If you’ve attended an Australian, or even New Zealand, pop culture convention in the past few years, there’s a good chance Dean Rankine will have been at his table in the Comic Guest area, tirelessly producing commissioned portraits of attendees in the style of The Simpsons, or with their head in a Futurama-style jar.
Best known for his work on the Simpsons comics, Dean’s inspiration for submitting his first Simpsons story came from a page of disappointing art. “It was just not very good and I thought ‘I could have done that better,’ so I submitted a 2-page story and the Art Director, or maybe Assistant Art Director, saw something they liked in it.”
Having completed an Art & Design course in 1990, Dean worked as a freelance artist for magazines that were distributed to schools, as well as supermarket staples like K-Zone, until the work dried up. “I have a very cartoony style, so I was aware that I needed to find something it would work for,” he remembers. “So, I went to Coles and grabbed some Simpsons comics.”
Crediting the 7 years he produced art and comics for The Simpsons as a life-changing opportunity which has opened a variety of doors for him, Rankine does explain that he has always loved to draw. “I’ve always felt a disconnect with words,” he explains. “I find drawing to be a clear way of expression. When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I only knew that I wanted to draw.”
In addition to his work with The Simpsons, Dean has also been creating the Itty Bitty Bunnies, a series where two bunnies take drugs, have sex and generally have a lot of rude and very funny adventures. “I had been talking to some of the other Melbourne comic creators, who were producing work with Slave Labour Graphics, who were publishing Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and things like that.”
The prospect of a creator-owned comic was very tempting to Dean, who has always enjoyed stories where cute things are used to be disturbing, such as with TV shows like Happy Tree Friends. “I was previously quite a hardcore Christian, but since leaving the church, I found it liberating as an artist and a storyteller to show the Bunnies displaying baser instincts, simply because I could. I wanted to make the kinds of things I wanted to read.”
The idea of creating material he would want to read isn’t necessarily restricted to more adult-focused stories, either. Dean has been working on a children’s picture book, which is due to be completed soon, and has another children’s book coming along afterwards.
Alongside his comics publishing, as well as his day job, Dean recently spent a year running weekly workshops for kids, teaching them how to use comics for storytelling, but had to stop due to the amount of preparation. “I’m an introvert, really, so they were very draining and it got to be a bit much.”
However, Dean continues to run school-based workshops with ‘Booked Out’ and one-off sessions such as the ‘How to Create a Comic Book Cover’ panels he will be presenting with fellow convention veteran Stewart McKenny at this weekend’s Oz Comic Con Melbourne.