Orlando artist Kieran Castano puts pen to paper for the historic 'Ripley's Believe It or Not' comic strip

'Self-Portrait With Pets'
'Self-Portrait With Pets' drawing by Kieran Castaño

The "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" comic strip has been a beloved staple of newspaper funny pages across the country since 1918. And, "believe it or not" (see what we did there?), the new artist behind this august institution is none other than Orlando artist Kieran Castaño. Castaño is known around these parts for his poignant and oft-political paintings, but his pen-and-ink illustration style is a perfect fit for bringing the esoteric factoids of Ripley's to vivid life. Orlando Weekly is proud to be running these strips in our print edition starting with this issue, and you can definitely believe that.

Were you a fan of the comic growing up?

I was! Actually, my introduction to illustrations and everything weird was Ripley's. When I was a kid, my parents were the maid and groundskeeper to many wealthy people in Westchester, New York. For a few years of my life, we lived in one of these mansions. One day I went looking in the library, hoping to find anything with pictures in it, and lo and behold, I found the first edition of Ripley's book. I will forever have the memory of opening the yellow book with the marching Chinese men on the cover, and sitting there for hours reading the unbelievable.

Tell me about the discipline you've developed to do this on such a regular, repeating basis,

So, it's 22 drawings per week that I have to divide up into six dailies (three a panel) and one Sunday (four a panel). My deadline for the week is on Thursday, so I can't just draw one a day and submit it. I think that would be harder than how I get it done now. This is what my week looks like: Monday, I look at the comic facts spreadsheet where the wonderful editors at Ripley's have posted about 22 or more facts. I spend the day diving into each fact and thinking of which three will go well together on a panel, and which four I want to color on a Sunday. Tuesday, I start looking for reference images and start sketching out my panels. Wednesday, is for inking, and so is the top half of Thursday. I've gotten a lot quicker with the editing part of it, so usually I just spend a few hours Thursday night on Photoshop before I submit. Boom, that's it and I have my weekend!

When I first started, I had a hard time getting my routine down and thought that I was going to burn out in about two months, but something clicked and now it doesn't even feel like I'm pumping out a cartoon everyday of the week.

What tools do you use to create a typical strip?

The tools that I use are simple: stipple paper and a collection of different tip-sized black pens. I've used Microns and fountain pens, but lately I've really been into using Fudenosuke brush pens (by Tombow) because of the range of line weight I get with a simple pen without having to switch to another. It gets old having to stop every other second! After the physical supplies, I also have to use Photoshop to clean up my panels. But yeah, we keep the comic as close to the original as we can, and that includes not going digital!

What's one of your favorite subjects covered in the strip thus far?

So many good ones to choose from. I've kinda turned into that guy that just tells you a random fact about anything when you weren't even asking for a fun fact, but hey, somebody's gotta do it. How else are we gonna win at trivia night? I think my favorite will have to be animal facts, especially bat facts. I love bats, so I've been lucky enough to draw them about three or four times this year. Did you know that bats French-kiss? Or that the smallest and cutest thing you'll ever see is the bumblebee bat? Well, now you do.

What newspaper comics artists have influenced you?

To be honest, I can't say that a particular newspaper comic comes to mind other than "Peanuts" and "Garfield." My influences are more from magazines and independent comics. Art Spiegelman's work for Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids. Justin Green's Binky Brown. Robert Crumb's heavily detailed portraits. Any of Daniel Clowes' work. The many contributors to Mad Magazine. Vintage horror film posters ... oh, and I should probably say Robert Ripley! 

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