SPOILER ALERT: This Q&A includes details around our new Artist Series figure line as well as a specific item in October’s crate; if you don’t mind being spoiled, read on! But if you want your crate to be a total surprise, bookmark this page and come back later. (J. Salvador is awesome and one of our oldest friends, so trust us, you wanna read this later. 😉 )
J. Salvador, who goes by the artist handle ‘SuperEmoFriends,’ is a much-beloved fan artist for his adorable series of chibi-style characters from pop culture who are “having a sad.” And we’ve got him for an EXCLUSIVE Stranger Things collectible of pure awesome!…
J.’s colorful SuperEmoFriends art is wonderfully melancholy. (Examples: Spider-Man sighing “I miss Uncle Ben,” or Harley Quinn bemoaning “He doesn’t love me.” D’aww.) Our product team knew that it would be the perfect fit for the first in our new Artist Series line of exclusively designed figures, and so we had J. elaborate on his Stranger Things-inspired art to create an exclusive item in October’s MYTHICAL crate! Read on for more about this collaboration, and J.’s advice for aspiring artists!
Hi J! Tell us a little about your background as an artist; how long have you been doing this professionally, and did you study art in school?
Hello! I still have drawings from when I was 6 years old so it’s fair to say I’ve been an artist most of my life. My parents put me into all sorts of art classes like sculpture and painting. I loved all of them but making movies and cartoons became my real passions. I started taking graphic design and animation classes and eventually graduated from UCSB as a film & media major. This is probably why film is the subject of my art; I love movies. I ended up finding work as a graphic designer in Los Angeles, stuck on a computer staring at pixels for hours. So I took up painting to get away from the machines and get back to where I started as an artist. To my surprise, people bought my paintings, so I jumped into the gallery scene.
Who are your influences in terms of your own personal style of artwork, and what inspires you most?
My own personal style is inspired by Japan! The kawaii big headed look is really fun and I’ve been a fan of it since I was a kid. Nearly everything nerdy is this style now but back in the day it was rare. I would have to go on ebay to find kawaii Japanese toys based on American pop culture, now I can find it at 711. I also love those Precious Moments figures and there is a bit of that in my style. Another huge influence is the Garbage Pail Kids. I used to save up all my quarters to thrown down on some GPK, some of the finest artwork I had ever seen. It was simple, clever and usually absurd which is basically at the heart of the SuperEmoFriends.
The SuperEmoFriends series has become incredibly well-loved in the fan art community; tell us where the inspiration originally came from?
Well, it was 2009, I was not having a good weekend so I needed something to paint to lift my spirits. I had a concept for a sad superhero in a kawaii style saying “My Parents are Dead”. It’s an overused joke now but 8 years ago, no one really went there comedically. Plus, everyone drew this character big and dark. I wanted to see him in a new light, adorable. I liked it so much and it was so easy to come up with other tragic ironies for other characters that I ended up painting 12 characters. Then they needed a series name; SuperEmoFriends just clicked. Since then, I’m not as sad as I used to be.
Which of your SuperEmoFriends designs are your most popular, and which are your personal favorites?
Popularity is always on my mind and I try to make what people like. It feels like fandoms are getting bigger and fresher everyday which makes it tough to keep up with what’s “cool” but like a good writer, I stick to what I know. While I started with comic book characters they are now the least popular designs. 80s films do well and so do cartoons. Sorry it’s really hard to answer this question because the “most popular” always changes depending on when or where I am. For my personal favorites, that’s also tricky because I consider nearly all of them successful even if some don’t sell as well as others. If I have a finished painting of it, it’s because I love it.
You’re a frequent guest in Artist’s Alleys in cons around the country; what’s been your favorite part of meeting and interacting with fans?
Where would SuperEmoFriends be without the fans? My favorite part is getting commissions. When fans have their own ideas I usually get to learn new things. They’ll tell me the character and maybe they’ll have a one liner or they need me to do some research and come up with it. A few of the SuperEmoFriends were suggested by fans and they love seeing their ideas become paintings. It’s also fun to see people struggle to figure out if they feel happy or sad when they see my art. It’s a bit of a social experiment. I can learn a lot about people based on their emotional reactions, or lack there of.
Let’s discuss your amazing exclusive Stranger Things figure in this month’s crate! First, how did it feel to be selected as the first designer for our new Artist’s Series of figures?
Yeah! It’s unreal to me! This is so exciting to be a part of and it’s an honor to be selected at all! The SuperEmoFriends had been featured in a few crates in the past and I thought maybe those days were done so I was shocked when they asked if I wanted to design a figure. Obviously I said yes but I still wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Next thing I know, I’m having a reunion with the guys at Loot Crate HQ. They detailed their plans for the Artist Series and I knew it was game on. Friends don’t lie!
How were you approached for this project, and was it specifically to do something around Stranger Things?
In our first meeting we talked about what was possible with the SuperEmoFriends and I drew up a dozen ideas based on a long list of TV, movies, and video games. A while later I got a call from Loot Crate asking for some Stranger Things concepts. Luckily I had already watched it a few times so I sent back some rough sketches. Then when I got the news that Netflix approved my “Eleben vs Demigorgy” sketch I thought it was a joke.
About how long, from design to execution, did the entire process take? Was this your first time designing a toy?
Yeah this is my first time designing a toy so I had no idea what to expect or how long it would take especially since I’m only supplying the drawings. I started sending in sketches of each character from all angles back in February 2017 and the 3D models came back super quick. After a few revisions I was called over and got to see the actual toy. That was just this past July. Holding the little Eleven figure made me tear up because I’ve been drawing SuperEmoFriends for 8 years now and I felt like it had run its course. All of the sudden I’m holding my own mass produced toy? Crazy.
That’s so exciting! What has been the most rewarding aspect of adapting your particular art style into this new dimension (literally)?
The most rewarding aspect is seeing what’s possible with design technology now. Details are a major part of my work and I underestimated what could be captured with a figure but it’s all there. Also having this produced by Loot Crate and approved by Netflix has leveled up the SuperEmoFriends so I’m excited to see if there’ll be more collaborations.
Was this particular scene of Eleven and the Demogorgon always the subject you had in mind, or did you and the team ideate around others?
Going into it I just considered the most emotional scenes and this one with Eleven and Demogorgon was the obvious choice so there wasn’t much to think about. I also drew up a Joyce holding Christmas lights that glow but that was complicated and not as emotional overall. Plus, fans would rather have a SuperEmoEleven and SuperEmoDemogorgon.
Are you a fan of Stranger Things yourself? What about the show do you think has been so wildly popular with fans?
Yeah I ended up watching it all in one sitting. I think I saw it on the day it was released because no one knew what I was talking about when I asked if they had seen it. I was a Stranger Things hipster! Coincidentally I was listening to a lot of retro synth music at the time so I was impressed with the soundtrack and overall vibe. Then within a few weeks everyone went nuts! I saw cosplayers at every comic con and the whole Barb thing took off. Fans were having cast members sign their SuperEmoFriends and I even met Millie Bobby Brown. It’s all about the nostalgia. The show did a great job of capturing the 80’s Spielbergian aesthetic and most films with kid protagonists succeed so I’m not surprised it worked. Plus, it’s creepy! The 80’s were full of movies with kids interacting with monsters, aliens, and dead pirates. I miss the days before cell phones and GPS because you only knew what you knew and that made a kids world scary or at least more adventurous.
Any particular things you’re hoping to see in Season Two, or just generally excited to experience when the show returns?
Well, I not speculating anything about the story. I didn’t even watch the season 2 trailer. I’m just excited for another dose of the 80s music and it’s great that it’s coming back during the fall. I love this time of year and it will fit perfectly.
And lastly, what advice would you give to artists who are looking to turn their inspiration into a career?
My advice for artists is to make what you love, stick with it and imagine doing it everyday for the next 5 years, potentially more. Show it to everyone and get some feedback. Find out where there’s a demand for your work. Keep your focus on what sets you apart and make sure you get paid!
SPOILER ALERT: And without further adieu, we’re about to show you the “Eleven vs. Demogorgon” figure from October’s MYTHICAL crate! Scroll down to see it. (For more on our Stranger Things collection of loot available this month, visit this story over at IGN.)
Ready?!! Here we go…