Darth Vader and Me: Our Interview with Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown

May the 4th be with you!

We had the opportunity to ask the always-creative Jeffrey Brown where he finds his inspiration, what people might not know about him, and his advice for students. Catch the full interview below!

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It says you studied the arts at the School of the Art Institute at Chicago. Was it there you became interested in drawing comics or was that something you had always felt drawn to?

As a kid I was always drawing comics and dreamed of making them when I grew up, but by the time I went to art school I was more interested in painting and “fine art”. I chose SAIC, though, in part because of its openness to comics related art, and once I was there realized Chris Ware had also attended the school. After meeting him at a signing, I found myself more and more drawn to making comics again, for a variety of reasons, and once I started making them again it felt right.
What do you love most about being a cartoonist? Do you have a favorite part of the job?
I’ve always loved drawing and I’ve always loved writing, and cartooning lets me do both. Just the fact that I get to make my living from something I enjoy doing makes me feel really lucky.

Is there another individual in your field that you admire? Describe them.
There’s lots of people I admire, it’s amazing how many great people there are in comics, both as creators and as people. Chris Ware is someone I have great admiration for, who consistently makes thought provoking work, and makes me want to push myself to make better work. He’s also a genuine, nice person.

Your book, Clumsy, really put you on the map with its poignant examination of a long-distance relationship. However, your other works cover a wide array of topics. For each new creation, how do you decide what to focus on?
I generally just follow my gut, and make whatever I’m interested in at the moment. I do try to alternate between things, to move from more humorous work to the more personal material. I’m wary of falling into any trap of doing too much of the same thing.

How do you stay inspired and motivated to keep creating new work?

Looking at or experiencing other art – in any medium, from comics to film, music, prose, painting – always makes me inspired to go back to my own work. I get a lot of ideas from observing life and I have a whole list of ideas I’d like to explore someday.

Jeffrey Brown

We are so excited about Darth Vader and Friends! What first drew you to the Star Wars Expanded Universe? Were you a big fan of the Star Wars films (if yes, we have follow-up questions!)?
Certainly, I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan – it was the first movie I saw in a theater, and I grew up with not just the movies but the toys, books, trading cards, comics… drawing Star Wars was another childhood dream, so it’s been incredible making Star Wars books.

Follow-ups:
Lightsabers or blasters?
Lightsabers
Ewoks or wookies?
Ewoks
C-3PO or R2D2?
R2-D2

What was it that gave you the idea to depict the infamous Darth Vader comically navigating fatherhood in Darth Vader and Son and, later, Vader’s Little Princess?
The original idea came from Google, who asked me about sketching a possible Father’s Day homepage doodle featuring Vader and Luke, showing how awkward an everyday father and son moment would be. My son was 4 years old at the time, so I made Luke 4, and the idea grew from there. Google ended up not using the idea, which worked out well for me, since I was able to make it into a whole book.

Let’s play a quick Word Association game. I’ll list out a series of topics and you jot down the first thing that comes to mind for each.

Drawing: comics
Darth Vader: Empire
Life: Love
Cats: purr
Cartoonists: Art
Humor: smile
Working: coffee
The Force: Yoda
Love: Family

What is something that most people don’t know about you?
That’s a tough one – I feel like with all the autobiographical work I’ve made, there’s not much left to tell! Maybe that my back up childhood dream after cartoonist was professional football player.

You also worked on a music video for Death Cab for Cutie. What was that like? 
That was a great experience – I was a fan of the band already, but I hadn’t done any animation before. I was able to work with the right people – Aaron Stewart-Ahn, who was leading the project (the Directions DVD, which had a video for each track from the albumPlans), and Eliza Kinkz, who did all the grunt work of animating my drawings.

Are there any other fields you’d love to break into?
After working on Save The Date, I think I’d like to work on a film again at some point, but I’d also like to do something with television. I don’t think of it as breaking into other fields, those projects are really more like extensions of what I do in comics. Making books will always be my primary interest, I think.

At Barnes & Noble College, our primary focus is our students and their success both in school and after graduation. What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue their dream career?
The biggest and best advice I can give is to work hard. I’ve been incredibly lucky with being at the right place, at the right time, and meeting some very good, helpful people, but I still wouldn’t be where I am in my career if I hadn’t put the work in first. I’ve tried to establish a really strong work ethic – I was working full time at Barnes & Noble for another six years after I  self published my first book Clumsy – and that’s something that still pays off today.

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What do you think of Jeffrey Brown’s advice? Tweet us your thoughts @BNcollege!

Be sure to pick up a copy of Brown’s newest book, Darth Vader and Friends! Order your copy online here.

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  1. Tina says:

    That’s great! My son enjoys these books so much, as do I!

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