WASHINGTON — It’s not unusual to spot mismatched antique dollhouse furniture, clay characters shaped like tacos and a splattering of strawberry jam in Liz Reed’s Howard County, Maryland, basement. For Reed and her husband, Jimmy, it’s all in a day’s work.
The two are the creative brains and brawn behind Cuddles and Rage, a brand that encompasses illustrated comics, dioramas, books and short films — or more simply put, “disturbingly cute stuff.”
“‘Stuff’ somehow fits everything,” Reed said.
On Oct. 28, the couple’s latest animated short film, “Magical Snack Time,” will premiere in New York at the Food Film Festival (their submission last year won the “super short” category), and a few months ago, the Reeds released their second book with HarperCollins, called “Sweet Success.”
But about a decade ago, the most exposure their art received was the bar crowd on trivia night. Reed said that’s when the couple started doodling on cocktail napkins for friends. Their cute, yet dark and snarky, humor was well-received, so the Reeds took their illustrations to Tumblr and grew an even greater following.
Reed, who at the time worked a nine-to-five office job, said what started as a creative experiment quickly reached a point where she and her husband were scheduling time to make three new comics a week.
“And then somehow it grew into us not just doing pen-to-paper comics, but also mixed-media comics, and I think that’s really where Cuddles and Rage came together,” Reed said.
“And our friends went crazy for it. It was just this new, wild way of storytelling … with whatever you can find around you” — such as toothbrushes on painted clay pieces to add texture, and antique dollhouse furniture to set the stage for a doughnut family’s story.
Most of characters featured have a unifying theme: food. Dr. Taquito, an evil culinary genius who likes to torture his ingredients, is one of the brand’s leading figures. So is Scoops, the ice cream cone protagonist in the couple’s latest book, “Sweet Success,” who learns the importance of finishing projects once they’re started.
“This is a lesson that you need to learn when you’re four and also when you’re 35,” said Reed, who explained the idea for “Sweet Success” came from her own struggles balancing multiple projects at once, and from her niece, who was easily distracted during a family card game.
“When people dive into children’s literature, they see that so many of the themes are universal (for kids and adults),” Reed added.
Now, writing, illustrating, photographing, and constructing clay characters is Reed’s full-time job. Last year, Netflix tapped Cuddles and Rage to make a teaser for season two of the hit show “Stranger Things” (hence the aforementioned splattering of strawberry jam — you can watch it on Instagram). The Reeds have also partnered with the National Building Museum and Awesome Con on specialty projects.
“Sweet Success” is available wherever books are sold, and you can check out the Reeds’ other work on the Cuddles and Rage website.