Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 06/28/2006
Brendon and Brian Fraim on America Jr. and so much more
I've known Brendon and Brian Fraim for going on the better part of a decade now, and I've followed their various endeavors with more than a little appreciation for their technical skills, their chameleon-like ability to move between comic book styles--shifting from cartoony towards realism as needed--as well as their sheer tenacity and sterling professionalism. And lot of you readers out there have probably been following their work, perhaps without even really knowing it. That's because these siblings have made it a point to work in a wide variety of venues and to share their abilities with the gaming and comics industry alike.
So I figure it's long past due that I did a feature on them. Of course, the debut earlier this week of their latest project, a smart and savvy new web strip called America Jr., only made it obvious that it was time for us to talk. Which we did, via email, with the Fraim Brothers answering my queries with one voice.
Bill Baker: How would you describe America Jr.?
Fraim Bros.: America Jr. is a comedy series about the people of Millerstown, Colorado, who discover in their town charter that their forefathers only joined the United States of America on a temporary basis. As the series begins, we find out that the "temporary basis" has just expired and Millerstown must become it's own country. The strip deals with how the town leaders and various citizens cope with Millerstown's unusual new political status. This is a daily web comic strip, Monday through Friday, written by Nick Capetanakis and Todd Livingston with art by us. We like to say this is a comedy series that is actually funny. Every strip, every day has at least one hilarious joke. Check out www.americajr.net
BB: How'd you guys get involved with this project, and what about it hooked you?
Fraim Bros.: Last April, we received an email with the script of the first 60 days of America Jr. from Todd Livingston. He wanted us the read it and let him know what we thought. We read it over and liked it. We emailed him back and told him so and asked, since he didn't specify, if he wanted us to be the artists for this strip. We had a feeling he wanted us to draw the series but he didn't say anything about it in the initial inquiry. He's very sneaky. As we assumed, he did want us to do the art. Our schedule was fairly open at the time and we just quit our "real world" job, so we said we'd do it. We also suspect that Bob Tinnell (Todd's collaborator with the talented artist Neil Vokes on The Black Forest and The Wicked West) recommended us to Todd. Bob's been in our cheering section for sometime and always recommends "The Fraim Boys" when he thinks our style would fit the project.
What hooked us was that, as we've already said, this is a comedy strip that is actually really funny. Nick and Todd both have strong comedy backgrounds, which are very evident when reading their scripts. They also have very big plans for the property in other media, which, for a pair of poor nobodies in Pennsylvania, was hard to ignore.
BB: Have you had much input so far, story-wise, or is this more a case where Nick and Todd do the writing, and you two take care of the rest?
Fraim Bros.: Nick and Todd do the writing and we take care of the rest. Our input isn't really needed, but we do have a say in the storytelling; what camera angles to use, if the panel should be a close up or distance shot, that sort of thing. We also had a hand in designing the environments and creating how the characters look visually.
BB: Well, what kind of scripts have Todd and Nick been providing you guys, and how are you approaching creating the art?
Fraim Bros.: The scripts are mainly just the dialogue, with some descriptions for important details; where it takes place, who is in the scene, etc. This is a comedy, not super hero action adventure, so the guys only need to set up the scene and/or specific details that may prove necessary for a punch line a few strips later. Simplified scripts like this aren't the real challenge, since it seems we work from scripts like this all the time. The real challenge has been fitting in everything that has to be there in 4-5 panels, in a 3-inch by 7-inch page (drawn larger, but to scale), and to make sure that everything is clear and that there is still space for the word balloons as well. But as storytellers, we have welcomed the challenge.
We approach the art in the same way we would for the comic books. We read the script, think about the scene in a particular strip, and go with our gut instinct when doing the thumbnail layouts. Brendon does quick and simple thumbnail sketches on the America Jr. script pages to get the storytelling down and then starts penciling the pages.
BB: So that's your typical approach, and it doesn't change much from project to project?
Fraim Bros.: For comic books and strips it's basically the same. Though for comic books, we do the layouts on a separate sheet of paper and enlarge them to 11x 17, the standard comic book artwork page size. Brendon then takes the pages to his light box and transfers the layouts to the Bristol board and does the lettering. That's right, we still do the lettering by hand!
For our role-playing game assignments, we just dive right in. Brendon will read the description and just draw the final, without much preplanning of layouts. When he finishes the pencils, they're sent to the art director for approval, and then, when approved, Brian inks them.
BB: What does working on this strip give you two, personally or professionally, that your other work on might not?
Fraim Bros.: Professionally, working on America Jr. might just give our careers the jump-start they need. As stated earlier, Todd and Nick have big plans for the strip and one ultimate goal, which, without giving too much away, they're already extremely close to achieving.
Personally, it's been a tricky challenge of design and storytelling in a different comic layout. We've never done comic strips before America Jr. and are really enjoying the new format.
BB: Let's talk a little about those other projects, too. For instance, I know that America Jr. isn't the only strip that you are working on these days. What can you tell us about the strip you've been doing for The Antique Trader? For instance, is that web-based, too?
Fraim Bros.: Well, first, this isn't a web strip. It's an old fashioned printed weekly comic strip. The series is called Antiques: The Comic Strip and is a romantic comedy set in the world of antiquing. A:TCS recently began in the June 21st  issue of the tabloid sized newspaper about antique collecting called the Antique Trader. www.antiquetrader.com J.C. Vaughn created this weekly series and we are handling the art. And so far, it's been way too much fun. So much fun, in fact, that we've finished up to week 16, and week 3 is in the July 5th edition of Antique Trader!
BB: How did you get this other gig, and what about the project made you jump on board?
Fraim Bros.: It all happened at this year's Pittsburgh Comicon last April. We've known J.C. for the last couple years and we stopped by the Gemstone booth, where we knew he was, and chewed the fat. He mentioned that he was talking to the new editor on Antique Trader, Catherine Saunders-Watson, about trying something new in the Antique Trader, a comic strip. J.C. has actually had the A:TCS idea bouncing around in his head for a long time and told us he had already pitched it to Catherine. She was very enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to publish the strip in AT without J.C. having an artist for it! J.C. then asked us if we would be interested. Like America Jr., which happened after we agreed to do this strip, we had nothing else going on so we agreed. It sounded like fun and another new format to draw comics and storytelling. And, the fact we're getting paid to draw it doesn't hurt either. : )
And again, Bob Tinnell is behind the scenes and has a hand in Antiques: The Comic Strip. He's J.C.'s script editor and way back before we were onboard, Bob recommended us to J.C. That Bob, what a great guy!
BB: How does the creative process on that work? Is it a case of J. C. Vaughn doing the writing while you do the drawin', or are you also involved in the idea development or scripting process, too?
Fraim Bros.: Like America Jr., J.C. does the writing and we handle the rest. We actually don't know what's going to happen with the series until we get the scripts. J.C. also has a lot of people to rely on in the Antique industry for story ideas and inspiration so he doesn't really need any story input from us. Which is also fine by us - go with the experts! J.C. also helps us out by finding the reference images we'll need for the particular strip. It's a great time saver on our end for him to do that. Like Bob, he's another great guy!
BB: Does this strip challenge you in ways that the rest of your assignments don't? How so?
Fraim Bros.: Antiques: The Comic Strip has been a challenge like America Jr., a different format to tell a story. The size of the page is different, horizontal instead of vertical like a comic book page. We're drawing in the standard "Sunday Comic Strip" format, three horizontal columns with about 8-10 panels in a strip. It's easy to stick to that formula, but sometimes the script calls for those rules to break and that's always fun.
BB: You two also contributed comic book illustrations to a recently released novel, Wolf Boy. What can you tell us about that book?
Fraim Bros.: Wolf Boy is about a family that loses its oldest son in a car accident and how the rest of the family deals with the loss. In the story, the youngest son Stephen deals with his grief by creating a super-hero comic book called Wolf Boy. There are 46 pages of comic book art that we drew interspersed throughout the 320+ page novel. www.wolfboynovel.com
BB: What was that working experience like?
Fraim Bros.: The comic book sections were planned well before we were hired to do the job. When we received the manuscript, the illustrated sections were noted, but we had free reign to make the comic sections as long or as short as we wanted. We decided to go with pacing the story out so it felt right, not paying to close attention to getting a specific page count.
BB: I know you also do a lot of illustration work, so I was wondering if that kind of work, where you're creating a solitary image versus the sequential-oriented work demanded by strips and such, present different kinds of choices and challenges for you, or is it all the same to you? In other words, do you use a different part of your brain to create sequential panels versus a static image?
Fraim Bros.: There is certainly a different approach taken to doing sequential art versus a solitary image. For a single image illustration, for a role-playing game for example, you need to convey either a story element or skill or some kind of action in just one panel. With sequential art, you could tell that same story element or skill or action in several panels. The reality of it is that when doing a static image for a client, they more often than not tell you exactly what they want in their static image so it makes our lives a lot easier.
BB: Now, if memory serves, you were also working on at least one monthly title for Kenzer, and I know you've got at least one additional short story coming out in the near future you haven't mentioned. What can you tell us about those titles and projects, and what else you might be working on these days?
Fraim Bros.: That one title for Kenzer was cancelled in December of 2004, but we still continue to do spot illustrations in Knights of the Dinner Table: The Magazine as well as the new feature Celebrity Hack. Celebrity Hack is a parody strip with various celebrities playing role-playing games. We've only drawn three strips so far because the Kenzer guys can't seem to get the strips written.
We've illustrated a two-page story in The Wicked West 2, written by a fellow very familiar to you readers of Baker's Dozen. Hint: his initials are "BB."
We're illustrating one of J.C. Vaughn's Twenty-First Century Romances stories for the ACTOR benefit book, which will be released at the Baltimore Comicon. The best thing about this is, not just helping out a great organization like ACTOR, but our work will be in the same book as Stan Lee!
We will also be doing a short story with Bob Tinnell (finally!) for an anthology project due out next year. And, hopefully in the near future, developing our own characters with Bob for release.
We've also just finished up work on a bonus section for the Wolf Boy softcover release, scheduled for the fall. It will be a "behind the scenes" look at the creation of the WB comic pages from start to finish.
BB: What would you like to be doing in a year? How about a bit further into the future? What're your ultimate, and intermediate, dreams?
Fraim Bros.: We've had the dreams of fame and fortune, but then realized that isn't it. Right now, it's enough just to be comfortable financially drawing comics, role-playing games, or whatever, that's become the "ultimate dream," and not having to rely on a part time job to help make ends meet. But, on the other hand, we're not going to lie. We'd love to draw comics for "The Big Two," but it's too hard to get noticed. We think our style would be perfect for Captain Marvel (Shazam!) or The Fantastic Four. Man, we'd love to draw that book!
BB: You've talked a bit about what you get from doing this work; what do you hope your various readers get from it? Is it just about entertainment, or might there be some other things you hope to foster, if even a little, with your work? [it's honestly cool if it's "just" about the entertainment...I just like to ask, is all.]
Fraim Bros.: It certainly is mostly about entertaining the reader. You're not going to be too successful if you're a boring artist or storyteller. We just want to tell great stories that keep the readers coming back for more!
BB: Anything else either of you would like to add before I let you get back to it?
Fraim Bros.: Just that for anyone interested in seeing more of our work can log onto our website: www.brosfraim.com. You can also check out or online portfolio at altpick.com/fraimworks. But the best way to keep up with everything that's new with The Brothers Fraim would be to join our email newsletter. Just send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us to "Sign me up!" Thanks for reading!
Full disclosure: As briefly noted above by the Fraims, they did, indeed, illustrate a short-short story ["a minor occurrence of no real importance"] written by myself which will be appearing in Wicked West 2, published by Image and due out October, 2006. And did an excellent job of it, too.
Incidentally, October 2006 will also see the release of Alan Moore's Exit Interview from Airwave Publishing. This volume presents the complete transcript of a brand new, recently recorded interview during which Alan performs a remarkable postmortem upon his own commercial comics career, before moving on to discuss Lost Girls, Jerusalem, and what really matters when all is said and done. Alan Moore's Exit Interview: On 25 years of creating comics, the state of the medium and the industry, and what the future may hold for all concerned will be offered in the August cover dated issue of Previews.
<< 05/10/2006 | 06/28/2006 | 07/19/2006 >>
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