Artie Romero reclines slightly in his computer chair, surrounded by the technology of his craft. But it’s his unassuming hat that demands attention.
A thought bubble, filled with blue lettering, reads “Nonsense Stories.” Beneath that, a bright red moniker: “ARG!”
Besides being a noise made when one finds a spider in the bathroom, ARG! is the name of the cartoon animation studio Romero founded in 1994.
ARG! Cartoon Animation does animation of all sorts — from movies, TV shows and games to apps, software and how-tos for film festivals that show how cartoons are made.
Operating mostly in the commercial space, a recent ARG! production, The Adventures of Turtle Taido, garnered some serious attention. In the TV series, a super-powered turtle named Taido travels across Nigeria. It’s the country’s first animation series on television.
A trailer was screened at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and the series is now shown in 53 African countries.
“We have to be presented with a challenge,” Romero says. “Something that sounds like it would be fun.” ARG! has no employees, all the work is done by a network of 30-40 like-minded folks around the country, including about a half dozen locally. They’re all contracted, including Romero.
That network, forged through relationships and collaboration, keeps growing via an intern program that ARG! runs. All of the content at ARG! is made in the U.S.
“In the world of animation, that’s something special,” Romero says.
For Romero, having contractors allows for more diversity in the work of ARG! — in the technology used, the skills sets that are brought to bear and the style of art created.
“It’s been my privilege to work with a lot of talented young people,” he says.
And, the contractors can work from home or in their own studios.
“When we get really big jobs we can put a lot of people to work,” Romero says. “It makes the art richer to have more artists involved.”
Romero’s own path as an artist began in high school. When his work was published in the school’s literary magazine, he took a trip to where it was printed. He saw the pages, and his work on them.
“I got ink in my blood after that,” he says. In 1973, he co-founded Everyman Studios, which published an alternative newspaper, The Flyer, as well as comics and illustrations. In 1981, the studio moved to commercial animation production.
In 1994, Everyman became ARG!, but it didn’t start off so well.
“I had two kinds of business: Business was terrible and I didn’t have any business,” Romero says. “I basically starved.”
But then, a savior: The World Wide Web.
Everyone suddenly needed a website. Romero began building websites to pay the bills, turning his skill into CityStar, founded in 1994. CityStar focused on web development and hosting as well as internet and search engine marketing.
Romero created a website for ARG! in 1996, called artie.com. He allowed other webpages to use watermarked animation from his site as long as they linked back to artie.com. By the time Google became the search engine of choice somewhere around 17,000 links fed back to artie.com.
Google appreciated those links.
If you Google “cartoon animation studio,” the top result is not Pixar – it’s artie.com. The site reached one billion hits in a 20-month period … in 2005. Fortune 500 companies soon came knocking.
“What we did happens to be something that Google likes,” Romero says.
In 2007, ARG! moved to its current building in the old Alexander Film Company property on Nevada Ave. north of Fillmore, where Romero shot some of his first animation. With CityStar’s success, he was soon able to sell and refocus his efforts on ARG!
Though his son Tim, a game developer in Los Angeles, is now CEO of ARG!, Artie remains a producer and manages the studio here in the Springs.
“I have great love for what I do,” he says.
Originally written by Jonathan Toman of the Cultural Office and published in the Colorado Springs Independent Blog on April 6, 2017.