Alia Graves actually doesn’t like cats that much — her family has dogs.
But her comic cat creations — Cruise and Ace — have entertained readers of The Pilot with their antics on the comics and puzzle page for more than a year.
Cruise and Ace are brothers, but with mismatched personalities not unlike The Odd Couple. Cruise, who wears a bandana, is enthusiastic and off-the-wall, as his 13-year-old creator describes him. Ace, who wears sunglasses, is more sophisticated.
For instance, in a recent strip, Cruise says he just found a locket but doesn’t know whose picture to put in it; Ace responds, “You could put yours in it and say you’re… “independent.”
The play on words is typical of the low key humor that drives Cruise and Ace.
Alia’s love of art and a desire to build a portfolio that might help with college scholarships and an eventual career as an animator inspired her interest in creating the comic strip. She would like to attend Brigham Young University and eventually work for Disney or Pixar studios.
Her idea for Cruise and Ace had been in development for awhile when Alia learned that The Pilot could use another comic strip. A former cartoonist had graduated from high school and was no longer providing comics for the newspaper.
Yes, she had a bit of an inside track on getting that information — her father is Scott Graves, editor-in-chief of the newspaper.
But before she got the assignment she had to come up with ideas for her comic strip and provide the editor with three finished examples of her work.
The first “Cruise and Ace” comic was published June 27, 2015, and the panel has been included in The Pilot every Saturday since — which made her a professional cartoonist at the age of 12. She is paid $15 per comic strip for her efforts.
For inspiration she looks to funny things in everyday life. And recently she’s introduced a new character, Walter, a cat friend of the brothers who may appear occasionally.
Not only does she have to come up with a funny idea, she has to hand draw and ink the panels to tell the story, then electronically scan her creation and use a computer publishing application to add the text.
During the first year, her production methods evolved and her drawings have become more fluid.
“My style has changed at least five times,” she said.
Among Alia’s fans is Pilot reader Moira Fossum.
“I always look for it,” Fossum said. “It’s just delightful. I have several of them clipped to my bathroom mirror for inspiration.”
According to her mother, Jacque Graves, Alia has been drawing since she was a small child when she studied body parts, such as her hand, and then drew them. People, not cats, are her favorite subjects.
And, art runs in the family. Alia’s grandfather, Jim Speas, of Brookings is a retired commercial artist. Her grandmother Joy Speas and mother Jacque Graves are also both talented artists.
After a visit to Disneyland and reading books describing the art of animation, she became intrigued with the idea of someday working as an animator.
For a class project at Azalea Middle School, where she will be in eighth grade this September, Alia created a stop motion animation project that required 200 drawings and took her three weeks to complete.
Unfortunately, she had to miss school on the day the teacher showed the projects but was happy to learn that her classmates watched it five times and liked it.
She doubts, though, that her classmates have seen her newspaper comic.
“Kids my age don’t read newspapers,” she said.
Still, she hopes that syndicating “Cruise and Ace” might be in her future. Now that she’s produced the comic for more than a year she would like to see if it can be published in other newspapers.
And she likes the idea of animating her characters someday.
“If I could see Cruise and Ace move and talk, that would be so cool,” she said.