Kelly Ulrich | Interview

Kelly Ulrich
Creative Type
Drawing type
Comic Strips

“Dean and Nala came to me through my husband. He said to me, one day in April 2019, “Hey, you should see this Dodo video on Facebook. It’s about this Scottish guy (1bike1world) who finds a kitten and he travels the world with her.” So I watched the video. I was instantly captivated and, strangely, wanted to reach out to Dean and tell him how I admired what he was doing and would he consider turning his story into a children’s book and could I be the illustrator?”

Kelly Ulrich is an illustrator; an art teacher who teaches charcoal, drawing, painting, acrylic, oil, watercolor; and book lover extraordinaire. Except, Kelly wasn’t always a creative person, in-fact she once worked as a secretary in a law firm.

“I was the worst secretary in the entire world and actually felt sorry for the poor young lawyer that had me as his secretary! When I was 28 I went to art school which was a good thing. By this time I was working in the Graphics Department of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation in Vancouver, Canada.”

From there, her life took off and they were productive and enjoyable years for her. As she later married and had children her work-life dropped off the radar for a little while and by the time she returned to the workforce, “everything seemed different”.

“Technology had moved by me at lightning speed. I became an art teacher and realized THAT was what I should have done all along. I proved to be a good one and could connect to my students, regardless of age or ability. I am proud of that.”

Now, Kelly creates comics based on Dean and Nala, 1bike1world on Instagram. Dean is from Scotland and one day decided he’d jump on a bike and live his life on the road. He has travelled to places like Bosnia, Greece, Georgia, Croatia, Alabania and Turkey.

Finding Nala

One day Dean was cycling up quite a steep hill with ‘music blaring’ and noticed the cries of a small kitten on the side of the road. Transfixed, the kitten approached him, weaseling her way in for scratches and food. Cut to a year a later they’ve travelled several countries together; had multiple trips to the vet for Nala’s pet passport; seen some incredible sights together with Nala calling wherever Dean is home.

“I don’t know what really got into me to (contact Dean). I NEVER contact people. I am quite shy that way. But I did it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? He didn’t respond. So I sent him a picture I did of a mock cover of a pretend book and called it Dean and Nala.”

I too have also followed the motto of show not tell, which is a must for creative people who want to showcase or sell their work. It’s all well and good talking about what you’re capable of but what really matters is being able to show someone what you’re capable of.

“He messaged me saying he loved that picture so much and he put it as his phone background. I was so thrilled!! He asked me where I was from. We had a little chat and he asked if I could send that art to his Dad in Scotland! I was on Cloud 9. I did. Then a week or so later I dared to do comic #1. I am on #211 now.”

Motivation vs discipline

To illustrate, write, draw, paint, create, wash, sew, cut or anything else which enables to create often requires both motivation and discipline; often a combination of the two is what helps us finish projects, complete books and ensure that our work goes out to the world.

“Motivation vs. discipline. They surely go hand in hand, arm in arm. I must be motivated and what motivates me is a good story. Then discipline keeps you doing it. Actually, its rather effortless because it’s the thing I love to do most in the whole world and so I would do that morning afternoon evening and far into the night.

“It IS work, however and I can become quite exhausted. My brain feels wrung out sometimes. I will sit down at my art desk quite willingly and gladly. No discipline needed.”

At the moment Kelly draws Dean, Nala and Vinny’s adventures across the globe. Nala is Dean’s cat and Vinny is an imaginary cockroach who Kelly decided to include in their adventures. Dean rides around on a bike travelling from place to place; perfect material for additional storylines, characters and Nala and Vinny adventures.

“(Vinny) came about completely naturally. He really just appeared. Nala had played with many cockroaches in Greece and I was horrified at how big they were. 30 comics I had done by this time and realized maybe we need to introduce another character for Nala when Dean isn’t around.

“They don’t actually speak to each other, but two animals could! #31 shows Vinny appearing because Nala accidentally killed his brother the day before. She apologizes and he says, “That’s ok. We weren’t close.” Vinny was born.”

“His name came to me instantly as I wrote in Nala’s speech bubble, “Oh, hi, Vinny. How are you?” The only other characters I introduce come directly from Dean’s postings. Maybe it’s an animal he is saving, or I take it a few steps further as in Derps (who is a four-legged octopus Nala won at a fair. Derps is made up.) and Honk (a giraffe who is a real toy Nala has).

Dean, Nala and Vinny – 1bike1world

“Other than that, there are just the three of them and a trio works out much better for storylines. Especially when Dean drops out of sight sometimes to get things done. He doesn’t post for a while so I pick up the slack.”

The rise of comics

According to a few sources, comic strips originated around the 1920s and were most often printed in newspapers and magazines. With the rise of the internet in the late ’80s and early ’90s comic artists began publishing their work in the form of webcomics as well as keeping their form in serialized comic books that can still be purchased today. Although newspaper comics are often exaggerated social commentary, comic topics can range from political, social, historical and imaginative – which is the case of Dean and Nala. The point of comics is to tell a story whether fiction or non-fiction and in Kelly’s case the story of Dean, Nala and Vinny travelling the globe with a bike, a map and a will to travel.

“Animals are universally loved by (I would like to think MOST) people. I know this is far from the truth, but cruel people, themselves, are unhappy, mistreated or hurting in some way. And cultural differences may be the reason that animals are not cherished. It’s a complicated thing and one that could go on for pages and pages.

“I personally believe loving animals makes us better people. And they love you. They really do. To have had relationships with many animals in my life has been a joy beyond words. To see Dean save some of these dear creatures makes us all a part of something good. I hope I live to see no more whale tours, aquarium shows, swim with the dolphins, go bug the grizzly tours or gorillas. I respect and am fully on board with leaving wild animals alone. They don’t need us always dragging them in front of the camera.”

If you’d like to follow Kelly and Dean on social media, you can do so by following the links below.

Dean & NALA