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August 14, 2012

Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

Posted in: Books,Comics

pb superbunny cover Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

The cover for "The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie" by Patrick Ballesteros and Kevin Staniec. (Treehouse Bandits)

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A page from "The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie" by Patrick Ballesteros and Kevin Staniec. (Treehouse Bandits)

pb bunnypage2 Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

A page from "The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie" by Patrick Ballesteros and Kevin Staniec. (Treehouse Bandits)

pb bunny page Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

A page from "The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie" by Patrick Ballesteros and Kevin Staniec. (Treehouse Bandits)

pb hot to catch cloud Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

Patrick Ballesteros and Kevin Staniec are releasing their second book together, "How to Catch a Cloud." (Treehouse Bandits)

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Concept illustrator Patrick Ballesteros finds inspiration in the pop culture of his childhood, including "The Lord of the Rings." (Patrick Ballesteros)

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Concept illustrator Patrick Ballesteros finds inspiration in the pop culture of his childhood. (Patrick Ballesteros)

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Concept illustrator Patrick Ballesteros finds inspiration in the pop culture of his childhood. (Patrick Ballesteros)

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Concept illustrator Patrick Ballesteros finds inspiration in the pop culture of his childhood, including these Marvel heroes. (Patrick Ballesteros)

Patrick Ballesteros didn’t have to look much further for inspiration than his own childhood when he illustrated “The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie,” a children’s graphic novel co-written by Kevin Staniec. The story follows cape-wearing, adventure-seeking Super Bunny, his pint-sized pal Charlie and her pet broccoli, and Giant Cat Bear (who is really a panda) as they plan a trip to the moon. The art in the kids’ comic story is in keeping with the pop culture illustrations Ballesteros sells on his website and at comic conventions — a unique blend of imagination and nostalgia. Ballesteros and Staniec co-founded an independent publishing house called Treehouse Bandits and are celebrating the release of their second book, “How to Catch a Cloud,” this week. Hero Complex caught up with Ballesteros to talk about Treehouse Bandits, superheroes and childhood.

HC: How did you develop your artistic style? Do you prefer drawing kids?

PB: My artistic style has developed over the years from a multitude of influences. Of course growing up with ’80s Saturday morning cartoons definitely got me off to a great start. It was after college, when I started getting into serious art classes, that I discovered a lot of traditional, animation and game artists that I look up to today. I have also had great teachers and mentors along the way that have helped shape my voice that you see in my art today. I love drawing anything and every style, but in a lot of my personal work I do gravitate toward a more stylized approach. A lot of my illustrations depict kids in different scenarios; in a way it is an homage to my own childhood and the stories and situations that happened to me while growing up. It’s that sense of nostalgia that I love going back to.

 Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

Concept illustrator Patrick Ballesteros finds inspiration in the pop culture of his childhood. (Patrick Ballesteros)

HC: You draw a lot of existing characters — Marvel, Tolkien, “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” etc. Why do those appeal to you? And do you prefer drawing those or drawing new characters you invent?

PB: I love drawing existing characters and giving it a twist, because I grew up with these characters. They were there when I woke up for school and when I returned home. Those characters helped shape a lot of my design sensibility and personality, so for me, it is like revisiting an old friend over and over again. I also enjoy creating my own stories and world. It is always gratifying seeing something you create on paper, on screen, and in print for the whole world to see. As an artist, being able to share your voice and imagination with others and getting a response out of them is a dream come true.

HC: How did Treehouse Bandits come about? Where do you see it going?

 Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

Patrick Ballesteros, left, and Kevin Staniec teamed up to create “The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie.” (Scott Amstadt)

PB: The development of Treehouse Bandits began in 2007 when I met Kevin Staniec at an ISM gallery show. He was one of the main curators and co-founders of ISM, and I was a participant in the show “Untitled Love Project.” He liked my artwork on display, which was of a bear and little boy in the middle of a crosswalk looking down at the little boy’s ice cream splattered across the road. Kevin was in the midst of writing a book for kids and felt my art style would be perfect for it, and so he asked if I was interested in collaborating. A lot of people talk to me about collaborating on this and that project but few ever follow through. Kevin followed through, and so we met over the next few years to hash out ideas, go over designs, redesigns, edits, final pages, etc. Five years later we published our first book, “The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie.” I see Treehouse Bandits developing unique stories that not only appeal to kids but also to adults. We like to celebrate the big kid at heart and eventually want to help other artists publish so they too can get their stories out there to the world.

HC: Will they ever make it to the moon? Or is it strictly pretend for Super Bunny and Charlie?

pb bunny page Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

“The Adventures of Super Bunny and Giant Cat Bear and Charlie” (Treehouse Bandits)

PB: We plan to touch upon that subject in a follow-up story in the future. For me personally, it may start out as pretend, but I’d like to think they will make it up there somehow!

HC: What kinds of stories or lessons are you aiming to share with these books?

PB: One of the main things we are trying to teach our viewers is to never stop dreaming. This first book was a testament to that because it took us five years to complete. There were times where we were not sure of what to do or if it would work, but we never stopped dreaming of the day our first book would be published and distributed. We have a bunch of stories on deck; our next book, “How To Catch a Cloud,” is out now and teaches us the meaning of friendship.

HC: Why do you think kids identify with superheroes? Do you think they’ll relate to Super Bunny?

PB: I think kids identify with superheroes because they look up to them. Superheroes are capable of extraordinary things and as a kid, you do not want to have limits and you see yourself as having the ability to accomplish great feats of strength, speed, etc. I definitely see kids relating to Super Bunny; after all, underneath the goggles and cape lies a boy with a great imagination. Kids have wonderful imaginations and dream of big things. As adults, we sometimes forget to dream, so I think that our book touches the soul of not only younger kids but also big kids like myself.

HC: What are the challenges you’ve faced and benefits you’ve enjoyed in self-publishing?

pb hot to catch cloud Treehouse Bandits: Superhero stories meet childhood memories

“How to Catch a Cloud” (Treehouse Bandits)

PB: Some of the challenges revolve around self-promotion — getting your name and brand out there to be seen by the right audience. In today’s world of social media, I think it is getting harder to stand out from the pack because people are just so saturated with everything around them. On the other hand, with today’s resources, self-publishing has been made easier so that smaller companies can survive and strive in a growing market. As a result so many great stories and art have been exposed to the public and at a greater rate than ever before.

HC: Anything else you’d like to add?

PB: Our second book, “How To Catch a Cloud,” is now available online. During the book release party, which is on Aug. 16 in Fullerton, Calif., Kevin and I will be signing and I will be doing sketches for all those who buy a book. I still consider myself young in my career but I have learned two important things that I would like to share with other aspiring artists: 1) Do what you love and the rest will follow and 2) Make great art. Last, no matter what you do in life please remember to always keep dreaming and never forget about the big kid inside of you all.

– Noelene Clark

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