Celebrated Artist Ray Troll Talks Spawn Till You Die: The Fin Art of Ray Troll
Ray Troll, the celebrated Alaskan artist, has captivated audiences worldwide for over forty years with his stunning illustrations depicting the fascinating creatures of Planet Ocean. Combining elements of natural history, underground comics, and a touch of Freud and Darwin, Troll’s art showcases the beauty and intricacy of various species, particularly the peculiarities of fish.
From fossils to resurrected extinct animals, his artwork has graced the halls of renowned natural history museums, galleries, books, and even trendy t-shirts.
Now, Troll and Clover Press are teaming up for Spawn Till You Die: The Fin Art of Ray Troll, a crowdfunded book that curates over 40 years of Troll’s fishy, humorous, and inspiring artwork.
The book features a foreword by David Craig of Willamette University, who describes Troll’s art as a journey of learning, laughter, and wonder. Additionally, writer Brad Matsen, author of Titanic’s Last Secrets and Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King, provides an introduction, acknowledging Troll’s creations’ inevitable power and genesis.
We had the opportunity to speak with Ray Troll about his inspirations in bringing the beauty of nature into his work. Check it out below and be sure to grab your copy of Spawn Till You Die on Kickstarter.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Would you mind starting by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’m a five-year-old kid trapped in a 69-year-old body. I started drawing dinosaurs with crayons when I was about 4 years old and 65 years later I’m still drawing them with crayons but now they’re expensive ‘professional’ crayons. So I haven’t gone very far in life. I’m from a big family of Air Force brats that moved every few years, so we were always the new kids on the block.
Interestingly enough, four out of the six Troll kids ended up making Alaska our home. I found that drawing was my childhood superpower, one of the few things that set me apart. I was born a geek and I’m proud to be a geek. I was a dinosaur geek as a kid and went through a lot of phases. After dinosaurs it was airplanes, aliens, complex historic battle scenes, Mad Magazine, rock and roll, romance and then fish when I landed here in the great Pacific Northwest.
It seems to me that you view the world through a different lens than the normal eye. How do you manage to take the natural world and mold it into the art you create?
I think that most creative types look at the world in a different way from the average guy. Maybe we just look closer at things and wonder more and help others to foster a sense of fascination. It was Socrates that said “The unexamined life is not worth living” and I tend to agree, but hey that’s me.
When I latch onto a subject that fascinates me I tend to go deeper and deeper and I end up talking to a lot of experts. That’s how science really began to fuel my creative fires and my creative collaborations. I jump between the disciplines all the time. I ended up finding myself in the role of being an accidental science communicator via my art. I try to take complex scientifically inspired ideas and boil them down into images that communicate directly with a viewer.
I understand art was a part of your life at a very young age. Were there any influences or key moments that helped you propel this into the creative ability you have today?
Back in the mid-’60s when I was a kid living on an Air Force base in Puerto Rico I started making my own hand-drawn magazine with a pack of my like-minded buddies. We called it Crud Magazine and made clandestine Xerox copies of it to share with our classmates.
We were inspired by Mad Magazine and Cracked Magazine. I did a lot of funny little drawings in it and did caricatures of our teachers and lo and behold suddenly we were the cool kids on campus.
That was in 5th grade. Looking back I think that was a pretty pivotal moment for me. I went on to do the same thing in ninth grade when we moved to Kansas. But all along the way I was inspired by natural history and the incredible world we live in. In high school, I was the long-haired hippy kid who pretty much lived in the art room.
I went on from there to earn a bachelor’s degree in studio arts from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, and then later on I got an MFA degree at Washington State University. So making art has always been my guiding light and simply what I do.
What can you share about how you compiled over 40 years of your work into Spawn Till You Die? Was it like trying to pick your favorite children?
I found over the years that we all need editors, those who have a pair of fresh eyes I can assess one’s work. So yes it’s difficult for me to pick my own favorites because I love them all. Knowing that about myself I sent a hard drive absolutely stuffed with hundreds of my images to Robbie Robertson at Clover Press. So I trusted Robbie to make the choices, but of course I have my own opinions so I pushed back a bit.
I liked what I saw when I checked out the books that Clover Press has done in the past, so I knew they’d do a good job. There’s a phrase that is often used in the world that one has to “strangle their darlings”. In other words someone has to make the tough choices.
I understand COVID had a bit of a silver lining as it spawned your “Paleo Nerds” podcast. Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to jump into podcasting with David Strassman?
My entertainer friend, David Strassman, is a well-known ventriloquist that is immensely popular in Australia and New Zealand. He was supposed to be on tour down under in 2020 and that got canceled of course. So one day in early 2020 he called me up out of the blue and said let’s do a podcast. I’m a boomer so I didn’t really understand what a podcast even was.
David had to explain it to me and it sounded like a lot of fun. So, we jumped right in and have cranked out over 65 episodes so far. Since I’ve been so inspired by science all my life, I had a lot of paleontologists that I knew personally so it grew from there. It’s growing to be quite popular and I learn something new every time we have a new guest. It’s been a fascinating journey.
Lastly, thank you for sharing your story with us. Are there any words you would like to share with your fans?
It looks like the Kickstarter is off to an amazing start thanks to all my fans and the crew at Clover Press for putting this all together. It’s an all-new way of publishing that I’m really not familiar with, so it’s been really exciting for me to see the support this project is getting. I’ve done 10 books before this in the past that have all been done the more traditional way.
You do the work, you collaborate with a writer, and send it off to the publisher and wait for the reviews to come in many months later. Maybe you get to do a few book signings and engage with people that way, hoping that bookstores here and there will carry your title. This way you can see the energy even before the book is born, so to speak. So it’s really thrilling to see people wanting to see this book actually happen before it’s even printed!
A variety geek who enjoys geeking out with friends over video games, comics, or movies/TV shows. An avid wrestling fan since the days of the Attitude Era and N64’s No Mercy, he now spends much of his time reading and collecting comics. All of my puns are intended.