Olive Brinker is a cartoonist with the wind in her sails. Her long-running webcomics Rae the Doe has proven so popular, she successfully crowdfunded a series of plushes based on her characters Rae and Mimi. Fresh off the success of her latest crowdfunding campaign, Rae the Doe has just released its 365th comic, and the series will now be syndicated via Comics Kingdom. It’s quite a feat. Her strip is charming, thoughtful and hilarious. I spoke with Brinker about her webcomic, making comedy (and plushes), and getting her comic syndicated.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Olive Brinker: Hi, I’m Olive! I’m a 24-year-old trans woman from New Jersey and the creator of a webcomic called Rae the Doe. I went to school to study computer animation but ended up finding a career path in cartooning. My ultimate goal is to make people smile with silly jokes and wholesome comics.
Leblanc: I want to start by talking about Rae the Doe. Can you tell us the origin of this series?
Brinker: I started drawing the comic while working on my thesis film for college. I was spending hours upon hours each day on this complicated 3D animation, so quickly drawing a cute little comic was the perfect warm-up. That’s why Rae has such a simple design — because she was designed to be drawn as quickly as possible, so that I could get back to working on my thesis film as soon as possible. It’s funny that the comic has developed its own distinctive style, since that decision was a purely utilitarian one at first.
Leblanc: You are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Art New York City as a computer animator. Do you feel this experience helped you specifically in making comics.
Brinker: I think my experience at SVA will be a lot more helpful to working on Rae the Doe’s Big Game, the video game I’m planning, than on the comic itself. Oh, I also recently used my 3D modeling skills to design the 3D turnarounds for the plushes we’re Kickstarting! So yeah, I find ways to use that college experience when I can, even though I ended up following an unexpected career path.
Leblanc: Congratulation on getting your ongoing cartoon strip Rae the Doe syndicated with King Features.
Brinker: Thank you, it’s great to finally be able to talk about it. This is a project that was months in the making. I pitched it awhile ago to King Features, and it came in quite organically. After comic #200, I thought there might be a way to get a bigger audience. I thought it would hopefully making a living through comics. It will be five comics a week, Monday through Friday.
Leblanc: Will you be doing something special to celebrate?
Brinker: Yes, I’ll be publishing a special strip in which Rae explains what will be happening to her and “break the news” so to speak. It will be about how it’s been her dream to have a comic be syndicated and it’s coming true. It’s fantastic. It took awhile for it to happen but after a lot of back and forth between me and the people at Comics Kingdom, it finally was official a few months ago. I’ve been dying to tell people about it, but we agreed on a day for the official news.
Leblanc: I’m constantly impressed by the wit you display in those strips. There’s a never-ending well of puns and play-on-words in Rae the Doe that constantly surprises. How do you decide what goes in your strips. Can you walk us through the process of making a Rae the Doe comic strip?
Brinker: One thing I love about making Rae the Doe is that each comic can vary pretty wildly from one another. Sometimes a comic is about a relatable thing I do, sometimes it’s making a political statement through comedic exaggeration, and sometimes it’s just an awful pun or silly joke. The comics are so varied because I typically make a comic about the one thing I happen to be thinking about that particular day — politics, depression, a joke that popped into my head, etc.
After I have a topic picked out, I try to think of a punchline. “What’s ironic or humorous here?” is the question I gotta ask myself. Once I have a punchline and topic set in stone, I have to write the dialogue. This part takes the longest. I usually think of a topic and punchline while making eggs or taking a shower. Writing out the dialogue, on the other hand, sometimes takes me upwards of a half hour. I try my best to pick the clearest, most coherent phrasing of a joke possible. A comic is only four panels, so to properly execute a joke to its best ability, each of the four panels needs to do its job well, even when it’s like… the humble second panel. Usually just there to expand on the introduction of the topic from panel one. It’s not a very spicy panel, but it’s IMPORTANT!
Thoughtfully considered pacing and word choice make a huge difference in how comics are received, in my experience, so I put way too much thought into it. I sound very pretentious about comic writing, but there’s a good reason for that: I am.
Leblanc: Since you started Rae The Doe in early 2019, you’ve done (as of today) 365 comic strips. Did you expect this series to be as long as it is?
Brinker: God, no. I had no plans for this comic when it first started. I didn’t bother naming Rae (or the comic) until the fourth strip was posted. It took me about a month into posting comics to realize “okay, this might have an actual future”, but I never would’ve predicted it’d become this successful… or successful at all, to be honest. I was so sure for so long that my art would never find an audience, but here we are. I try to keep that in mind at all times: the narrative you’ve built about yourself isn’t necessarily one-to-one with reality, especially when you tell yourself you can’t or will never accomplish something.
Leblanc: An interesting thing about the design of your character is that there is a simplicity that makes it very approachable. My son saw me read the strip and though Rae was adorable. It’s not a comic for kids, but there is a definitive appeal for a younger audience.
Brinker: It’s funny, I often parents and their kids I see at conventions who think the comic looks cute but if they ask me if it’s kid-appropriate, I usually say “not really”. It’s a bit more mature, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a young child watch The Simpsons. I suppose it’s mostly made for depressed twenty-somethings. It will be more “family-friendly” in a way now that it’s syndicated.
Leblanc: Some of your strips, while being a bit more mature, do explore themes that are relevant for children like identity, inclusivity, acceptance and understanding of oneself, and respect for others.
Brinker: I think there may be a single-digit number of comics that aren’t kid-friendly. Especially early on, where I was still exploring what this series was about. I made a comic about 420, but after awhile, I didn’t think it fit the tone of the work. Now that it’s syndicate, it won’t tone down the way I explore the themes you mentioned earlier. The core of it is still the same, Rae is still trans, but there probably won’t be poop jokes.
Leblanc: In addition to Rae The Doe, you’re also working on Sapphic Novel, a series you are serializing on Patreon. Could you tell us a bit about this series?
Brinker: Sapphic Novel takes place in a world where everyone is some sort of mythical creature or folklore character. It stars Bloody Mary, Medusa, and Baba Yaga as twenty-something-year-old queer women. It’s a bit of a silly premise so I try to have fun with it. Mary’s roommate is Mothman, who is dating the Jersey Devil, for example. I’ve only posted a handful of pages so far, because other projects kept demanding my attention instead. I should be able to get back to it now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. The other project is what I call my depression.
Leblanc: In addition to Patreon, are there other ways readers could support you, financially or otherwise?
Leblanc: How have you been since the pandemic started?
Brinker: It’s ok, I’m getting a bit stir crazy and I feel like I’m in the movie The Lighthouse. I used to love going to the city, taking a bus, eating at a dinner, going to the movie theaters. All little things I was taking for granted are gone, so it’s an adjustment. It’s for public safety so it’s fine, it doesn’t make it completely easy either. So I’m alright.
Leblanc: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your comics?
Brinker: I once jokingly posted “I hope my gay furry webcomic can distract people from the soul-crushing existential loneliness of everyday life for just a few seconds three times a week” and honestly? That about sums it up.