Sunday, February 19, 2006
RALPH COSENTINO INTERVIEW
When I left GA to move up to Cleveland, OH and work for American Greetings, roughly 2 years ago, I didn't know what to expect. Back home, I was surrounded buy a lot of zany creative people in and out of the animation biz. Strangely enough, my journey to Cleveland was leading me into the world of Licensing. My first illustrating job with a big corporation. My first week I saw a lot of corporate attire and quiet straight-laced designers. I thought to myself, is this really where I wanted to be? Where is the fun, off the wall, out of the box attitude I was used to being around? Suddenly, I smelled the strange scent of hot dogs grilling somewhere nearby. I followed the smell a few cubicles down to a crazy looking guy with these massive porkchop sideburns wearing an iconic werewolf tee. He was grilling hot dogs on a huge Foreman grill IN HIS CUBE like I don't give a s**t. I was immediately intrigued. This is how I meet Ralph Cosentino. Ralph had his own style, his own agenda and did things his way. Ralph recently left American Greetings to pursue his dreams by developing his world of characters into fun product as a business of his own. He quickly moved into a studio space called "A Zillion Concepts" where he shares the space with 2 other great artists who are also his longtime friends. In this new office he spends time producing and developing toys, books and entertainment for the masses as well as freelance projects to pay the bills. (ya still gotta eat) In a short time, success has grown with the production of his 3rd toy and the NEW release of his second widely published book FUNBOY. His hard work enduring long sleepless nights, the determination to be successful and the support from his loving family and friends is beginning to pay off. Ralph's style is simple and fun for the whole family to enjoy. His stories have the innocence from a child's perspective of discovering new things. He is a creative force and a great inspiration to me, which is why I had to interview him and share some of his experience with you.
SACKS10: How did your toy company U.F.O. Toys come to be?
RC: I needed a vehicle to bring more exposure to my characters and work so I started my own little toy company. It being my own, enabled me to do whatever I wanted, and at the same time be solely accountable good or bad.
SACKS10: You've successfully produced toys, plush, and children's books on your own. What is your thought process on taking a cool concept to a finished product and how do you decide on which platform to take it to?
RC: I think that becomes a personal decision to a point because I use platforms I like, i.e.: toys, comics, cartoons, and children's picture books. It could be t-shirts, sneakers anything, I would say choose a media YOU love and start there
SACKS10: Which do you have the most fun producing, toys or books?
RC: Actually I enjoy both equally. Print and Toys bring a satisfaction unique to each other.
SACKS10: How did you get into publishing children's books?
RC: Again, this was a way to bring more exposure to my characters and work and a good stepping-stone.
SACKS10: What's your favorite picture book?
RC: Momo Taro by Masakazu Kuwata published in 1963
SACKS10: What was your first published book and what inspired you to do it?
RC: I first self-published Pierre & Pal'ette. Dinosaur Dudes, Tiny Butterfly Friends, and the Reading Family series. Penguin,Viking then first published Honk-Honk-Ashoo and Swella-Bow-Wow, and next week are releasing my second book with them; The marvelous misadventures of Fun-Boy Twelve wordless stories told in big comic panels for some knee slapping giggles!
SACKS10: Where did the concept for Honk Honk-A-Shoo and Funboy come from?
Get a copy NOW
RC: The names Honk-Honk-Ashoo and Swella-Bow-Wow came from my son, but let me preface this story with a setting...our home. That place Charles laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame called, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" Our home is our sanctuary just like it is for most families in the world. A place where my family and I unleash the silliness to our hearts content without worries of witnesses. Here I would often lay my weary bones on our couch and pretend I was sleeping while exerting fake snoring sounds, (talk about leading bees to honey...I became a human trampoline) . Well, one day my son, who was three at the time, was drawing feverishly on my good laser paper, abstract images of imaginary characters. So I asked, "who is this?" and he said "Honk-Honk-Ashoo, Dad!", as if I should have known! He continued, "You know, Honk-Honk-Ashoo" imitating my fake snoring. I immediately fell in love with the name and had to give it life! Similarly, he drew a picture and said it was Swella-Bow-Wow. It was a given that she would be a puppy. My son's drawings at three were more like Jackson Pollack paintings so it was difficult to extrapolate a character from them. I organized a brainstorm session with the whole family early one Saturday morning in our bed (which also became a trampoline for my circus trio). I grabbed my sketchbook and marker and said, "Let's create Honk-Honk-Ashoo". We wanted to come up with a character that could be multifaceted and have characteristics that could be helpful to others. It did not take long for my oldest daughter (who is a prolific artist and writer at the age of eight) to simply say, "how about a pillow head, that others could lay their head on when they are tired?" I could not sketch fast enough. The brilliant simplicity of his creation by my children made Honk-Honk-Ashoo my most endearing project. That's it in a nutshell or pillowcase.
My inspiration for Fun-Boy was my childhood and all things that I enjoyed then and still enjoy now like comic books, toys, Godzilla, Martian movies even westerns and such. The book also allowed me to sneak in some social comments. Most of the characters in Fun-Boy are actually based on friends of mine (including Sax). It is really a book I think everyone can relate to because it does harken back to everyone's childhood in one form or another done in a humorous, cute way.
Get a copy NOW
SACKS10: The short stories in Funboy resemble panels in a comic strip, what made you decide to execute a kid's book this way rather than a full story from beginning to end.
RC: I am a big fan of old newspaper comics.
SACKS10: Funboy is somewhat of a prankster at times, what is the biggest prank that you ever pulled?
RC: Heheheheheheehhe. Hmmmmm, I will have to plead the 5th on that because I may incriminate myself.
SACKS10: What a lot of people don't know is that you have a do it yourself type attitude and a strong drive to get your ideas out as actual product. What drives you and keeps you focused?
RC: Well, I always new I wanted to reap the rewards of my labor and ideas and not give them away to a company and some poser, corporate card carrying, back stabbing, plagiarizing, yellow bellied brown noseing managers and bosses. Which were never going to compensate me in any way and or could fire me at any pitiful whim. The idea of not having control over my life always bugged me.
So I have been literally killing myself for years and years tolerating corporate jobs and working on my stuff at nights, weekends, vacations to get my work and characters out there.
It is a tough game out there when you’re up against huge companies with millions of dollars to try to give exposure to your work especially if you are trying to build a brand.. All I had was a lot of tenacity, and support from my family and friends. And it is really my family that drives me and keeps me focused because I want to be able to offer them, me a better future. I don't mean just financially, I want to be able to spend quality time with them and not work day and night.
SACKS10: Of you three ventures, which vehicle has proven to have the best results for your concepts?
RC: That is a tough question because I have had different success with different vehicles.
Being published, especially by a respectable publisher can add validity to your work but that really depends where you want to go. For example, My Honk-Honk-Ashoo series is taking me to entertainment and product placement but it wasn't just the book and that fact of being published that did it, don't get me wrong it helped, but one cannot sell themselves short, it is the content (work) that really attracted everyone.
But more importantly than what types of vehicles I used, you have to get your work out there. You can make a toy or a book but if you don't haul it out of your studio, no one will see it. I was always terrified that people would steal my ideas, and people will, but remember, no one will have the same twist you as a unique artist will have and it wont do you any good to horde it. I was doing the Toy fair before there were designer toy aisles there, I was doing licensing shows, comic cons, book shows to get my work out there and I am still doing it. These venues open a lot of doors and you can then start to network with others.
You have to invest in yourself AND most importantly BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.
To see more of Ralph's work, visit these links. Tell him SACKS sent ya!