“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
The gap between talented, aspiring filmmakers who never “made it” compared to those who do is enormous. Ditto for aspiring comics creators. Now imagine someone pursuing both of those long-shot career goals at different times, and you get a creator like Chloe Brailsford. To the detriment of the movie business, Chloe’s attention is now full time on making a splash in comics — a goal that gets steadily closer new project by new project.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): I do everything myself, though I feel most proficient as an artist/inker
Your home base: Brooklyn, NY
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: The first question is the same for everyone, and that is: Why comics? What do you as a creator, an artist, like about this medium in particular?
Chloe Brailsford: I come from a film background; I studied cinema for a decade. I was very, very obsessive and adamant about how cinema could be used to tell stories and what you could do with the form. That was always really fascinating to me, but I had grown up wanting to kind of do comics because I really love drawing. I’ve always loved drawing since I was four, and I got a ton of joy out of that. After making movies for a decade, I realized I didn’t have any joy. I get no joy from this. I was on Tumblr and I was following this account called “DC Women Kicking Ass.” She would just post stuff about new books that were coming out every week. I was going to [University of Texas] in Austin, and was like one bus away from the comic shop. So, I started going to the comic shop every Wednesday and kinda started drawing a lot more again, which I had done intermittently over the past decade. I had gotten better, but not to the point I would’ve gotten if I had only focused on that.
KS: So, it was kind of a perfect storm of factors coming together?
CB: Yeah, I realized, you know what? Comics are really cool. There are different storytelling capabilities here— the form is different, the way pages work, panel structure and stuff like that, but I can pull a lot from my study in cinema to this form. Also I just got way more joy out of drawing than I did in any aspect of filmmaking, except for maybe editing, which I still love. I don’t do it anymore, but it was the one thing that I did love. I’m a control freak, so it’s not that I was bad at working with other people in movies, it’s just that I’m very easily stressed. So [now] I was like, “Wait, I can do all this without wrangling a shit-ton of people together to do it? I’m there!” [laughter]
KS: Let’s start with that love of drawing. What did your creative life look like growing up? Was it strictly visual art? Were you writing or dabbling in other areas?
CB: When I was a kid, I would do a big thing where every character I would draw came with a backstory. I had this robot waiter named Jack the Waiter that I would draw all the time when I was like 10. He owned his own restaurant called Jack’s, and he was the sole waiter at this restaurant ‘cause he could do everything. I had this rodent, a very dandy-looking guy. He had a little hat, a suit. Everyone I drew had suits because that’s all I could draw. I would kind of come up with [those types of] stories, but I didn’t do a ton of writing. If I look at my school journals from, like, fourth grade, it’s always, “I went to the zoo. It was fun.” That was the extent of my discussion. [laughter] But I’ll say that, the further I went along in school, the more I got interested in creative writing. When I was in high school— this was after I had gotten really into movies— I got a lot more interested in writing. Honestly, I was kind of a shit writer because my utilization of language is very weird; I’m not the best with voice because my voice comes out too hard in the way I describe and it clashes with the voice that I’m trying to have the character present. It’s just words that they clearly would not use—no one would use those words! I’m just a weirdo. That’s just how I talk.
KS: Since you were such a movie fan, did you ever try writing in that format?
CB: In my creative writing class, I turned in a short story one time and my teacher was like, “This sounds like a script for a short film instead of a story.” I was making a lot of movies when I was 15 and beyond. I would go up to my sister and be like, “Kirsten, sorry, it’s time to make another movie. You have to be the lead character.” I was basically just writing scripts, hoping to film them. Didn’t film most of them. In fact, the first quote unquote major script that I wrote was maybe 15 pages— I think we shot the first three pages and then just ended it. I’d be unable to fall asleep at night ‘cause I’d be thinking of all these ideas I had and get, like, two hours of sleep before I had to get up at 5:30 for school or whatever.
KS: Were you at all thinking about a career in filmmaking, or the arts in some capacity?
CB: Absolutely, filmmaking for sure. If I may kind of go back to a little earlier in my life before filmmaking, one reason I got into comics specifically was that there was a special feature on the Spider-Man [movie] DVD that basically chronicled the history of Spider-Man as told by artists and writers who have worked on him. One of the major ones in there who was talking was John Romita Jr. It showed some of his art and I was like, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” It was so full of life and energy, so kinetic. Really cinematic in a big way. So, when I got into cinema, I was really into filmmakers who I felt did really interesting things with the medium. Now, I was 15, right? So it was Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino, Tony Scott, David Fincher, people like that.
KS: Directors where the signature style is very front and center.
CB: Yeah, but the further I went along, the more I got into European cinema—Fellini, Godard. Then, eventually I discovered East Asian cinema— Chinese cinema, South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese. I was studying all of this because if I’m a director, I also have to be the writer and the editor. There were a lot of things that I would have to do ‘cause I couldn’t relinquish control of those things; I felt in my brain that they were all so closely tied together that I couldn’t understand how you could ever have multiple people split up between these jobs. Again, control freak, right? I honestly got really into movies with Sin City. I went and saw Sin City opening day, and that changed my life entirely because I had been interested in Frank Miller’s stuff after watching the special features on the Unbreakable DVD [laughter]. So, I went and saw Sin City and, even though it was almost pulled directly from the comic—the comics are almost storyboards for that— I was like, “Man, motion can really add something.”
KS: With cinema being such a formative influence on you, even helping you discover more comics creators, where were comics in your life growing up? Did you have much exposure to them?
CB: Calvin and Hobbes was the big one, as I’m sure many people have said. My brother also read Foxtrot a lot, which I really liked, but that was kind of it as a young child. I do remember when I was about 10, we had gone to Arizona and on the way back from Tucson, my uncle stopped us by a gas station. They had those comics two packs, I think I got maybe two of them. One was the first two issues of The Maxx because I was like, “What the f—k is this? I dunno what this is, but it looks cool!” The other one had a Kelley Jones-drawn Venom comic, and it was very disturbing to look at… but it was also really stunning. Kelley Jones’ linework is unlike a lot of other stuff you see. I always loved superheroes. I was really into the Spider-Man TV show when I was a kid, and the Batman TV show. My oldest brother is way more into superheroes than I am even now, and he kind of taught me a love of that. I didn’t have an allowance or anything, but I would get comics for presents [on] birthdays and Christmas and stuff like that.
KS: As you’re embarking on this comics journey, was there a certain story that really kind of struck you perfectly for who you were at the time you were reading?
CB: That’s actually really easy for me, because I remember I was on a MegaBus when I was maybe 25. I was going back from visiting my family in the Dallas/Fort Worth area back to Austin, and I was reading Phonogram volume two, and Kieron Gillen has this character who’s a girl who looks at this bartender and she’s like, “I don’t know if I want to be with her or if I want to be her.” I, like, exploded. I’d never heard someone say the thing that’s been going through my brain for years and years and years. All of this shit is so wrapped up—my trans journey in many ways, my art, it’s all very important to me. It took me about three quarters of the first volume of Phonogram to realize that the book was actually hilarious. Then, I read volume two, which is wildly different and I connected so heavily with volume two. [It was] all about people who I felt were roughly my age, and there was a lot of queerness going on there. I had just kind of come to the realization that I was queer; I didn’t even know that I was trans at the time. Yeah, that was a big one.
KS: How did your reading diet change as you discovered more and more creators?
CB: Sin City was huge. Oh, I know the one! I got it for my 15th birthday—Batman: Year One. [David] Mazzucchelli’s art, Richmond Lewis’ colors. Just so, so good. My brother wasn’t into it ‘cause it wasn’t Jim Lee. That was around the time Hush came out. I really liked Jim Lee; actually my enjoyment of Jim Lee made me originally dislike Tim Sale, because Tim Sale wasn’t Jim Lee. I was reading The Long Halloween and I was like, “This book looks so terrible that it’s actually good.” Eventually, I came to the realization that it was great, and Tim Sale became my favorite comic book artist.
KS: When we come to your time in college and you’re on this filmmaking path, what’s the point where the path forks? Was it a case of wanting to do comics instead of film, or in addition to?
CB: Instead of. One hundred percent instead of. “F—k cinema!” [laughter] I remember very explicitly when that happened, too, because it was right after I graduated. I had been doing some drawings toward the end of the semester when I was supposed to be studying for finals. I got so much immediate joy in the feeling of moving my hand across the page. At that point, I had still never even drawn a page of comics in my entire life, but I knew that I could handle the form and do interesting things with it because I had managed to accomplish that in cinema. I made a movie called In/Out that was shot half on film and half digitally. It was basically a movie that was pulling back layers and layers to reveal that you can never escape this once you’re a part of it, through this kind of wild, formal experimentation. I wanted to do that in comics, which I still have yet to fully figure out. I tried to do that with my first book back in 2019, and I think it accomplished everything I had set up to do. But from my perspective, there are formal qualities of comics I still have to grapple with to be able to tear them down in an interesting way. Sorry, what was the original question again?
KS: Your renouncing of cinema.
CB: Everyone I knew at that point who I was close with basically was a filmmaker, except for my roommate who was a musician. I went to a party at a friend’s house, a very small gathering, and I said to my friend, “Hey, I think I want to do comics. I don’t want to do movies anymore.” He looked at me and [said], “Hell yeah, go for it.” That was a big deal, because movies were all I talked about. I was in my early twenties, incredibly pretentious about it. Then, with regard to how my parents took that…
KS: I was about to ask, because you’re going from the dream of a stable, lucrative career in filmmaking to a stable, lucrative career in comic books.
CB: Right. So much fun. Here’s the deal, right? My mom always knew that I loved to draw, and the entire time I’m in film school, she’d say, “I don’t understand why you just don’t be an illustrator. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then, as soon as I graduate film school and I’m like, “Mom, I’m gonna do comics,” she says, “Why aren’t you using your degree?” [laughter] I can’t win. A degree in filmmaking means nothing, right? You just work on sets over and over again and hate your life until you get lucky. Or get a grant and do something. Or keep making movies with your friends and hope that something eventually comes in that, because that way can actually be fun.
KS: Did your mom come around when she saw your passion?
CB: She’s definitely come around to it now. She’s very, very proud of where I am, the trajectory that my quote unquote career is taking. So is my dad and I’m glad about that—he was also kinda befuddled. I was never one to believe that I would make a lot of money in either of those fields. It’s not about fortune—as much as it would be nice to at least have some stability—it’s about doing what I love and that that’s all it ever was for me. I just wanted to do whatever felt right. Now I am making money doing comics; it’s not a lot and it’s not very frequent, but any is better than none.
KS: When the time comes and you decide to go steer fully into comics, what does that look like for you as far as the practical reality? Do you get a pad of paper and some pens? Do you draw on an iPad?
CB: I first drew comic pages in 2016, because I had been saying I wanted to do comics and [now] I should do some comics. I worked at Michael’s art supply at the time, so it was “Bristol board, gotta get that, micron pens, a good eraser, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Thankfully, I had access to those materials every time I went to work. I did a one-page thing just to make a little comic— this girl comes out of a building, goes around the corner, and sees her friend crying. She’s like, “Are you ok?” and then they just embrace. That’s it. But it was kind of a storytelling exercise because I was thinking about panel usage with regard to camera placement, with regard to how to break up the panels in a series of shots that would just read really well.
KS: Did you study the comic script format?
CB: My way of structuring comics is built entirely as I’m doing it. I still don’t write scripts. I find it incredibly boring. I have tried to write scripts, but I get too bored to go beyond it. So yeah, I would eventually get some decent-sized sketchbooks, and I would sketch some comics in there. In 2017, I did [my] first comic that was more than one page. It was only four pages and it took me two weeks ‘cause I was just working a lot. It was about being trans and about coming out as trans; I didn’t even realize that it was about me until I was drawing the first page. That comic was figured out page by page because I didn’t know the trajectory, so each page is effectively its own arc in a way. I was kind of teaching myself creative storytelling methods in that, which was not something I had done prior.
KS: How does My Life to Live come about? Does that start as one of your shorts?
CB: Effectively what happened is this: I was working at a grocery store where Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad shopped. I love them, they’re very dear to me. They would just kind of push me, you know?
KS: Wait, I have to pause you for a second. How did they even know to push an employee at their local grocery store?
CB: One day I was at the register, and Becky went to the register behind me. I had seen her before at Austin Books and Comics ‘cause she did a signing for Southern Cross with Andy Belanger. I knew that she lived in Austin ‘cause I followed her on Twitter. I saw her coming through [the store] a couple other times, but she never came through my line. Then, the one day she did, I was very sheepish. I was like, “Are you Becky? I’m a really big fan, I also draw comics, blah, blah blah.” And she was like, “Oh, that’s so cool.” It was a really nice interaction. My coworker scoured Twitter looking for mentions of our grocery store, and the next day told me that some lady [Tweeted] “Shout out to Chloe at Wheatsville.” [laughter] So, I went and I commented, then Becky followed me, so I got to know her that way.
KS: Okay, back to the pushing.
CB: It was during Staple! con of 2018. I was at work and a guy walks up to me, wearing what is very clearly a Becky shirt. He’s like, “Are you Chloe? Becky’s told me about you. I just came from Staple! con—why weren’t you there?” They knew that I wanted to do comics, and they knew that I wasn’t doing comics. Him saying that made me think maybe I should make it a point to go to Staple! next year. When I knew that the application process was starting soon, I decided I’m gonna do it and I’m gonna have a book. Because if I go to a con, if I set a deadline for myself, and I do not have a book. I’ve not only failed myself, I’ve also failed Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad. [laughter] I was in New York actually, visiting my friends here when the application process went live and I applied immediately. My Life to Live was basically [me] figuring out what the f—k I was gonna do, because I had no ideas at all for any book.
KS: That deadline was your impetus to get going, but walk us through the book taking shape.
CB: Everyone I knew here was into film because it was a bunch of my friends who had moved from Austin to New York prior to me having moved here. I realized there’s nothing that I know more about than movies, watching movies… cinema, essentially. [That became] this idea of making a comic about movies and the cinema going experience in some way. Originally, I came up with this very erotic comic idea, but I just couldn’t get it going. If I don’t get something going really fast, I’ll get bored and I’ll stop. I have ADHD and so it is sometimes great because I hyper-fixate really hard, and sometimes not. So, I dropped that idea and put on Wong Kar-Wai’s movie, Fallen Angels, which, mind you, is a movie that I do not like. I love Chungking Express but I’ve seen it a million times; I needed a really visually stunning movie to just get some inspiration. There’s stuff in [FA] that I found really appealing visually, and one day I had a series of panels: three panels on the left that were all kind of small, and then three on the right, each leading out from one of the successive panels that were longer. Then I just kind of, without reference, redrew the opening shot of FA, but with different characters. That’s kind of where the whole book came from; it came into existence that way and I worked on it for four months.
KS: You made the con in time?
CB: I got it done in time, and it did really well. It was hard. It was the first project I’d ever done that took on that kind of scope and had as vast an assortment of storytelling things in it. I was pulling a lot from different narratives; one of the biggest influences on the structure of that book is the filmmaker named Hong Sang-soo, from South Korea. He’s my favorite living filmmaker and a lot of his movies have this very interesting storytelling structure. So, essentially [in My Life], it’s this girl who goes to see this movie, has this life-changing experience, and then we cut to her in the theater watching this movie at its premiere, and she’s the lead actress in it. Except her life is very different than it was in the movie.
KS: We have to pay off the Becky and Michael part of this. Did they know you finished it?
CB: Oh, yeah. Becky was the one who urged me to put it online as a PDF. It was during the pandemic [and] I didn’t have any deadlines ‘cause there were no cons to go to. I was gonna go to Emerald City Comic Con—I had done a zine for that, a zine of like illustrations I was gonna hand out to people. Then, the week before Emerald City, everything shut down. I had no reason to make any books, so I just couldn’t do it. Becky told me, “You gotta put that out there.”
KS: You cited a lot of the directors who you are big fans of. Is there a comic creator whose career you kind of look at as a “north star?” The kind of career you’d love to have?
CB: I have to preface that by saying the amount of study that I have done on comics is so little compared to the study that I’ve done in cinema, because by the time I got back into comics, I’d burnt out from studying. So, it’s Zoe Thorogood. She’s my favorite comic artist right now. It’s Lonely at the Center of the Earth is one of the best comics I’ve ever read, and it does so many things that are so my shit. The way she’s built her career and just keeps going. She’s also convincing me to get back to traditional art. I bought an iPad a year and a half ago, and I’ve done a lot of really good stuff with it, but I feel like there is maybe a little something missing in terms of the tangibility of everything.
KS: Speaking of the best comics you’ve ever read, what would be your nominee for the hypothetical Comic Book Hall of Fame? The book you’d hold up as the best of the best that the medium can do.
CB: Alack Sinner by Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo. Munoz was the biggest inspiration on My Life to Live, artistically, despite the fact that I did not have the confidence like Munoz to put all that black all over the page. If we’re talking more mainstream, though, Elektra Lives Again. It’s such a devastating rumination on loss, and Lynn Varley’s colors on that are just… God, I wish she was still doing comics coloring. She’s so good.
KS: As we wrap up, tell us about the new Image project you’re involved in. It will be out when this interview runs.
CB: It’s their 30th anniversary series. Within those 12 issues are some short comics that are effectively standalone and some that are told over the course of the book. Every artist drew a page that centered on a different character. My comic is about this guy who shows up in Tokyo saying that he’s from this country that doesn’t exist. And everyone’s like, “What are you talking about?” He was a con artist in some way, and it’s about him being locked in this hotel with all the police around him trying to keep him up in that room.
KS: How did you get involved?
CB: I was reached out to by someone I highly respect, who couldn’t do her page and asked if I was interested in doing something for Image. I was like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. So, you want me to do your page for Image Comics in a comic that has art from Zoe Thorogood, Katie Skelly, and Simon Gane?” Sure. Great. I’m a hundred percent on board. It’s the tenth issue of the Image anthology, like 30 anniversary oncology comic. Yeah.
KS: Anything else you’d like to call attention to for 2023?
CB: I’m doing a body horror comic called Body Double. I have this character named Anaïs who I have been drawing for the past year. It revolves around the film world again, because she’s an actress and a model and a pop star in France in 1966. The book is about her and some unfortunate things that happen when her agent wants to renegotiate her contract. That is gonna be part of an anthology that is coming out in October.
I also did a cover for IDW for a book that has not been announced yet; that was the first cover I ever did, and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity. There’s another cover I’m slated to do that I really hope I have time for, but otherwise in 2023 I’m gonna finish the comic that I’m working on now and try to just pump out stuff all year, so that by 2024 my name is out there way more.
This interview was edited for length.