Ted Brandt and Rosy Higgins are an artistic team from Bristol, England. They are currently working on Princeless: Raven Pirate Princess with writer Jeremy Whitley. (Secret Wars: Secret Love.) It is an all ages comic from Action Lab and a sequel to the Princeless: Pirate Princess and is about Raven Xingtao, an Asian lesbian teen pirate, who must wrest back the title of Black Arrow (Think Pirate King in Pirates of Caribbean.) But, first she must assemble a crew for her ship, and that is what she has been doing over the past three issues with the help of shifty Half-Elf thief Sunshine and Katie, who is a dead ringer for Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones and inspires her to assemble an all female crew. Higgins pencils and colors the comic while Brandt handles the layouts, inks, and letters on Raven Pirate Princess.
They are also working on a B-side (backup story) with Kieron Gillen in an upcoming issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl and an adorable all ages comic Dog of Wonder featuring Action Lab’s company mascot, who is literally a dog with a jetpack.
Pop Optiq: To start out, how did you meet as artists and start collaborating together?
Ted Brandt: Well, we met as people first. We were both going to university to learn how to make comics.
Rosy Higgins: I ended up living in the same house as Ted.
TB: We got into a relationship before we actually started working together. Princeless: The Pirate Princess was actually the first thing we worked on together. We had complementary skills. When Jeremy [Whitley] was looking for a new artist, we knew neither of us could fulfill the whole brief, but both of us together could have a shot.
PO: What are some of your favorite pirate stories in fiction? Novel, movies, comics, any fiction.
RH: Muppet Treasure Island.
TB: For me, it’s the story of Wu Ao-Shi, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay in Immortal Iron Fist. Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker are just great, and David Aja’s art was incredible. She was the first Iron Fist to channel her chi through a weapon.
PO: I actually have Marvel Unlimited and haven’t read it.
RH: [laughs] I haven’t read it either.
TB: Do yourself a favor and check it out. I have the Omnibus edition signed by Fraction, Brubaker, and Aja. I’ve got a full page sketch in there of Orson Randall by Aja.
RH: It’s one of your many books that’s big enough to kill a man.
PO: How do you make Raven Pirate Princess stand out from other fractured fairy tale and princess stories, like Once Upon A Time, Fables, all those Disney live action princess movies?
TB: Intuitively, I guess. We haven’t really thought about it in a conscious way.
RH: Honestly, we just get the script and try to make the best thing from the script. Jeremy is almost consciously trying to make something that stands out when he writes it. We’re just trying to best tell the story that he wants told.
PO: Rosy, which of Pirate Princess‘ characters was your favorite to design, and why?
RH: There’s a character called Quinn, who we haven’t quite met yet. She’s one of the crew members that Raven recruits. I’m happy with the clothing design I gave her because she’s really fun to draw.
PO: For Ted, what is something about the inking process that you want readers and reviewers to know about?
TB: It’s quite interesting because working with Rosy is the first time I’ve inked somebody else’s work. It taught me a lot. Inking for myself was effectively glorified tracing. Inking someone else’s work is a reinterpretation because much like Rosy trying to illustrate the script, you’re trying to interpret the words and turn them into lines.
Inking is a perceptual art. It’s about taking what you see and filtering it through what you see in the world. You’ve got someone like Klaus Janson, who is the master of that because no matter who he’s inking, you can see who penciled it and see that Janson inked it. You can always tell. That’s the goal of the inker: to preserve the vision of the penciller whilst making sure the linework that finishes is still uniquely their own.
PO: How do you balance the early modern setting of Pirate Princess with 21st century anachronisms, like tabletop RPGs and some of the dialogue, in your art?
RH: It’s quite tricky because a lot of the time we’re trying to look back at a proper pirate setting and everything. Sometimes I look at the script, and don’t know how it meshes properly. We look at the modern item and try to figure out the analogue version of it from a long time ago and piece it back together.
TB: Yeah, it’s about finding the spirit of the thing. It took us a while to learn to let go of the literal. That was the problem. It’s like the difference in linguistics between transliteration, which is trying to copy the speech word for word and translation, which is trying to capture the spirit. We started off transliterating the modern items into the setting, and now we’re trying to translate instead.
PO: One of my favorite parts in Raven Pirate Princess #3 was the cameos by three famous female comics creators: G. Willow Wilson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Marjorie Liu. How did that come to be, and have you heard from the writers about the issue?
RH: Jeremy specifically wanted to have those women in it.
TB: I’ve heard responses from two of the three. Both Marjorie Liu and Kelly Sue have responded positively. G. Willow Wilson might have responded, but I haven’t seen it if she has. They’ve been incredibly positive and grateful about how we drew them, which is almost as nerve wracking as actually doing it.
These are real people that we admire, and it adds an extra level of pressure. If it’s a real person that you don’t know or have any connection to, there’s no pressure.
RH: But if it’s someone you really like, you’re like, “Oh my God, we can’t mess up.”
PO: When I look at the credits for Raven Pirate Princess, it has one of the most unique division of labor in comics. Ted, you do the layouts, inks, and letters. Rosy, you do the pencils and colors. What is your workflow like, and how do you communicate during the process of doing the art?
RH: Lots of shouting! [Both laugh.] It’s kind of symbiotic. Ted will go through and do the layouts. As he starts to do the layouts, I will start to put in the pencils. And as soon as he’s done the layouts, he will take whatever pencils I have and ink them. It’s a semi-conveyor belt process.
TB: No part of the job is belonging uniquely to either of us. Although we have that division of labor advertised, it’s never that simple because there is a lot of communication between us. Oftentimes, I’ll be frustrated because I can’t get an angle for the layout, and Rosy will just fix it. Or she’ll be struggling with a hand, and I’ll do it. That’s another strength of our partnership. Because we’re working in tandem that way, it’s really easy for us to jump in and fix the problems the other one is having. Especially since we work two feet from each other.
PO: Kind of like the old Marvel Bullpen days. So, Raven Xingtao is unique because she is one of the few queer heroines in all ages comics. What is important to you about bringing that kind of character to life for your readers?
RH: First of all, just to see her as a person.
TB: The crucial thing is that we’re trying to make her as normal as possible. I don’t mean we’re trying to impose anything on her particularly. We just focus on the story of her. What should make her unique isn’t her sexuality or her race, but the quest that she’s on.
I have seen some works where it’s very much, “Look at us, aren’t we great? We’ve got a queer lead.” If you’re self congratulatory or making a big fuss about this thing, I think it undoes a lot of the positivity of the message, which is amazingly, they are people too.
PO: Yes, I totally agree. You guys are doing a B-side in the Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #3. How did you get this gig, and could you maybe give a little preview of your story?
TB: Literally, it’s a case of I bug [Kieron] Gillen on Twitter by responding to puns a lot. At one point, he announced that he was still looking for a couple of B-side artists, and I thought, “What the hell. This can’t hurt” and tweeted at him that we were available.
RH: A few months later, he asked if we were still available.
TB: He ran out of friends. We asked and were given an option of who to work with. Out of the ones available, we couldn’t say no to David Kohl. The worst man alive.
RH: He is very fun to draw.
Raven Pirate Princess #4 is set to release on October 21, 2015. Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #3 is coming out on October 14, 2015. Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt