RAK Graphics is a pre-black and white explosion comic company that is located in Akron, Ohio. Led by Robert Kraus, RAK continues to this day. Having expanded from comics into video games, board games, action figures, and a lot more, It is inspiring to see a company that is not from New York or LA to do so much.

It is also interesting to see how comics can touch other industries. RAK Graphics has seen many people within its ranks and each work outside of the comic book industry, yet keep comic centric material as part of what they do outside of the industry.

In this 3 part interview, I talk to Robert Kraus, Rick Sellers, and Aaron Archer. Rick went on to be a noted voice actor and Aaron is an action figure designing legend. Along the way, we discuss others that have been part of the RAK stable who all went on to do great things.

PART ONE OF THREE-PART INTERVIEW: ROBERT KRAUS

Tomorrow features Rick Sellers • Day after Tomorrow: Aaron Archer

JOESEPH SIMON
It’s 1986, Summit County, Ohio.  You decided to start a comic book company. What inspired you to do this?

RAK
I was both a budding writer and artist, and I felt the comic medium was the perfect foil for combining my two creative passions. plus, as a fan of the medium, I always felt it could be much more than juvenile men in tights stories. I felt there was growth potential for the medium, and that I could contribute something different to it. sci-fi, fantasy, and other types of stories were not well served at the time I started RAK Graphics, and I had a love and passion for those types of stories.

JOESEPH SIMON
What is the “origin” story of RAK?

RAK
This was long before the internet, and I was a pretty isolated artist/writer in a rust belt, industrial town. I had a lot of energy and ideas and not a clue on how one would break into the illustration/comics industry. I decided to just do my own thing. I am a fighter, I knew I would keep going till I won or got knocked out. I am still fighting, lol!

Robert Kraus of RAK Graphics

JOESEPH SIMON
You started your creative adventures in comics prior to the black and white explosion.  This is interesting because those who know what that is, likely know it from a reader or retailer point of view.  What is your perspective as a creator and publisher on the black and white explosion?

RAK
There were some very talented people doing great work – Arrow comics and their crew for example, and we were all doing some different things that were not mainstream. Cool experimental and niche ideas and concepts. Many of which went on to bigger and better things. Many became movies or in my case, a video game, penetrating the mass market. It was a great time for indie comics, but when TMNT went huge, everyone jumped in. The market was flooded and really drowned out a lot of us, eventually imploding the comic book scene.

JOESEPH SIMON
Your original comics did not include modern comic idioms. Instead, you place conventions of newspaper comics like Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant into the comic book page. For example, you rarely, if ever, include word balloons, thought bubbles or sound effects. What led you to take this as a company-wide stand and was it difficult getting the other creators on board?

RAK
I loved comics, especially the Marvel comics are done by Lee, Kirby, Ditko, etc., but I was not Marvel comics. I was working full time and also helped run a martial arts dojo, so I could not do a monthly title. also, I had my own interests and stories to tell, and I knew I needed to stand out from what was already being done. why start a business to just imitate my peers? I knew that to have a chance to succeed, I would have to offer something that – love it or hate it – was memorable. the guys that gathered around me did not mind following my lead. I think we were all just happy to have an outlet for our talent!

JOESEPH SIMON
Helping run a dojo is interesting, What comics really understand fighting and martial arts?

RAK
Although I enjoyed Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu and Iron Fist, most comics fall into the category of entertainment (like most martial arts movies, etc.), not fact-based fighting principles or actions. there is nothing wrong with that. for me personally, the discipline my martial arts training gives me is how I am always able to weather any storm that comes my way, and eastern philosophies and religions like Taoism and Buddhism help me see the world in a different way than my western upbringing would have limited me to.

JOESEPH SIMON
One of the aspects of comics in how they are created is the synergy of words and art. Yet many comics create a redundancy in the comic where the art backs up or supports the words.  You often were able to make the art stand on its own in how the story was being told. Talk about this. I’m interested in your thoughts on what a comic book is, format-wise and as a storytelling medium.

A Chakan graphic novella.

RAK
I think I have a broad definition of what a comic book is and also what it can be. I feel a lot more can be done with words and pictures, size and format, that unfortunately, few have experimented with. For me, if I have a Chakan story that is 12 pages, it’s a 12-page book. if I have a story that is 48 pages, that that is what it will be. my graphic novellas are smaller (8.5”x5.5”) than traditional comics, which suits the profusely illustrated but more prose direction I have taken the Chakan character. doing so also has enabled me to totally embrace desktop publishing, with all production of the books done in the studio! I now have total control of inventory and quality control and I am free to create as I see fit, without worrying that the final books art will be too dark or washed out. the size also helps my offerings stand out from the ridiculously high number of monthly titles. I was initially worried about how fans would accept a different kind of publishing output, but the response has been fantastic! for me, it means I can add tons of cool stories to enrich the mythos of Chakan and even finish up things like Thundermace in the future!

JOESEPH SIMON
That is exciting. Thundermace was my introduction to RAK. I always wanted to read the ending! Thundermace was also my first acknowledgment that someone from the area could go indie and do comics on their own. I think RAK served as that for many people.

RAK
Many people have told me that I inspired them or helped them out on their creative path, all I know is I have always tried to be an open spirit, and never hold back knowledge from others. I only compete with myself, I realize that all we can be is the best we can be, so why should I stress and worry about others ability or levels of success. I have had a great career, unique in many ways, and I am not done yet, lol!

JOESEPH SIMON
Will whatever you have planned for Thundermace follow the Chakan novella format?

RAK
Yes. I love the prose format that I am using, and with all the things I am involved in, it is the only way I will be able to finish it.

JOESEPH SIMON
Thundermace was a collaboration between you and Rick Sellers. Rick is popularly known as the voice of 1-800-The General on TV and many other outstanding voice acting coolness. Both you and Rick have become well known. How was navigating RAK through the decades?

RAK
I started before the internet, so there was little information on how to break into comics, so I just did my own thing. same with rick. he had this crazy cool voice talent – when we worked together he would talk in every cartoon character’s voice you could imagine, spot on. so I think if you have a certain talent, you just have to have a passion for it that makes you pursue it until you succeed. a career is made over a lifetime, how much time you put into your craft and promoting yourself usually determines where ya end up with it.

JOESEPH SIMON
What about Akron made it helpful for you to do your thing? How did you connect to readers before the internet from Akron?

Chakan the Forever Man on Sega Genesis

RAK
It was hard to come from a city where everything was based on a factory mindset. I remember my first few times I did San Diego comic con, and all the young artists were very optimistic about the creative fields because they had family members who worked for Disney, or a movie studio. they knew one could have a legitimate chance at being creative. in Akron, especially when I started, no one knew what to make of me. it did not matter, that was not going to stop me. I am a fighter, I never quit, and I keep going until I accomplish what I want.

JOESEPH SIMON
Going back to Thundermace, how did you meet Rick Sellers? What led to the two of you working on Thundermace? For those who have to catch up, what is the story of Thundermace to date?

RAK
I entered an art contest at a creation sci-fi convention in Cleveland. there were 3 categories, color, pen and ink, and pencil. me,  Jim Groman (creator of RAK’s Buce n Gar and noted toy designer and sculptor) and Rick all won a category. I was amazed to find two other artists interested in the fantasy art stuff, so I set it up that we would meet once or twice a month. it kept all of us working and motivated because we wanted to have cool stuff to show each other when we met. they have been lifelong friends. from those meetings evolved the Thundermace character, and Rick agreed to help with it. great times, flying by the seat of our pants, learning art and business and salesmanship and working very hard.

JOESEPH SIMON
Thundermace featured Dragons. RAK also released Dragon of the Valkyr by Steve and Cheryl Simhuaser. RAK also released a card and board game called Dragon Wars. Are dragons symbolically your familiar?

RAK
As a kid, I read the Tolkien books with the dragons and creatures, loved artwork and sculptures featuring dragons, and in kung fu, there are training and techniques about dragons. I thought they would work well for a comic…

JOESEPH SIMON
From a backup feature in Thundermace to its own comic you have led Chakan the Forever Man to video games, action figures, board games and continue to tell his adventures even today with a more pulp-like presentation for dozens of Chakan stories.

RAK
Working on many more. I have been very fortunate to have created a character that still resonates with people today. I am very grateful!

JOESEPH SIMON
I have an interesting story to share with you on Chakan.  Shortly after Sega released the Chakan video game, I found myself in a legal situation and met with a law firm in downtown Cleveland. While they discussed the merits of my case, I was left in a room. In the room was a Sega Genesis and on the Sega was Chakan. It was the law firm’s favorite game on the console.

What is the story of how Chakan was released on the Genesis?

RAK
I met a representative from sega at Gencon gaming convention, and he loved the story and character. he took it back to the sega headquarters and pushed hard to get it made. they took a chance on it because the character was not for kids like sonic and their other offerings. it was very dark in tone and concept. he was a character that wanted to die, a melancholy weary soul trying to end his curse of immortality. they did a great job for me, no regrets!

JOESEPH SIMON
Thank you, Robert! Our interview was cut short due to deadlines, convention season and other time-consuming details. I hope to return to continue this interview in the months to come!

In the meantime, tomorrow we will post the Rick Sellers interview.

Rick and Robert co-created Thundermace together at the start of RAK Graphics. I interview Rick on his career from RAK Graphics into other comic-related adventures. Find out how the Thundermace and the 1-800-The General commercial are connected along with a lot more interesting things in tomorrow’s interview with Rick Sellers!  After that, we continue the three-parter with Hasbro legend and RAK collaborator, Aaron Archer!

Check out rakgraphics.com for more on Robert, his company and his career. While  you’re there don’t pass up the opportunity to read the first issue of Thundermace for free at rakgraphics.com/thundermace.html

https://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/index-page-template-top-banner2-600x126.jpghttps://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/index-page-template-top-banner2-150x31.jpgJoeseph SimonInterviewsChakan the Forever Man,RAK Graphics,Robert Kraus,Thundermace
RAK Graphics is a pre-black and white explosion comic company that is located in Akron, Ohio. Led by Robert Kraus, RAK continues to this day. Having expanded from comics into video games, board games, action figures, and a lot more, It is inspiring to see a company that is...