Sandbox Spotlight: TED BRANDT & RO STEIN, Comic Book Artists

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THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Thank you for joining us in the Sandbox Spotlight! How did you get into comics and why did you want to become a creator?

RO: When I was growing up, I wasn’t into comics, I wanted to be an animator, but when I went to university to learn how to do that I quickly found out I had neither the attention span nor the stamina to do hand-drawn animation and the 3D modelling stuff baffled me completely. I did really enjoy the storyboarding part of the process though, and figured comics would be pretty close to that, plus there was the bonus that there was a course on how to do comics being taught by Dan Berry that I could switch to. That’s how I started with comics and also where I met Ted!

(TCC: No, not THAT Dan Berry. Or THAT Dan Berry, either! THIS Dan Berry… 😉 )

TED: On the other hand, I’d been reading comics since I could read. I started with Tintin and Asterix around age 3, but seeing X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES at age 5 or so really sparked something in me. It would be a while before I started collecting regularly, but when I did it became something of a compulsion. I’d idly thought about wanting to make comics for years, dismissing it as a pipe dream, but I eventually reached a point where I knew if I didn’t at least try I would regret it! Hence university, meeting RO, and never looking back.

TCC: What was the first work you completed, where you stepped back and thought, “Yes, y’know what, I can do this for a living!”?

TED: That’s quite a nuanced question, I think. Largely because the first work we completed that made me actually feel like we could make a living from comics came quite a long time after the first one where we knew we could actually make a comic. While we had done a bunch of work before, it wasn’t until our first gig with Marvel on a MONSTERS UNLEASHED tie-in that I actually thought we might be able to make a living in comics.

RO: Honestly, it still feels weird to me that we are making a living doing this. I’ve always drawn and I love doing this work even when it’s exhausting and breaks my brain, but I do occasionally have to step back and remind myself, “You’re getting paid for this!”, which often also leads to, “It’s a job, don’t take it so personally.”

TCC: Which creatives inspire you? And they don’t have to be in the medium you work in, either…

TED: Ooh, there’s a wide range. Especially if we include writing that inspires too! In no particular order: Guillermo Del Toro, the Immonens, Rian Johnson, Kamome Shirahama, Tamsyn Muir, everyone who makes STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Darwyn Cooke… Honestly, I could probably keep going all day with this one.

RO: I am truly, horribly terrible with names. It makes it very difficult to look up references! But really, looking around at stuff every day you can find something that inspires you. You see so many amazing artists online and so many fantastic pieces, something can scroll across your timeline and you can be like “oh! This! I like this! This is what will inspire me today”. We’re also really big fans of the McEroy brothers, whose whole ethos seems to be to do their best to bring joy to people – and if we can create something that brings even half the joy into the world that THE ADVENTURE ZONE has done then that would be astonishing.

TCC: Can you tell us your greatest fan moment, interacting with a personal hero of yours where you may have gone a little weak at the knees?

TED: Easy. Darwyn Cooke, SDCC 2008. I still think about what I must have looked like, anxiously stuttering in front of him.

RO: This is where being really bad at names actually helps – it’s really hard to embarrass yourself with a fan meltdown when you can’t link who you meet with the hugely impressive work they’ve done. Ted has, on a number of occasions, had to give me context for people we have met after the fact, which is probably for the best as I could have ended up being a lot weirder than I was in the moment.

TCC: What is your favorite fandom? Who is your favorite comic book character/movie/tv character?

TED: I haven’t really engaged with fandoms for a long, long time. Almost half my life at this point! Obviously, I adore comics fans, but my experience of that is mostly on the other side of the table, as it were. I guess the only one I’m a part of, even in a small capacity, is the fandom for Tamsyn Muir and her Locked Tomb books. Everyone I ever talk to about them is lovely.

RO: I’m much the same, I haven’t engaged in fandom stuff for a looooong time. I’ve seen plenty of fan art for a lot of things, drawn the occasional little doodle here and there, but I don’t really count that so much. I just don’t have that much brain space to really do a deep dive into fandom like I did as a teen.

TCC: Outside of the ones you create for a living, what characters/stories do you like drawing the most in your spare time?

TED: If you draw for a living, honestly it’s nice to spend free time doing other things! I spend much more free time reading, cooking, or playing video games than I do drawing. Though I will say I keep coming back to the Locked Tomb if I do have an urge to draw for myself.

RO: I agree with Ted on that, if you’re drawing all the time for work it can be difficult to continue drawing for fun. If I draw in spare time then it is usually stuff of my D&D character, or designing outfits for them and other members of our party. But I’ve been really getting into knitting lately, so that’s invaded my spare time somewhat.

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TCC: What’s your working routine? Do you work regular set hours and days, keeping certain days free for personal time, or do you find you create any time the muse takes you?

TED: It’s semi-regular. We try to avoid weekends if we can, and a typical workday starts with getting the dog walked and taking some time for ourselves to make sure we’re all good to go. Then we generally try to work intensively until dinner and clock off.

TCC: When you’re creating, what do you use for background noise? Some artists use music or podcasts, some use a TV show that they just can listen to in the background. What do you use?

RO: It depends really, sometimes its music, I’ll start off listening to something like The Offspring and then let Apple Music continue on wherever it feels it should go after that. If I’m feeling particularly stressed about a certain aspect of what I’m working on I will often listen to ASMR videos – I find them very calming which can help stave off the creative panic!

TED: I have a pretty wide gamut; I swing wildly between audiobooks, movie soundtracks, pop playlists, and podcasts. And this one super-cheesy metal album.

Ted Brandt Comics - Comic Vine

TCC: What was the first comic con that you remember attending? And, indeed, what was the last?

TED: First? It must have been a Bristol con, back circa 2008 or so? I think? It might as well be a million years at this point, especially with what the pandemic has done to time. My last was 2021’s ThoughtBubble, which has been my favourite for a long time.

RO: My first was either a Thought Bubble or a Birmingham MCM, both in 2011, both going with the university we attended. I remember nothing of the MCM other than a bunch of us walking up to the building it was being held in, so clearly it left an impression. Thought Bubble is always fantastic – the majority of my comic con experiences have been Thought Bubble and I’ll always try to attend if I can.

TCC: How has your approach to attending conventions changed since that first one? And what’s the one big piece of advice you would give to someone tabling at a convention for the first time?

TED: Bring snacks and bottled water. We bring a literal crate of bottled water now and it is astonishing how much of a difference it makes. Plus, no-one else brings water so it’s a great way to bond with your neighbours by offering them some!

RO: For better or worse, we haven’t really changed what we do at conventions very much. We try to get to bed on the same day that we woke up! I cannot stay up late anymore, I’m just useless the next day. Oh! My advice is going to be much more niche than Ted’s, but if you’re like me and have dry eyes or just don’t blink enough then bring eye drops! I have found that unfamiliar air conditioning will wreck my eyes and I end up looking possessed by midway through the first day of the con. Also bring painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol, you never know when a headache will spring up and you will be standing a lot so you may well get muscle stiffness by closing time.

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TCC: What’s your favourite element of a comic convention? And which bits could you easily leave behind?

TED: The people! Working in comics means working from home, so you almost never actually see the people you call colleagues and peers. Plus, I literally cannot describe how wonderful it is to meet people who read something you made and enjoyed it.

RO: Ted put it really well and I can’t add much to that. Love the people, hate the queues for the loo! Though Thought Bubble did really well this year and I don’t think I ever went into a stall that had run out of toilet paper.

TCC: At a convention, when you’re not behind your table or doing the things you have to do at a con, which corner of the show would we find you in?

TED: I’m sorry, not behind our table? Not sure I understand the question.

RO: See last question.

TCC: During pandemic, due to the lack of conventions, a lot of artists took to taking commissions online and mailing them out to people – was this something you did or did you find an alternate revenue stream to keep you going? 

TED: We tried the Thought Bubble digital con, but honestly it wasn’t a great showing for us. CROWDED is a book best hand-sold, and you simply can’t do that if what you have is just a digital storefront.

TCC: Also during lockdown, as the conventions took that moment of pause, a lot of creatives are also took to crowdfunding – such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo – to supplement income and keep the interest flowing in their work. What’re your thoughts on that avenue?

TED: Anyone who can pull off a Kickstarter is a wizard. More power to them!

RO: Agreed! I can’t even really manage my Twitter. I’m like a digital cryptid – the occasional sighting and then I go back into hiding. The idea of running a campaign like that is kinda terrifying. 

TCC: The conventions are slowly but surely coming back, thank goodness! Have you attended one yet, do you intend to get back out behind a table soon? What’s your next convention or, if you’re holding off for a while longer, what’s your thoughts on cons right now?

RO: We attended Thought Bubble 2021, which was fantastic. We were a little worried about going back, but with the vaccine passport requirement, we felt a lot better about the whole thing. Plus it was really reassuring to see how many people were masked up – it was really good to know the general safety of everyone was being taken seriously. 

TED: Agreed. TBubs did a marvellous job of maintaining COVID security, but I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable at any other con in the same way; certainly not before I got a booster, anyway.

TCC: But let’s get back to the important stuff: your work! What projects have you recently finished, what are you working on at the moment, what projects are coming up that you can talk about? 

TED: It’s been a quiet year for us, just taking on short projects since we finally finished CROWDED. The reason for that is that we’ve spent a chunk of the year developing book market pitches.

RO: The pitches have been very fun, and if you go to Ted’s Twitter you can find little snippets of them if you go looking for them. I’m not sure if we can say anything about what we’re currently doing – to be honest, I never really know about that. If I see someone else tweeting about it then I know I’m probably good.

TCC: How do you stay connected with fans? Do you use a mailing list or newsletters, are you active on social media?

TED: Mailing lists and newsletters are great, but we just aren’t organised enough to run them! For me, I can barely even run more than one social media account; while I have an Instagram, it’s sorely neglected in favour of Twitter.

RO: No one needs to know how much of a rambling mess I am. That is Ted’s privilege/curse. If we had a newsletter it would be very same-y. Our best bet would be for Ted to make one about all the tasty food he’s made.

TCC: Where can people see an example of your art online and find out about your rates?

TED: This is a great time to ask, as our website has just had a massive overhaul! You can find us at https://brandtandstein.com

TCC: Ted, Ro… thanks for your time! 

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