The following is an interview with husband-and-wife team Kevin and Lori Bertazzon, who founded the production company Lovely Studios and, together, have co-produced, written, directed, and animated everything from film and comic books to animation. In this interview, the Bertazzons chat with Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon regarding their latest project, Tugger the Ship, how they approach their creative process, the comparisons of working as an independent creator versus collaborating with a larger studio, and where you can find more of their work.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As a multi-talented husband-and-wife creative team, you have successfully taken on the roles of writer, director, producer, artist, and animator through your company, Lovely Studios. How do you balance your workload, and do you find that you enjoy staying busy?
Lori Bertazzon: . . . Speaking of husband and wife teams, thanks to you and Bryant for featuring us on FanboyComics.net. Both you and your site are pretty awesome. To answer your question . . .
Kevin Bertazzon: We love to make stuff which overrides any sense of balance. It’s a compulsion that’s probably very unhealthy – not unlike polishing off a row of Nutterbutters for the sugar rush to finish six shots in a day. (I wish this was a fictional example, but it’s not.) Lori’s more the organized one of the two of us. She can figure out the ‘how’ and ‘how much,’ I just think of the ‘what.’ She’s the brains, and I’m the buttocks – she takes it in and I s–t it out. Then, she ends up tired, and I end up sore.
LB: I agree with Kevin . . .”we love to make stuff which overrides any sense of balance.” Yeah, not necessarily healthy. I tend to view balance as something that is strived for, but never really achieved, especially as it relates to production. Once you’ve said yes to a project, it becomes the life, at least in our case. Resting happens usually in between projects.
BD: Recently, you co-produced the sci-fi comedy film, Tugger the Ship, with Kevin also having served as writer and director. For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the project, how would you describe its story?
KB: It’s about a crew of five being chased through the galaxy by alternate versions of themselves in a spacefaring tow truck designed by an eight-year-old girl. A completely unconvoluted concept.
BD: What inspired you to tell this story, and what are your next steps for the project?
KB: We both love sci-fi comedy (Hitchhikers Guide, Red Dwarf, Galaxy Quest, etc.), so we were trying to set up a character-driven premise (totally inspired by Arrested Development) that could mostly be shot in one location, then fleshed out as a series and taken into any number of absurd directions. Then, open it up to other talented people to play around with it – writers, directors, animators, designers, effects people, etc. We had even thought the audience could get involved with the creation, as well. We’re now looking for the right people to partner with to keep it going in the right experimental spirit. (To say we’re ‘shopping it around’ sounds much more grown up than we actually are.)
LB: Also, this was a fun way for Kevin to get to direct something live action. The last couple of projects have been animated and live action really is where his heart is.
BD: In addition to being filmmakers, Kevin, you are also a comic book creator, having published comics including Honor, Too Bubbly, and ISMS. As a storyteller, do you find that the film and comic book mediums offer similar or opposing avenues to tell a story?
KB: I’m not from the Alan Moore school of thought – that comics and film are two different mediums and shouldn’t interbred – but I can see his point. If we put aside the argument that storyboards are actually comics comprised of shots designed for a film or TV, there are some storytelling techniques that just work better as beautiful art to be looked at in a graphically designed sequence (Habibi) or even prose that are meant to be read on the page (Flowers for Algernon), but often times I think those stories can still translate to the screen, even if clumsily. It may be bad form, but I like designing comics as either people performing in front of me on stage or on camera. I’ve heard some comic shop guys bemoan the demise of the thought bubble – saying that comics are becoming too cinematic and less literary (the thought bubble being the character’s point of view, like in a novel). They’re not wrong, I just don’t mind. Reading Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris was like reading/watching an awesome HBO show. Plus, we now have colorful rectangles with the character’s thoughts and narration in them along with their insignia – just not in a cloud floating above their head – which often looked like the character farted. (First a poop then a fart joke – great interview so far, huh?)
BD: Kevin, you have also had the chance to do animation work for larger studios, having worked on films including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Star Trek: Insurrection, as well as video game titles like Star Wars, Gears of War, and Medal of Honor. From a creative perspective, do you find that there are drastic differences between working with larger studios versus working on your own projects, or do both opportunities provide creative freedom and input?
KB: In my experience, trying to be creative in a big studio is like trying to smell music. It’s just two different functions of the brain. In a big studio, the creativity is in the hands of the client, not of the service provider. (Jesus! THAT didn’t sound bitter. Me-yow!)
BD: Are there any additional projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
KB: Yeah, thanks for asking. If you go to ISMSbook.com, you’ll see our iPad illustrated and animated children’s book for adults, ISMS: a faery mobster story. It’s about a corrupt faery king, SIMON the BASTARD, who falls on hard times and has to get a job in a New Age bookstore, then forms a paranormal crime ring in the suburbs. It’s narrated by Peter Atkins, writer and “Barbie,” one of the Cenobites from Hellraiser 3 (who’s also the voice of TUGGER the ship!). Aside from that, my other project is called losing weight. Seeing myself in those pajamas in TUGGER – I realized I should’ve comped in Alias from Gears of War.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite comic books and movies?
KB: WE3 = aw + sum. The Exterminators was pretty great. Hellboy, B.P.R.D, and Mike Mignola could be some of the best things that have happened to our species. Rick Geary is, for me, the most underrated artist/writer in comics. His graphic novel biographies of Leon Trotsky and J. Edgar Hover, along with his Treasury of Victorian Murder series are, hands down, the best and most well-researched historical comics I’ve ever read. And, beside the fantastic version of Batman done in Zero Year by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, I think my favorite superhero book that kind of came and went (that I actually read more than Watchmen, Civil War, and Old Man Logan) is Batman: Lovers & Madmen by Michael Green, Denys Cowan, and John Floyd. It’s (yes another) retelling of the Joker origin. Not to give too much away, but the Joker is born through being dropped in a vat of antipsychotics then sees Batman as a big bunny. It doesn’t get better than that. Could someone please read this, because I’m dying to talk about it! In terms of movies, we like swinging one around that so many sci-fi fans hated, we LOVED Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris. That’s right haters – SO-LAR-IS! BRING IT!!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to learn more about your work?
KB: Our website would be the best, www.LOVELYstudios.com. Speaking of fan culture, you can check out our pitch to Amazon for a new show called the POWER brief, a news show about geek culture reported and debated by a washed-up superhero and supervillain while trying to kill each other.