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Zip and Lil Bit by Trade Loeffler

Essay and Interview by John Seven

In the Zip and Li’l Bit comic strips. creator Trade Loeffler takes the old fashioned approach, coming up with a fun and gentle slice of magical whimsy involving one mischievous boy and his sister who never speaks, but whispers in his ear. In their world, gargoyles not only speak but try to keep an eye on them, kayaks float, birds speak Spanish, shadows go on adventures, reflections run wild, and young insomniacs watch magic unfold in lieu of a safe night in bed. Loeffler’s work is loads of fun and the situation are inventive, utilizing a playful absurdity from which his stories propel. 

Zip and Lil Bit by Trade Loeffler
Click a thumbnail to view comic.

Materials: I hand draw all my comics. I use a smooth, Borden & Riley bleedproof paper for pens, and Micron markers. The markers give me the look I want for this strip, and they’re nice and quick to work with. From there I scan the artwork to the computer and do all the coloring in Adobe Photoshop. The lettering is done on the computer as well. A friend of mine was able to create a font for me using my own handwriting, so that works great, and it’s nice and fast.

Interview with Trade Loeffler:

Q: Is your work very influenced by children’s books or chapter books that you read as a kid?
A: I can’t remember reading a lot of children’s books when I was a kid. I read a lot of comics, but the only children’s books I remember being fond of were Winnie the Pooh. I have discovered a lot of children’s books now that I’m grown up and have a son though. And my wife has a bunch of old children’s books that she had from when she was little, which I love to look at. She’s got a ton of old Golden Books that belonged to her dad which are just fabulous. Actually, I look at everything nowadays (movies, cartoons, children’s books, comic books, comic strips, real life, etc.) to see how I can incorporate new things into my artwork. So I’m sure ideas that I may be picking up from the children’s books I’m reading now are influencing my work.

Q: What kinds of comics did you like as a kid?
A: When I was a kid, I was all about Marvel comics. I would read everything comic related I could get my hands on, newspaper comics, Harvey Comics, Archie Comics, DC Comics, but Marvel was always my favorite, and they were the ones that I’d run down to the 7-Eleven each week to buy with my allowance. I guess I grew up on a steady diet of Marvel Comics and Slurpees.

Q: Why did you decide to do this as a web comic?
A: I decided to do Zip and Li’l Bit as a webcomic because I had this story, The Upside-Down Me, which I’d had almost all written out but I didn’t have any idea how to get any editors or publishers to look at it. Actually, I’m not sure I know to get them to look at it still, but I figured if I could get an audience online who liked my comics, that would help. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure at some point I’ll find someone willing to work with me on Zip and Li’l Bit and put them out as a print book. I have had other opportunities that have come along because of my website though, and I’ve met a ton of great people because of the website, so it’s been a real success so far.

Q: Zip and Li’l Bit really captures the inner lives of kids that adults aren’t always aware of. Is that a big concern of yours in your writing?
A: It is something I think about when I’m writing. One of the things that fascinates me is the idea that kids are free to imagine almost anything happening. When you’re grown up, reason seems to get in the way of that creativity. When I first came up with the idea for The Upside-Down Me, I found myself stumbling when I tried to think of an explanation for why there was a duplicate of Zip walking around on the ceiling. I could have come up with a back-story to try to explain it, but I realized that from a lot of kid’s perspectives an explanation wasn’t important. If it happened, that was enough. So I just went with it. It allows me a lot of freedom to think up, and write and draw all kinds of silly stuff. It’s great.

Q: I like the idea of kids have secret adventures in the middle of the night – is this something drawn from your own childhood?
A: Secret adventures in the middle of the night is a theme that’s been explored forever it seems. It’s a great idea. The thing I find so fascinating about it is that it’s the only real time everyday when a child is really alone and unsupervised so it’s a time when a kid can really be free and imagine most anything happening to them. 

As for my own childhood, my mom won’t appreciate hearing this, but my brother and I would sneak out the window though, meet up with our friends, and go wandering around the neighborhood or up the main street in our town. That was always really exciting.

Q: Does the authority figure lion’s head gargoyle bear any resemblance to you now? Or someone you knew growing up?
A: Ha! Ha! No, at least I hope not. I consider Willoughby to be amazingly ineffectual as an authority figure.

Willoughby’s personality (and this is something I like to explore with my characters) is really an outgrowth of the original design of the character. In Willoughby’s case, the poor guy is just a head stuck on a wall, so he can’t do anything, he can’t go anywhere,  he’s really just trapped there. So I when I envisioned his personality, it seemed like he would be the type of character that tried to compensate for his inability to do anything by being a kind of bossy know-it-all.

A funny story is that a couple months ago I went to a workshop about writing for children and getting published. One of the big no-no’s they mentioned was creating characters which were talking animals. Apparently, that identifies you straight off as an amateur. Whoops! Now they tell me. 

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