Music and Art In Your Backyard

Furqan's First Flat Top is more than just a hair cut

Books have always been the space where imagination runs wild and where people imagine themselves to be more than they are. For children, books are much more than just a foundation upon which their imagination thrives, it is the cornerstone of their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. When books only provide limited perspectives of the world and the people in it, it is sometimes up to creative disrupters to show the incredible wealth of culture and beauty in society. In Robert Trujillo's case, the best place to introduce such a diverse perspective is through children's book; because what starts in those young minds, changes everything; it changes the world. 

So tell us the story behind your upcoming book, Furqan's First Flat Top.

Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right -- Furqan's first flat top is the freshest!

That's such a wonderful story. Let's step back for a minute. For those who don't know you, please tell us a little about yourself.

As a kid, I was into graffiti and that was my door into the art world. From the age of 8 to 18, I was completely fascinated by graffiti. I met a lot of kids that did the same thing. I mostly sketched in my book. There was a lot of mentorship between the older and younger artist as well as peer to peer mentorship. Someone who knew one thing would teach someone else who didn’t know.  When I went to college, I figured I needed to get an education. I went to school for graphic design at SF states. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with graphic designing and the graffiti world was all about skill and how famous you could get. I moved from there to painting with acrylic and many other materials. I came across other artists who used different materials but they were also political in their ideas, and since I grew up in a household where I was told to challenge ideas and to think, this appealed to me.  

We formed a collective called Trust Your Struggle (TYS) and I have been working with these guys for almost a decade. We talk about what we are going to say and what impact it will have. Through that collective, we taught children. Working with kids, I began to see what they really liked. They liked graffiti, which was anti-corporate and anti-authority. I impressed on them the importances of thinking about what they wanted to say. While I was studying with TYS, we would do gallery shows in people’s home. I also started doing mural tours across the U.S. firstly, then in the Philippines (several of our members were filipinos). The Philippines also made sense because there had recently been a typhoon there. There was a bunch of struggle and grassroots organizations operating there. So, it was a good place to go. It's always interesting to get real life feedback from people. 
 Image from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

Image from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

I dropped out of school about the age of 23 and didn’t finished undergraduate until I was 27 or 28. I had a child and I was working. While out of school I fell out skills-wise and so I started doing work for people either free or for a little pay. I had decided that this was what I wanted to do. After graduating, I started sending my work out to journals, magazines, newspapers, nonprofit, and many people. I started getting work that way. I made a conscious choice to keep a blog and to have a web presence. Clients have come to me through referrals and through me sending things out to people.

With Furqan's First Flat Top, where did the concept come from and why are you making this book?

Several years ago, I started working on a series of short stories using creative writing and illustration. While exploring many themes, ideas, and characters, I came up with this story. First and foremost, I wanted to tell a good story. I wanted to reflect some of the children and families I saw; I love children’s books and think diverse stories like this one need to be seen. As a parent, I understand the importance of encouraging reading at an early age, and this book will be in both Spanish and English, as I know the positive impact it can have when children are exposed to more than one language. Lastly I think it is important to show a loving relationship between a father and his son.

 Images from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

Images from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

This project is currently on Kickstarter with just 10 days to go you are already 100% funded!! That’s incredible. What are some of the challenges you have faced in making this book a reality? What have you had to overcome to get to this point?

For me, when I got done going to school, I was contacting and sending work to art directors that published books. As I sent work out, I realized there was a lot of class and race issues in that field. It was very closed off. I realized I needed to work on my stuff so it was the best it could be. I also wanted to find out my trajectory. I wanted to make a series of short stories that honed my writings and illustration skills. I looked at tons and tons of children books. Shaun Tan is a big influence, as is Doug Cunningham, and Ricardo Cortez. I would look at how they did it. I looked at a lot of animation and practiced as hard as I could. While I was looking [at these things], I came out with this story. I send it to a bunch of publications and they said no. I knew I would have to do this on my own.

It took a lot of work to overcome my own fears. What if it is completely overlooked? It took me several years but I wrote out the whole story. I storyboarded it. I have gone through so many drafts. I have all the writing and ideas but it’s not done yet. Every month, it looks better as I redo it. The main challenge was overcoming my own fear. I still don’t know but I am still going to do it. I overcame those fears by practicing art so I could be the best. Doing my research and figuring out who has done what I want to do. Giving it to friends who I trust to look at it. I am also looking at people here in the Bay who met their goals. They managed to do it on their own without a publisher and they are genuinely vested in their community. Since they gave so much, so many people gave back. I have been trying to know people in that realm. 

I overcame those fears by practicing art so I can be the best.
— Robert Trujillo

Why a children’s book? As opposed to a comic book or a graphic novel for adults?

The biggest reason was my son. When he was born. I don’t remember a lot of books from my childhood. I remember Where The Wild Things Are. There weren’t that many that reflected me. When I started to read to my son, I was taken aback by the absence of kids that looked like him. When you become a parent, it becomes glaring. There is that aspect of it. Artwork is a part of who I am. I wanted to be very intentional about what I wanted to say and try to fight the good fight. I wanted something that I could feel comfortable sharing with my son and his friends. I feel in love with the medium of children books, and what you can say and how you can say it. I saw an incredible children's book, about a latino boy in The Mission, which is becoming so gentrified. It was cool to see a book that told the story of a boy who lived there through pictures. It was trying to promote communication and positivity. 

 Images from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

Images from Robert Trujillo's Kickstarter

In all of your creative projects, which are you most proud of and that you feel really represents your creative spirit?

 I don’t think I have reached that point yet. I have done a lot things but I haven’t done a lot yet. I still have a lot to learn in terms of expressing myself creatively. I don’t have a project that says it all. I am very proud of working with my collective and my crews (Devils or Angels), we are still friends to this day. 

Where would you most like to see your work displayed or available to the public?

I would love this book to be in major book blocks. I would love to see my books where librarians and teachers go to get diverse books. I would love to see it international because it is bilingual. I would love to travel international with the books.

What is next on the horizon for you?

I would love to travel internationally with this book. I would like to take it to art and comic book conventions. I would like to work with likeminded people that are interested in diversity. I would love to do character design for animation. I would like to be in good health.