Tom: Hi Bryan, thanks for taking the time to talk with me! It’s been a crazy few weeks here with the shootings in Orlando. Do you plan on doing a strip that addresses the attack at Pulse?
Bryan: The shooting at Pulse was tragic and our hearts go out to everyone affected by not only that tragedy, but all mass shootings. While we’ve done a few AJ & Magnus strips as commentary on our current approach to gun laws in this country, Simon and I feel it’s more important to give people a reason to smile. The reality in 2016 is the LGBT community is still targeted for violence just for being who they are and it’s very easy to be brought down by the tragedies and inequalities that exist daily in life so we try to use our comic as an escape for people who need a smile and maybe a more positive look on life.
Tom: How long have you been doing this?
Bryan: Simon and I began talking about the idea of the comic in early 2014 while on a camping trip with our nephew and our dogs. We released the first strip on August 8th, 2014. Since then we’ve created over 200 strips and are still introducing new characters.
Tom: The teacher in me wants to know where did went to school? What kind of student were you?
Bryan: My education is limited to graduating high school. Without going into too much detail, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college but did start a small game studio when I was 18. I always joke the four years it took to develop and release a PC game became my college education. As for the type of student I was; bad. I had a rough time with my family so my brain was always distracted with whatever latest drama my alcoholic, drug addicted step father was causing. I would make honor roll, but to this day I honestly don’t know how.
Tom: That’s an amazing story. I am very proud of you and what you did! How about Simon?
Bryan: Simon went to school in Holland and while he made good grades, he realized his passion for art and often found himself distracted with doodling in his notebook or making flip-animations in his math book. To this day, he remembers the flip animations better than any math lesson. He also went to school for game development and animation where he further developed his skills as an illustrator and animator.
Tom: How much is based on your reality?
Bryan: AJ & Magnus is a fictionalized version of our reality. It’s a humorous exploration of what Simon and I think we’d be like as parents brought about at the time where we stepped in as parental figures for our nephew and two nieces. The initial idea came from watching our 8 year old nephew play tirelessly with our English Mastiff. He would ride on his back and they’d go exploring in the woods. It was such a fun time and we started joking about what we’d be like as parents and that sowed the seeds for the comic. All of the characters are based on real people, family members, friends, and people from our own childhoods. The stories are a mix of straight out of our family to things completely made up or hypothetical out of “what if” discussions Simon and I always have. But for better or worse, our comic does strongly resemble our family.
Tom: Your family rocks, and I love For Better or for Worse by Lynn Johnston! I wrote to her once, she sent me a page out of her sketchbook! But back to your family situation, you guys don’t have kids, but use your nephew as your inspiration for AJ, what do you do to fill in the blanks?
Bryan: In the past three years big changes happened in our family. Our nieces and nephew had parents that abandoned them so Simon and I felt the right thing to do was to step in and help my mother who took custody of them. We saved up and we moved to Florida where we all share a house. While we may not be parents in the legal sense of the word, we view the kids as our responsibility and try to do what we can to help them get the best chance they can to live a happy life. Our family as a whole is riddled with dysfunction and our challenge is to help them see that family can be better than they were exposed to. It’s not been easy, not by a long shot. Some days things are great and we’re all good, others it’s a test. It’s life and it’s what becomes the inspiration for us. While being in a parental role is a mix of joy and frustration, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to make sure these kids have a life that has the trust, love and hugs that I didn’t have growing up.
Tom: I love you for that. Kids are kids regardless of where they came from. I applaud you for stepping in and taking care of your nieces and nephew. Do you plan on having kids?
Bryan: The way we see it, we already do. Sure, they’re not ours in the legal sense but we view them as wonderful people we want to succeed in life and be happy. We are so proud of these kids because even when the deck was stacked against them, they still turned out to be just wonderful. Sure nobody is perfect and sometimes we butt heads, but that happens in any relationship. We wouldn’t trade our responsibilities for them for anything.
Tom: I can only imagine that a comic strip about a perfect family and perfect relationships would be boring as hell! Thanks for sharing your family and all the dysfunctional love you share with each other. So where can we find your comic?
Bryan: If you’re on Facebook you can find our comics at facebook.com/ajandmagnus or you can find them on our website ajandmagnus.com. The website gayswithkids.com also publishes an AJ & Magnus strip every Saturday.
Tom: Gays with Kids is awesome! They are such a great cause. I’ve wrote for them as well! Any future plans for the comic?
Bryan: Simon and I recently announced we’re going to be published on Gocomics.com beginning July 18th. We’re particularly excited by this announcement as not only will we be side by side with the classic comics we grew up with, but we’re going to be the first comic strip published featuring gay parents. To us, the more people see LGBT people in many different roles, the more they’ll break stereotypes they may have previously formed and we’ll see overall changes in the public idea of what LGBT means. Yes, that’s a lot for a little comic alone, but the comic as one of many different presentations helps us take steps towards that.
Tom: Obviously Calvin and Hobbes had a huge influence on your comic, who else? Me, I loved Bloom County and had a major crush on Berke Breathed its creator.
Bryan: While there’s no doubt reading comics in the newspaper while growing up plays a role in what we’re doing today, our biggest influence remains our family. I think influence and inspiration come from so many sources so it was funny to us when we first started releasing AJ & Magnus comics and people started comparing us to Calvin and Hobbes. C&H is something we consider true art and it was never our intention to draw comparisons, it was our intention to tell our stories from our experiences. However, looking back on the fact we created a family with a boy and an animal sidekick in comic form, we probably should have expected that. That all being said, we grew up reading so many wonderful comic strips like For Better or For Worse, Garfield, Wizard of ID, Broom Hilda, Jump Start, Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Bloom County, and honestly I could just go on and on and on and…well, you get the idea!
There are so many wonderfully talented people out there and we’re so grateful to all of them for sharing their talents and insight with everyone.
Tom: One last question… as you know, we have two St. Bernards, Yukon and Roxie, so Magnus is a huge draw for us and the kids. Why the big dogs? What is their appeal?
Bryan: There’s something just amazing about the monster breed dogs, they’re so big but so loving and friendly. Up until last year, we had three dogs, two English Mastiffs and a Blue Heeler. Unfortunately, Abby, our female Mastiff was diagnosed with bone cancer a year ago this July and we had to put her down. It was very hard on us. I think anyone who’s ever owned a large dog can relate when I say they’ve got more love than should be possible even for their size. We are a family that loves animals, we currently have three cats, three dogs, and a hive of bees. But for me, there will always be a special place in my heart for the enormous breed dogs.
Tom: Thanks for your time today Bryan, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you and getting to know your story, and the story behind AJ & Magnus! We look forward to seeing more of your comic soon!
Bryan: Thanks Tom, it’s been fun!