Interview with artist Sophocles Plokamakis
Sophocles Plokamakis - The Metro Manga Man. Astoria's very own comic book hero.
You've just boarded the N train at the busy and bustling Ditmars station. With a nice cup of coffee, cappuccino, or a latte in hand, you settle in for the ride to Manhattan, wondering just what awaits you at the office. Another day; another dollar or so the saying goes.
As the train pulls out of Ditmars, you adjust your earphones. It's time to rise and shine and get energized by some good music or a thought-provoking podcast.
But, as the train gently rocks, assuming a rhythm all of its own, you notice something is a teeny bit out of the ordinary. Sitting opposite you is a quiet, unassuming young man who appears to be doodling in a notebook with laser-like focus. Obviously wide-awake, he doesn't need a caffeine fix, even this early in the AM.
What could he be up to?
Stealing a quick glance at his notepad, though, you are amazed to discover that he has sketched a perfect likeness of you, with a portion of the subway car as a backdrop! It's almost as though you are staring into a mirror!
And you thought that this was going to be just another typically boring day in the life of an NYC commuter. You have now been magically transformed into a "work of art".
Welcome to the world of Astoria's artist in residence, Sophocles Plokamakis.
If you are lucky enough to have your portrait recorded for posterity by this uber-talented artist, you're not alone. Sophocles has been riding New York City's subways for years, people-watching and bringing commuters and their unique looks and personalities to life on his sketch pad.
In fact, just a few short years ago, Sophocles had a book published on Amazon called, appropriately enough, Subway Stories. A collection of sketches with accompanying prose by his cousin, Apostolos Anagnostopoulos, Subway Stories captured the absolute essence of what New York is all about.
Soph actually managed to ride every single line in the New York subway system while doing his drawings for the book. But his favorites are, what else, but Astoria's own N and W lines.
But, more on that later.
A respected artist, comic book illustrator, teacher and entrepreneur, as well as a proud husband and father, Sophocles Plokamakis is rapidly making a name for himself in NYC's competitive art scene. And he's doing it on HIS terms.
A friendly yet quiet, unassuming man, Sophocles lets his art speak for him. And it does this loud and clear.
Aplez.com recently had the pleasure of having a virtual conversation with this renaissance man. Sophocles was more than happy to fill us in on his background and how he came to be dubbed the Metro Manga Man.
"As far as my background goes; I grew up in Astoria and have always loved it, simply because it is a beautiful neighborhood with diverse people," stated Sophocles.
The family is very well known and respected in the neighborhood. His father, Doctor Michael Plokamakis has been practicing in Astoria for over 35 years.
"Astoria is a wonderful place to raise a family and I am proud to bring my daughter Lucia up here."
We asked the artist what he liked best about Astoria.
"It's fun like Manhattan but a little more laid back, which gives you the best of both worlds. My favorite place to chill would be Astoria Park. It's such a blessing for the community. The park's views of the river, city skyline, Hellsgate and the RFK Bridge are stunning, very inspirational for an artist."
Plokamakis also enjoys the wide variety of food options that are available to one and all in the neighborhood.
"I really love to order the healthy vegan options on the menu at JuJuBe Tree and sit outside when the weather's nice and have a meal at Grand Cafe on 30th Avenue, Tasty's, or something sweet at Martha's Country Bakery in Ditmars."
"Halsey's Tavern has some great food too. I recently painted a mural for them, decorating their outdoor seating enclosure."
By the way, this mural has to be seen to be believed. It is spectacular, with drawings and splashes of color that depict various local landmarks such as the Kaufman-Astoria Studios, Socrates Sculpture Park, Astoria Park and the elevated N and W train line.
Aplez.com wanted to know when the drawing bug first-bit Soph, so to speak.
"Basically, I started drawing when I was two and have been doing it, in one form or another, my whole life. It's my passion and it never gets boring. There is always something fun to draw! "
"I have always loved to draw cartoons, When I was young I would draw the characters I saw on TV, video games, or in comics; Goku, Spiderman, Batman,
the X-Men, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles. But, the character I drew the most was Goku. He inspired me to challenge myself and be the best artist I could be and never hit plateaus. Just keep transforming my ability like he does in Dragonball Z."
Soph's real growth as an artist, however, came during his high school years. There were two major influences that changed this young artist's life.
The first would be Sophocle's art teacher, Michael Sansone. The other, one that would turn Soph's world upside down, was his introduction to Japanese Manga comic books. After the day when he discovered Manga in the magazine aisle at Barnes and Noble, Sophocles would never look at drawing the same way, ever again.
"I had art classes as a kid," said Soph, " but the real instruction came starting in high school with Michael Sansone. He helped me to explore new mediums like color pencil, oil pastel and acrylic paint. It was in Mr. Sansone's advanced life drawing class when I developed my love for drawing people and the seed for Subway Stories was born."
"He helped me create a portfolio that got me into the school of my dreams, SVA (the School of Visual Arts) in Manhattan. I had been accepted by other schools but had my heart set on SVA. I didn't want to leave NYC and they have the best-cartooning program in
To this day, Soph remains in touch with Mr. Sansone and considers him a mentor and a friend.
Upon entering the hallowed portals of the School of Visual Arts, the young would-be cartoonist knew that he had reached the promised land. Among his instructors were comic book legends like Phil Jimenez, who drew Wonder Woman and Spider-Man as well as David Mazzucchelli, of Batman Year One fame.
"But, it was my professor Keith Mayerson who made the most impact on me. He knew a lot about the world of Japanese comics and Manga. His advice to me was always drawn what you love. It was in Professor Mayerson's class that I developed Farm Boy, a Sci-Fi action-comedy comic. In school, it was only drawn in black and white. Now, however, I have started working on it again, rewriting the comic's storylines and drawing it in full color."
At some point in time, Plokamakis would like to publish Farm Boy as a comic to be sold in stores and bookshops. And, who knows what's down the road? Perhaps, a Farm Boy graphic novel and an animated TV series? Stay tuned.
For the uninitiated, in the Japanese language, manga means comic. However, way before comics became popular in the land of the rising sun, the term manga was coined by
a popular artist Katsushika Hokusai.
"Back in the day, it meant imagined or random drawings. Hokusai was the one who started the tradition of multi-volume bound books with drawings. He used this method to teach his apprentices how to draw everything you can think of."
"I have a large library of manga comics at home". said Soph, "So, whenever I need inspiration, I can sit back and enjoy a good read, then get back to my drawing."
It was around 2012 when Soph began his famous subway rides, artist's pen and paper in hand.
Soph was then teaching art classes at an after-school program down on the Lower East Side. At first, drawing scenes from the subway was a way to practice his art and pass the time. Then, this casual venture took on a life of its own.
"Every subway ride from Astoria to the LES was an adventure. And, over the years things have gotten even more interesting. At first, though, my biggest challenge was how to draw while also coping with the movement of the train. It was NOT easy."
"I make Metro Manga by drawing panels on 8.5x11 smooth marker paper and then follow my muse. Sometimes I add thoughts or captions to the characters who I draw on the subway. Every once in a while, I'll cameo in one of the panels, dubbing myself the metro manga man."
Our artist of the moment is planning to publish a new anthology next year, consisting of around 200 pages of drawings and subway stories, entitled My Metro Manga. Be sure to look out for it.
What's really cool is that, in addition to traveling around NYC's subway lines, Sophocles has also ridden (and drawn) on the subways in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as well as in Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
During the height of the pandemic last year, Sophocles, understandably, hit the pause button, temporarily, on going down into the subway.
In order to fill the time and explore other forms of self-expression during the covid lockdown, Soph tried his hand at doing portraits of friends and family, based on either photos or Zoom conversations. It was kind of an extension of doing portraits of commuters. Turns out, he found a whole new business model.
"The amount of time to create each portrait varies depending on how much detail is involved as well as the size of the commissioned portrait. The portraits that you can see on my website sophotoons.com took between 5-10 hours to do. There's a lot going on between sketching the proportions, getting them right, inking the pencil lines and then finishing with full color."
Teaching and introducing kids to art is also something that Sophocles enjoys doing. Soph received a great deal of encouragement from his teachers and his mission is to help bring out the inner artist for, not just children, but their parents, too.
He is available for private one-on-one art classes. Simply get in touch with Soph to make arrangements.
As if this enterprising cartoonist didn't already have enough on his plate, Sophocles has started a company with his wife Thais, who is also an artist.
The name of the venture is Start Shows. Through Start Shows, Soph and Thais
create exhibitions for new artists, coaching them on how to promote and sell their works of art.
But, we'll let Soph tell you all about this exciting entrepreneurial venture in his own words.
"Start Shows is my passion project. Thais and I are dedicated to helping emerging artists achieve recognition for their work. We have a great relationship with One Art Space, which is a gallery in TriBeCa."
Besides being the perfect venue for Start Shows, One Art Space is near and dear to Plokamakis' heart for another reason; it's where he first met the woman who would one day be his wife.
"Originally from Brazil, Thais was the featured artist at the SeptemberFest Art
Exhibition. We met, talked and just seemed to hit it off. Thais and I created Start Shows in
2019 and have curated five shows since including Art is the Cure, last Fall."
Art-lovers out there in the Aplez.com universe; keep a date open in your calendar
for the Plokamakis' next exhibit called Art Workers. It will be a 5-day show from September 2nd -6th.
Assisting other artists is kind of an extension of Sophocles Plokamakis' warm, giving personality as well as his philosophy on life in general.
"I've found that, when you help others out, it comes back full circle." firmly stated Soph. "I learn from and get inspired by the artists who we work with, from the interesting conversations we have to, of course, their incredible works of art."
Even if you're not an artist, Soph believes that everyone can be creative in their own way and get the most out of life.
"I think that it's so important to do what you love to do because so much of our adult life is spent working." mused the artist. "Select a trade that you enjoy deeply. What I like most about being an artist is that I get to do what I am passionate about every day."
Plokamakis' goals for the future include opening up an art gallery within the next few years, drawing riders on EVERY major big-city subway line in the world, and bringing joy to everyday people with his art in all of its' varied forms.
"I've always had lofty goals but I know that I will accomplish them eventually because I believe in myself," said Soph in closing out our conversation.
"I hope that my words and actions are able to inspire those who are reading this to live out their dreams."
Contact Info :
IG: @Sophotoons (Metro Manga Man)