The Q&A: Brendan Leach

By Peggy Roalf   Monday December 3, 2018

Q: Originally from [where?] what are some of your favorite things about living and working in [your current locale]? 

A: I grew up in New Jersey. My parents did the very common Brooklyn to Staten Island to New Jersey migration. They had one kid in each place, and I was born when we lived in Staten Island. It all feels like one continuous outer-borough/suburban spectrum; where my wife and I now live, Ridgewood, Queens, feels like just part of that same thing.

I like being near the City but not in it. I work full time in the MFA illustration program at FIT, so I’m in Manhattan almost every day. I’ve never lived in any other metropolitan area, so I have no broader points of reference; but I like Queens for its diversity. My part of Ridgewood is sleepy, and it’s full of cartoonists. 


Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I do most of my drawings in my sketchbooks; it's without doubt the most important part of my practice. I use it almost exclusively for observational drawing outside of my office or studio. So when I sit down to draw pages of comics, it’s easier to draw from my imagination.

I draw almost all of my comics in ink on paper. Other than watercolor in a sketchbook, anything I do in color (which I try to avoid at all costs) is done digitally. I’ve experimented with doing finished comics on a Cintiq or iPad Pro, but the process is still terribly slow for me. That’s on my list of things to improve. 

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: The lightbox. 


Q: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

A: My drawings are pretty loose and I tend to draw them fairly quickly, so I’m not really ever in danger of overworking anything. I’d rather draw something twice, then decide which one looks better. Also with observational sketchbook drawings, the subjects will usually move, so there’s no choice but to be done. I like it that way. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: If I can stretch the definition of child to include my pre-teenage years, then the hands down biggest influence on my art and my life was that big fat The World of Charles Addams collection. I didn’t get a lot of the jokes as a young person, but I was spellbound by that inky, gothy old New York. 

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?
A: Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice by DB Dowd. Also, because I’m doing research for a graphic novel, I’m reading a lot about symphony management and the lives of orchestra performers. I wish I had a less homeworky answer to this question. 

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Pen and ink. I’m getting pretty close to living this, actually. If I have to get specific, I would reduce everything down to the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen. But you have to swap out the barrel to get rid of that long thin end so you can travel around with it. 

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: There’s nothing better than listening to someone tell a really great story about their life or experiences. Or telling someone an involved story and getting a good reaction. Even though I don’t make humorous work, I think getting a laugh is the highest human art.   

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that has an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process? 

A: Most of my projects are self initiated, so I don’t get a lot of assignments. But teaching art has been a part of my life since before I called myself an illustrator or graphic novelist. It’s endlessly fulfilling and challenging. I’ve worked for nonprofits where I’d have to help teach acting and dance workshops, things I know very little about. I had to learn to play the mandolin for that job. It’s forced me to stay open and curious and to find the influential relationships between all kinds of art, outside of my own preferences or interests.  

Q: What would be your last supper? 

A: Steak frites. And a sour, salty beer. Ideally, I would expire immediately after the last sip. 

Brendan Leach is the Chair of the MFA in Illustration at FIT and an award winning cartoonist and illustrator. His graphic novels have been published by Secret Acres, Top Shelf Comics, and Retrofit Comics. Brendan’s work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and 3×3 Magazine, and has been included in collections and anthologies, including Best American Comics. He used to drive a Zamboni in New Jersey; now he draws pictures in Queens, NY.


Instagram/twitter; @iknowashortcut 


  1. Dasha Ziborova commented on: December 4, 2018 at 8:53 p.m.
    I own Iron Bound, and I love it so much!

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