One of the vendors to whom I gravitated at this year’s Patchwork Indie Arts & Crafts Festival in Long Beach were the Te brothers, who make horror- and sci-fi-related tee shirts, as well as other merchandise such as coffee mugs and buttons.
The rich, saturated colors of their designs– especially against black backgrounds– immediately grabbed my eye, and their reimaginings of popular characters from movies and TV shows such as Star Wars, Friday the 13th and The Walking Dead drew me in closer.
One of their signatures seems to be the mashing up of these fictional people and creatures with other, more innocuous, beings, such as the Hello Kitty cat, Nintendo’s Mario Brothers or the Dodgers baseball team. For example, one design has transformed Hello Kitty into “Hello Zomby”– just as cute and cuddly, but spattered with blood, marred by scratches and transfixed with big, solid-white eyes.
Francis Te, 37, and Franco Te, 33, were both born in the Philippines. They say they learned the value of hard work because their mother was a single parent who had to work two jobs to support them. The brothers recycled cans so they could buy comic books and toys.
“It was also during this time that we were introduced to horror movies,” Franco says. “We were scared of movies such as Friday the 13th and Dawn Of The Dead, but we were also intrigued by it. We wanted to know the reason why they came back from the dead and why Jason wore a mask. Our curiosity made us a big fan of the horror genre.”
Now living in Southern California– Francis in Anaheim and Franco in Brea– the two started the T-shirt line Tee No Evil a few years ago.
The brothers say it took them four weeks to come up with a name for their business. The one on which they landed seems a perfect tribute to their surname, the product in which they specialize and the horror-inspired ideas that fuel their creativity.
How did TeeNoEvil get started?
Franco: My brother approached me about his ideas of designing shirts and submitting it to a submission-based website. The idea is if they like the artwork, they’ll accept your work, and in return, the artist gets a commission every time they sell a shirt.
Francis: But, once we started on the ideas, we started thinking about not being influenced by the style that certain websites accept. I didn’t want to change my art style. I wanted to enjoy the process, and that would mean sticking to my own style. So, we both agreed to go a different path. That’s when we decided to start Tee No Evil.
Franco: We needed funding, so we signed up for Kickstarter. That was one heck of a ride.
Kickstarter is a great venue for startups to get funding, but it wasn’t an easy process. We worked very hard to get our ideas across to people online and around town. We handed out flyers at local universities. We approached businesses in our area to see if we could post flyers at their stores and restaurants. We knew we were selling a product that didn’t exist yet. Thanks to our awesome supporters, we were able to reach our goal and shipped our first batch of shirts to our backers right before Halloween, as promised.
How is it working with your brother?
Francis: It’s great working with my brother. We understand each other really well. We’ve been close since we were little. We liked the same movies and played the same video games.
Franco: It’s always a fun collaboration, but a design is never as easy as it seems. There’s discussion on what colors should be used, focal point and so forth. Throughout the years, I’ve understood my brother’s thought process. I got my own ideas too, and this can lead to a fun and long discussion. I love working with my brother, as I’ve always been a fan of his art, and I learn so much from him.
Describe the creative process in working together.
Francis: We would come up with the initial ideas together. This could take a few days or a few weeks. We have a list of ideas that we might use down the road. My brother Franco is good with coming up with funny ideas and commentaries. Once we agree on an idea that we both like, we proceed to talking about how to approach the stage, which is the artwork. For example, we would sit and talk about what best art style to use for a certain story or a certain joke. Should I draw it very sketchy? Or should I approach the art with clean outlines? It all depends on the feel that we’re going for.
Franco: After agreeing on the art style. We both try come up with at least five concept sketches each on our own. This way, we don’t influence each other’s ideas. Then, we would once again have a sit-down and see what concept sketches to use. Most times, we would end up using both of our ideas before finalizing the concept stage.
Francis: Once we’re sure how to approach the project, I would go ahead and start on the art work. I usually start hand-drawing the pieces on a bristol board. Then, I would proceed to scan the artwork, so I can ink and make adjustments to it in Photoshop. I jump between Photoshop and Illustrator throughout the whole process, depending on the type of artwork I’m working on.
Franco: The final stage is coloring. We decide on what colors and how many to use for the art. In the screenprinting industry, the less colors, the more affordable the cost. But, in the end, we never sacrifice quality to save a few bucks. Some of our designs have eight colors, but it’s worth it because the artwork comes out as intended.
To view more of the Te brothers’ work, visit TeeNoEvil.com or follow them on Instagram at @teenoevil.