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For these artists, it’s all ‘Adventure Time’

Shelli Paroline and her husband, Braden Lamb, have achieved a level of recognition rare among those who draw comics of television shows.
Shelli Paroline and her husband, Braden Lamb, have achieved a level of recognition rare among those who draw comics of television shows.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Last summer, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb traveled from Boston to the London Comic Con. Some months before, the animated series “Adventure Time” had made its European debut on Cartoon Network UK. The show had been an instant hit in the United States, and British audiences proved no different: At the London Comic Con, as at every US comics convention since the show’s 2010 premiere, fans came dressed as “Adventure Time” characters — some in white wimples with tiny ears, some with stuffed unicorns on their heads, some wearing blue prosthetic noses.

Paroline and Lamb were in London to represent “Adventure Time” comics, the popular monthly comic book series they illustrate together. Most of the time, husband and wife work out of their Watertown apartment. But eight times a year, from March to October, their publisher sends them to far-flung comic conventions where they meet fans, sign comic books, and draw sketches on request. London marked their first international appearance, and a London bookshop event made the couple wonder if they were famous.


“We did a drawing-with-kids thing,” Paroline, 30, recalled recently. “We had a significant line. This mom came up to me and was like, ‘How do you even walk down the street without being mobbed?’ ’’ Paroline laughed at the memory.

“Obviously people don’t know our faces,” said Lamb, 33, marveling at the idea that he might be a celebrity. “We just do the comics!”

In the United States, “Adventure Time” regularly draws 2 million to 3 million weekly viewers of all ages and reigns supreme among boys ages 9 to 14. It’s a frenetic, good-natured blend of silly songs, Dadaist visuals, and silly yet sophisticated humor. A significant amount of the show’s appeal lies in its joyful, coloring-book aesthetic: Finn, the boy hero star of the show, resembles a piece of Wonder Bread in blue shorts. Jake, his canine Sancho Panza, is a mustard-yellow blob with pilot goggle eyes and a Play-Doh log moustache. Throughout their peregrinations in the darkly whimsical Land of Ooo, Jake and Finn encounter friends and foes such as the Lumpy Space Princess — a sarcastic purple blob — and Gunter, the shiny-eyed penguin servant of the tragic supervillain, The Ice King.


Shelli Paroline works on an issue of the comic.
Shelli Paroline works on an issue of the comic. Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“Adventure Time” comics are the show’s inventive, canonical extension. The static Land of Ooo remains faithful to its animated counterpart: “It captures the sensibility of the show,” said Lamb. “I attribute that primarily to [‘Adventure Time’ comics writer] Ryan [North], who’s particularly good at getting the characters’ emotions.”

“There aren’t too many rules,” Paroline added. “We get to decide how to draw the characters.”

“A lot of the character designs are fast and loose, but deceptively so,” Lamb said. For instance, when a recent issue found Jake and Finn in a battle with Fisho the Colossal, a one-eyed sea creature with a chainsaw coming out of its stomach, Jake saves Finn from certain death by inflating his posterior into a raft. “If you get the proportions just a little bit wrong, you can tell.”

While the couple may never be as famous as the characters they draw, they have achieved a level of recognition rare among those who draw comics of television shows. Recently, their renown has surpassed the world of comic conventions: When they gave a talk at the Brattle Theatre in September, the event sold out.


“ ‘Adventure Time’ [comics] is an anomaly in the kind of success that it’s had,” said Tony Davis, owner of venerable comic book and toy shop The Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square. “Back in the ’50s and ’60s . . . publishers did a lot of animation to cartoon adaptations. The Disney characters, the Warner Brothers characters, Hanna-Barbera, Woody Woodpecker — all of that stuff came out in comics format.”

After the glory days, Davis said, adaptations died out until “The Simpsons” comics came along in the mid-’90s. “ ‘Adventure Time’ has the same impact ‘The Simpsons’ had,” he said — an appeal broad enough to draw new readers into the comics’ fold and vast enough to have sparked a resurgence of television-related comics.

But at The Million Year Picnic, “Adventure Time” sells exponentially more copies than those that have followed in its footsteps. Davis attributes its popularity in part to the television show’s large audience and a general demand for comics and graphic novels aimed at teens and young adults. But “a big part of it is the care [the creators] take with it. It’s really well done.”

Ask Paroline why she takes such care and she might mention “The X-Files.” “When I was a kid, I always bought X-Files comics, and they were terrible,” she said. “There were so many ridiculous things going on; I had one where Scully was kicking a porpoise with a human brain. It was so silly. That would never happen. They weren’t taking it seriously. But I still bought them. I wanted the world to keep expanding. If I was a kid now, I’d be collecting these in the same way, and I’d be happy because we care about [that world].”


The comic world of “Adventure Time” is illustrated in a small home office — a sharp difference from other popular serials. “Mainstream comics [usually] have a whole lot of people working on a monthly title,” Lamb explained. “One or two pencilers, two or three or five inkers, a whole studio of colorists, and one or two letterers — just for one monthly comic.”

Paroline and Lamb do everything in-house. They share a desk and often work side-by-side. Their monitors display the same image.

Paroline is from Rhode Island and went to Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Lamb, from Seattle, went to Bard College and earned a second degree in illustration from Art Institute of Boston.

Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline work in their watertown studio on Midas Flesh.
Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline work in their watertown studio on Midas Flesh. Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The pair met at a comic book store in Allston in 2007. Both are active members in the Boston Comics Roundtable, a networking group for comics artists and writers, and help to organize M.I.C.E., the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. “Boston’s really awesome at getting people who make comics together,” Paroline said.

Their creative collaboration began with a comic for a BCR anthology. “Braden laid out the comic, I did the pencils and inks, then Braden colored it,” she said. “It was amazingly easy.” While both maintain other, separate projects, they team up when they can. They’ve partnered once again with Ryan North on “The Midas Flesh,” a stand-alone series that premiered last month. “It’s about King Midas! IN SPACE,” North wrote on his Tumblr.


Three years ago, the Lambs were working together on “Duck Tales” comics, a Disney venture published by BOOM! Studios. When the publisher launched “Adventure Time” in 2012, it knew just who to call.

“Even though we already had a relationship with [BOOM!], we were blown away that they offered it to us,” Paroline Lamb said. “Our editor said she really liked working with us on what we had done and felt that together we were a team that could handle everything.”

A few feet away from their shared office, a pair of intricately crafted wooden swords hangs on the living room wall. Fans of “Adventure Time” can tell you they belong to Finn and are known as the Root Sword and the Dragon Blood Sword.

At Boston Comic Con, a family dressed in “Adventure Time” costumes approached their booth. The father presented them with the swords — a gesture that confused and delighted Paroline and Lamb. “I was like, ‘You know we just draw the comics, right?’ ” Paroline said. “I can’t believe they made it all for us.”

Eugenia Williamson, a writer and editor living in Somerville, can be reached at eugenia.williamson@gmail.com.

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version incorrectly referred to Finn and Jake. Finn is the boy hero and Jake is the dog.