The Unrelenting Aaron D’Errico – Illustrator, Storyteller and Survivor

If you feel like quitting, it’s important to remember why you started in the first place. All creative people can benefit from that.

Aaron D’Errico is a Talenthouse member whose dedication to his art – and appreciation for those who help him to develop it in the face of significant odds – are nothing short of heroic. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, D’Errico has become a man who defies this difficulty and even uses it as inspiration for some original superhero creations. His imaginings have drawn the attention and support of influential folks, including Stan Lee and a good number of people in the Talenthouse community – Aaron has placed in the top 20 of four different Talenthouse Invites.

DESIGNER OF SUPERTHREADS

Aaron’s Laidback Luke submission synthesized numerous influences in one streamlined design.

For his highly voted costume design submission, Aaron attentively incorporated the Kung Fu and robotic details requested by Laidback Luke. As a “huge Bruce Lee fan,” Aaron had many elements to draw from, including Kato’s mask from The Green Hornet, a collar like those sported by Lee in Enter the Dragon, plus a yellow and black track suit from Lee’s last film, Game of Death – spliced with the science fiction aesthetics of Tron: Legacy and Marvel’s armored superhero Iron Man.

He used some subtle symbolism as well. With the chestplate’s “LBL” standing for “Laidback Luke,” Aaron explains, “The ‘B’ in the center is also made to look like a vertical classic superhero mask, like The Phantom, Robin, or Zorro. The mask theme was a symbol of everyone getting their inner superhero on at the ‘Super You & Me’ party.”

ORIGIN OF AN ARTIST

Aaron’s capacity to cook up vigilante aesthetics is no accident: “My introduction to comics came from my Mom and her friend Don Daley (a former editor of The Punisher at Marvel Comics).” Don gifted Aaron and his brother Adam with a box of comics. “They ignited my imagination even more and led to our tiny Point Lookout apartment being scattered with drawings of my favorite characters.”

My mother is my hero for teaching my brother and me compassion in action and strength of character, traits I give to all my superheroes.

Later at the age of twelve, Aaron called Don to thank him for this gesture. Along with providing tips on drawing, Don encouraged Aaron by challenging him to write a twenty page letter, “fueling my desire to write epics at an early age.”

Aaron has fond memories of his mother Cynthia (herself a commercial artist) introducing him to the arts, for instance duplicating John Romita’s art from his favorite Spider-Man pop-up book.  He recalls that “seeing my Mom draw was like watching a wizard with a wand.” Aaron “absorb[ed] her lessons between giggle fits, laughing because I was in awe of her. A habit that continues today as I watch my mentor, Paul draw [Paul Chadwick is the author of the comic series Concrete and The Matrix Online's storyline] – marveling at the fluidity of his line work.”

Aaron’s talented family has had a profound impact on his character (and his ability to create characters). Adam (L) and Aaron (R) with parents Cynthia and David.

While holding multiple jobs to support her children, his mother also bolstered them with a healthy infusion of the arts, including writing, acting, sculpture and more. “What we didn’t have in money we more than made up for with creativity and imagination.”

When Aaron was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age one, Cynthia became a massage therapist to aid her son. Her bringing the healing arts into the family made a distinct impression on Aaron, one that would shape his future creations: “She is my hero for teaching my brother and me compassion in action and strength of character, traits I give to all my superheroes.”

WEBLINES TO TALENTHOUSE

Aaron fully applies himself to solidifying his stories and testing out his artwork while maintaining a sense of wonder at the creative process. “I follow intuition, soaking up info that gets me going on a ‘world-building’ kick, then I create unique and relatable characters to inhabit them, or vice versa. The characters overcome conflicts to grow into their roles as heroes. From there the adventures seem to write themselves. I feel like a spectator documenting the thrills of their quests.”

Aaron’s first foray into Talenthouse Invites was a logo for the Stan Lee Foundation, a promoter of literacy and the arts: “I did a cartoon portrait of Stan smiling, figuring that if people couldn’t yet read, they still might recognize Stan Lee and perhaps know his personality, characters, and achievements, inspiring them to learn to read and make the most of themselves.”

He next submitted to our Stan Lee Create-A-Superhero contest, originating a character with a story blending both Aaron’s and his father’s backgrounds: despite underprivileged origins, David D’Errico became Captain of the USA Men’s National Soccer Team in the seventies and the first round draft pick for the Seattle Sounders in 1974.

Fusing his father’s talent with his own creative resolve, Aaron created “Ammon.” “Ammon’s story is about a young quantum biology major with cerebral palsy, who secretly dreams of being a champion soccer star – like his father.”

Aaron’s imagination and a dash of scientific theory make it all possible: “After learning that the human body evolved over millennia via overcoming viruses, Ammon modifies the T.Gondii virus that caused his cerebral palsy, turning it into a supernatural power source.” Testing his skill “in a segregated league against cutthroat bio-tech enhanced players,” Ammon is a combination athlete and freedom fighter.

Significantly, Aaron reports that this project has garnered the interest of former U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team Captain Werner Roth, and Ethan Dettenmaier.

TALE-SPINNING INSPIRATIONS

Aaron’s favorite superhero is undoubtedly his idols Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, both as an entertaining crusader and kindred spirit. One day a friend pointed out that Aaron resembled the web-slinger’s alter ego, Peter Parker. The comparison helped push Aaron to overcome a learning disability and apply himself, going from C’s to earning a healthy number of A’s in his senior year.

An iconic page from The Amazing Spider-Man #50. © Marvel.

Among his favorite Spider-Man stories is The Amazing Spider-Man #50, “Spider-Man No More,” wherein “Peter Parker literally trashes his Spider-Man identity out of frustration, after failing to earn respect regardless of the many people he’s saved. But, almost out of habit, he saves someone who reminds him of his Uncle Ben — whose untimely death was his reason for becoming a crime fighter.”

This storytelling has symmetry for Aaron, given his share of frustrations: “It reminds him why he became a hero. It showed how if you feel like quitting, it’s important to remember why you started in the first place. All creative people can benefit from that.”

Aaron is an avid viewer and reader of biographies of personal heroes from various walks of life. This started when, as a child, he prepared a book report on Walt Disney – who had anything but a charmed life as a budding artist: “I came to find out he was so poor as a kid that he would dip a twig in tar and draw pictures on the side of his farmhouse, getting yelled at by his Father.” Aaron is especially impressed and inspired by his heroes’ refusal to bow to multiple failures or treat setbacks as anything other than temporary: “Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were turned down by every major syndicate and publisher, some times more than once for Superman.”

An inspiring chance meeting with Stan Lee at Emerald City Comicon 2010.

In 2008 Aaron was able to take Stan Lee’s online writer’s workshop, heeding the lessons of this master. Stan advised, “Give your main character one big problem, and maybe one small one,” shifting Aaron’s writing to the right gear.

“It was a change from my habit of overloading my main characters with challenges that reflected every problem I had ever faced. I found it was better to divide up my own personal challenges between different characters, humanizing them, and allowing me to finally progress in my stories, creating treatments for several story arcs soon after.”

Aaron sees himself as truly blessed to have unexpectedly met Stan after an exhaustive journey at the Emerald City Comic Con in 2010, “where, shaking my hand, he told me that he’d be looking for my work and that he expects ‘Great things’ from me…something I strive to live up to every day.” You can view Aaron’s mentor Paul Chadwick’s account of this epic meeting here and read Aaron’s recollections on Stan Lee’s official website.

NEVER SURRENDER – AARON’S CURRENT PROJECTS

TH: The following is all Aaron – we’ve asked him to tell us what projects he’s currently undertaking in his own words.

In February of last year, Aaron was hit by a truck but kept focused on his art.

Aaron:Each comic adventure has been a vacation from my limitations. That meant a lot, growing up with complications from CP and head injuries. Last year I was hit by a car and hospitalized – an occasion to be inspired by Bruce Lee again.

When Bruce Lee was hospitalized after a training injury, he used his months of recovery to write his best selling book, Tao Of Jeet Kun Do, creating his revolutionary martial art in the process, and making the most of his “down time”.

In addition to Ammon, I’m doing a seven-issue story arc of a hero set in the world of graffiti writers, a project born of my recovery process. Graff writers are kind of like superheroes, right down to having secret identities.  There’s a sense of honor in the fact that they risk life, limb and their autonomy for an art form they believe in.  Their blend of stealth, mystery and athleticism only adds to the appeal. They experience a level of freedom I’ve always dreamed of.

A3rØ© by Aaron D’Errico blends graffiti art with action-packed narrative.

The project I’m most excited about is a sandbox-style biofeedback adventure game about a martial artist, Axton Doryu, who must go on a journey of self-discovery that takes him from rural Washington State to Hong Kong.

The game is designed to put the player in a “flow state”, improving their relaxation response, rewarding them as they follow their bliss and overcome challenges to build strength of character, based on the choices they make. Since I was a kid my goal has been to heal myself and teach others to heal – a personal motivation further inspired by both my Mother Cynthia and twin brother Adam’s examples of selflessness.

Jimi Hendrix is one of many artistic inspirations for Aaron’s work. Read Aaron’s extensive list of influences via his Talenthouse Portfolio (below) to find some motivators of your own!

Now I’m developing the concept for the game with my mentor, Paul Chadwick, creator of Concrete, and writer of The Matrix online video game. He had this to say about it: “This really could be the serendipitous benefit that justifies all this money poured into gaming over the last three decades. A healing technology.”

The title of the game is The Crooked Prince, inspired by a poem that actor Michael Madsen wrote about me when I was a kid, in his book, Burning in Paradise.

In the future I’d also like to do motion comics, making the most of my talents to take the art form to another level. All while having fun collaborating with a creative dream team of positive, like minded people. I’m hoping that this is a part of helping that team come together.

Thank you for this chance to share a glimpse into my creative endeavors.

In gratitude,
Aaron D’Errico

Thanks for sharing your story and keep honing your craft, Aaron! D’Errico is something of a hometown hero, as you can see by the Friday Harbor Now’s frequently updated account of his challenges and accomplishments.