Carlos Cabaleiro is an accomplished illustrator and designer of trading cards and comics. In this interview he shares with Bags unlimited his story of what it took to become a successful graphic artist. He has worked at Marvel, DC, Upper Deck, Cryptozoic Entertainment, Rittenhouse Archives, and several independent comic book publishers. Currently he is the artist for the creator-owned “A Bullet for You” by Rik Favino and Maj. Holmes and Capt. Watson for Cloudwranglercomics.com.
BU: Hi, Carlos. Thank you for doing this for us. It’s exciting to know that you have come so far in your career over the time you have been connected with Bags Unlimited. So, you work for Topps Trading Cards now. How exciting is that?
Carlos: Pretty exciting. I grew up a big Star Wars fan. Its a great feeling to be an official part of that universe (even if its a very little part—get it…trading cards are small).
BU: Was your first project Star Wars?
Carlos: No. I’ve done other work on other licenses prior to getting on board with Topps. The first set I did was Empire Strikes Back Illustrated and I’ve been on every set since.
BU: That’s so awesome! What is your best moment so far with trading cards?
CARLOS: The best moment was being one of 14 artists selected by Lucasfilm to work on The Force Awakens sets.
BU: I have seen your cards and they are amazing. Did you ever envision yourself in this position?
CARLOS: If that position is making a living as a commercial illustrator, not always. There was a long period of time that I was not pursuing this as a career. Most days, I don’t think about how lucky I am. Not everyone gets to work for and on the things they love.
BU: What got you started in this industry?
CARLOS: As long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of superheroes and comic books. Just as long as I’ve liked superheroes and comics, I’ve been drawing. Its what I studied through out my life (first art class was at age 7—all the other kids in the class were high schoolers) and I’ve worked in the art field in some capacity (indie comics, advertising, graphic design). In terms of working on sketch cards, I was looking for a way to earn some money as I was starting on this career path in earnest, and stumbled onto this field. I did some research and sent some samples to Rittenhouse and got offered a Marvel card set right off the bat.
BU: Do you have a favorite thing or character you like to draw? and why? and do you still have your first drawing?
CARLOS: I love Batman. I’ve pretty much always loved Batman. You’d think that answer would be Batman but drawing him stresses me out. There are too many influences in my head for the Dark Knight that I am never fully happy with what ends up on paper. I’d say I don’t have anything in particular that I love drawing but I can tell you what I hate drawing…Dinosaurs! (Me: Laughs: WHY?). I did a sketch card set for a company a few years back that was all dinosaurs. Every time I would finish what they assigned to me, they’d ask if I’d do more (and offer me more money per card for the extra work). I think I ended up doing over 200 dinosaur drawings and swore I wouldn’t draw another one for at least the next 2-4 years and I’ve stuck to that. In terms of my first drawing, I don’t have it. I don’t really keep much of my own art. It was one of those things that I taught myself; to let go of a sense of ownership of my work. It helps to see the work as a commodity and not something that has personal value to myself when you are a commercial artist.
BU: Ever do something in this world of comic art that you are too embarrassed to mention? But you can tell us…we’re not going to tell anyone. 😀 *wink wink.
CARLOS: There are things we all do for money at one time or another in this field. I will leave it at that. But I have only done that once and no one will ever see it.
BU: Do you own a LUKE SKYWALKER bobble head? I have a picture of you sitting at your desk, and Luke is sending you THE FORCE from his bobble head.
CARLOS: Actually, I do own a Luke bobble head. I just picked him up in April. He’s the Funko Star Wars Celebration Exclusive Hooded Jedi Knight Luke from Return of the Jedi and, yes, he does stand on a bookshelf behind my work station in the art studio.
BU: Your greatest accomplishment? Besides your beautiful wife?
CARLOS: I’m sure she’ll appreciate that question. LOL. That’s a tough question to answer. I really don’t think in those terms. I guess when I’m done on this plane of existence, others can look and make that determination. I still feel like I haven’t done something in the professional realm that really is me at my best. I keep chasing that knowing that I can always get better.
BU: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
CARLOS: I have got to be the most boring interviewee ever. I really don’t set goals for myself other than to be a good husband, a good friend, a good puppy daddy (to Grayson the Shih Tzu) and to continue creating and growing (all the while earning enough to keep a roof over our heads). It goes back to the lessons I learned in Art School, the KISS theory. Keep It Simple Stupid. It applies to art/design and to relationships and life.
BU: I LOVE THE KISS theory…use it myself!
BU: Any advice for newbies?
CARLOS: It sounds hackneyed but it’s the truth. DRAW EVERY DAY. It’s the only way to get better. And push yourself. Try new mediums, explore, challenge yourself, and finish your work. The biggest advice outside of that is practice self-discipline. You will only get as far in this career as your next deadline. Make sure you manage your time and yourself to achieve them.
BU: So, the trading card industry is still alive and kicking!
Carlos: It does well enough to keep me busy. The fans and collectors are true enthusiasts. Like comics, it always changing but it seems to keep on going. It’s a really diverse market right now. From Pokemon, Magic, sports and entertainment licenses. There’s something for everyone.
BU: I think he is right. Trading are mostly inexpensive…or at least within reason; they don’t take up a lot of room and they’re fun to look at! Sports cards have always been big, but there was a huge draw for non-sports trading cards back in the day! I know some have lost value over time, but I know some have grown exponentially in value over time. Do you think the Star Wars Cards will be a long-time winner for Topps?
CARLOS: It has been and still is. Topps and Star Wars have been together for 40 years. Their Star Wars sets are the biggest non-sports trading cards in history. With Disney/Lucasfilm creating great new movies, I think this is a very exciting time to be a collector/fan of Star Wars and Topps card sets for years to come.
A former commercial illustrator and graphic designer, Carlos is a freelance illustrator/indie comic book artist (Action Lab, Thrillbent, Cloudwrangler) that has worked on major licensed properties for Disney (Marvel), Lucasfilm (Star Wars), Warner Bros. (DC Comics, Big Bang Theory and the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings), Sony (Ghostbusters, Spider-Man), AMC (Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead) and Major League Baseball.
Carlos was one of less than 2 dozen artists hand-selected by LFL and Disney to produce artwork for licensed The Force Awakens products. His current Star Wars licensed work has been praised by the legendary Dave Dorman and compared to the works of the immortal Drew Struzan.
Carlos is the co-creator and artist for THE GOLDEN GUARD (a 48 page graphic novel and RPG+48 page HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN GUARD) with Vito Delsante (co-creator of STRAY for Action Labs & the writer for ACTIONVERSE) and Charlie McElvy (creator of THE WATCHGUARD) which will be out October 2017. He is also supplying covers, finishes and character designs on ACTION LAB’s STRAY vol. 2 series.