Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist June Brigman was presented with an Inkpot Award for Achievement in Comic Art by Director of Print and Digital Media Gary Sassaman. She accepted the award and then began an illustrated retrospective of her career to date. “Now I can add that to my resume,” Brigman said. “I really like to draw and I’ve been drawing for a long, long time.”
Pointing to a character on the large screen beside her, Brigman began the informal panel that served as a walkthrough of the many projects the artist has been a part of over the past three decades, using her own visuals and accompanying stories from the proverbial horse’s mouth to transport fans through her life and career. “This is me according to Walt Simonson, who is, I’m sure you know, an amazing artist. He’s one of my art gods.”
“But let’s go back in time a little bit,” Brigman said as a picture of a little girl riding a horse appeared. “That’s me. I was about eight or nine years-old. The reason I’m showing this picture is because I originally wanted to be a jockey. I was one of those kids born horse crazy. I really thought I would grow up to be a jockey, but problem was, I kept growing. I got too big to be a jockey, so instead of riding horses, I started drawing horses.
“I loved to draw. I did not read comics as a child. It’s not that I was forbidden to read comics. I just really didn’t know about them,” Brigman continued. “Maybe if there had been comic books about girls and horses, I would have sought them out and read them.”
Another slide showed a picture of her drawing a portrait of a woman. “This is a picture of me at one of my very first paying gigs. I was a portrait artist at Six Flags over Georgia when I was sixteen years-old. That’s my mother who’s sitting for me there.
“We were supposed to take about ten minutes, I usually took about twenty. By the time the park got their cut, and the vendor got their cut, we artists only got about $1.50 per portrait,” she said. “But by the end of that summer, I had done over 600 portraits. I got better, and I learned a lot, and that was really priceless. It was a great experience for a young artist.”
Brigman studied art at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. It was there she met her then boyfriend, now husband, Roy Richardson. He took her to a comic book convention in Atlanta and she was impressed by the art of Gil Kane. “When I seriously got interested in drawing comics, I dropped out of school. My parents were right, I did regret it,” Brigman said. “I just started studying on my own and working up a portfolio. I went to New York and got into the Marvel office. One of the people I met was Louise Simonson.
“She had this idea for a group of superheroes who were siblings and children. The problem was, not many people could draw children,” Brigman continued. “There just weren’t any guys who could draw children. So she asked me if I could draw children, and I said ‘Yeah, sure. I can draw children.'”
Brigman wasn’t bluffing, and knew if she nailed the designs she had a shot at doing something different in comics, something she’d be uniquely suited for. “I went back to the place I was staying in the Bowery and did this drawing,” Brigman said of an illustration of a group of children standing in swimwear. This was the prototype, the very first drawing I ever did of the four characters: Katie, Jack, Julie and Alex Power.”
Brigman then showed the audience her initial design for the Power Pack’s costumes. “I did have the good sense to come up with something that was easy to draw over and over and over again,” Brigman said. “This was the first finished drawing I did of the costumes with a little bit of a color suggestion. I don’t think the colors stuck to this, and that’s probably just as well, because it looks like sherbet flavors now.” The artist then cycled through several covers from her run on “Power Pack,” including one that featured Franklin Richards, who was the same age as Katie Power at the time.
The next slides featured art from “Fantastic Four” #5, a recent jam issue featuring work from more than a dozen artists. “I got to do five pages, and they called me because it had kids. The Future Foundation led by Alex Power, who’s grown up a little here,” said Brigman. “I still like to draw him as basically a kid, but he’s starting to get that gawky teenage look. It was fun to get to draw Alex Power again. So while ‘Power Pack’ the book isn’t around anymore, the characters are still alive and well and still being used in Marvel comics, which is great.”
Brigman then spoke about her affinity for the “Barbie” comics she worked on, as well as the “Black Beauty” graphic novel she adapted with Roy Richardson. “It was a labor of love. I really enjoyed doing that,” Brigman said. “I’ve been doing illustrations for ‘Horse and Rider’ magazine for I guess over ten years now. It’s fun work and I get to come up with goofy things like Super-Horse here.”
Turning to her 16-year run on the “Brenda Starr” newspaper strip from 1995-2011, Brigman spoke about the unique challenge of following artist Ramon Fradon. “I really enjoyed doing ‘Brenda Starr.’ When I first started it, I tried to imitate the style of the previous artist Ramona Fradon. It’s a very difficult thing to copy another artist. It’s like trying to forge a personal signature or something. I pretty quickly moved into my own style.
“We did Brenda for about fifteen years, and then the syndicate decided it was time for Brenda to end. The circulation had dropped,” said Brigman of the decline of the comics page in newspapers. “The story strips are really sort of a dying art. So Brenda went off to the cartoon graveyard.”
Brigman wrapped up her spotlight panel by showcasing illustrations from a number of recent projects as well as some personal art and sketches. “The 99” was a book she drew for Kuwaiti company Teshkeel Media Group, but it’s not the only work she’s done with ties to the Middle Eat. “Aramco Magazine,” which Brigman described as the Saudi Arabian version of “National Geographic,” has also commissioned her services in recent years. Next up was a painting of Wonder Woman in her classic costume that Brigman told the crowd was based on the technique of Japanese artist Kazuhiko Sano.
“This is some random stuff that I thought would be fun to throw in. This is something I did at school one day just playing around,” as a humorous sketch featuring Wolverine with a cat hiding in his hair appeared on the screen. “Because why not?”
The final image was also cat-centric, this one from an upcoming project with writer Stuart Moore. “If I were pitching it, I would say it’s ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ but with cats,” Brigman said.
“So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past thirty years,” Brigman said. “I’ve done a little of this and a little of that, but I’ve always managed to be an artist.”