Brightest burst onto the webcomic scene in February 2010 and has been captivating readers with whimsical artwork, geeky female protagonists and a storyline alternately hilarious and heartbreaking ever since.
Brightest details the trials and tribulations of Charlene aka Charlie, a newly single, perpetually unemployed and sexually confused 30-something, trying to make a life for herself in the Great White North.
Charlie’s plight often feels like peering through a digital looking glass into the personal lives of women everywhere – doubt and uncertainty masked by a façade of apathy and punctuated with moments of absurd glee. This striking combination compels readers (especially those of the PrettiGeeky variety) to keep coming back for more. If Charlie can find happiness in her mixed-up little world, then so can we!
One year later, writer and illustrator Chuck Bourbon (Ground Chux) sat down with the PrettiGeeky gals and revealed the secrets to his success.
PrettiGeeky- Describe yourself for our readers, in four words.
Ground Chux- Self-loathing writer/artist.
PrettiGeeky- What makes you a geek?
Ground Chux- Gaming. I’ve always been a big gamer, owning almost every system available in the North American market over the years (minus a 3D0, Virtual Boy, and 32X), including things like a Neo Geo cartridge system (which I never should have given up), and a Turbo Duo (which tragically died). Right now I’m hip-deep in DC Universe Online (and I’m neither a fan of superheroes nor MMOs, so figure that one out), Donkey Kong Country Returns (which is surprisingly brilliant), Game Dev Story (which is almost perfectly paced for addiction), and Halo Reach for game nights with friends (where a bunch of us get together to shoot each other in the face and swear at each other on a couch).
PrettiGeeky- I love a man who appreciates the use of parenthesis!
Ground Chux- I also love collecting [geeky] cartoons on DVD. Josie and the Pussycats, Mr Magoo, Thundercats, the Archies, (the complete Matrix of Leadership edition of) Transformers, Spaceghost, the Tick, and Hong Kong Phooey are just to name a few.
PrettiGeeky- Who is your favorite cartoon character and why?
Ground Chux-There’s so much classic stuff, like old Hanna Barbera, that I absolutely adore, but if I had to boil it down to just ONE character… I would have to give it to Principal Scudworth from Clone High. The reason being pretty much entirely because of his amazing writing and amazing voice.
Second choice would be the Warden from Superjail.
PrettiGeeky- Congratulations on tapping into the female psyche! Women (including myself) read Charlie’s inner monologue to find an intimate and startlingly accurate portrait of ourselves hiding there. How do you do it? Have you been spying on me?
Ground Chux- I tend to write for females – I’m sure there are a variety of psychological reasons for that that I don’t know or aren’t willing to admit to here. Whenever I play a videogame I tend to always side with a female avatar, for example.
I actually put off having any sort of gender-identifier for myself (fearing that people would dismiss the story if they knew it was a guy writing), until I started having some readers/emails flirting with me as if I was a girl!
That said, her inner monologue IS largely me – all the self-loathing, all the self-doubt. That aspect is just me being very honest about my interpretations. I’m not a fan of myself, and sadly, I don’t think a lot of women are fans of themselves either. I do try and pay attention to women for the subtleties in character, but I think the reality is that, as humans, there are a lot of similarities when you boil it right down.
PrettiGeeky- You mention in your FAQ that you “Are not a fan of drawing.” Whaaaaaaaat? Your art style is brilliant! What gives?
Ground Chux- I’m surrounded by amazing artists with far, far more talent than I’ll ever possess. It’s a constant reminder of where I stand – and I took to drawing much later in life. I’m a writer first, and will probably always feel that way.
Quite honestly, I’m drawing comics because I’m not making movies. I want to tell visual stories and I don’t have a crew to help me with it – I’ve only got myself.
But thank you for the compliment!
PrettiGeeky- You mentioned that the cartoon Ren & Stimpy serves as a source of visual inspiration for Brightest. Wicked awesome! Any other unexpected, potential nostalgic influences?
Ground Chux- You’ve been reading the comments section! Yes, Ren & Stimpy is a massive, massive influence on all my art. But there are a few others:
- Archie comics. I love, love, love, love, love Archie. Especially Dan DeCarlo’s Archie and that general era. Huge inspiration.
- Gainax’s FLCL series, which is gorgeous and stylish. So many amazing shots, fantastic pacing, and cartoon-y designs.
- Dave Sim’s Cerebus. The guy may have eventually lost his mind, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t have some of the most creative layouts in a comic. Ever.
- The Simpsons are definitely an inspiration not just in art (the arms and hands, for example), but also for the balance of reality with a cartoon atmosphere. Early in the series it was about very grounded situations and emotions, all packaged in a really toony way.
PrettiGeeky- We love that Charlie is a beautiful, full-figured woman. Did you draw her this way to make a point?
Ground Chux- Kind of.
One of the things that bugs me about larger women in stories/media, is how that defines them as a character. It tends to be all they talk about, all the deal with. I chose not to make that the defining characteristic of Charlie. She’s large but it’s not what her story’s about. It’s the same reason sleeping with women also doesn’t singularly define her as a character. What defines her is her actions and her story, not the way she looks or who she sleeps with.
Brightest will never be about a struggle with her eating, or be just about her coming to grips with her sexuality. It’s a story about a woman trying to find some solace with herself and the strength to exist without self-destructing.
I also frankly just enjoy drawing full-figured women, so there’s also the purely selfish reasoning behind me enjoying a character I’m going to draw a billion times over. Her general look is based off my wife, actually.
PrettiGeeky- Charlie has baggage! She has a tenuous relationship with her mother, a history of self-destructive behavior, and much uncertainty surrounding her sexuality. We love a flawed protagonist, but can’t help but wonder…are any aspects of her character based on personal experience?
Ground Chux- A whole lot of her situation is based on things I’ve gone through. The strained family-relations. The loss of job and hopelessness. The depression and self-loathing. The avoidance of dealing with the situation (something that angers a lot of readers). In fact, her general situation and mindset are things I lived through across a couple years. Which is probably why It doesn’t come off as depressing to me as it seems to ring with a lot of readers – as someone who survived it, it’s more like… remembering.
I’ve never cut myself – but growing up, I saw the behaviour in far too many girls to ignore. It’s something that is done more often than I think people are comfortable with, and it was important to me to feature.
As for sexuality – always a hot-button topic! – I grew up in a small town. And in a small town, you can often be a close-minded asshole that tosses around sexuality slurs like popcorn. There was a point in grade 11 or so where I decided that was stupid. I was suddenly aware of how immature I was being and decided to stop. A couple years later I decided that it wouldn’t matter what gender my soul mate was, so long as I had a soul mate. Turned out my soul mate was a woman a few hours away that I dropped my life for to go live with in the big city.
PrettiGeeky- What suggestions can you offer budding webcomic artists?
Ground Chux- Consistent updates.
I know my update schedule of pieces of story at a time alienates some readers, but the most important thing to webcomics is consistent updates – online attention is a fickle thing, and people tend to forget to check in on your story if it takes 3 weeks between updates.
PrettiGeeky- Interacting with your readers in the “Comments” section following each comic is a nice gesture that many artists neglect. Why do you do it?
Ground Chux- Well I do it because I care, I guess. It’s awesome to get comments. I try to answer when it’s something specific that I think should get an answer. I try to avoid defending characters or motivations, though, and try to let the story do that for me. But I’ve slipped on that a couple times.
PrettiGeeky- What have you learned about your readers?
Ground Chux- One of the bigger things I’ve learned is that you can enrage some readers with a reply, which I’ve learned recently for the first time. It wasn’t pleasant, but I suppose it had to happen eventually. A lot of comics will shut down their comments section to avoid things like that, but I’m not ready to take that step yet. There’s a really good filter in place on the website, and I tend to see things before they get to post, so any of the really inflammatory/troll comments I won’t allow to publish.
Plus there are a lot of great comments and first-timers that I’ll get sharing their stories, and I think that’s important.
PrettiGeeky- How do exchanges with readers influence the content of the comic?
Ground Chux- I try not to let this influence the story, but there is ONE instance that I did actually adjust the story for fear of the audience rioting. In general, the audience tends to have the hardest time with Charlie being bad/irresponsible with money (which tend to be the things that most ring true with my past) and there was a scene I had written where she spends some of the cash her mother gave her on booze that I cut.
I wish I hadn’t cut it, honestly, and probably won’t allow the story to be influenced like that again. As a moment in a book, a page dealing with that wouldn’t be a huge deal. As two updates on a website across two days (possibly a weekend), the audience reaction would be much stronger.
PrettiGeeky- What can Brightest fans look forward to in the latter-half of Book 2?
Ground Chux- I’m honestly the WORST about giving out spoilers. I won’t ever give any, not even to those closest to me.
All I’m willing to say is that with the end of Season 2 Charlie will have moved, though I won’t say where, and that the middle of Season 2 (which is about where we are as of this writing) is one of the lower points in the story as far as depression goes.
Charlie needs to discover a life for herself and a direction, however painful that might be.