You may never slap a mosquito the same way again, thanks to Ali Barker.
At least that’s what occurred to me when I entered the playful and creative world of Ali Barker’s Bug Squad, a cartoon of humanized, and frankly adorable, insects.
Bug Squad is a fresh and humorous comic that follows the adventures of four adorable bug friends: Eve, Chip, Beanie, and Joe.
These four boisterous bugs are based off the little creatures you can find in your own backyard. Eve is based on a butterfly. Chip is inspired by a flighted beetle. Bespeckled Beanie takes her form from an ant and rotund Joe resembles a pillbug.
But let’s not forget the supporting cast of characters who round out Barker’s world. Amongst Barker’s rabble of creepy-crawlies are Wayne the earthworm, several mosquito-esque chaps, and the villainous ladybug Dr. Lbs.
With “cute, charming, and wholesome” characters and a graphic art style “defined by bright colors [and] bold expressions,” Bug Squad comics are a joy to read. Barker’s stories follow her motley crew through their day-to-day activities and adventures. And while especially great for children and pre-teens, this series has a universally engaging ebb and flow.
Whether in comic or animated video form, these vibrant cartoons brighten my days (especially during this quarantine). Cleverly enough, Ali Barker has even envisioned how the Bug Squad keeps in touch while safely socially distanced!
Ultimately, Ali Barker’s Bug Squad is a family-friendly series to watch. One of my personal favorites, being the literature and language nerd that I am, is the following:
I mean, who can’t appreciate a solidly cringey pun when so artfully delivered?
The Artist: Ali Barker
Local cartoonist Ali Barker is the artist and animator behind what could be you or your child’s next favorite comic strip. This recent Endicott College graduate grew up just outside of Salem in Danvers, MA where she spent her days drawing and discovering where all the best bugs hide.
Throughout childhood, Barker was fascinated with art. She recalls that “[e]ver since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been drawing characters and cartoons. I was always the kid in Elementary creating characters, cartoons, and comics on printer paper during free time.” She quickly knew that she “wanted to go to college to study art.” Now that she has done just that, she has “been putting a lot of work into developing an original comic series, and hopefully [fully] animated cartoon, called Bug Squad.”
Barker first drafted Bug Squad when she was still in middle school. After rediscovering her “old pencil comics of the bugs from my middle school years” as a senior at Endicott College, she decided it was time for a “revamp [of] the series and characters” — characters she originally created in the image of herself and three friends in her eighth grade Spanish class. In her defense, perhaps she had the bugs speaking Spanish…
When asked about the origins of Bug Squad and why she chose to personify backyard bugs as her characters, Barker reflected upon her childhood investigating the secret lives of insects. Unlike many, as a child, Barker wasn’t afraid of the creepy-crawlies she could find. She believes many children fear bugs not because insects are so inherently terrifying but because they are contextualized in that way. Barker explained that so many people “grow up being afraid of insects and spiders because, for some reason, we’re exposed to them as being ‘gross’ or ‘creepy.'” Barker wants to challenge those assumptions and inspire people to look beyond an extra leg or two: “With my lovable characters of Bug Squad, I want to break the mold of what kids think is scary and actually [allow children] to appreciate bugs as living unique creatures!”
Case and point in her animated short, “Snowball Fight” (attached below).
Ali Barker’s Inspiration
23-year-old Ali Barker never stops looking for inspiration.
She says that her best muses come from her daily life: “inspiration from everyday life can be the most useful and successful form of inspiration…something silly that happens in your life or something funny someone said or did can be [crucial] inspiration for your work.” However, Barker is not afraid of embellishing real-life stories to make them fit into a fictitious world. Barker explains that “[e]ven if you need to exaggerate it or change it around a bit to make it more interesting, anything from everyday life can be used in successful cartooning and writing!” By implementing experiential inspiration, Barker says artists can create ever-tricky dialogue without it sounding “overly-cheesy and fake.”
To help perfect her banter, Barker speaks to her intended readers. Barker loves speaking with the kids around her and “really getting in their heads to see the kind of humor they like [— exactly] what makes them smile and what makes them laugh.” If you want to have successful material, you have to ensure that your stuff actually works with your target audience!
Outside of her personal life, Barker also gets inspired by her favorite cartoons and their creators: “For inspiration, I greatly look to my favorite animators who have worked for Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, DreamWorks, Netflix, etc….I love to watch cartoons to see ‘what works’ and what kids are looking for in entertainment.” Though she says that the “list of inspiring creators could go on forever,” some of her absolute favorites include Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls), Bryan Konietzco and Michael Dimartino (the co-creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender), Chris and Shane Houghton (Big City Greens), Craig Bartlett (Hey Arnold!), Matt Braley (Amphibia), and Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe).
“As far as books go,” Barker mainly enjoys studying art books on “concept and development work for cartoons” and reading “manga, graphic novels, and comics.” She especially loves reading anthologies of comics, graphic novels, and manga because “[they] really show me all the possibilities for unique panel placements and points of view to get the messages across the best way I can in my [own] comics.”
If she ever struggles with creative fatigue, Ali Barker has a tried and true anecdote: a thorough browsing of her favorite cartoons and comics. Barker says that when she “hit[s] a creative block,” she reinvigorates herself by browsing “the work of my favorite artists and creators to motivate myself and get myself hyped up to keep on creating! Works every time!”
But beware: after you start reading the Bug Squad, the next time some pesky critter lands on you, you might just pause before you deliver the fatal blow…maybe…
Until that time, keep on reading!
Be on the lookout for more from The Summer Street Library — here all Summer!
*all quotations come from The Summer Street Library’s exclusive online interview with Ali Barker
The Summer Street Library focuses on highlighting young, divergent, and or underrepresented writers and artists with an especial focus on BIPOC, self-published, and unpublished writers. If you are interested in contributing to The Summer Street Library as a spotlight artist, please contact the blog’s founder, Sadie Hofmeester, at firstname.lastname@example.org.