Who says superheroes can’t be cute? They can be, especially if Agnes Garbowska is drawing them.
Best known for her cute and fun comics work on titles like DC Super Hero Girls and My Little Pony, Garbowska was at the recent 2018 Singapore Toys and Games Comic Convention (STGCC), and she also held a fund-raising collaboration – aptly named “Super Friends” – with superstar artists Adi Granov and Mark Brooks at the Singapore’s Fine Arts Gallery.
The Polish-born Canadian artist has worked on various titles by many of the major comic book publishers, including DC Superhero Girls for DC Comics, My Little Pony and Jem And The Holograms for IDW, Grumpy Cat, Boo: The World’s Cutest Dog, and Li’l Vampi for Dynamite, and Victories for Dark Horse.
During our interview at STGCC, I was drawn to Garbowska’s eternally happy persona and the way she went the extra mile at conventions to thank her fans.
Although her work usually aims at a younger audience, she still has a great responsibility to shoulder – attracting new young fans into the world of comics.
You have an important role in bringing in more new and young readers. Does that great power come with great responsibilities?
It’s mind blowing! It’s a weird responsibility. At the recent San Diego Comic Con, a mum came up to me with her daughter and told me that this (Garbrowska’s comic) is the first comic her daughter is reading, that these are characters she knows by heart and I am her introduction to the world of comics. In my mind I thought that this is crazy.
It made me really want to come up with stories that they enjoy, and when they grow up they can pass it down to their kids, so there is a continuous stream of people reading comics.
What bugs me most is that some parents don’t buy comics because they don’t think it is good reading material for their kids. They’d rather buy proper novels.
I emigrated from Poland to Canada (when she was four), and I actually learned English through reading comic books.
If it wasn’t for comics, I wouldn’t have learned English. I tell parents to not worry about comic books, If your kid is reading (even comics), that’s the number one thing you want!
How do you stay in ‘happy mode’ when drawing ‘happy comics’?
I am generally a happy person. But it’s hard when you are drawing a Pink Pony who is supposed to be happy and you’re not happy, so it does rub off on the work!
It’s a mindset thing. If I am having a rough day, I try to do things to improve my day. Maybe I will listen to music or talk to a friend to raise my mood. I like working on happy projects. So when people read them, they will be happy as well! It’s like my way of passing on the happiness.
After 12 years of drawing comics, how do you feel about it?
You really have to love what you do. My hard work and persistence is paying off. Though there are deadlines and I do hit brick walls, I have learned to manage them better.
When I hit a brick wall, I will move on to an easier page or sometimes I just get up and pick up another comic book or listen to music, get something to inspire me and then get back to it.
The biggest motivator is a deadline, so you need to do whatever it takes to get you back to working, and you can’t waste your time.
You have succeeded in bringing your personal vision in your works on My Little Pony and DC Super Hero Girls. Is there anything else you wish to do with these or other projects?
After I finish a deadline and pick up the comic, I do critique myself and see how I can improve in my next project.
In My Little Pony and DC Super Hero Girls, you can see my art style evolving and that’s natural progression. That’s me analysing myself on what I did wrong and not make the same mistake in future work.
That’s the biggest thing working as an artist – you have to know how to critique yourself and you have to be always learning and not be stagnant, otherwise you will burn out.
I am also fortunate to already work on projects that in a subtle way address key social issues, without being political.
This includes addressing how kids learn to get along with people, respecting their elders, mental issues and how kids/ponies own up their mistakes.
How does one get started drawing comics?
The first thing is to draw everything and anything. Don’t just draw the things you like. Draw things that are very difficult for you. I had trouble drawing hands, so I drew hands more frequently. By doing that you will improve much faster, because you are challenging yourself. Practise, practise and practise! Draw every single day, even if it’s just for five minutes.
You have the ability to make any character look cute. Which character you love ‘cute-ifying’ the most?
In DC Super Hero Girls, I got to draw a Bat-icorn (essentially a Bat-Unicorn) that Batgirl rides as her steed.
Have you found any characters you can’t cute-ify?
Not yet! I can even turn Venom or Lobo into the cutest thing possible. Challenge accepted!