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Dean Rankine talks OZ COMIC-Con and THE SIMPSONS

With Oz Comic-Con just two weeks way from landing in Melbourne HEAVY Mag decided it was time to start meeting some of this year’s guests. First off the rank is Australian comic book artist Dean Rankine who has worked on comics for both The Simpsons and Futurama as well as creating a number of his own titles.

“As a kid I was drawn to (excuse the pun) comics, animated cartoons, comics strips, TV shows, movies,” says Rankine when asked where his interest in comics first began. “Basically anything that was Pop Culture I could get my hands on (though I wasn’t really aware that it was “Pop Culture” at the time. I just knew I loved it! I grew up in a small beach town. So, it was kind of difficult to get comics. But basically anything Marvel/DC. I also read my fare share of 2000 AD. I remember the first comic I ever bought with my own money was a second hand (pretty trashed) issue of The Warlord by Mike Grell. Definitely not for kids per se. But that artwork was phenomenal! Side note I got to meet Mike at a con a couple of years ago. I totally had a fan-boy moment. It wasn’t pretty!”

That leads me to ask when exactly did he realize that he could draw. “I remember I was in kindergarten and I had drawn a possum (or something badly resembling a possum). And one of the teachers said how good it was. Now, I’m sure it really wasn’t “good”. But because I’m a total ‘praise-monkey’ I just ran with it. And in many ways I still am. Being an artist was just something I always wanted to be. I’m still not convinced that it can be my full-time profession. For me, being an artist, has been a TERRIBLE financial decision. Almost daily I ask myself, ‘Is it OK to admit that I’ve failed yet?’. But, so far, I stubbornly keep going regardless. It’s in my blood. And nothing gives me the kind of satisfaction that drawing does. I don’t want to do anything else.”

Of course Rankine is now responsible for titles in one of the most iconic series of comics ever made – The Simpsons but he says not even that was exactly planned. “I had been drawing comics for those kids magazines you get at the supermarket,” he explains “And the work had dried up. So, one night, I wandered into my local Coles to see what publications were around and I bought a Simpsons Comic. I have a really cartoony style. So, it’s not like I could draw Batman or anything. Anyway, so I flicked through this Simpsons Comic and it all looked really good. Except there was a one page back-up story that was kind of off model and I didn’t think was so good. And I thought, ‘I could just about do that.’. So, I started submitting work to Matt Groening’s company Bongo. And low and behold they started using my work! And honestly, it’s been life changing. And, yes, I was a fan before working on the comics.”

Despite the comics and the television show running for so long Rankine says it is not hard to come up with new adventures to send the characters on. “Honestly, not hard at all,” he says. “The characters are just so well defined. For example if I said ‘Ralph Wiggum’ most people would know exactly who he is, how he speaks and his quirky mannerisms. Then you just have to send Ralph out into the world. I reckon I’ve got another thousand stories I could tell.”

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And who are the hardest and easiest characters to draw? “I could draw Sideshow Bob ’til the cows come home! I find the hardest ones to draw are the main family. Have you ever tried to draw Lisa? I swear it’s a nightmare!”

Of course Rankine has worked on his own titles as well, the most popular being the Itty Bitty Bunnies. “So, Itty Bitty Bunnies in Rainbow Pixie Candy Land is about these two hedonistic, naked bunny rabbits who live in this fantasy world who go on drug fueled adventures,” Rankine explains. “Like most ideas they came from came from an amalgam of influences. But generally I just think it’s funny when cute characters to horrible, adult things. I wrote and drew 6 issues. And got a Ledger Award for it. But I don’t have any plans to do more at the moment. Comics are a huge amount of work I think I made like $80 bucks from the Bunnies. Of course money isn’t the only factor when making something but the bills still need to be paid.”

I of course then have to ask what he is working on now and where he would like to end up working one day. “I’m currently drawing Underdog! It’s based on the old cartoon from the 60s. I’m in the middle of illustrating a book and I’ve got some other comics stuff on the go. So, I’m having a pretty good time! I want to work for DC Comics! I reckon I’d do a pretty good job on Teen Titans GO! I don’t know how that will happen. But I’m putting it out into the Universe.”

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With talk turning back to Rankine’s appearance at this year’s Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne he tells me what it is like being a guest. “Sometimes I get to talk to the famous guests but I’m always so awkward I never really know what to say. But I just adore the atmosphere of Oz Comic Con. Its a safe space we’re we can totally geek out and be excited about our Pop Culture loves. It’s like Geek-Crack. I’d go very weekend if I could!”

So what advice would he have for any budding comic book artists out there? “It is heartbreakingly difficult to be honest. There’s no clear path. And everyone arrives differently. But if you want to draw or write comics the best way to improve is by drawing and writing comics. Just start. You can print them up or easily put them on the web. And the other thing is you have to be resilient. You have to survive knock back after knock back. Is it worth it? Maybe. For me it always comes back to one thing. I don’t want to do anything else.”

 

See Dean at Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne

 

 

Dave Griffiths

Dave has worked as a music & film journalist for over 20 years now. Aside from Heavy he does radio and various podcasts as well. He is the proud owner of Metal Cat.
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