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James Sugrue’s Journey: From Childhood Dreams to Animation Industry Success

FilmmakerLife Magazine Presents

Since the age of five, James Sugrue (aka Jim Grue) had dreamed of working in the animation industry after being awe struck by the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. From phone books to photocopy paper, he would draw on anything he could get his hands on, and continued to be influenced by the after school cartoons that graced his television screen. One of his favorite hobbies was recording scenes from tv cartoons on the VCR, pausing to look at each frame so he could study every detail of exaggerated facial features and blurred limbs in motion. While James’ parents nurtured his creativity, he cost them around three to four VCRs. 

James Sugrue

After graduating from the School Of Visual Arts of New York in 2007, James found that looking for work in the animation industry would be a difficult task. While he had a firm understanding of drawing, he was not proficient with the software being used at major studios, such as Photoshop and Flash. It wasn’t until 2010 when he got his first studio job at Titmouse’s New York branch, starting as an animator on Adult Swim’s Super Jail, that he became proficient with the software being used. Over time, James wanted to have a better understanding of the cinematic framing and language that came with making animation. This decision lead James to work towards becoming a storyboard artist. He passed his first storyboarding test which resulted in getting to storyboard on all three seasons of Disney Junior’s T.O.T.S, and is currently a board artist on Disney’s KIFF. Thanks to the people at Titmouse, James has gained a better understanding of the production pipeline, as well as being inspired by the talent his peers display on the shows he works on.

First Bluehilda Drawings while waiting on line at NY Comic Con 2006

From Darkwing Duck, to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Super Mario, and Sailor Moon, James longed to create fun characters and engaging stories much like the cartoons, comics, and video games that filled his head with imagination. While we have been graced by strong female leads in recent years, James wanted to create a female character that was not only powerful and strong, but had a cartoony rubber hose ascetic much like the cartoons of the Golden Age. It was after seeing the Broadway production of Wicked in 2006 that Bluehilda came to fruition (she’s made from a blueberry after all). In 2015, Titmouse’s founder Chris Prynoski was kind enough to help James with the resources he needed to create the 8 minute Bluehilda short that has earned his magical screwball a number of awards, and even a small cameo in the popular horror film M3gan. 

Stills from the original Bluehilda Short

In recent years, social media has given creators a chance to write, draw, and animate their ideas to the public. You not only need the talent, but the patience and business sense to reach a broader audience. While James has desired Bluehilda to become a fully animated series, he continues to finesse the character and her world with an ongoing web comic that continues Bluehilda’s adventures, as well as occasional short animations through TikTok.

Double spread pages from The Bluehilda Web Comic.

James is fully aware of how competitive the market can be, but his driving force to not give up has always been his family, his wife Melissa, and his late first born son Felix, his inspiration for strength. Focusing on your own creative idea after a long day from your regular job can be a daunting task, but if you truly care about the project and have a childlike enthusiasm in the process, the sky’s the limit.

The charm of Bluehilda lies in her playful personality and range of cartoony expressions.

If you would like to meet Jim Grue in person, he will be in Brooklyn Comic Con’s Artist Alley at the Major R. Owens Community Center on June 8th-9th, promoting his Bluehilda comic and selling exclusive items pertaining to Bluehilda & her adventures.

Connect with James Sugrue
WebToons – Bluehilda Comic

FilmmakerLife Magazine Vol. 74 – James Sugrue

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