How this Toronto-based Illustration Studio Works with Your Favorite Superheroes

Herbert Lui
Jul 23 · 4 min read
Courtesy of: Ramón Pérez

The sun was shining on Ramón Pérez. He and two friends were relaxing in a rented beach house in San Diego, a week before they would be joined by thousands of others from around the world for Comic-Con. Since the WildStorm offices (pre-DC Comics acquisition) were just a 20 minute walk away, they connected with senior editor Ben Abernathy and grabbed pints and tacos with him. They all exchanged contact information after, but didn’t talk about working together at all.

A few weeks later, Abernathy made a call to Pérez, asking if he’d be interested in working on a project together (this would later be the Resistance mini-series from Wildstorm). Pérez ends the story there, highlighting the moral that I was seeking, “Be yourself, don’t force your stuff down people’s throats. People are just fairly chill about that kind of stuff.”

“People like to work with people they like,” he reiterates.

This is classic advice on schmoozing from a battle-tested Pérez, who has illustrated iconic characters from the X-Men, Archie, and Spider-Man. He has also spent the past few years managing Toronto-based collective and creative agency, Royal Academy Of Illustration & Design (often shortened to RAID).

Pérez first met RAID’s co-founders, Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod, Ben Shannon, and Cameron Stewart, at the launch of their initial studio anthology, Rumble Royale. A few years later, he was approached to join their studio. Pérez was torn at the opportunity. Rent would cost $450 per month to be part of the studio, and he was in debt, and living paycheque to paycheque. After doing the math, he realized by doing just a few more jobs each month, he could make it work. He decided to join.

“You see people working, you’re not gonna be sitting there watching a movie on your monitor. You’re actually gonna knuckle down and work. And to be honest, the adjustment period was probably not even a month.”

Not only did RAID provide the benefit of referrals and pooling contacts together, but getting them together bolstered the client’s perception of their work. Pérez was part of three other virtual collectives prior to joining RAID for this reason. The facade of the company, and the cachet and stability that comes with it, can change the perception and negotiation with clients.

In order to test this theory, Pérez recalls an experiment he did for fun, early on in his career. He made up a pseudonym, using his middle name and his mother’s maiden name, and acted as his own agent. “You’d be surprised how well it worked,” he says with a grin. In a world where some clients treat creatives as disposable or little more than commodities, Pérez’s experience suggests that the facade makes the client take creative work more seriously.

This insight fueled Pérez’s interest to invest in RAID’s branding in 2010. While the studio existed in name and physical space, the entity had no website, logo, or even a hashtag. Now, having already worked with the industry’s leaders, Pérez and the studio are spending some time on an anthology project. It’s something that they’d been thinking of for several years. They released their second volume recently, but they’re already hard at work on the third volume.

Courtesy of: Ramón Pérez

“A lot of us came from a time where probably, before we worked professionally, we were doing our own comics for fun. Photocopying them at the back of some Kinko’s or whatever, staple binding them, and then going to conventions and expos.”

The anthologies can generate revenue for RAID — a dream almost every studio has — but it’s also a great product to share with their clients and community. It keeps RAID at the top of everybody’s minds, and shows off each artist’s capabilities.

“It’s a great avenue for us to showcase not only what we like to do as individuals, things that we might not necessarily get the opportunity to do on a day to day basis,” says Pérez. “Say an artist is known for doing kid-friendly stuff, and he or she wants to do maybe a darker, grittier thing. But if they go to a client, they’re like, ‘Well, your entire repertoire is all kid’s books.’ So, it’s a great way for them to try something different.”

Pérez says the first three volumes have been experiments in learning the process. “We’ve brought in a friend on RAID THREE who is an editor and a production designer for a large publisher. She’s freelancing with us on the side to build a schedule, add structure, and bring her expertise to better the book.”

“Maybe it’s something that doesn’t grow any larger than four or six books a year. Already, that’s a lot of work,” says Pérez. “But if that’s the end goal at five years from now, I’m more than happy. For me, it’s about creating an avenue for anybody who is either part of the internal network or the external network of RAID to say, ‘Hey, we offer this community, but we also offer these other aspects.’”

“It’s a way for us to have fun. And what books we do next year, how we try it out, it’s an experiment. But I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.”

RAID’s latest anthology, “RAID TWO,” is available now.

Herbert Lui

Written by

Former staff writer for Lifehacker. Written for The Huffington Post, Quartz, and The Globe and Mail. http://herbertlui.net/ https://www.wondershuttle.com/

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