Paige Braddock is dedicated to comics. She’s written daily Web (and, since 2005, also print) comic Jane’s World since 1998. She’s also held down a day job in the licensing side of the industry for most of that time, at Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, and has even illustrated several Peanuts books. Finally, she runs Girl Twirl Comics, a one-woman publishing house. That’s a lot of comic for one person. One reward for that dedication is Jane’s devoted and diverse following, which reaches far beyond the demographic you might expect for a strip (an earlier example of which is shown above) with a lesbian star and a largely lesbian cast; another was Braddock’s 2006 Eisner award nomination for best artist/writer, humor.
In the first part of our interview, Braddock talks about working with Charles Schulz, balancing humor and drama, and her Eisner nomination. You know: the serious stuff. In part two of the interview, she’ll tell us about the comics she reads, her Battlestar Galactica fandom, and her forthcoming scifi/comedy comic. You, know: the fun stuff.
I have a whole list of questions here, and it starts with the usual, you know: how you got started as a cartoonist.
You know, it’s going to be a boring answer, because it’s probably the same as every other cartoonist’s: Just reading the Sunday comics and always wanting to be a cartoonist from the time I was seven.
Had you done a lot of drawing before you started with Jane’s World?
Yeah, and I’m sad to say I wasn’t very good. I like to say I’m the product of the worst public schools in the nation, you know: the ones with no art programs at all. I went to grammar school and junior high school in Mississippi. Maybe if I’d had some lessons early on it wouldn’t have taken me so long, but, being self taught, it took a little longer.
You famously worked for Charles Schulz’s studio, and even worked with Schulz himself. What was that like, and how did that influence your style and career?
I think I had pretty much settled on a style at that point, and I was even doing Jane’s World a year, maybe two years before I started this job. I think what he did was smooth off the rough edges for me.
So you actually worked with Charles Schulz?
Yeah. A couple things he said to me: one was, he hated my lettering, so I said, you know, you’re right, I’ll fix that. “Yes, sir, you’re right, I’ll fix that!” (laughs) He was a stickler for lettering. And the second thing was, I had this weird style of drawing facial expressions where I didn’t do a full-on side view, I sort of did a square three-quarter view so that you never saw their mouths really open. He suggested that I work on doing full side views with comical open mouths, and it might kind of open up this other physical humor aspect for me, and he was right.
I actually [illustrated] probably five or six Peanuts books. The first one I did was based on the Christmas special, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it very differently. When I started, what he wanted me to do was to go back and redo some of the really old books that had been done based on the animated specials. He wanted me to do a sort of a hybrid between the cel art and his comic-strip style art, because he hated the cel art.
He hated it?
Because it’s really flat when it’s in stills, and some of the body positions look really awkward. In hindsight, though, what I should have done was just not even tried to mimic the cel art at all, and just tried to work directly from his style in the strip, you know what I mean? Because the challenge was, the problem [director] Bill Melendez and those guys had was, the anatomy of Peanuts doesn’t lend itself to movement in some cases, and so they did these kind of weird hybrid poses.
I would think that walking would be tough for them.
Yeah, or reaching, or you know reaching your arms around you head or reaching up with your arms or anything that involves really short arms going around really big heads. (laughs) It doesn’t work!
How are they going to put their winter hats on with those short little arms?
I know! (laughs)
What’s your connection to Peanuts these days?
I’m the creative director for all the licensing worldwide.
So, back to your stuff: Jane’s World started out as a strip-style comic, and you ran that way for several years, right?
Well, yeah, because like every other crazy person who wants to do a comic strip, we mistakenly believe there’s still a market for that, and there’s not. There are no spaces! Papers are consolidating, they’re cutting their comic-strip spaces in half…
Is that why you switched from a strip to a pamphlet-style book?
It was for two reasons. One was the reality check, you know, the giving up, finally; you know it’s just not going to happen, I’m never going to be able to the kind of comic strip I want to do in a mainstream newspaper. It was funny: Once I gave up, I did actually make a debut in a paper, which is hilarious.
Did they print your back stuff?
Yeah, they did. And then the other reason for the change was that once I started doing it more and more, and the characters became more fleshed out, I felt a need creatively to do more long-form stories. You know, when you do a comic strip, everything is so linear, and it’s so hard to be creative and not just be talking heads all time. So that’s sort of why I decided to make the jump, just to embrace the whole comic-book culture. And it’s been really fun, too. I love it.
I’ve read through the last collection, Volume Six, and it seems to me to that when you changed formats, you moved away from the slapstick, a bit. The book’s still funny, but there’s a lot more emphasis on drama.
A little bit, it has. Actually, I was doing a little bit of self-critique in the last six months and decided that maybe I’ve gone a little too far toward drama. I want to do a combination of the two, where there is kind of this overlay of drama, but I really want to keep the humor in the book. Seven is going to be back to really funny. Volume Seven, which I’m almost finished with, is a 150-page continuous story–no reprints, it’s all new stuff. It basically ties up all these drama loose ends in humorous ways, and then it stays funny. That was my goal, to get back to that.
You were nominated for an Eisner in 2006 for best humor writer/artist.
You know, that’s probably the happiest thing that’s happened to me. Because it reminded me that what I had set out to do was a humor book, you know. It got me back on track.
Is that what spurred the soul searching?
I think I realized when I started reading back through my stuff that that’s my strength and I should just stay with it—plus, I enjoy it. If you’re going to try to create characters, which I set out to do, that sort of have a past, present, and future and families and sort of these three dimensional lives, it’s hard to make them seem authentic to people and yet humorous. You know what I mean? You just need to interject a little bit of realism and a tiny bit of drama but not get lost in it.
Obviously our life experiences our probably pretty different, but I found plenty to identify with in your book.
Well, that’s good, that makes me feel good.
A few weeks ago, one of my friends was telling me about her experiences with a life coach, and when I got to the part where Jane starts seeing a life coach, it really made me laugh.
(Laughs) I have a friend who’s a life coach, and I actually did roleplaying with her to do that whole little story line. We decided that she probably would inevitably fire Jane because she didn’t reach any of her stated goals. And I said, “You actually fire people?” (laughs) I mean isn’t that a crushing blow to somebody who already needs a life coach?
But I should finish saying about the Eisner nomination: It wasn’t about being nominated for best female hyphen cartoonist or best gay hyphen cartoonist, it was just for being funny. That was nice for me.
Right. I mean, I’m not a lesbian, and I find it funny.
And I don’t want the book to be pigeonholed for that.
Given that many of the comics that are created by lesbian authors are more political than Jane’s World…
I purposely don’t want to be political.
Do you get a pushback from the community for that?
Not really. I always wonder, though, every time I run into Alison Bechdel, who’s a friend of mine, if she thinks I’m really shallow. But I’m not! I do think sometimes you get further by being more humorous and less political, because then you seem approachable to people who wouldn’t normally read different content will read the book.
People who sadly might be put off by just the title of a book like Hothead Paisan, Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist regardless of how excellent it might be.
Or even Dykes to Watch Out For. I couldn’t even send that book to my mother, you know?
That said, who do you think your readers are, now?
I’d say it’s about 50/50 women and men, maybe even a more men than women, given the nature of the comics industry. I find since I started doing the graphic novels and working with Diamond’s book division that I’m picking up a lot more female readers through the bookstore markets, not through comic shops.
The format is very cleverly manga-sized, perfect for that market.
We did that on purpose. I give these self publishing talks at comic book conventions all the time, and I always say: pay attention to the markets and be willing to change.
Is Girl Twirl Comics a one-woman show?
Yeah, it’s mine. It’s mine, but I have this sort of fantasy, because of my Peanuts job, and, you know, having sort of some access to some capital, that at some point it could be a publisher that publishes other works by women, by or for women, you know?
Any plans in the works?
Right now it’s just a hope, but I’m hoping that in the next year or two. I might be at that point. I would just love to do that. I mean there are some grants and a few other things, but there’s not enough funding out there for people who want to self publish, who might be really good but who just can’t get it together.
[Thanks to Sarah Crumb for pointing me to the excellent article on Braddock at AfterEllen.com.]-Sean Carroll