Comics have always been a family affair for Dallas artist Brie Underhill. Her grandfather helped shape her love for the art form by introducing Calvin and Hobbes, The Wizard of Id, Nancy and B.C. to her as a child.
“We would always read comics in the newspaper together,” she says. “I think that’s why most of my comics are usually one page. I like the short, concise storytelling of newspaper comics. If I wasn’t reading comics with my grandpa, we were building little sculptures in his workshop and painting them on the kitchen table. He even built me an easel.”
In fact, Underhill says her family has always nurtured her artistic needs and never flinched when she uttered the words, “art school.”
“If I wanted to do art for the rest of my life, they wanted me to do art for the rest of my life,” she says. “All they want is my happiness, so at a very young age I was taking art classes and I constantly had pencils in my hand. My family made sure I had a creative outlet that continued all the way through college too. Even now, they continue to support my work and constantly tell me they are proud of me. I think my grandpa would be thrilled to see what I’m working on now.”
Underhill won’t be appearing in any shows or exhibitions for a while, as she’s decided to focus on a larger body of work: her first graphic novel. “It’s been a huge undertaking because I’m so used to working on very short comics,” she says. “I’m in love with it right now, though. I’m hoping to have it done within the next year to two years.”
While the humor in her work is somewhat the same as comics she read growing up, Underhill admits her taste has gotten a bit darker and that she often finds herself obsessing over the work of Michael DeForge.
“Most of my main characters are women,” she says. “So I tend to focus on the internal dialogue of a woman, whether it be during a time of loneliness, love or uncertainty. I want to focus on the quiet complexities of the inner workings of a woman’s mind. I want to show that there is beauty in the sadness, struggle, passion and stillness of women. Most of my work leans toward a sort of forlorn atmosphere, but I think there is a little bit of a light to that.”
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The artist-by-day and bartender-by-night says the long hours fit her personality just right. “I don’t sleep much so it’s nice to be able to wake up at 8 or 9 a.m. and work on my art until I go into work at 4:30 p.m., where I stay until 2 a.m.,” she says.
But crafting cocktails at East Bound and Down Icehouse is more than just a paycheck to Underhill. She says it’s a perfect place to gather inspiration for her comics. “I hear so many stories of success and sadness,” she says. “I get to see hundreds of emotions, all different, but all connected. These small interactions are extremely inspiring to me.”
Inspiration for her work also comes from other local artists. “I’ve worked with a few super talented babes including, Abby Bagby [sculptor], Brigid Vaughn [illustrator], Olivia Cole [painter] and Lindsay Ellary [photographer]. I’m collaborating with Lindsay and Olivia right now for our art collective, Peachy Girl Squad. We’ll probably be showing those pieces at the end of the year and it will most likely be my first show back from my ‘break.’”
The sculpture major turned illustrator suggests that everyone should be reading comics. “The world is in a pretty bad spot right now and comics are going to be an extremely powerful tool for keeping spirits high,” she says. “Comics used to serve a purpose of giving people a hero to believe in when we needed one, but I believe that comics are going to help us reach the realization that we are our own heroes.”