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  • Katie Hughes

The Grimsly Bits

original character designs

I started writing/drawing The Grimsly Bits last year. I was finishing up my last year of college and just starting to build an illustration portfolio. The premise had been gelling in my mind for some time - a young witch moves to San Francisco, and moves into a mansion owned by an old sassy ghost and inhabited by his ragamuffin fluff monsters. Before I even had an inkling that I'd be living and working in San Francisco a few months later, I would drive around the city and take in its old architecture, its diverse geography and weather, and all the characters I would meet.

The Grimsly Bits is a love letter to millennial-populated San Francisco. It's about characters who still believe in magic and adventure, love and chaos, and who are facing the challenges of ever-technologizing society. Tone-wise, the strip is snarky, the characters intriguing. On the one hand, the monsters are ambiguous in origin, and never say anything. On the other, John Grimsly is critical, though ultimately kindhearted. And Kat the witch is, well, me - confused but unwaveringly optimistic.

The aesthetic of the strip was inspired by my long-standing love of Addams Family comics, illustrated by the famous and charismatic Charles Addams himself. Addams' work and tone are unmistakable. So much so, that it shocked me to learn that the Addams family - the characters of Morticia and Gomez, their children and relatives - was originally part of a larger strip universe that Addams ran for The New Yorker. Ultimately, the weird family and all its eccentricities was so popular that Addams was given the chance to entirely write, direct, and design the original live action TV show. And now in 2019 there's a 3D animated movie (I cannot wait to see it and I am in awe of the legacy the original strip has created).

In addition to the Addam's color scheme and dead pan, the whimsy from The Grimsly Bits comes in part from my more recent love of Edward Gorey, whose recent biography helped me dive back into art and actually start producing work on a regular basis. While Addams

"It's the children, darling, back from camp." - the Addams family

and Gorey have been likened to one another, there really is very little similar between their respective oevres. I think the average person comparing them believes them to be similar simply because there are so few macabre illustrators from the 20th century. In other words, we need more weird.

And so, with no experience whatsoever in the medium of single-strip comics, I set out to sketch out a little world. I had to learn how to draw backgrounds, and I learned that drawing every day objects that I interact with on a daily basis is much harder than I expected (how does one really draw an entry way? How would a ghost sit in a chair?). For the house, the exterior blossomed from the Victorian mansions of the city - somewhat reminiscent of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, but more dark and confusing. To learn how to draw interiors, I picked up a book on Caribbean architecture. This initially sounds like a strange choice - but the colonial architecture and tropical plants mirrored the old mansion in California look I was attempting to achieve. One strip in particular was inspired by a castle in Spain - palm trees and all.

Ultimately the tone of the strip is warm and hopeful. It has its dark moments (one of the main characters is a witch, after all), but it's mostly very playful, and I enjoyed writing and drawing each panel over the course of the summer a year ago. And then I put it away. While I've had positive reviews about the strip from friends and family, I always have compared my technical skill to Addams and Gorey, and have always felt that I've fallen short.

Until recently, I had considered The Grimsly Bits to be a strange part of my artistic portfolio - not quite illustration, not quite art. I have more or less brushed it to the side and left it be, allowing its Instagram page to go dormant for about a year. Recently that's changed. I decided to take the strip in a different direction. I wrote and designed a children's book, using the main character and pretty much nothing else. The book is about John, who loses his pet bat, Boo, and goes searching throughout the mansion to find him.

It's cute and wholesome, and not very typically me - but I knew I wanted to complete a solid project, and be able to share my physical work with those around me. So, a little about the

process - I started by printing out a template of square pages and filling them in more or less with the images I had in mind. I wrote a line per page on the back, and began the illustrations.

I sketched out all the drawings during two nights over the course of two weeks, then scanned all my images and edited them on Adobe PDF, because for some reason I had not yet bitten the bullet to download Photoshop and Illustrator (big mistake, yikes). That being said and done, I sent off the manuscript to Printivity to print 100 copies and voila. (There are a bunch of excellent printing services and shops both in the Bay Area and online, but Printivity was the fastest and cheapest for my needs, and let me print out a 6x6 inch booklet).

The finished book: John and Boo

One day, I'd love to publish my work. I'd love for it to be developed enough and at a standard where I can be confident in its aesthetic and patient enough to wait through the publishing process. Until then, I'm working every day and grinding as much as possible. I'm getting better. It takes time and a lot of meditation to silence the self doubt and criticism. Part of the reason I began this blog was to radically change the way I have interacted with my work. Most days I'd rather throw it away or never look at it again because I have the tendency to compare myself to all the other talented artists and designers who are everywhere on social media. The internet is a double-edged sword - while there's never been a time to be more exposed to incredible work and talent, there's also never been this much competition for attention in visual spaces. I know that if I want to get anywhere with my work I have to ignore the critical self doubt, and actually make work and productively assess and constructively criticize it afterwards, it does no good to hide things away.

I wonder a lot about whether my favorite artists and writers ever doubted their craft. What if Kurt Vonnegut had decided that his books were worthless and his ideas too strange? What if Addams hadn't made his macabre comics? Well then my life would be a shade duller. I appreciate that artists and writers wake up every day and say "fuck it who cares what people think, I'm going to hone my craft and make my work" because so many people do relish in Breakfast of Champions and Cousin Itt. That's the sort of attitude I'm facing my work with now. Even if I don't feel confident in it, I have to put it out there until I get to a place where I do.

In the mean time, I'm thrilled to have made a little book and to be on the first steps to figuring out what I want to do with my life. I hope I bring a little bit of joy and whimsy (and some of the macabre too) to those around me.

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