For generations, comic books have provided a colorful means of escapism. Stunningly illustrated tales of superheroes have inspired and captivated men and women of all ages, and continue to do so. Aaron Sechrist – better known to his friends as Pants – is among those who fell for the engaging imagery, though he took it a step further, transforming it into unique designs and illustrations that stand out in a world of media saturation. He tempered it with a fine arts education, respect for the masters, the classics, and a cultivated eye for color and typography. It's a creative vision with firm local roots.
Born and raised in South Euclid, Sechrist has called Tremont home for the past six years, and like most artists, his interest came naturally. "Typical story: I always drew as a kid, and didn't really like doing much else other than that," says Sechrist. "I parlayed that into my full-time job, my way of life. I don't want to sound snobby, but that's just what I always expected to do," he says.
Sechrist studied at Cleveland Institute of Art, where his early focus was on illustration. "I wanted to get into comic books." His self-described "lack of physical prowess" further engendered him to the superheroes of comic books, the characters found in Mad Men, The Maxx and X Men, among others. He later moved into new media, refining his web design and video skills. "I came out of it with a much more well-rounded design discipline."
Friend and CIA graduate Alex Lombardo finds that Sechrist's designs clearly embody his influences. "His style is based off of his roots, where he came from," says Lombardo, who works at epicurious.com. "There's a lot of comic book references, punk rock, tattoo art and his sense of humor, which I think is so evident, in his work." Lombardo has a framed print of Sechrist's GWAR poster (pictured below): "That was a screened poster. That is a piece of art. It is worthy of being framed. There aren't a lot of people out there who are able to do that."
Sechrist is part of a new generation of designers and illustrators, talented twenty and thirtysomethings tasked with honoring the iconic designs and styling methods of the past while adapting to modern media consumption. A tall order, given the seemingly endless barrage of images to which one is regularly exposed.
One internship at now-defunct local animation studio Knock Knock Cartoons had an especially significant impact on Sechrist. "It had a pretty big influence on me, because it was a real, true-to-life, traditional animation studio where they drew out every cell," says Sechrist. "It was three people who sat in silence for 10 hours per day, and did nothing but draw.
"They really threw me in the mix and taught me how to be a motivated, productive artist."
After graduating, Sechrist worked for Cleveland's Free Times, "laying out print ads for bars and adult services, and other things of that sort," he says. Nearly a decade later, he's working for himself, with a list of clients that include Live Nation, House of Blues, hip hop record label Coal Mine Records, New Times Publishing and New York Times best selling author, Philip Carlo. "In the past three years, it's grown organically for me."
As a fan of punk, hardcore and metal, Sechrist's style has been heavily influenced by concert poster art, including the works of Cleveland artist Derek Hess. "His earlier stuff, I ate it up," says Sechrist. "I was at that age where the timing was perfect, because he had really hit a stride, and it was unique to what was going on, especially with concert posters. He was from Cleveland, so you could say it was your own."
That Cleveland connection has helped define his work – and create stunning one-of-a-kind works for clients. "He has his finger on the pulse of Cleveland," says Lombardo. "He really gets it, and I think with him, you have a designer that's not only designing things for a band or event, he's actually into the band. He's probably one of that band's fans. As a client, you hope to have that type of connection with your designer, somebody who's passionate about the same things you are."
His interest in music – namely from the punk and hardcore scenes – led to the creation of Sechrist's Protect Your Neck clothing label. "That is more for that world, and from that world," says Pants, who launched the line with musician Rob Bohn, who plays in local band American Werewolves.
Sechrist's dynamic designs are straightforward, reflecting his desire "to be to the point, punchy." His designs have a fan in longtime friend and fellow CIA graduate, designer Doan Buu, who also has a framed version of Sechrist's GWAR poster. "Aside from being one hell of an illustrator and designer, he has the vocabulary of a smart person," half-jokes Buu. "His work is really well crafted with a lot of attention to detail, and all have a signature style to them."
As with many artists, inspiration and influences come from many avenues. "I was watching Ren & Stimpy last night, and I hadn't watched it in probably a decade," says Sechrist. "I see bits of that here and there in the things I do.
"Things get made to my liking, and I'm never sure where all [the ideas] come from."
Sechrist is quick to point out that he is but one of many talented artists from the Cleveland area. "I have a lot of talented friends who are good at what they do, and they like what they do."
With the Weapons of Mass Creation Festival on May 22 and 23, Sechrist hopes to exchange ideas with fellow designers and be part of a growing circle of talent in the region. "It's something long overdue, and is needed around here," he says. "It's good to get out from behind the screen and behind the drawing table."