Damien Leo Rice is a young Irish illustrator whose work draws heavily from manga and video game art. He first spooked us out by sending a postcard to our designer Noel's house (turns out we'd actually had Noel's address up online, woops) and we got a chance to enjoy the many ripped dudes sweating and straining away in his work. Damien has already done work for The Guardian and had his work ripped off by RTE as well as producing post art for the LA Galaxy football team. We chatted to him about the intersection between illustration and athletics and being deep into manga.
Can you give us a bit of background as to who you are?
I studied design at Cork Institute of Technology and finished my degree in illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design over in Scotland. I warped my wrist tendons in my last year at C.I.T. so I’ve only been able to draw properly again recently.
What got you into illustrating and how did you develop your aesthetic?
I had a vague awareness of illustration growing up but never really thought about who drew the images on skateboard decks or in magazines. I liked comic books and art and skateboarding so I guess most of my aesthetic came from there until I got to college and was exposed to design. Then in 2nd year of C.I.T. you could take an illustration elective which was really my most formative experience at college. I read all those How to be an Illustrator and Fundamentals of Illustration books during that time so even though they're pretty outdated books they helped codify a lot of what being an illustrator involved. The teacher of the elective, Steven Young, really encouraged me to pursue it as a career and to switch to an illustration course so that's what I ended up doing.
Your characters have a manga/anime feel to them, do you have any specific influences in that genre?
When I was really young my family took a trip up to Dublin and I remember going into the Easons on Nassau St. with my brother and discovering Akira. They had all the volumes laid out on this table in the back and I remember thinking it was the wildest thing ever; I come from a fairly small town so that was my first introduction to comics other than the Beano and my first introduction to manga. Then I started growing up in the heyday of Toriyama's World, Tokyopop and Viz so manga was a pretty unavoidable influence. I read a lot of the stuff when I was younger – Good for Nothing BLUES by Masanori Morita, Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue and Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo were the biggest influences though. I should probably list Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon too since those were on the TV so much growing up.
A lot of the American and European comics I looked at growing up were inspired by manga too, so I was getting a lot of second-hand influence and Western interpretations on Japanese styles.
My brother has a pretty big disdain for most manga work so that probably helped keep me from going off the deep end stylistically and looking outside its sphere of influence, but its always going to be a big part of how I draw things.
Your clients include The Guardian and RTE - can you talk a bit about those commissions and how they came about? What was it like working on those briefs?
The Guardian job came about during my two years studying in Scotland. The tutor knew somebody that worked there and they were looking for people to illustrate an article dealing with the aftermath of the Scottish Independence Vote. It was exciting having a big client like that; it was a pretty hands off experience – I didn’t need to send in any thumbnails, or have any back and forth with an art director. It was a really open brief and a big opportunity.
RTÉ never actually commissioned me but they stole me and another illustrator’s work (Chrissy Curtin) for an end of year highlight show. They didn’t pay or credit us, but since they used our work I suppose they must’ve liked it so I listed them as a client. I’m not mad, just disappointed at their fuckboy theft. Every other job I’ve gotten has just been through contacting art directors and sending out postcards.
You seem to work in mixed media - is there any specific process to this or do you just change it up as you go along?
Nearly all my work is actually inked with a brush. I used to ink everything digitally but my illustration elective was so intensive that I knew I was going to work too slowly if I tried inking everything on a tablet. Then I injured my hand, so a brush was kind of the only thing I could use for a long time besides pencils. So, my process really isn't all that varied. I ink everything on bristol board and I like the superflat colouring style because it complements how black I like to ink things. Every now and again I attempt some little digital painting techniques if I feel an illustration needs it.
What would be a dream commission or client and why?
I think the New York Times is the big one for most illustrators. It hires a lot of cool illustrators and has a lot of cool designers and art directors working there so it’d be cool to be commissioned by them.
Most of your work seems to feature men, is there any special affinity you feel with drawing these types of generally pretty beefy, chiselled dudes?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ probably because I read too much JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as a teenager.
I went to an all boys school for secondary so I guess thats still a lingering influence on what I like to draw. I like trying to capture those scenes from back then – that kind of aimless wandering around with nothing better to do. A lot of the media I was drawn to growing up dealt with violent youth and coming of age drama (films like Scum, Ondskan, Once Upon a Time in High School or the video game Bully) so I guess I'm constantly trying to capture that 'coming of age' vibe in my own personal work.
At the same time I want to start switching it up in the New Year and start featuring more women in my work. I can't stay in an all boys school forever.
Last year I spent a while combining that coming of age aesthetic with young athletes, so that's why a lot of my characters are currently pretty chiselled in my portfolio. I guess I identify with the amateur athlete struggle. It's a lot of hours of work and isolation and the constant quest for improvement and a lot of waiting around and downtime. My Dad competed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics in Rowing and won a World Championship medal so I've always compared improving as an artist with improving as an athlete since I was young. Except with art you're really only competing with yourself, even if it can feel at times like you're competing with your peers.
Can you tell us about any upcoming work that we should be watching out for or any projects you'd love to be involved in?
The last couple months I've been doing some NDA design work for €€€ and let illustration slip for a while so I'm really looking forward to getting back to it full-time in the New Year. I'd also like to publish some zines next year so that'll probably happen some time. I'm also real aware that all my paid work has been done outside the country so far, so I need to start trying to get some work in Ireland, so that's going to be the future goal.
Check out Damien's work here.