Jason Brubaker: reMIND Me How a Cat Becomes a HeroA comics interview article by: Alex Rodrik
Garnering the coveted Xeric Grant in 2010, a successful run on Kickstarter, and with over 460 pre-orders 6 months before the book was even completed, Jason Brubaker’s reMIND is on its way to greatness! I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Jason and get a deeper look at the graphic novel that’s taking the internet by storm.
Alex Rodrik: So tell us a bit about yourself.
Jason Brubaker: I grew up in Idaho and Utah where artists are only considered “Starving Artists”. I drew at Denny’s restaurant every night with my friends because we knew the waiters and there was good overhead light. We would get free coffee and Coke all night but usually left around 2 AM when the drunk cowboys came after the bars would close. It sounds like a rough start but I will always cherish those days.
I never could afford to go to college so I just worked as hard as I could to improve my anatomy, perspective and storytelling. I was determined to get a job as an artist from a very early age. It was not a question of “if”. It was a question of “when and how”.
In 1996 I went to the San Diego Comic Con armed with the 4 best pages of WildC.A.T.S. I’d ever drawn and I stood in every single portfolio review line possible. I came home with several job offers from smaller studios and a big offer from a storyboarding agency in Los Angeles. Three months later I moved to Los Angeles and immediately started working on commercials and movies doing storyboards. I decided to turn my back on comics at that time to focus on my career. Storyboards lead into animation and animation lead into Visual Development over the course of 15 years.
Rodrik: What brought about your love of comics and inspired you to create your own?
Brubaker: My love for comics was spawned by Todd McFarlane (no pun intended) back when he was drawing Spider-Man. Then Eric Larsen took over and he became a favorite too. Needless to say I was one of the millions who peed their pants when they all formed Image and turned the comic world upside down. Sam Kieth, Chris Bachalo, Mobius, Adam Hughes, Eastman and Laird all had a huge influence on me before my collecting days ended and I tried imitating what I thought was the best parts of each artist.
Fast forward 10 years. After pitching several TV shows and movie ideas to studios, I realized I was getting burnt out trying to please corporations who were only thinking about imitating what they thought was popular at that moment to make money. A producer suggested I make graphic novels out of my ideas instead of trying to please studios. It all clicked after that. I started working on reMIND in 2006 and it took on a life of its own.
Rodrik: How has your work as a visual development artist at Dreamworks affected the way you’ve approached this comic?
Brubaker: I started reMIND long before getting hired at Dreamworks so I can’t say it influenced many of my decisions. But actually, reMIND was about half of my portfolio when I applied for the job.
Towards the end of the book there are some riskier color choices which I blame on Dreamworks because I’ve been learning a lot about color theory and stuff. You’ll probably see more influence in the second book if anything.
I think one of the biggest things that influenced reMIND was my time spent animating Motion Design commercials prior to Dreamworks. Trying to imitate so many different styles of art for each new commercial really taught me what I loved and what I hated. I noticed things that designers were doing that comic artists never thought about and vice versa. Before that, when I drew storyboards, I learned completely new approaches to creating art that comic artists never used either. Working in so many different creative careers allowed me to take what made sense from each process to apply to my graphic novel. In a way, stepping away from comics for 10 years made me better at comics.
Rodrik: Tell us about reMIND. What inspired the story?
Brubaker: This story has been morphing and evolving for almost 15 years now. It’s started out as a song about a cat that would show up at my apartment. I recorded the song and wanted to make a music video for fun. That music video turned into a 10 minute animation. Then into a film. Then a short film. Then a TV pitch. And now it’s a graphic novel. The story changed as many times as the format did. Needless to say, the original idea behind reMIND is nowhere close to where it is now. As life changed around me I kept trying to rewrite the story to reflect my new views and experiences. The only real constant was the character designs.
Although I never read much when I was a kid, I specifically remember being fascinated by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books when I was younger. There are so many situations that are just impossible that happen in those books and you just have to accept it when you read it. I still love those books andreMIND is totally influenced in many ways by them. Miyazaki films are also a big influence on how I tell my stories.
But my biggest inspiration was a combination of Old Testament stories from the Bible and what I felt like I was going through in my own life with my faith and religion.
Yeah, I don’t quite know how it all fits together but it just does and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the combination.
Rodrik: You’ve had a lot of success since the beginnings of reMIND, winning the Xeric Grant in 2010 and receiving $12,600 through Kickstarter with over 460 pre-orders 6 months before the book was even completed. Other than the obvious fiscal/production benefits, how have those successes helped in the development of the GN and what added pressures have you felt knowing that you have that kind of support already?
Brubaker: All this support really didn’t happen until after I started posting my pages online. Once I let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, it immediately took on a life of its own as well as a whole new motivation. Instead of just working on it randomly in my free time, I suddenly had an update schedule and readers expecting more every week. It was through fan comments that I learned about Kickstarter. Although it’s more pressure to actually get it finished now, it’s a good pressure and one that I’m grateful for. I don’t think I’d be anywhere close to where I am now without the pressure of knowing that dedicated fans are expecting only the best.
I always dreamed about printing a high quality hardbound book in a way that has never been done before but I never know where I would get the money to do it. For the longest time I would just ignore the financial problem and continue to work on the pages hoping that I could secure the funds when the time came. The other worry was if I could ever sell enough books to cover the printing debt that it would eventually cost since I was a no-name comic artist.
Now that I have the Xeric and Kickstarter money I can’t back out from the decision to self-publish. I was even approached by a few good publishers wanting to publish reMIND but I had to turn them down because of all the commitments to fans who pledged money as well as the Xeric Foundation. It’s definitely more work self publishing but I can honestly say it’s worth it. I’ve learned so much more than I ever could just finding a publisher and part of my reason in making reMIND is to show how I think it should be done. That would be harder to do if it was published by someone else who made most of the business decisions.
Rodrik: As you brunt both the written and artistic sides of reMIND, how does your process work? Do you find yourself writing out scripts with loose panel descriptions or do you thumbnail first and write up the scenes as you pencil sketch them out?
Brubaker: I usually start with a bullet point list with key scenes and moments. Then I try to write an outline but thumbnails always seem to end up in the gutters. After I get the whole story loosely finished I immediately start drawing thumbnails for specific scenes in my mind.
When I get a page sketched out is when I start working on the dialogue trying to make it work with my art and the characters. It’s a bit of back and forth at this point reworking a sketch and reworking dialogue. The visuals are so important to me that I don’t want to build a scene around the text only. It’s tricky for me to get right. Once I feel like it conveys the mood and story the way I want, I’ll trace over the sketches with my final pencil lines but I keep adjusting the wording all through color right up until the end.
Rodrik: They say every artist personifies themselves somewhere within their work. Where do you find yourself within reMIND? What character does your voice hide behind and what is it about that character that makes that connection so strong?
Brubaker: Interesting question. Although Sonja (the girl in the story) is like the voice of reason in my head I feel like Victuals (the cat) is an amplification of myself. Going back to faith and religion, I was part of a church that was considered a “cult” to everyone else. I didn’t see it until after I left and looked at it from the outside. In the same way, Victuals was in a “cult” too, he lived in an isolated bubble, but only through brain transplantation and exile was he able to actually find the truth of the situation with Sonja’s help. Luckily I didn’t need a transplant to see the truth of my situation. Nobody wants to go through a hardship but only through hardships do you get stronger.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against religion. I’m a Christian and love the church I am apart of but I also now realize that it’s about my relationship with God rather than my relationship with a religion or the leader of a church. Although every character is a part of me in some way, Victuals’ voice is definitely closest to my own.
Rodrik: You announced not too long ago that Sam Kieth (creator of The Maxx and Ojo) has done a pin-up for the trade. Tell us about that.
Brubaker: It was pretty surreal. I was at work one day about to go to lunch when I got an email from Sam Kieth. I thought it was a joke somehow. First of all, you have to understand that Sam Kieth is one of my all time favorite comic artists to this day. For him to just email me out of the blue... it’s just hard for me to believe still. Anyway, he said he saw my work and was a big fan. So I emailed him back and we started a conversation. Eventually I got up the nerve to ask him if he could do a pinup for the book. He said he would if I colored it because he loved my coloring. Talk about surreal. Coloring Sam Kieth’s artwork of my own characters! That was the most fun coloring I’ve ever had.
Rodrik: When can our readers look forward to ordering a copy of reMIND and where should they go to preorder?
Brubaker: I’m sending everything to my printer in China at the end of February. The turnaround is a bit slower than printing in the states with an average of 2 months so I should be getting finished books around the end of May. I have a big back log of orders that I’ll be focusing on sending out for everyone who pledged money towards the project. After that I’ll list it on Amazon and probably through Heaven Distribution. To make my long answer short: It should be available in July through Amazon. I’ll keep everyone updated on my site too.
Rodrik: And now the time has come to sell it, man! In 10 words, tell our readers why reMIND is a MUST buy!
Brubaker: Because the numbered first printing is almost sold out already!
Rodrik: [Laughs] Well that’s one helluva good reason!
Head on over to reMINDblog.com for the latest news and updates on reMIND and Jason Brubaker.