Today we are proud to present our first ever Spotlight Interview, where we go behind you the scenes with your favorite brands, cosplayers, or otherwise cool community members! This is a close-knit scene, and we want to take advantage of that to give you guys some insight on everything from the creative process to the favorite convention memories of our guests.
This week, for our inaugural interview, we sat down with Dylan Tsubasa, the artist and designer behind the popular brand Nora Inu!
If you’ve attended an anime convention in Southern California at any point in the last few years, then there’s a very good chance you would have stumbled across the Nora Inu booth and their signature dog mascot logo.
There are many brands in attendance at any given anime or pop culture convention, but none quite as unique as Nora Inu. Most brands seek to capitalize solely on current streetwear trends, but his is much more artist driven.
His cartoonist and animator background jumps out at you immediately when you see his designs, and it’s honestly such a breath of fresh air in the current fashion landscape.
But what else goes into making Nora Inu such a genuine standout? We sat down with Dylan in order to find out that exact answer! Continue reading for a full transcription of our interview.
Q: Hey Dylan, long time no see, we really miss seeing you at conventions!
A: Hey guys, same here. It’s been a while!
Q: How have you been doing this year? Have you gotten THICC like the rest of us during quarantine?
A: Been doing good. Hanging in there and keeping busy. And not really. I’ve somehow managed to stay pretty much the same.
Q: What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied other than working? Have you picked up any new hobbies?
A: In the small pockets of free time that I have, I mostly watch movies. They tend to skew towards older, classic movies since there are so many gaps in my movie viewing history. It’s interesting to see where my favorite contemporary filmmakers get their inspiration from. You can track the lineage of filmmaking through the viewing of these older films and see the origins of techniques that are so common now.
For example, I watched “Touch of Evil” the other day and it opens with a continuous tracking shot that takes you through this border town in Mexico and it pretty much set the template for those similar types of scenes, like the one continuous shot in “Children of Men”. Really interesting to see if you’re into film craft and movies.
Other than that, I’ve been trying to read and write more, which resulted in the “Film Club” posts I occasionally put up and the addition of the blog section on our web shop.
Q: Has quarantine changed your work flow or creative process in any meaningful ways that you weren’t expecting?
A: I haven’t noticed anything too significant, other than I’ve been staying up later in the night to work. But the amount of hours I put in are the same, so it’s not that much different, just darker. It might put me out of sync with the rest of the world but everyone’s had a weird relationship with time this past year. Strange that it’s been almost a year already since it all started, isn’t it?
Q: For those unfortunate souls who might not be familiar with you and your brand, can you explain to us what “Nora Inu” means? And what inspired you to start Nora Inu?
A: I’ve always been interested in stories about misfits and outsiders. Characters that are a bit bizarre or unconventional. When I was trying to come up with a name for this project, I wanted something that captured this spirit. Around the time, I was reminded of this Kurosawa film I love called “Stray Dog” or as it’s known in Japan, “Nora Inu”. I felt that the name “Nora Inu” conjured up the image of the offbeat character lost somewhere on the outskirts and was the perfect fit for the kind of stories I wanted to tell and a perfect description for the types of characters that would fill them.
With clothing, I felt it was an interesting way to showcase these characters and get them out to as many eyes as possible. In stories, characters are the ones you invest in and follow on these adventures and I liked the idea that you’d see my characters pop up in random places, hopefully capturing people’s interests and inspire them to follow wherever these characters go and whatever medium they inhabit.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to turn your art into a business?
A: That came about from just a general restlessness and wanting some other thing to work on while I develop my portfolio and apply to job openings in the animation industry. After graduating from college, I would apply to every relevant job listing I came across and would shop my portfolio around at events like CTN, gathering feedback and hoping I’d make headway in some of the bigger studios. I’d come close with interviews and tests but nothing ever materialized so after a while I decided instead of trying my luck and hoping for someone to grant me my “big break”, I could turn to other ways to get my work out there.
Q: In a sea of techwear and skate inspired streetwear brands, your aesthetic immediately stands out as something distinctly unique in comparison. How would you describe your own artstyle?
A: Saturday Morning Cartoons meets Pop Art is the quickest way to describe it. But maybe that’s only sort of accurate because although there will be a consistent throughline in my work, there’s always a natural evolution. I was inspired by the cartoons I watched growing up and my studies in college so a lot of that strong graphic style was developed from those things, but it’s not just limited to cartoon influences.
I’m sure this is the case with you guys as well, where, as designers, everything you come across is absorbed and reflected back into the work that you put out. It could come from anywhere. Right now, I’ve been collecting a lot of mid-century influences and looking for ways to put more of that into my work because that’s what’s interesting to me at the moment but that could change by next week and I’d move on to the next thing.
Yea, that’s exactly right. Ideas really can come from just about anywhere. I like to think that everything you consume leaves little idea-seeds in your brain, and you’ll never know which inspiration will sprout first.
Q: What is your creative process like and how has it developed over the years? What was the approach like for you to learn how to turn your illustrations and drawings into wearable garments?
A: There are some days where I’ll have nothing particular in mind and will sketch until I discover something I like and I follow wherever that takes me. Sometimes I don’t find anything. And there are some days where it’ll be a quick flash of inspiration and the idea will lay itself out fully formed. Sometimes its more about creating the right circumstances that allows for that kind of inspiration and building the right momentum to get myself in the right mood or mindset to make good work. Sketching mindlessly, listening to music, scrolling through Reddit, walking around, all can become equal parts of the process. Ultimately, I just have to keep pushing myself, find new things that inspire me, and learn new techniques to go about my work.
Adapting my drawings to clothing required some adjustment at the beginning. Since I use mostly traditional screen printing methods on my stuff, I’ve had to learn to work within the limitations of the medium. Like being mindful of the amount of colors I use in a graphic was an important lesson to learn but it wasn’t something I was exactly aware of before.
Definitely, every production method comes with it’s own limitations, and I don’t know how many people realize how restrictive it can be on designs sometimes.
Q: Were conventions always part of your business model, and if not, what made you decide to attend them?
A: When you put your brand out there for the first time, unless you have the right connections, you’re not going to have an audience right away. The most direct way to reach out to people is to literally just go where they go and try to get their attention. It’s a slow process, but with each connection you make, you build your audience. Even if it’s one by one, you’re creating awareness.
Q: What is something that you love about conventions?
A: The amount of things there are to be discovered. You’re introduced to some amazing work by great artists walking through the aisles at shows and you get to meet people who are creative and passionate about their work. It’s inspiring.
Q: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind as favorite moments from all of your time at conventions, either as a vendor or attendee?
A: There are several moments that stick out in my mind. The things I remember most are probably meeting different people. Of course, I can’t recall every single interaction I’ve ever had perfectly but some moments have made some big impacts. Like the first collaborative design I did came about from connections made at a show.
Q: Do you have a favorite convention to attend, and if so what is it about that convention that you connect with?
A: Designer Con is by far my favorite. It has the most eclectic collection of vendors of all the shows I’ve done. And it seems like most of the attendees there are looking for new things to discover and willing to be surprised by what they find as opposed to most other shows where they are looking for things that reaffirm what they already like. Which is completely fine. Nothing wrong with knowing what you like. But it’s encouraging, as an independent creator, to see people seeking out something they haven’t seen before.
To some outsiders, brands like ours might not have an immediate clout value, so it’s always thrilling to come across people willing to experience what you have to offer and make up their own mind based on the artistry or utility of the garment.
Q: Not many people know about the blood, sweat, and tears that go into planning and attending a convention as a vendor. What does the preparation process look like for you? Is there anything that you weren’t expecting to be as difficult as it was?
A: I always tried to have something new for a convention so leading up to a show always involved designing new products and getting them made. Sometimes frantically. Booth layout was surprising because it’s something so overlooked but I think about it a lot. It’s an aspect of show’s that I feel most attendees don’t often notice as it’s just backdrop to them, but it’s probably one of the more important ones. It’s your only chance as a vendor to make a good and lasting first impression. And you don’t have much room to work with, so you have to be resourceful when trying to make the most out of a 10×10 space. It could be challenging since you’re dealing with a physical 3D space and not a 2D graphic but it’s a fun challenge. Like a puzzle or Tetris.
We echo your sentiments about booth design almost completely. It’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about ourselves, and it was a top priority once we were able to take things more seriously.
Q: A fun fact that most people probably don’t know is that you were our booth neighbor at the first ever convention that we exhibited at, Los Angeles Comic Con 2018. We really appreciated your guidance and your eagerness to go out of your way to help out a new face in the community. As you probably remember from your first show, it can be a pretty nerve-wracking endeavor. Your friendly presence went a long way to ease us into the experience, and for that we are very grateful. Are there any moments from that weekend that you remember?
A: I’m glad I was able to be helpful. But that was a really fun weekend. The “Mystery T-shirts” thing still makes me laugh.
(Sorry for the inside jokes, just vendor things 🤪)
Of course, though, the most memorable experience had to be meeting Tommy Wiseau. Just to be within his orbit for a brief amount of time was surreal. He doesn’t seem like a real person and doesn’t really carry himself like one. Almost like someone wrote him into existence.
It was truly surreal when we went over to meet him. I wonder if he’s ever worn the shirts we gave him?
Q: How long have you been a devout fan of FIGHTBOI and all of our projects?? What is it about us that makes you such a dedicated follower after all these years???
A: From the moment I met you guys, you seemed cool. I also admire how much your personalities and humor are visible in your work.
Q: Well, that just about wraps up our interview! Once again, we’re super excited to be able to debut the spotlight series with you as the guest, so thank you! Are there any current or upcoming projects you want to plug on your way out?
A: Thanks for having me! People can follow us on Instagram at @norainuofficial. I’m constantly adding stuff, so if they want to stay up to date, that’d be the place to go. I’ve also recently redesigned the website and added a blog section so people can check it out if they’re interested in hearing more of the brand’s story. Other than that, I’m always on the lookout for new things to create and new projects to take on so we’ll see what this year has in store.
Alright folks, you heard the man. Make sure you go check out all of Nora Inu’s active platforms and run their numbers up! Hopefully this interview offered you an interesting glimpse into Dylan’s world and provided some insight about things you might have been pondering for a while.
What was your favorite part of the interview? Who do you want us to interview next? Please let us know down below!
Nora Inu’s Links:
Editor-In-Chief at fucanime.com | Co-Owner of FIGHTBOI Brand and all its subsidiaries. Former esports writer, and a voracious weeb.