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REAL GEEK GIRLS: Cartoonist & Story Artist, Katie Shanahan

The goal of my “Real Geek Girls” series is to show the world that girls truly can be geeky. For some, that seems like an obvious observation, but there’s always that one person, almost always a guy, who will talk about how girls are fake geeks who don’t know what they’re talking. Girls are just doing it look cool and lure in geek guys. They don’t know what it’s all about when it comes to “geek culture” and they’re somehow just there to be admired by geek guys. I’m here to let the world know that girls DO know what we’re talking about. We can be and we ARE just as geeky as the guys. Every now and again, I’ll interview a new geek girl just to highlight how many of us are out there, how real we are all. We come in all shapes and sizes, and love a many number of geeky things. I’m going to show the world that there are real geek girls, and they know as much, if not more, than the somehow more revered geek guy.

Meet Katie Shanahan! She’s an incredible cartoonist and story artist. She’s done a lot of work and continues to make wonderful works of art! She’s done story boarding as well! I got to interview her and learn a lot about her. We talked about her work and her inspirations, we also talked about her imagination and if it’s what makes her so creative. Read the interview below and don’t forget to follow her on twitter here and check out her website here.



What does being a geek mean to you?

Whether its comics, animation, computers, sports, cars, cooking, what-have you- to me being a geek, is at its core, being excited and enthusiastic about something and seeking out a community of likeminded individuals to share that enthusiasm with. Personally, I’m a comic book geek, so most of my answers from here on out will be about comics. Comics, comics, comics!

There’s always someone out there who thinks women are faking it when they say they are geeks, what’s your take on this?

This is something that I’ve never had to deal with personally, but it’s frustrating to hear stories from friends and colleagues about being dismissed or harassed at comic shops, conventions and online. This is the stuff we go to for entertainment, for escape… it’s put out there for everyone to enjoy however we choose whether it’s as a hardcore fanatic or just browsing through. My inclination is to ignore trolls and haters, but I am grateful to the women and men who vocally fight against this negative attitude. If girls see that the vast majority of us are supportive, then when they encounter bullies who consider themselves gatekeepers of some kind if “pure geek kingdom”, they’ll hopefully be able to shrug off the bad experience and get back to enjoying their comics.

Comic writer Jody Houser summed it up perfectly in a tweet “More than anything else, being a geek is supposed to be about the love of something. If all you do is express hate, you’re doing it wrong.”

Tell us a little about the comic Silly Kingdom.

Silly Kingdom is a humour fantasy comic series I’m working on with my brother Steven (he writes and I draw). It’s in the flavour of the Asterix comics and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and a way for me to poke fun at all the high-fantasy novels I devoured as teen. It’s our first self published comic (we’ve learned much about the joys and tears that come from self publishing) and has gotten really positive feedback which is very encouraging (we were nominated for two Joe Shuster comic awards, woo!)

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the second Silly Kingdom comic, and we have a larger story arc we’re working towards. The biggest obstacle is that my day job as an animation storyboard artist doesn’t leave me with a lot of extra time to draw comics, so it’s been a slow process, but one that I very much enjoy.

What made you want to get into animation/illustrations and comics? Any influences?

I’ve been drawing since I was super little and the earliest influence I can point to is my dad. He’s always been a big comic/animation/sci-fi geek. He’d take my brother and I to comic shops and conventions, bring home tons of art books and animated film collections, and introduced us to anime and manga in the early days just before it exploded in popularity in North America.

My parents both ran a freelance Mascot costume making business so I’d see my dad designing costumes at his drafting table and then the two of them would bring those designs to life in their workshop. It was pretty incredible to grow up around that, and it set the ground work for my interests in making a living as a cartoonist.

If you could create a comic for Marvel or DC, which would turn into a movie, which one would you illustrate for?

Aaah… hard to say, to be honest I’m not a big DC/Marvel reader. I used to read all my dad’s superhero comics indiscriminately as a kid but then my interests shifted as I got more into manga, European comics, indie publishing, and webcomics. Recently I’ve been hearing good things about the superhero genre and am starting to get back into it – I’ve really enjoyed Matt Fraction and David Aja’s “Hawkeye” and the new “Ms. Marvel” series by Willow Wilson. But if the Big Two showed up at my house and said they’d give me the reigns to any comic, I’d have to say “Batman.” Batman was always my favourite. But it’d be more like an Adam West or Sergio Aragonés Batman, something incredibly goofy. Or like those Super Dickery comics you see collected online. Yes, let’s make this happen!

Tell us a little about the work you’ve done on shows likes PBS Kids, Cartoon Network, Mattel, and National Geographic Kids.

I’ve been working as a freelance artist in the animation industry for almost ten years now. Some of the show’s I’ve storyboarded on include “Wild Kratts”, “Barbie: Life in the Dream House,” and “Johnny Test” to name a few that might be more recognizable. I’ve love to do storyboards for feature films someday, though that might require moving out to California, and I’m happy with my life here in Toronto. Hopefully the nature of the internet will allow for more film studios to look into freelancing artists from around the world in the near future.

Your illustrations are all so colorful, vibrant, detailed and incredibly awesome, does your imagination help shape your illustrations?

I hope so! Though a lot of it is also building up a giant library of influences from observing life and studying other artists.

Tell us a little about the comics you have published in Flight, The Anthology Project, Womanthology and Explorer.

These are all super great comic anthologies and I’m honoured to be a part of them! I love taking part in anthologies, not only for the comic-making process, but because each new book introduces me to a group of amazing artists, many of whom have become wonderful friends.

The short story format also allows me to experiment with different styles of visual storytelling, and lets me play around with different tools and processes. It’s a great way to learn, and when people ask me how they should go about making comics I always tell them to start with making short stories. Just taking something to completion. If it’s good, great! Make another one! If it sucks, great! Make another one. Keep moving forward. Keep learning. Keep doing. Practice, practice, draw, draw.

Do you have any advice for people out there who’d love to get into your line of work?

For animation, the animation-school route is usually the most direct way to get into the industry, but it’s not the only option. Studios don’t ask where you went to school, they ask for a good portfolio. My advice, if you want to be a storyboard artist, is to study film with an analytical eye. Have a sketch pad handy and draw thumbnails of good compositions and shots as you go. If you’re having trouble putting together a storyboard portfolio because you can’t come up with a script to work from, pick a passage from your favourite book and draw it out as if you were making an animated film from those pages. Where would you put the camera in the scene? What does the background look like? What’s the body language of the characters? What is the expression on their face?

I’m collecting a bunch of resources on my tumblr for storyboarding, so if folk want to expand on this head over to: https://ktshy.tumblr.com/tagged/storyboard-samples

For comics, my advice is always to start making comics. There are so many books, classes, podcasts and tutorials out there that can help you improve and polish your craft, but unless you put the time into actually making a comic, all that knowledge won’t really do much other than float around in your head. You have to put it into practice. Put it on the page. Like I said earlier, if it seems too intimidating just start out with smaller stories, 8-10 pages at the most.

For me, comic making is a life long process. I’m constantly reading comics, studying comics, and listening to podcast about comic making, screenwriting, and film making. I read a ton of tutorials and advice-books, but unless I’m actually struggling with writing a story, or sweating through trying to draw proper background perspective, or loosing my mind trying to come up with an interesting character design… then I’m not making any progress. Make mistakes, keep learning, keep moving forward.

For the girls out there who feel embarrassed to show off their geekiness, what’s your advice to them?

Please don’t be embarrassed to be yourself! When I was in high school I was embarrassed to be a geek and kept my interests hidden, which meant I was super withdrawn and missed out on finding and connecting with other geeky friends. Who was I doing it for? Who was I trying to impress? Why did being “normal” matter so much? When I went to animation college, surrounded by other artists, it was like a wall broke down and I was finally able to truly, unapologetically be me, but it bummed me out that it had taken so long to get there. In this life, you’ll meet some great people! You will also meet some jerks. Don’t let them make you feel bad for being yourself. Walk away, keep looking for others who share in your geeky passions, we’re everywhere!!


Credit: Katie Shanahan.
Credit: Katie Shanahan.


Find Karin Abcarians directly on Twitter @Danger_Karin and be sure to follow @Screen_Invasion for the latest in entertainment news and reviews!

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The Author

Karin Abcarians

Karin Abcarians

Karin Abcarians is an advocate for geek girls everywhere. She runs the REAL GEEK GIRLS and REAL GEEK MOMS features. She's a writer, movie buff, and loves about 45 million shows. She's Captain America's biggest fan. Her alter-ego is BatKarin. Also, she loves Leonardo DiCaprio more than you do.