Welcome to the unveiling of Comic Quips a review series for comics and graphic novels. This series expands upon a review series called Book Spotlight where I review groups of 2-3 books that explore something in common. But comics, to me, are their own special category, and they deserve their own special spotlight.
I wanted to start Comic Quips off with a BANG (Or perhaps a POW?) with a Q&A. Christening the Q&A with her comic, My Life to Live, is Chloe Brailsford.
Chloe Brailsford is a comic book artist with whom I had the pleasure of attending University of Texas at Austin. We were fellow film students who had a screenwriting class together, and I quickly realized through that experience how well-versed Chloe had been in film. I remember the distinct references she would make to the french filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. I realized from that experience how I should consider looking into foreign and art house films. I remember sitting at the Fine Arts Library at UT watching Godard’s Pierre le Fou. It was so wildly different than anything I had seen before. It was an experience that expanded my perspective entirely. I bring all this up because when I read My Life to Live for the first time, I thought back to that distinct moment sitting in the library.
When I purchased a copy of My Life to Live, I was happy to see Chloe’s love for cinema converge with her love for drawing. The two merge beautifully, skillfully in a story about a former criminal connecting with art on a profound level. It’s atmospheric, immersing you in little details that will make you want to revisit panels. It’s chic and studded with leather jackets. It’s an homage to great figures in film, while also feeling personable, with a sweet relationship between two women at the heart of it. In everything that it is – it feels very Chloe, an artist with a clear, distinct voice, who I am so happy was willing to offer her words on My Life to Live.
Q: What do you find special about MY LIFE TO LIVE? What does it mean to you?
A: On a purely technical standpoint, MY LIFE TO LIVE is the longest comic I have done (five times longer than any previous, at twenty pages), and the first time I feel like I truly “published” something. In that regard, this book means a lot to me! I usually burn out on projects if I don’t complete them fast enough, but that I managed to pull through and create this thing that other people now have in their possession and have read is a wild feeling which I can’t quite compare to anything else!
From the standpoint of narrative, I feel like this book is the most ME thing I have ever done, in that it hits at almost all of my narrative obsessions (those dealing with identity, nostalgia, transformations, the power of art, love, etc.), as well as certain fixations I have with aesthetics (like, ya know, babes in leather jackets). I am really happy that I was able to make something that presents all of this in such a short space – and I’d like to believe it accomplishes its goals! I think the book leaves enough room for the reader to come to their own understandings apart from everyone else; from every person I have talked with, it seems like no one person is getting the same interpretation as anyone else, which is really cool!
Q: When did you realize you wanted to make comics?
A: When the SPIDER-MAN DVD came out (2002, I think, when I was eleven or twelve), there was this special feature where all these different artists who worked on his books over the decades were chiming in with their ideas on the web-head, and it would show a lot of the art of the specific artists as they were being interviewed. What I saw blew me away, especially the drawings of John Romita, Jr., and so, following that, I would consistently ask for comics for Christmas and my birthday, and I bought a lot of sketchbooks to like GO. It was then that I wanted to draw comics!
But like…life is funny! I saw SIN CITY in theaters opening day (April 5, 2005), and I feel like my brain blew up. Here was something that could achieve what comics could, AND MORE??? And so I studied cinema for ten years, and fell out of comics hard. It wasn’t until I was almost done with film school (in 2015), that I really got back into drawing – and like, I realized how much more satisfaction I got from drawing than I ever did making movies; that kinda clenched it!
Q: What was the process like to get this comic made – from idea to publication? How long did it take?
A: The short answer is: four months. The long(er) answer is that I had been artistically stagnant for a while, and some of my friends really pushed me to keep trudging through. So I signed up for my first ever comic convention and told everyone I saw that I was gonna have a book out; I kept telling myself, “Look here, lil’ Chlo, you’re gonna get this book done or you’ll disappoint not only yourself, but everyone else, too.” Unfortunately it took a while for me to get started, but I thankfully hit upon a notion that made everything easier: maybe I should make a story about the thing I’ve poured the largest portion of my life into – movies!
From there it was just about… figuring it out and getting it done. Four months is kind of a long time to be working on a single twenty-page book, but part of that was my busy life, and the other part was my methods for creation (which I’ll go into below). As I said earlier, I have a tendency to get bored working on stuff if it takes too long, but the deadline – the knowledge that I NEEDED to get something done – was enough to keep me motivated. My friend had recommended a local print shop, and so, once the book was done, I called them up and got the dang thing printed in about a week, right before my first ever comic convention a week later!
Q: Do the designs for the characters come first, or their personalities, desires, and story come first, and then you start designing?
A: Piggybacking off my answer for the last question, one of the primary reasons my stuff takes so long is because there is literally no forethought before I put pencil to paper. I never know the narrative I am going to tell, who the characters are, what they look like, etc., until I have already drawn them – and then I am stuck with those looks because I am too lazy to change them for any reason. Hahaha
So like, I was watching Wong Kar-wai’s FALLEN ANGELS one day, and the opening shot really just struck me. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll put that in my book at some point.” Then I laid out a page, and I basically replicated the opening shot, but with different people, and was just like, “Whelp, I guess this is the beginning of my book!” It’s all very intuitive, for better or worse. (Also, that shot arrangement is in the book three times for narrative purposes)
I would get little ideas here and there about characters to show up, and how the narrative would proceed (I think the ending changed three times before I drew it and then redrew it), eventually culminating in what you can now read. Honestly, it only took twenty minutes to actually write the dialogue and captions, because the book was drawn before I did any of that, and so I had already built the entire thing.
Also, more in relating to your question, I don’t really think I can come up with a character’s desires separate from their design; design is what tells me about the character – how they think about the world around them, how they interact with others, and how they think about themselves. I think my characters either know exactly who they are, or they have specific goals to achieving that; like me, this mostly comes through in clothing, something I have been obsessed with since I was four years old. Once a character is dressed in a way that suits them, they can totally just be themselves.
Q: What do you like about the medium of comics for artistic expression that you don’t find in other mediums?
A: Tbh, it’s totally about the feeling of the hand moving across the page, and the satisfaction it brings. It’s also that it can be a totally solo endeavor; I was not ever super good about getting people to work with me on movies, and I got kinda disheartened when I would write so many movies and never push them to get made – maybe because I worried about relying on others. Sure, comics are often a collaborative medium like movies, but to tell a full narrative, you can literally do the whole thing yourself. AND you can have all the production design and costuming and hair and makeup in the world and spend next to nothing. But then again, you can just draw or paint and get that satisfaction, right?
Spending time focusing on comics meant I had to learn how to develop panels that flowed into each other, and pages that told stories in and of themselves. I have a very formalist approach to filmmaking and theory, and I try to apply that to comics, too (whether I fully do or not is another matter entirely). I like how comic pages work, and how the page turn from one to the next can literally be awe-inspiring – it can riddle the senses with excitement and anticipation that BOOM! explodes once they reach they next page – in a way that painting and drawing can’t really achieve (due to them telling a story in one image). I worked really hard on page-turns in this book to maximize the effect and feeling that a reader could experience.
Essentially, a lot of people talk about comics in the way of “I have so many stories I want to tell,” and like, I DO get that (I mean, I realized after it was done that my book was a story I had been trying to tell across various mediums for years), but for me it’s more about stirring emotion in the reader almost solely through the telling; still, though, I have to say that the design of each page, each page turn, and the formal desires of the work MUST be in service of something, and that’s the impact of the narrative, itself. I would never want to create a substantial page turn that meant nothing!
Q: Do you have any favorite comics? Comic book artists and/or writers?
A: I do, although I am substantially less knowledgable about comics than I am movies (that’s probably much to everyone’s delight, though, because I feel I can’t be half as pretentious about comics the way I used to be about movies).
The creators who most inspired the look and vibe of this book were José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo, whose works, in particular ALACK SINNER, about a private investigator in NYC in the seventies and eighties, have such a rich look that I almost can’t even read them because I get too sucked into the images. You can FEEL Muñoz’s hand in every line – a feeling that makes me just want to drop the book and go draw, myself. Those are my favorite types of artists.
I also really love Bill Sienkiewicz, whose use of multi-media and uber-expressionist forms really capture the imagination. He’s one of those artists that you just look at the work like, “OMG HOW DOES HE DO THAT?!?” And he’s also a super friendly guy, to boot!
Some of my favorite individual books are BATMAN: YEAR ONE (Mazzucchelli’s linework and Richmond Lewis’s colors are just… WHEW), ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN (one of my favorite collabs between Frank Miller and Lynn Varley), THE AGENCY (really fun and wild erotic comics by Katie Skelly), GORO issue 3 (where Sarah Horrocks creates maybe the most perfectly-moving comic book ever), and PHONOGRAM.
Q: On the first page you throw out shout-outs…what about their work influenced or inspired your comic?
A: There’s kind of a lot there. I’ll go into a few specifics, but mostly, these are artists who have shown to me new, exciting ways to tell and structure stories in ways that I don’t see from maybe more mainstream names. Film-wise, Wong Kar-Wai was easily the biggest part of the book, since the centerpiece of the book is Alice going to see his movie FALLEN ANGELS in a repertory theater – and I replicate a number of images from the film into the book. The entire front cover is a massive Godard homage, from the image itself (taken from an actual super famous shot of Godard studying a film strip through sunglasses), to the title (MY LIFE TO LIVE is the English translation of one of his most popular early works, VIVRE SA VIE); a bit of the theater sequence is also derived from his movie MASCULIN FEMININ. Hong Sangsoo, whelp, he’s my favorite living filmmaker, and he has multiple movies where he uses multiple title sequences (which, lemme tell ya, really throws you off on the first viewing). Jacques Rivette – my favorite filmmaker, period – has had more influence on how I take in and engage with stories than maybe anyone else, and the ending I feel like kind of reads like the abruptness of several of his (also, this idea of the past remaining with you comes from one of my faves of his, CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING).
With comics, obviously I have already detailed what Muñoz and Sampayo did for the book, but also Katie Skelly, Sarah Horrocks, and Erika Price are wildly independent artists whose utilizations of the comics medium have inspired me so very deeply, from something as simple as the formatting of the book itself, to the depths they reach in crafting the medium to their wills, whether in an intensely personal, almost destructive way (Price), a wild and zany way (Skelly), or a way that says, “Y’all, here’s everything I love, and here I am” (Horrocks, though, to be fair, all of these descriptions could probably describe any other of these three). In their own ways, each of them is rigorously formal in their approach (with Price being perhaps the most obvious, due to how she utilized numerology in terms of panel-count per issue), and that kind of approach to art is one I get behind incredibly willingly.
Q: How do you develop your own line style as an artist?
A: This is a kinda funny one for me to answer, because I swear I am about to tear my current methods down and change up everything I have done.
But the answer is years of practice. This book, as well as almost everything I have inked since 2015, was inked with Micron pens, each of which has a specific line weight associated (therefore they don’t really have any bend to them; the smaller the number, the thinner the line). When I started inking with them around the time I was finishing film school, I wasn’t sure what I was doing, kinda being intuitive and seeing what worked. So like, I would use like a super thick line-weight (like an 08) for bracelets, but maybe use a much smaller one (like an 01) for the actual skin. It looked…weird. Over time, I kinda got the shit down to a science, in that basically the more external the layer, the thicker the weight. So like facial/skin detailing is an 005-01, the edge lines of the body are an 02, the shirt is an 03, a jacket might be an 05, and then I mostly use 08 or a brush-tip pen for filling in heavy black spaces (detailing on any shirts or jackets will use smaller line weights). Really, I developed it this way because it was the only thing I could do that looked more or less right (the hardest thing for me to decide is which pen to use for hair!! I had a tendency of using 03, but I think I go back and forth between that and 01). But also, all of this is for full-body work. The closer you push in (like, in a close-up panel), you might bump each line-weight up a notch to compensate for your closeness to the characters.
Now, though, I am trying to rebuild my methods by using dip pens with nibs and like an actual ink bottle, as well as brushes. We’ll see what comes of it! I am almost worried that I have my “style” for linework SO down that it won’t even look too different!
Q: Did you have any location – like a specific city – in mind when building the world for this comic?
A: Very much so! In April, I took a trip to NYC, where I think I took one thousand pictures. It was a lovely trip, and it left a huge impression on this book – not that there is anything I pulled as a direct source (most of the signage in the book is a nerdy reference to a filmmaker or Charli XCX or something), but there where billboards everywhere, even on top of buildings (one major one I saw was a billboard for a Sprite/Lemonade hybrid drink and I wanted to cry because it looked so beautiful).
While there isn’t THAT much of it visible in the book, I wanted there to really feel a bit of hustle and bustle crowd work, and to make sure I was trying to do a good job of depicting different faces.
I will say that, though nothing is ever specified, and it’s technically supposed to be the exact same city, the end of the book just feels to me like LA – and probably because you go from characters watching a foreign film at a repertory theater to watching a Hollywood production – and you even get that Hollywood glitz and glam!
Q: This comic deals with identity in a lot of ways – identity on and off screen, in a relationship, and even secret identity – how do you get across theme along with so many ideas efficiently in a comic?
A: I don’t know! Haha. I’ve been obsessed with identity stuff for uhhhh a super, super, almost disturbingly long time, and so I think a thing like that is going to shine through as a primary theme in almost anything I do. To answer your question, I think a lot of it comes down to one’s approach to narrative – what drives the narrative forward, and the consequences of the narrative actually happening. So like, this is a book that I always describe as being about “the transformative experiences one can have when engaging with art.” So, okay, you have 1) a transformation, 2) the power of art; if there’s a transformation in my works, it’s likely one to do with 3) identity, and so that’s where that comes from; and if we’re discussing a transformation of identity, what about 4) the part of you that you’ve moved on from? Does it go away? Or does it linger over your life, almost something inescapable, which you can give control of your life to, or which you can choose to recognize and learn from and then not do again? I think themes wrap themselves up together with a big bow – there’s no one theme present, but I AM telling one story. Even one as short as twenty pages has enough room to throw little bits of things in here and there (whether explicitly or implicitly) that can give the reader big clues and a greater reading experience – one to really think about – even if those things are not fully fleshed out. Getting the brain going – THAT’S the goal.
Q: What’s next? Will there be more of MY LIFE TO LIVE?
A: As of this writing, I have about sold out of the first print run, but I am attending Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle in March, and so I might print more to sell there, as well as to have for others around me who’ve yet to snag up a copy. This story, though? I’m done with it. Oh, by no means am I done with its themes, which, like a bunch of artists I admire, I’ll probably tackle again and again in different ways, but this narrative about Alice and Claire, it’s been told. Some people have asked about the ending, in that it kind of might feel like a cliff-hanger; personally, I don’t think so. I think it was just the right spot for it to end to hit all my major themes! So no more MY LIFE TO LIVE!
That said, I’m trying to figure out the next work; as always, it’s being a pain, where I’ll get excited about an idea, and then move on, and then come back, and then think of something else, and on and on and on. Trying new things artistically kind of both helps and hinders that, in that it could give me a lot of inspiration, or if I am not motivated to sit down and draw because I am intimidated by them, I feel like, because I don’t know these tools yet, I’ll NEVER be able to come up with a narrative where they’ll be useful! I am hoping to settle on something soon, though! Whatever I do, it’s gonna be in color. And like, I don’t know if it’s gonna be the next book, but know that there will eventually be a book I do called SUPER POP!, because that title is super siccc.