READER OF THE MONTH: For the love of music … and comics!
Hi folks, I missed the Reader of the Month instalment last month. Apologies, sometimes I lose track of things. I’ve been trying to get some work done before I head off on my big US book tour next week and am a bit frantic. For those of you who missed the announcement, I’ll be touring the US in October (dates and cities here) promoting my new book collection (which is available for pre-order). In the meantime, here’s a great story from a reader with the coolest name I’ve ever heard who’s been hustling as a professional musician his entire life.
My name is Roland De Aragon, I’m a 35 year old professional musician, educator, author and cartoonist from Los Angeles. I was introduced to music and art at an early age and just fell in love with both of them. Like most 80’s kids, Saturday morning cartoons was the thing back then. I watched Ninja Turtles, Voltron, Thundercats, He-Man, Scooby-Doo, Mickey Mouse, Looney Toons and my all time favorite, Tom and Jerry. I recall in the fifth grade having this language arts book. One of the stories had a sequenced image of a butterfly flapping its wings. I grabbed several pieces of paper and folded them in half and had a small flip book. I continued to draw every single image of the butterfly on each piece of paper. When I was done I flipped through the pages and I suddenly saw the butterfly flapping in front of my eyes. I began to wonder if this was how cartoons was created. That was the day I wanted to become a animator.
At the age of seven, I started learning the piano and several instruments later the bass guitar ended up being my main instrument. By the time I was in high school I got bit by the music bug, joining the marching band, orchestra, jazz band, and the church band.
Both music and animation was my passion but as soon as I graduated high school, things changed. I took some courses at the American Animation Institute in Burbank. By the end of the 90’s traditional animation was on the way out and being replaced by computer generated animation. Studios weren’t hiring traditional animators anymore. They were outsourcing it overseas. My animation instructor said to either take it up as a hobby, get a job overseas or start taking CGI classes because work was very scarce. It was a hard choice, but I decided to major in music instead of animation.
During college I started gigging and joining bands and started to pay my dues in the Hollywood music scene. I’ve learned from the best musicians in town and had the privilege of performing with several major artists and got to travel the world in my twenties. Back then I played at the famous Whiskey A Go Go, Viper Room and the House of Blues and traveled from Egypt to South America, but as they say, all good things come to an end. Work is not steady being a freelance musician. Nobody taught me how to manage or invest my money. I was broke for awhile and had to live in a small cramped converted garage for years. I ended up teaching music at the Yamaha Music Academy and really enjoyed it. I felt more fulfilled giving back to the younger generation, and even though I still love performing live, seeing the smiling faces of the younger generation enjoy the beauty of music was priceless.
Around that time, I also began entrepreneurial pursuits and started to study business and decided to start my own music school. I got the first taste of being an entrepreneur and it wasn’t easy – being the teacher, marketer, and accountant at the same time. I ended up more broke than I’ve ever been in my life. Confusion and depression started to sink in my thoughts and I needed a way to overcome it. I did a Google search for comics and stumbled onto Zen Pencils. The first comic I read was called Always be prepared where the monk character was fighting a huge giant. I thought “wow” this is freaking cool.
Then it also hit me to combine my love for drawing and music to create comics that help teach music to the younger generation. When I was a 10-year-old learning guitar, reading a comic that taught me how to play would’ve been awesome. I did some extensive research and discovered there wasn’t any cartoons or comics that teaches music education as far as I know. So I started Thinking Musician, a website combining music lessons with comics. I had no clue what to do and after two years of trail and error, I’m still figuring it out. My passion for cartoons and animation pretty much dwindled out but reading that Zen Pencils cartoon help me rekindle back that passion. Now I’m back making the comics (an example below) and we’ll see how it turns out. Thanks for the inspiration Gav.
Great story Roland. I wish you all the very best mate. You can check out Roland’s website Thinking Musician to see more of his comics and also hear his music lessons. – Gav