Robert Ickis Mirolo

Interview by Ellen Tannam and portrait by Steve O'Connor

We spoke to the Dublin illustrator behind our forthcoming sixth issue, Shame, about his work, naked androgynes and Earthworm Jim.

Tell us about how life has led you to become an artist and illustrator - what influenced you?

I loved cartoons - and I still love cartoons and when I was a kid I wanted to make video games, I was mad into that. I think cartoons like Earthworm Jim and The Tick are some of my earliest memories. I started drawing a good bit more when I was like 12, and kept it up through my teens.

I was pretty terrible but I got into art college. I did fine art media for a year, I was really into soundscapes and sound design and then I switched to Viscom and practiced my drawing a lot. I started to care about it a lot more, it occurred to me then that you could actually make money as a commercial illustrator so I just started working really hard.

What’s it like working as a freelancer- and what would you tell people who are considering freelance work?

It’s great being your own boss but be prepared to work like 70 hours a week. Work everyday, and wake up early. 

I’m in here till like 9 most days and if I have a day off I don’t know what to do with myself. I watch Adventure Time for breaks because the episodes are only 10 minutes long. I worked at home for a long time and could if I needed to but it’s definitely easier to knuckle down in a studio space, I find.

Wake up early is probably the best piece of advice I can give anyone, just get out of bed.

You're the illustrator for our sixth issue, and the theme (Shame), is a pretty heavy one. How did you find working around that?

It was definitely really interesting because so much of the subject matter was so fraught, that it was quite difficult to create a cartoon on a topic with due sensitivity.

You know, when people are talking about the death of a close friend and you’re somebody who draws talking pigeons- how do you broach that appropriately?

That was challenging and really interesting. Doing the pieces in this really brash, adult cartoon style was difficult as well.

I tend to draw things very mid-toney with a lot of white space and that’s the exact opposite of what was required of me for this - I got to use a lot of bright bold colours for this.

It was good because I got to draw lots of naked people. I love to draw naked androgynes, and just naked people in general like, every second story in this issue had nudity in it, so I really enjoyed that aspect. 

What are your own personal experiences with shame?

I was thinking about it a lot during the time I spent working on the issue. I don’t want to be one of those people thats like, ‘my shame is I feel no shame’. Usually it’s after something really stupid like being on a 3-day bender.

That’s the kind of thing I feel bad about just like, ‘I’m gross’. That’s probably my primary experience with shame. It’s not really something I do anymore, but I definitely had a phase for probably about two years where it was like every weekend.

I think I used to find it hard to work unless I was railing against something, like fighting against being on a massive comedown. I think now, I don’t need that as much anymore.

What have been some of your favourite projects you’ve ever worked on?

I think Guts is definitely one of them. I’m doing some work for the Leprechaun Museum, some website design so that’s lots of fun. Lots of fantasy drawing.

Beatyard Festival was cool, it was definitely the most visible work I’d ever done and I had never seen any of my drawings printed so large. I think there's quite a gulf between my own personal work and the commercial work I do.

You are also an animator, how do you approach that in contrast to your illustration work?

I come at a pretty different perspective. A lot of the animation I’m doing now is boring motion graphics stuff and a lot of tight deadlines, so I don’t get to push it that much. I’m obsessed with film as well so now when I go to do a personal animation, I’m almost crippled by how good I want it to be.

What kind of animation would you be measuring yourself against?

Nothing really, cos there’s no way I could get my technical skill up to the level I want it to be. I don’t think I’d ever have the time to practice. T. I’m obsessed with Studio 4C, an anime studio who did Tekkonkinkreet and The Animatrix and they’re amazing. I find their films are as beautiful as Studio Ghibli films but violent, and I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan. My favourite is Ponyo, for sure. I love watching Ponyo when I’m hungover. 

If you do have a rare day off, what do you do for fun?

I like being in nature. Myself and my girlfriend went to Wexford a few weeks ago and I didn’t work for three days and it actually felt great. You can’t work down there, no signal. We drank gold leaf vodka, climbed on top of a JCB and hung out in a graveyard.

What are you working on now that you're really excited about?

Guts will be my flagship for 2016. I’m also trying to do a series of single frame stories about Victorian era queer relationships. I love the idea of the sincerity of love that has to be kept secret, but it hasn’t got the moral ambiguity like cheating. There’s something amazing and sorrowful about that. It’s going to be a series of screen prints. I don’t know if I’m going to exhibit them or what yet, but that’s my personal private project right now.

You can find more of Robert's brilliant work on his website, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Our sixth (and final) print issue, Shame, is coming soon and we're having a party to celebrate.