Vicki Nerino: Exploring the Grotesque and Fascinatingly Obscene

Some art is neat, tidy, and simply pretty. Vicki Nerino does not make that kind of art. She describes herself as having a “penchant for drawing the most disgusting scenarios imaginable,” and has made a name for herself exploring the grotesque and fascinatingly obscene. While her online portfolio proudly displays an obscene section, she is quick to reassure prospective employers that she is also willing to make perfectly nice pictures for cash, and her list of venerable clients includes The Globe and Mail, Matrix Magazine and Open File.

Vicky Nerino
Vicky Nerino

What first attracted you to make comics as a form of artistic expression?

I was sort of bullied into it, actually. It all started in a narrative class in college when we were asked to do a short comic about our first memory. Of COURSE I had to draw myself coming out of my mother’s vagina, and my then pal/now best friend Britt Wilson, who is WAY better a comics that I ever will be, by the way, got on my case. I then decided that, sure, I wouldn’t mind splitting a table with her at a local convention, and it all went from there. I’m still nowhere near where I would like to be with them, but that’s the journey, and why I love comics so much. Always a new challenge.

What does writing and drawing comics allow you to express that other art forms can’t?

When deciding on the future of my whole life forever, I originally wanted to go into animation, but when I discovered how much repetitive grunt work it was, and knowing how impatient I get, I decided the one-off wonder of illustration was more for me. I’ve realized that comics is sort of the best of both worlds, and I really enjoy being able to tell a story with a heck of a lot less work than animating a cartoon requires.

Comics also force me to simplify, to really pare down and decide what is important and what isn’t. I am really bad about getting stuck and focusing on one spot in a drawing. With comics, I have to let a lot of things go for the sake of the overall page, and the rest of the story. It has also taught be a lot about comedic timing, pacing, and who KNEW panelling was so hard, jeez!

You often work with extremely troubling, grotesque or obscene images in your work. Why do these subjects appeal to you?

I just love things that make me laugh. I also have a terrible sense of humour. As in, the WORST sense of humour. I’m not kidding. It’s really bad, and in two ways: i like really really bad puns, and I like the most inappropriate things ever. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it had to do with my dad and I having farting contests when I was a kid, or maybe it was the weird crowd I always preferred to hang out with growing up. Perhaps my parents both had super mega sarcasm genes, and when I was conceived, they created an exponentially more potent super-sarcasm gene. Who knows, but I just like poopie jokes.

What kinds of images do you find most sublime? What images disturb you?

I really love things with a lot of detail, something that looks like it took some serious time to build up and develop. I don’t have a ton of patience when it comes to things like that, so when I do see something really rich with detail, it makes me happy. Sometimes when I’m feeling especially masochistic, I like to try and draw stuff like that, but it usually results in me going stir crazy and bouncing off the walls a little bit.

As for the things that disturb me, I don’t think all of the things that conventionally disturb the general populous effects me much. I’m much more repulsed by happy babies glimmering in the sun, and PDA. I’m a real monster. Or a 9 year old boy.

What types of images do you find the most fun to draw? What are the commissions you most enjoy taking
I really really REALLY like drawing anything that is bumpy, lumpy, wrinkly, hairy, scraggly… pretty much anything with a gross texture all over it. Actually, I have a bad habit of adding one or more of those things to anything I draw, let it be a baby or a baseball. I have also started to get much more involved with drawing backgrounds and spaces in my comics, so I am having a lot fun with that as well.

As for commissions, I love anything, really. As long as the person I am drawing it for doesn’t expect something pretty, and has a really good sense of humour.

What qualities do you look for when you are seeking another artist to collaborate with?

I look for someone who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and someone who is willing to put up with me. I have a really hard time with artsy fartsy mumbo jumbo which isn’t easy to avoid since I am an artist surrounded by artists and arty things that may or may not require artistic interpretation and all that stuff. I don’t draw to deliver some hidden message or anything, I don’t have some political / sociological / metaphorical agenda. I just like to have fun, and I like working with someone with those of the same mentality. So in a nutshell, grown-ups need not apply!

What processes and techniques do you use? What is your favourite medium?

I love strong linework, and I love bold and messy shapes and colours. I combine these two elements in a number of different ways, depending on what i’m making. In comics, I photoshop in big chunks of flat black and halftone behind my linework. For illustrations, I will draw the lines and paint in sloppy coloured shapes on separate sheets, and slap them together in photoshop. When I do paintings, I trace out my rough shapes, smush some paint around, and then put a xerox transfer on top of it all.

It all sounds very messy and sloppy, but it’s taken me a while to figure out a way to finesse a mess to look intentional and deliberate, and I really like the look of it. I recently tried a cut paper technique with line on top of that, and I was happy with the result, so I’ll be playing with that in the future as well.

My favourite medium is cheap pens and sketchbooks, sometimes with a bit of masking tape in there. Everything starts there, and it’s the only thing I can really carry around with me at all times. They are my BFFs.

What had been your most positive experience with collaboration? Your most negative?

Collaboration can be a tricky beast, but I think I’ve been pretty lucky. I think I repel a lot of people with how vulgar and up front I can be with my work, so those I DO get are pretty open to letting me do what I do. My absolute favourite collaboration was with a Toronto-based band who pretty much asked me to do a t-shirt design of something I just hadn’t drawn in my sketchbook yet.

Most of the collaborations I do have been with the same (amazingly awesome creative driven) group of people. One of the major things we have done (on our third round now) is have annual gallery shows. In a sense, this type of “collaboration” is more of a take-an-idea-and-run-with-it-and-come-together-at-the-end-ish, but it’s always to see what everyone comes back with, and how, despite an extremely vast variety of styles and method, they all fit together.

I haven’t had much in the way of bad experiences with collaboration other than me being a whiney baby and having to revise sketches over and over and over again to appease a picky art director, but it comes with the territory, and in the end, I’m better off having been challenged.

What defines the Toronto comics and illustration community is particular?

First of all, Toronto is the best. Just hanging around you can see that it is a creative city at heart with beautiful graffiti all over the place and little galleries dotted around the city. There are a handful of different schools in the area that pump out super talented artists, so this place is just saturated with goodness. With the somewhat recent successes of TCAF, which has been praised as being one of the best comic festivals, like, EVER, it seems that cartoonists are just flocking to this city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Maaaaan, I wanna move to Toronto!” when I am at various TCAF shindigs with all my out-of-town comics buddies. As much as comic artists can be very solitary, when we get together, it’s always a whole metric tonne of fun. I guess in a way, it’s a destination for cartoonists just as much as it is for the fans. Did I mention that Toronto is the best?

Where can we see more of your work?

I have a horribly out-of-date website, a deserted blog, and a tumblr full of filtered instagramed process pics. I’m really bad at the internet. But it AM really good at twitter, but that’s usually a bunch of butt jokes, but when I’m elbow deep in artwork, I’m sure to tweet about what I’m up to.

I have a handful of minicomics at The Beguiling, but you’ll really have to dig to find them.
And you’ll probably see me at Canzine and TCAF, if they let me in again, that is.

Oh! This October, myself and a bunch of other super talented artists and illustrators will be having a month long gallery show at Steamwhistle Brewing called “Black Math”, so keep an eye out for that!


Vicki Nerino has a degree in illustration (yes, that is actually a thing). by day, she is an office monkey drawing cute bubbly prints for kids and communicating with dudes and ladies on the other side of the globe for a kids clothing company. by night, she is an illustrating, comicking, drawing & paintings, eating, bad joke making, sleep tooting, sailor mouthed shut-in.