How “Broad City" animator Mike Perry gets creative with a Pixelbook

Editor’s note: With Pixelbook and Pixelbook Pen, we’ve seen how tech can enable human creativity in outstanding ways. Mike Perry, an illustrator best known for his work on “Broad City,” recently spoke with us about how he uses Google hardware to stoke his creative process.

Keyword: When did you first start considering yourself an artist?

Mike: I’ve been drawing since I was a child. I’m not really good at anything else. Luckily it’s a functional skill that involves creative problem-solving by thinking about complicated things and how we produce art.

Production is one of my favorite parts about just “making” in general. Like, okay, we have an idea. What do we do with it? We can do anything.

Say you’re starting on a new piece, walk me through that process …

Ultimately a lot of it just comes from the process of making, right? The pure act of doing it on a regular basis means that I have a very robust catalog of images and ideas and ways of making that all collide and come together in the different ways that they need to.

Every project ends up being different, but really it’s the same elements, the same essential bits and pieces coming together to make that thing. And sometimes the ideas are first, other times the process is first.

There’s nothing better than accidentally discovering that, you know, if you put glow-in-the-dark pigments into resin, you can make glow-in-the-dark resin. And then all of a sudden, you’re like, “That’s a process experiment that turns into a really beautiful, accidental discovery.”

Now we’re thinking, “Okay, well, didn’t know you can do that.” Well, what else don’t we know we can do with resin? How can we play with these things? And then ideas form just because of the process.

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How has technology affected your work?

I mean, computers are just crazy tools. We could meticulously go through and take an entire drawing apart piece by piece, and then slowly make each one of those elements come to life in its own right.

That idea is pretty simple and basic, but 10 years ago, that’s 200 people with months of time and energy. I’ve been making stuff long enough and I’ve been confronted by the technology for long enough that the only way it works for me is if it’s just seamless. It’s like, oh, I have a pencil—which is really important. And I have a Pixelbook—which is really important. And the weight of those tools is equal because they provide an essential step in the creative process.

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When I started doing animation, I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing, so I said, “I can draw, so I’ll draw one picture, and then I’ll just draw another one, and then another one, and hope that it works out.” Which was fun. There was a lot of mystery in it. You would spend a week of your life just on the light table, drawing. Tracing over and over, layer after layer. And then you would hit “play” and it would go, “Brruuum.” Or be disappointing. You know, like, what have I been doing with my life?

But now, obviously you do it digitally. You can just see everything happens in real life. You’re not getting lost in the what-ifs all the time—this stuff is about balance.

Why does everybody love cartoons?

It’s visual stimulation. It must trigger some sort of child brain magic point. Who knows why cartoons work? I know why I like them, it’s because they represent the impossible. One of the fun things about being an artist is imagining things that are not possible. Animation is an incredible tool to say, “You know what? I just want this guy to be in space right now,” and you just put him in space. You don’t have to get on a ship and fly the whole crew to space. We can just do that and it’s not a big deal.

Do you ever hit creative roadblocks?

I don’t, to be honest. I understand them, I think that there are challenges that need to be met. But it’s about the scale of time and understanding that when you hit a roadblock it probably means you’re supposed to take a break. We’re not machines capable of constantly generating content and material. We need to recharge our existence so we can be creative people.
Maybe you encounter a roadblock and you feel this is not gonna work right now. Maybe it takes two months or two hours, whatever that span of time is as long as you remember that tomorrow’s another day, you’re probably fine.

What do you draw for fun?

I’m a big fan of drawing dogs drinking cocktails, so I think that’s, like, my dog drawing niche. I just think that dogs with cocktails are funny.

How “Broad City" animator Mike Perry gets creative with a Pixelbook