Eggheads, beware!

Comic book artist, illustrator, painter, poster and t-shirt designer Ermis Atzemoglou talks to ough about his first illustrated book that just got out.

“The beret thief with the rolled sleeves” is the title of an illustrated book whose story takes place in the filthy Athenian streets and trendy galleries of chic neighborhoods, with all the nasty encounters included. The beret-thief has set his aims at the beret-wearing eggheads –the overeducated in art- and humorously takes his revenge in a noir story that reminds you a lot of past classic comics.

Photos: Manteau Stam.

Tell me a few things about you.
I grew up in Athens and studied comics arts. When 17 I bounced to New York.

How come so early?
I left the moment I finished high-school. My brother was already there, he was studying as well. It was kinda weird because I hadn’t settled on what I’d like to do with my life, I just liked comics and I thought I should go to a school there and try it out. My sketching skills were nothing to write home about. On the course I thought I should turn to illustration, but they wouldn’t let me in school. On the third year, the one I wanted to switch over they told me to stay with comics. To counter that I mostly dealt with painting and illustration when working, instead of comics. After a couple of years, I’d grown fed up and thought I should get back. Well It only occurred to me to return when everything sucked most.

How much time did you spend in the US?
Six years in total. And I will get back, or so it seems. When I came home from the US I thought I should chill, then after 6 months I got my ass busy doing a showcase and some other works, and then I joined the army*.
*conscription is mandatory for all Greek male citizens, still.

What are you doing at the moment?
During the past few months I was bogged down with the details of the book that was just realeased. It kinda fell behind during the summertime, it wasn’t before three months had passed that I did something, so when  September kicked in I took it up again feverishly enough so that I’d conclude it. Besides that I didn’t really do anything else, I do some painting at the same time. This had also fallen behind due to the book.

Are these works of yours for sale, or do you keep them to yourself? 
I do keep some to myself but my main objective is to be able to sell them. But you mostly prepare something so that it can function in a set, so that you can display it someplace. Of course, when you do a couple of paintings over here and another couple over there, it’s hard to promote your work, unless you’re part of a group showcase. I’d rather do illustration for magazines but no magazine asks for them anymore. There are some whose work is in constant rotation like Giorgos Gousis and Tasos Maragkos.I was fortunate enough, just right before the chaos broke in, to do a job in Vima*, for Greek songwriter Kilaidonis’ album.
*To Vima: a Greek newspaper/ it is not uncommon for newspapers in Greece to include audio compact discs or dvd’s of any sort as a way to induce sales.
How were things in the US?
It wasn’t good but definitely better than here. You can still find jobs, though not that easily, it depends on your expectations and your style so that you know where to turn to. Working full time for Village Voice for instance is very hard to achieve. For, like, a career. You might contribute with a design but that would come like twice in a year. Besides the mags though, there also posters and t-shirt design.


Do they actually pay their employees?
Yeah they do pay them, while there is no such thing here, here they’re used to the free-of-charge. Over there at least you can have a part-time job in whatever, and at the same time you’re able to prepare a couple of showcases per year, or a book. There are also freelance commissions.
Did you get a job in the US?
I’d gotten a job in a gallery as an art handler, that is to set-up and pack, something that I really enjoyed. I was sweet. I was working under my own schedule from twice to four times a week and I was fine.

And how come you got back to Greece?
I got back because there was something missing.


Tell me about the book. How did it occur?
The “Thief with the rolled up sleeves” started from chit-chat, the sort that happens when you take strolls in the neighborhood. We were mocking the people that hit the galleries with their berets and all, in that case eggheads with berets that know stuff about art, and eventually it evolved to something. He had done a story as well about the magazine that he publishes and then I got another part of this story and illustrated it. Basically I wanted to do illustrations with this specific level of detail and also something that works in a set. From the sketch to the text (not photoshopped actually, but written on my grandpa’s typewriter, because I couldn’t find the proper fonts), which I then scanned. I was fortunate enough to find KCM publisher with whom I saw eye to eye.
The plot is your inspiration as well right?

Are the spaces depicted actual?
I’d taken some photos in a flea market and I combined some of the elements, but generally it’s a combination of fantasy and reality. I wanted it to carry some details but at the same time I was also drawn to the concept of noir. In order to convey a retro essence.


Who’s the hood?
An imaginary person. He steals berets, it’s his way of declaring his personal revolt.
Do you go to launch parties?
I do but not as common as I would like to. But you can come up with berets in all kinds of spots. I’d once found one in a concert. Or else, you  could go out in the rain and steal some.
Which kinds of music are you listening to?
Punk rock, rock and roll, old school r&b, blues, garage, I’m open to suggestions actually.
Since when do you paint?
Not from a really early age, I don’t remember myself being one of those kiddies that painted all the time. At 15, I guess, when at high school.

Did you have any thoughts of becoming a comics artist back then?
I had no clue about what I wanted to grow up to as I child. I was just an ardent comic reader. Mainly of the classics: X-men, Spiderman, Batman and gradually I became aware of more independent releases.


Do you read any Greek comics?
I do. A couple that pop in my mind at the moment is “Krak” by Tasos Maraggos –it struck my attention because even though it’s simple it really gets at the heart of things, and also the work of Giorgos Gousis and some others’ as well. I’m not making a lot of comics actually, like three or four of them, really short and always featured in magazine anthologies. And in this sense I don’t consider “The thief with the rolled-up sleeves” a comic but something tending towards an illustrated story. And that was the purpose, I wasn’t really excited about doing frames.  
Which artists have had an impact on your work?
I am being influenced by both paintings and illustrations. I recently read Craig Thompson’s Habibi, it was really good, I liked the way he combines comics with illustration. Many people experimenting with silk-screenings have influenced me as well. My teachers have had an impact on me, Gary Panter, Jenny Saville, Klaus Janson, Kera Walker from the gallery I used to work –she makes large-scale designs. Also, Alphonse Mucha, Guy Davis, and the book “Honour Among Punks”.
Have you ever painted at the street?
I used to do graffiti’s at the street, as a kid. I like looking at graffiti but I’m not into street painting anymore.

Where exactly in America were you?
Jersey city and New York.

How are the streets over there?
Besides being huge, they are very clean. They may be stinking, but they are clean as hell. In New York you won’t find those old deserted buildings. They don’t have this chaotic city planning that Athens has. You look at the deserted neoclassic buildings here with a sense of awe. I even like the flaked off grout on the walls, they have something pretty in them. I’ve sketched loads of them in Kerameikos, Exarchia, and Monastiraki, whenever I see something I like I stop and sketch it.

You’re one of those artists that keep sketching all the time?
I’ve gotta be in the mood for it. I have friends that cannot go without sketching for more than a day, they even do it on their night outs. I’m not like this. I’d rather sit down and sketch in peace.

Do you also do portraits?
Yeah , but I haven't done many. I like the aesthetically plaesing but I do appreciate the ugly as well. This is why a series of paintings of mine depicts sun-burnt fat women at the beach. There is an intricate beauty hiding behind the ugliness. I’d done another series with musicians, jazz players, blues players, rock and roll players, ranging from small to very large dimensions. I’m afraid of the extremely large scale.

Future plans?
I intend to leave again for the US but I’m not going to lay at rest, I have to work it a bit with myself until I become sure of the my next steps.
Is art teachable?
It is. But it’s up to you to decide how you will take it further.

So if you hadn’t gone to that school you wouldn’t be the same person?
I don’t know. I really learnt a lot of things in school. I was completely useless when I started and by the end I was feeling that I could do something. You are never content with yourself. Your technique never stops evolving. And the topics. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a painting or a writing a book or doing comics. Your topic is crucially important, and it’s something that I wanted to take further and further. I had taken a course, Contemporary Art, and I was turning in to the professor “fantasy” sketches with dinosaurs and stuff and he had freaked out. He threatened he wouldn’t give me a passing grade and for the next 30 days or so I wouldn’t sketch anything, until I got the idea with the fatties.
What sort of posters have you made until now?
Concert posters, mostly.
Would you ever do a poster for politics?
For some social end that I would support yeah I just might. Though I’m hesitant as to how this poster would be used. I would, provided that the initiative was mine, but it hadn’t crossed my mind.

You ever thought of showcasing them?
I might sometime, but then again I don’t have that many to go on showcase. From a designers standpoint I really like the poster it conveys thought the image the design aesthetic as well –on which I haven’t really gotten a grip yet. I do consider it art though…

“The beret thief with the rolled up sleeves” is available on bookstores, comicbook stores, and you can also order it online on or on

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