Interview: Mike Wrobel

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Name:
My name is Mike Wrobel

Where do you live: I am a French Artist/Graphic designer living in Tokyo Japan for almost 7 years.

Known for:
My work takes its inspiration from Pop Culture. My pieces are mostly tributes to movies, TV shows and other stuff I grew up with during my childhood, as well as more recent things that keep feeding on Pop Culture.

When did you realize that you were going to work with this?
It’s pretty simple actually, I just always knew I would be in this business since I am a kid. I couldn’t think of doing anything else. I never had to struggle with myself about what I would study and become, it’s always been obvious. So I just stuck to it and did everything I could to make it happen.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
Tokyo of course! I am so in love with the city. This is why I came here, I wanted to live my dream and needed some adventure, so I gave up everything I had in France and left for Japan 7 years ago.

Tokyo is an amazing city for creative people, photographers, fashion stylists, artists… It’s a very dense city full of contrasts with so many things to do, crazy architecture, awesome food everywhere…

And life is amazingly sweet, people are so kind, this is one of the safest cities in the world, so it has a real impact on your daily life. And I love the way Japanese still know how to enjoy simple fun things, it’s important to me, I just can’t stand jaded people anymore.

How would you describe your creativity?
I am a very imaginative guy. Already as a kid, I had this overwhelming imagination. I was very shy and fascinated by movies. I found out I could express my feelings by drawing comics, writing stories…

In high school I was writing a story, a sort of thriller comedy based on slasher movies like Scream, in which I was using all of my classmates and even teachers as real protagonists. It was set 10 years after graduating, and a mysterious serial killer was murdering one after another people from my class. I was working as a detective investigating the case, so I had to imagine what had become my friends and classmates, with jobs, families, etc… It was a pretext to funny situations.

And since I was writing it as episodes every week, everybody had fun reading it, seeing a future version of themselves, and above all, finding out who was the serial killer and the motive. I think this anecdote shows pretty well how I’ve always needed to express my imagination.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
After College, I studied graphic design and animation for 3 years. Right after graduating, I started to work as a freelance author in the animation industry. I was creating animation projects for TV, developing characters and design. Although I was doing it in a very serious manner, it didn’t pay much and I was too idealist and not mature enough to face the merciless world of TV producers and corporate companies. It was 10 years ago. I gave up animation when I came to Japan and worked mostly in advertising and as an illustrator. Step by step I gained exposure, and managed to live from my art.

What do you do at the moment?
I am working on 2 projects for my clients I can’t talk about right now, and as usual working on my own stuff.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
It sure is good to be a passionate artist and creative, but you also have to be a businessman if you want to get your art the success it deserves. And that’s the most difficult part because artists are generally bad businessmen. It’s difficult to play in both categories and I am the perfect example. You have to sell yourself, build your image, find exposure, be active on social networks, and exhibit your work… It’s something I learned over the years, you can’t just do your stuff and wait for people to notice you.

Tell us how it all started.
Pretty much naturally. I knew I wouldn’t be happy and able to let my creativity talk if I was working in a company. It’s difficult to artistically exist when you’re drowned into protocols and corporate projects. So I knew I had no choice but running my own stuff as a freelancer. It’s a lot of work and investment, it has its bad sides and I considered a few times getting back being an employee, but in the end it’s very gratifying when you get commissioned by clients because it means they particularly want you for the job. It’s different from working in a company and being assigned to a project by your team manager.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
It depends on the person I guess, we all have different sensitivity. Me, I hate working in silence, I find it a bit creepy and it doesn’t really trigger my creativity. I need to work with music or TV in the background. It’s just a lively présence that doesn’t stop me from being focused on what I do.I am also a bit maniac, I don’t like working in a messy environment. My workplace is pretty clean. I attach great importance to interior design, color harmony, shapes…

What is your favorite film?
This question is always killing me because I am a movie and TV-show addict, I could speak for hours about it so it’s always so hard to just choose one. Here’s a few ones: Bullitt from Peter Yates with Steve McQueen, Memories of Murder from Bong Joon-Ho, Magnolia from Paul T.Anderson…X-Files and Malcolm in the Middle for the TV-shows.

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
Let’s say a genie can grant my wish and I can have dinner with 3 people, even the dead ones, I would choose my favorite writer Oscar Wilde, who would pepper the conversation with his brilliant quotes, Neil deGrasse Tyson because I love science and I am absolutely fascinated by space, and Steve McQueen The King of Cool, I would be glad to learn a few tricks on the attitude.

What is luxury for you?
For me freedom, even if it doesn’t totally exist, is luxury. Doing what you want to do and what you love without having someone telling you what and how to do it, and making a living out of it is definitely not something common.. It shouldn’t be a luxury, but it’s the world we live in, there’s so many people who don’t like their job, and just do what they do to pay the rent. For the rest, like a watch with a gold bracelet that costs 10 000$, or a diamond collar for your Chihuahua, I don’t give a damn.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
I get a lot of kind words from my followers, this is so rewarding to see people enjoying what I do. I am always so moved when people tell me that my work inspires them. There’s also this bunch of cool guys who have been cosplaying these last two years at the comic-con in some of the characters I designed. In a way this is the best compliment I got.

What do you fear most?
Moths. Seriously, I hate that! 😛

What is a happy life to you?
A life with Netflix! I am kidding, but it’s contributing to it ^_^

I think I can say I live a happy life. I do something I love and make a living out of it, I live in a city that never ceases to amaze me, I hang out with my friends, meet new people… I try to be someone positive and I think this is the key, as I get older I realise it is something very important, if you want to be happy, then think positive and you will be. As I said earlier there’s too many jaded people out there. It’s good to have opinions but it’s definitely not necessary to complain and hate everything all the time. It will not make you feel better. All the haters on the web, I never understood how people could waste time writing comments to complain about a video, a picture, an article they didn’t like. Taking the risk to enjoy something is far more rewarding than bashing what you don’t like.

What does a regular day look like for you?
Since I am a freelance and I work at home, I don’t follow office hours. I don’t sleep a lot, I am a night person, so I love working at night, it’s a peaceful time, I feel more creative. I usually work until 5 am with the TV on or music. I wake up around 10/11 am, reply to emails, check my social networks, online stores, etc., and will start working after breakfast/lunch. I work all the afternoon. I take an hour or two around 8 pm to have dinner, read some stuff on the web, relax a bit, talk with friends… And get back to work all night long with some little food/coffee breaks. So in the end, I work 12-14 hours a day, it seems pretty hardcore, but since I love what I do and my work space is comfortable, I don’t really mind. Don’t be scared if I sometimes look like a zombie straight out of The Walking Dead.

Tell us about your dream project.
I’d love to get back to animation someday, on the creative side, I have so many ideas and concepts in mind. Working on a project for Adult Swim, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central… This is a dream!!

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
I don’t really have one professional role model in particular, there is a lot of people, artists, directors, actors, bands… I admire, and I like what each of these people bring me with their universe, differences, messages, aesthetics …

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
My style is what we might call vectorization. I like sharp lines. But I am actually not a big fan at all of the usual vector stuff we can find on the web. The thing with vector is it can look terribly “cold” and minimalist, it often lacks identity. I wanted to avoid it and tried to develop something closer to an illustration feeling than a cheesy internet vector clip art.. I would say my style is crisp, colourful, pop, detailed, often quirky…

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
Internet! This is one of the best invention ever, an unlimited source of culture, a powerful tool to work with, it gives us the chance to work with people from all around the world, there’s definitely something magical about it.
And also pizzas ^_^

What inspires you?
Pretty much anything can inspire me, I am someone very passionate, I find interest in many things as different as it can be, cinema, music, arts, politics, science, space, food, animals, nature, news, paranormal, technology… I am addicted to culture and I believe culture and references are essential in order to become a good designer. You need to know how was the world yesterday, what it makes today and how it’s gonna be tomorrow if you want to be able to talk to people through your art.

I was a kid in the 80’s, a teenager in the 90’s, so I grew up with things like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Saved by the Bell, The Goonies, Nirvana, the Super Nes, X-Files, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… I am very nostalgic of my childhood, all these pop culture references became a motor in my work.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
One of the first book that amazed me when I was a kid was Journey to the Center of the Earth from Jules Vernes, who became one of my favorite author. He’s a world renowned writer and we both come from the same city in France. Jules Vernes is definitely an inspiration to me.

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