Interview: Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano is the talented and hilarious illustrator behind Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book. We recently spoke to him about his favorite albums, Bun B, and how he definitely knows Wiz Khalifa.
Interview by Katie Gregory
Hey, Shea! Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure, sure. I'm Shea. I live in Houston and I have been a middle school science teacher to ESL students at an inner city school for eight years and a music writer for six years too. I've written for a bunch of different places, including but not limited to Grantland, LA Weekly, XXL, MTV, Village Voice, The Source, Vice and so on. But my most proud moment was the time that I was getting interviewed for Urban Outfitters, which is happening right now.
Also, and this is just a tad off topic, but: Back when this was all first starting up, my wife and I agreed that the highest achievement any book could earn was to be sold in Urban Outfitters. That's all I ever wanted for this book, haha. So thank you. I'm going to spend the first two or three hours after the book release hanging out at your store in The Galleria just crying and crying from pride. Thank you. Sincerely.
You're welcome! And Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book is out today! Can you tell us how you got involved with the project?
I got involved with the project by creating the project, which is definitely the best way to be involved with any project.
Bun and I had plotted on doing a book for a bit. One day I was coloring with two of my sons (twin six-year-olds) and got bored and started drawing some local rappers as coloring book pages. I posted them to Twitter and they got a nice response so I was like, "Maybe if I do some super famous rappers it'll get a super good response." I messaged Bun with the idea. I thought he'd swat it away but he was all for it. Downloaded Adobe Illustrator, spent a month or so learning how to use it, got it to where I could draw the pages how I wanted them to look, sent one or two to Bun, then started the Tumblr. Samantha Weiner, the woman from ABRAMS that eventually became my editor, contacted me and we talked about turning the Tumblr into a book. She said nice things. We worked out a deal. And then she put me on her tiny shoulders and carried me and the book to where we are right now. Malibooyah.
What was Bun B’s role in the project? Does he also draw?
Bun's role has been to lend credibility to the idea. I never wanted it to seem like I was making jokes about anyone without them being in on the joke. With Bun's backing, that's established immediately. He has a seemingly endless amount of rap good will. Everyone loves him. It's really crazy. I'm still always very intimidated whenever we're trading messages or standing near each other. People always ask if he and I were friends before this, and if we weren't then did we become friends during working together? If we did, I'm friends with him the way a small kid in the class is friends with a bully, in that mostly I just hope that I don't do anything that makes him want to stab me in my intestines.
How was it decided who was going to be included in the book? Did you go with your favorite artists, or was it based on who would be most recognizable?
I mostly just picked rappers that I liked. Once we started to really get into it, the Tumblr had spread pretty far, and a lot of great people said a lot of nice things about it at big media spots like New York Magazine or MTV or whatever, so our ability to reach people became easier and easier. Also, I believe Bun knows a lot of these guys personally, or at least professionally. Being a famous rapper makes it way easier to get in contact with other famous rappers.
Was there anyone you wanted to draw but couldn’t, either due to artistic limitations or a refusal on the subject’s behalf?
I would've really liked to get Andre 3000 in the book, but we never could get everything worked out. Bun and me and ABRAMS made a conscious decision to only put people in the book that said they wanted to be in there. More thoroughly: We didn't put anyone in there that didn't give us written permission to do so. It was very important to us that the book was full of people that were happy to be in there. I would've felt horrible if we'd just put it out there and then somebody was like, "Hey, what the hell, man?" That would've broke my heart.
Have any of your subjects colored in their own pages? Has Drake colored in his eyebrows and sent them in to you?
Haha. Well, Mac Miller was on TV and the people interviewing him had printed out his coloring page and given one to everyone in the audience and had them color it and then they showed it to him and that was pretty amazing to watch. I've not had anyone send it to me yet though. But we've only recently sent books to the rappers. Maybe it'll happen in the next few weeks, haha.
Do you spend time coloring in your own coloring book pages? Have any favorites to share?
My sons have. I'll tell you what's been really neat though: So we sent the book to different media places, right? One of the places we sent it to was Texas Monthly, a very popular magazine here. They have an art person that works there named Nicki Longoria and she started doing all of the pages in the book, but she hasn't been just coloring them. She's been adding all sorts of neat graphics to them. She posts them on Twitter and it's always fun to see what she's come up with. And people send us completed pages in emails or Facebook messages or Tweets and so on. I'm always happy. One lady sewed a Snoop Dogg using our page, which was just amazing. It got, like, more than 3000 notes or something, haha.
Since you spent all this time drawing rappers and hip hop artists, what are some of your favorite albums from the genres?
I'll give you four:
UGK, Ridin' Dirty: My favorite album of all-time.
Juvenile, 400 Degreez: Perfectly gorgeous.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, E. 1999 Eternal: I just can't even explain how much this album means to me. It's my everything. It makes me feel like a 13-year-old, which I think might be the point of music sometimes.
Snoop, Doggystyle: The best G-Funk album that's ever been.
If I only listened to those tapes for the rest of my life, that'd be just fine.
Now, I have to mention your essay “Here Are the Songs They Play at a Middle School Dance,” because it’s great and everyone needs to read it. Was this a real thing that happened? Did the kids ever find out that you live-blogged their dance?
Ha! Man, thank you. That one actually won some very cool writing award, if you can even believe that. Yes, that's a real thing. I was chaperoning a dance at my school. We have one or two a year. It's fun to go in there and see the kids moving in a non-classroom context. They look like different people. And I want to say that a few of them mentioned reading the column to me, yeah. They liked it. They thought they were famous. I wasn't in a position to disagree.
And since you’re a teacher, do the kids know about your coloring book collab? Are they excited?
Some of them do, yeah. I don't spend any time in class talking about it (we're too busy learning how to balance chemical equations or the phases of the moon), but I did this interview with the news here in Houston a couple weeks ago and a bunch of them saw it and so that's when they found out I had a book coming out. They're actually in the process of interviewing me for the yearbook, which is especially fun and funny to do. They think it's cool. They're always like, "OH MY GOD DO YOU KNOW DRAKE AND WIZ KHALIFA?" And I'm always like, "…Yes."
Any other cool projects you have coming up in the future?
I've been fortunate enough to have some neat stuff come up and have some very nice people express faith in me so there'll probably be a proper book or two in the future, but I don't know. Mostly, right now I'm just trying to spend all of my energies making sure I don't cry from pride anytime someone mentions the book to me.
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