Interviewed in March of 2016 by John Cardinal
1. I think it’s amazing that you both get to share your passions and creativity with each other. Can you tell us a little about how two people from opposite sides of the country got to where they can spend their days on opposite sides of the studio?
B: Thanks! We started out doing our own separate projects. I had a webcomic for a couple of years and Shelli was self-publishing her own work and editing comic anthologies. After we met, our creative paths started to grow together thanks to the professional work we were offered at the time. We could merge our styles to draw something on-model for Muppets, then Ice Age, and finally Adventure Time.
S: Making comics is a long, intensive process. Having someone else involved keeps it an ongoing conversation rather than something too solitary. As Braden pointed out, it’s nice to share in the opportunities we’re offered, which is especially important given that we are a couple, and we started our careers at the same time.
2. Shelli, you are a founding member of the Boston Comics Roundtable, and one of the organizers of the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE). Can you tell us a little of what the Boston Comics Roundtable is all about, how it got started, and then how MICE grew out of that?
S: I’m co-director of MICE, and I’m proud that it’ll be in its 7th year on October 29-30th! Fellow creators and I started the show after seeing the growing popularity of independent comic shows like MoCCA and SPX, and the need for an event like that in the New England region. We maintain an emphasis on local comic creators and self-publishers, and my favorite part about it is we keep it free to attend. You can walk in, spend an afternoon or the weekend, take in a workshop or panel. We want it to feel like a yearly treat for everyone in the greater Boston area.
3. Braden, you originally went to school to study film; what made you change your focus and go into illustration as a career path? And would you say that your study in film helped you create comics?
B: I went into the film department at Bard College because it included animation, which was my main interest at the time. I learned a lot about visual composition and narrative, but I also learned that I’m not a film director. But making comics uses a lot of the same skills, I think. I’ve been drawing my whole life, telling stories, so it was just inevitable or natural that I’d find my way to a career in comics.
4. You’ve just finished up a run on Adventure Time. The characters are beloved, and your books are available everywhere! What is it like to work on a book with such a big following? What’s your best fan story?
S: When our editor first asked us if we’d like to work on Adventure Time, we thought it might be too hip for us. But I soon found the world is nothing if not welcoming! The Land of Ooo is a comfortable, fun place to play around in. The style is simple and flexible, and it allows for a lot of individual creativity.
B: So, one time, we were at a comic convention and a whole family came up to our table dressed as characters from Adventure Time. We complimented them on their costumes and their props, and they started bringing out more and more elaborate props - swords, bugs, a magic tome with a hidden compartment containing a tiny assassin cat. Eventually, it became clear they were giving all of this stuff to us! I wanted to make sure they understood that we just work on the comic, we didn’t work on or create the show. They said, “Yeah, we know! We love your work on the comic!”
S: Those swords are hanging on the walls of our study, and they look really rad.
5. With the majority of your work being produced digitally can you give us a little insight into your process? What programs do you use? Mac or PC? Tablet or Cintiq? Do you both use the same workflow/programs/equipment… or do you both have different approaches?
B: We’ll both read the script once, and then sit down together at one computer to work on thumbnails. I’ll work on my Wacom and my monitor, and Shelli will have a Cintiq mirroring my screen. That way we can collaborate on laying out the page, coming up with different ideas for how to visualize the story, the emotions, the jokes, and so on. It’s never a competition for the best idea, we’re just trying to find out what the best idea is.
S: We’ll share duties on penciling, inking, and coloring, depending on the content and our schedules. We do pencils and inks in Manga Studio, then export to Photoshop for colors.
6. Working digitally allows you to work quicker, and to skip many of the traditional steps of comic-making (penciling, then inking, scanning, file prep). A side effect of this, however, is that your original artwork only exists on the computer. With the burgeoning original art scene, we are experiencing right now… do you think the benefits of working digital outway the revenue that could be generated through original art sales? I know that Shelli has been inking more traditionally lately… is that a response to this?
B: Working digitally is a huge benefit when you’re doing monthly comics because it’s so much faster to make fixes, or to move from one step to the next. But we still do some traditional brush or pen inking now and then, and we recently finished a graphic novel that was inked almost exclusively by brush. It’s called Making Scents, and it’s set in the early 60’s, so we really wanted to capture the look of mid-century cartoons and illustrations.
S: We do work on Cintiqs primarily since it streamlines our shared workflow. However, we tend to mix in traditional pencils and inks for a myriad of reasons — mostly because of being unable to ‘fake’ certain things digitally and also because it’s a little confining as a singular tool. It can have a very particular look that you may not want in every project.
7. You’ve both had the opportunity to work on some amazing licensed properties: Adventure Time, DuckTales, Ice Age, and The Muppet Show to name a few. I’ve heard you mention Star Wars as a property you’d both love to have a crack at (I’d love to see that). With the majority of your work being work-for-hire, what are your thoughts on the Kirkman Manifesto? Which essentially says get popular at a big company and then pursue creator-owned work.
B: It’s certainly a big help in getting eyes on your work if you’re lucky enough to be involved with a property that people are already familiar with, and it can be a lot of fun if you’re a fan of the property and you’re eager to contribute to that world. It’s not the only way to have a comic career, but it can make for a longer, more varied career if you’re open to working with lots of different people.
S: Some of the first comics I read were Star Wars comics because I loved and needed more Star Wars. I might not have gotten into comics the way I did if I hadn’t sought out supplementary reading from this universe that I loved. It’s great to think that for some people, the first comic they read was something that we drew because they liked the show it’s based on.
8. “One Day, A Dot” is a nonfiction picture book coming out soon from First Second Books that you both collaborated on with writer Ian Lendler. Was it difficult for you both to switch over to the single image storytelling mode of most picture books vs. the multi-panel sequential work you are more used to? Did you enjoy the process? And are storybooks an avenue you’d both like to explore more going forward?
S: It’s surprisingly difficult! Each page of this picture book is a different scene with a different cast of characters and a different thing happening. How do you decide what’s the most important image? It’s madness! We had to borrow a little comics magic and brought in a circular frame to have something sequential to hold onto. Picture book illustrators are the true heroes.
9. What is the dream project for each of you, either together or separately?
S: We’re working on a pitch for one of those dream projects right now. I thought, “I’d love to draw more trees. How can I draw more trees?” So the whole world is being taken over by plants in this story.
B: You can’t draw a tree wrong. That’s just how the tree looks.
S: We have a number of ideas on the back burner, it’s just a matter of time and the opportunity to work on them.
10. Lastly, something we love asking our featured artists is who do they think is an artist everyone needs to know about. Whether a painter, musician, writer, anything goes. Who you got and why?
B: John Bauer’s work has been with me since childhood. Nobody seems to know of him, but I see his influence all over the place. He illustrated Scandinavian folktales with a particular emphasis on trolls, rendered beautifully in pen and watercolor.
S: I’m currently obsessed with Michel Rabagliatti’s slice-of-life graphic novels following his semi-autobiographical character, Paul. He’s a real draftsman and his stories are absorbing. Many of them are being translated from their original French-Canadian publications into English, so check them out!**