‘Adventure Time’ #25: Artists Shelli Paroline And Braden Lamb Talk Two Years Of Teamwork [Interview]
On February 19, Boom! Studios will celebrate two years of Adventure Time comics as the ongoing series' 25th issue arrives in stores. It's a milestone for Boom!, and especially writer Ryan North and the art team of Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, who have been working together consecutively for the full run aside from issue #5 (which was drawn by Mike Holmes -- but hey, Paroline and Lamb needed a second to get married). To commemorate the release of Adventure Time #25, ComicsAlliance got in touch with its Eisner Award-winning art team for insights into their collaborative process and the secret to their ongoing success.
CA: Congratulations on more than two years of [nearly] uninterrupted Adventure Time art. What's your headspace like on the book at this point? I imagine you're already working a few issues past #25 as I write this. Do you feel like grizzled veterans or has the time kind of flown by?
Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb: Thank you so much! We should mention that our run on Adventure Time hasn’t been fully uninterrupted - Mike Holmes stepped in and drew issue 5 the month we got married - but it has been a huge part of our lives. It was daunting at first, but now we have a lot of work to look back on that proves we can do it, and also gives us a goal to meet, or hopefully surpass.
CA: The two of you have a really interesting workflow on Adventure Time where a lot of your art duties overlap. Can you kind of break down your typical (or atypical) process?
SP & BL: Sure! From the start, we were both really eager to have a hand in drawing this comic so we found a way to collaborate each step of the way. When we get Ryan's script, the two of us sit down together at a computer with mirrored displays and work up the layout in Manga Studio. Once we have a rough idea of the page and panel composition we each claim different pages to pencil, and send the penciled book off to Ryan and Shannon, our editor, for feedback. We divvy up inking and coloring, between us — Braden’s primarily on colors and Shelli on inks.
CA: You also just launched The Midas Flesh with AT writer Ryan North. Is your process the same on that book as Adventure Time, or have you sorted out another way of teaming up on art?
SP & BL: We’ve struck a different balance of work for The Midas Flesh. The subject matter is right up Braden’s alley with sci-fi tech, alien worlds, and dinosaurs running around so he’s handling pencils and Shelli’s on inks and color. We still like working together on layouts at the beginning to make sure we have the best visual storytelling that two brains can produce.
CA: As a guy who has been married to a creative person for several years himself, I must ask. How do you handle inevitable deadline-related stresses and/or squabbles as a collaborating couple? Since you are still relative newlyweds, feel free to lie and say you never argue.
SP & BL: We’ve learned a lot, working together on this series for so long. And since we’ve noticed more people collaborating on art as a team, we’d like to offer these folks some advice for keeping the workflow and the relationship healthy.
- First, Make sure everyone’s on the same page before starting the project. We’ve resolved a lot of our chronic problems by collaborating on layouts (similar to thumbnails) at the outset, so there's no surprises when a deadline is breathing down our necks.
- We also find it’s beneficial to frankly say what aspects of the page or elements are important to you, and giving each other a few veto votes — for instance Shelli is particular when it comes to consistent character designs and Braden often pushes to incorporate more elements into a panel to reinforce the scene or the action.
- When you’re working with people who have different strengths (i.e. human beings), recognize your own strengths, as well as your weaknesses. And be proud of your partner's strengths, and allow them to be the authority on that skill. Putting your ego aside allows for a speedier workflow. This one of the reasons we started working together, because we're already honest with each other as a couple.
- Always be willing to change the way you work if you're working as a team, for the sake of the project. We believe we make good comics because of the thought that goes into every page, and our shared commitment to good, clear, and inventive visual storytelling. The way we work together means that not only are our voices are equally matched, but they sound good together.
- Collaborating closely on a creative project is not for everyone, but if you're coming up in comics, you might consider working that way for the benefits of involving two creative minds. If you do, start early, as it can take a while to get used to. And yes, stress will find its way in, especially when deadlines loom. Manage stress, notice your partner's stress and address it. Over all, respect the person you're working with, whether you're married to them or not.
And for the record, we never argue. We just have IDEA BATTLES.
CA: The two of you, along with Ryan, were nominated for a Harvey last year and you won an Eisner. How have these success and others -- like AT's continued sales, etc. -- shaped how you see yourselves as artists?
SP & BL: We feel grateful to be part of such a strong team; from our editor who gave us the chance to draw it, to Ryan North whose amazing scripts inspire us, to all the people who created the hugely inventive show, not to mention the fans who have followed it into a whole new medium. All that great energy makes our job so easy and fun.
CA: What's the most rewarding thing that's come out of your time on Adventure Time?
SP & BL: It’s got to be the people we meet, and the impact this comic has on them. For so many kids, this is their first comic, whether they came to it from the show or from a parent who’s read comics for years. We’ve met families who read the comic together. We’ve even heard from parents who say that their child has struggled with reading, and the Adventure Time comic has helped them to keep trying.
CA: On the flip side, what's been the biggest challenge about working on the same book for more than 25 issues straight?
SP & BL: Balancing work and personal life can be tough, especially when working with the schedule of an ongoing monthly comic. However, we managed to do some traveling recently by staying with Braden’s sister in England for a month for a change of scenery. We planned to work there during the week on our other comic projects and visit the country on weekends. It felt like the ideal month to take a break from Adventure Time, but then the script for issue 20 — drawn from one character’s perspective — reeled us back in of course. Every fifth issue gives us a little revitalizing burst actually because we get a chance to play with the comics medium.
CA: Has your relationship with the show evolved since you began working on the comic? Do you watch new episodes with a fan mentality or do you feel like you're studying?
SP & BL: Absolutely. We still enjoy it as fans, but we definitely notice different things, knowing we’re going to be drawing the same characters. We especially pick up on Jake’s variations, since he’s fun to draw. Overall we’re challenged by how fresh and imaginative they keep the show. For instance, "The Vault" was a really inspiring episode. It hit a note that perhaps the comic has not, with some new and interesting design elements, and a new character who carried the whole story. Minds were blown, and it raised the bar for us.
CA: While the AT comic team works kind of independently from the staff of the TV show, at this point you've gone to enough conventions that I have to imagine you've met or interacted with a number of the folks who work on the cartoon -- especially given how many of them also make comics. What's your relationship like with those creators and what do you think it lends to your work on the comic?
SP & BL: We haven’t had the chance to interact with many people involved in the show, but we take notice when their individual styles pop up on the cartoon. We’re often inspired by the work of the artists both on and off the screen. Braden developed the gum effects in the most recent story arc based on the art style of Michael DeForge.
CA: I mentioned The Midas Flesh earlier, but are there any other projects either of you are working on in 2014 that our readers should know about?
SP & BL: Over the coming year we’ll be illustrating a graphic novel for First Second and developing an original young adult comic, although we’re not sure either of those will be on shelves in 2014. Braden is the colorist for Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel Sisters, which will be out this September. So we’re staying busy!