Today I am interviewing the venerable cartoonist
over her career as an artist and her zany story of gangster cats and whiskey! 8D
So Tracy is there anything you'd like to say to those fans of your art reading this interview at the moment?
Tracy: Hey, thanks for reading!
Around when in your life did you start to realize you like to draw,doodle to a reasonable quality,and of what?
Tracy: I began drawing around age 3 or 4. Every kid draws at that age, of course, but according to my parents, I spent an unusual amount of time at it. Throughout childhood, drawing pictures of animals, fantastical creatures, and cartoon characters was my favorite thing to do. I filled sketchbooks with cats, dogs, horses, Roger Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, Mrs. Brisby and a whole lot of dragons.
So clearly it doesn't take a genius to tell that you're quite enraptured by cats and their quirks.Can you articulate what in particular makes them so very endearing to you,the countess of all crazy cat ladies?XD
Tracy: Well, I enjoy their company and they’re fun to draw. If I seem enraptured, I suppose it’s because the feline mythos and a concept like Lackadaisy seemed to correlate in some way that I couldn’t bring myself to ignore, so I indulged in it instead.
As humans, we’re pretty narcissistic - we project a lot of ourselves onto other animals, but with cats, I’m not sure it’s all projection. They’ve become an integral part of the human social circle, but without relinquishing the tendency to be independent operators; without losing feral inclinations, only tucking them away for a congenial turn. In that way, they’re a complex mix of the familiar and relatable, the charismatic and the unpredictable. They’ll happily sprawl in a patch of sun for a time, but there’s a long storytelling history of cats lingering naturally in gray, twilight shades of morality. They make for compelling companions in life and likable scoundrels in literature.
Having worked in the game industry what are your sentiments on it as a whole right now and where would you like to see it go in the future?
Tracy: Beginning in my childhood and through the time I worked in the industry, it’s been fascinating and satisfying in a way to see games emerge from geeky subculture to mainstream mega-force. I couldn’t accurately characterize it on the whole, though, any more than I could succinctly encapsulate the auto industry or film industry. It’s a behemoth mix of good and bad. Some exciting things are happening in accord with new technology and free, easy access to that technology, allowing indie developers in to diversify and innovate. That’s encouraging. I’m also curious to see just how sophisticated we can get with the little gaming devices we all carry around in our pockets these days. Meanwhile, as in all industries, marketing budgets matter more than they should in determining success, there’s a lot of lackluster repetition on the creative side of things, and a lot of the same old, crusty, often reprehensible business practices and attitudes are still firmly entrenched to the detriment of the intended product and the lives of the people building it.
The game industry is also infamously renowned for being an arduous industry to work in;What was your mindset towards approaching that when you were in the industry and what was your most patronized source of caffeine for those long nights working on your comic?
Tracy: I wasn’t a coffee drinker when I went in. When I came out, I was coffee-dependent with a fiendish side addiction to energy drinks. Amp, Monster, Red Bull - I’d drink whatever was at hand, even if it tasted like cough syrup. Apropos in a way. If you’re not drinking it because you like it, but rather more literally ‘taking your medicine’ because you need it, it’s perhaps time to step back and reconsider some of your life choices.
There’s a bit of a rush to the infamous ‘crunch mode’ at times, when you’re toiling away at midnight with a team of determined people, passionate about seeing something through, reaching your latest milestone. There were just as many times, though, when it felt more like an exhausting, thankless trudge. My employer, to their credit, made a concerted effort in more recent years to mitigate crunch time. They recognized how counter-productive and damaging that could be.
Overall, though, working hard toward a creative end is something I generally find fulfilling. The trouble really only entered in when I was divided between being a game artist and being a comic artist. If I was giving my all to my employer and the game we were developing, then the comic had to suffer for it...and if I was pulling all-nighters to try to give the comic the attention it needed, then I couldn’t do my job as effectively as I wanted and needed to. It was hard to make the call, but in the end, my heart truly belongs to the comic, and so I (perhaps foolishly..we shall see) followed my heart.
Lastly for that sub-topic,as for your work on Simultronics looking back what was your favorite project to work on and conceptualize and how would you summarize your time working there in retrospect?
Tracy: (Hehe. “Simutronics”, actually. It was always a matter of much amusement at the office that, without fail, people unfamiliar with the company name would add that “L” in there.)
We worked on a pretty wide variety of game genres and types and I wore a lot of different hats under the ‘artist’ heading, so there was always something new and engaging to learn and do. Fantasy University stands out as one of the games I had the most fun with, though. After a particularly trying period, the whole dev team felt the need to let loose and unwind, and so we set about creating an RPG that would make us laugh. It did manage that, even if it wasn’t quite a financial success. On that project, I was mostly designing and drawing (comedic) 2D art assets. The last game I worked on with Simutronics (in cooperation with Square Enix) was Lara Croft: Relic Run, a game that gave me a chance to really focus on character animation. I count that among one of my favorites for an entirely different reason as it pushed me beyond what I thought were the limits of my ability. I went into a lot of my tasks feeling anxious about how I would manage all the moving pieces and cinematography, but ultimately, I did some work I was pretty proud of.
Simutronics has been a big part of my life. I did a lot of my growing as an artist there, and a lot of my growing up too. I was a kid when I started, really - I had some drawing ability and not much else, but they took me in, let me try new things, fostered my evolution into a 3D artist, an animator, and an art director. There were many ups and downs, of course, but I was able to work with and learn from so many talented, intelligent, driven people that now, looking back, I feel humbled, grateful and simply lucky to have had a place there for so long.
Clearly American animation played a large part in helping to develop your style so if I might inquire, which titles would you say played a pivotal role in getting you inspired followed by a brief summary on why you find each of them so very compelling for your awesome self?
Tracy: The manner in which you’re influenced as an artist, the “process” by which you develop your style, is such an organic thing, it’s hard to put a fine point on all that goes into it. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill, picking up more bits of snow and slush...and sticks and sand and grass from here and there until it has accumulated into something different from other snowballs. It’s hard to poke your snowball apart and identify exactly where each bit of stuff came from, or even distinguish one bit from another bit because it’s all been so thoroughly mushed together. Here’s an attempt at doing that nevertheless:
Disney, obviously, had something to do with the way I draw. For an American kid, it’s almost inescapable. I watched a lot of the feature length films and then I watched them again. And again. And again. And then again, in slow motion. I’m pretty sure I screwed up the VCR. I didn’t win any ‘awesome self’ points from my parents doing that, but I was captivated by the artistry in the motion. I’m sure I learned some things too, not only about movement, but about conformation and proportion and gesture. Bambi was of particular interest to me, I think because. for that film, the animators abandoned the lingering influence of the old squishy sack/rubber hose approach to character motion in favor of melding cartoon appeal with real aspects of anatomy. There’s sublime about the confluence of elements - it manages to be a work of art, a merry cartoon and something that carries emotional weight all at once. In what I do, I think maybe I’ve been trying to capture something like that all along.
When it comes to humor, though, Disney never held a candle to classic Looney Tunes shorts. Obviously, for my part, I don’t utilize a lot of the extreme distortion you’ll see in, say, a Tex Avery cartoon, but anything I know about comic timing or funny reaction shots or simply fun-to-look at character expressions probably comes from absorbing a whole lot of reruns of these classics. For all their absurdity, there’s a certain sardonic humanity to these cartoons as well - something that resonates as “true” to life somehow, and though I have trouble defining it in words, it’s something that I think influenced the spirit with which I approach putting slightly absurd characters in absurd situations...and then letting their situations unravel.
Tragically the real Ivy whom inspired the zesty character in the comic passed on lately,but what were your best memories of her? To have inspired such a spunky character I imagine she was a palpable joy to have in your life and I'm sure she enjoyed her life with you.
Tracy: She’d greet me at the door when I arrived home from work, follow me around with chatters and peeps (she never quite managed a proper ‘meow’), bonk her head trying to leap onto the counter, and make herself comfortable on my lap the moment I sat down She was a diminutive little thing, but was full of gregarious poise around people. As self-appointed welcoming committee, she’d immediately be all over anyone entering the house - plumbers, contractors, electricians, friends - head-bumping their shins and flopping over directly in their path so they’d have to stop and pet her. I had a photographer here one time to take my picture for a little write-up in a local magazine. As soon as he took his camera out, she wedged herself into its empty leather case and watched him work, two golden owl eyes peering out from the small, dark opening. It took some coaxing to get her out. I’m sure she’d have been very pleased to be toted around by her new photographer friend, but I’m not sure he was so thrilled with the coating of cat fur inside his expensive case.
No epic dramas to share about her, really - she was just a little bright spot in my everyday life. I miss her a lot.
How many cats have you had overall throughout your life anyways?
Tracy: I had 6 cats throughout my childhood, 4 of them during the same timeframe because, in my teenage years, and much to my parents’ chagrin, I kept bringing home shelter and farm rescues. Since I’ve lived on my own, I’ve had...let’s see, well, counting cats that have belonged to housemates of mine, 7 (4 of which live with me now).
I guess the short answer is “a lot”.
Now moving on to Lackadaisy......
How many papers do you normally use for a more intricate comic page and what is your process on the paper normally like?
Tracy: For every comic page I post, there are usually 2 to 3 sheets of 11x14 bristol board (front and back) involved, and at least few pieces of copy paper in collateral damage. It’s a bit messy, all told - a lot of scribbled thumbnail and layout edits, notes on the side for dialogue changes, and multiple redraws for some of the trickier panels.
You're very meticulous in your research in order to capture the unique texture of the area and the suave dialects. You've scoured the great city of St.Louis quite faithfully in order to meet that task,but do you think an underground speakeasy like the one featured in Lackadaisy would be all that feasible or not in your opinion?
Tracy: It has some basis in reality. Speakeasies themselves were no rarity during Prohibition. An estimated 30,000 of them were doing business in 1927, and some of them made pretty sophisticated work of it. It’s also true that St. Louis is built on top of a labyrinth of limestone caves. The caves have at times housed beer gardens, theaters, a swimming pool and numerous passageways utilized by city businesses like the Lemp Brewery. There are some stories of bootleggers using the caves to store and move liquor around during Prohibition as well. It’s difficult to verify legends like that, but considering the extensive nature of the caves (before interstate highway construction decimated them) and their multiple, secretive inlets and outlets, it’d only make sense that some crafty (or shifty) people would have put them to good use.
Realistically, though, trying to keep a speakeasy the size of Lackadaisy dry and well lit enough to be comfortable for a nightly crowd would probably pose quite the logistical problem.
How do you balance the whimsicality in the main story with the more austere moments that are have become prominent as the Lackadaisy Speakeasy comes upon rather dire circumstances?
Tracy: Hopefully I do balance those things. I try, but I doubt I’d be the most objective judge of how successfully I manage it. The comic is based pretty heavily around the idea that comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin, though. Rocky in particular, with his thespian streak, seems acutely aware of that. He’s intimately involved with the triumphs and failures of the Lackadaisy Speakeasy, but with his ridiculous poetry, he also plays the role of a sort of meta-observer and he seldom allows things to become too self- serious.
The cartoonish character designs add some levity too, I think, so that even when the subject matter turns a bit dark, everything is still a bit offset from grim reality.
Now with any good story with organic characters that are as loveable and simply fun ,many characters have a tendency to grow outside their initial roles and become their own wholly unique entity and truly something special.So then, do you feel that has happened to any of your characters particularly and how so?
Tracy: Wick was once far more a villain than he turned out to be. Viktor began with a different name, a different personality, a different background, and he wasn’t nearly so bent out of shape at the prospect of bartending as he is now. Rocky was a different sort of character too, once designated to be the bandleader, but he started bouncing off walls, breaking into fits of spontaneous poetry, and making terrible life decisions, so Zib had to step in.
Really, all of the characters I spend time writing a lot of background and dialogue for seem to take on a life all their own. I can only deliberately paint definition onto them up until a point when there’s enough of a personality there to begin filling in its own blanks...and I can’t so much bend them to fit into my plot points as I must simply allow them to determine their own story. I like it that way, though - the writing comes more naturally and feels less forced. (I realize, though, that probably sounds pretty wacky and nonsensical to anyone who hasn’t spent far too many hours inventing and daydreaming about fictional people.)
Empathy for the characters is crucial when concocting a script so if I might inquire how much do you get into a characters mindset when crafting their speech?Prime examples of the starkly diffrent dialogue include one of Rocky's trademark diatribes,Mitzi's melancholic moments of solemnity and scheming in equal measure,one of Viktor and Mordecai's cordial exchanges,or a chirpy moment of Ivy flirting chirpily with Freckle?
Tracy: I do a lot of mulling over of character backstory and motivation, thinking about the places they came from and how that would influence the way they speak and behave, what sort of attitudes about life or other people they’ve developed, the sort of unique mannerisms and turns of phrase they’d have collected, what their overall state of mind is in any given situation and so forth. It’s a bit like the mental process an actor goes through, I suppose, except that the result is a drawing instead of a performance.
So looking at your style for the comic as a whole ,what percentage would you say the characters are feline-human taking into account that their paws,heads,and overall anatomical structure still convey the essence of a cat quite well despite being garbed in the regalia of humans?
Tracy: I don’t know. The feline aspect isn’t quite as literal as some readers seem to take it to be. There’s no bio-fantasy aspect to any of it. Functionally, the characters are people and essentially, it’s a story about a bunch of flawed human beings. Some might write off the character designs as gimmicky, having said that, but to me, it serves a definite purpose. It’s a bit punny and visually playful, but also serves as a degree of separation from reality where the darker, occasionally violent bits of story can intermingle with the more humorous, absurd bits without seeming terribly disparate. The cats are an ever-present reminder of the intended tone of the piece.
Which character's color scheme (without the atmospheric sepia overtone) do you like the most seeing as cat fur patterns are typically quite exquisite?
Tracy: I try to design all of the color palettes in such a way that I’ll enjoy returning to them time and again. I think the tabbies and warm tones are my favorites, though. I enjoy Zib’s crimson and gold, I like painting Freckle’s carrot-orange fur, Ivy’s sunshine-bright clothing, and the hint of russet in Rocky’s gray coat.
Do you feel you can articulate what makes your wonderful comic so very fun to work on?
Tracy: I don’t know if I could put a finger on it exactly, but it’s pretty unabashedly self-indulgent. It’s made up of all the things I love, so it keeps me pretty hooked. Of course, hearing from readers who enjoy it has proven to be a well of encouragement too. Thanks for using such kind descriptors!
Thanks for your insights on your comic;It's so very whimsical and enjoyable!
Tracy: Thanks for your interest, and for crafting such thoughtful questions!
Are there any comics you enjoy immensely and would recommend reading for any of those interested in fun cartoony art such as yours?
Tracy: Oh, so many comics. Dreamkeepers, Cucumber Quest, Love Me Nice and the Meek are just a few with colorful, appealing styles I enjoy.
Now,lastly maybe because I love the style with that one too,but what are your thoughts towards the vivacious comic Dreamkeepers by David and Liz Lillie and do you like any particular characters in it for any special reasons?
Tracy: Dave and Liz are great - not only talented and hard working, but they love what they do and it shows. I have a great deal of respect for them as self-starters in the comic business too. It’s not easy to make a living that way, especially independent of some larger corporate presence, but they’ve been quite successful at it and that’s been an inspiring thing for me to watch from sidelines.
It’s hard to pick a favorite character. The designs are so varied, unique and fluid, the animation background Dave and Liz have shines through spectacularly. Just in terms of personality, though, Lilith as the studious good-girl is probably the character I can most relate to, and her role as Namah’s sister/keeper has been at turns funny and touching. I have to give Grunn a nod too for being the hilarious butt of so many jokes.
It was an immense honor getting to interview such a fantastically talented and beautiful comic artist as yourself and I hope that now with your Patreon seeing quite a bit of success and your schedule having been cleared you proceed onwards to an unsurpassed level of productivity and enjoyment with producing your comic for everybody to enjoy.
Tracy: Ah, well, thanks! That is certainly what I aspire to do.
YOU ROCK TRACY!!!
P.S:Kudos as well to my good friends
for their immensely constructive feedback on the interview;Thanks you two!
Previous interviews:David and Liz Lillie interview!Chu interviewEvan Stanley interviewWindy interviewTracy Butler interview