Written by: @P_ACasas
Art by: Hi_MyNameIsAli
There’s some people who you can’t help but root for, Arturo Torres happens to be one of them. Not only is he the multi-talented illustrator of the New York Times best-seller The Rap Yearbook, Arturo makes it a point to never forget where he came from and all the struggles along the way. From his older brother dropping out of high school so he could become Arturo’s guardian, to only being able to afford rice and noodles when he quit his day job to chase his passion of illustrating full-time. For all the highs, there’s been many lows along the way.
It’s those types of experiences that push phenomenal people to unprecedented heights. To be honest, those are the kind of guys I want on my team. I want the guys who’ve been smacked around by life a few times. Give me the guy whose been knocked down 9 times and got up the tenth. It makes them tough and gritty. Even after all his success Arturo makes it a point to go back to low-income neighborhoods like the ones we both grew up in and speak to the children. He tries to lend a helping hand in any way possible.
Like I always say, if you have someone who looks like you make it, then so can you. Forget all the materialistic gifts he can provide now, Arturo has given back something more valuable than anything, his time and knowledge. Tell me how many of us could have benefited greatly from listening to someone who grew up like us and made it out? Those types of lessons can only be taught by a few special people.
I’m a firm believer that you reciprocate the energy you put into the world. If you’re a kind soul and transmit good karma it will eventually come back to you. It may take a while but you must take some L’s along the way to appreciate the W’s.
As I sat there and listened to Arturo tell me his story I was blown away. From how he and Shea Serrano met, to what he’s up to now, and everything in between I have never wanted someone to succeed so bad in my life. His energy and spirit are far more beautiful than any piece of art he could ever create.
–This interview has been edited for length and clarity–
P.A: A lot of people are familiar with your work due to you being the illustrator of the New York Times best-selling book The Rap Yearbook. How did you and Shea Serrano come into contact? Did you reach out to him? Did he reach out to you? How was that like?
Arturo: We were on Grinder… No, I’m kidding. He’s been following this rap group out of Dallas named The Outift TX. My buddy DJ Sober, who DJ’d the book signing here in Dallas, asked me to do a flyer for a show they were doing. Shea apparently had three months left in the contract for the book to be done and he still didn’t have an illustrator. So, he saw this flyer and posted it on Twitter asking, “Yo, does anybody know who this artist is? This is the style that I’m looking for the new book.” Several people who know me had been following him told him my Instagram and email. People vouched for me and then he emailed me. When he emailed me, I had already left my job to become a full-time illustrator, I had just made that jump. It was super quick; I wish I would have struggled more but the struggle still happened regardless. That’s how it was, he contacted me and told me it would be for three months and it turned out to be 6-9 months because of some legal stuff. That’s how we met, we laid eyes on each other and the rest was history. Now we got bookmarks, newsletters, and a second book on the way.
P.A: Two years have passed since the book released, could you have imagined The Rap Yearbook being as successful as it has been? Is it still weird to see your name on something so popular?
Arturo: It’s not even that, dude. You skipped way over that. My ass left college, I graduated an A-B honor student in HS but I only did it because I wanted to get a degree for me and my brother. He had to drop out to be my guardian. I was paying attention in school because I had different goals not because I wanted to be smart. You should have asked me how it feels to have a book in general, that’s weird. There’s been several times I’ve cried over it, bro. The day we had the book signing in Dallas there was a 2-hour line. I looked outside before the book signing Shea and my boy Pete were making fun of me. They told me I was gonna cry and once I hit that bathroom I started crying. I was so grateful. People like Shea and I aren’t supposed to be succeeding. We’re fighting the current. Every week I have to remind myself that I wasn’t supposed to be here.
P.A: What was your first reaction when you found out that it had hit the New York Times best-sellers list? That’s unprecedented heights for us Latinos.
Arturo: Shea called me before it happened and asked if I was sitting down. He told me I needed to be seated for this and then he said, “Congrats, dude. You’re a New York Times best seller.” It blew my mind. I got goosebumps thinking about it now. I didn’t think it was possible, I didn’t think that would happen to me. Even now I’m pausing trying to find the right words… He told me they would announce it on November 1st to the public. That’s my birthday, that was the greatest birthday present ever.
P.A: What’s been the biggest difference in your life since the book exploded like it did?
Arturo: I can afford more than rice and noodles. When I made the jump to make an illustrator there was days where I was eating rice and noodles. Now, it’s a little bit different. It’s open doors, I know that there are people watching me, which is kind of weird.
P.A: You said this has opened doors for you. Are there any other jobs you’ve gotten now that you are New York Times best-selling illustrator Arturo Torres?
Arturo: Yeah, right now I’m doing an album cover for my favorite rapper. That’s all I’m going to say.
P.A: Ok, I completely understand. I kind of want to switch gears now. I was looking through your online store and I’ve got to ask you one question. What’s up with Kobe being punched by Chris Childs? I was looking for something dope to hang up in my office next to the framed 24 jersey I have, but was hurt to the core when that was the only one you had.
Arturo: I mean, I’m just stating the fact it happened. What are you taking about? Like I’m lying or something? That’s what happened.
P.A: Are you a Spurs fan?
Arturo: Shea’s the Spurs fan, I don’t have a basketball team I like. There are certain players I thoroughly enjoy watching. If I have the time I’ll tune in to the game. Most of the time I’m drawing at my desk so I can’t put on TV because I get distracted. I like watching Curry. I like watching Russell Westbrook his energy is incredible; he puts on a show. You get your money’s worth. Are the Spurs my favorite team? No. But then again I’d probably never go to Oklahoma.
P.A: I was thinking you were a Spurs fan and they being the Lakers rivals is where it stemmed from.
Arturo: Everybody always says how dope Kobe is, and I’m not saying he’s not, what he’s been able to accomplish is amazing. But he’s pretty dorky, that’s all I’m saying. He’s legit enough that he was able to put out a rap album.
P.A: That album was terrible, man.
Arturo: And no one talks about it! Laker fans try to keep it under wraps like it never happened. They try to switch it up on you.
P.A: One last question, what’s next for Arturo Torres? What else can we look forward to other than Basketball and Other Things soon?
Arturo: I’m running for President. I’m kidding. I don’t know man. I’ve noticed that everything I do now opens a new door. I’ve always wanted to do a graphic novel. I’ve talked to Shea about it and he likes the concept of it. When he was in Dallas we started to talk about the specifics. I learned how to read through comic books so that’s something I’d like to try. Like I said, I’m doing an album cover for my favorite rapper. I’ll always work with Shea. Out of everyone I’ve worked with he’s valued me the most and always makes sure I get paid on time. He gives me complete freedom. Of course, there are times when he doesn’t like the original idea. Sometimes I’ll text him because I value his opinion even though he can’t draw for shit. I’m just kidding. He does know when something looks good even though he wears sweat pants and sandals everywhere. That’s a no-no for me and the people at GQ. There are some ideas that are brewing that I can’t talk about. My thing is inspiring the youth, especially in ghetto neighborhoods. I want to let them know that they can get out just like I did. No matter what’s happening in life there is another option. If I’m not drawing I’m trying to do something in the community.
P.A: I think that is amazing. We need more of that leadership in our community. That’s honestly why I do it. I come from a rough neighborhood as well. Some of my partners are dead. Some of my partners are in jail for life because they killed someone. I’ve seen that. So, to have a figure like yourself telling the kids you can get out of this it’s a powerful thing. It’s a dope thing I think you’re doing for everyone.
Arturo: Thank you. It’s still crazy though. Imagine being one of those kids and they have some idiot they don’t know talking to them. I wouldn’t want to pay attention. I just hope something from my story can help them in any way shape or form. I don’t want them turning into a statistic. We can’t have that here.