July 19, 2019 | Rahoul Ghose
In our on-going effort to highlight inspirational talents in the local moto community, NYC Motorcyclist turns the spotlight on off-roading enthusiast and illustrator Stefania Gallico.
From a very young age, Stefania Gallico – aka @cinisterpictures – was obsessed with cartoons, especially Batman.
“As a kid I covered the walls of my room with drawings of my characters and their stories … I always knew I wanted to be an animator or a cartoonist,” the 34-year-old illustrator says.
Currently working as a storyboard artist in the film and television industry, the native New Yorker has now turned to an idea she first conceived as a pre-teen to develop her own graphic novel series, Invincible Summer, 'a gritty revenge story about a trio of bikers who declare war on the mob.'
“Originally the characters were just these mischief kids up to no good but over the years they evolved into bikers with very clearly defined goals and values,” she says.
We recently sat down with Gallico to talk about her new project, her creative inspirations, her enthusiasm for on-road and off-road riding, and how it feels to marry your interests in a passion project like Invincible Summer.
1) So, you were born in New Jersey, grew up in Leonia, close to the George Washington Bridge, and you’ve spent the better part of your life in New York. Tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles and how you became an illustrator.
My Dad was big into cycling and had his own road bike gang. They would fly to Italy with their bikes and compete in marathons there. So, I grew up goofing off on bicycles. This was in the ‘90s, before internet or cell phones, so there was really nothing to do but cruise the neighborhood on your BMX with your pals.
As for being an illustrator, that was a long, hard road. My parents told me I was drawing before I could talk. I always knew I wanted to be an animator or a cartoonist. As a kid I covered the walls of my room with drawings of my characters and their stories.
As an adolescent I worked really hard on my art and got accepted to a magnet high school for artists called Bergen Academy. It was very much like LaGuardia School for Performing Arts, just filled with so many incredibly bright and talented kids. I was also doing the Cooper Union Outreach program on the weekends, and a portfolio prep class at Parsons School of Design, too.
I got my bachelors from the School of Visual Arts because they ended up giving me a ton of scholarships. After SVA I kind of got swept up into working in computer graphics for a minute, because that stuff was really hot at the time.
I didn't really get into bikes until after college and I started making a bit of money. I was basically tooling around on a friend's ATV one day when I saw a guy absolutely tearing up the dirt on a Suzuki DR. I remember that moment in vivid detail because it was like being struck by lightning. I knew right then and there I had to get a dirt bike. So, the following weekend I picked up my first bike — a little Yamaha TTR-110. It was the perfect first bike, totally indestructible. Then after tooling around in the dirt a bit I bought a Kawasaki Ninja 250 for the street.
Around the same time, I realized I wasn’t terribly happy with my career and decided to go back to school to be an illustrator. So, I sold both bikes and moved out to LA where I took illustration classes taught by the Hollywood pros. (After) about a year or so of blood, sweat and tears, I got hired by the company I work for now, Famous Frames, to be a storyboard artist.
That was six years ago. About two years ago I decided to move back to New York to be closer to friends and family.
2) Your primary illustration work is storyboarding for movies and television? How does that process work for you as the artist? What have been some of your favorite productions to work on?
The process can vary slightly depending on the project, but usually I meet with the director and do rough sketches of the frames while they’re talking. Afterwards I clean them up and send them to the director for feedback. Or if the director is too busy to meet up, I just take a crack at the script myself and will usually get notes from the director afterwards.
I recently worked on a Sci-Fi movie called Chaos Walking, coming out next year. They flew me out to Atlanta and put me up for two weeks. It was the most fun I’ve had working on a film ever.
I also worked on the Joker movie coming out this fall, which I’m really excited for. And another ‘80s slasher film called We Summon the Darkness, which is a horror-comedy mix … all really great films. I’m really lucky to have worked on these projects.
concept art || invincible summer © cinister pictures 2018
-- Stefania Gallico
3) I’ve noticed your work definitely has a classic Japanese anime feel to it … Akira comes to mind, Ghost in the Shell, and even Hayao Miyazaki’s work … Spirited Away. Tell us a bit about some of your artistic influences/inspirations. Do you have a favorite artist? A favorite series? What about them speaks to you?
Oh yeah. I was a huge anime nerd growing up. My biggest anime influences are Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. Of course, I love Akira too … who doesn’t? I have a ton of anime and manga in my collection. All the Miyazaki stuff.
For me the appeal is definitely the storytelling and exploring really complex adult themes with animation. That’s something we don’t see here much in the US, and it’s something I’d like to accomplish with my own work.
Also, I would be remiss in not mentioning my American influences. Before I discovered anime, I was obsessed with Batman the Animated Series and Bruce Timm’s work. So, my (art) is really a hybrid between Warner Bros and a lot of popular anime from the ‘90s.
4) Your latest personal project … Invincible Summer, marries illustration with your love of motorcycles. How did this idea come about?
This is going to sound insane, but I've had the idea for Invincible Summer since I was about nine or 10. But the characters and story have completely evolved since then, especially now that I've studied drawing and classic story structure.
Originally the characters were just these mischief kids up to no good but over the years they evolved into bikers with very clearly defined goals and values.
5) Tell us a bit about the overall storyline, how many episodes/chapters you have planned, and some of the references you used for the character illustrations. And, how did you choose the bikes?
Invincible Summer is about a trio of bikers hell bent on revenge. There are six episodes and if readers want they can check out the characters and development art at invinciblesummer.tv. For characters, I referenced a lot of Bruce Timm’s stuff, as well as a lot of manga too. One of my favorite mangas is called GTO, Great Teacher Onizuka. It’s about a reformed Bosozoku (teenage biker gangs in Japan) leader who becomes a teacher. Folks have also pointed out how the series is similar to Akira and Initial D. I’m really flattered when I hear that stuff. It’s an honor.
As far as the choosing the bikes, I wanted Invincible Summer to be a classic, underdog story. So, it made sense for me to pit the hero and his supermoto against a bunch of big beastly superbikes. Just from talking to people that ride (them) I’ve learned that supermotos are actually a lot more nimble in the corners than sport bikes. So, maybe it’s not as much of a work of fiction as one might think.
6) Will this be a printed release and if so when and where will it be available?
Yes, eventually Invincible Summer will be printed into an actual book and sold on Amazon and at conventions. Right now, I am working on multiple episodes simultaneously, so the release date is TBD. But I will certainly keep you posted.
cast of characters || invincible summer © cinister pictures 2018
-- Stefania Gallico
7) With the graphic novel did you have the entire story mapped out before you started the artwork or has the storyline developed as you have created the scenes? How does this project differ from your storyboarding work for others?
No, I actually started by writing and drawing a ton of development art simultaneously. The story has definitely evolved along the way so some of the older art is not relevant anymore. But I look at it as a necessary steppingstone to get to where the story is today. For anyone who’s a writer and an illustrator, this way of working might be familiar. For example, when I get writers’ block I switch to drawing. Then when I get art block I switch back to writing. And, so it goes.
8) What goes into creating a single frame of illustration … from initial sketch to the final colorized version. Do you do both hand drawn work and computer illustration? What programs do you work with?
Because I’m old school, I usually work out my ideas on paper and then scan them later. But many artists are fine designing stuff right on their tablet or iPad. It’s all personal preference really. I have a 21" Wacom Cintiq tablet that I use to draw directly on the screen. So, once I draw my pencil layouts or character illustrations, then I scan, ink it digitally, and add color and lighting.
Note: If readers are interested in seeing Gallico’s process, she often posts a lot of in-progress sketches on her Instagram: @cinisterpictures
9) Hand-drawn and painted frames -- is this artistry fading away with modern computer-driven design and illustration tools?
I actually heard (even Hayao Miyazaki’s) Spirited Away was made with software called Toonz. I think Studio Ghibli even released an open source version of Toonz to the public to promote their software as the world animation standard.
At the end of the day a computer is just a tool. There still needs to be a mastery level artist behind that tool driving it. While there is romantic charm in working on paper and by hand, personally I would never shun a tool that would enable me to get the same or better result in a fraction of the time.
I also think the software being open source is great because it enables people to express themselves and get their stories out there like never before … and that’s a beautiful thing.
stefania gallico in her studio || rahoul ghose
10) Are you funding this project yourself? Are you looking for investors? Do you see this set of characters reappearing in a future series?
Yes, right now my commercial work is funding this project. However I am looking for commercial sponsors and investors so that I can devote more time and resources to this project ... whether that be crowd funding on my Patreon, a publishing deal, or even sponsorship from a shop. Believe it or not Invincible Summer is actually one of several intellectual properties I’m developing at the moment, and my dream is to be able to write and illustrate graphic novels full time.
Note: You can become a patron of Gallico’s work at: patreon.com/invinciblesummer
11) Where did your instagram handle @cinisterpictures come from?
Cinister Pictures is sort of a combination of the words ‘cinema’ and ‘sinister’. That’s because I’m a huge horror fan and actually got my start in film working on horror movies. So it’s a bit of a callback to my roots as an artist.
12) Tell us a bit more about your current ride ‘Howl’ and how long have you been riding?
I've been riding bikes on and off for about 10 years now. My current ride Howl is a dual sport, a Yamaha XT225. I love it for the city. I never have to worry about traffic, or when the road is torn up, which is usually all the time here in NY. I recently took it down to the Pine Barrens in NJ and was really surprised to find that it's every bit as nimble off road as it is on. So, whoever said dual sports don’t do either well has clearly never been on an XT.
13) Do you belong to any moto clubs?
I honestly haven’t had much time to ride lately because producing this book has taken over my life. But for street I usually just ride with my buddies. For dirt, Del Val Trail Riders is where it’s at … Marco and his crew are wonderful!
demon knight ... a shoei full face is not going to help || invincible summer © cinister pictures 2018
-- Stefania Gallico
14) You have lived, worked, and ridden (I assume) in both LA and NYC. Do you have a preference, and how do you see the two cities in comparison?
I didn’t really get enough of a sense of the scene in LA because I was such a new rider there. I don’t want to say anything bad about LA, but one thing I did notice immediately when I moved back to NY is that the biker scene here felt a lot more colorful and diverse. More characters, more camaraderie. Maybe it’s because the scene itself is smaller, and NYC is more compact than LA, that I just felt there was more of a sense of community here in NY. Plus, you can’t beat riding in the fall when the leaves are changing. That’s my absolute favorite.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, and definitely keep us up-to-date as to when
Invincible Summer will be complete and available for purchase.
You can see more of Stefania Gallico’s work online at invinciblesummer.tv and patreon.com/invinciblesummer, or follow her on Instagram at @cinisterpictures and Twitter at twitter.com/stefaniagallico.
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Stef is so talented, focused and inspiring. So glad she's sharing her story.Cindy Mazejy
I'm consistently inspired by @cinisterpictures ❤️😍@stephenyavorski