Credit: Walt Simonson
June Brigman has drawn it all, proverbially, in comics – from Marvel to DC, from space cats to comic strip reporters. She’s even taught it – at the Kubert School, at the Savannah College for Art & Design, and coming this fall at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University.
But if you’re reading this, you know her best for Power Pack. That’s okay, it’s her favorite as well.
In the 37 years and the criss-crossing of her career, there’s a lot to talk about with the native Georgian – but we’re going back to the beginning to find out how it all started.
As part of our ongoing series of ‘year one’ style interviews The Secret Origin of, Newsarama now talks to June Brigman.
Newsarama: June, what made you fall in love with the comic book medium?
June Brigman: I fell in love with comics when I discovered Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. I didn’t read comics as a child. It’s not like my parents forbade me or anything. I just wasn’t interested. Maybe if there had been a comic book about a girl and her horse…I definitely would have read that. But it wasn’t until my boyfriend, now husband, Roy Richardson showed me a Kirby New Gods comic that I was hooked. It was like stepping through the looking glass into another dimension. And the older I get, the more astounded I am by the brilliance of Kirby.
Nrama: What made you want to become a comic book artist?
Brigman: I was majoring in art at the University of Georgia. I didn’t really have much direction, but I knew I wanted to be a working artist.
Roy took me to a comic book convention in Atlanta, oh, about 1980. There were all these legendary artists there. I met Michael Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Steranko, and Gil Kane. I was amazed at how they could draw so beautifully with no reference, no photos, no models. I think I spent most of the day watching Gil Kane sketch. I’ve always loved drawing, and this looked like a lot of fun. So, I decided to go for it.
Nrama: How did you break into the comic book industry?
Brigman: I dropped out of school and started working on a portfolio. I think my first published work was for Bill Black’s Americomics, a small company based in Florida. Then I got a little job in DC Comics’ New Talent Showcase. The writer of that job, Steve Ringgenburg, was working at Marvel. He got me in the door. This was around 1983.
I went from editor to editor showing my portfolio. It was very different then. I don’t think they’d let me in now. But I met Larry Hama, who took mercy on me and gave me a little back-up job in Savage Sword of Conan. I also met Louise Simonson, who was an editor then. She didn’t have any jobs available for me. But she did ask me if I knew how to draw children. I said yes. And that was the beginning of Power Pack.
Nrama: How did your collaboration with Louise Simonson flourish with concept for the team?
Brigman: She had this idea for a group of siblings who get their superpowers from an alien who crashes on the beach during their summer vacation. She asked me if I could draw children, and I said yes.
This may not seem like a big deal. But at the the time, there were lots of artists who were great at drawing big beefy superheroes, but couldn’t draw children. So, I went back to my friend’s place in the Bowery, did some samples, and showed them to Weezie the next day. She liked them, wrote up a proposal, and gave it to Jim Shooter. He liked it, we shook hands, signed a contract, and got to work.
Nrama: What came into designing the characters and their world?
Brigman: Well, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never designed anything before, so I was just winging it. Weezie came up with very distinctive personalities for each of the kids. It was her writing that informed my approach to drawing them. Their costumes are a product of my very 80’s fashion sense.
As for the Kymelians, I knew I wanted to do something different. I’ve always liked drawing horses, so I gave them the head of a seahorse and the legs of a land horse. The Snarks are part lizard, part crab. Our editor, Carl Potts was a big help with that design, as well as Friday, the smart ship. I guess it took a village to design the look of Power Pack.
Nrama: How do you feel about how the character are portrayed now as Marvel is showing them growing up?
Brigman: I haven’t read any of the latest versions of Power Pack. I’m glad the characters are still an active part of the Marvel Universe. But I think aging them is a mistake. It’s their very young age that makes them different, sets them apart from the countless stories of teenage superhero angst and woe.
Nrama: For Marvel’s 80th Anniversary you did a one-shot with Louise for the Power Pack. What was it like to draw the characters again?
Brigman: So freakin’ great. It’s not often that life gives you a second chance. I always love working with Weezie. And getting to work with her again on my favorite book was the best. After working in comics for 35 years, I’ve finally started to figure out what I’m doing. And that made drawing the kids even more fun this time around.
Nrama: Would you like to return to the Power Pack on a more frequent basis?
Brigman: Absolutely! Working with Weezie is a blast. And I love playing with the kids. Children are just plain fun to draw. And children with superpowers who get to save the world…well, I never get tired of that.
Nrama: You’ve also worked on comic strips. How do you feel strips and full length comic books are different?
Brigman: Comic strips are relentless. If it’s a successful strip, it never ends. It’s a very long-term relationship. You never have the closure that you get from finishing a 22-page comic book.
The format is also very limiting. The size, shape, and arrangement of panels is set in stone. Comic books give you a lot more artistic freedom. You can do as many panels of as many different sizes and arrangements as you want, as long as it serves the story. You have more room to stretch artistically. However, I’m very lucky that I get to play in both sandboxes.
Nrama: What do you enjoy about comic strips?
Brigman: It’s an honor to be part of the legacy of two famous comic strips, Brenda Starr Reporter and Mary Worth. And the regular paycheck is nice too.
Nrama: What’s been your favorite franchise or character to work on?
Brigman: Power Pack. But I will say that Captain Ginger is an extremely close second.
Nrama: You’ve also worked as a professor teaching people about cartooning and comics. What made you decide to go into education?
Brigman: I never had any interest in teaching until I found out I could teach what I love: comics. I first taught at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Art. Talk about being thrown into the deep end! I had to learn on the job. But it was a great experience, and I found out I really enjoyed teaching. After taking a break from teaching, I’ll be an adjunct professor at Kennesaw State University in fall 2020.
Nrama: In recent years you’ve worked with Ahoy Comics such as the aforementioned Captain Ginger, would you like to do more with them? What attracted you to the publisher?
Brigman: Writer, Stuart Moore, and I had co-created a new book called Captain Ginger about the crew of a starship inherited from humans by a group of fiercely individualistic cats. It was Ahoy Comics, publisher Hart Seely and Tom Peyer, who saw the potential of Captain Ginger and believed that it could be a success. Ahoy is a great company that is totally supportive of its creative talent. Stuart and I have the freedom to do some of the best work of our careers.
Nrama: To wrap, what current work do you have in the pipeline?
Brigman: I’m drawing Mary Worth and six more issues of Captain Ginger. My husband, Roy Richardson, inks my drawings and keeps our little cottage industry going. I think it’s also safe to say that there’s more Power Pack in my future. At least, I really hope so!