Tally Burtram is a comics creator and lecturer on cartoon and comics arts at Staffordshire University. Her webcomic Bajo Mano is currently in its third year of production. This week, Tom spoke with Tally about her background in comics, her position at Staffordshire University, and the future for Bajo Mano.
TM: You’re a lecturer at Staffordshire Universities Cartoon and Comic Arts BA course.
Part of that role is taking students deeper into the potential of comics, when did you yourself enter this realm and what were you reading?
TB: My journey into the realm of comics has followed a less obvious route. At first I was very into Spider-Man, I felt like I really related to Peter Parker… other than the spider powers, of course, but it wasn’t through the comics that got me into it. I actually used to watch the animated series when I was a little girl, along with all the X-Men series and Ninja Turtles. I was always hugely into animation and still am today.
It was later when my friend introduced me to manga and it’s really huge variety of titles that I started getting more into comics. My favourite series were Sailor Moon and Naruto, I guess I just loved adventure books about kids with magic abilities! One of my favourite manga books is called Fake which is about cops and is set in New York, so it’s one of my other main inspirations.
When I got older I got much more into comic books, so I read a lot of Terry Moore’s work and I got into Hellboy and Blacksad. Currently I’m very interested in indie comics since this is my world too, and particularly indie webcomics, I enjoy reading Widdershins and Mystery Circus, and I’m always on the hunt for more work from independent publishers since there’s such a huge variety out there.
Using a web-based media for comics is fascinating, since you have different options for page format, adding in animation and making it interactive. I particularly like Saint for Rent which uses a nice subtle animation in its pages.
TM: I’ve also heard of quite a few comic artists coming from animation courses, perhaps where it hardens you up for that drain of drawing the same characters over and over, or prepares the brain to think about movement and composition for narratives. Animation and interactivity is something the course touches on isn’t it?
TB: I agree, I think when we plan our stories we definitely see more than just one static image, though I really don’t have the patience of an animator! The course does indeed incorporate elements of animation; since it also covers cartoons which is quite a broad term – but we tend to aim students towards satirical cartoons, caricaturing, storyboarding and animation. The first years at the moment are working on motion comics, which we think will be much more of a common thing in the webcomic world soon, the internet has given us a lot to experiment with.
I believe it’s also great to have a bit of an animators point of view at times when drawing comics, for example how can we use things like the old squash and stretch techniques to make our characters look more dynamic in our panels? It’s exciting stuff and I’m really looking forward to digging further into this.
TM: Your latest book and webcomic Bajo Mano follows a wild and varied cast of characters within a small town police station. It unfolds in quite a similar way to a sitcom, which differs structurally from your other comic I Work With Cats, that uses anecdotes with a joke / one page short. How have you found each of these, and how do they compare?
TB: They’re incredibly different and I feel like I’m using different parts of my brain when I create them. I Work With Cats is at times much more straightforward to work on, it’s very much based on my own sense of humor and things that I find funny, the art style reflects that, it’s amusing to look at and it’s not too complex. I suppose the main focus of the Cats book is the humor, so the pages are drawn in a way that amplify that. I quite enjoy working with this sort of humorous writing style, I’ve got some future projects in mind where I’ll be bringing this style back.
With Bajo Mano, it’s very much like a sitcom (or sitcomic as I like to call it) and this comes from a more serious side of myself. The main part of Bajo Mano is being able to follow these characters and really get into their personalities. They’re all hiding something, so I wanted that to be something a reader could try to unearth by reading the books. It’s quite dramatic at times, I’ll be covering a lot of different issues, including quite dark storylines in some of the chapters; death being one of them, so I wanted the art style to be seen as serious at times, but it also needed to be able to handle the more fun and humorous side of the story too. As for the writing process, I tend to focus a lot more on how the characters interact and affect each other, I often spend hours fretting over dialogue!
TM: With regards to Bajo Mano’s cast; They’re all very distinct and strong characters. How do you approach creating those personas, and how they’ll work together?
TB: I try to take inspiration for the cast of Bajo Mano from many different places, since people are so wild and varied I wanted my characters to be too. I knew when I was writing the story that I wanted it to have a large cast so that I could regularly switch who is the key focus. Since it’s a long comic, I feel like it keeps it fresh to have someone new to follow. Additionally in doing that, I’d hope that readers would find someone in the cast they could relate to.
I’ve tried to make it so that while they do have their own unique personas and are strong enough to lead on their own, they can still all work together as a team of people. As for the design process, for some of the characters I’ve used different parts of myself. For example, Kurt is very much me at heart: quite positive and energetic, and wears his heart on his sleeve. Whereas some of the other characters are inspired by my friends who are a great help when I’m stuck in the character design process. One of my best friends, Adah, helps me to toughen up a lot of the characters, since I always write them way too politely!
Since it’s a comic about how people are under-handed in some way or another, since that’s what Bajo Mano means in English; I knew I wanted them all to have another side to themselves that they are hiding. The best example would be Burnese who as you’ll see in the comic when she’s working is level-headed and serious, but once she’s off duty becomes a daydreamer and kind of nerdy. Characters like that tend to work as great foils for other characters, so Burnese’s cool headedness can level out Kurt’s overexcited jumpiness, but her nerdy side could most likely create a great connection between the two of them… oh but that would be a spoiler!
TM: Can you give us a sneaky hint of what we can look forward to?
TB: Sure, since I’m still working through chapter 3 and it’s still early days I’ll have to be quite cryptic with my hints. Coming up in Bajo-Mano we’ll be seeing one character reveal they’re not being completely honest about something they’ve been doing, Kurt will do an awesome Power Ranger impression, and expect the ending of chapter 3 to leave you wanting more! And yes, there will be a lot of romance and much more comedy to come in this series!