Friday, March 19, 2010

Interview: Trade Loeffler

I remember seeing Trade Loeffler's ZIP & LI'L BIT "The Upside Down Me" and being impressed with the story and art. I sent him an email and told him point blank: I am a fan.

We emailed back and forth about his comics and cartoons in general, and slowly found out that we both lived in Brooklyn at the time. After a couple more emails, we realized we lived within a couple of blocks of each other. Since then, we've gotten together for beers and burgers, and become pals.

ZIP & LI'L BIT, the Web comic that he created, began in 2006. They are a series of all-ages friendly adventures of a brother and sister.

2010 brings us his new ZIP & LI'L BIT story, "The Captain's Quest," which began last Sunday. And Trade's first work in print, ZIG AND WIKKI IN "SOMETHING ATE MY HOMEWORK," has just been published by Toon Books.

Above and the below 2 panels: the beginning of the mystery of "The Upside Down Me."

Your ZIP & LI'L BIT stories seem inspired by McCay and Sendak (and maybe a wee bit of Lewis Carroll), who dealt with kids in strange dreams and having to use their wits to resolve their situation. This latest one promises to maybe have some hints of Segar. What cartoonists do you think of when producing ZIP & LI'L BIT?

I've definitely been inspired by all the artists you just mentioned. I would also list all the artists who worked on the old Disney cartoons and movies as having a tremendous influence on Zip and Li'l Bit.

How far ahead do you work? Is the story finished as of now or do you still have to write the ending? What percentage of the art is done before you post the first page on average?

The written portion of The Captain's Quest is finished. Other than the thumbnails I'll draw out as I'm writing, I won't do any artwork until I've got the story figured out. I find that I usually have to re-work my stories quite a few times before I'm happy with them. As far as the artwork goes, now that I've started posting the strip, I'm about ten pages ahead. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep that buffer there for the whole run of the story, but it's tough to keep up sometimes with a job and a kid.

What part is your favorite: the writing or the drawing?

The writing is definitely my favorite. I've always got a good idea of what's going to happen, or what needs to happen in a story, but I never know how it's going to happen. Figuring that out is always surprising to me and that's the funnest part of the whole process I think.

What is your workspace like?

Well, since I live in the city, my workspace is small and cramped. I've got my computer set up in our living room, and my drawing table is actually a dresser from IKEA. It's kind of silly because the surface of the dresser isn't even particularly smooth, so when I'm drawing or inking and I need a line to be nice and clean, I'll have to move the paper so it's over the smooth parts of the dresser. That probably doesn't sound too professional, does it?

What tools do you use when you draw?

I use markers. When I started drawing comics, I tried using those because they were nice and quick and I always told myself that as I got better, I'd switch over to a brush and ink, but those dang pens are so nice and quick for me, I haven't made the switch yet. Someday…

What cartoonists' work do you enjoy buying and reading now?

John Stanley's Thirteen Going on Eighteen is hands down the best comic book I've read lately. Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac strip is awesome! I've gotten my whole family hooked on that one.

Are there any plans for ZIP & LI'L BIT stuff to buy: books, t-shirts?

I wish I could say yes to that, but sadly the answer at this point in time is no.

You illustrated the book ZIG AND WIKKI IN "SOMETHING ATE MY HOMEWORK," which will be out soon from TOON Books. How did you get the gig?

The editor at RAW Junior, Francoise Mouly, had seen Zip and Li'l Bit online and contacted me about doing a book for her TOON Books series, which is a series of comic books created for early readers. The lineup of artists and writers that have created books for the series is amazing, and the books are fantastic. My son who's six years old reads them over and over and over, which is the best endorsement you can give for a kids' book. Can I give a shameless plug for the TOON Books site? Go to:

Was it more challenging working with a writer and editor (Francoise Mouly) on ZIG AND WIKKI than doing your Web comic by yourself?

The big challenge for me was that it was the first time I'd done a lot of things. It was the first book I'd done for print. It was my first time working with an editor. It was my first time collaborating with a writer on a comic. The writer of the ZIG AND WIKKI book is Nadja Spiegelman (who is Francoise and Art's daughter), and the characters she came up with for the story were awesome, which was also challenging because then I had to come up with illustrations that could do justice to Nadja's characters. Overall, I think everyone was really happy with the finished product. I'm definitely proud of how the book turned out. I hope that kids will dig it.

What did it feel like when you saw it on the shelf at your local Rocketship Comic Book Store in Brooklyn?

I don't know if I should say this, but I wasn't as excited as I'd expected. I had finished work on the book awhile ago and had advance copies and all, so when I saw the book in the store, it didn't seem like that big of a deal. Now, if they're all sold out next time I go in the store, I'll be ecstatic.

Above: some behind the scenes images from Trade Loeffler's "Storytelling 101" series.

Your wife is a successful working actress. Do you show her your work in progress?

Yes, I make my wife look at my comics as I'm working on them. Thankfully, she puts up with it and just gives me encouragement.

Will there a fourth ZIP & LI'L BIT? What future projects will there be?

There will definitely be a fourth Zip and Li'l Bit. I started writing it a while back, hit a wall with it, and have now started getting back into it. It's got some great characters that I'm really excited about. I don't know what projects other than that I'll have going on in the future. I've got a really fun twenty page story that doesn't star Zip and Li'l Bit that I've got written, I just don't know when I'll get a chance to do the artwork. If I could quit my job, that'd leave me more time to spend drawing and I could post more comics. Pray for me to win the lottery, will you?


Brian Fies said...

I'm a fan, too. "Upside Down Me" is terrific, and I didn't know about Zig and Wikki. I'll definitely be watching for more from Trade.

richardcthompson said...

Me too! I'm glad to hear about the Toon Books gig; that is a great series. Even better is seeing Zip and Li'l Bit are now updating every Sunday again!