Thomas Herpich was born in October, 1979 in Torrington, Connecticut, along with his twin brother Peter. Born into an artistic family, Tom was immersed in a world full of visual interest from the dawn of his consciousness. His parents met in art school, his father is a prolific painter, his older sister a “knockout draftsman”, another sister is a craftsperson, his twin brother a painter and artist, and a younger sister, “a real natural photographer,” says Tom.
Outside of school while growing up, Tom and Peter spent much of their time in their shared bedroom drawing. Perhaps eased by twin camaraderie, the Herpich brothers were able to develop massive collaborative projects naturally, such as their multi-year spanning science-fiction creation.
“It wasn’t in comics form… I guess we sort of just invented the format. It wasn’t intended for other people to see, so it wouldn’t make any sense to anyone but us. It was one drawing of a scene or shot per page. Hundreds, possibly over a thousand pages. No word balloons or text. And it went in a sequence, but it would skip randomly back and forth between notebooks. So, at any rate, we had years of effortless organic artistic collaboration,” explains Tom.
The boys also made time for GI Joes, comic books, and especially video games.
“I wasn’t a TOTAL nerd recluse, but mostly I was. All of it faded away though, when I got to college and was out on my own, though I still read the occasional comic book.”
Facing the requirement to declare a major before entering the School of Visual Arts, Tom selected animation. While the sensation of watching his drawings move was a uniquely enjoyable experience for Tom, it wasn’t his passion.
“I met James Jean when I was a sophomore at SVA, and I think it was him who initially invited me to contribute to Meathaus. I think maybe that was around the time of issue 3, but I didn’t get around to doing something until issue 5. Around that time I also did a few pages for Inkstains, the SVA comics anthology. Making that stuff was probably the most fun I’ve ever had drawing, which must’ve contributed to my decision to switch my major from animation to cartooning for my last two years. Most of my book Cusp is stuff I made to fulfill assignments during my senior year.
Tom’s comics work was published in Meathaus issues 5, 6, 7, 8, S.O.S., in two solo books published by Alternative Comics, titled Cusp and Gongwanadon, and a short in Flight Comics.
After years in New York City and the end of school, Tom needed a change. A few visits to Asheville, North Carolina, where friends of friends were living, and Tom was hooked.
“…this community, was so impressive and inspiring to me. I’d never met anyone who was so deeply anti-consumerist, DIY, punk- however you wanna describe it. People that didn’t want anything to do with society in general, and to varying degrees, some pretty extreme, made that happen. And didn’t come out the other side as hermits or recluses, but as members of this really tight, brave, generous community. It sounds corny but it really wasn’t. It felt like an awakening after getting numbed and worn down by NYC for so long. Knowing these people, and thinking about the whys and hows and consequences of the way they lived, was really profoundly educational for me. Though as much as I loved these folks, and they loved me, I suppose I still felt like an outsider, even after three years. Not ‘punk’ enough I guess…
“Anyway, that was the emotional facet. It was also a college town, and I had a lot of friends who came more from that background, or who, like me, sorta straddled the punk line for some other reason. I did do more than my fair share of porch lounging, swimming-hole swimmin’, garden tending, chicken having, duck rearing, canoe canoeing. I had a big fire pit in my back yard for a while, which was pretty much a dream come true. I barely worked at all while I was down there. I think, all totaled, I worked in the restaurant biz for about one of the three years I was down there, and the rest of the time I guess I was just doing one or two freelance illustrations a month (for King Magazine usually). I guess I thought I’d solved ‘life’, in a way, but of course I was wrong. My neglected career ambitions started giving me much agitation, though it took me a while to figure out where it was coming from. I had been telling myself for a while that I didn’t have any career ambitions.”
“So anyway, I burned a few bridges, told a couple of folks how I REALLY felt about ’em (in a good way), and hit the road. I travelled around for a while, but eventually moved back to Brooklyn to get serious about an illustration career. While I was in Asheville, I would’ve swore I’d never move back to NY, but here I am, and it feels pretty good. I guess I just need to have people around me who are on the same path (like my buddy Esao, and especially Tomer, who counts as like three illustrators) to keep me focused. And I needed the pace of the city. Or, y’know what, actually, even more than all that… did you ever see that movie ‘Safe’? Asheville started feeling like that. The compound at the end where you go when you just can’t deal with the world anymore. Asheville’s a real safe place in a way- you can withdraw pretty thoroughly from the rest of the flock if you want to. And maybe my motivation for doing so was not that great. I think I missed the struggle of life and had to get back on the battlefield.”
Tom was back in the city and rebooting his career. The clients Tom had freelanced and worked with before were no slouches, Bill Pympton, Ralph Bakshi, Spumco, King Magazine, but with the solid advice from his peers and a new dedication to his work, Tom scored new illustration gigs from clients such as The New York Times, ESPN, Nickelodeon, Complex, Scratch, American Way, Billboard and Vice Magazine.
Along with Tom’s refined portfolio for illustration came a refining of his technique. The plum illustration jobs are generally large, full color pieces, as are the recent comics work Tom has produced for Meathaus and Flight. Tom describes the struggles the artist deals with when creating these pieces, as opposed to the rawer personal black and white work from his early books:
“The process is definitely less exciting, viscerally. But, of course, I’ve made some very beautiful things that would’ve been impossible if I insisted on being totally spontaneous all the time. I suppose I’ve become more of a perfectionist as I’ve gotten older and I’m a lot more careful about what I let people see. I guess it comes from having an insecure livelihood- it’s harder to take risks.”
Tom goes on describing his current creative situation:
“I think I haven’t had too much to ‘say’ lately, though I still feel compelled to make comics. That can be a pretty tough bind. I’ve been thinking about doing some short adaptations from literature as a solution. The new storys have been feeling almost like an excuse to do the cartooning. I feel like the guitarist who’s trying to make a solo record and has to be the singer/songwriter even though it’s not really his thing. Although the metaphor doesn’t really work, cause I used to be the singer/songwriter too.
So anyway, I guess I’ve been focusing on the artwork more with the stuff I’ve been making recently, compared to the stuff from my first two books, which were pretty loose. The new stuff has a lot more labor put into it (I’m mostly talking about as-yet-unpublished stuff here. Still top secret.)
It’s been pretty slow going lately. The love that keeps me working ‘for the love of it’ has been under a lot of strain. The older I get the more complicated seemingly simple things become… shit’s exhausting.”
Interview by Chris McD, February 2009.