When she was about six years old, Brianna Miller got suspended from school for a day after “sending a drawing of a butt to a class bully” via the school mailbox. “I blame the visceral close up shots from Ren and Stimpy which still have a permanent effect on me,” says the Salem, Oregon-born illustrator. “Luckily, my family found humour in the situation and has supported my artistic expression ever since.”
Now based in Spokane, Washington, it seems that this early bump in her creative road didn’t deter her. “Throughout school, art was always a therapeutic outlet for me and I was often reprimanded for doodling during non-art classes. Being fairly quiet and shy, I was most comfortable when I was sharing my artwork with people,” Miller says. “I felt like my voice was most clearly heard through art. Art-making and creativity helped me get through school in a lot of ways.”
If anything, butt-gate seems to have encouraged Miller: today, her work delights in all things cartoonish, weird, trash-culture and slightly rude. Having studied communication design at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, there’s a distinctly graphic feel to her images in their sharp line work and her predilection for eye-catching, if very busy, layouts.
Last year, Miller published the book Jelly World — a bonkers cornucopia of nostalgia, terror, niche references and colour that brings together her selected sketchbook works from 2018 onwards.
In a nice callback of sorts to her days doodling in the classroom, Miller started the sketchbook that makes up the first half of Jelly World during her day job working in customer service “and some graphic design” for UPS. “There was a lot of down time that I used for drawing,” she explains.
“Throughout most of my day jobs, I have kept journals and sketchbooks, but the freeform collage style of my recent sketchbooks started in 2018 during that specific job. I also had a job at Spokane City Hall working as a temp in Code Enforcement and Parking Services which made me feel like I was in some sort of dark Animal Crossing simulation. During that time, I also created some of my favourite drawings. Sometimes the mundanity of a soul-sucking job gives me the most creative fuel, serving as a mental outlet while in an office cubicle prison.”
For now at least, the 9-5 is behind her, and Miller works on her illustration commissions and other freelance projects full time, as well as running her online art shop, which she started as a way to supplement her income during the pandemic. “It definitely had its ups and downs and still is a very unstable form of financial support, but I try to stay diligent with my endeavours and independent work schedule,” she says.
More recently, she’s been working on the concept art for both a cartoon and documentary that are currently in the works; and last summer she showed her work in a joint exhibition called Love Songs with her partner, illustrator and comic artist Eric Jahn, at Upper Playground in Portland.
It’s not the first time she’s collaborated with Jahn — which makes sense, considering the shared humour and style that seems apparent across their work. The pair previously created the zine How to Make Slime, a comic featuring Miller’s distinctive cast of creatures, famous cartoon faces, gross-outs and massive boobs.
For Miller, a single image doesn’t have to have a traditional ‘subject’: her focus veers from Peppe the Frog to Kiss wild man Gene Simmons to Kermit to Homer Simpson (with tits) to the concept of ‘fecundity’ in one page. Somehow though, it all seems to make sense.