Throughout an artist’s life, the passion to create is always with them. There will be low points where the creative flame isn’t burning as brightly as it has in the past, or even moments where the flame begins to flicker out into darkness. At times, when the fires of creativity are at their lowest, the smallest gust can fuel that flame to become an inferno and light a path to inspire other talented creators.
Julio A. Guerra was born and raised in East Chicago. At an early age, his love of horror movies, comics, and graffiti-style art pushed him to pursue a career in the arts. He was strongly encouraged and supported by his grandmother, Maria Ruan (who Guerra affectionately referred to as “Tita”), to continue his dream of becoming an illustrator.
“Tita meant everything to me. She wanted me to always show my best and pushed me to do so in everything. We were inseparable. I gained so much from her, especially her fighting spirit. She's the one who showed me that art wasn't just a gateway, but it surrounded you with emotions and happiness. She was, and still is, my backbone,” Guerra said.
After high school, Guerra enrolled in Calumet College of St. Joseph to study Media and Fine Arts. There, Guerra was blessed with an internship at South Shore Arts and began to make friends and connections in the local art scene.
Devastation came to Guerra at the end of his collegiate career, when his grandmother lost her battle with cancer. The traumatic loss sent Guerra into a depression and he began to lose his sight in the creative world. His personal art projects faded from his mind, as he chose to focus more on his position as an Art Instructor at the Hammond Boys and Girls Club.
“I was beaten up for years. I stopped all my art and fell in line with just working. I used that to keep my mind busy,” Guerra recalled. “At our annual Boys & Girls Club Art Show, I came across a former South Shore Arts employee who asked what I’ve been up to and when was my next show. I told her I wasn’t doing anymore art shows. She asked me why, and I explained that I felt like my passion died along with my grandmother. She shook her head and told me that my talent was being wasted and that if I really wanted to honor my grandmother that I should pursue art.”
Her words were the gust of wind that Julio needed to reignite his creative drive. From there, Guerra dove right back into his creative work and referenced what his previous mentors from Calumet College of St. Joseph had taught him.
“My instructors, Martin Martinez and Wes Barrier from CCSJ, used traditional training and reformatted it to help shape me. They bettered my style by giving me classical training from still life, photography, and combined that with my graffiti/comic background, which still plays a huge role in my work today.”
Guerra also found support from his close friend and local videographer, Miguel Cisneros, who used some honest, tough love to keep encouraging Guerra after he told him he was considering a return to the art world.
“One night, Miguel sat me down for a four hour discussion about how I need to stop treating my skill like a hobby and go full force with it. I wasn’t happy with the conversation and he knew it. After a few months of being upset, I realized that Miguel was lighting the fire under my butt and I thanked him for doing it. His response was, ‘Dude, you’re talented and you needed to realize that. I was gonna make sure you do what you were put here to do, even if that means losing a friend. I want you to succeed.’ Those words meant the world to me. Every time something happens in my art career he is the first person I call.”
Instead of relying on a gatekeeper to help his art connect with an audience, Guerra decided to self-publish his comics and artwork. His first project was a webcomic called, “Super Dead Beat Dad.” Guerra called it a “learning experience,” where he taught himself the good and the bad of making a comic.
“Without that book, my comics wouldn’t be anywhere as good as they are now,” he laughed.
To date, Guerra has released over six comic books that include collaboration projects and also entirely creator-owned work. Guerra stated that a large number of his sales come from comic book conventions. Recently this year, Guerra was invited to New York City Comic Con’s artist alley. There he was seated next to other big name illustrators like Luke Ross, Scottie Young, David Mack, and a long list of star artists. Guerra considers it a high point in his career.
When he’s not drawing his next book, Guerra works as Program Director for the Hammond Boys & Girls Club and the Head of the Art Department for the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana. Here Guerra works hard to continue fanning the flames of creativity for the artists of tomorrow.
“It seems silly, but it’s true, because I’ve been there. You don’t know whose life you might save, whose mental state you might save, or whose talent you will help unleash. A lot of these kids are so amazing and so dedicated to the craft. My passion is to do what my instructors, friends, and my Grandmother have done for me.“
For 10 plus years at the the Boys and Girls club, Guerra has eagerly instilled the same level of heart and knowledge to the youth members that his mentors have passed on to him.
“These kids are so amazing and are so dedicated to the craft. There have been so many of them that have come to just practice for hours in the art room to keep pushing themselves. I do everything I can to keep that passion alive and thriving for them. I tell them all, 'Don’t sit on an idea. DO IT.' You never know who you might inspire or whose day you might brighten!”
Julio A. Guerra’s work includes: The Epic Misadventures of Deathbag, NerdLife, Botched, and LUSH. They are available at Creative Comics in Griffith and most comic retailers in Northwest Indiana. You can find his work digitally at laguerradearte.com and comixcentral.com.