The Truth In This Art Podcast - Insights for Artists, Creatives, and Cultural Leaders

The Truth In This Art Beyond Philadelphia: Anuj Shrestha - Illustrating a Creative Journey

The Truth In This Art Beyond Philadelphia: Anuj Shrestha - Illustrating a Creative Journey

Rob Lee: Welcome to The Truth In This Art Beyond, and we are back in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. I am your host, Rob Lee. Thank you for tuning in to these conversations at the intersection of arts, culture and community. Today, I am eager to have a conversation with my next guest, an illustrator and cartoonist resided in Philadelphia. He's fond of chili sauce and chihuahuas. Please welcome Anuj Shrestha. So so thank you for taking the time to to join us on this podcast on the truth in this art to to get things started. Could you introduce yourself? And this might be a little bit of a tricky part. Some people rebel against this, the sort of second part of this question. But can you pinpoint the moment or moments that you knew like art creativity was a calling for you?
Anuj Shrestha: Sure. Yeah. So my name is Anuj and I'm a uh, illustrator slash cartoonist, uh, you know, living in, in Philadelphia. And I've been sort of, I, uh, I, my ethnic heritage background is Nepali, but I, uh, moved to the U S when I was just around two years old. So I, I, you know, was raised most of my life here in the States. And, um, I did sort of, I guess to answer your, the second part of your question first, I feel like, um, I felt like always like just a sort of instinctual need to draw like most children, I think, which it's almost like, you know, a fundamental human act. it was encouraged throughout my childhood. And I have some memories of maybe in early first or second grade, certain teachers noting that I did have some sort of skill around drawing, and there was some ability there. And I think my mom was good at encouraging that on my part, for me to sort of like, you know, just pursue that more. And I feel like there were a couple key moments where I fell in love with the art of cartooning. And that actually was reading early Archie comics. And I mean, I have vivid memories of being an anchor. So I traveled around a lot. Like after, you know, after we came to the States, when I was around two in Nepal, we were on the West Coast for a while. We were in at one point, we were in Oregon briefly, and then And then my family was in California in like Orange County. And then we settled in, eventually settled in Anchorage, Alaska. And that's where I spent like the early childhood. And there was a friend at my elementary school, this was probably like around fourth grade, and they had They just had a bag of Archie comics that were like old used issues from like probably like from 10 or 15 years prior. And he was just selling them for really cheap. I mean, you know, we were like nine years old, I guess. So it's not like we had a lot of money. So he I just remember getting a bunch of those comics and just being in love, falling in love with. in particular Dan DiCarlo's cartooning. And he's he kind of established the house style at that time, like through from like the 70s onward into the 2000s. And so I was really obsessed with his because they, you know, Archie always had a stable of artists who worked in their own style. But I always knew like DiCarlo's work because of its finesse and clarity and just like very fluid line art. And Harry Lucy is another one of the early artists who also drew really beautifully. So I just remember just being obsessed with them, trying to draw them, the characters myself, like, you know, to very poor effect. And I also was very aware that the stories were pretty spinning and not that interesting. At best, they were like vaudeville little sketches, like slapstick. And when it leaned into that stuff, I always thought that's when it was actually enjoyable. But it's funny. I'm sure, like, reflect the political time in, like, the Reagan era and stuff as time went on, but the comics would become preachy or they would become, like, really, like, contrived and just not, you know. And at the end of the day, they're just trying to sell these comics to, like, to their demographic of, like, elementary school kids or high school kids or, you know. But anyway, yeah, so that was probably, like, a key moment that I I knew that I really loved the art, the sort of the form of comics and then also wanting to kind of do them myself. And then eventually, as I got older, I got into like You know, because I'm, you know, I'm not, I'm no spring chicken. So I, I was there when like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics individual issues were coming out. I mean, this is before like the whole onslaught of the Nickelodeon partnerships and all the other stuff they do, but. or where it was like a very popular TV show. And these were like kind of gritty and drawn like Kevin Eastman drew and like this very sort of, you know, scratchy, but yet kind of also kind of clean style that I loved. I actually didn't really get into much superhero comics. I was into Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man and And a few X-Men issues here and there, Sal Luchema, those people. But like, ultimately, I didn't read a lot of superhero comics. And then the next big lightning bolt for me was discovering sort of alternative indie comics, whatever the term you want to use. And this was in college. And that's in the work of people like Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Los Barros Hernandez, Julie Doucet, and those people.

Rob Lee: Thank you. Wow. I mean, I'm hearing things that, you know, I feel like there was a part, you know, we have like this is going to be a comic reference. I have to make it a comic movie reference. When you have a canon event, that's what I'm feeling like I'm hearing pieces of like from into the Spider-Verse, I guess, or across the Spider-Verse where. I when I when this is sort of my creative outlet. Right. When I was younger, I wanted to be a comic book artist. So, you know, I would always get into trouble. I was always drawing like superhero characters like, you know, like X-Men and things of that nature. And when you, you know, mentioned like Ninja Turtles or have you. It's like that was something that I love. I grew up with that. And, you know, I was recently talking with my partner and I was telling her, I was like, man, you got to watch the original Ninja Turtles movies. Gritty is like New York. And she's like, I guess. And I was like, it's real. And sort of being able to go back and revisit some of the licensing stuff and some of the different hands that that property went through. And it's like, OK, this is more challenging than what my personality is. I'm more so I have a straight line. I'm interested in this stuff. I'm going to buy it as an adult. I literally have a shredder action figure behind me. But, um, you know, having some of those, those opportunities and, you know, one of the other things that I've gotten into recently as it relates to comics and revisiting sort of something that I ultimately didn't pursue, you know, it was an art school I tried to get into and then just, I was told I wasn't good enough, so I just kind of gave up on it. That was literally the story. And being able to revisit it in a different way, I am writing a goofy comic. I'm hiring artists, but I'm writing a goofy comic about cat lawyers, which is really fun. And being able to revisit that, I think when you give up on something, it's an opportunity to maybe look at it differently. And even doing some of the work around interviews with folks such as yourself, I was recently able to connect with the folks at Small Press Expo in Bethesda and do stuff there. So being more familiar with the more independent artists and more independent books, And just looking at that is a, you know, a really cool piece of work creatively art wise, but also the sort of storytelling component that's there. And it's like I feel like I'm back, but in a very different way, you know, as far as being back around comics.

Anuj Shrestha: OK, have you do you draw it all now or not?

Rob Lee: No, I gave it up every now and again. You know, like I'm in meetings that are super boring and naturally that childlike wonder come back. I was like, I'm going to draw what the boss looks like right now. I'm going to give them alien antlers. The little things on their heads. But yeah, I do it on occasion, but it's not to the degree in which it was. It was just like, I was that kid, right? In class, let's say you have a test that's like, should take you 30 minutes. I'm like 20 minutes in, 10 minutes in, I've already been drawing for like five minutes. You know, I would take my B and then I'm taking the rest of the class to draw.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, that's cool that you like, even if you didn't end up like drawing, you know, professionally or whatever, that you still you're, you're able to work that passion into like what you do, like the other things you do.

Rob Lee: Yeah, it's definitely something. And, you know, when I saw it and wanted to revisit it, and then, you know, being in that sort of scene, you know, and going to like the Small Press Expo and even being part of this collective and that network, I'm like, oh, these are actually cool people. These aren't like the jerk faces that I've been around at other like Comic-Cons and events like that, which it's just like, it's the hustle. I'm like, oh, I'm talking to this person as, hey, I'm a journalist covering this stuff. Hey, you're selling work, but you want to share your story about how you go about your work. That is so cool to me and having that opportunity to do so. Oh, great. Yeah, absolutely. So I want to move into this. This next question was something you mentioned. And this is like I'll say, like my five dollar Segway, if you will. So you touched on like living in different parts of like the US, like growing up. Was there anything about, like, those different, like, landscapes or those different places? Like, you mentioned Alaska, you know, like, I think of, what, 30 days a night immediately, going back to our vampire talk before we got started. Has any of those, like, different, like, locations and those different experiences living in those vastly different places influenced how you go about your work as an illustrator, as a cartoonist? Any thoughts around that?

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, that's an interesting question. I think, I think more when I was growing up, I wasn't as sort of I wasn't as concerned with there was a point where I almost got a little bit used to moving around. And so I don't know if I necessarily like the stuff I was doing when I was first sort of becoming comfortable, like drawing and like maybe even creating my own stories and that kind of thing. I don't feel like it was had a deep connection to the immediate environment. And I do feel like the stuff that was happening later and up to like the present is often that will be a little more affected by my environment where I live. And I mean, I tend to like, at least after school and everything, I've been always drawn towards living in cities or at least like really close to like a city. And I still find that to be like an interesting like source of like creative fodder just just in city environments always are always very compelling to me more so than like like beautiful like sort of like natural surroundings and that kind of thing and. Um, if anything, I, I also maybe from the experience of having, uh, was being born in Nepal and then like having visited it like throughout my life. And then also the experience of living in Alaska. I do think there's an interesting counterpoint of like being around these really beautiful, like, um, uh, just very gorgeous natural surroundings. And then also, but yet I'm, I'm also very drawn to like the sort of chaos of the city, the grime, the dirt. Yeah.

Rob Lee: Yeah. I'm definitely a city person as well. I can say this in that vein. It was probably about 10 years ago, maybe a little longer, where I visited like New Mexico. So not the same as Nepal, not the same as Alaska, what have you. But it's a different setting, like being in Baltimore, being in these wild East Coast cities that just have like a certain aesthetic. It's like a lot of gray hair, a lot of stress. And I get up super early, like even now, and I take that morning like jog, that two mile morning jog. I'm like a lot of rats. Whereas, you know, when I was there, like sort of that, that Southwest region and in Clovis, New Mexico, visiting my brother for the first time. So having that, right, it just seemed like just roads, just, just like sort of isolation. and appreciating the landscape, noticing the color of the sky, and, you know, seeing those different things, immediately started thinking of, like, you know, paintings and the scenery, things of that nature. And then coming back here, it's like, oh, right, Gray Buildings, here we go, we're back. And, you know, loving that, but definitely, loving being in the city, but wanting that sort of departure in instances, like, I think of when writers need that time away from their regular scenery. And it's like, I'm going to book a place, a cabin, and I'm just going to write there because it's a reset.

Anuj Shrestha: OK. Yeah, that's that's I mean, that that sort of contradiction or needing that balance of of that openness and then also then being comfortable making your home in like the heart of the city or in like a very like a dense concentrated space. That is fascinating. I will say I don't know if it's because I did grow up also so then from basically around like when I was 11 onward and into high school and up eventually into college. I lived in Colorado and it was in the suburbs of Colorado so it was very Yeah, obviously it was like the dry climate, obviously beautiful view of the Rockies. So mountains have always been pretty consistent, I guess, throughout my childhood. But I don't know if it was from being in that suburban environment that now as an adult, I don't have a desire to be in that sort of space. And I think I just always want to be near a city if I can.

Rob Lee: 100%, it makes so much sense. I have a good friend who, we were, he was at that stage, he was younger, and it was like about an eight year difference in age between he and I. And I'm like, look, man, trust me, you want to be in the city, bro. Everything is there in the city. I was like, culture is there, the museums, the different restaurants. Right, right. It's like now I want to be out there like in Crofton. I was like, you want to be out in Crofton, which is like literally you just go there to let your dreams dissipate. It's just it's just like no shots to Crofton, but also it's just like, is it like it's residential suburban or like? Yeah, definitely big suburbs. And it's kind of like one of those almost like work cities. It's like a planned community kind of vibe. It's like if so, any culture out there feels like kind of artificial.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah. Yeah. That's I mean, that's like all over America, right? Like all over this, like this, the states, like cities are, you know, you have those where it's just like strings of mini malls and some planned, planned housing and suburbs and all that. Yeah.

Rob Lee: It's like you have your one ethnic restaurant and then everything else is some weird American, new American is like, this is bad, actually.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah, no, I think I, I mean, I have friends who are comfortable living in spaces like that. And I think I, for me, I just, I can visit, but I, I don't want to be, I don't want to be living around there. Yeah.

Rob Lee: I hear you. So you touched on the freelance component. So with being a freelance artist, you're working with clients, you're doing projects, and you've got an impressive list. Like, I'm on your website right now and I'm like, hold up like this. Like, how am I qualified to talk to you right now? You know what I mean?

Anuj Shrestha: I also really need to be updated. It's been like neglected for like six months at least, I think, if not more. Yeah. But there, there's some, you know, I see, I see, I see all of the New Yorks, a lot of New York press clients, different, different New York publications, I guess. Yeah.

Rob Lee: And, you know, just the work that's on there for the clients is really, really cool. I really dig it. So what is your process and like establishing like strong initial rapport with new clients, like building that up? And, you know, shamelessly, I might be asking for myself as a podcaster that's in that's available, but also for folks that are in this sort of freelance space that, you know, are looking for clients and looking for projects. How do you establish that initial spark and then, like, maintain a really good working relationship?

Anuj Shrestha: That's a, yeah, that's a great question. I think, well, I did, so I went to a school of visual arts in New York and I actually got my MFA there with the focus on illustration. And that was like during the early mid 2000s. So, I mean, one of the helpful things that that program sort of instilled in us is to, as we were getting ready to complete the complete, you know, our MFAs, they were, you know, they knew we were all going to, and we were in the field of illustration. So it's, you know, you work with clients, you work with like, you know, there was, there was a group of us who work with, like, we were focused on children's books. There was a group that was focused on doing comics. And then there were, there was like another group that was maybe focused on doing editorial. And at the time, I had very minimal experience working in any form of editorial illustration. or working for any magazines or newspapers or anything like that. But I did have like a couple friends and an illustrator colleague of mine, and she was a few years before me. She's like a superstar, Yuko Shimizu. She had hooked me up with like one of my first illustration gigs for, I believe it was the Financial Times UK edition. And this was like in the mid 2000s. And And that sort of kind of, you know, like, threw me into that sort of experience of working with with working with an art director and working, you know, working with an editor and. And I think one thing that helped was that I could work relatively quickly. So some of the early jobs that had relatively quick turnarounds, that wasn't a problem. But I think, of course, because it was one of my first experiences working professionally, I was very nervous and wanting to make sure everything was right. And then what so I'm kind of going off on a small tangent, but like, what ended up happening is I so I did a couple more gigs for that for that publication and because they liked kind of some of the earlier things I had done and and then what had happened was. The problem with working in editorial illustration as like to support yourself is it's very unpredictable and you don't know, and a lot of the jobs are, you know, sometimes they're small jobs. They're not significant enough to allow you to make rent and such. So basically, I was also at the same time desperately looking for like a regular, at least like a you know, a full time position in any capacity, but I was also being very stubborn. And, you know, just as long as I could just draw, like, or do something in the visual arts, then I was, then I would be okay. And, and fortunately, I was able to find a job with a small startup that was kind of a technology company. And then I worked and they were creating like language devices for children who are like nonverbal and who had like autism, cerebral palsy, etc. So, basically, I worked creating graphics for their language program and I was used. Yeah, and it was that was like a full time job. That was great. And I was. You know, I felt super sort of comfortable just relying on a regular check and having benefits. And that was like about two and a half years, just under three years, I think. And then the company was bought out and then I was kind of thrown into the freelance world. Like most illustrators can tell you, getting a full-time salaried illustration job is very rare, and especially one with benefits. Because most companies or creative houses or anything, they'll hire people on contract. And so I was panicking. This was back in 2009. for a while kind of floundering there. And I was trying to get a like a comic project off the air, but that's not like off the ground. But like, that's not something that you can really rely on in terms of income, especially as a new artist and or someone just getting into the field. So I basically, you know, I eventually did get a job I started working with an ad agency and a good friend from school was able to get me in the door. This was like in the 2009, 2010 time. At one point, there was a stable of at least maybe 10 to 15 illustrators working at this ad agency. uh we we all like we became our own like sort of community because we also love geeking out about like comics and and horror movies and and any sort of like really uh provocative visual art we like you know and it was a wonderful workplace and uh so i was doing that for a while that also ended up drying up um And the agency eventually laid off a bunch of the, nobody was hired full time everybody was like kind of what they call permalancing or freelancing, like just, you know, and I think what ended up happening is around like 2015 2016. I had actually moved to Philly in 2014 but like. Maybe a year after that move, I was sending out promo emails to art directors with just some visual samples. I had been given some good advice from some friends and colleagues from SVA about how to promote. It was like everything, it was slow at the beginning and I don't know if a lot of people knew my work. And then around I think it was about 2015 or 2016 I got my first job with the New Yorker just doing a like a small editorial piece illustrating like a movie review and. It was tough because the job required me to draw faces, and I'm not a portrait illustrator. Some people are amazing at capturing likenesses. I'm not one of those people. But I just struggled through it, and it was fine. It was fine. I think they were okay with it. uh so after that point on I just started kind of uh I joined like Instagram very late like in relation to like people who have been on it for a while and uh I use that as a forum to just like regularly post either sketchbook drawings or little comics experiments because I don't actually work I haven't worked on any long form graphic novels because most of my stuff is like experimental shorts and But I guess the Instagram platform is pretty limited because people look at comics in a square format or maybe a slightly portrait-like orientation. But for the most part, it's very awkward to read comics through your phone. But I guess people have adapted. Yeah, now at this point, people are making comics in square panels to be very clearly read through that platform. But I will say, I think a lot of people started seeing my work on Instagram, and particularly art directors. And I think that helped a lot with me starting to get more regular client work. And then another big client that was key in helping me sort of establish My freelance career was also the sort of master art director, Deb Bishop, for the New York Times. She oversees the New York Times Kids Edition, which they publish bi-monthly, I believe. And it's a really beautifully laid out section of the newspaper. And it's full color. But it's also printed on newsprint, so it has that nice texture. And they get a great variety of illustrators to work on it. And I've been fortunate enough to do three covers of it at this point, and then various inside illustrations as well. Great. So I don't know, Dave, did I answer your question?

Rob Lee: No, no, you definitely like, like keyed in on sort of like how those connections come about. And here's the funny thing about it. You you've actually answered the follow up question already because I'm hearing the challenges that were in there early on as well. So it's like you kind of are an overachiever right there. I don't like that. I don't like when that happens. No, but it is something really to consider. As I'm doing this and I was in this spot, I've been a podcaster for 15 years almost, and I was in this spot where I had this day job with the full benefits and all of that good stuff, but this was me trying to tame the creative beast, and that job went away. I was laid off. And then creative stuff started suffering, but the day job was funding the creative stuff. And now in having sort of these conversations with folks and being in all of that, the depression, the not having benefits, the uncertainty, all of that stuff, right, for years. And getting to a stage now and having these great conversations with artists and creative types and folks in and around business as well has given me this concept of, you know, part of sort of the day job and what I need from that is almost it being the funder. you know, just being able to have some degree of structure around it. And it gives me sort of that safety net. So when I find like funding or something, I don't really stop doing this. It adds to it. It makes it a bit easier. It adds capacity. And but also even one of the things you were touching on the sort of connection to folks being folks that are in your network, you know, sort of like we can commiserate and talk about stuff that we're into, you know, as far as we're in this same spot, the permalancers, I believe you said, and. And then, you know, having sort of those connections for for work. You know, I I'm teaching this semester. Right. And this was a referral from someone who had been on the podcast was like, would you be interested in doing this? I was like, I don't know how to get the school system. I don't have a degree. And he was like, let's just tee it up. And it's now a thing. And so kind of being aware of that, that sort of stuff when you're carving your own lane and you know, so often and I and I and I would imagine you relate to this. We're not just doing one thing. We're doing so many different things to try to make this sort of artist lifestyle, I guess, like float in work.

Anuj Shrestha: Absolutely. And there's no there's no like I mean, despite the existence of art schools and all these like degree programs, there's no way to like dictate how to you know uh create like a sustainable model for like pursuing creative creativity and like as a professional career and um I think there of course there's guidelines and stuff you could do but uh it's at the end of the day it's there is a lot of luck involved and and then of course like just you know having the right connections and and just really being into the doing the work and I just know that I at the end there was a point where I'm just like I can't I can't imagine myself doing a job that involved that didn't involve some sort of, like, what dry or in some way. And I, I'm very fortunate that I've been able to do that, even though, I mean, for years, the precarity of freelancing was so stressful that I was like, I just, I'm gonna have to just get, like, some sort of regular full time job, but. I don't know at this point I guess I've, I try to ignore that voice about like okay this, it's been a, if it's been like a slow few weeks or something, but, you know, at the end of the day I just, I know that. Being able to support myself through drawing, which is the ultimate creative satisfaction and life-affirming practice for me, that's the most important thing.

Rob Lee: Yeah, I talked to folks, a lot of folks in the visual space or what have you, visual artists. And, you know, I hear sort of the same thing. We're on the same sort of wavelength where someone came to me and said, look, you're making this. I can offer you this. You doing this creative thing is your full time income generator. but you're paid less, but you're paid enough that you can live off of it, but you're paid less than what you're making. Yes, I'm taking it because it's much more satisfying. It's this idea, and I think we all, I think many of us, I don't know if we all, but many of us have this imperative to create and do something that comes from the soul. And when you have, like, I know my way around a spreadsheet, right? But when you have that as sort of the day job and it's like, look, this is soul crushing. I want something soul enriching.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I remember I worked at a one summer before, I think it was the summer before moving to New York for art school, I was working at a, I think it was a administrative, administrative office for like, emergency responder company. And so I was just like, it was like, it was basically just alphabetizing files. And, you know, a lot of clerical work. And It was, it was very dry and monotonous. And the whole time I was drawing many, I was drawing, doing doodles and drawing comics on like sticky notes because the office had tons of sticky notes. So I saved a lot of them too.

Rob Lee: I'm waiting for that, that sort of either the handheld or the digital version of these sticky notes to be like put together as an archive. I'm waiting for this. I need this to happen. Um, it's the thing that, um, you know, in doing this, you know, especially when you, you have that sort of network and that those people that are really close to you, you know, you can commiserate with them, but also you can maybe inspire them. So like, you know, my, my, and the reason I'm mentioning this, um, so my, my partner, she's working on a comic, right. And she's doing the, the Instagram thing, but she's a, the writer and she's always looking for artists and having that sort of collaborative relationship, not necessarily client, but collaborative. And she was like, yeah, you know, I want to do this other creative thing that's like kind of fueling it where it's going to different parts of the city. And I think I think when we went to Detroit, she did it there. So it might also be different landmarks that she's seen in our travels, but compiling Polaroids of things that have influenced the work that she's going to write for in this comic. And I think it's a really cool idea. And I was like, that's a project in itself. I was like capturing sort of these moments of inspiration in your travels. That's a project. And, you know, but just kind of kind of having this idea of just this is sort of background fodder or something to pass the time. It's like, no, work is there. Now, I get rid of all of my B-roll because before we got started, I was fumbling through my introduction for this and I finally got it. That's why I was like, we're going to go right to the interview. Oh, OK. Literally, this recording has been running for almost an hour, right? And probably the first 20 minutes is me fumbling through and learning how to talk again.

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, wow. Okay. That's surprising because I feel like, you know, this is like something you're very comfortable with.

Rob Lee: Yes, I'm comfortable with the conversation. The sort of framing around it sometimes is a bit more, it's like a little too formal for me. I'm an informal individual. And it's funny, you know, I was telling you a little bit about, you know, visiting Philadelphia for these interviews, right? And I interviewed the Dean of U of Arts. And we were talking and I mentioned to her, I was like, I got the yips. And she's like, what do you mean by the yips? I was like, you know, when you're a baseball player, you can't throw the second base. And she's like, oh, I was like, yeah, I can't say my name or your name. I'm fumbling through it. So let's just have a conversation. And she's like, that happens? I was like, it does.

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, wow. That's, yeah, that's, like, Yeah, I mean, I'm someone who doesn't do a lot of these sort of recorded interviews, honestly, because I myself get very self-conscious and I admire all my friends who teach regularly and they work with students and they can go up, you know, in front of a class of, like, people and, you know, be very confident and sort of, like, spread the knowledge and their experience. But for me, yeah, it's very I'm like, I'm actually, it's good that you're not formal because that you're sort of gregarious natural energy comes out. And I think for me, I'm like super formal when I first meet people. And so, and so, yeah, it's helping. It's helping relax me as well.

Rob Lee: That's great. I like to disarm people before him with those rapid fire questions at the end. That's what I was going to get. Everyone's like a really comfortable spot. And I was like, oh, right. I did mention that. Now you're going to ask me these questions. So so with that, I have a few more like sort of real questions before we get into those rapid fire questions. And the next one goes a little bit like this. So I'm seeing like, you know, these different awards, prestigious awards that, you know, your work has has garnered or have you. And, you know, there's this point where I think when folks get recognized for their work and their contribution to whether it's the canon to their contribution to sustain their lifestyle and so on, getting that acknowledgement, what what do like accolades, accolades and what do accolades mean to you in the context of your career? Because that could be a moment where it's just like, All right, I'm going to keep making this sort of work. Or it's like, yeah, I'm going to get rid of that. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to do something that is so different from that. So what does that mean for you?

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah, that's a good question. I think, um, for me, I mean, the awards, uh, whether it's the Society of Illustrators, uh, based in New York, uh, the New York Society of Illustrators competition, or there, you know, there's several different awards categories. There's, um, there's also, um, American Illustration that is not affiliated with Society of Illustrators, and they do their own, um, illustration annual every year. So I think it was something that we had been told about what, like, you know, when I was at SBA, and it's just, you know, you technically do, you submit work to it, and then you, there is a fee and you pay for it. But the benefit is that if your work is accepted into the annual, then many art directors do look and consult through these annuals to look at new work and to find illustrators that they want to work with. So in a way, initially, I believe it was kind of a sort of strategic, you know, it was like a strategic move on my part to apply to them. But there was a period right after school ended where I, because I don't think I was creating a lot of personal work or work for clients, because I had like that sort of full-time job situation. So I didn't apply to them at all. And it was only more recently, I'd say maybe post like 2016, 2017, I think I started, you know, submitting work to them again. And honestly, like a lot of my personal work is I feel like sometimes showcases, it's, you know, it's like a better showcase of my ability or my, like, my thoughts or my, like, you know, like, I'm a lot more connected to the content. And so, in more recent times, in these recent years, I've I will not always apply to these awards regularly, but I will if I feel like a personal work or maybe a particular client job was something I thought was very strong. And so, yes, applying to it, there's always that, from experiences in the past, I've definitely applied and not had any work get in. And so there's always a part of me that sort of scolds myself if I don't get in, and then I just wasted the money to apply. when like when I had submitted some more recent work and this was like a few years back where I submitted a series of just two panel experimental comics to the Society of Illustrators and then he was awarded the gold medal for like that category of just like personal work and that in a way that felt very you know It felt really good in the sense because it was work that I was already felt very strongly for. And I felt like it was the work that I felt I was the most proud of recently that I had done. And I had just done it for myself, totally self-motivated, not for any clients or anything. And I guess there was like a validating sort of experience from having gotten that award. But at the same time, I think there is many incredibly talented creators who don't apply to awards at all. And maybe it's not even interesting. It's not important to them. And I completely respect that as well.

Rob Lee: Yeah, it's I got this award last year, which felt really validating. You know, I got the best, best podcast, best of Baltimore, best podcast or what have you. And that felt really cool. And getting acknowledgement of these things, but sort of the seeing people and being able to and this is going to sound gauche and pretentious or what have you, but being able to connect with people and that sort of connection that this podcast started is that entry point continues. That's actually the award. That's actually sort of that recognition, because, you know, once you see it, you can't unsee how some of these things work. And it's just like, I don't know, I try not to get caught in either jaded or like really gassing myself up. Like, man, I'm the next thing. I'm great. I'm the best. It's just like, no, I do this. This is a thing that happened. Enjoy it. And I don't do a really good job at enjoying it. You know, any of those things that happen, I'm just like, ah, it's almost like Catholic guilt in some ways. It's like, ah, something bad's going to happen now. So for that, but It's cool to see it, it's cool to have those moments, but sort of getting some of these interviews, some of the ones that I was like, how the hell did I get this person? And I'm actually having a good conversation with them. That actually is the most rewarding part that feels like an accolade to be able to continue.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah, that's no, that's absolutely it. And it's like, you know, it doesn't matter if it's some institution or entity giving you like the praise, or a symbol of the praise, it's the fact that you're having that experience, and you made those connections. And I feel like, and that, like, you know, people are appreciating what you're doing. And I feel like, for me, aside from the award, like what what always is the most um I think what is the most validating sort of experience is when another creator or artist or or you know someone who's writing I respect if they read or look at or like you know they see something I've done and they and they react positively that's that's probably the best experience that that feels the best and is the most validating.

Rob Lee: Oh yeah. So I have one last real question. I've moved one of my questions to the rapid fire because I think it fits really well. So when I ask you in that part, but sort of the the final part of this, you know, this is my continuation of doing these these Philadelphia based interviews or Philadelphia centric interviews. So how how does the the art scene there like I see similarities? I, you know, I'm based in Baltimore and I talk about sort of like I see Philadelphia being a few years ahead as to how artists may be treated. But I think the cities are very similar. A lot of like concentrated creativity, a lot of nonprofits that aren't always the most helpful, but a lot of concentrated creativity. Um, how, how does being in an environment with that sort of concentrated creativity, just your trip over a cheesesteak and an artist, if you walk around Philly long enough, uh, how does that contribute to your work and how are you a part of like the community, if at all?

Anuj Shrestha: That's a really important question. I think that's something any creative person should consider wherever they live, but especially if you live in a city, a major city like Philly. And so I moved here in 2014, and I feel like it took me a long time to feel close with a community of creators, whether they were illustrators, cartoonists, or just whatever general visual artists of any type. And I feel like only maybe in the last, Three or four years, I do feel like I'm more actually a part of the comics community here and a big part of that has been this, there's a, there's a stores and slash gallery called partners and son, and it's. It's just off of South Street and it's a wonderful resource because they sell, they're like a curated comics boutique where they pick really beautiful art indie comics and they also have regular shows and the shows are like multimedia shows. So sometimes it's visual art, sometimes it's original comics pages from a creator, or sometimes it'll be performance, sometimes it's music, sometimes it'll be readings from zines or poetry. And the owners, Tom and Gina, are fantastic. And they also, for the last three or four years, have been running this festival called the Philly Comics Expo. And that event, it just happened last month. And I feel like that event is one of the best it's one of the best sort of resources for just like hanging out with other creators because you know you see people you haven't maybe you haven't seen them in like six months or something. Everybody has their own lives especially the people who have like families and stuff and I think it's always been a great excuse for me to like just hang out with other people after the show and there's usually events related to it. So that's that's like one great resource for like cartoonists, I would say specifically. There's a there's definitely a huge illustration. There's a bunch of different illustrators that I haven't met personally, but whose work I admire who also are in Philly. And but I mean, I think because of the nature of our work and because we are so isolated, sometimes it is it's it's very difficult to like actually be in those spaces all the time. And I think, um, like things like these, like comics or zine festival, there's, there's a, there's another festival called the punk rock flea flea market that they do, I think at least twice a year. I don't know. Have you ever checked that out?

Rob Lee: I've heard of it. I think I follow an IG and some of the folks I've interviewed, they were like, Oh, I'm going to be here. And I was like, Oh, I wish I was up there right now.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah. Yeah. And they're, they're great. I mean, they've been doing it. for years now. I don't know exactly the history of it, but that's also a space where it's not obviously just cartoonists and you get all sorts of creators and different people, you know, just sort of selling their wares and their own work. But yeah, Philly is full of, I think, also like this, these more scrappy DIY spaces. And then there's also the more like, there's a gallery scene as well. And then, you know, And then to which that scene I'm not as familiar with, but I've had friends have work in those spaces as well. And I think it's because it's Phileas is like smaller than New York. So the gallery scene isn't seen as daunting. And it's like, you know, you can kind of, it's not too hard to just like follow like new work that's coming out and checking them out.

Rob Lee: So it's it has that accessibility that's there and still small enough. It's like the it's like the further you go up north. Right. And that's where my sort of comparison with the Baltimore Philly thing is like the geographically Philadelphia is bigger than Baltimore. And so that scene is going to be bigger. And then as you were mentioning a second ago, it's like it's not it's not as big as New York. So it's not as daunting in these different ways. So it's almost like the further you go up 95 or an Amtrak as I do. It's like it's getting more, you know, more challenging to get into. And, you know, one of the things I was mentioning, and even this podcast being a part of this, this attempt to connect in those different communities and be able to find a way not to slide in, because that feels snake and slithery, but to to kind of become a part of even as a visitor. I don't know if that happens in New York as quickly as I was able to do with some of the stuff in Philly. And it's still so much more to explore. And so, yeah, I think that's a really good point. And it's good to hear that there is that community there, because I know that I've interviewed, you know, a fair amount of folks that were pretty open to just like, hey, I'm from out of town. I do this. Would you be interested in coming on? And it's a resounding yes versus sort of tracking someone down. So I think that scene is there. And I think people definitely want to talk macroly in a creative space, but also in more, you know, isolated in the visual arts, illustrators, cartoonists, things of that sort. And I think more stuff to come.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah. Absolutely. Oh, and I was saying like the I think the creative landscape in Philly is also going to is constantly in flux and is going to change even more because actually a ton of people from New York and outside like other cities nearby are moving to Philly because New York is pricing out so many of its creative like people too. So it's changing constantly.

Rob Lee: Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I would imagine some of the folks that are priced out of Philly are like coming down to Baltimore. It's that exchange. It's the exchange.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah.

Rob Lee: Because, you know, in doing this, like a lot of the interviews that I've done have been Baltimore, Philadelphia and D.C. And it's just like D.C. is too expensive. Baltimore is right there in that spot where we're going through this change here, where it's like things are going to be much more expensive here. So it's like, where do folks go? Delaware? I don't know. Like, what are we going to do? Yeah.

Anuj Shrestha: Yeah. And that's the thing. It's like, I mean, a lot at the end of the day, it's like if you can't you know, if you're struggling to support yourself and make rent and all of those things, then you're not going to be able to make art like it's you know, you have to it has to be sort of, you know, it has to be a situation where that like you can still be productive and you can still you can still take the time to make the work.

Rob Lee: Yeah. So that's that's where we'll kind of wrap on the real, real podcast on the the real questions. And I'm going to move into this rapid fire portion. And as I always tell everyone, don't overthink these. Whatever the answer is, is the answer. So I got it. Now I'm getting nervous. No, don't get nervous. So I got two food related questions, two movie related questions and something more art oriented. So I'm going to start off with the art oriented one, because I feel like that's more of a segue. So in one word, describe the essence of your work. I guess, clean. Okay. That's a good answer. Now, I read, I think I read about dumplings and I read about chili sauce. Right, right. So, all right. So do you have like a go-to filling for a dumpling that you really like?

Anuj Shrestha: A go-to filling, you said? Yes. I mean, I love pork dumplings. And beef, like sometimes I'll use like, you know, like in particular in Nepal, you know, where I'm from, the dumplings are called momo and momo spots are opening up all over. Like, I mean, they've been there's tons of them in New York City, but like there's a new spot just opened in Philly. But in Nepal, like it's it's common to use buffalo meat. And that's actually. Been the most delicious that I've had, but like that's that's the perfect dumpling.

Rob Lee: So you're selling a ticket for me to come back up to Philly specifically for those momos. Oh, yeah.

Anuj Shrestha: Well, it's like one of the few places in Philly that actually has Nepali food or Tibetan food. So I need to check it out, but I will absolutely let you know. And yeah, I'll take you there.

Rob Lee: That's a bet. That is a bet. So I got on this thing. I've been doing this this journey. I think I was sharing a bit earlier with you about sort of the some of the food stuff I've been on recently. And I've kind of dove into Japanese food. I've been trying to do different dishes. And I'm always looking for something hot. I like the kick. So Do you have a chili sauce? And don't tell me that you make your own, because I'm going to be really tight. But do you have a chili sauce that you really like or that I can procure? That's ultimately what I'm going after.

Anuj Shrestha: You know, I definitely don't make my own chili sauce. I that don't be that just seems way too involved, even though maybe it's I'm sure it's not as difficult as I'm thinking in my head. It just depends on the cuisine, though, because like I got my like, you know, garlic chili paste, you know, that's there's like the it's kind of there's like the brand that's kind of affiliated with like Sriracha. Sriracha is obviously popular for a reason because it's a good go to and I still like it. Um, but there's like for, for more of a kick, there's like the, it's like the similar brand with like the green top. And then it's got, it's like a garlic chili paste. And then there's also the, um, there's like Lee Kum Kee. I think that is also does like the, there's a bunch of different brands, but they do like the hot chili oil and the, um, and the chili seeds. And that is absolutely like one of my favorites.

Rob Lee: I definitely have the chili oil. I had a Instacart delivery coming right before I turned this mic on and I got some of the what is it? Momofuku? Momofuku?

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, OK. Yeah.

Rob Lee: I feel like I'm bougie. I'm bougie as hell. Yeah.

Anuj Shrestha: The quality on that one. No, that's cool. I usually I like to Philly has a great Chinatown. And whenever I'm there, I just try to grab a different brand because or one I haven't tried before. But as long as you're getting that good, like, you know, you get the hot oil with the dried peppers, like immersed. It's fantastic. Yeah.

Rob Lee: Yeah, I mean, like I had had this this dish I made. It's like basically it's just shaved ribeye and like onions called gildan. And I it's like I pull out the wild QP mayo. And I pull out the chili crunch and I'm getting loose. It might be some bok choy going on. I'm dumping in completely and it is putting the mayo in with the chili oil and stuff. It's not like I'm just having it on top of the the beef. So after everything is sort of like sorted out, it's just like this is a topping and it's a bunch of sesame seeds that go on. It's somehow it works. I don't go I don't overdo it. I don't overdo it. I mean, it sounds fantastic. So it's delicious. So this is sort of the the last two. And I think, you know, you know, like mindedness, right, when it comes to horror movies. So I've got to ask. Um, do you ever like work in some of the iconography, the the elements from like a great or a poster into either some of your your personal work or even get really sneaky and work it into some of the client work? Like, you know, put this in there and work this in there somehow.

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, like so. So you're asking, like, if I have I like slipped in like references to like things like horror and stuff into projects? That's a that's a really good question. I don't think I. I'm trying to think, I can't think of a, um, I think honestly, a lot of the stuff I do isn't like involved with horror or even that, you know, as much as I love the genre of film and books and stuff, but like, um, I feel like A lot of a lot of my client work, you know, the stuff that I do to pay the bills is is less it maybe is more quiet or less sort of foreboding or within these genre trappings of like creepy stuff but. I don't know. And also, I'm actually personally trying to, I want to do a series of short comics that I want to collect. And I want them to be more like, like Twilight Zone-y, where they're like sort of surreal, as opposed to, because I don't actually, my work isn't lend itself to really grotesque, tons of detail, that kind of stuff. Like some people are amazing at that. And mine, I just want it to be kind of quiet and weird.

Rob Lee: I dig it. So this is the other part that kind of goes with that question. And, you know, when I think of either horror or I think of some of the older stuff, like I see Italian horror, so I think of what is Jalo. I think of that sort of stuff, what have you. Yeah. So let's say there's a director or someone who's in that sort of like space that reaches out and it's like, look, we're doing a 30th anniversary, 40th anniversary edition, and we want someone to in your style. you know, do our cover work for it, almost like the Criterion Collection, where they're like, hey, we got these new covers. Who is the director? What's the movie?

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, that's amazing. It's such a good question. I mean, I would absolutely that would be a dream job anyway, just to be able to do a criterion like special release of of like a classic. I feel like I do love stuff that I don't think my work works well for. Like there's like the really, really gnarly, like sort of gory graphic stuff like the loose Lucio Fulci, the Italian director. And he like his like the beyond is like an amazing movie. And it's But I don't know if I would say maybe that has maybe less hyper gore than some of his other things. But so maybe beyond, I would love to do that or any Dario Argento, just because I think his stuff is so stylized that it's almost clean. Also, like, I mean, of course, there's like tons of blood and neon colors and it's very over the top. But like, I feel like he's someone I would also love to like, you know, I don't, it doesn't have to be Suspiria, though, probably the most famous one, but like any of his other, like, really weird slasher projects would be really fun.

Rob Lee: I mean, you could do like Deep Red, just make it happen.

Anuj Shrestha: Deep Red is great. Maybe operas also, like Wild. I feel like it would, but the thing is with me, it would have to be, like, my whole thing is just like, maybe it's more like tension or something. I don't, I'm not good at drawing the gory moment, like, like, Like the like the moment of like intense violence. I can't I don't know how to depict that. Like that's why I like those superhero people who grew up like drawing in that way is like it always blows my mind because it's like how do you do like I'm not I'm not like about action. I feel like I'm just like the tension leading up to the action.

Rob Lee: I, as I see it and I think about it, one of the things that really pops up, like my partner was terrified for a better part of about 40 years of the movie Scanners. And we sat there watching it because she was like, I remember back in the day, I was there to see a Gene Wilder and Richard Pfeiffer movie. And that's the trailer where the guy's head explodes.

Anuj Shrestha: And she's just like, this is… Wait, she was in that… She saw a trailer for Scanners while going to see a Gene Wilder movie? Yes.

Rob Lee: OK, wild. And she's like, yeah, I think we're going to see this little slapstick comedy and then it's just scatters blam. And yeah, so she she to try to get over that fear, that 40 year old fear, if you will, of that movie. She brought the criterion collection version of it. And the cover art is so out there for it. It's literally Michael Ironside's head just

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, yeah. No, that's amazing. It's that it's the he's the also an incredibly talented cartoonist who does these really experimental, just mind boggling comics. And they hired him to do the cover for that that Criterion Scanners. And it's one of the best. It's so beautiful.

Rob Lee: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Anuj Shrestha: It's Connor. Connor Williamson, I think, is his name. Yeah.

Rob Lee: Yeah, I'm like some of the things that you said, I've been typing things down. I got research to do after this. So thank you for that. That's going to be great. But yeah, I think sometimes that sort of minimalistic, that clean sort of work, that's the stuff that always sticks out for me as well. You can have the really extreme sort of, wow, you really want in. There's a lot of work in this. And then something that's just like, OK, you know who your audience is. You put that reference in there, you get your audience. So I think that that's really cool. And I think that's pretty much it for the podcast. We got everything. We got everything in. So what I want to do in these final moments is, one, thank you for coming on to this podcast and hanging out with me. And two, I want to invite and encourage you to share any final thoughts you might have and let folks know where they can check you out, your work, social media, website, all of that good stuff. The floor is yours.

Anuj Shrestha: Okay, well first thanks again it's an honor and I really appreciate you like inviting me on and having this conversation it's I don't like talking about my work a lot and and you made it very like comfortable, so I appreciate it and I. Most of my work, I post, I have my website,, but that, as I said before, is in need of updating. We'll get to that hopefully before the year's out. But I probably post the most current stuff just on my Instagram. It's just anujink, A-N-U-J-I-N-K. Uh it's I like in terms of final thoughts I will say it's we're like because my a lot of my work especially like a lot of my personal work is sort of political in tone and can be uh we're living through kind of a very a very dark time right now and I'm someone who's been sort of uh advocate for sort of uh social justice for Palestine and and for the Palestinian struggle for for many years um it's something that I sort of had discovered like back when I was in college like in Colorado years ago and so that's been like almost 20 years and it's it's basically um it's something that's been very important to me and I think um right now we're living through like a really dark time and a dark chapter because it's essentially like state-sponsored genocide and our government is literally like funding the entire thing and It's been a horrible tragedy for Israelis that were killed and murdered basically since October 7th. But the problem is, I think, with our media, everything has been extremely filtered through the lens of the State Department and the weapons contractors. And it's basically just it's all been reframed to push forward us like control of the region and doing it under the guise of that we care about like only about. Israel, or we care about the sanctity of these innocent Israelis. But when you pull back and then you look at the history, this has actually been a war about, you know, this is actually an anti-colonial struggle. And that's why the Palestinian people have been occupied for over, like, it's been over 75 years now. Basically, you can draw that parallel to indigenous struggles all over the world and like, you know, whether it's Haiti or it's the united indigenous in the United States so. Sorry, I don't want to go too big on a rant, but there is a big, huge action happening in D.C. tomorrow, which I think is going to be the largest sort of demonstration for Palestinian justice and also for a ceasefire that will, at the end of the day, will make everybody safer, whether it's Israelis or Palestinians. I'm not able to make it to D.C., but I know a lot of friends, colleagues and other people who are going to make that trip. I just encourage people to not avoid the mainstream media and don't watch CNN or Fox News or any of that stuff or MSNBC and just sort of find alternative media sources and just be aware of what's going on because we're living through some very crazy times right now.

Rob Lee: Thank you. Thank you for for sharing that piece. And I'll just throw out this sort of comment to to pin it up because I don't want to be one of those guys like, oh, well, you said your thing. But I think it does speak to. You know, historically, we've we've talked about things in a certain way. And I think at least here, I've seen people tagging buildings with a message that runs counter to the the message that we see on mainstream media, that it's like, well, the people feel this way, but the media is telling us that we should feel this way. And there's a disconnect that's there. It's a disconnect from from the people I see so much like. free Gaza. I see people putting up like huge, like painting their entire house with sort of the, what's the Palestinian flag or have you, and seeing that and taking what comes with that, with sort of the response that's there. I'm not a big fan of this lack of nuance that we have. It's not either this or it's that. It can't be any consenting things, or dissenting things, rather. We have this idea, we have these ways of thinking, ways of discussing stuff that is very … It's oriented in the wrong way, frankly. When we start looking at how the media works and how that's presented, I remember … I you know, probably six years ago, maybe a little, little, yeah, probably about six years ago, maybe seven. Um, and this, and this podcast started off as a response to Trump and his weird rhetoric, um, like dangerous rhetoric, really. And, you know, I share with folks like what my voting thing was, what my thoughts were around it. And, You hear the talking points that we can only talk about this in this way. Oh, if you didn't vote in this way, that means you pretty much got him in the office. It's like, oh, I have that power. And this notion away from free thought and this notion away from having an opinion that's your own. Almost people trying to stamp that out, using violence, using threatening language, using this notion of cancelization. Well, canceling, not cancelization, that's not a word. Cancellation. We see it, and the idea, let's just look at all of it neutrally. The idea is flawed in itself, canceling someone or trying to suppress what someone's perspective is on a particular area. You ask the person what their opinion is. They said what their opinion is. It doesn't necessarily have to match what your opinion is. And that's just the way that works.

Anuj Shrestha: Oh, I mean, that's the hardest thing to tell anybody in the online left, right? Of which I am absolutely a part of. And so I feel like you're right. There is no, it is, especially when you're trying to draw broader coalitions about realities and I think, and about like important actions that need to be taken to achieve like a just society. And I feel like you're right. like a lot of and i'm speaking for the left, because I or my experience with like the left and how I view it because that's who I care about and that's a part of the group i'm in or whatever group or lack of a coherent group but yeah I know that. Yeah, especially online, it's easy to jump down people's throats for not saying the right thing. And I think that's why with this, particularly this crisis in Gaza, I feel like I don't expect people to know exactly the history because we've been fed misinformation our whole lives and just really try to like let people be able to ask questions. And I think though people at the end of the day, people will make their own conclusions. And I think most people side with like justice, like human justice.

Rob Lee: And there you have it, folks. For New Shrestha, I'm Rob Lee saying that there's art, culture, community in and around your neck of the woods. You've just got to look for it.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.