When June Brigman was just 5, she drew two pictures of horses, just like any horse-crazy young girl. Her father lovingly framed and hung them in his office. Little did he know that that simple act of encouragement would help Brigman embark on a career combining that love of horses and or art.
Today, Brigman still draws horses–and rides them too.
“From as far back as when I could first hold a pencil, I always wanted to draw a horse, so it’s hand-in-hand connected,” Brigman said.
In 1995, Brigman took over drawing the nationally syndicated “Brenda Starr” comic strip. It’s been published since 1939 and today appears in more than 50 newspapers across the country. For the last decade, she’s also been doing portraits of horses, hounds and other canines.
“When I was young, I wanted a horse and couldn’t have one, so I lived out my dream of horses through drawing them,” she said. “The horses were immediately recognizable.” When her work was featured in her father’s office “it made me feel that I must be a good artist if he would frame it and put it on the wall.”
That was just the beginning. The Georgia native is now an accomplished artist who has a fascinating career through her art and as a result is able to fulfill her equestrian dreams. Now residing in White Plains, N.Y., Brigman, 43, was finally able to buy her first horse 17 years ago. She now has been a member of the Rombout Hunt (N.Y.) for 10 years, hunting once a week.
“Hunting gives me a lot of inspiration for cartoons,” said Brigman. “I certainly don’t have to exaggerate or make up much about something comical happening out there.”
She’s now working on the ultimate combination of her talents–she’s creating a graphic novel adaptation of the Anna Sewell classic Black Beauty.
“An editor that I’d known for many years knew I was involved in horses and thought it would be very suitable for me,” she said. “It’s like a fancy comic book, telling the story.”
Always “The Artist”
In high school, Brigman studied with a local oil painter and was known by her friends as “the artist.” Her professional artistic debut, though, came at 16 years old when she did pastel portraits at Six Flags Over Georgia, an amusement park. By the end of that summer she’d done more than 600 profiles, earning $150 each. She then went off to study at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. There, her work began to take on a new twist, and she soon became a cartoonist.
In the early 1980s, Brigman got her first job with DC Comics and moved to White Plains, where she resides today. In 1983, she began to draw for Marvel Comics. Here, she created a new series, Power Pack, along with writer Louise Simonson, whom she met on her first visit to Marvel. The strip was the first to feature children as superheroes.
Over the years, Brigman has worked on such titles as The X-Men, She-Hulk, Supergirl and Star Wars (for Dark Horse Comics). She developed a page a day, which is considered a bit slow in the business, but has produced as many as 10 a day when required.
Brigman stopped doing comic books in the mid-’90s as the business faded. She began working on “Brenda Starr” in 1995. But as a penciler she also drew educational comics and developed the “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” strip for National Geographic magazine and created illustrations for the children’s book, Choose Your Own Adventure.
Those ventures allowed her to finally fulfill her equestrian dreams. She began riding in the mid-’80s, taking lessons and leasing a horse to trail ride.
“I was born horse crazy, it’s part of that phenomena,” she said. “I bought my first horse, an Appaloosa-draft cross, [in 1987] from the royalties I earned on The X-Men.”
She trail rode that horse until he retired six years later. “I’ve been supporting him in the style to which he’s been accustomed for 11 years now,” Brigman said wryly.
When she first started hunting in 1994, Brigman leased a horse. Over the next three years, that mount taught her the basics. She now has worked out a deal where she exercises the guest horses of Rombout MFH Suzie Can-navino in exchange for being able to hunt them. “It’s a nice arrangement. As a freelance artist, my financial situation changes somewhat dramatically, so I haven’t been able to buy another horse,” said Brigman.
But the upside of her profession is the flexible schedule. “It’s great that I get to set my own hours. As long as I meet my deadline, it doesn’t matter when I work. It allows me the freedom to ride during the week, when everyone else might be behind their desk, and hunt on Wednesdays,” she said.
And it’s worth it. “It’s always an adventure when I go hunting,” said Brigman. “Whether we have great sport or a blank day, it’s an opportunity to get on a horse, go riding with friends, and see things you’d never get a chance to see otherwise.”
Brigman views the world with a critically artistic eye.
“Whenever I’m at the barn or hunting, I’m always looking at the horses or hounds at a check, studying from life,” she said. She has long admired and favored the work of Sam Savitt, whose work appeared on the Chronicle’s cover 31 times between 1956 and his death on Dec. 25, 2001. She even studied with Savitt one summer.
Brigman admires the work developed by others such as the Muybridge series of galloping horses from the 1890s. And like many aficionados, she thinks that Sir Alfred Munnings is the ultimate equestrian artist. She also enjoys Charles Johnson Payne (aka Snaffles), Cecil Aldin and Paul Brown. The latter’s work can be seen in plenty of books on foxhunting published by Derrydale Press. A more recognizable piece is the winged horse logo Brown developed for the Mobil Oil Corp.
“One thing that influences how I portray the horse or hound is what I learn about that animal’s personality when I meet them face to face,” Brigman said.
For example, in a portrait of Cannavino’s Thoroughbred mare Chocolate Ice, affectionately known as “Fudgie,” the ears aren’t pricked. “Her ears are always at half mast,” Brigman said.
Brigman’s work is included in the collections of former Rombout MFH Mrs. Putnam Davis and Ernest Dillon, author of Show Jumping for Fun and Glory, among several other collectors.
“I’ve always loved children as a subject and hope to be able to draw children with their ponies,” Brigman said.
And she’s started going back to her cartoonist roots in her equine art as well. “I started doing funny cartoons of my friends and their horses, as my friends and their horses are constantly inspiring me,” she said.
But she’d never really poked fun at herself until she met Bella, a big, beautiful, willful bay mare who descends from the influential Thoroughbred stallion Princequillo.
“Bella humiliated me in the hunting field–it was an Auntie Mame moment when this 20-year-old mare just ran away with me. I’m sure she got a big laugh out of it, and I thought it deserved a cartoon,” Brigman said. That cartoon has immortalized the infamous mare.
It’s hard to tell which passion came first for Brigman–the art or the horse–but clearly she has found a way to have it all. “I love that my careers–as cartoonist and portrait artist–are so different. The majority of what I do is what I call throwaway art, but a portrait hangs on someone’s wall, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it for the rest of their lives,” she said.