One of the awesome things about working with illustrators is there’s no jumped-up sense of entitlement. The legendary Steve Nazar is one of those dudes. Seems like he lives a pretty chill life, drawing and hanging out in Southern California, and always seems very humbled by compliments on his work online.
Steve’s work is pretty unique: There’s a real nice balance between ace illustration, gross-out teen stuff, classic surf iconography and outsider, humorous British seaside postcard stuff.
I’m stoked we got to do this interview as I remember my friends cool, older brother, had a T&C Surf ‘Da Boyz’ tee back in the day. I didn’t know who it was by and then, I didn’t really care too much. I remember wanting to find out more about these guys and wondered what their lives were like. I made stories up for them in my head, which, I suppose, is a high compliment of character design.
Having since looked into it, some of the stories Steve made up for them are much better than the ones I did. The lead image of this post, and you can see it below, show ‘…Da Boyz walking out of a modern art museum, themselves having been transformed into cubist masterpieces’: fucking amazing.
It’s awesome to see Steve’s work today, and how he’s still practising, and still sticking Da Boyz into commercial jobs – they pop up in a bunch of unusual spots. And he’s picking up a bunch of really cool work – such as a line of boards for Deathwish skateboards in recent years.
(Beach) Hey Steve! How are you today?
I’m great, Man. Thanks for asking!
Where are you at?
I’m here in my home studio in Riverside, in southern California.
Are you working on any interesting commissions at the moment? –
I usually have something cool under way. Right now I ‘m doing some custom hand painted skateboard decks, an indoor rock climbing graphic for a company in Switzerland, and a couple of privately commissioned paintings. Oh, and some graphics for a clothing company in Humboldt, in Northern CA called Humboldt Clothing Co. for Tshirts. Hippy-ish stuff. Subtle weed references.
What’s your normal working day like?
I don’t know that I’d use the word normal, But it usually starts with coffee, or as I like to call it, “Vitamin C.” Then I just dive in to whatever I’ve got going on, whether it’s on the computer, the drawing board, or the easel. whatever I’m doing, there’s usually music playing.
What are you usually listening to?
Classic rock, mostly. ‘fossil rock” I’ve heard it called.
How do you work on a piece?
It all starts with pencil and paper. If it’s a commercial piece for reproduction I scan it and finish it off in Photoshop. Lately I’ve been focusing on doing original art in watercolors and acrylics. I find it a lot more satisfying.
Your work for T&C is some of the most iconic and era-defining illustration we know – tell us a bit about it, and how it came about…
I was working in the art department at a screen printer in LA, who would occasionally print for T & C. My boss was a bit of an asshole, and I was planning to leave and go back to freelancing. My co-worker told me that T & C was looking for an artist to design cartoon characters for them. I went in and met them, we hit it off, and they had me do some sketches for them.
The first 2 things I showed them were Thrilla Gorilla and Joe Cool. They liked them both. Joe Cool was based on Shaun Tomson, a very GQ looking South African surfer. Thrilla’s hat was inspired by a character in the movie Hardbodies, (a truly awful film), and the chick in the Thompson Twins. I was pretty much a ‘70s kind of guy, and just scavenged some ‘80s pop culture elements to try to make the characters hip, or “rad,” as was the parlance of the time. The Primal Urges caveman soon followed. He was based on Ken Bradshaw, another prominent surfer at the time. He was built kind of like a caveman, and was rather hairy as I recall
Before T&C, where did your interest in art begin?
As a hobby. As a kid it’s something I enjoyed doing. It’s something I could do fairly well. I became the kid in class that could draw. I got attention that way and positive feedback from people, so I stuck with it. I devoured any kind of cartoon artwork: Whether it was on TV or in print, comic books, Mad Magazine, later on National Lampoon Magazine. I was in love with comic art and it’s all I ever wanted to do. I was lucky enough to get a few breaks along the way and have been able to support myself as an artist since 1980.
You worked on the old T&C surf video games a while back; I’m particularly interested in this. A lot of video games include very recognisable character design but a lot of the time it seems that the game concept came first then the character design followed. How was it working – and adapting your guys – to this scenario… Did you have much creative control?
I actually had very little to do with the development of that game, other than designing the characters!
What’s coming up for Steve Nazar?
Catch you soon…