By Ashley Baker
Brian Parker had finally made it. He had the desk, the meetings, the office, the requirement to wear a tie. He was using his design education to make brochures for a credit union. “Oh wow,” exclaimed the characters he drew, “these insurance rates are so low!” Finally, Brian had secured the “legitimate” job he had long been looking for.
But something wasn’t right. He found himself drawing in his sketchbook at work, waiting to the last minute to throw together designs for assignments. Meanwhile, his wife, Josie, waited for him to realize he needed a change. So when the day came – four years after getting that job with the desk and the suits – Josie was ready for the leap of faith that would eventually result in Believe in Wonder Publishing.
“I’ve been a storyteller my whole life,” Brian said.
Growing up in Alaska, it was up to him and his brother to keep themselves occupied, imagining mystical creatures hiding in the nature they explored. “I would try to engage my mom and tell her all these stories,” he explained, “and she would be like, look, I don’t know what a two-headed griffin looks like.” So Brian would write down his fantastical stories and draw pictures to help her understand. “It was probably one of the best skills she ever taught me as a kid.”
After years of doing graphic design for other people – from small presses in Alaska to music publishing companies in Nashville to illustrating friends’ children’s books – Josie encouraged Brian to stop trying to squeeze his passion into his schedule. They packed up their life in Alaska, drove down through Canada, and landed in Portland then eventually Beaverton. Brian enrolled in a writing and publishing graduate program at Portland State University. There, he worked with the university’s in-house press to build projects from the ground up while earning his master’s degree.
That’s when Brian and Josie – who is an accomplished artist in her own right – founded Believe in Wonder, their youth-focused, independent publishing entity that promotes imagination, inspiration, and positive thinking in kids and adults alike. “Portland is a great place for publishing,” Brian said. “There’s tons of indie publishers here, doing their own thing. It’s just a really supportive community of creatives.”
After they published their first comic book, You Can Rely on Platypi, Brian went to present it a convention. But he was nervous. What if he hadn’t developed enough talent for this yet? What if it wasn’t what attendees wanted to see? “But the moment I showed up, people were like, ‘oh my God I love the platypus!’ People were just so kind and encouraging.” Now, Believe in Wonder is preparing to publish its twelfth and thirteenth books.
Brian has learned that sharing his work – even when he doesn’t feel ready or is anxious about it – is the best way to keep growing as a creator.
“Art is like a living thing. Sharing it makes the art come to life,” Brian said.
“When you think your work isn’t perfect or it’s not exactly what you want to share, share it anyway.”
Of course, being a small, independent publishing house comes with challenges. Getting work out there with limited resources is tough when the competition is with national or international publications. Sharing sketches on social media, connecting with the local community, and acknowledging fans who show their appreciation are all ways Believe in Wonder has been able to grow their presence.
A shift in publishing trends has also come at the right time for Brian and Josie’s work as underrepresented creators. “Multicultural, minority, LGBTQ, female, and other characters and heroes have been underrepresented for years,” said Brian. “There’s been a swing in the opposite direction where people are like, well now we know that this has been a problem for a long time, let’s face it head on and make those stories readily available.” Believe in Wonder has a mission to promote diversity in publishing and storytelling. They work with groups like Literary Arts, S.M.A.R.T., the Portland Children’s Museum, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center to bring opportunities to embrace creativity to youth from all backgrounds.
“There’s no requirement of, you know, racial background, economic background, gender, or anything like that,” Brian explained. “Creativity is a kind of power that everybody has.”
“When I talk to students I let them know, you can find creatives anywhere. They’re not necessarily painters or writers. They’re graffiti artists, tattoo artists, nail artists, engineers. It doesn’t matter if you want to build Lego’s or design motorcycles or draw comic books. I try to encourage the boundless possibilities that children have.”
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Check out Brian’s most recent book of illustrations, Fantasy Dressed Animals, now available on Amazon. And keep an eye out for Believe in Wonder’s next book, The Miraculous Elements, which follows The Wonderous Science in their Little Reader book series. Or, find them at the 2nd Star Festival this June.
About the Author: Ashley Baker
After spending several years developing communication strategies and conducting research for sustainability non-profits in Washington, D.C. and Portland, OR, Ashley has turned her attention to multimedia storytelling and community engagement. She holds a B.Sc. in chemistry from Sweet Briar College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Oregon in Portland.