Comics: The Bros Fraim on the return of America Jr.

America Jr. History 101: Maps and Legends

By , Columnist

Despite some obvious differences, the comics medium and the Internet do share a few telling traits.

First, both mediums can serve as low-cost and effective means of communicating not only fact and fiction, but also individual viewpoints to a mass—even world-wide—audience.

Second, and perhaps most import, both are entirely democratic mediums of self expression - all that’s really required to make comics is a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, a modicum of talent, and the bare bones of an idea to create a story, while the web requires access to a computer, net book, tablet, or cell phone, rudimentary access to the internet, some rudimentary language and design skills, along with an idea to get your message out.

So imagine the possibilities when you wed these two potent engines of self expression and mass communication, creating a chimera that is increasingly proving itself be an entirely new breed of graphic entertainment: the webcomic.

These electronic kissin’ cousins of the newspaper comic strip and comic books have fast become a mainstay of the online experience for an increasing number of readers, even as they’ve proven themselves to be a new, potentially life-changing means for creators to connect with fans of their work.

Art of Brendon and Brian Fraim self portrait logo.jpg

One of the more interesting webcomics of the past decade, America Jr. was co-created by two of Hollywood’s best, Todd Livingston and Nick Capetanakis, with the visual aid of the Bros Fraim. The series quickly distinguished itself for posing important questions about these United States and its citizenry in strikingly original and subtle ways, even as the genuine—and genuinely funny—human interaction between the series’ likable characters drew in reader and critic alike.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the original run of the strip. It was a sad, but impeccably timed and executed parting that left fans satisfied, yet craving more. When asked about a possible return at cons in the years since, the creators have told fans that it could eventually happen - if and when the time was right.

Well, it turns out that the right time is now.

Or, to be more exact, it will be the time on Monday, the 3rd of October, 2011. That’s when the first installment of America Jr. volume 2 goes live and the future history of this little nation will be revealed at last.

I recently caught up with twins Brian and Brendon Fraim via email to learn a bit more about their history with the series, and to get a couple hints of what our friends living in good old America Jr. have been up to, and what’s to come.


America Jr Returns 10-3-11 solvency hurrah ad.jpg

For those who need a reminder, or might even have somehow missed it the first time around, what is America Jr.?

America Jr. is the continuing story about a small town in America that finds out in its town charter that they joined the union on a temporary basis. When the series began in 2006, their membership in the union had just expired. So the strips follow the comical misadventures of the residents as they become their own country.

And how did you two get involved?

If memory serves, Todd and Nick were looking for an artist for America Jr., and we were linked up through our mutual friend Bob Tinnell. The script for the series was a fun read so that sealed the deal for us.

What lead to the decision to bring back the strip at this particular moment, and why do you want to be involved in its return?

We would like to say that there was some grand plan, but in reality, we didn't have anything else to do. Our schedule is pretty wide open and work is hard to come by, no thanks to the current economic climate. But on the other hand, the country sure is in a wacky state right now which makes America Jr. ripe for a return.

I’ve gotten the impression that you enjoy working with Todd L and Nick C. Why?

Todd and Nick are both really talented writers and comedians which makes working on the strip easy and fun.

America Jr Returns 10-3-11 no med coverage ad.jpg

So what’s in store for the good citizens of America Jr. this time out?

They will deal with the financial crisis, paying for health care, house painting, the AJrPS (the fledgling country’s postal service—Ed.), and donut sandwiches.

What’s your typical approach to creating the art for this series?

To create a strip, we print out the script sent by Todd and Nick and then Brendon does thumbnail panel layouts for each strip on those script pages.

America Jr strip 340 -- roughs.jpg

 He then pencils and letters the strips on Bristol board, three strips on a 12 1/2 by 17 page. 

America Jr strip 340 -- inks.jpg

The penciled strips are then emailed to Todd and Nick for approval. When approved, Brian inks them up and Brendon inks the lettering. 

America Jr strip 340 -- finished inks.jpg

Brian scans them in when finished and adds the title caption and copyright info. Then, when the strips are completely finished, we email the jpeg files to Todd so he can put them on the site.

America Jr strip 340 -- finished strip with lettering.jpg

Do you have to alter your approach if the work is intended for color rather than black and white?

We're a bit more conscientious of the light source when we're working on something for color, but other than that, our approach doesn't change. We have no preference for color or black and white. The old comic book adage is that a page should work with or without color, so that is what we try to accomplish.

Are there any unique challenges posed by this particular title? I ask, because it’s really more about human interaction and less about the typical visual spectacle hard-core psychological shocks that a lot of comics, especially those featuring superheroes, rely on to tell their stories today.

The biggest challenge is getting the layout to work! Storytelling, figure composition, word balloon placement; they all have to fit smoothly and work and flow in four to five panels to get the joke/idea across. We've always been known as artists who can draw "real people" so that aspect of it has never been a problem.

America Jr Returns 10-3-11 snappy comeback ad.jpg

And just how difficult is it, really, to instill a sense of drive into the visual narrative of reality-based work? 

There's no difficulty at all. It's just basic comic book storytelling, the same "sense of drive" if it were a horror story, comedy, super-hero adventure, realism or whatever.

When and in what formats is this puppy going to be available, and how can folks grab some new America Jr. for themselves?

The new strips begin October 3rd on the America Jr. site. You can purchase the first trade paperback of the first 150 strips and tons of bonus material, which is out of print, as a digital download now, with Volume Two coming soon in November. We have been running preview panels, still in pencil, of various strips on our Facebook page

What do you hope to accomplish with America Jr.? Is it all about entertainment, or are you hoping to give the reader a little more than that if they want it?

There's always a bit more if the reader wants it, but we're mainly entertainers. One of the great things about America Jr. is that it is accessible to everyone. Anyone who lives in the U.S. of A. would enjoy some aspect of the strip.  

Cryptkeeper and friends by Bros Fraim from facebook pg.jpg

What do you two get from making art in general, and from creating comics, in particular?

Creating comics and drawing is what gets us through the day. It's not so much a nine to five job as much as it is who we are. We are always asked, "Are you going to take a vacation?" We reply with, "We both don't feel like we need to take one. Drawing comic art isn't work, it's enjoyment." 

Catwoman by Bros Fraim.jpg

Anything else to add before I let you guys get back to it?

You can check out more of our work in comics and other media at our website. There you will find our commission rates and samples. To see more of our commission samples check out our page at Comic Art Commissions and our page at Comic Art Fans.

Vampire, PA, the three issue mini-series that we drew for Moonstone, written by J.C. Vaughn, will be released in a collected hardcover edition in November.

Vampire Pa image from Moonstone site.jpg

This December we'll be guests of the Lehigh Valley Comic Con.

We always attend three shows: the Pittsburg Comicon (April, 2012), Wizard World Philadelphia (June, 2012), and the Baltimore Comic-Con in September. 

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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