As a child growing up in Garland, Arturo Torres was surrounded by conflict. His father was abusive, his neighborhood was populated with feuding gangs and eventually his family moved into the Genesis Women’s Shelter. But through all of the hardships, Torres’ love of art gave him a sense of inner peace, eventually leading to a career as a New York Times best-selling illustrator.
“I thought you just did this for fun and got lucky if someone gave you 50 bucks for a drawing,” Torres said in an email interview with Dallas Observer. As a teenager, he often sold sketches to classmates and teachers, but he says he never considered art to be a viable career path until a fateful middle school field trip.
“I met an artist named C. Kirk, and I told him I wanted to do an art show with him. I had some big cojones that day,” Torres joked. “He looked at my drawings and told me to continue working on my art. He gave me his email and told me to hit him up in a year to see my progress.”
A year later, Kirk suggested that Torres take his art to ArtLoveMagic. Not long after that Torres, was selling his paintings at Deep Ellum art festivals, building relationships and slowly becoming a fixture of the local art scene.
“The most I sold something for was $200 at the time, and I thought I made it. The money felt great,” he said. “Strangers out there wanted my paintings and were willing to pay me for them. How dope is that?”
But one piece, a flyer for local rap group The Outfit, TX, made Torres’ career blow up to the proportions it has in the past three years. This particular flyer happened to land on the desk, so to speak, of Twitter titan and former Grantland writer Shea Serrano. Around the same time in 2014, Torres turned 25 and quit his day job as a manager for Common Desk.
“Being a Latino raised in a lower-income household, you fight and struggle to just keep the lights and have leftover money for food,” he said. “So when I started working [at Common Desk] and meeting all these creatives and hungry people that share the space, I thought they were nuts because there's no security in doing your own thing. And seeing how my mom struggled with rent and putting food on the table, it did scare me at first.”
Torres adds that he was glad he did it because, after only a few months, Serrano contacted him. He needed an illustrator for his second book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed, and had waited till the last second. After seeing Torres’ work, he knew he’d found the right guy.
After nine months and 300 illustrations, the duo finished their first collaboration together, and in October, they released their second. Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated, named after a weekly newsletter produced by Serrano and Torres, made it to No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers sports and fitness list soon after its release.
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“[Shea's] done more than I will ever be able to repay him,” Torres says. “He's someone I look up to and a great person to work with. We both have weird ideas, and they complement each other well.”
Torres was tight-lipped about any future projects Serrano and he have planned for 2018, however.
“Where I come from, we don't snitch," he said. "Just know dope stuff [is] coming, homie. That I can say.” But he says he is working on a graphic novel loosely based on his experiences dealing with his abusive father.
“I just want to do cool things. I'm nobody to give others opinions on what is art and what isn't. That's up to you and your voice. I do, however, feel more engaged in what I do,” Torres said. “I no longer work for me. I work for my fiancée, who I will marry in two months. I work for the kids that are stuck in the living situation that I grew up in so they know it's not the end, and they are cared for and valued. It's not about me. I gotta be an example for minorities. Growing up, I didn't think this shit could be real, and there's a ton of people that feel the same way. We gotta let them know they can make it out, too, and that we are not a product of our environment.”