Rickey’s illustration skills are really amazing. His practice sketches based on other artists show an extreme understanding of how it was made. And his own drawings have a lot of personality to them. These illustration skills translate not just from traditional or digital, but also to paper crafting. He has done paper doll figures of pop culture from Thanos to ’80s horror monsters. He finds inspiration from the shows of his childhood, notably He-man and the Masters of the Universe.
I could rattle off his achievements like how 10 years ago he self-published an award-winning comic or the fact his process video Youtube account has 3.2K subscribers. But that wouldn’t give a proper portrait of Rickey.
Partway through our interview, Rickey said, “I’m SO sorry if all you wanted was an interview with someone who draws cartoons and makes paper dollies and THIS is what you get.” And I think that says so much about Rickey. Yes, he does great illustrations and crafts, but he is much more than what creates.
Rickey has a great sense of humor that comes through in his captions but also his youtube videos. He is open about his struggles with depression and is very vocal about social issues. I’m glad I got to ask how and why Rickey…well, does it.
Inspired by Rickey’s ingenuity, my multimedia visual pays homage to M. C. Escher’s 1948 lithograph “Drawing Hands” with a modern twist of Procreate and scissors. The typography is inspired by the “Masters of the Universe” Mattel toyline logo designed by Bob Nall with final art by John Hamagami.
Rickey Does It (in his own words)
Where did you grow up? And where do you live now?
Northwest Indiana, about 30 miles outside of Chicago. And now I live IN Chicago! Dreams do come true, kids!!! lol
When did you first watch He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? And how did it make you feel?
Well, I was probably three when the toys came out. I was a little young, and my family didn’t have a ton of money at the time, but my cousin had ALL of them! So not only were Friday night sleepovers about going to my Aunts and watching movies, it was about playing with those toys! I can still feel Webstor and Mekaneck and Trap-Jaw in my hands!
So of course, when the cartoon came out, I was thrilled. That was MY way to have these characters in my own house! Over the next few years, I built up a nice collection from birthdays and Christmases. And that’s when they became a vehicle for telling my OWN stories! Just elaborate fantasy soap operas traversing every shelf, chair and dresser top of my bedroom. So, I guess I’d say a lot of my early story-telling I learned from the MOTU cartoon.
The one episode I always remembered (even before the internet) was “The Witch And The Warrior” where Teela and Evil-Lyn are like, lost in the desert and they have to work together in order to survive. AND EVIL-LYN TAKES OFF HER HELMET! Lol. But my favorite episodes were always the ones where the goods and bads had to work together. That really sticks with me as a creator.
Were you always artistic?
Oh yeah! I was born drawing. And I always had some story to tell. I have a full-on story book I wrote and illustrated in, like, third grade about a lady who slowly discovers that her neighbors are like this family of classic monsters: a vampire dad, Frankenstein son, werewolf daughter… lol. I sometimes wonder if I should clean it up and try and publish it, cause it’s honestly not bad, ESPECIALLY for an 8 year old.
Your profile mentions you were “set back by a 20-year depression”. While I won’t pry about specifics on this period, I’m wondering: what did it feel like not to create?
Well you know, I DID spend a good period of that time creating. In my 20s, I self-published a 4-issue mini comic (and subsequent graphic novella). It was actually writing that story – which deals with suicide, bullying, cliques and social pressures – that helped me realize that I was going through some shit! Lol.
I then ended up taking it to the SPACE convention in Ohio, and I was nominated for their Howard E. Day prize. And it was like a little taste of…not fame, but people wanting to know me because of my art. Comic creators I had HEARD of were coming to talk to me. Dave Sim called it “tightly woven and excruciatingly poignant.” Carol Tyler stole a copy of my new book. And then people were inviting me to gatherings back at the hotel.
So, of course, I did what anyone would do: I went back to my room and had an ugly-crying panic attack. It was AWFUL. I left early the next day. And it was that experience that let me know I had social anxiety! I literally had no idea! And it was over the next few years where I became less and less motivated to become something, thinking that even if I DID get some kind of notoriety, would I even be able to deal with it?
What inspired you to start creating again?
Well you know, I started with making YouTube videos (along with everything else), I also dabbled in film-making in my early 20s. Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing. But I learned a lot about making videos, especially editing, so when I learned that YouTubers were literally MILLIONAIRES, I got so mad at myself. I could have been doing that this whole time! Lol.
This was about 4 years ago, and around that time, during the holidays, I would make crafts with my nieces and nephews. So I said to myself, “this is something I can do!” So, I started making monsters and pop-culture figures out of construction paper on my channel.
Now, mind you, this is after years of therapy, so I was able to put a fresh perspective on things. And I figured this is something I can just try…Something with no boss, no expectations but my own. And it’s CONSTRUCTION PAPER, so if I mess up, does it even matter? And that’s something I put in my videos. Letting people know it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s also okay to know you can do better and challenge yourself to try.
So yeah, just kind of getting back in the swing of doing ANYTHING, I started saying to myself, “Well, why not work on something that REALLY matters to you?” And I would see on-this-day memories on social media of me over the years just saying “I want to create something beautiful!” But now – again after years of therapy – I realized what’s beautiful doesn’t necessarily have to be what’s perfect. It could just be whatever I create.
So, determined to make SOMETHING while I’m still on this earth, I started working on my new story, Ramona & Clay… So I guess it’s not so much what inspired me, but what I was able to let go of, the pressure and fear and perfectionism and self-criticism, that gave me a kind of safe space within myself to create.
When you create your paper figures, do you sketch out the basic idea or are you improvising as you go?
The first few I totally improvised as I went, and that was kind of my whole gimmick, or at least it was in my head, just “Rickey Does It!” I get an idea in my head, and I do it. But once I started doing pop-culture figures, I had to sketch them out, you can see most of the sketches if you scroll back on my instagram.
I generally wanted to be more loose and free with it all, but unfortunately the more I do something, the more anxious I tend to get about messing it up, so sketching them out and even just mentally preparing (putting out what exact colors of paper I’m gonna use, etc.) a few hours, or even a day before, would help get me in a better head-space for filming.
Do you ever get anxious about sharing something on Instagram or Youtube? You know, like insecurities such as “what if it’s not good enough?” or related thoughts? And, if so, what drives you to push “share”?
You know, maybe it comes from being the fat kid who learned to make fun of themselves before other people could…But I’m a very “flaws out” kind of person. Even if something looks amazing, I’ll still talk about where I feel I need growth or where I’m lacking.
People don’t like to admit their mistakes, some will never say they’re wrong and I think that really keeps a lot of people from growing. How can you change and become better if you don’t even allow yourself to see those areas where you’re lacking?
Going back to last year when I was determined to get better at inking, one of the exercises I took on was my personal version of “Inktober” – Oh man, I just looked them up and it was actually JULYTRY! – But for July I wanted to try drawing characters 100% from memory, posting the results with varying levels of success.
I wish I could find the exact comment, but I remember someone saying it was “brave” of me to share them. And that struck me funny because that wasn’t even part of my processing of if I “should” post these or not, so it hit me that a lot of people wouldn’t share things unless they were perfect. So, if I can make anyone feel better about their work doing a “warts and all” approach with mine, then I’m happy.
Side story: I remember I had an English teacher in high school who had gone through cancer, and one day, she came in without her wig. And there in front of the class she told everyone that if Rickey can be brave enough to walk around with green hair then she could come in with her hair looking however it does. That REALLY stuck with me. So it means a lot to me if someone can find value in seeing me just being me, and feel more secure in just being themselves.
Do you think it’s possible to grow up into an adult and still have the imagination of a child?
Oh absolutely! It’s funny because as a kid I made VOWS that I would never grow up, never stop liking cartoons, stay a real “Toys R Us” kid to the bone… Then in my 20s, the He-Man, She-Ra[: Princess of Power] and Thundercats DVDs came out and I couldn’t WAIT to watch them, but when I tried…I couldn’t. At least not casually. It just wasn’t my thing anymore and I was so sad that I grew up. Lol.
But the past couple years, reconnecting with the art that inspired me as a kid…I’ll watch He-Man and She-Ra and Bravestarr and Silverhawks and I’m RAPT! Literally oohing and aahing and cheering at my screen. Granted, THC helps, but even stone sober I LOVE these cartoons again! Some are a bit messier than others *cough cough Thundercats cough* but the basic stories of good versus evil and defending the defenseless and choosing what’s right over what’s convenient…. Love em!
So yeah, not only can you grow into an adult that still has the imagination of a child, even if you’ve lost that along the way, you can always recapture that same spirit!
Let’s talk He-man. What does it mean in your opinion to be “masters of the universe”? And do you feel like you are a master of your own personal universe?
Huh… Well, you know, it’s my understanding that there’s kinda two worlds to the origins of He-Man. There was the original concept which was strictly “let’s sell boys’ toys!” So they used every buzz-word they could think that would appeal to boys: having the power, being a master…hell, just the name HE-MAN.
Then there was the Filmation cartoon lead by Lou Scheimer that made the whole series a little less aggro and more socially conscious. I’m also pretty sure I once heard that the term “Masters of the Universe” originally just referred to the bad guys. I know there’s an intro somewhere that ends with the phrase “the Evil Masters of the Universe” instead of “the evil forces of Skeletor.”
And, you know, I gotta admit, I hold a more negative connotation to the word master. Maybe that’s why I have a harder time being successful? But, in my eyes, the people who seek power are often the ones with intentions to abuse it.
BUT I talked before about stopping to think about my feelings and my reactions and making different choices that add to my overall happiness, rather than detract. This has helped me, over the past few years, focus on my art and writing, get me working towards a goal I’ve had all my life, again to just create something beautiful… Something in the world that I can be proud of.
So I’d say I’m very proud and happy with the control I’ve been able to take over my own life, rather than feeling at the mercy of the emotional roller-coaster I mentioned before. So yeah, I’m not so sure about being master of anything, but I’m a lot happier than I’ve been in my adult life, and I can work with that.
Have you watched the recent She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series and, if so, what did you think of it?
Oh, I loved it! Especially season 3. But I gotta be honest, I was pissed when I first found out about it. I had just started working on notes for my Ramona & Clay story. I think it was literally DAYS after I first sketched my character Diamond that the show was announced. Part of the concept of Diamond was what if a mild-mannered Hobbit-like woman got a sword of power that transformed her into a magical warrior. And in that first sketch, her costume paid a LOT of homage to She-Ra…but now it’s like…She-Ra’s coming back…something can’t be a nostalgic reference to current pop culture! Lol.
But you know, this was before they brought He-Man back for two different cartoons, not to mention the toys and possible movie…so it looks like I’m just gonna have to get comfortable with the fact that my story is gonna be told in a world where it’s no longer a throw-back, but part of a current trend. *shrug*
But She-Ra was great. I know some people didn’t like it. It was very different from the original in appearance and tone, which did bum me out at first. It was also very queer, POC inclusive, body positive – very SJW as they say [SJW = Social justice warrior]. But I never got that criticism because She-Ra was part of the rebellion against a tyranny. She was literally a Social Justice WARRIOR.
But I thought the story was great. Loved the characters. How almost every bad guy has a turn of heart, I guess that’s the Pollyanna in me that believes there’s good in everyone. Not to spoil anything, but I literally cried out “YES!” at that one scene at the end between She-Ra and Catra. So yeah, I loved it. Now I’m just hoping not to have my own story compared to it at every turn. Lol.
I enjoyed the ending as well.
With the quarantine still isolating people on various different levels, do you have any advice as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression?
You know, I wish I did. It’s hard to say “take it day by day” when every day starts bleeding into one. You can’t give the little advices like “go for a walk”, “go see a movie” or “get outside of yourself” when you feel locked down and/or unable to go out.
I guess the best advice I can give is to just keep in mind this is a tough situation for everyone, even people who don’t struggle with anxiety and depression, so remember to be easy on yourself.
I see this in my partner, getting down on himself for not taking advantage of the time. But when you wake up to another national horror every day, who has the energy? So I say don’t hold yourself to non-pandemic standards and do your best to find pleasure in the little things you have access to.
We’re lucky that this has happened in a time when you may be separated from loved ones physically but can still see their faces in real-time. So if you’re starving for a smile, reach out to someone, don’t be scared to make that call.
I also say, creating helps. I know this might contradict what I said earlier about not having enough energy to work, but don’t look at it as work, look at it as playing. Just making something for the sake of making something. No pressures, no expectations, just let things be what they are, it’s very freeing in a situation where we can easily feel trapped or confined.
In September, you’ll celebrate four years since you started doing paper crafts (and re-started doing illustrations), overall has it been a rewarding experience?
For really? Wow! It feels like forever ago and just yesterday! It’s been extremely rewarding. I’ve learned a few things. One, that I’m able to reframe what “work” means to me. That the things I make don’t have to be anything more than what they are. That I can make mistakes and that those mistakes can be part of what gives my work its unique charm.
BUT, I’ve also learned that I can push myself to do more. Four years ago, hell ONE year ago I would have said my inking is crap. I had no confidence, and never really tried because I was scared of messing everything up if I made a mistake.
I guess this is where the right tools matter, because it wasn’t until I got an iPad at the end of last year that I was able to really free myself up with experimenting… And now I feel like my inking is one of my strong suits and a hallmark of what I’m developing as my “personal style” (something I’ve always felt I lacked).
But it was actually a couple months before I even dreamt I’d have an iPad (a three-way investment between my mom, my partner and myself), that I became determined to work on my inking. I started copying the work of Alfredo Alcala, one of the earliest MOTU artists… I realized if I scan my pencils and print them out, I can play with inking without worrying about damaging the originals.
And here I’m talking about things I should have figured out decades ago and just started playing with in my 40s. So I guess I also learned that it’s never too late. And I’m STILL trying to learn.
After I finish answering these questions, I’m gonna go practice anatomy, get a better idea of the shapes of the human body so I know how better to shade those shapes when I ink, because right now I feel like I’m just throwing lines around… and I like how those lines look, but I’d feel better knowing why I’m making the choices to place the lines where they are.
I aspire to make something beautiful, something that’s someone somewhere’s favorite thing, something that sticks with people and ultimately has meaning to them.
1 Why do you create?
Huh… I could answer this a few ways.
I guess first and foremost, I want to create something beautiful. Something people love. Something that means something to someone somewhere. I want to know that something I made is someone else’s favorite thing.
But I’d also like the things I make – especially when it comes to my written work (which always has a visual element) – to be a little important. To say something about the world, what’s going on and hopefully make people think.
My ego wants something that will be remembered, a little piece of immortality. Like how they say we don’t truly die until the last person who remembers us dies. So, I’d like to have a piece of that.
And most importantly, I want anyone who sees themselves, not only represented in the work I make, but in me as a queer person of color who struggles with mental illness. I want them to feel seen.
Over the past few years, as I’ve been growing and healing and sharing my stories with friends on social media, time and again people will tell me how much it means to them to see me be so honest about my struggles and how they relate to them… And that’s a damn good feeling, and it’s something that I want to incorporate into my creative work as I dive back into telling stories and putting something out there into the world at large.
2 When life gets you down what inspires you to get back up?
This is a tough question for me to answer since most of my adult life has been just me waking up to whatever the chemicals in my brain want to serve me that day, then minute by minute riding that roller coaster of good or bad feelings throughout the day. Lol.
But one of the biggest things I’ve learned from therapy is that just because I feel something doesn’t mean I have to react to it like it’s a reality.
I get leery touching upon that because I can see it being taken in a very reductive way like “just choose to be happy,” and I know that’s not how it works. But stopping to look at my feelings, and why I’m inclined to react a certain way… it’s a tool I can use to choose behaviors that contribute to my overall happiness instead of self-destructive ones. And I think, in general, knowing I have that power makes me feel more empowered to “pick myself up” on a more regular basis.
But I’ve also learned to be easy on myself, and know that sometimes, I just gotta roll around in it for a while. I gotta feel bad, sad, mad… all those things. And as long as I’m not hurting someone else or myself as a reaction, it’s okay. And the sooner I accept how I’m feeling, the sooner I can work through it.
3 What is the importance of storytelling?
Everything. Again, this is one of those open-ended questions I might struggle with to find focus…but everything is a story, every memory we have, everything that happens on a daily basis. It’s a story. It has characters and drama, plot points, twists! Not to trivialize reality, but all we are is the stories we tell ourselves.
This is why things like correcting the false histories we’ve been taught, are important. You tell someone who isn’t aware that Christopher Columbus is a monster, and it’s an affront because what they know in their head is “fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We have this image of this brave explorer, ready to fall off the end of the world in order to find the place we now call home!
So, it’s that story we have, that image we cling so tightly to…And I’m just using Columbus as an example…history is full of heroes who were monsters. And it’s also those forgotten stories, the Native Americans who were here before Columbus and pushed into these little corners of the country and all but forgotten about except when drunken frat-girls wanna wear a headdress to Coachella. And it’s only here and there in drips and drops that I come across these stories of Native American women just disappearing, murdered and missing and no one talks about it because an entire people has been brushed aside and swept under a rug.
But if we heard their stories on a more regular basis – And I’m not just talking about the stories of what’s happening to them, but also their voices as storytellers and part of the general American conversation (where I feel they’ve been grievously left out) – then what they’re going through would matter more to the general population.
So yeah…I feel storytelling is VERY important and has a tremendous amount of power in forming our realities of what the world is. We’ve spent a lot of time telling stories of the past from just one point of view, and in a way that paints that point of view in a dangerously glorified light… And I think it’s time we heard everyone else’s story.
4 Given the state of the world right now, what lessons can we learn from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe?
Cooperation. Compassion. Empathy. Standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. One of the greatest episodes is “The Dragon’s Gift” where He-Man is asked by a giant dragon to chop down a talking tree in order to save his friend Man-At-Arms and, though tempted, He-Man refuses to do so because all life is precious. That’s beautiful!
But if we want to talk about the world right now, we gotta look at She-Ra. Hers was a world where evil was in power and it was the job of the Rebellion to fight against the Horde and protect those who needed it.
One of the things we can learn right now comes from the movie Secret of the Sword where She-Ra starts off as a leader in the Horde army. Of course, there’s magic brainwashing involved, but you also get the feeling that a lot of it was just willful ignorance. So there’s a scene where she’s walking around, for the first time actually SEEING all the injustices her regime puts the people through and… I feel like that’s been me these past few years.
As a person of color, I was raised if you’re pulled over, be polite, say “yes sir/ma’am, no sir/ma’am” and you’ll be fine. And you know, for me, that’s how it played out. Hell, I even got away with some shit I shouldn’t have because I knew how to talk the talk. So for a long time, I’d hear of people being killed during arrests, and I’d shrug it off, just assuming they were acting a fool. But then, I don’t know, because of social media I guess… time and again I’d see stories of black people being killed for no reason whatsoever, and by the people in power that they are HELPLESS to protect themselves against because fighting back is resisting arrest, and that’s the thing society has deemed an acceptable reason for getting yourself killed… and these people are already getting killed for doing NOTHING.
Sorry, I know this is pretty heavy for a question about a kid’s cartoon… I’m just saying so many of us have been living as if we’re under a spell… not wanting or even able to see the problems and inequities right before our eyes and just accepting them as how things are. And I think a lot of people are having a hard time looking around because SHIT! That means you’ve been part of the problem! And taking accountability isn’t the most common human trait. But you know, I’m glad we’re seeing this ugly side. I wish it didn’t exist, but the more we see it the less we can act like it doesn’t exist. And by “we” I mean those of us who have been lucky enough that this hasn’t been our daily nightmare all our lives.
It’s important to me to add: Black Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. Native Lives Matter.
Many thanks to my inspiration and aspiration, @rickeydoesit.
I’m John Lhotka, wishing you a nice day, and all that jazz.