If you love weird stories about rappers, out-for-blood basketball stars, or New York Times best-selling books, you love Arturo Torres. Torres is the artist and visually-inclined half of an unstoppable two-man team made up of him and author, former Grantlander, and current The Ringer writer Shea Serrano. Although, Serrano's The Rap Year Book was a runaway hit, the author was without an artist three months before his deadline when he stumbled upon Torres' work and immediately connected with it. Shea told Texas Monthly that when he first saw it he thought, “Aw man, this is the exact style that I’m trying to find.”
Torres, who grew up reading comic books and idolizing artists like Jack Kirby, positions “regular” people—as much as you can call athletes who can do this "regular"—as supercharged heroes in his drawings. Just look above at his rendering of a proud Westbrook, hands on his hips, a big bold background behind him. The only thing missing is a "POW" word bubble to complete the effect.
Torres’ love for comic book heroes started when he was a little boy trying to shut out the world around him. “With film, I lived in an area and environment where it was pretty tough to go outside—there were gang members all the time outside," Torres tells Complex. "Then, you go inside and your dad is fighting with your mom and brother. So I would just watch movies, and turn the TV up, and try to zone out and not be part of this world in a way.” He also found solace in comic books like X-Men and Spiderman, which featured outsiders as the heroes of the day.
He kept drawing because he kept finding it useful. In kindergarten, he traded drawings for naptime cuddles with his female classmates. In elementary school, he said he drew a lot of Mickey Mouse, and it wasn't because he couldn’t get enough of his Saturday morning cartoons. "I had a second-grade teacher who I thought was gorgeous, and I knew she liked Mickey Mouse," Torres says. In middle school, friends offered to buy his art—mostly based around Dragon Ball Z and video games like Pokémon and Halo at this point—for a quarter a pop. And in high school, he learned that people are willing to spend a lot more than a quarter on art. “I went to this gallery and saw this local artist," he recalls. "I was just amazed by it, because I had never seen a real artist or someone who was doing it for a living.”
Art also served as therapy for Torres, who moved to a shelter for abused mothers and children called Genesis to get away from an abusive father at a young age. At Genesis, the children were required to have a therapist. Instead of communicating verbally, Torres would express his feelings about what was going on at home through his drawings. “[My therapist] was the first person to buy me my first set of art markers and actual paper,” he said. “Real painting paper, canvasses, and stuff to help communicate. I didn't know. I saw [the abuse] every single day, so I just thought it was normal. And I found out that what my father was doing was bad when I was maybe six or seven.”
Torres was still drawing for fun while maintaining a job as a manager at a local co-working space just two years ago when he decided to pursue art full-time. His flyer for the Dallas-based rap group The Outfit, TX proved to be his golden ticket of sorts. Serrano was a fan of the group and was following them on Twitter when they posted Torres' flyer promoting an upcoming show.
Serrano was able to track down Torres through social media. Now, Torres says about Serrano: "This guy is like family, he's more than a brother." Their relationship extends beyond work—if you follow Serrano on Twitter, you know how tight they are. Just over a month ago, Torres lost his mother, and Serrano used his massive following to raise money to help pay for the funeral. Serrano reported in now-deleted tweets that they received over $6,000 in donations.
The bond between Torres and Serrano helps when they are brainstorming ideas for The Ringer or Serrano’s newsletter, A Basketball (And Other Things). Torres remembers one example about improving movies by replacing the lead actor with The Rock that was born at 3 or 4 a.m. while he was eating Taco Bell, watching Predator, and texting Serrano. “We're just two dudes kicking it, talking through text how you would talk to your friends,” he explained.
Serrano explained he’s drawn to Torres’ drawings because they give him a tactile feeling despite the fact they live on a computer screen. "What first drew me to Arturo's work was that it had such a good texture to it," Serrrano said via email. "It looked like, even when I was looking at it on my phone or computer, I could rub my fingers across the screen and be able to feel the paper that he drew it on.”
While Torres started working off a spreadsheet of drawings Serrano needed for his book, there’s now a huge amount of trust between the two. Now, when Shea needs a drawing request, he simply gives Torres a subject and a mood he wants to convey. Serrano said this is something he really appreciates about Torres. "I trust him very much with the art stuff," he said. "I can only think of, like, two or three times where I told him specifically what I wanted him to draw for a thing. Mostly, I just say, 'Aye, I need some art for this thing I wrote about someone,' and he's like, 'Okay.' And then two days later, I've got some cool shit in my inbox."
Torres and Serrano continue to have a fruitful working relationship, giving away bookmarks and creating original unforgettable art for the latter's Ringer column. The latest viral collaboration is a "Vengeance Russell" bookmark inspired by the Oklahoma City star's new contract with the Thunder—the bookmarks remained in stock about as long as the rumors that Westbrook was headed to the Celtics. Serrano later revealed that he had used the sales from the bookmark to give away free haircuts in a low-income community, adding that he "tricked you dummies" into doing something nice.
In contacting Serrano for this story, I got a glimpse at the relationship behind the magic. "He's the worst person to work with, but he is, in no uncertain terms, a fantastic and inspired artist," Serrano first said about Torres (he was joking, I confirmed). "I'll PayPal you the money you are changing me for saying nice things later," Torres later shot back. "Way to trick Cameron Wolf." Tricking people to create happiness seems to be a Torres-Serrano specialty, and it's something that's easy to get behind. Art helped Arturo throughout his life and now he seems determined to pay it forward.
You can find more of Torres' artwork here.