Interview introductions are hard but thankfully Emma Kubert makes them easy. Co-creator of “Inkblot” for Image Comics, she has a brand-new webcomic out on Tapas: “Brush Stroke.” We got to chatting about that, about what comics influenced “Brush Stroke,” and we took a brief trip down memory lane to visit the community created by the Kubert School & Art Shop. She also gave some details on her next project but you’ll have to read on to find out more about that.
Thanks to Tapas for arranging this and to Emma for chatting!
What were your experiences with webcomics prior to starting “Brush Stroke?”
Emma Kubert: I had no experience with webcomics before “Brush Stroke.”
EK: I mean absolutely none but I knew it was something I wanted to get into. It was more of a recent discovery, liking. It was because…over the pandemic, you know, you lost a lot of content fast and you went through it pretty quickly and you were searching for a lot more content to watch, read, consume. That was kind of the time I started to look in other places.
I started reading manga. I started reading other comics. I started watching other movies and TV shows but the other thing I started to get into was webcomics.
How’d this project come about? Was it something you’d been working on? Did Tapas approach you to create something for them?
EK: It was basically that. I knew some people at Tapas, I had some connections, and I wanted to make something specifically for them. They actually reached out to me and asked if I had any ideas for a new line of original comics from Tapas and I was like, I always have ideas. Because that’s what you say.
It was kind of like…it was an opportunity that happened simultaneously with me discovering it. As I was discovering webcomics, they were like, oh we like your work. We like what you did for “Inkblot” at Image Comics. We like what you do for DC Comics. Do you want to give us a story that you want to publish for our new creator owned push? And I was like yeah, yeah, let me try that. Let me see what I have.
So I tried a couple different stories and the first one didn’t really pan out. But then, as an artist and a freelancer, you gotta keep going. You can’t just take rejection and take what they say and use it to bring them another opportunity. That’s basically how “Brush Stroke” came about. I wasn’t trying to totally cater to them but I was kind of creating something that made both of us happy.
Cause again, I haven’t worked with webcomics at at all so I didn’t know the audience of it, the world of it. I didn’t know what the readers were like and everything. I really wanted to take their feedback and use it for a story that, not only they would like, but that I would like too. It was kind of something I developed…and I was developing it prior to that but it was in a different type of form and different setting. Maybe even different characters. It was an amalgamation of all of these different things I was coming up with.
Then I was like, oh, wait, I think they’ll like this! Let me send it.
That’s pretty cool.
EK: Yeah. Everything fell into place with that one I would say.
How long is the project going to be?
EK: The project should be at least 36 episodes. Right now, there’re 11 out [as of recording], then it’s weekly.
How far ahead do you tend to be? Is it far ahead? Week by week? Do you have a decent buffer or is the whole thing done and they just have to queue it up?
EK: I would say it is a week by week, that I do work on it week by week, but I have everything planned for it ahead of time. So the whole story is thought out but the actual drawing it does takes a little bit more time.
As it tends to do.
EK: As it tends to do when you write a sentence and artist has to spend all day drawing the page.Continued below
What about the creation process do you find the most challenging, speaking of being able to write a whole thing and having to spend every week drawing it?
EK: I would say the most difficult part, for me, personally, is getting it perfect. It’s not the starting that really trips me up, that’s where I really feel freedom and where I feel excited to create something and excited to have my ideas come to life. It’s more like at the very end of it, when I’m putting the final adjustments, when I’m putting the details, when I’m lettering it. That’s when all of the editing comes in, when I realize all the mistakes I made. That’s the part where I’d say it’s a little more difficult as it’s catching my own mistakes and making sure it’s perfect as soon as I send it out.
When you’re working on each of those steps, are there any you dread getting to? Or do they each have their own challenges and they’re different kinds of work?
EK: They each have a different vibe to them. My process may be a little different from other creators. Or it may be similar. I don’t know.
What I usually do is I lay out the whole episode first and as I’m laying it out, I’ll write notes as to what I think they’re saying, what kind of emotional content is here, what needs to happen there. Then I got onto the stage where I ink it and color it. The layout stage is the thinking stage where I’m constantly thinking about it and that’s really exciting for me. It’s more like the vibe that I have to focus, which can be struggling but it can be really fun.
The second part where I’m inking and coloring it, that’s where I get to chill back. I get to watch TV as I’m doing it and I’m sipping on my coffee. It’s very nice. It’s a very chill atmosphere when I just get to draw something and color it and then vibe out.
When I go to the writing and lettering stage, which I do kind of simultaneously, that’s the other focus stage. That’s probably a little more stressful than the other stages cause it’s, again, it’s the finishing touch. It’s the last stage to get this entire episode together. I just want it to be as good as possible. That part’s really fun too. It really doesn’t have it’s struggles. It’s more about what kind of mood I’m in to do this kind of stuff.
What’s it like working on a project entirely by yourself after doing work-for-hire or Marvel Method-ing it up with Rusty on “Inkblot?”
EK: It’s a little scary.
What about it is scary?
EK: Well, you’re basically relying on yourself for every step of the process. It can be very rewarding but you also have to do every step of the process. You can’t rely on someone else to help you out when you need it. It’s very much my project. Even if I did get somebody to help me out, I don’t think it would work. I’m kinda a control freak when it comes to my own writing and my own story and how I want to present it.
It’s difficult but I wouldn’t have it any other way with this.
Is that one of the other reasons you wanted to make it more limited at 36 episodes instead of ongoing or was that just the shape of the story as you saw it?
EK: Well, it’s actually more of what Tapas was looking for. They were looking for a 36 episode story. They did ask: “If it’s successful could you continue it or would you end it there?” And I was like, you know, I can really base this story off of the audience. If it is very very successful, I can definitely keep going with it because ideas are just constantly flowing. But it can also be contained. I have it planned up until that point and it can continue if you want it to but it can also be an ending. So, the reason I like doing it week by week, I can gauge what people want or what I want to do with the story or what Tapas wants to do with the story and it’s something we can figure out together as we go.Continued below
Also, again: first time doing a webcomic. I wanted to take it slow, kinda my time with it and see how it goes.
Are you enjoying the process so far?
EK: Oh yeah. I really am. Tapas is really hands off. They very much let me do what I want to do with my episodes and, you know, I keep going. I keep working. I’m in my room. I’m having a good time and then I send out my episode and it’s good.
What were some of the inspirations for “Brush Stroke?” Were there any works you looked towards when starting the project? Anything you looked at you wanted to channel?
EK: At the time, I was reading a lot of manga. I was reading a lot of slice-of-life romance manga. I was getting really into it. It wasn’t something I had dived into or read before so I was really excited about it. That was something very specific too. I was like, OK, If I’m going to create my own webcomic, I’m going to draw inspiration from it BUT I have to make it more me. It was very much like I know what these stories are accomplishing and I want to do the same kind of feeling from it but I have to do it through my own process in my own way.
That’s basically the kind of stories it’s based off of but “Brush Stroke” is made to be a reflection of how I feel in life. The setting is also based off of the kind of setting I grew up with.
My next question was actually going to be: “Brush Stroke” is described as semi-autobiographical. What general aspects did you pull from your real life? Because you don’t want to be like “well this character is based on my friend” and then your friend will get mad.
EK: Absolutely. Don’t want to do that.
It actually hasn’t happened. I used characters I completely fabricated and I changed up the setting a bit. A lot of the emotional content and the school/art store setting is semi-autobiographical. That’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. The setting itself…I grew up in an artistic family, as probably a lot of people know.
My dad was teaching at the Kubert School; my grandpa was there too. But my mom and my aunt were the ones who created the Kubert art store, which is attached to the school. It’s in the same building and is the art store that provides supplies to the students and art supplies for any professional artist that needs it. I basically grew up there.
Since I was a kid, my mom would bring me and my brother down. The other people down there would bring their kids and we would all have a good time running around this big old school, playing hide-and-seek, and rollerblading down the hallways and everything. That was the inspiration of the community aspect in “Brush Stroke” where…yes, my main character she is very removed from what she used to know, but she’s going into a big community of love and friendship and work that’s all just meshed together.
That’s really what the Kubert art school and the art store is. It’s a mesh of people who want to work but they’re actually creating a beautiful community there. People who just want to do art, who just want to get better, who just wanna, you know, read stories and enjoy them. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I think “Brush Stroke” is really about. It’s a setting for a community to be able to be formed.
Do you ever seen yourself working with your other family members on a project?
EK: Oh yeah. Of course. That would be great. It would be wonderful. I don’t think…like, if I worked with my dad on a project, it would have to be done in a specific way. He is a lot better than me. I think he should ink my pencils.
I mean, how long has he been doing this haha?
EK: I think he’s a little better hahaha. But that would be absolutely wonderful. If my grandpa were still around, that would have been an amazing experience as well but…life happens.Continued below
So you attend the Kubert School as well. What was that like?
EK: My actual education started after high school, I went to Savannah College of Art and Design [SCAD] for animation. When I was down there, I realized I don’t want to animate and it’s mostly because I didn’t want to make other people’s characters come to life. I didn’t want to make other people’s stories. I really wanted to start making my own stuff and being in charge of my own drawings and really having a handle on my own career instead of being a part of this huge industry that you go into and you’re kinda lost in there.
So, that’s when I went home and attended the Kubert School because I wanted to get better at drawing. I didn’t necessarily want to do comics yet. I hadn’t wanted to do comics until after I was going to the Kubert School.
When I went to the Kubert School, I think it was a different experience than other students had in the beginning because a lot of the other students don’t really know what they’re in for at the Kubert School. It is very much a comic book boot camp. You are drawing at least 10-12 hours a day. You are taking two classes a day, 10 classes a week, so you have 10 assignments a week. You’re just constantly drawing and you’re constantly surrounded by people who do art as well.
For me, I was ready for it. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I was like. I. am. getting. this. Done. I wanted to be a straight A student, all that good stuff. (Not a straight A student haha.) But I wanted to try my hardest because I knew what really went into doing it.
Now, when I first started I was more friends with teachers than I was with students because I grew up with them and I knew them from beforehand. But then slowly as everyone started to open up a bit more, that’s when the community that I talked about was created. You really do find a community in your classroom, with your fellow students, with the entire school. It’s such a small environment and you’re with the same people everyday, you start to feel a comradery between everyone.
That’s where I met Rusty; he was in my class as well. That’s where we started to date and, I mean, 5 years later, still going. It really does create such a strong connection. When I say comic book boot camp, you really go through hell together but you’re doing it together and you’re doing it to get better.
I think my favorite thing Rusty says about it is: it is the hardest and most rewarding experience that you can have. Especially if you’re putting everything into it, you’re going to get everything out of it.
When you said that you didn’t really want to be working on other people’s projects, does that extend to doing more corporate work at DC and Marvel?
EK: I think it was more of just having a handle on my own artwork and my own style and my own career. When you go into animation, you’re really copying other people’s style or other styles of the show. This was more me trying to develop my own thing. Like, you are getting artwork from Emma Kubert. You’re not getting a TV show with Emma Kubert in the credits.
Working for DC and Marvel? I like working for them. I think they’re fun. I like their characters. [Laughs] It’s all fun. It honestly really is. Like, I get to write my own stories, that’s flippin’ amazing. I get to draw other people’s stories, THAT’S flippin’ amazing. And it’s all by my own hand; that’s the coolest part about it.
I recently did an anthology story for “Women of Marvel.” It’s coming out in March. I did a Squirrel Girl story and that’s the first time I’d ever drawn Squirrel Girl, which was really exciting because she’s super cute. I had a good time doing it. Black Widow was in that story too and that was really fun as well. Getting the opportunity to draw these kinds of characters, and putting my own twist onto it, was awesome.Continued below
To jump back a little, what were some of the manga titles you were reading?
EK: Oh, hopefully I can remember them all. Let’s see. “Ao Haru Ride.” “Kimi ni Todoke.” “Horimiya.” “Maid-Sama.”
“Yona of the Dawn” is not really part of it but it’s probably my favorite one. It’s very very long and I love long, long series. I love a lot of the fantasy of that but I also like the emotional aspect of it too.
Then there were a couple others I was reading that I was interested in reading specifically for the webcomic, especially the beginning ones. “Waiting for Spring” was one of those. The other one was “Strobe Edge.” Those are the main ones that I’ve read. I want to keep going and read through all of them but do I have enough money? I don’t know.
EK: Or time!
Do you see yourself wanting to create a work like “Yona of the Dawn” in terms of length? In terms of subject matter going forward?
EK: I’m actually creating one like that right now for Image Comics called “Stone Heart” and it should be coming out near the end of this year. That is also going to be somewhat manga inspired but also me inspired. That’s a high fantasy book.
The first issue should be coming out around September but don’t hold me to that cause sometimes they change the dates and with all the printing issues… that’s when it’s supposed to come out so we’ll see.
The main character, unlike “Brush Stroke,” is based off of me but also looks like me. It’s mostly because I wanted to create a character, especially looks wise, that looked like me because I’ve never seen a lead character that looked like me in media. I really wanted to make that a point; This is based off of me.
It’s about a woman who was born with a voice in her head and that voice in her head is sending her down a downward spiral path while the entire world thinks she’s the chosen one and their savior. That’s what it’s about and that one will hopefully be, if I can get to it, about 30 issues long. I plan on each issue having 32 pages in it.
If anyone wants it, there’s going to be content in store!
There’s going to be a lot of pages.
EK: There’s going to be a lot of story to it haha.
Do you find when you’re writing characters it’s harder to get into the minds of people who think differently than you? Like when you’re trying to write all the various characters of “Brush Stroke.” Or are they taking different aspects from yourself and putting them into each one and you cna use that as an anchor?
EK: It’s kind of a combination. The first thing is, when I was younger, I wasn’t just into visual, drawing art; I was into a lot of different aspects of art. I loved music. I loved acting, film, television. I really got into acting when I was younger. That was something I realized later on, when I started writing, that is very helpful for me, to know how to get into the mindset of someone I’m not, who I don’t understand, and see where they come from and create a backstory for them. IT’s like acting. It’s trying to, you know, unlock the mannerisms, the look, the person from that.
THe first half of that question: It is difficult but I do have a way of thinking about it that make it easy. Then the second half is: Some of the characters are little aspects of me but maybe only a part of me and then they’re combined with something else. Like, this character is mischievous like me but they’re really really depressing out like and I’m not usually like that. But you never know. It comes all different ways.
Who are you rooting for? I mean, you have all the controls so whoever you’re rooting for will be endgame BUT…
EK: You know what? I’m gonna keep that one on the down low. I’ll stay unbiased.
Are you enjoying creating those situations?Continued below
EK: Oh yeah.
Does it bring you so much joy?
EK: Oh my god yes. It’s exactly like when I read my manga and the characters get into a situation. You’re always rooting for someone, you always want a situation to unfold a certain way or you want something to happen. It’s so fun to manipulate them. I feel my twelve or thirteen year old Emma heart gooshing because it’s so exciting. Cause I finally get to make my own thing that will make other people feel that way too. I really like that. I think it’s great.
What are a couple of the themes you wanted to address and approach through “Brush Stroke?”
EK: One of the biggest themes that May, the main character, goes through, is staying in her own art bubble and wanting to stay in there. But life will always get you out of that bubble, one way or another. Whether you’re working and you have to go to the bathroom, or something more serious, like someone confesses their love to you and you like them back but you have no idea how to deal with it.
She’s all safe in that bubble. Once she’s taken out of that bubble, she has no idea how to navigate her life when there’s other people involved, when there’s work involved, when there’s things that she likes, people that she likes, places that she wants to go to. It’s one of those things where you’ve been so secluded for so long that when you’re put into the world again, you don’t know how to handle it.
That’s something I wanted May to go through because that’s something I go through constantly on a daily basis as a freelance artist who stays in her room and in her little art bubble and goes outside, like, twice a week. You know? It was described to me like all you wanna do is keep working because you love your work and you love the feeling of creating but you forget you actually have to breathe and eat and be a human. And not only those small things. You have to be social. You have to interact with people and you have to live life outside of that bubble.
I wanted my main character to go through that. Once she’s starting to go through that, which is probably through the first 12 episodes, she really deals with that kind of mindset, not realizing what’s happening around her, and just trying to focus on herself. The other aspect of that, though, is once you focus on things outside your work, where does your work go? You know. It’s that life imbalance that will stay imbalanced until you know how to handle it.
After she goes through that, where she’s out of her bubble now, and she knows how to deal with being out of the bubble, now she has to go back in it. She has to figure out: “how do I juggle all of this? How do I handle all these different things that are happening to me?”
Then along those lines, you have the other characters that have to deal with their own issues as well. Especially Devon, who is the main guy, the love interest. He has his own things that he has to deal with. He has his own walls to take down with her. It really is that connection and that work vs life type of scenario where you’re trying to have it all but you don’t know how.