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Interview: May 2009

May 2009

Artist Cathy Brigg is probably best known for her literary "alter-ego" Cathy Vickers, the protagonist of the hugely successful CATHY'S BOOK and CATHY'S KEY, along with the newly released CATHY'S RING

In this interview with's Sally M. Tibbetts, Brigg likens her role as illustrator to that of an actor's, and sheds light on how she and fellow collaborators Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart work together to create "Cathy's Universe." She also explains why they chose to incorporate modern, everyday technology into their unique method of storytelling, discusses how the books' interactive components have evolved with each installment, and shares details about her artistic background and interests. Where did the inspiration for the Cathy series come from? How did you become involved in such a unique project?
Cathy Brigg: Jordan Weisman, Sean Stewart and myself wanted to create a modern story in a modern way --- through the tools and technology we use every day. The story was developed in such a way that it should leave you fully satisfied, while all the extra interactive pieces, websites, phone numbers and evidence add another layer of depth to the experience. Technology is fun! I became involved in the Cathy's Book series through Jordan, who I have worked closely with over the years on various other projects.
TRC: From your photos, it looks like the character Cathy Vickers has a strong physical resemblance to you. Have others said this? In some ways, might she be a kind of alter-ego for you?
CB: Yes --- some have noted the similarities between myself and Cathy Vickers. We are similar in many ways. The biggest similarity is that we're both driven creatively. But she's got street smarts and could probably get out of any sticky situation with a little improvisation, pepper spray and one mean high kick.
TRC: CATHY'S BOOK took off like crazy with its interactive concept and wonderful story. Were you prepared for the sensation and success?
CB: From the moment Sean handed over the first manuscript for me to read, there was no question in my mind I was hooked. The interactive concept behind CATHY'S BOOK is multi-layered and complex, allowing readers to be immersed in the story, and become a part of "Cathy's Universe." It became a whole new reading experience that extends beyond the written word, and so there was always that unknown factor of whether readers would catch onto the concept or not.
TRC: One of the reasons these stories are so engrossing are the terrific characters. Every personality is beautifully portrayed, both through the wording and in your excellent drawings. There's always plenty of action, but the characters definitely drive the stories. Each book peels away more layers of Victor, Em, Denny, Pete…well, for all of them. This seems to be one of the reasons for the series’ appeal. How is it possible to keep up this kind of quality and intensity with the writing and illustration?
CB: That's one of my favorite aspects of the Cathy series --- the diverse personalities in Cathy's life. I think the characters are all very relatable in their own way, and offer a unique perspective to Cathy's ongoing adventures. Sean created a solid, well thought-out foundation to each of the characters in the book; once that was established, it was easy to keep a consistent intensity in the illustrations. As Sean developed each character in his writing, it was fun to be able to bring them to life through the illustrations, and to express their different personalities graphically. It was kind of like acting, through my pencil.
TRC: Cathy and Emma have a really strong friendship --- Emma being the geeky, organized one and Cathy the artsy romantic. Without "Em," Cathy would get stuck in some awful situations (not that she doesn't manage that anyway). How important are friendships to creative people since they often seem like loners?
CB: Extremely important! I've found that the successes I've had in my life can be directly attributed to the people around me. In my personal and professional lives, I've been very lucky to be surrounded by inspiring people, who've pushed me in the right direction and showed me what's truly important.  You just can't put a price on having a supportive family, friends and colleagues.
TRC: The Eastern cultures and philosophies seem strong throughout the Cathy books. There's a sense of mysticism with the ongoing battles between good and evil. Are you given to any particular mystic philosophies?
CB: Philosophy is so philosophical :) I subscribe to having an open mind.
TRC: Cathy is only 18, but she is often referred to as an "old soul." Of course, Victor, being an "Immortal," has been around many lifetimes. Even though Victor more than proves his love for Cathy in CATHY’S RING, we are left with the feeling that Cathy still has some growing up to do and issues to deal with. Her maturing is a major part of the story and creates for teen girls a role model who is far from perfect and constantly changing. Will we see more big changes for Cathy and her relationships?
CB: Well, I wasn't done growing and changing at 18 --- I doubt Cathy is, either.
TRC:  CATHY’S BOOK was full of interactive opportunities, but there are less in the second book and very few in the third. Why did this change?
CB: Actually, it isn't that the number of interactive activities has gone down dramatically over the books, it's that the nature of them has changed. The most obvious difference is that there are fewer phone numbers to call. The Cathy books have been so successful worldwide that it seemed tough to make so many interactions depend on U.S. phone numbers. In CATHY'S KEY, we switched to making more use of e-mail, so people all over the world could easily interact. We also chained interactions together, so you might get an e-mail with a secret message that led to another e-mail that led to a phone message, or combined things, such as the Lucky Joy Cleaners card and the Chinese coin you could use to find the password to the LJC site.
For CATHY'S RING, we have built something really special. In the next couple of days, we will be unveiling a complete interactive adventure on the CATHY'S RING site. This is a 20-minute-long experience chock full of interactive sites, comic book pages, secret e-mails and more...all tied together to tell a brand new Cathy story. It's like getting an extra short story along with the book, but the whole story is online and interactive. (It also introduces a couple of new characters, and a new twist on immortality....)
TRC: There's been discussion in libraries about how to deal with all the "stuff" that comes packaged with the books. At first there seemed to be a problem with how to track the tiny items and not have patrons losing them. CATHY’S RING also features a package of goodies. Did libraries/librarians influence any changes you've made with how these special bonuses are handled?
CB: This question ties together with the library issue. By changing the emphasis from lots of little goodies in the hardcover package to lots of interactive goodness online, it makes it easier for libraries to feel confident that all their users can fully enjoy the Cathypalooza.
TRC: In reading your brief bio information, it sounds like you've had an exciting and very creative life. It must feel wonderful for you to "follow your bliss." Can you tell us a little about your life and add any advice for our young artists/writers out there?
CB: I have been very lucky to have been able to follow a creative path. All through my schooling, I was drawn towards anything to do with art or design. I'm a fairly quiet person and so I have found a great form of self-expression in anything from finger painting in pre-school, to life drawing in Art and engraving cool patterns into my high school desk during Math class. Having supportive and creative parents enabled me to explore further in college, where I studied Graphic Design for three years.
Growing up in South Africa gave me a unique perspective on different cultures, and it was inspiring to grow up in such a diverse place. I came to America knowing that I would have to prove myself,  and the hard work has proved to be worthwhile.
I'm not great at giving advice, but if I could tell myself something, it would be: Don't say what you're going to do, show people what you can do.
TRC: Your drawings/sketches are beautifully rendered in these books. What's the process like when you’re writing and drawing? Do the drawings inspire the storyline, or vice versa? What media do you use for the drawings?
CB: A bit of both. Once Sean completed the manuscript, we would work closely together in developing the story further in a graphic way --- whether it was a doodle in a margin, a torn-out page from a sketch book or an old letter in the evidence pack. I used mostly pen and ink and some watercolor as well.
TRC: Are you normally a "doodler"?
CB: Oh yes --- I'm a natural! I doodle while talking on the phone, sitting in meetings, reading magazines, watching TV, while working, even while I'm writing this. It helps me think.
TRC: While the sketches look quick and easy, I know there's a lot of time spent on them. Much of your background is in design, but you have explored a lot of techniques. What is your favored media?
CB: I've never been tied down to one form of media and have always been a fan of mixed media. I enjoy experimentation and still have a passion for film photography. My 35mm Lomo goes everywhere with me.
TRC: Do you work (draw) with music in the background?
CB: Yes --- I definitely work better and faster with some good tunes in the background. Right now I'm loving the new Yeah Yeah Yeah's album.
TRC: Did you perform and write the music for "Lost (Cathy's Song)"? Can you tell us about your musical inspirations and the experience with your band, The Vision Hotel?
CB: It was a collaboration. Shane Small and Shawn Simmons wrote the song. I performed and developed some of the melodies, and Sean Stewart had a hand in driving the lyrics.
The Vision Hotel (formerly known as Concorde) is the band that I've been in with Shane Small for the last few years. We are currently on hiatus due to other musical projects we are working on, but you can sample some of our songs off our album Mess I'm Made Of, at Being in a band became a whole new world for me. It has opened up a new world of creative possibilities and experiences.
TRC: Did you have a particular writer/book that influenced you when you were growing up?
CB: Nancy Drew, Roald Dahl, the Choose Your Own Adventurebooks, and of course, Jane Austen --- a classic!
TRC: What other projects are you working on right now?
CB: Right now I'm working on my tan for the summer and a new music project, among other things.