Born March 11, 1963 (Gloucester, Massachusetts)
American author, illustrator
Electric Girl is "one of the easiest and most entertaining reads I've come across in ages. Intelligent, different and very funny, Electric Girl is one of the best comics out there."
Electric Girl creator Michael Brennan has carved a unique niche for himself in the world of graphic novels. Electric Girl follows the life of Virginia, a relatively normal girl who has the odd ability to conduct electricity through her body and is trailed constantly by a mischievous gremlin named Oogleeoog. While characters with superpowers and invented creatures such as gremlins abound in comics and graphic novels, Brennan has blended these elements with his own approach and style. Appropriate for all readers, Electric Girl stories explore everyday situations, such as the frustrations of burning toast, as well as more outlandish stories, such as the problem of what to do if your dog brought you the hand of a dead man. What Brennan does best in each story is give readers a chance to laugh. Brennan's Electric Girl has been hailed by critics as refreshing, hilarious, fabulous, and funny.
Loved comics from an early age
Michael Brennan was born on March 11, 1963, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Brennan grew up reading Marvel and DC Comics superhero adventures. C. C. Beck's original Captain Marvel stories were to Brennan "the greatest things on earth," he told Jamie Coville in an interview for the Collector Times. While those stories had hooked him as a kid, he found greater artistic inspiration from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson had "pushed the comic strip back to a higher ground in terms of art and writing that hadn't been around for some time," Brennan told Coville. Brennan hoped to one day try his hand at such a feat.
As a kid, Brennan loved to draw. "My parents were supportive of my desire to draw as it became apparent at an early age that I would not succeed in any sports-related activities. My mother always read comics, along with the novels she'd regularly read, so I had an additional amount of 'tacit' [unspoken] support via her enjoyment of the medium," Brennan told Graphic Novelists (GN). His high school doodles often included superheroes of his own creation. Brennan loved drawing so much that he pursued it in college in the early 1980s; he earned a bachelor of fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Art, where he specialized in illustration. After college, Brennan took what he described on the Electric Girl Web site as "a 9 to 5 job at a large company." The work didn't thrill him, and he looked for other opportunities. He began taking freelance illustration jobs. To do this, he told Barb Lien of Sequential Tart, "I decided to market myself on my main strength, which is my 'cartoony' style." The idea worked, and he landed increasingly more side jobs.
Electric Girl Vol. 1. (2000).
Electric Girl Vol. 2. (2002).
Electric Girl Vol. 3. (2005).
To keep himself abreast of new illustration styles, Brennan devoured comic books and graphic novels, frequenting Million Year Picnic, the local comic book store in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was introduced to a variety of independent comics and international graphic novels. He was particularly drawn to those cartoonists who stood out from the crowd with their unique style. "It was the idea that you could actually draw a book in a manner that was so different from the standard stuff," Brennan told Coville. He especially admired the work of Maurice Vellekoop, Jeff Smith, Philippe Dupuy, and Charles Berbérian, comics artists whose work was published often in Drawn and Quarterly magazine.
Started to draw his own comic strip
Filled with inspiration from other illustrators and a desire to break away from his nine-to-five job, Brennan began writing and drawing the precursor to Electric Girl as a comic strip in 1990. He told Coville that "I had just reached that point where I realized that if I wanted to be a cartoonist, I'd actually have to do something about it." He developed several weeks' worth of his strip, read them, threw most of them away, and started again.
His comic strip focused on the adventures of a gremlin named Oogleeoog. It took Brennan quite a while to decide what exactly Oogleeoog was. He settled on a tall, lanky creature with a human-looking body, a heart-shaped head, and a big nose. Both Oogleeoog and his gremlin friends always wear a suit that resembles a child's footy pajamas. The only way to tell Brennan's gremlins apart from each other, aside from their strong personalities, is the shape of their noses. The gremlins are invisible to humans, but not to animals. Oogleeoog and his gremlin friends seem bent on making mischief, and Brennan's early strips made the most of Oogleeoog's glee in mucking things up for humans.
Once he had a nice pile of work—nearly eighty strips about Oogleeoog's adventures—he began approaching newspaper syndicates (businesses that sold stories and comic strips to daily papers). Every syndicate he approached turned him away, but Brennan did not lose his desire to write about cartoon characters. While he abandoned the idea of creating a comic strip, Brennan filled his free time reimagining his characters in a comic book.
During normal business hours, Brennan worked on developing his own graphic design firm, called Stormship, in Medford, Massachusetts. He and several of his friends started the company in 1991. At first, Stormship focused on graphic print design, but by 2005 it had grown to include Web-based and other interactive design. Brennan presided over Stormship's success as president.
The idea for Electric Girl
Despite his long hours working at Stormship, Brennan continued to think about his cartoons. "I consider creating Electric Girl comics to be my second career," Brennan explained to GN. "But since I'm also self-employed in my main career as a graphic designer/illustrator, balancing the two has always been very difficult. As many cartoonists have lamented, shelter and food come first, so I'm forced to put the work that pays faster in front of everything else."
For years, he played around with his Oogleeoog character, a dog he'd drawn in college, and a teenage girl named Virginia that he'd created for his earlier strip. Brennan developed what he described on the Electric Girl Web site as an "antagonistic friendship" between Oogleeoog and Virginia (who could see Oogleeoog), and started to craft stories focused on their relationship. In order to ensure interesting plot lines, Brennan looked for a gimmick to his stories. He decided to make Virginia's body a conduit for electricity. That idea was the beginning of Electric Girl. Virginia's ability became more of a source of frustration for her than anything, especially in humid weather when she shorts out air conditioners, radios, and computers, and shocks anyone who touches her.
Brennan did not limit himself to a particular topic, theme, or timeframe for his comic. His stories meandered from such everyday things as naming a puppy—Oogleeoog named Virginia's puppy Blammo, much to her dismay—or having nightmares, to more bizarre tales of a mischievous boy genius, a robot attracted to Virginia's electrical output, or zombies. Brennan related to GN that "most of the ideas for EG stories come to me based on a scene that'll pop into my head. Often, I tend to think of scenarios based on what would happen if someone with electric powers tried to do this or that and build from there. I then let the idea play around in my head for a while and if I don't forget about it, it becomes part of a story. It's not a formal process by any means." Throughout his stories, Brennan highlights Virginia's close relationships with friends and family and her irritability over Oogleeoog's almost constant presence. Virginia's electric ability, Oogleeoog's antics, and Blammo's normal puppy enthusiasm all add a humorous twist to the stories.
Brennan has not followed a set chronology for his stories about Virginia's life. He instead provides explanatory stories as needed. For instance, Brennan first conceived of Virginia as a teenager, and most of the stories revolve around her life as a college student. But Brennan offers readers glimpses of Virginia's early childhood to provide needed insights, such as how long she has had her electrical power, how Blammo joined her family, or when Oogleeoog first started trailing her. About his approach to the Electric Girl stories, Brennan related to Jonathan Ellis in an interview for Pop Image that "Virginia has grown up with these (sometimes annoying) electric powers, so there's no reason that we shouldn't get to see her from different ages as she's growing up and adjusting to them. Plus, I really enjoy coming up with these stories from her past."
Is Electric Girl a Superhero?
Having grown up enjoying the likes of Shazam!, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel, and the other superheroes of Marvel and DC Comics, Michael Brennan granted Virginia, the protagonist of his own graphic novel, mysterious electric powers. But do these powers make her a superhero? While Brennan could see that the electric powers he bestowed on Virginia related to the superhero comics of his youth, he explained that instead of making Virginia a superhero, her electric powers were simply a concept for him to play with. On the Electric Girl Web site, Brennan noted that Virginia's ability to conduct electricity doesn't enable her to "really do anything," but does "keep things interesting." Rather than creating a superhero, Brennan had used Virginia's superpower as a starting point, a familiar concept from the comics he loved as a kid to get his creative juices flowing for his own book.
Most readers do not consider Virginia to be a superhero. She lives by no moral code that sets her apart from others, and she has no drive to strike down imposing threats to humanity. Her powers come into play in more mundane, everyday situations: she can start a car's battery with a single touch; she can short-out street lights, or zap them with a simple thought. Mostly, however, Virginia is reluctant to use her powers. Often her gremlin friend Oogleeoog cajoles or tricks her into using them, mostly to her great embarrassment or frustration. Perhaps Alasdair Stuart put it best in his review of Electric Girl for Robotfist!: rather than a superhero Virginia is "a reluctant lightning rod for all kinds of strangeness." Brennan himself considers Electric Girl more of a humor than a superhero book.
The longer format changed the way Brennan thought about telling stories. Rather than thinking about the story as a series of single panels, Brennan could expand his ideas for many pages. "I wanted to have the freedom of using the full page to tell the story and not be limited to the strip format. Not that I'm big into experimental page layouts, but since I wasn't satisfied with my strip attempt I wanted to try something different," Brennan told Coville. Although Brennan confided to Ellis that he considered alternative formats for Electric Girl, he settled on the comic book because "Right now, I'm in the mode to tell stories that are best suited for the comic book format, so I'll probably stick with that for a while." Brennan experimented with the way he told his stories, varying their lengths and sometimes telling whole stories with pictures alone.
Self-published his first books
After finishing his first story, Brennan tried to interest a small publishing firm in it, but a rejection letter convinced him to consider self-publishing. Brennan told Lien that trying to convince others to publish his work really bothered him: "I'd rather self-publish and go broke than go begging for someone to look at my work. That and the fact that I'm very shy around strangers!" In preparation for his new venture, Brennan read David Sim's Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing and other books and saved his money to fund it.
Starting in 1998, Brennan began publishing the Electric Girl stories through his company, Mighty Gremlin Press. He wrote and drew the books, created the advertising, oversaw the printing, and marketed his work at conventions. After publishing his first book, Brennan related to Sequential Tart that self-publishing wasn't something to take lightly. As he was still waiting to turn a profit, Brennan commented that he would only advise a person to self-publish if "you really love it, because that may end up being your only reward!"
After self-publishing the first nine Electric Girl stories, Brennan again sought to partner with a publishing firm. Brennan confided to Sequential Tart that self-publishing was a difficult, time-consuming, financially risky project. The tenth issue of Electric Girl was published by Ait/PlanetLar, and the first eight issues were republished as two trade books, basically paperback graphic novels. Wanting to spend his free time crafting his graphic novels, Brennan eagerly handed over the printing, marketing, and other business aspects of Electric Girl to Ait/PlanetLar. "I couldn't resist the offer to divest myself of all the chores that are part of publishing the book," he told Sequential Tart. By 2005, Electric Girl was Ait/PlanetLar's best-selling title, according to ICv2, and Brennan was in negotiations with Cartoon Network about making Electric Girl into an animated series.
Electric Girl, volume three, which includes issues nine and ten as well as new stories and illustrations of early character developments, published in September 2005. These stories feature Blammo much more prominently and show a kinder side to Oogleeoog. The volume also includes an early version of a story about Virginia's encounter with a bad-tempered child genius. For Electric Girl fans, the book highlights Brennan's ongoing development as a storyteller.
The Electric Girl stories have earned high marks from reviewers. Brennan's skill as an illustrator has been especially well received. He draws his characters in a loose, easy style, but their facial expressions and movements are realistic. Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading praised him for his "excellent use of blacks and backgrounds," adding that "I didn't really notice the lack of color due to the artist's facility with shading." Greg McElhatton remarked on the iComics Web site that Brennan "does a great job integrating gray tones into his art, using them not just as shading but a way to actually impart additional texture and depth to the scenes he draws." Brennan also received acclaim for his realistic dialogue and comic timing. In 2001, Brennan earned a Will Eisner Award nomination, the graphic novel industry's highest accolade. Brennan still runs Stormship, and Electric Girl fans keep their fingers crossed that he continues to find spare time to share more of Electric Girl's adventures. About his future books, Brennan noted to Pendergast that "I think it's important to try something different in order to stretch your abilities now and again. I feel that, if nothing else, the experience will make any future Electric Girl stories all the better. While I'm still working on concepts for my next project, one of my goals is to make it different from Electric Girl in terms of style, theme, and genre."
For More Information
Gorman, Michelle. "What Teens Want: Thirty Graphic Novels You Can't Live Without." School Library Journal (August 1, 2002): p. 42.
Carlson, Johanna Draper. "Electric Girl: Comic Book Review." Comics Worth Reading.http://www.comicsworthreading.com/?s=electric+girl (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Electric Girl. www.electricgirl.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Electric Girl Being Developed by Cartoon Network." ICv2. http://www.comics2film.com/FanFrame.php?f_id=8828 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Ellis, Jonathan. "Interview: Getting Electric with Michael Brennan." Pop Image.http://www.popimage.com/content/arc3-2002.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Lien, Barb. "Electric Girl, Michael Brennan." Sequential Tart.http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/may99/brennan.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
McElhatton, Greg. "Electric Girl, Volume 2." iComics. http://www.icomics.com/rev_073002_electricgirl.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Stormship. www.stormship.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Stuart, Alasdair. "Review: Electric Girl" (April 1, 2002). Robotfist!http://www.electricgirl.com/reviews/index.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through direct correspondence with Michael Brennan in September of 2005.