Artist Interview: Jordy te Braak on The Gumpies and Fatherhood

Interview by Sarah Han

Jordy te Braak, or Pixelkaiju as he calls himself, loves drawing monsters. Not big, mean, scary monsters, but cute, squat, and silly creatures. In fact, this Dutch illustrator’s bold, bright style made with signature thick outlines (“Love outlines,” he says) and cheerful colors is the kind that could turn a bad mood into a good one with its fun vibes.

Jordy recently created The Gumpies, his awesome collection of 200 individual, mostly one-eyed monsters for NeonMob. We love these weird little guys with their funky personalities. We wanted to know more about the man and mind behind the creatures, so we reached out to Jordy for an interview.

How long have you been a professional illustrator?

Always nice to start an interview with a casual question to get the ball rolling! I’ve had various jobs in the creative industry for a couple of years before diving head first into freelance illustration. I started as a video editor, and then I moved on to graphic design and art direction. I also spent some time working as a full-time toy designer. The last one sounds like a dream job and it sometimes was, but the itch to become a full-time illustrator kept buzzing around in the back of my head until I could no longer ignore it. Fortunately, I could alway implement my illustrative skills in the aforementioned jobs – in storyboarding or sketching out concepts or toy designs.

The Gumpies!

The Gumpies!

But since drawing is something I’ve done since I could drool over a piece of paper and a pencil, it was only natural that one day I would start illustrating full time.

Did you go to school?

I never went to art school since I kinda thought I lacked the discipline. Years later I can say that I regret not going. Stay in school kids!

Where in the Netherlands do you live? Why did you choose to live there?  

I live in Amersfoort, a decent sized town near Amsterdam and Utrecht. I was born and raised here; I never left because I love it here. Really, Google search some images of Amersfoort and you’ll see a beautiful town filled with canals and monumental buildings.

The creative and art scene is not that big here, so we all kinda know and support each other. There are some cool festivals, expositions, and events all year around. It might not be as big as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but both towns are just a short ride away.

On your website you say that you were mostly influenced by American comics growing up. What comics did you read? Who were your favorite characters and artists?

I devoured Marvel comics as a kid. I think I started reading in a great period for comics. I loved most Spider-Man comics and got spoiled by stuff from legends like Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, and Mark Bagley. Those were the days!

But I also took a great liking to X-Men for the story. The mutant-hate angle really captivated my imagination and fueled my passion against racism. And of course Wolverine. He’s still hands down the coolest comic character around.

Can we talk about your name "Pixelkaiju?" “Pixel” speaks to your work in digital, and “Kaiju” means “monster” in Japanese, which speaks to the manga influence to your work. What got you interested in this kawaii monster style?

Japan has such a rich history of myths, monsters, and characters – I just don’t know where to begin! I guess the first Godzilla movies I saw on an obscure German channel during a graveyard shift really got to me. I still have the VHS of the half-taped movie lying around somewhere. I have always loved monsters. My heritage is Indonesian and my grandfather always had several Barong masks hanging on the walls. While I was an adolescent, I loved drawing demons and creepy monsters, but it wasn’t until I started drawing in Illustrator that I got in touch with my kawaii side.

Would you say there's any Dutch influence in your work?

Hard to say. I always looked abroad for my hobbies and also got most of my inspiration from those hobbies. Of course growing up in Holland always gives a certain frame of mind. What I can say is that this is a country where you’re free to try what you want. So that influence is something I’m very grateful for in this day and age.

"I Can't Dance"

"I Can't Dance"

Your work also reminds me of vinyl toys, like Dunny, Kozik, etc. Are you into that world, too?

I follow a lot of people in the toy scene, but I’m not deep into it. There are some amazing cool figures out there. Kidrobot does some amazing stuff. I like so many toy artists, it’s hard to mention some of the top names, but I guess people like Urban Aztec and Artmymind come to mind first.

Let’s talk about The Gumpies, your collection for NeonMob. Where did your inspiration for this monster come from?

I have an unnatural fondness for large collections of weird creatures. Toys like M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, Monsters in My Pocket, and Battle Beasts really got me going.

The Gumpies are not the first line of multiple monster creatures I’ve cooked up. For an exposition, I created over 300 pop culture referenced Pixelkaiju creatures. But for this creature line, I wanted to create a base character that could be used in many ways for a card collection. Since The Gumpies is quite a large collection, I wanted to define a base figure first. The simple shape works great for series like these. It’s easy to add or switch around little elements to create a whole new figure.

My personal favorite Gumpies are Beefbun the hamburger monster and Shashalla the shishkabob character. I love when monsters are food! Which Gumpy is your favorite?

Like a good father, you should never pick a favorite kid. That would be mean to the others ;) All kidding aside, I like Utchu because of his color and he reminds me of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

You recently had a kid! Congrats! How has becoming a father changed and influenced your work?

I’ve been blessed with a very sweet and positive baby boy. I’m grateful for being a full-time, self employed illustrator because I get to see him all the time – every day starts with a smile when he drools all over me when he gives me a big sloppy kiss or hug. He influences my work in various ways. I can sit and watch him crawl around trying to discover and figure out the world. He is like a little monster, sucking in as much information and knowledge as he can. I think babies have such pure characters. They can be the inspiration for books, animation, and graphic novels. The latter is something I’ve been planning on doing for a long time. I would love to give him the gift of his own bedtime story based on his adventures in real life.

What's your favorite personal or professional project that you've worked on recently?

Of course, the Neonmob set!

Last year, I created loads of game art and assets for my own online games – two of them can be found on the internet and app stores (Fart Kaiju Fart and Run Kaiju Run) and some of the other games are still in development. But getting food on the table is just as important, so I’ve also been doing a lot of work for hire over the last couple of months too. Lucky for me I have some cool clients and they know what kind of style they can get from Pixelkaiju.