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Dynamic Duo Draws on Laughs, Love

bregesYakThe couple that creates together succeeds together. That could be the motto for Darrin Brege and his wife, Karen Bell-Brege. The Breges are the dynamic duo behind 10 books (and counting!) – including the “Mick Morris Myth Solver” and “Ghost Board Posse” book series, plus two learn-to-draw sketchbooks.
The Breges, who live in Brighton, seem like the perfect pair to help the Yak kick off Reading Month in Michigan. After all, both Karen and Darrin are proud to be from our great state.

Karen was born in Detroit and spent her early growing up years in the city. She attended Dawson Elementary School before moving to London, England, and later to Mexico because her dad worked for Ford Motor Company in other countries. The family eventually returned to metro Detroit where Karen graduated from Troy High School. She says moving and getting to know new and different places made for an exciting childhood. “It was a really great experience,” she says.
While some people might be shy about moving to a new city – or country – Karen adapted nicely thanks to her outgoing personality and creative spirit. “I was in drama, I was in plays, I was always interested in performing,” sheremembers. “My mom will tell you I was always singing and dancing and laughing.

”She was also hooked on books. “I was a HUGE reader. I got into the Nancy Drew mystery series and that was it,” she says, recalling how she couldn’t get enough of those spellbinding books. Nancy Drew sparked her love of reading, but it wasn’t until she landed her first job after college at Wayne State University and Brown Institute that she discovered she had a talent for writing, too. She had a degree in broadcasting and was working at a radio station in Maryland where she had to write her own copy to read on air. “I always tell kids, I could have lost my first job if I wasn’t a good reader,” says Karen. She found that reading and writing went hand in hand, and that her years of devouring books helped her become a good writer, too. “That job was really the beginning of my writing career,” adds Karen. From there, she took a job writing advertising copy at a television station.

Eventually, Karen felt homesick for Michigan friends and family and moved back to Detroit for a new writing job – this time as a communications specialist for UAW-Chrysler. But Karen missed performing, so she decided to start an improvisational (on-the-spot acting) comedy troupe to keep her busy nights and weekends.
Enter Darrin. Karen was holding auditions for her new comedy group and Darrin showed up to try out. “He was funny as can be,” remembers Karen. A couple of weeks later the group was together and Darrin started doing impersonations – and pow – with perfect comedic timing – Karen jumped right in, impersonating famous comedy couples including Homer and Marge Simpson, Boris and Natasha, and Edith and Archie Bunker. You could say it was love at first laugh.

Now back to Darrin’s growing up years: “I attended various elementary schools in Plymouth-Canton, and was a Plymouth Canton grad,”  reported Darrin, who was born in near by Livonia.  After high school, he earned a degree in economics from Albion College and upon graduating, he promptly moved to California to study art and animation, which was really his dream career. Darrin said, at the time, he felt like he needed to have something more practical to fall back on, in case the “art thing didn’t work out.” But during his four years of college, he designed T-shirts and mugs for student groups, and was active with campus radio, always looking for creative outlets around “cramming for his classes.”

Darrin can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawn to art. “I grew up loving cartoons. I loved the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny, and I would always draw them,” recalls Darrin. He was also crazy passionate about “Star Wars,” – “my whole life changed when I saw that movie,” says Darrin, who still loves the movies and collects “Star Wars” memorabilia.

After a few years of school and work in California, Darrin headed back to Michigan and found work as an artist animating Disney storybooks for CD-ROMs. Other art and illustration jobs followed, including creating the artwork and covers for the first 33 “Michigan Chillers” and “American Chillers” books by Johnathan RandbregesYak2.

Finally Karen, a writer, and Darrin, an illustrator, decided to try their hands at creating a series of their very own – and the “Mick Morris Myth Solver” series was born. (Mick, by the way, is also the name of their son, and really, the inspiration for creating books for young readers!) Next, the couple launched a scarier series, “Ghost Board Posse,” blending extreme sports with scary adventures.

When the Breges aren’t working on their books or visiting schools, they keep busy with other creative projects. They still perform improv shows with their troupe, Totally Unrehearsed Theatre, at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle and Darrin is the creative director for a company that creates artwork for big businesses including HBO, Coca-Cola and Disney.  In the future, they hope to work full-time creating books and would love to see their characters on the big or small screen.

In the meantime, they have a positive message to share for Reading Month: Laugh hard – and read a lot!

By Janis Campbell


Christopher Nagy

Aliens, bigfoot and gremlins Oh, my.
argus1While many may see such creatures as a better fit for Halloween than Christmas, the creative mind can't be constrained by holidays trappings, according to Karen Bell-Brege and Darrin Brege.
In fact, the best creative minds can't be confined to much limitation at all, according to the Brighton couple, the author and illustrator, respectively, behind the popular Mick Morris children's book series and the new series Ghost Board Posse.
After hundreds of in-store appearances and school assemblies meant to bring that point home for kids, Bell-Brege and Brege are now, literally, bringing that point to kids' home with their latest work, "Sketch the Myths," a humorous and entertaining step-by-step guide to help teach children how to draw and use their imaginations.

"I've been drawing since I was a kid. I never really had any formal training," Brege said. "I think a lot of the idea behind the sketchbook came from our school visits. A lot of kids want to know: 'How do you do that?' Drawing is like a building process. ... You start at the bottom and build up.
"The goal is to show that it's not intimidating," he continued. "You start with stick figures. The first stages are things that you were doing in kindergarten. Stick-figure shapes, add and erase what you don't need. That's it."
Yet "Sketch the Myths" is about much more than making pictures, Bell-Brege said. Sure, the concept centers around drawing, but the deeper themes in the book touch upon using your imagination, finding your own voice, focusing on a goal and the patience of practice.

"We've been working together since we met," Bell-Brege said.

"It's a fun thing to do, work together (on the books)," Brege added. "It's like the old days on the stage."

In 2005, "Mick Morris Myth Solver: All Isn't Well in Roswell" €” inspired by their now-15-year-old son Mick — hit bookstores. Unlike the truth/myth (depending on your point of view) about the Roswell UFO of the 1950s, the tale did anything but crash and burn. In the five years since, there have been four more Mick Morris books for young readers, each tacking a different creature of fact/fantasy (again, depending on your viewpoint) €” from the Abominable Snowman to the Loch Ness Monster.
They have also launched a new book series aimed at older young readers. The Ghost Board Posse, now in its second tome, follows the adventures of a skateboarding, ghost-hunting gang of kids.

The sixth Mick Morris book will be out in January, and the third Ghost Board Posse book is slated for a spring release. 
For "Sketch the Myths," the couple didn't stray too far from the formula that has worked so well, using modern mythological creatures and critters to guide their work that Mick Morris or the Ghost Board Posse might investigate.
"With each of the 13 myth creatures, we show an inspired style," Brege said, noting such material as "The Simpsons" or "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." "Kids can see that they don't have to be intimidated by any kind of style. The idea is to see the inspiration around you. If there are things you like to draw, draw them. When I was a kid, I liked to draw Hanna-Barbera and 'Star Wars.' "

Through it all, laughter is still a key, with funny drawing or cartoons. For example, the goat-sucking Latin American terror the Chupacabra is transformed into the Mexican-food-loving Chalupacabra.
Still, behind the jokes, there is a real concern for the creativity, which is why encouraging kids to use their imagination is so important, the couple agreed.
"We go to the schools, and we're seeing the reading go, the arts go, the media specialists go," Bell-Brege said. "We firmly believe that kids are not going to make it on just math and science. They need to be well-rounded."
Not everyone is going to €” or will want to €” grow up to be an accountant, Brege added. Some young minds are geared toward right -brained, outside-the-box thinking, he said. After all, that was him several decades ago.
"There are kids that are going to click on the right, like I did," he said. "I'm not alone."
"We want them to understand that they can go and pick up books and read and explore, and it will change their lives," Bell-Brege said. "It makes us sad that these things are so lacking in some of the schools we visit. It always seems to be the first thing to go in schools, and people don't realize how necessary it is. In our presentations, we really drive home that if you don't read, you're not going to have any kind of career."
Perhaps it's why "Sketch the Myths" deals with monsters and aliens. Every villain has a hero fighting against it €” and in their in-school presentations to students, Bell-Brege and Brege don the tights and capes to the Vanguards for the Arts, reminding kids that there are worlds of fantastic fantasy and countless creativity locked up in their own minds. All they have to do is go ahead and explore.
They're sure they'll win this battle. After all, they have the secret to victory €”and just like superheroes, they are always willing to respond to the call to serve.
"If we can get them reading and inspire them by making them laugh, we're there," Bell-Brege said.


Author-illustrator team draws on humor to inspire Bloomfield students

By Tanya Muzumdar Photos by Daniel Lippitt


Lone Pine students Reed Perlman (front), Lauren Tamapol and David Lux enjoy a reading workshop hosted by illustrator Darrin Brege (below, left) and his wife, author Karen Bell-Brege (below, right). Facing page: Darrin and Karen write books for kids, including the Ghost Board Posse series.

Around 200 pairs of eyes watch in suspense as the monstrous hand flares up behind the fleeing earthling, closing in for a squeeze. Marker blazing, local illustrator Darrin Brege truns his sketch into a motion picture for sever cheering classes one afternoon in April at Bloomfield School's Lone Pine Elementary.
Brege and his wife, author Karen Bell-Brege, are the creators of books for children and young teens, including the Mick Morris Myth Solver mystery series and Ghost Board Posse #1 London Screaming, which follow ghost hunting skateboarders through a haunted English castle.
The couple have spurred students at 200 area schools to consider how to apply creativity and strong reading skills to their future endeavors, Bell-Brege says. Laughter facilitates learning 100%, she adds.
"That's why we have so much humor in our programs, I think," she says. "We found that adults and children retain it [the lessons] because they're having fun. And they don't even realize they're being taught at the same time."
Bloomfield Hills resident Kismet Kumar, 11, says the presentation was very entertaining and educational.
"I love the drawings. I'm pretty sure I'll be using [drawing] for the future," the sixth-grader says. "When I grow up, I'm thinking of being an ophthalmologist. Sometimes eye doctors have to draw wht they see in my eyes, so I think that could help me."
The Breges, who also are voiceover artists and do comedic impersonations on the Stoney and Wojo show on WDFN am1130, hook student audiences from the start with spot-on impressions of pop-culture luminaries, such as Homer and Marge Simpson, and zany chatter about alien cows and gremlins.
"you cant be teaching if you don't have a sense of humor, I honestly believe," says Royal Oak resident Kathy Kirkwood, a fifth-grade teacher at Lone Pine. "Studies have shown that learning has to be in an engaging, positive environment, and what's more positive than laughing and having fun in the classroom?"
While cloaked in comedy, the message the Breges bring to students still rings clear - no matter what, anything is possible with enough practice. 
Brege says that while growing up, "I would have given anthing for someone to say, 'Do your Goofy voices. If you love to do them, you can make a career out of it.'"


Uncovering myths 
Author, illustrator of Mick Morris series visit Fitzgerald elementary schools
MARIA ALLARD C & G Staff Writer 

dnkWarrenWatch out - Bigfoot might be lurking behind you.

Or are those gremlins from The Henry Ford? 
Whatever the creature, chances are it's going to turn up in one of Karen Bell-Brege and Darrin Brege's "Mick Morris Myth Solver" book series for kids. Karen is the author behind the series' stories while her talented husband is the illustrator.
And since the books have ended up in the hands of many Fitzgerald Public Schools elementary students, the Breges visited Schofield, Mound Park and Westview elementary schools Feb. 26. Their 12 -year-son Mick, whom the Mick Morris books were modeled after, came along.
"This is what we've been waiting for," media specialist Pat Pulis said. "It's a really nice treat."
In the series, Mick Morris, his cousin Sissy and his best friend Nathan always find themselves on an adventure trying to uncover a certain myth. Karen said it takes about six to nine months to complete a book.
"There is always something scary to every ending, but there's no gore," Karen said.
The series gives young readers the opportunity to uncover different myths while being entertained at the same time. To date, four books have been completed: "All Isn't Well in Roswell," "Bigfoot…Big Trouble," "Champ€¦A Wave of Terror" and "The Grudge of the Gremlins."
"It's fiction, but I include the myth facts," Karen said. "One thing that really fascinated us were myths. One myth that really fascinated me was the aliens landing in Roswell."
While visiting the schools, the Brege family - who reside in Brighton - shared their love of reading and writing. With an artist's easel, Darrin even demonstrated how he creates the books' characters.
"It all starts with stick people," Darrin told the students. "The stick person, that is the first step I use for drawing anything.
" From there, Darrin  adds circle, square and triangle shapes to create different characters. 
"You want to give it some character and energy," Darrin said.

And the eraser "is our friend." It's OK to make changes along the way. 
"If you don't like it now, change it. It's easy to change," he said when drawing. "As an artist, we need to see things to help us get ideas."
While at Westview, third-grader Alisa Castanos, fourth-grader Michael Wilson and fifth-grader Tyler Yontz had the opportunity to briefly act out a scary scene from one of the books with Karen. With lots of enthusiasm, Karen asked several students about their career goals. She also reminded the students why reading is important. 
"It doesn't matter what career you decide, you have to study hard," she said. "With studying hard, you have to be a good reader. Books can take you places you've never been. No matter what I was doing, I was reading and writing. That led us to our books."
The Mick Morris books contain five different endings to give the readers plenty of variety.
"I liked the normal ending, Darrin liked scary and Mick said 'what's wrong with silly?'" Karen said. "It's good to feel emotion. When I'm writing, if I don't feel scared, chances are it's not scary." 
The Brege family is heavily involved in the arts. Karen and Darrin have done improv comedy, and Darrin has done work for Warner Brothers. The pair also do imitations, including of "The Simpsons" and "Scooby Doo."
"Art is everywhere we do," Karen said. "There's reading, writing, acting, singing, dancing, sculpting, plays, cultures, museums."
They seem to have passed the passion for the arts to Mick. He loves being the model for the Mick Morris series.


Living a dream
Staff Writer

hometown1Darrin Brege still shakes his head in amazement - he gets paid to do what he loves.
Brege, who started doodling at age 3, is a senior design illustrator for ePrize, a Pleasant Ridge-based interactive promotion company, he has a weekly spot on a sports radio channel and he partners with his wife, Karen, on an illustrated book series named after their 11-year-old son.
"I get to do crazy voices and draw for a living and get paid," said Brege, 39. "I'm very grateful because, although there's nothing wrong with it, I'd hate to be laying bricks and doing my voices for a crew.
The 1986 Plymouth Canton High School graduate can sketch SpongeBob SquarePants, Homer Simpson and Stewie from Family Guy in a matter of seconds and he cranks out impersonations of Shrek, Archie Bunker and Scooby Doo as if it's second nature.
He met his wife of 12 years while the two were doing improvisational theatre. In addition to the couple's book series, Mick Morris Myth Solver, the two have inked a four-book deal with Mackinac Island Press. 
Brege, who lives in Brighton, illustrates the work while his bride pens the stories.
"She's the love of my life," he said. "I feel so blessed and fortunate to do what I do. I've had to draw all day but I could still go home and draw tonight. When you do what you love, it doesn't feel like work."
Brege, who created a gang of comic book characters at age 13 called the "Freakies," recently had a book signing at Borders to highlight the fourth installment of the Mick Morris series, Grudge of the Gremlins.
His son, Mick, and his wife were also on hand for the signing.
"I can't say that I love one thing more than the other," he said.

"It all ties together. It all works on the right side of the brain." 
Brege, who moved to California to study animation in the early '90s, said his son also has a knack for drawing and writing. 
"He's really good," he beamed. "He's better than I was at that age but he takes it all in stride."
With his comedic impersonations airing at 8:05 a.m. every Friday on Sports Talk AM 1130 WDFN and his career at ePrize moving along, Brege said there's a chance that one of the Mick Morris books could be turned into a motion picture.
"My wife and I are huge movie buffs so this is really exciting for us," he said. "All I can say to anyone is follow your dreams. I feel like I'm walking on air." 

Kids' choice
Authors intrigue young readers with adventure, humor and 5 different endings 

obs_ecc_breges_front_smallJ.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, each in their distinctive ways, showed that kids will read if you give them something they like.

For Darrin and Karen Brege, its a zippy, funny series of adventure stories offering readers a chance to choose different endings.

Darrin illustrates the books, in which Mick Morris is a dead ringer for the Breges' 10-year-old son, Mick, and shares Mick's love of adventure, imagination and sense of humor. All family traits, as everything in the Brege family, began with comedy. Darrin, a Plymouth Canton High School graduate, went to California to study animation after graduating from Albion College in 1990. When he returned to Michigan he took a job animating for Disney at the Animation Station in Ann Arbor and tried out for Karen Bell's improv troupe Totally Unhearsed Theatre at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle. Karen, a Troy High School graduate, had studied broadcasting at college and did improv in Chicago and Florida.


Humor brought Darrin and Karen together. The two had a talent for voices, riffing on Archie and Edith, Boris and Natasha, Homer and Marge Simpson. They loved doing improv, but after spending every Tuesday night for 13 years at the Comedy Castle, the troupe was canceled. The Breges regrouped. Karen was doing speaking engagements and Darrin was dividing his time between comedic voices for sports radio station 1130 WDFN-AM, voiceovers and illustrating children's books. They decided to do their own.

"We had been writing so many comedy sketches, we said we'll take a shot at it," Karen said. "We had the writing background, we had the comedy background, we had this awesome 10-year-old who knows what's scary and has creative skills himself."

The series, written by Karen and illustrated by Darrin, features young Mick Morris, son of TV producers who track down popular myths. But it is really Mick, his buddy Nathan and his cousin Sissy who confront the myths. The first book in the series was All Isn't Well in Roswell about aliens, the second is Bigfoot ... Big Trouble. The books are keyed to readers ages 7-12.


And there's a gimmick called Five Ways to Finish. "The selling point of this is that we have five different endings," Darrin said.

The first book includes normal, scary, silly, superhero and short endings. The second has normal, scary, western, talk show and comic book endings. Deciding the endings is a family thing. "There were all kinds of genres in our performances and it has carried over into our books," Karen said. "It's a family collaboration. We'd say, 'What kind of ending would this have?' I'd have a normal ending, Darrin would have a silly ending and Mick would say it needs to be scary. Let's have them read to a point and have their own ending. It's really five books in one." The Breges say the books have been going "gangbusters." And after 60 visits to schools and bookstores they've been getting a good response from young readers. They take their performance background to the stores and involve children in their fun. Son Mick has been a rich source for authenticity.

"Once my mom said do you say 'groovy' and I said NO!," Mick said. Mick is a creative artist himself.

He has become a fan of Nick Park (Wallace and Grommit) and Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride) and makes his own stop action movies.Next up in the series is Champ .. A Wave of Terror about a monster in Lake Champlain, due in October. They are working on another series on ghost hunting skateboarders.

The family lives in Brighton.


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