This is part one of a long conversation between Benign Kingdom artists Becky Dreistadt and Phil McAndrew. Above, part of the cover of Phil’s book Crying in Front of Your Dog and Other Stories, and a painting of some succulents by Becky that she’s never posted! Phil also has a new book coming out this year: a comic to accompany an album by Perfect Pussy and Joanna Gruesome, being published by Captured Tracks. Some previews here. Both artists have Benign Kingdom art books too. Ok here we go!
Phil: SO BECKY, aside from myself, you’re one of only a few professional illustrators or cartoonists I know personally who, in the year 2013, work almost entirely with paint and paper rather than with Photoshop and a tablet. Why are we doing this? Why do you do it? Do you ever work digitally with a tablet?
Becky: I never planned on being a painter. I always knew that I wanted to be a cartoonist of some sort but I didn’t have a specific medium in mind. I really liked (and still like) illustration, animation and comics and all of those things typically use different mediums. I had painted a bit in elementary school with fabric paints and then in high school with watercolors. I didn’t really get into painting until college, where I took two painting classes, but neither of those dealt with gouache which is pretty much what I exclusively use. I actually learned how to paint with gouache from Jeremy Sorese who I went to college with. Up until then I had primarily been drawing and inking comics and doing very little painting.
I didn’t start exclusively painting until I moved to New Zealand with Frank after college. We decided to start a webcomic (Tiny Kitten Teeth) and we wanted it to be in color. I had done some digital coloring in college and I was really slow at it and found painting to be faster. So we decided to make the webcomic entirely painted, also because we hadn’t seen another webcomic do that. And ever since Tiny Kitten Teeth, whenever we do any freelance or commissions people always want it to be painted. I’m not even sure if people know that I can work in black and white and color on a computer. Even with some of the animation work I’ve done people insist on me painting the designs (which does make it easier for me). Recently I’ve digitally colored some images for an animation pitch, as well as using Manga Studio to digitally ink a pitch, other than that, I still paint everything. Besides falling into painting, I do actually prefer it to illustrating on the computer. I like how it looks a lot softer and it’s easier to limit your palette. There’s no “undo” so you can’t obsessively redraw the same line ninety times. Also being able to sell originals is a huge part of my income, I don’t think I’d be able to make it this far as a professional artist without being able to do that. So as far as I can tell I think I will be painting for as long as my left hand works.
Phil, do you find it difficult to balance freelance vs. personal work?
Phil: I do find it really difficult to balance freelance work with personal work, especially recently. I mean, I love the freelance stuff and I don’t think I’ll ever stop taking on those jobs. But in 2012 I had a blast working on my first book, Crying in Front of Your Dog and Other Stories, which is full of comics that I wrote and drew entirely for myself. I decided that in 2013 I’d try to push my career in a direction where I’d be able to start spending more time on projects of my own. Of course, some awesome freelance stuff fell into my lap and here I am, rapidly approaching 2014, having worked almost entirely on freelance stuff in 2013. I do have a couple of proposals for book projects of my own that are almost ready to be handed over to my wonderful agent, who will hopefully be able to find homes for them. So my hope is that maybe 2014 will be the year where I’m able to spend more time with my own ideas while still paying the bills.
I don’t find it difficult to work traditionally when doing freelance stuff, no. I’ve gotten pretty good at inking and painting really quickly when needed. I’ve been working with ink and watercolors pretty much my entire professional career, so that’s just what I’m used to, I have a pretty good sense of how long it’ll take me to paint things. And I actually will usually do a bit of rough planning digitally before I sit down to paint. I like to scan my inked drawings in and do a really quick, sloppy digital version of the colors before I touch my paints. That way when I do sit down to paint, I’ve got sort of a vague road map to follow and can paint that much faster.
So illustration, comics, animation, gallery shows… we’re both doing all of that stuff, it sounds like. Do you prefer any one of those things over the others? Can you see yourself ever giving up on any one of those things? Is there a visual medium you haven’t worked in yet that you want to do? The only thing I can think of that I don’t think either of us has touched yet is the video game industry…
Becky: I prefer comics, but that is also the most time consuming type of thing that I do. However, this year we have a few projects planned where I won’t be painting entire comic pages so this should speed things up. Ultimately I’d like to be telling more stories, Frank and I have so many graphic novel ideas but it’s hard to find the time to do them, especially when comics typically pay the least. But just like you, we are hoping that for 2014 we would primarily being do our own projects, plus really cool freelance projects, just hopefully we’ll get better at balancing the two.
I do enjoy doing illustration, but I think in the future I want to do less illustration stuff and more comics and when I do do illustration do bigger pieces where I get to spend more time on them. I do want to do more illustration that tells a story, I want to do some more kids books. I’ve only done one so far, Tigerbuttah, and that was three years ago.
I’d like to do more animation. It’s tricky though, because if you do it full time then it becomes very difficult to do your own projects, but I’d like to do more freelance animation. I haven’t done any video game projects at all, I’d love to work on a game! I love Nintendo games, I’m not so into violent games or realistic looking games. My dream is to design one official Pokémon, but I don’t think that would ever happen. And my dream game is Professor Layton meets Pokémon. I don’t need to work on that one, I just want it to exist.
I would like to do designs for board games or a card game. My friends Steve and Leslie Wolfhard got me into board games. I love “Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards” where Nick Edwards did all of the art. I’d love to see more cartoony looking board games. Maybe a Capture Creatures one?
Phil, here is your question: Since you mentioned video games, is that something that you are interested in working on? Have you ever been approached to work on a game? And what would be your dream game? Also have you thought about working on a board games at all? And because I mentioned kids books, have you ever wanted to make one?
Phil: I haven’t been approached to work on any video games ever. I think I would be interested in working on some video games. Maybe. I’ve never really been much of a gamer, to be honest. I haven’t played through any games in years and years. But I do think it would be fun to make video games or to design characters for one or something like that. I’m not planning to pursue work in the video game industry at all, but I’d definitely consider it if an opportunity presented itself. Sometimes on twitter I write little ideas for joke games I’d like to make. I guess those would be my dream games. They’re sort of like anti-games. A video game where you’re the wind and you have to blow lots of people’s hats off and into the road or the ocean or off a cliff. A video game where you can’t find your glasses and everything is pixelized beyond recognition until you find them. A video game where you’re really old and everyone else moves faster than you and also things aren’t like they used to be. A video game where you wander around in a snowy field looking for a warm place to go but there are no warm places and it’s getting colder. I’ve got a whole file on my computer full of these little ideas for games that I’ll probably never make. But I really would like to make some of my dumb game ideas into games, but I’d mostly just be interested in writing and drawing. I’d have to have someone else who is willing to do all the tough stuff that actually makes the game work.
I have thought about working on board games! And that’s something that I have dabbled in a tiny bit and that I’m eager to do more of. I created some cards for one of the expansion sets for the upcoming Machine of Death card game, which I think comes out pretty soon? I’m not much of a video gamer, but I do play a ton of board games. I’ve always loved board games, but yeah, Steve and Leslie Wolfhard! They are wonderful and they introduced me to some good ones that I hadn’t played before when I was visiting LA last year. And that Nick Edwards game looks beautiful, I’ve wanted to play it for a while now.
I REALLY want to make some children’s books. I know I will eventually, it’s just a matter of time. I’ve been approached by children’s book editors with various book projects a number of occasions in the past, but none of those projects ended up working out. I’ve got an idea of my own, a book or probably a series of books for kids, that I’ve been sitting on for four or five years now. I’m planning to make it my next big project after a couple of other things that I’m currently gearing up to work on. It’s going to be awesome. Just thinking about it makes me want to throw whatever else I’m doing aside and start drawing.
You mentioned wanting to design an official Pokémon and how it’s sort of a crazy lofty dream thing that you’d love to do someday but don’t expect will ever actually happen. Do you have any other really lofty projects or goals that jump to mind when you think about stuff that would be awesome to do but probably won’t ever realistically happen? Imagine you’ve become the most successful and acclaimed cartoonist of all time overnight and you can do anything you want in any medium, time and money are of no concern. What would your next project be?
Continued soon! Thanks for reading.
Becky talks shop. Good info here for aspiring artists.