VALENTI: Do you mind if we talk about graphic design a little bit?
VALENTI: So you were a graphic designer and then you segued into comics?
VALENTI: You seem to like a pink color palette.
RUGG: You mean, Street Angel?
RUGG: Street Angel was really a critique of the superhero genre. That pink cover was a challenge, “Hey, pick this up if you’re so tough.” You read a superhero comic, and you want to imagine … you fantasize about being Peter Parker. Nobody fantasizes about being Jesse Sanchez. Her life sucks. She’s homeless; she’s a young girl. If you’re a 14-year-old boy (or a 40-year-old man) with a power fantasy, it does not look like a 13-year-old homeless girl.
VALENTI: You are able to do these power fantasies with your co-creators, but you don’t give into them entirely. Again, it’s an exploitation thing, where yeah, these people are really tough, but they’re pimps because they’re poor and they’re in this neighborhood and this is how you survive. It brings some of that into it.
RUGG: Whenever we did Street Angel — whenever Slave Labor picked it up — we went to a comic-book store that had the new comics rack. It was all one wall — six feet tall and the length of the store. And we stood on the opposite wall and looked at it and thought, “how can we stand out?” And pink became our logo because there was no pink on the wall at the time.
VALENTI: You’re using that pink palettes again in U.S. Ape, so there’s that fuchsia pink. It seems like the color you return to.
RUGG: The fuchsia — the magenta — I equate with comics because of CMYK palettes and magenta in particular seems to be the color. Yellow is all over the place, it’s not that distinct. And blue is the sky. But that pink color: that is a printing color. You don’t see houses that are that color, or pants, or anything. That’s a strange color. I think that’s probably why.
VALENTI: I also wanted to talk about the Janes books. I’m assuming you didn’t design the cover for the first P.L.A.I.N. Janes.
RUGG: I didn’t design the cover for either P.L.A.I.N. Janes. They have an in-house designer who did those.
VALENTI: Yeah, because it’s awful. The first cover is really … [laughs].
Can you tell me how that [P.L.A.I.N. Janes] project came about?
RUGG: Yeah, Shelly Bond, the editor, we knew each other and started seeing each other at MoCCA and different shows. And she was always really supportive when I was doing Street Angel. I think she has a big file of artists. So whenever they started the Minx line and started working with Cecil Castellucci, Shelly showed her some art samples, she picked mine, and we just went from there.
VALENTI: What was it like working for DC and Minx?
RUGG: It was good. I had a very good experience. I liked Shelly as an editor a lot. And I liked Cecil as a writer. I’ve heard that some mainstream editors separate the writer and artist a lot. But the three of us worked very closely. With Shelly I would send work in every week and usually we would talk every week. With Cecil, early on, we had a ton of conference calls. When I was working on character designer and we would all talk about them. It was just a very positive experience all around.
VALENTI: I was going to ask you about that; I’ve heard that too, that they have a policy of separating the writer and the artist. You didn’t have that experience.
RUGG: Yeah, I haven’t done very much work for those companies. I can’t really speak to that policy except that I’ve heard about it.
VALENTI: What are the similarities and differences in regards to collaborating with Cecil and Brian?
RUGG: Brian and I co-write, and he actually lives relatively close, so occasionally we get together and actually yell at each other in person. But that stuff, we have no editor so it’s kind of whatever I ultimately feel like drawing is what we end up with. That’s probably not the right way to say that. It’s a lot of back and forth. We do a million rewrites. We edit stuff to the point of every time we work on something I think, “That’s it, we’re not working together, how do we divide up what we’ve created?”, and that happens every time. It’s part of our creative process — that point of frustration. With Cecil, it’s like “Here’s the script, if you have any suggestions let me know.” She’s clearly the writer.
VALENTI: A lot of the Janes’ discussions about art reflect a lot of what you’ve done in your non-collaborative work. I wasn’t sure if that’s something that you and Cecil are both preoccupied with or…
RUGG: It might just be common to the creative process. I hadn’t really thought about it. I just did a fellowship with a bunch of artists here in town and there were 20 of us — all different disciplines. It’s amazing how much we have in common: a filmmaker, a poet, a cartoonist, and a painter. Any of that is unintentional, but it’s probably just subconscious.
VALENTI: You were transitioning, I think, from pen and ink to tones. And I think it’s a little rougher in the first Jane book and it smoothed out in the second. How you were changing your techniques?
RUGG: They wanted it to be grayscale, so it was just a matter of adding the grayscale digitally. Other than that I don’t know if it was that different than Street Angel or something. It was done quickly, because we were the last book added to the initial Minx line and the first book released. That might explain some of the roughness. I also have a lot of shortcomings as an artist. Hopefully I’ve improved on some of that roughness through practice and experience.
VALENTI: In Street Angel, there’s that huge jump between “Pangea” and “Inca-Dinka-Doo.” “I’ve got my model down. I can draw her consistently.” You can see the jump from book to book with you.
I was going to ask you, do you do all these techniques — like the tones and stuff — by hand? I’m thinking of Afrodisiac. I feel like you move from brush to technical pen.
RUGG: Yeah, I use brush and pen somewhat interchangeably, it kind of depends on the scale of the art. Mostly I color digitally, including grayscaling. Originally I did that because I was making comics when I was working as a graphic designer, so I’d spend all day looking at a computer and drawing on paper was a really nice change. Now … I’m not sure why I still work on paper, to be honest. But I still split my time between paper and digital. And I do use Rapidographs, but just for lettering and rolling borders.
VALENTI: You mimic all these old art styles. I guess it’s more of a conceptual thing than an actual technical tool.
RUGG: Yeah, some of that stuff, like the romance comics covers, I would work two up because the old ones, you know in the ’50s, art was done two up instead of one and a half times. So, it is more conceptual — I don’t think the end result is that much different. If you were trying to emulate old comics, you could do that at any scale. But in my head I was like “Yeah, they used to draw these two up, so I’ll do it that way.” That was in my head more than anywhere else.
VALENTI: What are your thoughts on Minx and it’s legacy?
RUGG: I don’t know that there is much legacy. I think it was a very, very good idea, you know when they started the project three years before the books were published — the idea of doing books for young women readers, I thought, was a really great idea. Whenever the line were cancelled, it was kind of like, “What difference does it make?” I mean in terms of filling a hole in the market. At that point, Hope Larson and Raina Telgemeier, there were a bunch of young women that were making really good comics. So it’s not like that part of the market suffered because Minx was cancelled. It was better than it’s ever been, or at least better than it has been since the ’50s. Personally, I’m very happy to have been a part of it. Being able to work with Shelly and Cecil was an amazing experience and very beneficial to me.
RUGG: Some of [my work] I don’t think is age-appropriate. Some of it is a personal reaction. The first comic I read was a terrible comic, but I instantly was like, “I’m drawing comics. This is exactly what I want to do.” I wasn’t reacting to the comic; I was reacting to the form. And I think that these movies—like, these Zach Snyder movies—the people might be reacting to the visual appearance. Like, an aesthetic reaction? And it’s not necessarily generational. I don’t like watching animation, for some reason. And I often want to watch, to enjoy animation, but personally I don’t like to watch it. I can’t enjoy it. But other people love animation. It’s not a genre; it’s a form that they’re reacting to.