Sunday, January 28, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Devilish Jennie Breeden - An Interview

I first noticed the work of this week’s guest several months ago when I first stumbled across her web comic through a link from one of my other favorite web comics. She then became an epidemic in my gaming group after a number of our members returned from Dragon Con enraptured in her work.

She is one of the most talented writer/artists in the business today and, as I found out when I accidentally ran into her at Wizard World Texas, a fun person to talk to in real life. It gives me great pleasure to present the woman behind the arguably unholy, definitely not pornographic but most assuredly hilarious The Devil’s Panties - Jennie Breeden!

Starman: Where are you from originally?

Jennie: I grew up in Virginia, went to college in Savannah (because it was warm, pretty, and had comics as a major) and then moved to Atlanta for the opportunities.

Starman: Tell us, as much as you are comfortable, about your early life.

Jennie: (laughs) It wasn't until college that I realized that my early life wasn't "normal". I thought everyone had totem pole stone sculptures, cemented stained glass and concrete sculptures in their front yard.

We were kinda hippies. My mom did stained glass (until she got to her third kid and had to put it aside until about 15 years later) and my dad sculpts soap stone. His studio started in the garage and, as we got older, it grew out from there until it was the same size as the house.

There were five kids in the house and you couldn't keep shoes (or in the summer, clothes) on us. I thought sun bathing was putting one of my dads plastic tubs he used for fountains in the front yard and fill it with water and then bathe in the sun. (Yeah, I'm special). We painted the car with birds and horses (or in my brother’s case skulls and bloody roses) instead of fixing the damage from a car accident.

The only odd thing about all of us becoming artists is like a banker having all his kids become bankers. The only way to rebel in my family was to wear suits and marry a Republican. Good God, my sister brought a Republican home for dinner once. It was like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Starman: Sounds like you have art in your blood. Did you ever consider anything apart from being an artist? Was is just pretty much an instant "mom and dad do this and I want to do this" or was there a "Maybe I'll be a veterinarian" or some-such phase?

Jennie: I wanted to be a professional dancer. Though the dancing dropped of mid high-school, I got about 10 years of dance class in. On the SAT’s, where it asked about what you want to go to college for, I think I put dancer and artist. Not much else.

I had always doodled in my sketchbook and made up stories. I'd think the stories up during English class or walking down our driveway from the bus (half-a-mile of gravel) and then draw scenes out. No panels or anything - just snippets from the story in my head, then I'd write it out on the computer.

When my mom said I had to go to college I started looking at the college flyers that came in backed on my answers on the SAT. I saw the big book sent by SCAD and all the pretty pictures and squealed when I saw a couple pages from the Sequential Department.

My mom and dad and I went to visit Savannah for my birthday. My B-day is in January, when our home in Virginia is usually under snow. We stripped down to shirts and jeans when we hit Savannah and I looked at my mom and said "I want to go here."

I liked my classes and comic books but didn't really know what I was going to do with it until third year. My roommate showed me his web comic. Even then, I saw it as mostly as a way to draw every day so my skill didn't fade. It wasn't until three years later that I realized I could make a meager living out of it.

Starman: How were you introduced to comics?

Jennie: In first grade, I met a girl who introduced me to comics and I started raiding my brother’s comic boxes. Every Christmas my oldest brother still rags on me for using his Conan book as a coloring book.

Starman: Why Conan out of everything else in the box?

Jennie: Conan is printed black and white on newsprint. Exactly what coloring books are on. Nice texture on the page to grip the crayon and it's not glossy so it hold color better. And it is magazine sized for more space, making the images not so small that an 8 year old can't stay inside the lines.

Starman:And that helped you learn to read and eventually to start making your own comics?

I learned how to read using my brothers Elf Quest books. I read all their DP7, Conan, and Next Men. My best friend introduced me to Asterix and Obelix, TinTin, Pogo and X-Men.

It's a natural progression from making up stories and drawing them to comic book artist. I got a flyer for The Savannah College of Art and Design with a section on Sequential Art and I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Starman: So you have some professional training as an artist?

Jennie: Degree in Sequential Art from from SCAD. It was fun but I think I've learned more from just drawing for a couple hours every day for 5 years.

Starman: What made you decided to create your own comic?

Jennie: In college, instead of a journal, I'd draw about what funny things happened. Later, a roommate showed me his web comic. (The roommate in question is Chris Daily, author of another Keenspot hosted comic; Striptease.) When he said the word "fan mail", then I knew I wanted to do one too.

Starman: What superheroes did you like growing up? Do you have a favorite?

Jennie: Wonder woman and She-Ra. I'd punch the bottoms out of Dixie Cups and wear them as arm bands, knocking away invisible bullets and riding away on my flying pink horse. My sisters and I even got Wonder Woman red undershirts with the yellow eagle and blue undies with white stars on them. That's all I wore for a week. The things that a six-year old can get away with.

Starman: Having spent most of my sixth year insisting that I had to be wearing my Batman Underoos with the Batman shirt and cape whenever I watched Challenge of The Superfriends, I can agree. Quite honestly, I was expecting your answer to be Batman given Jennie in the comic wears a Batman shirt most of the time. Do you have any favorite male heroes?

Jennie: I like the IDEA of Batman but I don't read his comics because he's a dick. I like that he can take on Superman and he doesn't have any powers (except unlimited money). And he came about at about the same time as Superman and yet he's this anti-hero, kinda, and really dark.

Favorite male heroes though? I'm not big on spandex. I like Invincible but beyond that it's all Constantine and Sandman - both assholes. My comic pull list is all Castle Waiting and Strangers in Paradise, Fables and (anything) that Jill Thompson does. None (of those) really have any defined male heroes.

David's hella cute though. And the pirate prince in Polly and the Pirates is super hot. Yes, my first crush was on Strongbow in ElfQuest. Oh, and Gambit. Though I don't think lust counts as favorite male superhero material.

Starman: I think it does. Otherwise, my first crush on Barbara Gordon would just be creepy and weird. As long as we’re talking comics, who are your favorite comic book writers and artists and why?

Jennie: Neil Gaiman, because he writes for adults and pays attention to detail. Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), because he puts every-day details in his art, like a character picking tobacco off of her tongue after lighting up a cigarette. Jill Thompson, particularly Scary Godmother for her use of watercolor. And Amanda Conner (The Pro, Power Girl, Two Step) because the woman can tell whole stories with her background art.

Starman: What are your favorite comics right now (web-based and print)?

Jennie: Invincible, Fables, Y The Last Man, Castle Waiting, Strangers in Paradise, Bite Me and Wapsi Square.

Starman: You are offered a chance to guest-write any pre-existing comic created by another person. Which one would you choose and why?

Jennie: Common Grounds by Troy Hickman

Starman: Now that’s a surprise given how few people I know who have never even heard of Common Grounds. Why that particular title?

Jennie: It looks at the hero universe from a TOTALY different angle. It features stories about overweight heroes, homeless used-to-be heroes and a story about a superhero saving a guy by sitting down and talking to him and ASKING him what's wrong (and just generally) showing us that you can be a hero by just helping someone.

Invincible does that sometimes. His mom can't remember if it's hot or cold water to wash his spandex suit in - A guy he's carrying while flying points out that it's uncomfortable to be held under the arms. And one of the teachers uses their real names when confronted by the heroes. When asked how he knew who they were, he said something like "Oh come on! You're not even wearing a mask and YOU only have your eyes covered."

Starman: Let’s move on to some personal questions. What are your favorite colors?

Jennie: Blue and purple. Mostly blue. I do paintings of people for Sunday art sometimes on my webcomic and blue is so versatile. you can do an entire painting in just blue and get so many different shades.

Starman: What and who inspire you?

Jennie: Wendy Pini (Elf Quest), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), David Mack (Kabuki), Rodin, Paul Taylor (Wapsi square), and my parents. Dad for doing what he loved no matter what and Mom for never letting anything get in her way.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest strengths as a person?

Jennie: I'm a little weird. It keeps me sane.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest weaknesses as a person?

Jennie: I'm a little weird.

Starman: What is the oddest experience you've ever had, not necessarily relating to comics?

Jennie: It had to do with pirates and a "finger" puppet. That's all I have to say about that.

Starman: And that's all I have to ask about THAT. What are some of your favorite things?

Jennie: Popcorn. Anything with flames on it. CSI at the moment. And the writer Tamora Pierce.

Starman:Have you read the new White Tiger series she is writing for Marvel Comics?

Jennie: WHAAAAAA?? Is it out? How many issues? How far are they going with it?

Starman: In order, yes, three issues so far and it’s a six issue mini-series. Going to the other end of the spectrum, what are some of your least favorite things?

Jennie: People who think that conforming is the only way to be happy. Retail. And Cheesecake. Sorry.

Starman: Cheesecake the food or Cheescake the art? And don't say sorry if you mean the art - I'm not a fan of the pin-up either. I still get angry mail from Frank Cho fans for a review I wrote four years ago, for crying out loud...

Jennie: People who like cheescake are rabid and I might lose some fans for saying it, but I'd rather give my cheesecake food to my boyfriend who appreciates it.

And Frank Cho's anatomy art is breathtaking. It's just a shame that he only draws one girl.

Starman: You know, that was pretty much what I said that caused the Cho fans to declare Jihad? But this isn’t about me, so getting back to you...What special talents do you have (that we can discuss in print) apart from your art?

Jennie: I can remember the story of any TV show or movie, but I can never remember the name or the name of the people- welcome to my dyslexia. I make kick-ass pancakes and French toast but I burn everything else that I try and cook.

Starman: What is your best story involving the craziness of working in a comic book shop that never made it into the comic?

Jennie: I post anything I think of to the comic. Even if I think it's bad or stupid, someone seems to like it. On the other hand, I post things I think are brilliant and people don't seem interested in them.

No, if I thought it was crazy, it's in the comic. The strangest thing was a guy with handlebar mustache and a big white boy fro and yellow patrol officer sun glasses asked me if we had books on hypnotists. I put that in the comic.

Starman:Well, I ask because my favorite cartoon of yours features a little girl with her mom and brother in a comic shop asking her mom if she can get a book and being told "No, comics are for boys." Was this a common problem at your store?

Jennie: That comic is word for word from life. This wealthy blond family comes in and the little boy in an alligator shirt goes for the Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The little blond girl with bows in her hair and patent leather Mary Jane shoes looks down at the free comic box and asks her mom if she can have one. The mom said "no honey, comics are for boys" and I was too stunned to say anything. And there were four women behind the counter that day.

Starman: Given that, what do you think can be done to get more women interested in comics?

Jennie: Fables and Y The Last Man are just good comics. Everyone who reads them love them (well, Fables maybe. Y is a bit gruesome). Though I do see Manga getting kids and a lot of girls into comics.

Starman: One question comes to mind given those titles - and note that I ask this with a little bit of irony as I turned my girlfriend into a collector by buying her the first Fables trade because she’s such a wannabe fairy-tale princess.

Isn't it a little sexist to declare one book as "the thing to get a woman into comics"? I remember a few years ago when the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" comic was considered to be "the book to get your girl into comics" among a certain set of male comic fan. (Not me, for the record...)

Jennie: It's not that Fables or Y are geared towards girls. They're not! They're just two of the best written books out there. They're universal. They're not just something that gets girls into comics. Give Fables to ANYONE. your mom, your roommate, your uncle Joe. They're just good books that anyone will enjoy.

Starman: Agreed. And that comic with the mom is my favorite because I saw that sort of thing ALL THE TIME at the comic store I worked at. I did try to correct the misconception of course. That being said, do you think this attitude is dangerous as it encourages conformity and perhaps, in an indirect fashion, discourages girls from reading at all?

Jennie: (Laughs) Quite the opposite. Any time a kid is forbidden to do something, even if they don't care, that's enough incentive to get them to do it. My brothers never let me play D&D with them, so I hunted it out and started playing. If they had let me play, I'd probably have gotten bored with it.

Starman: Getting back to your comic, were you expecting the positive response you have seen to
your work over the past few years?

Jennie: Nope. I thought my comic was too "in joke" and personal for anyone to get or identify with. I was shocked to get letters from men and women all over the world who accused me of stalking them, my stuff was so identical to their life. Stuff I thought that I was the only one weird enough to do.

Starman: Is the readership of The Devil's Panties predominantly male, female or fairly balanced?

Jennie: Based on the map results on Frapper, it's really close considering the comic industry is almost all males. Though I have seen female fans double in the past couple of years. But it looks like 60/40 on Frapper. More guys than girls but not by much.

I'm also surprised by the range of age. At the Boston Convention, I had two green haired teenage girls, a big biker guy, a mother of two, a jock boy and two 48 year old women all say that they totally identified with my comic and it reminded them of themselves. I'm still awestruck by the diversity.

Starman: Say you get a call from Cartoon Network about creating a Devil's Panties cartoon. Who would you want to voice the characters?

Jennie: The devil would be Antonio Banderas. Will might be John Cusack. Jesus might be the guy who played Lebowski in Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). I have no idea, but now that I think about it.

I think the angel devil girls might be British. Angel would be the upper class British and the Devil girl would be the kind of British that you have no idea what they're saying.

The character Jen might be the voice actress who does Buttercup (from PowerPuff Girls) who was in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Elizabeth Daily). It's hard to think about the embodiment of your own voice.

Starman: Have you gotten any odd and/or creepy request from your fans?

Jennie: I have no idea if he was a fan but back when I offered comic commissions for $20 (too much work and don't have time anymore) someone asked for a 24-page comic book and paid me the $20. He sent me a script for a fully illustrated porn. I tried to explain to him that the $20 was for 4 panels maximum, not 24 pages.

Starman: You have some of the most interesting tie-in merchandise I’ve seen anywhere – I have to ask what prompted the creation of the "Kilts with Leaf-Blowers" calendar? Was it a counter to the infamous Chainmail Bikini Girl Calendar?

Jennie: Honestly, I can't really remember. It was at the time that the Pink Dreadlock Girl Pirate and I were playing the pirate drinking game. If you see a guy in a kilt or a pirate, you take a drink. 1 out of 4 people at DragonCon is in one or the other and there's 30,000 people there. You get drunk in under 5 minutes whoever you are. I think she mentioned it but the drinking may be why I can't remember.

Starman: What advice would you have for anyone who wants to go into the comic business?

Jennie: Get a versatile portfolio. Not just fight scenes or car chases. Show you can also make a card game interesting and maybe show different styles of work, cartoony and realistic. Know who you're pitching to and decide what goes in your portfolio based on that. Don't send Walking Dead art to a Disney publishing house.

Find a writer and illustrate his/her story as an example of your work and dedication. A lot of publishers will go with the ON-TIME artist more than a very talented, but late, artist. (Not that I’m saying you all are not talented)

Mostly, keep trying. It may take many many years. Listen to what the portfolio review guys tell you at Cons. My mom would say "you need a stack of rejections two inches high before you start getting the acceptance letters."

Starman: What's on your schedule? Any Con appearances coming soon?

Jennie: Yes. Lots. I'm hitting MegaCon in Orland next and doing some in Canada, England, Texas and New York. I just hope I have time to sleep at some point. There's 17 conventions on my list for this year so far.

Starman: Finally, what can we expect in the future from you? Any big special projects I can get the scoop on? ;)

Jennie: There’s a graphic novel based on the first six comic books, but that will be another couple months. We still have to edit the 288 pages down, change the page numbers and send it to print overseas. I've also started on a new deck of cards.

I’d like to thank Jennie Breeden once again for her time and patience and wish her the best of fortune. For more of Jennie’s wit and wisdom, point your browser to

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