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Pretty Weird: the origins of an iconic local comic book duo

By Sophie Pollock

The New Modern Family

Bird and Ethan Mongin have what some would call an unorthodox living situation.

“We always joked when Bird and I got married that we were going to form a commune at some point,” Ethan laughs.

And in some ways they have. But what began as a humorous vision of small shacks deep in the woods of North Carolina turned into a very real collaborative living project that would inspire and hone their artistic skill.

The Mongins first met via mutual friend Jackie Cricket and eloped shortly after. They were both talented artists and from day one had the dream to collaborate with other artists. When they came upon a foreclosure home in disrepair, they saw a way to make this dream a reality.

“We worked on fixing it up and had way too much space once we fixed it up, so we always offered for any local artists or writers that we knew who needed a place to get away [or] collaborate. We always opened up our house to them,” says Ethan.

In 2013, the Mongins attended Free Comic Book Day at their local comic book store Heroes & Dragons. Surrounded by creativity and local talent, the Mongins decided to make their own comics. And thus, their studio Pretty Weird Art was born.

The Pretty Weird Art team is known for their quirky and irreverently hilarious comic book series “Death Elf & Woose” and “Creepy Cat” as well as the graphic novel “Demarcus Williams & the Job from Hell”, which premiered at the beginning of this year.

Recently, the Mongins have added a new housemate to the Pretty Weird Art house: long-time friend and seasoned artist Jackie Cricket. Jackie is a graphic designer and skilled potter, woodworker and metalworker who operates under the studio name Cricket Noise.

Jackie Cricket in her element

The artists who live in the house view this communal living situation as a way to sharpen their artistic skill and derive inspiration from one another.

“There is such a good creative energy in this house,” says Jackie.

Not everyone understands the draw of living this way, but none of the artists are bothered by this.

“People of our generation … it’s less important for us to have our own house and our own space and our own family … Our friend groups are our family, and we kind of create a new type of household. This is the new modern family.”

Jackie has known Bird and Ethan for many years, and in working alongside one another, they can all testify to the power of friendship, collaboration … and Waffle House.

The Uncanny Creative Atmosphere of a Waffle House at 2 A.M.

“In the beginning, we were all young and poor,” Bird laughs.

In the beginning, they all had full-time day jobs and Waffle House was a bustling safe haven for creatives that was open 24 hours and provided a cheap alternative to renting studio space.

“Before co-working spaces were popular, there was Waffle House,” Jackie says.

According to the artists, 2 A.M. at Waffle House is the peak time for creative inspiration. In fact, every character that appears in Pretty Weird Art’s comics was first conceived at a Waffle House.

“Still to this day, whenever we go to Waffle House, I always take a sketchbook with us, just in case we do come up with something amazing that has to be in the next comic book,” Ethan says.

Pretty Weird Art’s newest creative venture will be a collaboration with Jackie, who recently visited her hometown in South Korea and came back with a story to tell about Korean artisans during the Japanese occupation.

“There’s just so much rich history that, particularly Westerners just don’t know, and when I was over there … and actually reading and learning about history and the relationship with Japan … a lot of things I had just been told by potters and by teachers, I found out weren’t 100% true.”

Now, Jackie wants to bring her signature 70s poster art style together with Pretty Weird Art’s writing to tell an emotional historical narrative and teach readers about an important time in Korean history.

Bird Mongin in the studio

On Inspiration and the Origins of Creepy Cat

One thing these three housemates share that has contributed to their success is the ability to allow life to shape their art.

“When I was an undergrad, I was a creative writing minor,” says Ethan. “One of the first things they taught us in creative writing was you write best what you know, what you’ve experienced.”

Ethan and Bird have applied this philosophy to their comics, which has resulted in the uniquely quirky-yet-relatable style that makes Pretty Weird Art to popular.

One of their most popular works is “Creepy Cat”, which was directly inspired by one of their other housemates.

“This is the mistress of darkness herself,” Ethan says, holding up a black and white cat who looks none-too-pleased to be there. The so-called “mistress of darkness” is named Mephistopheles, which incidentally happens to be the name of an evil demon from German folklore.

Mephistopheles, aka "mistress of darkness"

Ethan recalls first meeting Mephistopheles. “I came home from work and I heard Bird come into the house and she had a box of what I thought were snakes, but it turned out to be stray kittens that were found in the backyard … they were all hissing. So we cherrypicked the nicest, prettiest, most unique cat out of the box and it turned out to be Satan incarnate.”

The Mongins shared many horror stories during their Waffle House visits about life with Mephistopheles. “Somehow we started doodling pictures of a cat with Jason’s mask, and then we’re thinking of funny scenarios …” Eventually, they amassed enough sketches to create a comic, which they appropriately named “Creepy Cat”.

In the future, Bird and Ethan hope to explore the “Creepy Cat” world even further with additional comics. Whether or not Mephistopheles approves of this is yet to be determined.

Life in Columbia’s Art Community

When ruminating on the character of Columbia’s art scene, Bird recalls a conversation she had with Jackie years ago while convincing her to move to Columbia.

“I think the things I said to Jackie were, ‘Columbia has a very unique art scene. Asheville has an art scene, obviously, Atlanta, Charleston, all of those paces have really big strong art scenes … but what we found is in Atlanta you can be a drop of water, in Asheville you can be a drop of water. Everybody is in a gallery, everybody’s an artist. It’s like living in a neighborhood of pre-fab houses where everybody has the same exact house and is doing the exact same thing.”

The draw of these big cities may at first have been strong, but Bird and Ethan discovered that they did not want to fit in; they wanted to stand out. And Columbia was the perfect place to do this.

‘… The thing that drew us to Columbia was it is a grassroots scene here, especially in comics. Everybody is really friendly and helpful and really supportive. The most impressive thing to me about Columbia is, one artist’s success is seen as success for everybody … It’s just a very warm place to make art.’”

To view and purchase Bird and Ethan's art, visit Follow Pretty Weird Art on Instagram @prettyweirdartllc. Follow Jackie @cricketnoise.

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