Interview: Rafael Grampá

The award-winning Brazilian cartoonist on breaking new creative ground—partnering with UK studio Red Knuckles to bring his characters to 3D life

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In the world of comic books, it’s nearly impossible for an outsider to rise out of anonymity. However, that’s just what Brazilian cartoonist Rafael Grampá did in 2008 when he debuted his original series “Mesmo Delivery” in the United States. Characterized by bold colors, brazen lines and saturated panels, Grampá’s genre-defying style earned him overnight recognition as an artist and a storyteller of serious talent—even among contemporaries like Matt Fraction of “The Invincible Iron Man.”

Between collaborating with other artists on anthologies like his Eisner award-winning book “Mesmo Delivery” and reinterpreting classic characters like Batman and Wolverine, Grampá pushes the boundaries of his medium on and off the page. His latest project, a 3-D animated short with Absolut’s #NextFrame project, only further highlights his ability to think outside of the comic-strip box. Titled “Dark Noir,” the cartoonist’s animated short is the culmination of a collective undertaking that began with an open dialogue between Absolut and the artist. Working together, Grampa and Absolut developed #NextFrame, a new model for artistic collaboration grounded in the concept of co-creation.


To help bring his vision to life, Absolut invited Grampá to Berlin to check out their MADE space, an open-air studio that gives artists a platform to experiment with new mediums. It was at MADE that the artist was introduced to the creative directors at the UK animation studio Red Knuckles, who brought their visionary craftsmanship and technical expertise to the film. #NextFrame challenged Grampá and Red Knuckles to push the scope of their joint project even further by flipping the script and inviting fans to weigh in on the direction of the story. The volume of contributions that poured into the MADE studio from around the globe humbled the creators—and as a result, the final project feels like a fluid universe of its own with the artist’s distinctive voice beating at its center.

What has been the most exciting part of transforming your ideas into a 3D animated film?

I’m making the transition from cartoonist to director. I already explore my style through image, sequence and space. Now I’m experiencing telling my stories with image, movement, time and sound.

What was it like collaborating with the animation studio Red Knuckles as you brought to life 3D animated versions of the characters and world you imagined.

I can say that Red Knuckles is the most promising animation studio that’s emerged in recent times. The idea of Rick Thiele and Mario Ucci, the creative directors of Red Knuckles, is to do collaborations with artists who are renowned for their vision and style, translating all this into 3D animations. They’re passionate about what they do, and that makes all the difference. Rick and Mario led this project with great sureness of touch and respect for my style. I can see my hand in every scene of the film and that’s thanks to both of them. They are great artists, and they are two of the best in the field of animation. I can see Red Knuckles as one of the biggest animation studios in the very near future.


What was your inspiration for the “World of Ideas” that the #NextFrame story takes place in? How did you come up with each of the characters?

That’s exactly what this short animation is about: where ideas come from. I think people are the instruments of their ideas, that we’re their servants in this world. Otherwise, what is our aim other than to achieve things? And everything starts from an idea. Just as the purpose of a spade is to dig holes, ours is to bring our ideas to life in this world. But a spade doesn’t dig a hole on its own; it needs a strong arm to use it. This film asks the question: Are the ideas that we have really our own or are we merely instruments in the hands of unknown forces? The name of the film, “Dark Noir,” makes reference to Plato’s Theory of Forms, which says that our reality is merely a dark shadow of an intangible reality made up of ideas.


Do you see yourself seeking out more opportunities to collaborate with other artists or creators?

As a cartoonist, I intend to continue writing and drawing my own stories, without anyone else’s input. As a script-writer and director, I’m going to seek to always be involved with the most talented people that life puts in my path.

Images courtesy of Absolut