Updated: Dec 24, 2020
That clean, poppy comic book style color has always been something that’s stood out to me in illustration. So naturally when I came across the work of Mario Zucca I immediately became a fan. Whether it’s in his clean illustrative portraiture or in his comical bending and proportioning of sports icons, Zucca has a style that has a fresh yet vintage feel. Fresh in that its heavy lines and bright colors jump right off of the page and leave a lasting impression, and vintage in that it’s keeping that dotted grid style shading from classic comic books alive.
Zucca’s illustrations are just a whole lot of fun as he portrays everything in a bright, enjoyable way. He keeps things fresh, and is constantly trying out new things and presenting new imagery in all sorts of cool ways. There’s definitely something for everyone in Zucca’s illustrations so I was very excited to get to hear more about what he does and all that goes into it. He gave a great look into his process, inspirations, and all that goes into his illustrations! Enjoy!
1. I always like to open by asking about background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
Marvel comics were probably my earliest inspiration. In high school I saw the documentary Crumb, about underground comic artist Robert Crumb, and that was a big influence as well. But it wasn't until college when I was exposed to a lot of the big illustrators at the time– Gary Baseman, the Clayton brothers, Mark Ryden, Joel Nakamura, to name a few– that I started to think seriously about illustration as a career.
2. You've got quite a distinct illustration style that, while it is applied differently in some ways, is highlighted by bold, graphic lines and similarly graphic dot based shading. How did you begin and develop this style? Did it begin as something you did by hand or is this a totally digital process?
I think I have a few different styles/techniques that vary depending on the assignment/client. The thick distressed lines and halftones is a pretty recent stylistic direction that started as a series of square athlete portraits with the specific intention of being very Instagram-friendly. They've been a bit of a leap for me, not only because it's my first time working 100% digitally, but also because it's an interesting challenge to create stylized figures that work within very rigid square dimensions.
3. Going off of that, you have sprinklings of hand done illustration on your feeds. Does your digital process have a hand done element or are you all digital when digital and all by hand when drawing? Does the hand done element bear any significance to your work?
Traditionally I've worked pretty much 50/50 traditional and digital, with the line work being all hand-inked and the color being all digital. The coloring is still almost exclusively digital, however in recent years I've gravitated much more heavily to the computer/drawing tablet for much of the "hand-drawn" stuff as well.
4. A good chunk of your illustrations feature prominent sports or pop-culture figures, the goalies being my personal favorite. What significance or passions do these characters represent in your work? I know that a lot of these are commission based so did this start as a passion project that clients began to seek out or did it start as a commission and you really enjoyed the idea?
I've always been a big sports fan, so athletes seemed like logical subject matter for a portrait series, especially one where the subjects are so simplified yet need to be immediately recognizable. This specific series has been a passion project and not commissioned, although I've pitched the style for some commissioned assignments and it's begun to make its way into some of my client work.
5. One of the things I love about your sports character illustrations like the goalies is how they're posed and positioned to neatly fit inside of a square. How do you approach these illustrations differently than ones where you're not confined to fit inside of a shape?
I always start by breaking the character down into basic shapes and resizing/reshaping things in order to make everything work within the square format while trying to maintain a pose that makes sense for the athlete/sport. It's certainly a challenge, and it's becoming more so the more of them I do (there's only so many ways you can show someone running or throwing a ball), but that's also part of the fun!
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
My portfolio site is mariozucca.com and you can find me on Insta/Twitter at @mario_zucca. You can buy prints of the previously mentioned athlete portraits, stickers, and my large-format map illustrations at my Etsy shop etsy.com/shop/mariozucca.