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It seems almost cliché that local comic artists Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline would have a "meet cute" moment in a comic book store, but that’s the way it really happened.
She was the woman who as a kid would draw the Millennium Falcon, Greedo and Chewbacca after discovering comics through osmosis from her older siblings. He was the guy from a modest Seattle suburb who’d been initially drawn to comic books through newspaper strips but didn’t know that being a cartoonist could be a real career until his time at Bard College when someone introduced him to the pulp mix of mythology and folklore in “Hellboy.”
Their paths crossed in the spring of 2007, in a now-shuttered New England Comics shop on Harvard Street in Allston, where the pair met for the first time during an informal after-hours gathering for comic enthusiasts. Sharing a beer, their love of art and comic books, they bonded over a mutual goal of telling stories for a living.
Fast forward 11 years, and Lamb and Paroline’s connection has led to a wildly successful run on the "Adventure Time" comic book and the now-annual Massachusetts Independent Creators Expo, which provides a space for like-minded creators.
Their paths crossed at a fortuitous, perfect moment.
After hitting a wall with a bachelor's degree in film animation, Lamb followed a few friends to Boston in 2006 with the intent of becoming a cartoonist. He was just in time to meet Paroline, who had recently graduated from Mass College of Art in Boston, and was now spending her days at comic shops like Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square, looking for inspiration.
After that initial "meet cute" moment, the pair soon found themselves submerged in a new scene of comic enthusiasts and young creatives seeking an outlet.
Around the same time, artist Dan Mazur sought to organize an ongoing forum for aspiring writers and artists in Cambridge. “We went around to all the local comics events we could find to ‘recruit’ people,” he said.
In those early years, there were only a handful of creators looking to organize and Lamb and Paroline jumped right in to the group. Soon, Boston Comics Roundtable, a weekly forum that’s been going strong since 2006, was born.
Paroline and Lamb quickly became key members of the BCR, Mazur said, which began publishing anthologies. Mazur said Paroline had the graphic design chops that the rest of the group lacked, and drew the cover for the first issue. Lamb drew the second.
Those first few months of courtship seemed uncertain to Paroline, but Lamb says he was more sure of their compatibility. Deciding on a grand gesture after a date in the North End, he made his move. One night, as they split ways on the Orange Line, Paroline heading north to Malden and Lamb going south, he decided it was the moment to make a move.
“I just had this moment of “I gotta kiss her’,” he said. “So I ran all the way underneath the tracks to the other side, getting there just as the train was pulling away.”
Despite his failed grand gesture, which Paroline only found out about years later, the pair grew closer — both personally and professionally.
Lamb and Paroline’s creative trajectory runs inherently parallel to their romantic relationship. A love of comics is what initially drew them together and their creative milestones serve also as markers to their evolution as a couple.
In the infancy of their relationship, the two secretly dated — treading lightly. As their personal connection covertly blossomed, they collaborated publicly. The BCR provided Lamb and Paroline an opportunity to collaborate on ideas together. In one instance, the pair plotted and drew a story called “Fish Wives,” of a town of women who carry their sleeping husbands out to their awaiting fishing boats.
By 2010, Paroline and Lamb had been dating for a few years and had gone public. They became engaged that year. Their engagement even further solidified their professional partnership as they took turns lettering, plotting, coloring and illustrating on projects.
Both worked for Kaboom studios and had worked on syndicated comics like “Ice Age” and “Muppets” but then came a mutual dream: they secured spots illustrating for “Adventure Time.”
The cartoon — featuring characters like Finn the Human, Jake the Dog and an ethereal cast of characters in the land of Ooo — had become an instant hit, gaining the respect of indie-minded adults and literal children.
“The show really fostered creative freedom,” Lamb said. “It’s silly and weird and scary and cute, but most of all it has a solid emotional core.”
The couple wed on the anniversary of the day they met in March at the Winchester Photography Museum, surrounded by friends, family and a Unitarian minister who dispensed wisdom from Yoda.
Bogged down with work on "Adventure Time," Lamb and Paroline were so busy they never asked for time off to get married in 2011. The series had just started and Paroline said they simply didn’t think of it. Their editor had planned for it and gave them a month off without even asking.
Over the next several years, Lamb and Paroline worked tirelessly, creating comics with story-lines from writer Ryan North and in the process growing creatively and as a couple.
“It’s great because you’re talking out these ideas, acting them out and working with someone who’s in the same head-space,” Paroline said. “It’s stressful to do this job but if you've got the right person there, and they can make you laugh, that’s all you need.”
While the couple’s internal run on "Adventure Time" ended in 2014, they have continued to work on covers for the series, additional mini series and even returned for the final issue this year, again working with North. For both Lamb and Paroline, it was a reminder of how things started out years ago and how far they’ve come.
The 9th annual Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, MICE, will be held on Oct. 20 and 21 at Lesley University in Porter Square. The event is free to attend.
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