Love, art and manga: a Sonoma State alumni love story

COURTESY // Emily Martin

Fine arts major and self-proclaimed comic book nerd Emily Martin was still at Sonoma State University when she started dating Brett Grunig. On their first date, Gruning started talking about how Japanese manga was underappreciated. He then mentioned “Battle Angel Alita,” which just so happened to be Martin’s favorite manga. Martin responded with a marriage proposal.

“It was a joke,” she said. “But then we actually got married.”

This husband and wife team, both Sonoma State alumni are behind the art of the Eisner-nominated comic “Princeless.” The team also teaches art and comic skills at Megamoth Studio, using what they learned at Sonoma State to make their careers before passing it onto a new generation.

Martin grew up in Sacramento, with parents who were professors at Sacramento State. She attended Sonoma State to major in printmaking, with an emphases on etching, but her heart was always in illustration. 

“I’ve always been into art,” Martin said. “I’ve always been into drawing and as an extension of that, comics and animation.” 

It was here that Martin first began teaching, by helping a friend teach teens and young adults how to draw in comic book and manga style.

Grunig was born and raised in Santa Rosa before attending Sonoma State. His fine art major in printmaking was a last minute choice. 

“I had never heard of printing until the week I signed up for classes and somebody said ‘you should take a printmaking course,’” he said.

It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as it was there he met Martin and learned a medium that would last him a lifetime.  He graduated earlier in 2004, two years before Martin, and spent a couple of years in Wisconsin before returning to Rohnert Park. The couple married in 2011.

Martin’s first job teaching art was at “Scribbles and Giggles” Art Center, teaching kids age 9-10. When she moved on to teaching older kids, she named it Megamoth Studio, named for Martin’s long-standing affection for Mothra. She realized 11-18 year olds wouldn’t like having to say they went to a place like “Scribbles and Giggles.” 

Rather than a regular class, Megamoth Studio is more of an after-school workshop for aspiring young artists. Classes are small, private affairs with only a handful of students, and Martin and Grunig do their best to teach each one individually, depending on their skill level.

Martin started drawing for “Princeless” when it was already on it’s second volume. She was brought on as a co-creator shortly after signing onto the comic, allowing her to have some creative control over the design of the characters. 

Two issues after Martin started drawing for “Princeless,” Grunig took over as colorist for the book; a role that had previously been filled by one of Martin’s own students, Kelly Lawrence, until her schedule forced her off the book.

M. Goodwin, the original artist for “Princeless,” is currently creating the comic “Tomboy.” Martin and Grunig both recommend it, but caution it isn’t for young viewers.

Martin grew up watching animated films, such as “The Last Unicorn,”  “The Flight of Dragons” and reading comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes.” 

One of Martin’s biggest influences is Osamu Tezuka, creator of “Astro Boy” and often called the God of Manga. Her recent favorite is the comic series “Elfquest,” written and drawn by Wendy and Richard Pini, which heavily influenced her own style. She has little interest in mainstream superhero comics, but has several indie favorites

Grunig’s inspirations are Northern European printmakers and Golden Age illustrators like Arthur Rackham, but he has taken some inspiration from comics such as Jim Lee’s X-Men.

Both Martin and Grunig credit their time at Sonoma State for teaching them how to teach. 

“A lot of the professors I’ve had at Sonoma State and their approach kinda helped me figure out how to approach teaching art,” Martin said. 

Gruning echoed that sentiment, saying his current job as a part-time professor at the Santa Rosa Junior College is due to what he learned while he was a student. 

“When it was time to plan my own [classes] I definitely thought about what assignments they gave here and what I liked or didn’t like about them,” Grunig said.

Though Sonoma State did not have a focus on comics and illustration, Martin’s teachers did their best to help incorporate what she learned to her preferred art style.

Aside from the art of “Princeless” and their respective teaching positions at Megamoth and Santa Rosa Junior College, Martin self-publishes the comic “Otherkinds.” Both of them also do freelance work on the side. 

Some of their favorite comics out right now are “Lumberjanes” and “Gotham Academy,” although they have little time to read comics right now.