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Unique New York, unique New York, you neek you nork, uhh... Well, here I was again: back in the United States of America again. According to Obama, it's the "last best hope on Earth". At the very least, I suppose, New York itself is the last best hope for cheesecake.
But I digress. I was here to interview one of the most mysterious
cheesecake manufacturers artists in Smogon history: both one of the most prominent, and yet also one of the most latent. Still, if you don't recognize the name or the work, then you've lived a very sheltered Smogon life!
So, Mister Zracknel, let's begin as tradition dictates: what's your age, where do you live, what are your bank account passwords and suchlike?
At the time of this interview, I am a 25-year-old graphic designer who lives and works in the illustrious New York City. I haven't lived here for very long, though, as I was born and raised on Long Island, which is in New York but certainly not the city.
I only know that from the show 'Everybody loves Raymond'.
Oh, the cafe from that show—the exterior, at least—is right near where I live. It's pretty funny!
Anyway, moving from 'Everybody loves Raymond' to 'Everybody loves Pokemon', what got you into Pokemon, and what kept you interested?
I got into Pokemon thanks to the marketing efforts of Nintendo Power magazine (which is a genius way to sell games to kids). Pokemon Blue was the first GameBoy game I owned, and was one I purchased with my own money. I think I was in the seventh grade at the time. The game—and franchise—would go on to become among my all-time favorite games.
As for the lasting interest, games that have a high degree of customization have always resonated with me well, since they have potential to become very personal—almost a form of self-expression. I had a lasting interest in the game for a long time—I did not own very many games, so the very high replay value of the series kept me satisfied for a long time. There is also the whole nostalgia angle—Pokemon was a very strong source of emotional comfort for me when I was younger, so it's always had a special place among games that own.
And, of course, the most interesting stories are always of how users get to Smogon. What's your tale?
I will start this answer by saying that I started using the internet later than most people these days seem to—I was a first-year student in college when I had my own internet access. The thought occurred to me one day: "surely someone else has this kind of interest in these games." My friends and I were very much into the strategic aspect of the series back in the day. I felt like there had to be something out there for people like us.
However, it wasn't Smogon that I found first, but rather IGN's Pokemon community. After staying there for a few months, and lurking #ice (I am sure that someone who knows more will correct me, but #ice was an irc sub-community within IGN's Pokemon community, and was where some of the regulars hung out.), I heard of Smogon through the user you and I know as Mekkah—I can't remember if he was advertizing it or if he was being made fun of for being a part of Smogon. After following him there, I was really impressed by the community—it was smaller and more focused than IGN. I liked the feeling I got from the community. That's how I found the website and community. I think that was sometime in the spring of 2005.
Smogon being a small and focused community? You really must be old... Anyway, we'll get back to your Smogon escapades in a little while, but first: what is your history with art?
I've had an interest in art for a larger portion of my life, but pretty consistently held myself back from pursuing it more seriously. I thought when I was younger that I wanted to be an artist. However, my parents were not willing to pay for me to go to art school, and I certainly didn't have the skills to get in. Instead, I took up the mysterious "graphic design" as my college major, since it seemed like it was art-related. It also seemed like a good way to earn a living—more so than being a "starving artist," at least.
Well, you've certainly had a lot of success on Smogon!
Zracknel smiled and gently tugged at his goatee, somewhat reflectively.
How did you develop your iconic style?
Strong influences include Michael Doret, Michael Schwab, Milton Glaser, and Paul Rand. I would also cite Hermann Zapf as a strong influence, although he was a typeface designer, unlike the rest. Other design heroes—that are lesser known—would be Chip Kidd and Olly Moss.
That's quite an extensive list! It seems to beg the question: what is your opinion on using the styles of other artists? You evidently have a lot of different influences!
I would say that while I draw a lot from these designers, I try not to limit myself to mimicking them. I pull from a lot of different places on various projects. I would say one of the nicest compliments I've received on the forums was the feedback that someone thought my works were all made by different people.
Graphic designers—really good ones—may have comfort zones, but since each project is different and trying to accomplish something different, being versatile and not married to any particular approach is—I think—seen as a good thing. I realize that most of my Smogon work looks the same, though, haha.
That's a very handy link back to your Smogon happenings. In particular, I hear you've previously had talks with chaos about the design of the site.
What was it like to meet the father of Smogon?
I actually had the chance to work with chaos in a professional setting a year or so before meeting up with him in person. It was unfortunate, though, that it didn't end up working out—the project we were working on never went through. Meeting chaos was a really interesting experience for me—it was very much like meeting a celebrity, haha.
From my memory, you even found time to have a game of foosball. Who won?
It was among the most challenging tests of character I've had to endure, I think. I poured my fury onto the table. The score at the end was pretty even, but I think chaos made the last goal.
I'm not bitter...
The tugging at his beard was growing progressively quicker and more vehement. It was time to take this interview along another avenue.
I figure that's why the project was dropped?
The project is still in full swing, actually—or rather, it is at this time—though chaos has been on leave for a little bit, Articuno64 and I will be resuming development of the site redesign shortly. I'll be setting aside a week—hopefully sometime this month—to devote to a development sprint.
I'll be changing my avatar and custom title when that happens, so it should be pretty evident that it's going on.
What can we expect to see in this redesign?
Many things! Smogon will be getting a new identity and a slicker, more professional aesthetic overall. The site's navigation will be undergoing some revision. There will also be a new logo. The result will be something that people can look at and know right away that Smogon is the best competitive Pokemon site on the internet. Whatever we end up with should communicate that Smogon is a community devoted to the highest level of competition the games can support.
Lots to look forward to, then!
I'm looking forward to it. Personally I think a site redesign is long overdue. ;)
On the social aspect of the site, you seem to have developed quite the partnership with Smogon's resident Dorothy, Nastyjungle!
Nastyjungle is a true baller and good friend of mine. I'm grateful that she's taken the time to lend me her sketching skills—it has saved me a lot of time, since sketching and lineart is generally something I am slow at (but looking to improve upon). There's more in the pipeline that Nastyjungle has helped me out with, so hopefully you'll be seeing those efforts soon.
And finally: the question of questions; le question des questions; I don't speak Spanish! What's your favorite Pokemon?
Ugh, you'll have to give me a second to ponder the depth of this question, which strikes me to my soul.
Poliwrath was my favorite back in the early days, but more recent favorites include Magnezone, Unown, and Whirlipede. I would say Whirlipede is probably tops right now. The circular design, that eye, and Whirlipede is just so... roly poly... The very thought of a Whirlipede rolling around delights me.
And so I said goodbye to Zracknel, though not without a hankering for answers to further questions. And, of course, a lovely baked cheesecake.
There are two words that perfectly summize Zracknel's artistry (the extra five letters are for emphasis): 'Professional', and... Alright, I'm going to have to use a few more; one word can't describe how fantastic his stuff is.
While Zracknel himself is often self-deprecating and overly-modest about his work, he is the best sort of artist I have ever come across: not only does he satisfy the specification, but he goes beyond that and does so much more. For example, with the SPL logos—for which Zracknel is most-recently famous for—he was given a basic concept. However, it was Zracknel's own artistic vision that led to these fantastic pieces. The line art is incredibly clean and the shading, while not quite conventional, fits perfectly.
It is not often, also, that you have an artist who obsesses quite so much over the typography of the piece. Still, it all turns out for the better in the end: such attention to detail makes for brilliant pieces.
I won't say much more; but you absolutely have to definitely certainly check out Zracknel's art thread here!
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