I’ll admit that I’m biased, but the art that Jason Week provided for a certain signature Barracuda is among my favorite yo-yo graphics of all time. We spoke with Jason earlier this year about his background as an artist, his introduction to the yo-yo world, and (very briefly) the mating habits of puffins, but I enjoyed the Barradrewda design process so much that I had to bring him back. Read on for exclusive concept sketches and the art of balancing panels on an arm cannon.
YoYoNews: When we contacted you, the idea was still pretty simple. Brandon noticed that putting together black & grey halves made for a colorway reminiscent of the original NES, and because Rafael & I have bonded over old school video games, we wanted to draw inspiration from that aesthetic. Also, I wanted to be a robot boy fighting an evil fish. How did you take this dream to reality?
Jason Week: It wasn’t exactly a hard gig to daydream about. If you set me loose on a project referencing Osamu Tezuka, Mega Man, and 8-bit nostalgia it’s going to take over my brain. I did a lot of sketching on the shower door, believe it or not. Really helps to work out composition. Then I just piled up images from the Mega Man games, mostly Mega Man 2, game sprites and illustrations from the manuals. I like the wonkiness of the manual art, and the simplicity of the sprites. Then I did the same with images of Astro Boy, and just let them sit in front of me while I worked stuff out. I like to have reference all over when I’m drawing so I can get it in through osmosis. I think it keeps things original to pull from all over and mash it all together. At a certain point though, I lose all the reference images and just make the illustration work. That’s my contribution to the style, I guess.
The Drew-Bot side was definitely the more challenging side. I went through multiple sketches to get to it. Damn legs took forever to work out, and they really only make sense in that one position. The Barracuda side came out right pretty much on the first try. The craziest thing I probably did was essentially finish inking both of the sides, and then decide the linework wasn’t crisp enough. So I zoomed waaaaay in and went over every edge with a one pixel wide brush so I could absolutely control how it turned out. I couldn’t deal with what I thought were sloppy lines.
We talked about a few cultural touchstones to get a start on the graphics – Bubble Man’s stage in Mega Man II, Dr. Tenma’s hair, etc. – but one of the most impressive things to me was the subtle homages you snuck into the details. What were some of the inspirations you drew from on this project?
JW: Yeah, the original inspiration for the Barracuda were the water enemies from the original Mega Man series, but his detail is much more involved. The eyes and the fins are the only true lifts from the games, the rest is just me problem solving to get from point A to point B. I really do try to let my reference drive me more indirectly most of the time. The big bolts and X pupil are all me. I love Xed out eyes, and I’ll put bolts like that in any drawing I can. I like the idea that you could defeat this guy with the right size socket wrench.
For a brief period of time, I was worried that people would think I was dissin’ Rafael because of the X-ed out eyes on the Barracuda. He was fine with it, of course, but I still had Jason draw these angry alternate eyes.
With your side of the Yoyo, it’s quite a bit more direct – Although the Tenma hair was a happy accident. I was just trying to draw your actual hair on the robot! But the cowlick and the reflections in it are straight from Astro Boy. I had some issues sticking the keypad on the Arm Cannon, but it had to be there for the Mega Man reference. But at one point it was strapped around the arm and it was veering a bit too close to Liefeld territory. The way it ended up is much, much better. The rest of the bot is just a mash up of stuff I like to draw, really. Especially the elbow patch. It makes me picture the Drew-Bot as a street urchin. Which I find funny.
What’s more fun: drawing robots, or drawing monsters?
JW: I probably have to give the edge to monsters, but robots are a blast, too. When they overlap it’s the best. Monsters work really well with tubes and jar brains. I mean, Mother Brain has got to be considered a cyborg, right?
Part of the inspiration for this yo-yo was the previous collaborative effort I had with Rafael, which was the Red vs. Drew video battle. If you could choose any two yoyoers to go head-to-head in a video battle, who would they be?
JW: Tough question. I always love when you and Ed go fixed axle against each other, but that’s already happened. Maybe Chris Mikulin vs John Higby? I’d kill to see just how goofy that would get. The tricks would be incredible. Definitely a fun watch.
The Yoyonews site takeover is a little bit different from most of your yo-yo work. Now that you’ve redesigned websites, illustrated classic tricks for trading cards, created comics about that lovable ol’ Dirtbag Yeti, and turned me into a robot wonderboy… what’s your next dream yo-yo job?
JW: Oh man, they’re ALL dream jobs. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the luckiest people on earth.I’d love to see a yoyo that was driven by the art that can be put on it. Maybe interchangeable plastic caps on a good metal. It’d be like changing your skate deck, you know? I know caps aren’t necessarily that popular, but it’d be a great way to personalize your throw. And it’d be a great venue for guys like Escolar, Higby, YOU, Steve Brown, and Jensen to go wild. There are a lot of pretty incredible artists and designers in the community that could contribute. It’d be wild. I’ve got a big mental storehouse of goofy ideas that I’d like to stick on the side of Yoyos. So, yeah. Oh, and I definitely want get some more Dirtbag Yeti comics done. Maybe a longer story that I could really dig into.
Now the real important question: who would win in a fight: Astro Boy, or Mega Man?
JW: Astro Boy, hands down. He’s the original, he’s stronger, and he’s got butt guns. I love Mega Man, but Astro Boy would clean his clock.
Big thanks to Jason for all his awesome work on the yo-yo and the site, and for letting us pester about his art sorcery once again!