Why aren’t you doodling Ant-Man and getting paid for it? Local artist Oliver Barrett draws superheroes and cool movie posters for a living. Imagine anything you’ve ever drawn in class. Now imagine being paid to sketch Spiderman. Of course, what’s a job that’s unbelievable if it doesn’t come with stress? The last thing people think of is the immense pressure that comes with drawing superheroes. You can already hear your mother asking if you’ve applied for jobs yet.
With a Cleveland Institute of Arts education and a love for illustration, Oliver has a similar background as some other artists in town. He has the benefit of working to feed his adorable responsibility, his son. Most people don’t work well under pressure.
“It’s been so long since I’ve not been under pressure,” Oliver says. “I can’t remember if it makes me better.”
As soon as Oliver finishes one project, he’s on to another. His next two months are planned out in perpetuity.
You don’t usually get to work with Marvel at a creative agency. Oliver ended up leaving the grind of agency work because, in essence, he was fighting over the potentially cool paintball shop logo assignment. Now Oliver works with Mondo, a company in Houston that dreams up limited-edition, limited-release posters that resell online for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
When you’re doing promotional limited-release work with the licensure of major motion picture companies, as well as the collaboration and consent of all the actors involved, you’re left with a task that’s well defined. However, there is still an obligation to be sure that you do the best work possible. As a creative, Oliver somehow has to fit his style into a drawing of Iron Man. At the very least, he has to not get shown up by his competition.
It’s intense drawing something that people see all the time. You know exactly what Batman looks like, and you know exactly what Samuel L Jackson looks like. Pop culture is one of those things that you can’t get wrong. Oliver is responsible for making sure the heroes look like they should.
When your job involves putting your own spin on pop culture you often don’t have time for your projects. Still, Oliver knows how lucky he is. “Sometimes I catch myself complaining to a friend about being behind or feeling rushed. Then they ask ‘what’s the project?’ Of course, then I feel like an asshole complaining about drawing Hawkeye or Thor all summer.”
There are drawbacks to Oliver having such well-known subject matter. Everyone has specific expectations when an artist replicates famous faces. It would be easy for some to consider what Oliver does as derivative drawing as opposed to art. It definitely is art, just not art as we’ve known it.
What Oliver does is a throwback to a bygone era. “In the old days of the entertainment business, all movie posters were drawn by hand, and often by some guy working the lobby of the theater,” Oliver explains. Antique culture has created a form of art that references something that already exists. The internet gives talented artists like Oliver an amazing opportunity to make a living off of something he loves. Oliver makes art that is exclusive and limited release. In a world where everyone can get just about anything, something that’s more exclusive has inherent value. Oliver will get back to his passion projects one day, likely as soon as he’s finished drawing Wolverine.
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James Earl Brassfield or simply JEB is a writer, podcast host, humorist, actor and “Black Hunter Thompson” type madman of no ill repute. Language has yet to evolve fully to describe his unique view of Northeast Ohio and the world. JEB produces work across all media with his original and clearly stated voice. @Jearlbrass