Part four of the Becky & Phil talk. Also did you know BOOM! Studios just announced they’ll be publishing Becky and Frank’s series Capture Creatures? I think that is pretty cool personally.
Becky: Having Jen as an agent has been so great! It’s just so nice knowing that someone is looking at contracts for you and making sure that companies aren’t giving you a bad deal. And like you had said before we don’t have to include her in everything that we do, which is great if you are just doing little illustration jobs. And it’s great to have someone to shield you, which has mostly been Frank’s job and it’s nice that he doesn’t have to worry about that stuff as much.
Collaborating with Frank, it varies from project to project. Like with the back up stories that we do for BOOM! Frank comes up with the idea and writes the whole thing and then I draw it. With our own comics like Tiny Kitten Teeth we came up with the concept and characters together but he still writes all of the stories and comes up with the scenarios. For Tigerbuttah one panels and Capture Creatures I’d come up with the illustrations and then get Frank to write something about the creatures or a caption for Tigerbuttah.
Before I met Frank I had made some comics in college and in high school. I made a few by myself, but mostly I’d get a friend to write a script. I’ve just never been confident in my writing. I don’t think I’d ever make a comic by myself in the future, I like working with Frank on things.
Here’s my question: I know that we’ve discussed how important it has been to our careers to post things online. Has seeing art online influenced your own art? Do you think your art would have been different if you did not have the internet to discover new and old artists?
Phil: I do love digging for cool art online. I mostly hunt for really old stuff, stuff that I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise, or seeking stuff I haven’t seen from old cartoonists that I already love. I think what I do has definitely been influenced by finding illustrations and cartoons from decades ago. A lot of people say my work reminds them of Ronald Searle's drawings. Searle is one of my favorite illustrators, but I only saw his stuff for the first time when I was 21 or 22. One of my professors in college was looking at my work and told me I should look up Searle's work because what I was doing was similar in a lot of ways. I looked him up and was immediately like “holy moly, this is how I WISH I could draw!” And I consciously let that influence seep into my work for a few years. But after being exposed to Searle, I started spending hours on the internet, searching for more old stuff. The French cartoonist, Sempé, is another artist that I spend a lot of time looking at online. I think I first saw his work on the cover of a New Yorker magazine. It was so incredible, I spent hours pouring through his stuff online. André François is another artist that has had a big influence on me. I can’t remember how I first found his stuff, I think it might have just been while clicking around online. Flickr is really good for finding stuff by old cartoonists. There are a bunch of people on there that’ll scan art from old books and magazines and put huge galleries of that stuff up on flickr. I honestly go and look at all the stuff that I’ve favorited on flickr a couple times a week. Just a couple months ago while clicking around on flickr I stumbled on to a huge gallery of old illustrations by a Dutch illustrator named Jan Sanders. I’d never heard of him or seen his work before but it’s incredible work. I immediately scoured the internet for any books he may have had and could only find one used copy of one book, published in German. A used book store in San Francisco has it. I ordered it right away! I’ve been looking at his stuff a lot the last couple months, hoping to absorb some aspects of his work. So yeah, I think being able to seek out awesome stuff online has influenced my work!
I don’t spend as much time digging for new stuff online. You get exposed to so much already, just clicking on things that friends and peers are posting on twitter or tumblr, seeing things that get re-blogged or re-tweeted. Seeing awesome new stuff is great too, but I don’t know that seeing new stuff influences what I do very much, or maybe I’m just less aware of when new stuff influences me. I guess being able to see comics and art online was huge for me when I was a teenager, but I think for me it was more about being a part of a community and showing off my art and making friends than it was about seeking out work and being influenced by it. The making friends and community part was really big though. I don’t think I’d be doing what I do today if I hadn’t connected with other aspiring cartoonists and illustrators in high school and in college. Some of my best friends on the planet are cartoonists that I first encountered online. And this is getting back to how important posting things online was and still is.
I want to bounce the same question back to you: Has seeing art online influenced your own art? Do you think your art would have been different if you did not have the internet to discover new and old artists?
But also: Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and I think this connects a little to what we’re talking about here about stuff we see on the internet, is how our influences have shaped our work and if embracing or avoiding current trends has changed our work at all.
When I look at The New York Times and The New Yorker, two huge clients for illustrators, I definitely see some stylistic trends amongst the illustrators they tend to hire. I see the same thing in comics. Every few years, there’ll be a wave of stuff that isn’t necessarily bad work, but that all looks very similar. Adventure Time is influencing a lot of young cartoonists right now. Kate Beaton's comics are influencing a lot of young cartoonists. I remember seeing a lot of stuff that had been really heavily influenced by James Kochalka or Craig Thompson when I was in college, my own comics at the time being no exception.
I always immediately know your work when I see one pop up on my tumblr dashboard, partially because your work is so strong and so distinctive, but also because I don’t really know anyone else who is producing work quite like yours right now. I guess the question is… what or who are your biggest influences that you think show through in your work? Were there any artists or shows or comics that you were heavily influenced by when you were younger, influences that you’ve tried to shake or that are maybe less obvious? Have you ever tried to push your work in a certain direction stylistically, hoping that it would bring in specific clients or certain kinds of jobs?
Becky: Similarly to your story about being introduced to an old artist in college. A friend of mine introduced me to Mary Blair's work which is still a very big influence of mine today. I've discovered so many new and old artists because of the internet. I used to spend a lot of time on Flickr looking at scans of old artists. I found Daphne Padden that way and also a ton of old illustrators who’s names I never found out or have forgotten. I made sure to print out my favorite ones.
One of the best online resources for me and has really affected my work is Youtube. In college I spent a lot of time looking at soviet animation, some of my favorites are the Mole cartoon series and “A Kitten Named Woof.” And recently I got super into 80s children’s anime intros and I’ve started incorporating a lot of that into my style now. I love “Creamy Mami,” “Maple Town" and "Good Morning Spank."
Aside from internet influences I love collecting books, especially ones from France and Japan. Some of my favorite illustrators from books that I have are Tony Wolf, Enrique Fernandez and Mizuki Shigeru. Also getting dollar dvds, most of it is trash and that’s a whole other story. But sometimes it’s old Russian, Japanese or American animation. I actually discovered Yasuji Mori from a dollar DVD, I think the art on the cover was totally generic looking and not drawn by him. I had no idea who he was and it wasn’t until later that I saw his work again online and found out about all of the other things that he had worked on.
I also like a few non- cartoonists (weird) such as Herbert Haseltine. I first saw his work in an art museum in Virginia and got his book there called “Champion Animals”. He did sculptures of animals in the 1920s, and does really cool patterns and stylizations on them. I really like Charles Freger's photography, he has a book on European festival monsters and European military uniforms.
I really want to do some art that is different from my typical stuff. I don’t want to do it to try to get different kinds of work, more just to push myself. I really want to make a book of European monsters. I love drawing monsters, but almost never get a chance to.
Do you ever want to make anything different from your current style? And do you have influences that aren’t cartoonists?
Phil: Oh yeah, I have a lot of significant non-cartoonist influences. It’s so important to allow yourself to draw influence from things that aren’t comics and cartoons! Jim Henson is a big one for me. I’ve been looking at things he created my entire life. The tv shows and movies and characters he created played a huge part in shaping my brain. I think Jim Henson was probably the first “artist” I was ever truly aware of in a way where I saw the things he made and thought “I want to know who made this stuff and how he did it.” Certain film directors have influenced my work too. Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, Hal Ashby, Terry Gilliam… I’m probably forgetting some big ones. Oh, and of course Monty Python was very important to me. The tone of the humor and the weird animations that Terry Gilliam made. And there’s an animated short that I saw on TV when I was a kid that had an enormous influence on me. It’s called The Big Snit. It’s one of the Canadian National Film Board shorts, an animator named Richard Condie made it. In the 90’s Cartoon Network had a show where they just aired amazing Canadian shorts. I saw The Big Snit on that show, but never knew what it was called or who made it until I was in my mid twenties when I somehow found it again on youtube. Peewee’s Playhouse was and still is really important to me too.
I remember seeing some of Degas’ sculptures once when I was a kid, I can’t even remember where, I think it was on a school field trip somewhere. But those had a huge impact on me, there was something really raw about them that jumped out at me. They were originally sculpted with wax and then later cast in bronze, but they still looked really rough, you could see exactly how they were sculpted…. the lines from his tools and blobs of wax that had been slapped on. I loved that you could see so much of the process in the final product. That’s so much more interesting to me than all of the super perfect Greek figures sculpted in marble or whatever. I think seeing those sculptures as a kid influenced the way I think about art quite a bit.
Ahh! I want to see you draw some monsters! Please do make a book of European monsters!
I do want to create some art that’s unlike my usual stuff. I’d like to work on some projects where I can get even looser than usual and really go crazy with ink. I just finished drawing a book that goes with a record by my brother’s band, Perfect Pussy, where I didn’t pencil anything out, I just drew the entire thing directly in ink. I’d done that with a couple of mini comics in the past, but rarely with a project that someone else was paying me to draw. I want to do some more books like that and really try to push myself to have more fun with it. I used to go figure drawing all the time and I’d like to get back into the habit of doing that regularly. The results are always fun and a little different from my typical style, also because I always prefer to draw directly in ink when drawing a model from life.
I really want to start doing stuff that goes beyond just drawing… I talked a little before about wanting to make a show or a movie with puppets or stop-motion animation. That’s something I think about a lot. And I might actually get to work on a little stop-motion project soon with a friend, but it’s sort of up in the air right now, so we’ll see. I hope it happens. And I’m planning to do a little project where I collaborate with some photographers on a series of really silly, slightly sexy animated GIFs, just for fun. I’ve sort of got the wheels in motion on that already. I’ve also been getting really into writing over the last few years and it’s something I hope to do a lot more of. A few of the projects I was working on when I lived in California forced me to become more comfortable with writing than I had previously been. It’s still not something that comes all that easy to me, but I enjoy it almost as much as drawing. I write a lot of really short stories, things that are just a page, or sometimes even just a paragraph long. I want to do more of those and then do one really small, simple illustration for each of them and maybe try to make a book out of that. And I have an idea for a children’s chapter book too, which would be mostly text, but with some spot illustrations sprinkled in, sort of like the books that Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake did together. I want to do some books like that. And I’m trying to write something right now, a comic, that I don’t plan on illustrating at all! I’m gonna try to convince someone else to illustrate it. I’ve never really written for someone else before. It’s not quite like any story I’ve written in the past, it’s more of an adventure mystery thing.
I want to ask you about living in Los Angeles! And New Zealand! Has living in those places had any impact on your work, either creatively or in terms of work opportunities? We both know so many awesome, creative people in LA, and it seems like more people are moving there all the time now, mostly for animation jobs. Our friend mutual Zach Marcus keeps trying to convince me to move there. Do you think you’ll stay in LA forever? If you were to move somewhere else, where would you want to go?