Shawn Bracebridge – The Cat’s Pyjamas and Other Stories

I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Dublin-based artist and illustrator, Shawn Bracebridge. With his distinctive style and eye for the quirky, Shawn’s artwork combines beautiful echoes of previous decades of graphic design with a vibrant, contemporary edge. 

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1. How did you get started?

For as long as I can remember I have always been drawing. My father is a very talented painter, which is where I initially found inspiration. I have always had a very active imagination which always adds to my creativity. When I finished school I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in art. I initially wanted to study animation, while I do have a strong interest and love for animation I quickly discovered that the process wasn’t exactly for me so I took a step back and decided to try my hand at oil painting. I fell in love with painting for a while and even thought about pursuing a career in concept art for video games as I was creating a lot of fantasy inspired landscapes, but like animation I fell out of love with it and grew impatient. I started to explore my options a bit more and decided to look into graphic design as I wanted to gain some skills in the digital format. Graphic design really stood out and excited me so I decided to study it. I leaned everything I could about poster design, stationary design, branding and identity, typography, colour theory etc. After a few years of exploring graphic design and struggling to find some work I started to miss drawing and putting my imagination to work, so I put graphic design on hold and jumped right into illustration. I’m still relatively new to the field but I am very excited to see where this journey brings me in the future.

2. Who or what are your major inspirations?

My major inspirations in the world of art/design/illustration would be Saul Bass, the legendary graphic designer and illustrator who created some of the most amazing movie posters for film makers such as Hitchcock and Otto Preminger. Saul was where I found inspiration and drive for illustration itself. Peter Donnelly from Dublin is also another big hero of mine, having worked on one of my favourite childhood movies, The Land Before Time. He also has a series of beautiful picture books, The President’s Glasses and The President’s Cat, which are very reminiscent of the travel books created by another inspirational illustrator, Miroslav Šašek. Aside from other artists, what inspires me at the moment is music, jazz especially. I recently just discovered my interest in jazz and that in turn helped me find this 50’s/60’s inspired style of illustration. I have a deep love for comics, sci fi and fantasy which all factor in as inspiration for me too.

3. How would you describe your style?

My style is always slightly changing as I find different subject matter to work from, but I would say that my style definitely draws heavily from mid century style illustration. I look at illustrators like Saul Bass as sources for inspiration, especially with hand made typography. I always try to put my own spin on different styles that stand out to me, bringing a modern but ”retro” look to it. I’m always thinking of new ways I can change my style up slightly just to keep it fresh and exciting.

4. How do you work?

I currently work digitally but I try to start off with a simple pencil sketch on paper whenever working on a new project. I feel like i’ve neglected my sketchbook quite a bit since I started working digitally but I am working to get back to drawing with just ink and paper. I find sketchbooks to be a necessary tool as you may get an idea while taking the train or bus and you can quickly scribble it down and take note before developing it into a completely finished piece. While working digitally I try to keep my digital illustrations almost organic, my work doesn’t tend to have a highly digital polish at the end.

5. Can you talk us through some examples of your work?

print mockup bowie
Here is an illustration I created representing my favourite musical icon, David Bowie. This illustration was inspired by the music video for ‘Modern Love’ from his album ‘Let’s Dance’. As well as being a highly influential musical artist, he was a fantastic style icon and I just love everything about his look in this image, so naturally I decided to sketch it and then eventually turned it into a print.
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Kamasi Washington, another favourite of mine. Kamasi is an American jazz saxophonist and musician. I just find everything about this mans music simply amazing. I always thought that he had a quite an interesting look, much like my David Bowie design, so I wanted to capture the bright colours and interesting outfits that he is known to wear.
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The Cat’s Pyjamas is a comic book series that me and my friend Kevin started together, it’s set against a 1960’s backdrop with jazzy undertones and is representative of cartoons such as the ones you might see from Hannah Barbera and The Pink Panther. There is much more to come of this!

6. What are you currently working on?

Right now i’m working on some more music inspired pieces. I’m creating a small collection of new prints that I will soon have available through my online store and whatever various markets I may take part in throughout the next few months. I’m also developing my comic series The Cat’s Pyjamas which will be an ongoing project for the foreseeable future!

7. What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are not quite certain at the moment but I am excited at the same time. I hope to make more of a name for myself and meet more people through this field. I have ideas for more books that I wish to make in the future (hopefully sooner rather than later) I’ll also look into getting them published at a later stage, but for now I’ll keep on exploring ideas and creating more work!

Many thanks to Shawn for giving us such a fascinating insight in to your work. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Good luck for the future.

Shawn Bracebridge Illustration A4

If you want to stay up to date with Shawn’s progress with The Cat’s Pyjamas and his other projects then you can find him on Instagram.

If you are interested in buying some of Shawn’s work then you can find his online store on Bigcartel.

THE READER IS THE FINAL COLLABORATOR – SOMA: EDEN & TWO PUGS PUBLISHING

Hi Everyone

Ray at XmasToday’s guest post comes courtesy of Ray Roche from Two Pugs Publishing. You can follow Ray and his comic book adventures on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Ray has kindly agreed to give everyone an insight into how he writes. He has also kindly supplied some artwork from his latest publication SOMA: Eden. Fiona Boniwell of Boniwell Graphics supplied the cover. The art is by Michael Arbuthnot.

Ray sells his comics via his Facebook page as well via email at esper211@hotmail.com. The comics are also available to buy at the following shops: Comic Vault in Cork City, Celtic Comics in Portlaoise, and Comicbook Guys in Belfast. Ray has a new comic coming out very soon. Dem Bones is about a pair of Detectives tracking a child abducting serial killer in Dublin, government and religious cover-ups and it’s a comedy.

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THE READER IS THE FINAL COLLABORATOR

Ray Roche

When someone asks me where I get my ideas I am always flippant. I tell them that when a Mammy-idea and a Daddy-idea love each other, they get married and I just wait until Mammy-idea isn’t looking and steal the baby-idea from under her prodigious rump.

The average person will either say that they couldn’t do what I do, or wow you have some imagination. We all have the ability to lie. Writers have the talent to think up a really, great lie.

Writing comics is different to writing prose, long or short form, but it is still writing. The rules of comics are odd, but they have a cog-meeting-cog feel to them that works. Follow them along the conveyor belt and what comes out of the machine is a story you can show to someone else and they might just like it. We call these people The Readers. They provide the final element in the formula, the thing that makes the alchemy work.

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 THE WRITING PROCESS or CRAFTING THE LIE

My process for writing is a little different to most others in that I start with an idea. I know, sounds tritely obvious but how many times do we overhear a conversation about a book or a film that goes like this?…

The new Stephen King book/movie? What’s it about?

Well, this killer clown preys on children in a small Maine town…

No, that would be the plot. Not an answer to “what’s it about?”

My process is simple. I look at things around me and make lists. Last year, I wrote my first comic. I made a list of genres that I wanted to write about. Top of that list was “Robot Love”. I made a free association game out of it, writing ideas on post-its, dozens of them. Then I read them again. I was very surprised to see that I had written “Grief” on one of those square yellow traitors. I like to think of my subconscious as a Mad Scientist’s lab, beakers and Bunsen burners and a Tesla machine in the corner making ZZZZZZT-crackle noises. I even imagine there is an electro-pop soundtrack playing as the scientist, who is wearing industrial strength black rubber gloves as he plunges his hand into a cauldron and hurls spaghetti ideas at the wall. He pauses each time and counts to ten. If the spaghetti sticks he scrapes it off and emails it to my conscious where I (like everyone else) check my emails every week or so. I asked myself what grief meant to me and it brought me to my Mother.

Mothers are wonderful things. They try to protect us, stop us falling out the nest, or being taking by baby-idea-stealing passers-by. Sometimes they refuse to accept that their sons need to grow up and make their own mistakes, their own path to whatever conclusion is waiting. I wrote Mother-Son relationship on a new list and made the decision that this story was about my relationship with my Mother.

Now I knew what it was about but what’s next?

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PAINT TUBES

I think of this as the tube of paint in the art shop step. I have the idea, but it’s concentrated, almost bitter, now I need to spread it on a canvas so other people can stand back and go “Oh, yeah… I see what he means.” The canvas I chose was a favourite get on a soap box and rant of mine: Manifest Destiny. Do we have the right go anywhere and take what someone else has, just because we can? And. AND, can we really justify it by saying God said it’s ok? We SHOULD take because it’s our duty to do it.

So, I was going to paint this Mother-Son story across a Manifest Destiny as yet blank canvas. I had to decide a few things first.

 

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

I made more lists.

When is it set? Where is it set? When and where would be a Mutually Assured Destruction contract. I could set it in war-torn Germany at one of those bendy-metal gate  camps or I could Moebius strip time and throw robots at the problem with nothing but the phonebook as a guide. When you make lists, they start to propagate themselves. I couldn’t decide, so… I made a list of my favourite robots.

GUESS WHO?

It was about eliminating choices, seeing what was left. My robot list included the pre-Terminator girl from Metropolis, Captain Kirk’s old girlfriend now a shell of herself from the episode “What are little girls made of…?” and Rachael from Blade Runner. None of them seemed maternal. Even the Stepford Wives (the original) didn’t have that organically grown mother-specific love I was looking for. But, there was one character that did. I had written short stories about this character over 40 years ago and I remembered a novella with a robot’s internal monologue as she watches a team of surgeons operate on her surrogate son, Jon Sorrenson. This was Soma. This was kismet.

I needed to isolate them to forge that mother-child bond in the reader’s mind. I turned to space. Every decision seemed a practical one. The story needed this, therefore that must happen. A ship carrying colonist worked within the manifest destiny theme. Soma and Jon needed roles.

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BREAKFAST ROLES

The colonists were going to land on a virgin planet. Their mission came from a deity in the sky – The Ship. The ship’s AI would scan the world before they landed. It knew all. It was God-like. The ship could approach the world but was forever kept from it. It needed an agent, to travel among the people, guiding. Soma was ubiquitous. Being a robot, she would outlast the generations of colonists. I shortened her life with the boy. She became a replacement, stepping (literally in the first panel) into the role of SOMA when her predecessor is destroyed in an accident. On her first tour of the ship she meets a mewling infant, newly born as she, and the bond begins to form. She is his constant companion as he grows into a man. With the limited space in a comic I had to show him age, grow into the position of colony commander. Within a few pages it looks as if he ages from his teens, to a 25  year old, to a 35 year old on the planet, now in command.

BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END

The greater story of the ship, Soma, and the events on the planet and afterwards is too big for one comic. I couldn’t tell it all in 24 pages (though, we added 4 pages at a late stage) so what I decided to do was (taking my cue and several billiard balls from George Lucas) jump into a point in the overall arc that had a self-contained mystery and end it after an emotional plunge with another mystery. The story would now run over 4 issues, with past and future events playing out in flashback and parallel narrative.

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PROCESS SERVER

Everything in a comic has to serve a purpose or it is waste. My process is to write the last page first. That way I know how it ends and events lead up to a natural climax, not a manufactured “to be continued…” I work backwards, sketching out the plot, key points, surprises etc (a surprise in comics has to come on the left page as the reader turns it over). Then I put my characters into the situation, again working backwards. That way, things are foreshadowed. This requires a bit of juggling. Sometimes a character’s reactions do not fit, and the dialogue is switched to another character. Lastly, the dialogue. I read it out loud. If it seems stilted, it probably is. In a key scene on the bridge of the ship I use stilted dialogue to make the reader feel that something is not right here. This scene is an echo backwards and forwards in time. These people were involved in the events before the arrival of the present SOMA and will play a part in events after this episode.

I have a formula: Idea, themes, characters, location, events (plot).

When I have the formula set in my mind (and copious notes, written and on computer on everything from the character’s backstories to the level of tech used in the story) I sit down and write the plot in very simple language. No frills. A, B, C.

I give each scene a funny title. I populate the scene with the characters.

I go back, again and again over several days and fill in details under each scene heading.

I add. I add. I add until I have described everything in the scene, including intent and motive (not the same thing, I find).

I trim away the fat. In comics they say: “Kill your darlings.” Sometimes, the thing the writer is most happy with and just cannot do without is the thing that is slowing the narrative down or making it about something else, not the story.

Eventually, I break each comic page down into panels, with enough description to help, not hinder the artist, but enough to tell the story.

I rewrite, edit, rewrite, rinse, repeat.

When it feels right, I put my head in the lion’s mouth.

POV

I show it to someone else.  This is an important step in the process. The final goal is for someone to actually read the comic so it’s important to get another perspective.

Then, it’s sit back and accumulate the abundant accolades.

Soma creature attack