The following is an interview with professional animator and illustrator Mary Bellamy, who is the creator behind several comic book series, including Faux Facts – The Truth Can Be Strange! and Ah Heck!! – The Angel Chronicles. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Contributor Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Bellamy about her journey to becoming a professional artist and comic book creator, her ventures in self-publishing, and her experiences at San Diego Comic-Con.
This interview was conducted on August 22, 2013.
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: When did you begin your work as a professional animator and illustrator, and what intrigued you about working in the sequential art and artist sketch card mediums?
Mary Bellamy: Since I was a child, I knew that I loved art. I watched every cartoon I could. I bought comic adaptations of those shows and continued to collect magazines that showcased short comic stories. I first discovered that I could more easily get into comics than animation back in 2000 when a friend showed me some stories he had published in an anthology. I had run into the owners of a small company at a convention that paid me to start inking some stories for their books, and then I eventually started creating short stories for various anthologies with other companies. I eventually found my way back into animation doing some clean up work in Flash. When that job was over, I returned back to comics and eventually then was introduced to sketch cards. I liked the idea of being able to be paid for drawing art for various comic properties like Shi, Lady Death, Josie and the Pussycats, and more. I think I’ve done nearly 2,000 cards for companies as of today.
BD: What has been the most difficult aspect of working as a professional creator? Were there any major hurdles that you have had to overcome?
MB: I think the most difficult aspect has been taking the plunge into the self-publishing world. The biggest hurdles I faced were back in the very beginning. Back in 2000, I wanted to create stories. I knew that I wanted to show my work and get out there, but there were few options at the time. I knew animation was not likely a viable option at the time. Comics seemed more likely a path that I should pursue. That said, the comics landscape was quite different back then. The internet was not what it was today, having your own website wasn’t as common, others would host your work if you could find a site that would, and there were no companies that printed on demand. You would have to buy your own ISBN number, register your work, find an offset printer, pay your own printing costs out of pocket, and store everything on your own.
The other smaller options were to make ashcans that you wouldn’t be able to distribute via stores or you could submit your work to anthology books that would. In those days there were far more of them than there are today. The only downside was that you might have to draw or write something for a genre you might not ordinarily consider just so you could get your foot in the door. I originally started out as an inker, then moved on to pencil a few things and do some pin up work and eventually create my own stories. Faux Facts was originally printed in black and white and because the anthology format was geared for shorter stories, I created small, little 4-10 page shorts. I couldn’t do a larger, over-reaching plot line until I started printing my own books.
BD: In addition to your work as an artist, you have also self-published your own graphic novels, including Faux Facts –The Truth Can Be Strange! and Ah Heck!! – The Angel Chronicles. For our readers who may not be familiar, what can you tell us about these series?
MB: Faux Facts –The Truth Can Be Strange! is an all-ages book with female leads. Rosemary and her friends, Sunny, Daisy, Retta, Lilac, and Satellite, who are all sort of social misfits, try to deal with ordinary life while strange things are happening all around them because of a former friend, Tigerlilly, who unleashed a magical entity that likes to toy with our main characters. From junk food nightmares, to cartoon characters come to life at slumber parties, killer starfish, and lizard men invading their town, these girls have their hands full juggling the insane with the mundane.
Ah Heck!! – The Angel Chronicles is a slightly older book with a female protagonist that winds up in the underworld partly because of her actions, coasting through life, and partly because God, a woman, decided to imprison Lucifer and turn hell upside down and create a sort of test for lost souls, trying to provide one last opportunity for them to right their ways. Angel is oblivious at first. She’s being chased by “evil” bunnies and “killer” teddy bears; she can’t really understand why she’s there. She’s not evil, but she’s there. All she knows is that her boring life before was better than this, and she wants to go home. But, what would she do to get there?
BD: What inspired you to tell these stories, and what do you hope that readers will take away from them?
MB: I think the biggest driving force for me was that there was just an absence of girl-driven properties out there. Sure, you have the nostalgia-driven and merchandised shows, but those are still small in number compared to girl-centric shows. You hear so much about “strong female” characters nowadays, and instead I just wanted to write stories with female leads. I wanted some flawed characters that get into problems and out of them by their own wits. I also wanted to create something that I would have watched as a kid, so I created Faux Facts – The Truth Can Be Strange! I had originally intended for it to be an animated series but ended up creating some short stories for an anthology called Mangaphile with Radio Comix. Later, I decided to take the plunge into self-publishing and revised and colored the existing stories and compiled them into my first full-color graphic novel. Once I had completed the art, I found that print on demand could overcome the financial burden of publishing and storing inventory. Each year I sold copies at San Diego Comic-Con, I found that I had an audience that wanted my work, so I kept on going with more volumes and am currently working on my fifth one.
As for Ah Heck!! The Angel Chronicles, it was based on my curiosity about life, death, and the afterlife and our greater purpose in life. And, while there are “evil bunnies” and “killer teddy bears” within it, I wanted to tell a story about what happens to a girl that was not intrinsically evil, but not very good either. Where would she go? What would happen? Was there still a chance that she could be saved? I never really believed in an absolute answer to these questions or that things couldn’t be changed, so I wrote a story that lightly sprinkled some personal experiences throughout it. I would like to think that maybe I helped spark a discussion about it.
BD: You also acted as a contributing artist for Womanthology Heroic and an editor and graphic designer for the Womanthology Heroic Sketchbook. What impact do you feel that Womanthology had on the comic book industry and its readers?
MB: I think the best thing that Womanthology did for comics was to show the interest girls and women have in comics. Women read comics. We want to write, draw, and tell our own stories, too. We can love superheroes, regular characters, and gritty or glittery stories. We’re just the same as anyone else. Give us good characters that people can relate to. There aren’t cookie cutter guides for creating a good comic, but just be open. I think Womanthology was a good start, but we need more exposure in the market place. Rather than focusing on the stories being valuable because they were created by women, instead, we should focus more on the fact that we could use new viewpoints in both the writing and art in comics.
BD: You have exhibited at San Diego Comic-Con for several years. How has your convention experience changed over the years, and in what ways do you feel that the Small Press Pavilion benefits independent creators?
MB: The first year I was at SDCC, I shared a corner of a table with someone and only had my one book and a few buttons to sell. I was really nervous. I had no idea if my work would be good enough, or if it would take off. Also, I had a higher price point initially, and I worried that would scare people off, but to my surprise it did not. The following year I was accepted into the small press section of SDCC. I had found a new printer and could lower my prices. My table was still pretty empty with only two books and some buttons and a little bit of art to sell. Each year helped me to gauge what my audience was looking for in stories and art, and I became more confident. I expanded into original artist trading cards and later plush dolls. This last year I had a full table. It’s allowed me to sell my work to people that would ordinarily not find it in the sea of the internet. I think the best thing about the small press area is that you can interact with people and live pitch your books and talk to your fans face-to-face.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MB: At the moment, I’m currently mapping out volume five of Faux Facts –The Truth Can Be Strange! and considering the spin off with Lilac. I’m currently working on various professional artist card sets and commission work.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about your work?
MB: You can always find out more about what books are released and what card sets I’ve been on via my website, www.marybellamy.com.