror magazine, it was a dead-knock off, a RE-INCARNATION! Jason Paulos illustrated a series of stories that made you feel like you were seeing Wally Wood art again and even Rich Sala had an early Bernie Wrightson feel to his art. The old magazine, the big black and white art … but this time I was dying to be part of it! Suddenly, to make it all the more exciting, Rich Sala, propelled by the enormous fan success he had with the first two issues decided to risk it all and hit the news-stands with issue 3, not through Diamond, but through Barnes and Noble and other venues. And to top it all off THE CREEPS #3 had a FRAZETTA cover!
That did it. I sat down started scribbling out images and I came up with two WERESABERS attacking a WEREWOLF. I figured werewolves are almost always men, so maybe weresabers could be mostly women. Then I had this wild Deja-vu thing happen and realized that I could compliment Jason Paulos’ Wally Wood style in The Creeps with a Frazetta style story. I had gotten good with imitating styles as a billboard painter and I remembered Frank had some cool looking guys and some nice babes in his Love comics from the 1950’s work. I wanted to capture that retro feel to it all, to be like the original Creepy stories. So I borrowed an entire set of characters from Frazetta’s story EMPTY HEART from Untamed Love #1. LINK TO PAGES
Then I made up a plot that was a sequel to Frazetta’s original WEREWOLF story in Creepy #1. Sounds complicated but it was all just for the fun of it. I submitted a script for a 5 page story in the Archie Goodwin format, as is required by THE CREEPS, and emailed Editor Sala my initial weresabers vs werewolf drawing. He said “Not bad..!” and gave me the go ahead to draw the story for a future issue of the Creeps. I really worked my head off trying to get the Frazetta stuff as perfect as I could. It put a huge drain on the schedule to get it all just right. Its one thing to draw your own art but quite another to tackle imitating someone as daunting as Frazetta. I took a deep breath and just stuck to doing it as perfectly as I could. It turned out that my original 5 page story seemed to end too quickly so I told Rich Sala that the artist wasn’t happy with having it all compressed into only 5 pages and it needed to be 6.
In the end DINNER FOR TWO made it into issue #5, all 6 pages, and was just published in January 2016.
1st: What is next for your planned future paintings, and where will they be shown, when complete?
Russ: My plans get bigger every time I pick up a brush! I am doing a special video for First Comics News, a time-lapse video of the first in a series of paintings that I call it the HALL OF HEROES SERIES. The first painting is a painting of Superman. It is a standing portrait with a dark grey background but it is TEN FEET TALL. It is the Chris Reeves Superman with a magnificent cape, lightly blowing in the wind, an homage to both the character and the actor and it is painted in a near photographic classical style in oils on canvas. Next will be Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Batman, Spider-man, the Hulk, the Flash and on and on and on, each painting being 10 foot tall. In the end there will be a gigantic hallway of Superheroes that you can walk down, literally a HALL OF HEROES. I will try my best to make time-lapse film of many of these works just to show other artists and fans just how these paintings are made. It takes a bit of extra setup to do it but it’s really fun to see a high speed version painting a canvas that is 10 foot tall.
I would like to make a series of stories on canvases, large canvasses as part of a graphic novel series. Once I make the right connections you will see something of fantastic dimensions travelling the convention circuit.
As far as appearances at comic book conventions, I am booked for four Comic Cons so far this year, but I am open to any conventions that will give me space to show the work, sell prints and a hotel!
The current convention list is as follows:
Terrificon, Mohegan Sun, Connecticut, August 21-23 http://www.terrificon.com/
Colorado Springs Comic Con, August 28-30, 2016 http://www.cscomiccon.com/
Hartford Comic Con, September 24-25, 2016 http://www.comiconn.com/
Rhode Island Comic Con, November 11-13, 2016 http://www.ricomiccon.com/
****And publishers take note! I want to paint covers for comics and magazines, and a 6, 8 or 10 foot tall cover would make a really cool advertising stunt. LMK! I can bring the work in person.
Russ: I would love to bring my work to Canada. In many ways, I’m just getting started with touring to conventions, but it’s really the best showcase for my art. It’s one thing to see cool covers and posters at shows, but I think I bring something unique when it’s actually a Renaissance sized Oil on Canvas painting. I know there are many conventions in Canada and the U.S., and all around the world, where I would love to show my paintings.
I’m just beginning to put together a tour schedule, so I am open to any and all events.
I would love to do covers! Just need to make the connections… Hopefully your article will get the interest. Of course, if you know a few publishers or editors tell them I’m interested. I’ll certainly make it up to you…’
Russ: Following is the web link to The Creeps black and white magazine sized comics series, which draws its’ inspiration from the 1960’s through 1980’s Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella comics series of horror anthologies:
Warren Publishing also published various other titles and one-shots, including my favourite, William Dubay’s THE ROOK, the short-lived The Goblin title, and others. Rik Rainbolt made his comics art story debut in THE CREEPS # 5, which was published quite recently. See below: