Dropping The Cool Veneer: Becky & Frank Welcome You To The World of Capture Creatures [Interview]
Frank Gibson and Becky Dreistadt have established themselves as a creative team who excel at making a lighthearted, adorable comics with their work on Tiny Kitten Teeth and their Little Golden Book-esque publication of Tigerbuttah. In 2013, they were part of a crowdfunding campaign with Benign Kingdom for an art book titled Capture Creatures, which is launching this week as a new comic book series from Boom! Studios.
The story follows Tamzen as she says goodbye to the place she lives, as she's planning to move to the city to live with her mom. There's something not quite right about this place, however, which we're introduced to through a humorous chase scene. It's that, and Tamzen's introduction to her first creature, that set the stage for the series. As a first issue, there's a lot here to offer readers and encourage them to keep reading. Mysteries abound but they're not so mysterious that the reader feels unwelcome. This world is welcoming, but it's not giving away all its secrets just yet, which is a good thing when you're launching a series. The issue feels fast-paced but meaty - it is both a quick read and satisfying. Starting the issue with a chase scene is exciting and gives an efficient look at the setting while also establishing some basic story beats. There's a sense of Tamzen's rebellious personality quite quickly, as well as what her relationship with the other characters is.
Capture Creatures is a lot like Pokemon, but with an artistic flair and quirk that Pokémon usually lacks. The comic is a slight departure from most of Becky & Frank's other creator-owned work in that they are working with a larger, more traditional comics team so there is an inker and a colorist, rather than Becky painting the work. Still, the style of the book unmistakably has Becky's fingerprints all over it, even if it is a smoother, more classically comic book style. The art is open, adorable, bright, and fun. Inker Kelly Bastow and colorist Tracy Liang clearly understand Becky's work and use their skills to enhance it. In other hands, an artist like Becky might be smothered if the team pushed a more smoothed, rendered aesthetic a la more mainstream comics. Bastow and Liang are a great compliment to Becky's strengths, however.
The storytelling is easy to follow, with a lot of large and dynamic panels. Each human character is very distinct in their design, which also makes the story easy to follow. The lead character, Tamzen, is a person of color and a young girl, while the sidekick she takes on almost immediately is a nervous young geek boy. The cast also includes Tamzen's father and his coworkers at the lab as well as her's arch-nemesis. Plus, of course, there are the creatures, including an adorable red panda-esque creature named Bon Bon Fire.
The lettering, by Britt Wilson, is also excellent. It fits the aesthetic of the book well by being a little quirky but it never sacrifices clarity for that quirk. It's a lot like the lettering on Lumberjanes in that way. Because the lettering is so easy to follow, the storytelling is so solid, and the story itself is interesting but easy to understand, this is a great book for young readers. It will appeal to older readers as well, but for parents specifically looking for books to give their kids that they will enjoy and understand, Capture Creatures is a great choice.
After giving the first issue a read, I had a quick chat with Frank about the book to learn more about the inspiration and thought behind Capture Creatures.
ComicsAlliance: You did a hardcover collection called Capture Creatures that is about to launch as a comic for Boom! How did the comic come about?
Frank Gibson: Capture Creatures was originally going to be a much, much different comic. We originally wanted to do a comic, rather than a book series. We've always been fascinated with creature fiction, both Pokémon, Digimon and otherwise. Also really bad knock-offs of both of them are interesting to me. That ended up being shelved when we started our webcomic Tiny Kitten Teeth, which is currently on hiatus while we focus on Capture Creatures and animation projects. After putting together the hardcover compendium of creatures, Boom talked to us about a Capture Creatures series. Monthly comics is what originally drew me into comics, but up until the amazing licensed comics edited by Shannon Watters started coming up, I felt the monthly comic market was mostly the domain of superheroes still. I still love superheroes, but it's not something I saw in myself. Shannon has really opened up the comics market to stories that can be inclusive of a wider audience, across genders, varied backgrounds and ages. For the kind of story we want to tell, Boom was a perfect fit and the support they've given us has been wonderful.
CA: You've done some other work with Boom! on stuff like Adventure Time and Bee and Puppycat and you've self-published your own work like Tiny Kitten Teeth and Tigerbuttah - what are the differences for you in working on something you have created on your own but with a publisher?
FG: Having a team is the biggest difference right now, also having to produce work regularly (as I'm sure our editors can attest to). One of the big differences is not having to go through crowd-funding or take on other work to fund our passion projects. Our passion project is front and center right now, which is great! Also having promotional backing is really refreshing, I'm used to yelling about myself on the internet a lot. I'm learning to chill a bit and spend more time doing the work itself.
CA: Obviously you have a delightful predilection for telling stories featuring cute animals. What is it about that you love?
FG: We grew up in pet houses, we love animals, we love zoos, we love cartoon animals. It's an influence we both hid originally, even from each other, as we were trying to be serious people making serious work, but over the years we've dropped our cool veneers and just shared the things we love with people. It's hard putting that little bit extra of yourself in the work, it leaves you vulnerable, but it's more rewarding.
CA: Art-wise, the Capture Creatures comic is a little more traditionally comic-y than much of the other art you've done on work like Tigerbuttah and Tiny Kitten Teeth. Why did you go that route?
FG: Both Becky and I have pure comics backgrounds, I wanted to write the '90s underground style books and Becky studied in college at SCAD. I tried to write a Masters thesis on comics too. When Becky graduated, our work changed as we tried single panel and limited panel comics to showcase Becky's painting ability, which is what we came to be known for. We both love our painted work, but it's unsustainable for long-form stories. In particular we've watched many French comic albums transition from painted to digital because of time constraints. Rather than change Tiny Kitten Teeth to fit into something we could do more frequently, we wanted to start a new project that would challenge us in telling longer stories, with more characters and deeper world building. Becky still paints the covers though and there are many traditional media elements to the Capture Creatures book as well. It's more comic pages in two months than we put out in the past two years, which is crazy and wonderful.
CA: Obviously Pokémon is an influence on the world of Capture Creatures. What would you say to fans of Pokémon to lure them into reading Capture Creatures? What would you say to non-fans of Pokémon?
FG: For fans of Pokémon, I hope we successfully capture the potential of that world. When you have so many different creatures, their effect on the world should be felt in a number of different ways. I want characters who evolve and grow and change the world in real ways. Their actions have consequences. For non-fans, I'm sure they'll be fine, they're immediately see Becky, Kelly, Tracy and Britt have put together one of the most beautiful comics I've ever seen. I'm really proud of the work they're doing.
CA: In the first issue, we're introduced to a strange world that is being rebuilt, a sassy heroine, and of course an adorable animal. What else is in store for Capture Creatures readers?
FG: We're very mysterious! Issue #2 has more action than I think we've ever put in a comic book, we're beginning to learn more about our extended cast. Lots more mysteries, but we'll be revealing all sorts of things as we go along, you won't have to wait a hundred issues to work out where the creatures came from.
CA: The main character of the book is a person of color and a girl - was diversity something that was important to you when developing the cast?
FG: Diversity is incredibly important to Becky and I, we think it's really important for everyone to feel represented across every form of media. North American mainstream comics have been pretty sketchy on representing women in leading roles at all up until recently, especially women of any other ethnicity. I feel like every creator has a responsibility to make inclusive work. Also you can see bits of yourself in so many characters, regardless of how they look, but for some reason it's always just white guys. Women of every ethnicity shouldn't have to look for parts of themselves in white guys every day. Stories about an upper middle-class white dude's power fantasies and a woman who exists only to be pursued are perhaps the least compelling stories that can be told in comics, but they get told over and over again.
CA: You work very closely together and primarily make comics only with one another. What is your workflow like when you're making comics?
FG: For over five years Becky and I shared a single desk, which was really fun. We got a bigger computer, so now we have back to back desks. A lot of projects start off with what Becky wants to draw. She pretends she isn't a writer, but the ideas all connect, I just end up taking her character designs and settings, nailing down a story and writing from there. It's a very organic workflow, for a change I have to keep track of pages, due to the book being a monthly comic. The work style evolves over time, I used to break things down panel by panel, but now it's just by page and I leave more of the staging to Becky. We go back and forth in conversation throughout the day, which is a luxury, but we've had to be more specific on the page than we're used to, to make it easier for the team to work on the book.
CA: What's next for you?
FG: We're both working in animation right now, but Capture Creatures is our primary focus. Maintaining a long term project is really new for us and we're enjoying the challenges that brings. I want to keep on doing Capture Creatures forever in some capacity, I'm sure the project will change over time and I'm really excited to see where it goes.