When I was younger, there was always at least one cartoon on TV where one of the characters was a kid genius. I always wanted to be a kid genius, because I thought it meant I would be able to go on adventures, make high tech inventions from trash, travel through time, and be able to outsmart my parents and teachers. I instead had to settle for above average intelligence and imaginary adventures, but I’ve always enjoyed the kid genius concept. Stephen McCraine felt the same way I do about the idea and he decided to write his own kid genius comic called Mal and Chad, which takes the idea in a delightful new direction. His boy genius Mal must hide his scientific genius from his parents and classmates, but he’s not alone in his scientific pursuits. He is joined by his best friend Chad the talking dog and together they face life’s challenges. I sought out Stephen to discuss his comic genius and found out what’s next for the pair.
Whitney Grace (WG): Why did you decide to get into comics?
Stephen McCraine (SM): I love the medium– it’s a wonderful tool for spreading ideas and telling stories.
WG: What were some of your inspirations when you were growing up?
SM: The work of cartoonists like Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki, Jeff Smith, Kazu Kibuishi, Gene Yang, Doug Tennapel, and a bunch more.
WG: What was the first comic you ever drew? If you can, go way back to when you were still working on your fine motor skills with crayons.
SM: I think the first comic I ever drew was one about some pirates. It’s funny, you never actually see the pirates in the comic, you just see the ship they’re on going from island to island, and in each panel the ship changes size slightly, so that it gives off the impression of a squishy banana or something. My mom wrote the speech bubbles for me since I didn’t know how to write. I was probably 4 or 5 years old.
WG: You’re most well known for Mal and Chad, please explain what that comic is about.
SM: Mal and Chad is an all-ages adventures series about a boy genius and his talking dog. There are currently three volumes out from Penguin books– and a comic strip that I’m serializing through Tapastic.
WG: The boy genius character has been played around with other creators. What makes Mal and Chad different from its counterparts?
SM: It is definitely a trope. I suppose the difference with Mal is that even though he’s brilliant, he’s still insecure. His inventions create as much problems for him as they do opportunities fun. It’s kind of like if Charlie Brown were a genius inventor– that’s Mal.
WG: What do you think would happen if Mal invented a device that allowed him to enter our world?
SM: I would have to apologize to Mal for putting him through so much grief. The poor guy has had to deal with a lot of problems– fighting monsters, impressing the girl of his dreams, cleaning his room.
WG: After apologizing to Mal and Chad, what would you do to show them a great time?
SM: Ice cream. Definitely ice cream.
WG: I love Mal and Chad and I’m an adult, but why do you think kids like the comic?
SM: I think kids enjoy the energy. I try to draw my comics in such a way that Mal is always moving and reacting and emoting. I think kids enjoy that.
WG: How do you write and draw the story to make it appealing for all ages?
SM: I create my work from a perspective that there’s not as much difference between adults and kids as you think. When you’re young, you might be afraid of monsters under the bed, but as you grow older, the monsters don’t go away, they just change shape. We all have monsters we are dealing with whether we are young or old, and this common struggle is one of the many things that makes up our shared humanity.
WG: You work on another interesting project called Doodle Alley, would you please explain what that is?
SM: Doodle Alley is a blog where I publish short comic essay covering topics like how to motivate yourself and how to deal with failure and how to defeat procrastination. It’s basically everything I’ve learned so far as an artist put into simple, easy-to-understand comics. Please check it out!
WG: Why did you decide to write comic essays?
SM: I feel like comics can compress information pretty tightly. It can make information every accessible– if there’s something I can’t explain with words, I can always show it with pictures.
WG: How do you come up with topics for them?
SM: The topics were taken from my life, struggles I’ve had as an artist; things I want to share with people so they don’t have to go through the same struggles.
WG: What other creative projects are you working on that you would like to plug?
SM: My new book, which is currently coming out on Doodle Alley, is called The Art of Impact, How to be Heard in the Age of Noise. It’s a book about branding and how to stand out from the crowd and get your work noticed. Check out the first essay!
WG: Do you have anything to declare?
SM: Declare? Hmmm. I believe there is a world beyond our world.