There are some interesting characters living in Laura and Leo Espinosa’s basement. There’s Tako the artsy octopus, Makuro the hyper-spiritual tuna, and Wasabi, who is, well, an anthropomorphic dollop of wasabi mustard. They’re three-fifths of the “Sushi Pack,” a team of bite-sized superheroes charged with keeping the world safe from the evil Legion of Low Tide.
There are some interesting characters living in Laura and Leo Espinosa’s basement.
There’s Tako the artsy octopus, Makuro the hyper-spiritual tuna, and Wasabi, who is, well, an anthropomorphic dollop of wasabi mustard.
They’re three-fifths of the “Sushi Pack,” a team of bite-sized superheroes charged with keeping the world safe from the evil Legion of Low Tide.
They’re also the brainchildren of Wright Street residents Leo and Laura Espinosa, a husband-and-wife team of graphic designers who run their office — Studio Espinosa — out of their basement. Ten years ago, both Laura and Leo were toiling away in the corporate sector. Now, they’re the creators of a popular CBS Saturday morning cartoon, ready to take on the children’s literary sphere. And it all started with a doodle on a napkin.
“[Leo] was sitting in a restaurant, waiting for his food to come, and doodling on a napkin,” said Laura, recalling the day Leo first dreamt up the characters that would eventually become “Sushi Pack.”
“They wanted to take the menu away from me, and I kept trying to tell them I was using it,” Leo said. “I was using it to get ideas for the characters, like a fat tuna. It makes for a more interesting character.”
With the cartoon picking up steam on CBS, the Espinosas have turned their attention to a new pair of snuggly critters named Otis and Rae, set to hit bookstores in April. In their first adventure, the duo — based loosely on their real-life son Ben and a friend of his — encounter the Grumbling Splunk, which was named for the skunk that used to frequent the couple’s garbage cans.
“I was reminding Leo one night of the skunk that used to get into our garbage, and I tried to say ‘grumpy old skunk,’” Laura said. “It came out as ‘grumbling splunk.’ We fell on the floor laughing, and Leo said, ‘That’s it, we’re writing this story, and we’re using the grumbling splunk.”
Laura and Leo met, as so many artists do, in New York in 1992. Leo, born and educated in Columbia, was working in advertising as an art director for BBDO and Leo Burnett. Laura — a Newton native and Tufts grad — had also studied graphic design and wound up in advertising as a creative director at Saatchi and Saatchi. Over the years, Leo honed his character development skills, moonlighting as a comic book artist, while Laura mastered the concepts of licensing and branding. By the time they partnered together to form Studio Espinosa in 2004, they were ready to unchain their small flock of animated characters, from the cuddly and cute to the edgy and abstract.
“I realized that there were a ton of ideas in my head and in the computer, and all of these illustrations that could be applied to products and character designs,” Leo said.
The Espinosas’ characters didn’t sit on the shelf long. At a licensing convention in 2004, two major corporations told the couple they were interested in optioning their ideas.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Laura said. “We had never been there. We developed a number of characters, put them up on a wall, and that first year, we met with American Greetings and Coca-Cola.”
Coca-Cola was interested in a character called “Harmony,” described as an “Eastern-style goddess,” which would eventually become the central figure in the soda giant’s Espinosa line of merchandise.
“They wanted an artist to design a character for teenage girls,” Leo said.
“We wanted something more than just a Coca-Cola product, we wanted something that could be inspiring,” Laura added.
American Greetings had its eye on a different set of characters: the “Sushi Pack.” At the time, Laura explained, American Greetings was getting ready to make a push into children’s programming, and eventually optioned the couple’s culinary crime-fighters to be a cornerstone of its Saturday morning lineup.
“Initially, we thought we were developing characters for a comic book,” Laura said. “It’s an interesting process to see an idea of yours go through, where it’s just the beginning of the ball rolling.”
For more information about the Espinosas and Studio Espinosa, visit their Web site at www.studioespinosa.com.