Interview with Robby Gilbert
About mid-February I received an email from Robby Gilbert, Ranger Rick's third artist, who
took over when the decision had been made to switch over to a comic book format in 2000. He said he was very impressed with the site, and was a big fan of Alton Langford's work on the magazine. He offered any bits of information that could be useful to the history of Ranger Rick as a character, and of course, how could I resist?Below is our interview:1.) How did you get involved with Ranger Rick magazine?
In 1999 I was working as an animator for a web development company who was specializing in children’s educational content. I animated Rick doing several simple activities. Gerry Bishop contacted me and told me the magazine was considering reworking the monthly feature as a comic strip. He said they had “several artists in mind”, but would I like to “throw my hat into the ring?”...and of course, I did.
I created a sample 3 page story and after six months of waiting to hear, I was offered the contract.
2.) Were you disappointed to learn that you would be illustrating Ranger Rick in a different way than previous artists Lorin Thompson and Alton Langford?
Well, I had grown up with Alton Langford’s illustrations and always loved them. I was of course elated and honored to even be considered to draw the feature but yes, I had mixed emotions for sure.
When I was awarded the assignment, I felt a great deal of responsibility to follow the editorial staff’s directions. They had a very specific vision for the new direction, and my job as an illustrator was to try to bring that vision to life as best I could.
3.) Your early work on the comic book drawings is very similar to the style Alton Langford gave to the characters. How did you go about changing this into your own unique style for the characters?
Yes. The editorial staff was very specific about the look of the strip. Initially, they wanted it to look as close to the Langford style as possible. I think this was to mitigate any possible backlash over the drastic format change. About two or three years after it became a comic, I was asked to modify the characters and style. The main characters, Rick, Boomer, Scarlett, were redesigned much more closely to the staff’s vision. I had more freedom with the others. I always felt that I was drawing Rick and Scarlett for the magazine, upholding the style they wanted.
4.) Describe how you would go about illustrating comic book panels for a Ranger Rick adventure. What medium do you use?
Are you given a full story to work with when deciding what images to illustrate?
Gerry Bishop would send me a full script each month, although I did occasionally write some of the stories. I would do very rough sketches, blocking out the panels and the actions. This part of the process happened very quickly. I would send the sketches to Gerry and Donna and they would make suggestions or revisions. Then, I would go about drawing each panel, inking, scanning, and coloring digitally. This is where the long hours were spent. I’m not sure how many folks realize how much time it took to create 32 panels in 3 weeks. It was a lot of work...but certainly fun!
5.) Do you have a favorite Ranger Rick character you liked illustrating the most?
I suppose I related most to Boomer. He is very goofy...but also very sweet. He always has the best intentions, an open mind, and willingness to learn. Plus, he loves his snacks!
6.) Recently, the Ranger Rick comic format has seen major changes from your hand-drawn artwork to a computer-generated CGI format. What is your opinion on this change?
That’s a tough one for me because generally, I find CG very cold compared to hand-drawn images. Even though I used a lot of digital techniques, my main goal was to always try to preserve that hand-drawn look.
That said, the monthly deadlines were constant and there were no breaks and so if any kind of emergency or outside life events happened the deadlines became very difficult, especially drawing 32 panels per month by myself. I did use colorists throughout the years to help but it was still a huge amount of work. If you look at those panels, each was a full color illustration.
To be able to pose the characters in CG and use “photographic” backgrounds really provides some advantages from the production standpoint, and I think the magazine felt that children would really respond to a more contemporary CG look. I completely respect the magazine’s art department and their decision to go with CG, even if it’s not my personal favorite approach. In my opinion, you just can’t beat Alton Langford or Lorin Thompson for warmth of style! I felt that even during my tenure as the artist for Rick.
7.) Any other interesting tidbits we should know about you? Any stories to tell?
Well, I still continue to illustrate books for children and am writing a series about a detective dragon these days (www.undercoverdragon.com). I teach art and animation at a local college, and enjoy playing the banjo.
Once again, I would like to thank Robby Gilbert for answering my questions. If you'd like to see more of his work, you can visit his website at: http://www.robbygilbert.com
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