Potter, illustrator, painter, animator; it's always been hard to pin down Charlotte Mei.
Regardless of discipline, the London artist has long been charming audiences with her pastel tones and kawaii faces. She's also long discussed her love for all things sequential, so much so you might be surprised to learn the multi-talent has only just made her first comic.
Pipette and Dudley's Charming Dog Adventure is the name of the release, as included in the indie strip institution that is the ShortBox comics box. The latest venture from the UK publisher has already passed its Kickstarter goal, touting five never-before published comics which'll no doubt be as treasured as past ShortBox releases.
"The story is basically one about friendship, and holding onto one another as we change and grow," Charlotte writes me about Pipette and Dudley. "The main characters are a precocious teenage princess/influencer and her dog friend Dudley. Dudley is artistic and sensitive, and the book follows their relationship during a transitional time in their lives."
"As a painter/illustrator and 'comic liker'," Charlotte continues, "I've always wanted to try my hand at something more long-form and narrative.
"I grew up on cartoons, and some of the first 'art' I distinctly remember doing is Pokémon, Sonic, and Ecco the Dolphin fan art. I drew them on printer paper and brought them to school to show my friends, who were like 'OK.. Cool'. Girly manga and anime is kind of my guilty pleasure, so I had an idea for a while that I wanted to create my own.
"When ShortBox reached out to me, I felt like it was time to make it happen! Working with Zainab Akhtar who runs ShortBox has been a great experience. From the beginning she has trusted me and allowed my instincts as a creator. It didn't surprise me that the Kickstarter blew up and was immediately funded; it's testament to Zainab's natural capacity for curation and finding great talent."
Flower boys and colour
I learn Charlotte's approach as a painter was fundamental to the creation of Pipette and Dudley.
"The book is mostly painted; I knew from the start that it would be full-colour, as colour is a huge part of my practice and one that I feel can subtly guide you emotionally when experiencing a comic or piece of visual art in general."
Charlotte also tells me the book was influenced by teen-girl targeted shojo manga she grew up with like Boys Over Flowers and Chibi Maruko-chan. There's also a splash of Pokémon in there through the relationship between Pipette and Dudley, much like Satoshi and his beloved Pikachu.
These are all Japanese creations, of course, and we touch upon Charlotte's time in Japan as spent almost one decade ago.
"I took part in an exchange programme on a manga course in 2011. The time I spent there radically changed the way I approached illustration," she reveals.
"The visual material I was exposed to had a lightness that I hadn't really seen before in the UK illustration scene (I was no expert of course, just a second-year art student at the time). But it connected two worlds which in my head had so far been separate: firstly, my perspective as an illustration student, and what I considered professional illustration, and secondly the visual world, comics and anime I had loved growing up.
"Suddenly the magic of a beautiful animation or video game, and character design that seemed lighthearted with a sophisticated simplicity, the things I intrinsically liked without any academic justification, all seemed relevant and connected.
"I returned to my work with a new energy and honesty."
Almost ten years later, the result is Pipette and Dudley's Charming Dog Adventure; grab it while you can from Kickstarter.