Smash Pages Q&A: June Brigman

The cat is out of the bag for the Mary Worth illustrator

June Brigman has had a long, varied career in comics. She started working in comic books where she co-created Power Pack with Louise Simonson at Marvel, and drew a wide variety of projects including Supergirl, Star Wars: River of Chaos, and adapting and illustrating Black Beauty into comics. She’s also been working in comic strips for decades. She drew Brenda Starr from 1995 to when the strip ended in 2011, and since 2016 she’s been drawing Mary Worth seven days a week.

Brigman returned to comic books last year with arguably her best work to date, the miniseries Captain Ginger. The science fiction series features cats who have outlived the human race, and it’s a funny and dark and inventive story. The trade collection of the miniseries is out from Ahoy Comics this month, which also announced that there’s a sequel in the works – though readers are unlikely to forget the comic’s final page that sets it up.

June, I always like to start by asking people, how did you come to comics?

I didn’t read comics as a child. If there had been a comic book about a girl and her horse, I would’ve loved that. But I wasn’t interested in comics until my boyfriend, now husband, Roy Richardson showed me some Jack Kirby New Gods comics from his collection. I’d never read a comic book before, so he had to show me how follow the word balloons. But Kirby’s incredibly dynamic, ingenious artwork sucked me in. Then, around 1979, I went to my first comic book convention. I saw Gil Kane, Berni Wrightson, Michael Kaluta and all these amazing artists doing beautiful sketches with no reference. I’d always loved drawing, and I knew I wanted to be a professional artist. Now I knew what path I wanted to take. So I dropped out of college and studied to become a comic book artist.

How did you end up drawing Captain Ginger?

I had worked with Stuart Moore for Teshkeel Comics, so I knew that he was a great writer. In one of the jobs we did, Stuart had written a scene at a cat rescue or ASPCA type place. I guess he like the way I drew cats, because he approached me about his idea for Captain Ginger. Of course, I loved it.

Stuart said that he wrote the book with you in mind, but what was the process of working on the book like? And how did it change over the course of working on it?

After reading Stuart’s proposal, I did some sketches of the lead characters. Then, along with my husband and inker, Roy Richardson, and colorist Veronica Gandini, we produced the first seven pages of Stuart’s plot. While the characters look basically the same as in those first pages, the two lead characters, Captain Ginger and Sergeant Mittens, have gotten a lot taller and more badass. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just a natural evolution sparked by Stuart’s writing.

When I interviewed Stuart, I joked that it’s a funny story about the end of humanity with lots of cats jokes. How do you think about the book?

I know this sounds strange, but I just think of it as good science fiction that happens to have cats instead of people. Maybe that’s because the characters are so, well, human. Or maybe I just relate to them a little too much.

There so many visual jokes and cats playing in the background and doing little things. How much of that was in the script and how much of that was you just going crazy and deciding that every monitor or corridor should be covered in kittens?

I think it was a mutual decision between me and Stuart to have lots of kittens. Plus, they’re just fun to draw.

Do you have a favorite character or thing that you got to draw and design?

Probably Sergeant Mittens. He’s based on a cat we had named Mooch, who was a combination of sweetheart and terminator. He was a sweetie to me and Roy. But god help the stray who happened to wonder through the yard.

I should also mention your longtime inker, Roy Richardson. I know that he is your husband, but what makes him a good inker for your pencils and works well with what you’re trying to do?

Roy and I have a lot of the same artistic influences. And we have an understanding: I leave him alone, and he leaves me alone. It makes for a good working relationship – and marriage, too.

You’re also drawing Mary Worth right now and between that and Brenda Starr you’ve spent a lot of time working in comic strips, which are a different genre than Captain Ginger or other comic book work people might know you for, but what has been the difference for you between the two forms?

Strips and books are different animals. Strips have a very limited format that restricts what you can do as far as layout and storytelling. In comic books the story advances very quickly, whereas in strips the stories take a week to advance from one scene to another. While I find comic books more challenging, they’re also a lot more fun to draw.

He So have you started the second volume of Captain Ginger? The final scene in the first volume – not to spoil anything – makes it clear that the next volume will be something different. Without spoiling, is there anything you’ve really enjoyed drawing or developing so far?

Hmmm, it’s hard to say without a spoiler. Maybe I should just say that there is a new species with a whole new set of artistic challenges. It’s like the difference between apples and oranges, or cats and….well, you get the idea.

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