Artist Ragnar’s Vegas roots come through in monster restrospective

A work by Ragnar

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By Ragnar, $60.

Before Ragnar was a Disney animator, an author of children’s books, a family man and an accomplished artist, he was just another high schooler at Bonanza. Brandon “Ragnar” Johnson spent his formative years in Vegas, meeting his wife here and channeling his creative energy into flier art for local punk gigs around town. Although he moved away at 19, Vegas has stuck with him. “What a lot of people would consider the ugly kind of stuff—and the real and fictional glamour of it—had an influence on me,” he says. And his art still has a presence here. Ragnar was responsible for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend’s cheeky posters, and last week, the artist stopped by Cosmopolitan’s Monogram to celebrate Eponymonstrous, a 320-page retrospective of his noncommercial work from the last 10 years. The book features illustrations that exhibit his characteristic cartoon-like images, along with photos of the artist, his toys, musings, storyboards and more. “It was daunting to say the least,” Ragnar says of assembling his largest book to date. “There are things that you look at that kind of make you cringe because it’s either bad work or they remind you of bad times or a bad relationship. It’s a personal policy of mine to let the failures be in there, to pull the curtain back a bit. As cliché as it sounds, it’s important to learn from our mistakes.”


On being an animator: I’ve worked for everybody: Cartoon Network, Disney, MTV … Most of what I work on doesn’t make it to the economy air. Usually, a studio will come to me and say we want to create a show, and I’ll pair up with them and create the visuals for the development end of the show. They develop far more shows than they actually produce. I directed a short based on one of my books (Got Your Nose!) at Disney and we finished it. It’s ended up sitting in the vault somewhere; it never got shown. It was mine from start to finish—it was a show that I had written and directed. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s not a meritocracy. You never quite understand the decision.

On different themes: They all come from the same core, but timing wise can make a difference. I feel compulsed to make art in a certain way just based on where I am in my head. Not to sound overly pretentious, but I think I’m pretty deep. I’m a hardcore family man, but I have a background and interests that you wouldn’t see going hand in hand. Like being a family man, I just did the artwork for the Burlesque Hall of Fame, and then I’ll turn around and do a book for my daughter. There’s this guy doing naked women—and I like to think doing it well—and also doing a cute, sweet, book for his daughter.

On the vinyl toy movement: So, I had been talking for a couple years with a company called 3-D Retro, and it seemed like a good match, so we put out our first toy. It came out last summer, and we have plans to do a lot more. I would like to see that whole scene pushed more. What I think is wrong with the whole vinyl toy scene is that they’re not actually not toys, they’re vinyl art. I would like to see more toys that are really toys, that have something interactive to them, that have more playability.

On having a home studio: I moved my studio back to the house two years ago after having an outside studio for years and years. We’re very close as a family; we’re very tight. The kids are in and out of the studio, and they never hesitate to pitch their two cents in, and it can be really surprising. Often times they’ve told me what they like about something that really knocks me back on me back on my heels.

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