The art of Erwin Papa is like something you’d see in an ’80s sci-fi comic book that your older brother owned and you sneaked a peek at when he wasn’t home. It has an old-school feel to it, with crisp black-and-white ink illustrations and characters that are monstrous, toothy warriors from outer space; leather-jacket-wearing punks; strict, Terminator-like automatons; and young women in elaborate, spiked armor—like Mad Max in space.
As with any illustrator, Papa grew up on a heavy diet of sci-fi, fantasy and horror media, with his biggest comic-art influences being Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, Jack Kirby, Simon Bisley and Katsuya Terada. The Lakewood-born, Long Beach-based artist incorporates them all into his vision of otherworldly soldiers inhabiting a postapocalyptic wasteland.
A surprising element of inspiration in Papa’s work is abstract sculpture, which informs the way he designs his characters. In abstract sculpture, random objects are placed together to create a brand-new form; likewise, in Papa’s drawings, his different influences are put together to create something new. While Papa hasn’t created a storyline to go with his characters, there’s a lot of visual information found in each figure’s armor and battle gear because of the insane amount of detail.
Most of Papa’s illustrations are available in zines; his “Bad Days” zines feature figures in panels with empty speech bubbles so that readers can add their own dialogue. “When I’m doing an illustration, I’m already leaving it to the audience to figure out who this person is—like, ‘Who’s this girl in the helmet?’ I don’t have a story to it,” Papa says. “Here, they can make up their own story.”
While he continues making sculptures and new characters for more zines, you can nab Papa’s work through his online store (erwinpapa.storenvy.com) or check him out on Instagram (@erwin.papa). Hey, DC and Marvel: Give this guy a job already!
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers film and previously contributed to the OCW’s long-running fashion column, Trendzilla. Don’t ask her what her favorite movie is unless you want to hear her lengthy defense of Showgirls.