Jess Bradley makes Squid Bits. She doesn’t do this by bisecting large aquatic cephalopods (at least, not that I know of…) but by producing kick-ass books, t-shirts, stickers and art that’s as friendly and cheerful as it is geeked to the nines. I had the pleasure of working with Jess back when we both wrangled comics for a living and I was delighted to find out, years after we’d both moved on, that Squid Bits not only existed but is doing incredibly well. I talked to her about her art, geekery, what her plans for the future are and advice for new artists setting up at their first con.
What led to you setting up Squid Bits?
“I thought it would be kind of cool to have an overall name for my work, rather than just me, if that makes any sense! I had a lot of work and self-published bits and pieces that I wanted to get out there and thought that a kind of brand name type thing might be a good idea. I also wanted to try and make a go of promoting and selling my own work which has been a challenge, but has paid off over the last few years. I think doing a lot of comic conventions has really given a lot of exposure and has also made more people aware of my work.”
What are the major challenges for an artist going into business for themselves?
“Ha ha! Where to start on that one! Keeping on top of your tax returns and all the admin/finance stuff is pretty draining but I'd say the biggest challenge is standing out in the crowd and constantly reminding people that you exist. There are a LOT of arty folk out there and I think you need to really be prepared to pimp yourself to the Nth degree and leave a certain amount of modesty at the door (keep your pants on, though!).
“The internet is awesome as I can constantly post my work and keep people updated over a variety of websites and social networking sites without becoming too annoying (I hope). But being a full-time freelance illustrator is a constant game of, ‘Hey! Look at me! Look what I made!’ not only to let people know that you’re out there and drawing stuff, but to also get work that pays the bills.”
“What a lovely description! I draw a lot of odd and quirky things but I like to try and keep my work accessible to everyone, just because it's nice to have five year-olds and 35 year-olds react in the same way when they see one of my pictures! Saying that, my influences range from Moomin to terrible ’80s horror films; it's a broad spectrum! Artist wise, I love Jon Kricfalusi, Akira Toriyama, Bruce Timm, Guy Davis, Gary Baseman, San-X (a Japanese character brand), Aaron Blecha, Eliohouse, Tony Millionaire – the list is very very long!”
You clearly love classic pop culture. Is there anything you've wanted to work with but haven't yet?
“Oh totally! That's a hard question to answer but I'm thinking very strongly about drawing two new small press books – one based on video games that have had a big impact on me over the years and another one about the films and cartoons that influenced me too. I may have to come back to this question!”
What's been your biggest success so far?
“I've drawn eight books for an American publisher called Stone Arch Books which are awesome little graphic novels for 5-7 year olds. I met Stone Arch at the New York Comic Con way back in 2010 and was over the moon when they contacted me in early 2012 for the opportunity to work with them. The books are a series called Comics Land and while it's been a lot of hard work, I've loved every second of it! The first two books are due out in March and are called Dinosaurs For Breakfast and Snorkeling With Sea-bots . I guess we have to wait and see if they'll be successful but for me, this has been a great personal success!”
“I'm never really very happy with my own work. One of the wonderful psychological perils of being an artist! I've just drawn a book involving an adventuring goat which I really enjoyed and felt that I'd improved somewhat with my visual storytelling. I'm happy with my self-published book I Know Sasquatch , mainly because of the wonderful reaction it's had from people. You know you've done good when someone's face goes from neutral to all-out smiling in a matter of seconds when opening one of your books!”
What advice would you have for artists starting in the field now?
“Pimp yourself like there's no tomorrow! There are so many artists and illustrators out there, it's hard to make a dent. Luckily we have the internet now which has made my life a lot easier in regards to self-promotion, but harder in terms of art theft but that's a whole other story. Make sure people know you exist – post as much work as you can, whether it's on Tumblr, a blog, Facebook or anywhere you can. Sometimes being an artist, especially one trying to make a living on it, feels like a constant case of, ‘Hey look at me! Look what I made! YOU'RE NOT LOOKING!’ but to get noticed, you need to be out there.”
Any tips for people setting up a stall at a convention for the first time?
“Just go for it! Doing cons is something you kind of have to jump into. It's a great experience and to have people engage with your work and react positively to it is a great incentive to carry on. I don't do half as many as a lot of other small-pressers in the UK but through the ones I have done, I've attracted a lot of people to my work who may ordinarily have never found me or my work on the internet. I think being approachable also counts for a lot. I always engage with people at comic cons and try to never come off as standoffish (I hope) and I've found that people tend to link how you are with your work. One of the nicest comments I had on Twitter was someone who met me for the first time at a con after having followed my work for a while. It was something along the lines of, ‘She's as awesome as her work is’, which was lovely!”
What's next for you and Squid Bits?
“I'm trying to get past a heavy deadline and then it's onto bothering more publishers and trying to make some more self-published books! I'm currently tinkering with an idea for a sticker book which I hope people will find fun. It also means I'll be making a billion new stickers to go with it too! I've got a lot of comic cons this year an myself and my partner, who is a comic book colourist and writer, are going to the San Diego Comic Con this year. Hopefully I can make some more opportunities for Squid Bits while I'm there!”
Thanks for chatting with me, Jess. You can see more of Jess’ fantastic work, and her boundless enthusiasm, at: http://squid-bits.blogspot.co.uk/ or http://squid-bits.tumblr.com/ and http://squidbitsstore.bigcartel.com/
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