“Adorable” is perhaps an overused term, but there is no getting around the fact that Tiny Kitten Teeth is one of the most adorable things you will ever see in your life. The hand-painted comic, produced by Becky Dreisdadt and Frank Gibson, aka “Becky and Frank,” tells the tale of young Mewsli and his adventures in Owltown, and occasionally the ultra-cute tales of the kitten Tigerbuttah.The pair have become increasingly in demand outside of their strip, with such works as a Tigerbuttah Little Golden Book homage funded through Kickstarter, Adventure Time pieces for Mondo and kaBOOM!’s comic, and the Pokemon homage “Capture Creatures”. You can check out regular updates of their work at http://tumblr.beckyandfrank.com/. Between all their projects, we got Gibson and Dreisdadt to talk about their work – and their plans to put more focus on their comics projects – for our series.
Newsarama: Frank, how did Tiny Kitten Teeth first come about – what was the inspiration, and what led to your collaboration?
Frank Gibson: Becky and I have known each other for 7 years now, which is something we were discussing just last night! I was in the first year of my Masters in New Zealand, Becky was in her first year of college in Savannah, Georgia. We were introduced by a mutual friend and collaborator, who wanted to pair Becky up with a writer for a manga project.
Six months later we met at San Diego Comic Con and (gasp) went on to have a long distance relationship for three years. After that, Becky moved to New Zealand for some years, before we got engaged last year and moved to Los Angeles in the spring.
Tiny Kitten Teeth started the day Becky graduated from college. We were the last ones left in the apartment, cleaning it out and we ordered a pizza. The pizza delivery technician arrived and made note of how he didn't remember this building being at the school when he attended. He trained as a graphic designer and wasn't able to find work for five years. At this point, we realized we had no plans.
I was whittling away my days in New Zealand in a band (with people I still love to this day) in my parents attic, Becky was thinking about maybe going to work in a book store or cafe and had throughout her college experience drummed into her the idea that comics will never earn you a cent and you will die penniless.
She had recently started painting as a hobby outside of school and we ended up showing some little paintings to people who worked at Cartoon Network. The reaction Becky got to her paintings was even better than the already positive reaction she was getting to her inked work. We then developed the comic for six months before publishing a single page online.Nrama: Why did you decide to do it as a webcomic?
Gibson: I'm an Internet kid, so was Becky. I grew up with the thing and it was my link to a world that didn't exist locally for me in Australia and New Zealand. Comic books just weren't that big of a deal. The idea of printing a book, although I bought a bunch of comics and graphic novels, never really entered my head initially.
I saw more people in webcomics irking out a living through compelling independent work. Also, I would really like my work to be read. I forget where I read it, but the quote "The biggest threat to an artist is obscurity" sticks in my head. I love giving away my work for free.
Nrama: How's your collaborative process work?
Gibson: At this point it's really scary to work with other people. Becky and I have shared a desk for four years, so everything we work on we've naturally discussed at length. As a result, my scripts are very sparse and I just focus on character and story, whereas Becky can focus on setting.
After she finishes a page, I generally re-write the dialogue as she manages to say with pictures what I was trying to say with the characters words. It gives a nice subtext.
Nrama: You've been doing a lot of international traveling to promote the strip at shows in the past year. How difficult has that been to do that and keep producing new material?Gibson: Man! This past two years have been a whirlwind of comics shows. It's been totally rough on our productivity, especially since up until this year we were traveling from New Zealand. We're only JUST getting back onto it now that we have a little peaceful place in Los Angeles. Last year we were on the road for a total of six months.
Nrama: So I'd like to talk about some of your influences on the strip, but in terms of art and story. You talk about these on the site, but I'm curious as to what you feel why many of these influences have had such an impact on your work.
Gibson: I will turn this one over to Becky!
Becky Dreisdadt: Our dominant influences change from day to day. Right now artistically we're really drawn to vintage Disney art by Bill Peet (101 Dalmations) and Mary Blair, who has always been a big influence on me.
What I take most from Mary's work is her background design and color theory. Bill Peet especially influences my character poses and expressions. Also I can't forget Eyvind Earle's amazing backgrounds, nor the awesome character work by early Toei animator Yasuji Mori.
Since we travel a lot for conventions, I take a lot of reference photography of architecture and plants. Similarly we've been watching the A&E series America's Castles on Netflix for some really fun ostentatious architecture.
Also both Frank and I are going through the new Fantagraphics volumes of Carl Barks' Donald Duck work, which is an influence on both the writing and art side. Same with Tove Jansson's Moomin, especially in toneNrama: So there's a lot of hipster mockery in the strip. Why is it so darn fun to make fun of hipsters?
Gibson: It's always fun to make fun of social movements and trends. Flappers, beatniks, hippies, yuppies, punks and now... the hipster. The term is so ambiguous and is used in such a derogatory fashion we don't even know what it means anymore. It's a sad catch-all for a variety of overlapping youth sub-cultures.
I'm not sure if I make fun of hipsters as much as I take delight in people's eccentricities. I don't think I intend to make fun of movements as much as people. And if I do, it is a gentle prodding rather than intended to be scathing.
Nrama: And of course there's the adorable Tigerbuttah. How are writing cartoons for him a different process than chronicling the events of Owltown?
Gibson: Tigerbuttah writes himself. Sometimes I come up with an idea, sometimes Becky does, I always end up writing the caption after the fact though. I like playing off the drawings. Also when we are back in New Zealand we stare at our cat a lot.Nrama: The Tigerbuttah picture book was a big success on Kickstarter, and raised your profile a bit. Tell us a little about how that came about, and why you wanted to hommage that Little Golden Book format.
Gibson: We love Little Golden Books, we were both raised on the vintage books, not the horrible looking 80s and 90s ones. The charming hand-painted aesthetic, the light tone. A lot of the people who worked there weren't children's illustrators or particularly of that style, they were incredibly talented painters, who worked for giant animation companies or had weirdly specific illustration jobs like scientific illustrations, who were completely let loose and allowed to realise their personal vision.
Nrama: What would happen if Tigerbuttah and Mewsli teamed up? Would the universe explode?
Gibson: They may inhabit the same universe. We're not entirely sure. At first I thought they would be closer together, but their realities are drifting apart as we look towards re-launching the comic next year.
Nrama: Do you see the strip as one long story, or something more open-ended at this point?
Gibson: Completely open-ended. It is designed as a serial. I always want to work with these characters in some way. If I get sick of those characters and that world there is clearly something wrong with me. We're moving towards one year per chapter or album, closer to French comics at this point.Nrama: Something I've been asking a lot of people in this series is what sort of opportunities you feel have ben opened up for cartoonists through new media such as smartphones and the IPad, and what you feel creators can do to take advantage of these opportunities.
Gibson: I think it is something that we personally are neglecting. I think another vehicle for distributing comics is great, but I'm not sure the current iPad pay model is going to be sustainable, at least for completely independent works. I think things that put people closer to the Internet on a daily basis is of course better for people who rely on that for people to discover their work, but that's about it.
Nrama: What's coming up in Owltown?
Gibson: Our update schedule this year would make Aaron Diaz blush. We got caught up working on a ton of freelance projects and moving to the USA. Next year is going to be the year we work on Tiny Kitten Teeth first and foremost.Nrama: What else are you currently working on that you can talk about right now?
Gibson: A non-Tiny Kitten Teeth graphic novel for an actual publisher. Vinyl toys. Art books. Video games. Over-extending ourselves. Descending into a self-inflicted work madness.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Gibson: The current field of Republican presidential candidates.
Meet Mewsli, Tigerbuttah and friends at www.tinykittenteeth.com.
Next at Newsarama: Tom Scioli introduces us to the American Barbarian! Then, Christina Strain weaves a ghostly tale with The Fox Sister and Jon Rosenberg shows us Scenes from a Multiverse! And there’s more to come, as Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics continues!