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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Interviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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26. Rhyming Picture Book Month: An Interview with Bad Bye / Good Bye’s Deborah Underwood

BadByeGoodBye Rhyming Picture Book Month: An Interview with Bad Bye / Good Byes Deborah UnderwoodA real post that has nothing to do with videos on a Sunday?  Am I out of my friggin’ gourd?  Maybe so, but today is a special occasion.  You see, today, I am pleased to announce that I wrote something . . . on another person’s blog.  Admittedly I don’t usually do that sort of thing but when Angie Karcher met me at an SCBWI Regional Conference in Indiana last November (my very first keynote!) she convinced me that this was a cool idea.

You see Angie’s been running a Rhyming Picture Book Month series over at her blog and she has some pretty darn big names involved.  Just take a look at the calendar and you can see a lot of familiar faces, as well as some newbies.  When she asked me to contribute something I was initially stumped.  Then an idea hit.  I have read a LOT of picture books in 2014.  Why don’t I just sift through them and find the rhyming picture book I liked best?

Easier said than done.  For all their charms, good rhyming picture books are near impossible to do.  At their worst they sound like Dr. Seuss in a blender.  At their best they shine like bright jewels in a sea of morass.  Fortunately, there is one book out in 2014 that struck me as particularly smart and beautiful.  None other than Deborah Underwood’s Bad Bye / Good Bye.

So I don’t interview folks very often, but Deborah was a doll.  Head on over to Angie’s site where I sit Ms. Underwood down (in the proverbial sense) and ask her the ins and outs of how one goes about writing something that rhymes while telling a complete story at the same time.  Then, when you’re done with that, take a trip to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast where Jules interviews artist Jonathan Bean and shows some truly cool behind-the-scenes sketches of the book in question.  Fun stuff for a pretty Sunday.


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0 Comments on Rhyming Picture Book Month: An Interview with Bad Bye / Good Bye’s Deborah Underwood as of 4/6/2014 4:45:00 AM
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27. John Ferguson on Saltire: “He’s Big, He’s Blue, and He’s Ginger” [Interview]

Scotland has been missing some good superheroes recently, and especially giant hulking shirtless ginger ones. Luckily that’s all changed thanks to Saltire, a new character created by writer John Ferguson, who’ll be the star of a series of graphic novels over the next few years. A proud Scot, Saltire is a centuries-spanning hero who starts in Roman times and fights for Scottish pride from then onwards.

Drawn by Gary Welsh and Tone Julskjaer, the first graphic novel ‘Invasion’ is out now in the UK, and will be arriving in the US later this year. A best-selling title in Scotland, Saltire marks a creator-owned attempt to revitalise superheroes, and a follow up called Saltire: Annihilation is promised for the near future. I spoke to John recently about the series – and more specifically, about the character himself. Who is Saltire? Is the World ready for a Ginger superhero? Read on to find out!

Saltire Front Cover

Steve: What is the basic concept of Saltire? What is the book about?

John: Saltire is the immortal protector of Scotland and Invasion is the first in a graphic novel series set in a pseudo history of the country that takes the reader through some of the great legends and myths, and the most climatic moments of it’s past. He’s big, he’s blue and he’s ginger, with quite an iconic superhero visual.

The first book is set in ancient history and tells of the famous Roman Ninth Legion, who have had many books and films in the last few years, championing their heroism. This however, comes from the Scottish perspective of an invading Imperial force to a peaceful land. The book also includes the origin story of Saltire, “Inception”, which explains the background to his creation and his reason for being.

Steve: To that regard, the book starts in post-Roman times. How did you decide the timeframe for the series? Without spoiling anything, the character *is* immortal.

John: To be honest, the history of Scotland dictated the time frame. So many amazing events have happened in its past that we wanted Saltire to cover them all, so we had to make him immortal.

Steve: There’s been a slight misreporting of the character – you call him “the first Scottish hero” and so people have raced to the internet to write about pre-existing characters like Wolfsbane and Ghost Girl (no? just me on that one?) Yet what you’re actually saying is that the book goes back in time chronologically before any other Scottish hero existed – Saltire is the first superhero in Scottish recorded history. Is that about right? I just wanted to clear that up!

John: Actually there has never been a lead comic book superhero from Scotland or a series set in Scotland, only comic strips, or characters who are supplanted into America like Wolfsbane or Fantastic Four’s Caledonia. So Saltire is first in a few ways. We know comic book fans like a good debate and I’m sure it will carry on for a while yet.

Saltire Map

The World of Saltire

Steve: The book is full of Scottish mythology, both real and (I think!) invented. Scottish mythology is not a subject which has been explored in comics, particularly. Was that part of the appeal of writing the story: that you could delve into this dense mythology?

John: Actually none of the mythology is invented. It is all based in some sort of belief or legend from the Picts, Scots or Gaels, with just a little tweaking to fit it all together as a cohesive world. Telling the story of Scotland’s legends and folklore in a modern, dynamic way is a huge undertaking, but it’s hugely enjoyable and the first book has been selling out all over the country.

Steve: Were there any particular myths or folk stories that you knew you particularly wanted to touch upon? It would have been tempting, I imagine, to immediately throw in Nessie and The Stone of Destiny and all the most famous references, but you hold back here.

John: Absolutely. The tale of Scotland’s otherworld (the spirit world) and the folk tales of the Blue Stones are central to the Saltire series. The records of Scotland’s history were destroyed twice, so our own past quite often reads like mythology because it is fairly unknown. This is not the story of tartan, bagpipes and haggis.

Steve: So what defines Saltire as a character? What’s his personality, what’s his ambition – what is he looking to achieve?

John: In a word, Scottishness. He’s aggressive, protective, believes in liberty and freedom but he has his flaws and one major weakness, one that Scotland is famous for. His ambition and purpose is to see the people of Scotland live in freedom and peace. Saltire will hibernate for centuries in times of peace, meditating under the mountains, to be called upon through the ancient Stone of Destiny, when a threat to the nation is at hand.

Saltire Page 16

Steve: Am I right in thinking the design for the character was run as a competition, and that artists Gary Welsh and Tone Julskjaer won said competition? What was it about their art which appealed to your sense of the character?

John: The prestigious Duncan of Jordanstone Art College in Dundee produces many of Scotland’s finest artists and also champion’s comic books and animation, so running a competition through them seemed logical. Gary and Tone have a great mix of dynamics and artistry and they have really captured the feel of Scotland and its scenery. It is a very beautiful style and looks different to the traditional Marvel and DC superhero style.

Steve: Did you deliberately want to find emerging talent from Dundee University – which hosted the competition – to help design the concept of Saltire? To make him contemporary as well as rooted in Scottish history?

John: We want Saltire to become quite iconic and recognisable, particularly in Scotland but also into the rest of the English speaking world. We don’t want Saltire to be seen as an old fashioned sword and sandals comic. Our artists will always look to bring a contemporary feel to all the books.

Steve: How did you pick the name for the character – ‘Saltire’?

John: “Saltire” is the name of the national flag but its etymology is ambiguous so we like to think the flag was named after the character in our pseudo history.

Steve: What are your plans with the character following Saltire: Invasion? Will you be continuing on for more stories with him?

John: Yes, the next book Saltire Annihilation is our later this year and is a bit of an epic, set in the dark ages of Scotland and Saltire has to deal with the threat of the Anglo Saxons and the legendary Ban Sith. We have four or five books in development. The script of the third book is almost complete.

Saltire Page 19

Steve: How can people find copies of the book? Are there plans to make it available for a US audience?

John: The book is widely available in book shops and comic book shops in the UK, and is one of the bestselling graphic novels in Scotland. We are looking forward to getting Saltire Invasion released in the US later this year along with a digital version for those unable to pick up a hard copy.  Invasion and Annihilation may end up with consecutive releases for the international market. Currently the book is available online worldwide on Amazon and directly from Diamondsteel Comics.

Steve: Do you have anything else coming up? Where can we find you – and Saltire – online?

John: We’ll be releasing the first book in Scots and Gaelic language editions later in the year, which allows people in Scotland to read the book in all of the countries languages. A lot of people with Scottish ancestry, particularly in North America, are keen to read new material in these languages, so it’s creating a bit of a buzz.

You can find us on Twitter, on  Facebook, and at our website www.diamondsteelcomics.com


Many thanks to John for his time! And thanks also to Clare, for arranging the interview! Saltire Invasion is available in UK stores right now.

1 Comments on John Ferguson on Saltire: “He’s Big, He’s Blue, and He’s Ginger” [Interview], last added: 4/4/2014
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28. Interview with Alyssa Montgomery, Author of Echoes of the Heart

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Alyssa!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Creative, Manic, Organised, Loyal, Reliable

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Echoes of the Heart?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Absolutely! Media Tycoon Jake and Legal Secretary Amanda were torn apart by circumstance. Both married others and it seemed hopeless that they’d ever find their way back to each other. Now Jake is divorced and Amanda is widowed. Having never forgotten Amanda, or forgiven her for walking out on him, Jake wants her back to achieve closure on their relationship so he can finally move on with his life. Meanwhile, Amanda hasn’t been leading the easy life Jake imagines. She’s been through her own private hell.

There are many twists and turns, lots of secrets revealed throughout the book that hopefully will keep readers wondering and wanting to turn those pages! Jake has to learn to trust and be prepared to make himself vulnerable rather than being set for revenge. Amanda has to stand up for herself and believe she’s worthy of love. Ultimately she’s rewarded with a hero she can lean on when she has been carrying the weight of responsibility for another for so long, and they both overcome the odds and achieve their happy ending.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Gosh, that’s a hard question! Maybe the opening chapter at the cemetery because it’s charged with emotion and there are a lot of questions raised there that are answered throughout the book. There’s a small glimpse of Jake revealing his heroic potential as he stands up for Amanda even though he really doesn’t like her at that point and is seeking closure on their relationship. The scene also starts to reveal just how much stress Amanda’s been under and gives an insight into her personality in that she can feel a little empathy for a woman who would attack her publicly. And…despite the setting (a funeral), there’s the sexual tension and awareness that still thrums between them and promises to heat up as the story moves along.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Jake’s pain. He’s been devastated by what he believes is Amanda’s betrayal of his love. Carrying around that hurt has really stunted his ability to move forward and have a decent relationship. He’s bitter and twisted and hell-bent on revenge and he lashes out at her with some extremely unkind words and treatment. I went over and over it needing to strike a balance—hoping he wasn’t coming across as too nasty with his bitterness and that the reader would understand and forgive him because of the depth of his hurt. But I also wanted him to be cutting hoping that the reader would empathise with how Amanda was being gutted by his misconceptions. I want the reader to feel the pain they’re both feeling and to wonder how they’re ever going to heal all the scars of the past wounds they’ve suffered. I hope I’ve succeeded in bringing forward Jake’s heroic traits early enough so the reader knows he’s there unconditionally when Amanda desperately needs support and that the reader will end up loving him!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] My iPhone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Alyssa J Montgomery] A vase of red and yellow roses; a photo of my three fabulous children at the Matterhorn Mountain in Switzerland posing with two St. Bernard dogs, and a long “To Do” List.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Maria Sharapova in a grand finals match of a Grand Slam Tennis Tournament (preferably Wimbledon). I love tennis and I’d love to be able to walk onto a court and experience her amazing range of shots and skill. I’d also love to feel super fit for a day (not to mention enjoying being trim, taut and terrific)!!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] Supernatural Speed! The ability to physically zip around as if someone put me in fast motion. That would be awesome. Imagine how much I’d be able to achieve! The house might actually be spotless and the ‘To Do” List might end up just a blank piece of paper…although I can just imagine the dog watching me with a very perplexed expression and getting dizzy!

(I guess I’d just have to tone it down when I was driving or I might find myself broke from fines!)

If you have a number for a hotline that can grant this wish please forward immediately!!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] The entire Anne Gracie series featuring “The Stolen Princess”; “His Captive Lady” etc {Berkley Sensation}

Michelle Condor “The Most Expensive Lie of All” {Harlequin Mills & Boon}

Lynne Graham “The Dimitrakos Proposition” {Harlequin Mills & Boon}

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Alyssa J Montgomery] I’d love to hear from readers. My webpage is www.alyssajmontgomery.com My email is alyssaj.montgomeryromance@gmail.com and I’m also on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AlyssaJMontgomery and Twitter @Alyssaromance


Amanda Bennett is waiting in your outer office.

Jake froze as he read the note handed to him by his personal assistant. After Bennett’s funeral, he’d instructed her to notify him as soon as Amanda made contact. But he’d been expecting a telephone call, not a personal visit.

He was sitting in a meeting at a critical stage of negotiations that could seal the acquisition of a national television network into his media empire — common sense demanded he keep Amanda waiting. But his usual ironclad control deserted him and he couldn’t focus on the meeting any longer.

Amanda was here.

Each of his senses surged into an acute state of alert.

‘Jake, are you okay?’ his ex-wife asked him quietly. The other people in the room were too caught up in a troublesome clause to notice the exchange. Sophie was sitting in on this meeting as a representative of the Board of Directors. Upon their marriage, she’d taken her grandfather’s seat on the board.

He looked at her with regret. Sophie was a stunningly-attractive redhead. She was smart, sexy, talented, loyal and kind — everything a man could want in a woman. He wished with all his heart he could have felt the same degree of attraction to her as he did for Amanda.

‘Jake?’ Sophie pressed.

He passed her the message he’d received. The instant she read it, she turned troubled green eyes to his and shook her head. ‘You’re not going to see her are you?’

‘I asked her to come.’

It had been a month since Bennett’s funeral. In that time, he’d telephoned the Bennett household only to find the number was disconnected. He’d driven to the Bennett estate a couple of times but nobody answered when he buzzed for admission. Short of scaling the high, wrought-iron front gates and contending with the two Dobermans that stood growling at him from the other side, there was nothing he could do except bide his time and wait for Amanda to come to him.

He’d been sure she would. The passion burning between them was too hard to ignore. Hell! He’d tried and failed dismally. Amanda had been a thorn in his side — a lover he’d never been able to forget, or to forgive.

‘Jake, what in God’s name are you thinking?’ Sophie demanded quietly with a frown of concern.

‘Mr Formosa?’

All the men and women seated at the long conference table looked at him, waiting for him to respond to whatever it was that had been suggested. It was impossible for him to keep his mind on business proceedings. He had to go to Amanda.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll have to excuse me. An urgent matter requires my immediate attention.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘We’ll resume our negotiations after lunch.’

A peripheral part of his brain registered the surprised reactions of a few of his executives and a ripple of irritation from the representatives of the television corporation, but he didn’t care. Amanda was waiting for him. That was all that mattered. Finally she was here, ready to acknowledge their mutual attraction. Ready to become his lover again.

As he rose from his seat at the head of the table, urgency gripped him, making his heart pump harder. Barely able to contain his anticipation, it was hard to restrain himself from sprinting out of the conference room to meet her.

It was Sophie’s hand on his arm that made him pause.

‘No. Don’t do this to yourself,’ she pleaded in hushed tones as she waved away hovering employees who would have approached him.

‘I have to,’ Jake said.

She grabbed his hand, steered him into a small soundproof room off the conference area and closed the door. ‘Just what do you hope to achieve, Jake?’

About the book:


She betrayed him and left him to be with another. Now that she’s alone again, nothing is going to stop him from coming for her.

Australian media tycoon Jake Formosa does not believe in forgiving…or forgetting. So when he discovers that Amanda — the woman who once broke his heart — is newly widowed, he immediately enacts his revenge.  Jake is intent on making Amanda remember him, and making her suffer for what she did. He will leave her broken and alone, and finally have his closure. 

But Amanda is not the sweet girl that Jake remembers, and her life is far from perfect. As the web of lies surrounding her begins to unravel, Jake finds himself once again ensnared. Can he learn to overlook the past and risk his heart again?

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29. Jen Van Meter: The Powells.com Interview

Jen Van Meter writes comic books, which is quite possibly one of the most amazingly cool jobs that anyone can have. Her multi-volume hit series Hopeless Savages, from Oni Press, was nominated for an Eisner Award, otherwise known as the Comics Industry's equivalent of the Oscars. She also writes for Marvel, has a deeply hidden [...]

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30. Interview with R E Butler, Author of The Alpha’s Heart and Giveaway

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in five words or less.

[R E Butler] Creative, fun, silly, loving, honest.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Alpha’s Heart?

[R E Butler] This story is about the alpha of the Wilde Creek pack as he comes to terms with changes he’s made to his pack and reconnecting with a woman from his past.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[R E Butler] My favorite scene takes place between Acksel and Brynn when she’s decided to set the record straight with him.

“I realized what’s been bugging me. You never asked me to be your mate; you just talk about us as if we’re already a couple. I’m pretty sure that things don’t work that way in the forest, so I think you’re taking advantage of me being human and not knowing the score.”

“I am not taking advantage of you,” he huffed.

“Really? So when was it exactly that you asked me if I wanted to be your mate? Because I don’t remember you doing that.”

A low growl rumbled in his chest and she waved her hand and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. You know I’m right.”

Damn it. She was right. He’d made an assumption and it hadn’t occurred to him to actually ask her. Maybe because he’d been afraid of what her answer would be.

He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “Brynn, would you—”

“Hold it!” she shouted, putting both hands up. “Are you serious? You’re going to just ask me now? How easy do you think I am? Wait, wait. Don’t answer that. What I mean is that you have to earn me, buddy, and I don’t come cheap. You might have been able to get me into your bed six weeks ago without all the fuss, but that ship has sailed.”

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

[R E Butler] Expanding the cast of characters. In the first book in the series, the focus is mainly on the hero and heroine, and their families. In this book, I had to bring in other members of the pack. I know that these characters will eventually have their own stories as well, so it wasn’t as simple as just slapping names down and moving on, I had to think about each character and create their back stories.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[R E Butler] My cell phone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[R E Butler] Coffee mug, ear buds, notebook

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[R E Butler] Angelina Jolie. Not only is she beautiful, but…hello! Brad Pitt!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

[R E Butler] I’d want to be able to fly. I’d zip around to all the places in the world that are on my to-travel-someday list.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[R E Butler] Big Furry Deal by Celia Kyle, Mate’s Bite by Milly Taiden, and AgentI1: Tristan by Joni Hahn.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[R E Butler] My website: http://www.rebutlerautho.com

Twitter: @rebutlerauthor

Email: rebutlerauthor@gmail.com

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Thank you!


Wilde Creek Series

The Wilde Creek series was created in an attempt to write a darker, more intense werewolf series.  The Wilde Creek Pack is archaic in their beliefs that humans and wolves should not interact, but the alpha’s sister throws a wrench into their lives and changes things forever.  Follow the members of the pack as they navigate this new world, find their mates, and make Wilde Creek their home.


Mate of Her Heart

Wilde Creek, #1

Publication Date: December 9, 2013

Print Length: 76 pages


Werewolf Eveny Moore is coming into her first heat at the age of twenty-five. Bucking tradition, she chooses to go through her first heat alone instead of choosing an unmated male from her pack. There is only one male that she wants in her bed and her life: her best friend, Luke Elrich. But Luke is human and doesn’t understand the consequences of her heat-cycle, so she hides out in a safehouse, planning to ride out the cycle alone and then ask Luke to be her mate.

Luke has loved Eveny forever, but something is going on between them. He’s afraid he’s losing her forever, until she promises to talk to him after her heat-cycle is over. He overhears her brother, the pack alpha, ask another wolf to go to Eveny and take her through the heat-cycle. What her brother doesn’t know is that the male plans to invite some of his friends along. And Eveny is alone in a remote cabin, unprotected. Luke will do anything to keep her safe, even if it means going up against four wolves.

This story contains a meddling brother, a human fighting a pack of male wolves for the only woman he’s ever loved, a female who thought she had a good plan, and bone-melting, skin-tingling hot sex between a male and a female who have loved each other forever.

Available for $1.99 at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mate-Her-Heart-Wilde-Creek-ebook/dp/B00GT25GZC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1390831231

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mate-of-her-heart-re-butler/1117391127?ean=2940045411752

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mate-of-her-heart/id743066688?mt=11

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/376415

The Alpha’s Heart

Wilde Creek, #2

Publication date: April 10, 2014

Print Length: 130 pages


Alpha wolf Acksel wakes up one morning in the bed of the one human who was kind to him in school. Now, ten years later, Brynn Mara is snuggled up at his side, smelling like passion and sweet dreams. Even though Acksel has declared that his pack members can mate with humans from now on, he knows that any woman he takes as his mate will have a target on her back. Especially if she’s a fragile human. Deciding it’s better to cut things off than string her along when there’s no hope for a relationship, he leaves without a word and ignores her.
But it doesn’t matter if Acksel acknowledges her or not, because their night of passion has left a permanent reminder of what happens when one drunk wolf forgets protection. Angry, banished wolves from his pack discover Brynn’s secret and decide to use her against Acksel. His worst fears have come true, and the only woman who ever touched his heart is now suffering because of his mistake.
This book contains one ticked off, emotionally damaged alpha, the human woman who can tame him, and a sweet little surprise that no one expected.

Available April 10th:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alphas-Heart-Wilde-Creek-Two-ebook/dp/B00J2CJVI4/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395233550&sr=1-9&keywords=the+alpha%27s+heart

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Alphas-Heart-Wilde-Creek-ebook/dp/B00J2CJVI4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395252864&sr=8-1&keywords=the+alpha%27s+heart+re+butler

Barnes & Noble:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/no/book/the-alphas-heart-wilde-creek-2/id835140926?mt=11

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/415845


A Midwesterner by birth, R.E. spent much of her childhood rewriting her favorite books to include herself as the main character. Later, she graduated on to writing her own books after “retiring” from her day job as a secretary to become a stay-at-home mom.

When not playing with her kids, wrestling her dogs out the door, or cooking dinner for her family, you’ll find her typing furiously and growling obscenities to the characters on the screen.

Her best-selling series The Wolf’s Mate, Wiccan-Were-Bear, The Necklace Chronicles, Hyena Heat, Wilde Creek, and Ashland Pride are available now.

Connect with R.E.:

Website: www.rebutlerauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/R.E.ButlerAuthorPage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rebutlerauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5332306.R_E_Butler


Excerpt – R.E. Butler’s Alpha’s Heart

Standing slowly, she walked to the door.  “Who is it?” she called loudly.  Her mind raced.  Her dad and Mia both had keys to her place and wouldn’t be banging on the door in the middle of the night.

“Open the door.  I just want to see you.”

No.  Way.

There was no possible way on earth that Acksel Moore was banging on her door at this hour.  Or any hour, for that matter.

She flipped on the switch to turn on the porch light and drew in a deep breath.  The lock clicked as she turned it and pulled the door open.  Standing in the harsh light was the most gorgeous man she’d ever known.  The star of every dirty fantasy she’d ever had.

And he looked like someone had shot his puppy.

His gray eyes were red and he reeked of whiskey.  His strong jaw was covered with stubble as if he hadn’t shaved in days.  He leaned heavily on the door frame.

“I just want someone to care.”  His words were raw, his tone rough and full of despair.

Her heart cracked painfully as he slumped forward, too drunk to stay on his feet.  She managed to ease his fall to the floor so he didn’t get hurt.  Leaning over, she stroked his forehead.  “Oh Acksel, I always cared.”


GRAND PRIZE: $25 Gift Card (Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, or Barnes & Noble), eBooks of Wilde Creek One and Two

1st Place: Signed copy of Wilde Creek One (US only)

2nd Place: $10 Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, or B&N Gift Card (Intl)

3rd – 6th Place: eBooks of Wilde Creek One and Two (4 winners – Intl)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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31. Margaret Trauth on Decrypting Rita: “I’m in an Intensely Experimental Phase Right Now” [Interview]

Every so often a comic arrests you on the spot, and you’re drawn wholly into a new world, style, and story. It happens sometimes completely by chance, which is what happened when I first came across the webcomic Decrypting Rita, by Margaret Trauth. Starting out with a single world, the series quickly develops and shows us multiple simultaneous realities at once – as the series is told in a horizontally scrolling format, Trauth is able to really experiment with the way stories can be told, and the use of design, colour, pacing is utterly engrossing.

I was left with a distinct need to find out more about how the story came about, and how this comic is put together. And happily, she was more than happy to talk to me about her work, and how she processes it. This is one of the most interesting interviews that I’ve had the pleasure to do for The Beat, I would suggest – and I hope you find it as fascinating as I did!


Steve: Probably your best known work currently is the side-scrolling webcomic – and Kickstarter success – Decrypting Rita. This is one of those stories which works best the less you know about it perhaps, but how would you describe the general premise of the story?

Margaret: It’s about a robot lady who’s dragged outside of reality by her ex-boyfriend. She’s got to pull herself together across four parallel worlds before a hive-mind can take over the planet.

That is, assuming it hasn’t already.

Steve: What first stands out is obviously the nature of the comic, which is told in a side-scrolling landscape format. What made you decide to use that format for the story?

Margaret: The core formal consideration here is that I’m telling two or more stories in parallel on every single page. That was one of the initial things I wanted to explore with this comic. Initially I was going to have more timelines splitting off from each other, ala Rebecca Dart’s lovely little book “Rabbit Head”, but the story didn’t end up supporting that very well. My initial doodles that became the seed for Rita were based around traditional portrait pages!

The landscape format comes from the medium I’m doing it for. It’s presented first on the screen, and reading portrait comics on a screen is a real pain in the butt. You’re constantly scrolling up and down, you can never really appreciate the design of the whole page unless you have a huge monitor. My last project solved this dilemma with square pages, which I largely thought of in terms of the double-page spreads; for this one, I just think about everything that way. I print each page you see on-screen as a spread when I make the books; there’s a big gutter down the center where nothing important to the story can ever be placed.

As the comic went on, it started sprawling across the page boundaries. I think that’s an inevitable consequence of those two choices; it’s really hard to fit anything like a complete thought into half of one landscape page. So the panels started slipping across the edges to hint to the reader that the thought continued after a page turn.

Steve: Do you see digital comics less as a like-for-like equivalent of the standard 20-page print comic; and more of a place to experiment like this on page layouts, formats, and structure?

Margaret: No. You can do some wild things in the constraints of the standard page. Dave Sim did some really amazing things in ‘Cerebus’ (I got lucky; ‘Reads’ coincided with a time in my life when I rarely visited a comic shop, so I could enjoy his experiments without the lingering taint of the raging misogyny that he really laid bare in that story arc.). Phil Foglio’s done some gorgeously designy layouts that really served the story. Matt Howarth’s early work really broke comics down into its component parts and reassembled it into something strange and glorious.

There is more freedom to experiment once you shed the unnecessary constraint of a standard size with its roots in what was the cheapest thing that worked. My early comics loves included broadsheet-sized comics like Little Nemo and Krazy Kat (thanks to the wonderful Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics), and all the Asterix albums I could get my hands on; I’ve been quite impressed by Chris Ware’s modern broadsheet-sized work, despite my disinterest in stories about sad, lonely people living empty lives. I’ve seen comics done as related panels on cards, that the reader is invited to shuffle. You can do all kinds of crazy things on paper.

I don’t think working digitally is inherently experimental. There’s lots of people doing very traditional stuff; a lot of the lore of How To Succeed In Web Comics is from people working in the form of the daily comic strip, which is an incredibly conservative and limiting format. There’s just no room to do wild layouts there. There are certainly exciting new possibilities in the computer – infinite canvas, limited animation, hypertext, minigames, who knows what – but for every When I Am King or Homestuck, there’s plenty of successful web-based work that obeys much the same physical limits as anything DC or Marvel publishes.


There’s also lots of things left to do in physical paper. I’ve never seen anyone do what I’m doing with spot gloss in the printed version of Rita. I suddenly wonder if anyone’s ever done a comic with pop-up elements, for instance! That would be totally rad. Turn a wheel to see a hidden succession of panels! Follow a character through a teetering house, opening doors along with them! Filing that idea away for, um, 2017 or so, unless someone beats me to it. Please feel free to beat me to it, because I really want to see this but don’t want to have to learn paper engineering and do it myself.

Steve: As the comic scrolls left to right, the reader is responsible for investing momentum into your story, in a sense – they’re actively involved in continuing the narrative. When planning the comic, was this something you had in mind? 

Margaret: Yes and no. Not explicitly, but in some ways, this comic is my response to the chapter on time in Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”. The reader’s actively involved in continuing the narrative in every comic; giving you all these parallel timelines to read really makes it obvious. How do you read it? Do you try to read each page as a whole? Do you follow one timeline for a few pages, then jump back and follow another? Do you skip around in the book at utter random?

The whole story is laid out in space before you, already crystallized. It’s purely the observer that gives it any sequence of time. Every single comic book is like this. I’m just rubbing your face in it.

Understanding Comics p104

From Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud

It is possibly at this point that I should mention that parts of Rita come from sudden flashes of fully-formed imagery that I had while very, very stoned. I have spent time while stone cold sober trying to visualize reality from a point of view where time is merely an illusion created by our consciousness moving along the time dimension, and there’s definitely some of that going on in the comic.

I may have a hidden agenda in trying to get you to think this way – though at this point I think it’s mostly hidden from myself, as well. To borrow a line from the appendices of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, “This book has programmed the reader in ways that he or she will not understand for a period of months (or perhaps years).”

Steve: Momentum is typically described as one of the more difficult things to convey in art, and yet your action sequences seem incredibly kinetic. How do you lay out the pages? Do you work on paper first and then transfer to digital, or is this all done on a computer?

Margaret: It’s 99% digital. I’ll spend time doodling stuff in sketchbooks now and then, but it’s rarely more than just exploring the flow of the story. The real meat happens in Illustrator.

screenshot 1

Illustrator really comes at the task of drawing from a different place than most programs; one of the things I really rely on for Rita is the fact that it has a huge drawing surface to work on, of which the “canvas” is merely one small rectangle. I’ll put the previous page just to the left of the canvas, and my sketches and dialogue for one page will often turn into sketches and dialogue for several pages, sprawling off to the right. I’ll copy all of this stuff into the next page, move them to the left one page’s worth (I do that so often that I have a macro for it), finesse the arrangement to best fit on the page, and repeat until I’ve run out of sketch.

(Oh, and for people who’ve played with Illustrator and wonder how on earth I get all these fluid drawings out of what most folks find to be a very precise and pernickety program? Go watch this video, in which I explain my key settings and methods. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZE6e2UhQks)

A lot of the kineticness of the individual panels comes from my time in animation. A lot of animators fall in love with the “smear”, a kind of highly distorted drawing you’ll find when you start single-stepping a cartoon. It’s a stylized version of the blurs you see when single-stepping footage of fast real-world action; animators tend to start playing around and drawing, say, thirty eyes, twelve noses, and sixty-seven fingers in a single frame of a character crossing the screen. They can become these amazing pieces of abstract art, hidden beneath the surface. I loved drawing these, and I’ll take any excuse to stick one of these in my comics that I can.

More broadly, I kinda feel like my philosophy of drawing comics is that at least half of my action panels should be an inbetween rather than a key pose. Off-balance, in motion, distorted, fluid, alive.

Steve: The colouring as well comes across as a choice you made. This is a digitally coloured comic, and the colours separate – and conjoin – the various narratives which run alongside one another. How did you decide on the colouring palette for the series?

Margaret: A big part of beginning any large project, for me, is working out the limits of the colors; I’m often interested in using them as a channel for information and symbolism, rather than coloring things realistically. The number cards in my Tarot deck were done largely in black, white, and a color unique to the suit, with occasional mix-ins of the colors of the other suits. My unfinished comic “Five Glasses of Absinthe” has two (occasionally three) colors per spread mixed in whatever way I feel like, keyed completely off of the lead character’s emotional state.

Absinthe 1-25 Absinthe 1-27

For Rita, the initial image that popped into my head was what became the second page. A barely-defined Rita, climbing the side of a building. All in blues and whites. There was really no conscious thought to it; this was the fully-formed vision the Muses presented to me.

I decided to limit things to white and two colors per world, with no gradients, no transparency, and a minimum of hatching, in an attempt to keep things simple to draw. And then of course I promptly started doing some disgustingly complicated backgrounds now and then because I can’t keep things simple.

Steve: Thematically, was there an intentional purpose of your use for blue in the more sci-fi story, brown in the more [initially!] real-world story, and so on? 

Margaret: Not really. The blue was a requirement from wherever the story came from in the first place. The other colors were chosen to contrast with it. There’s a certain amount of “what feels right for this world” going on – the world where Rita’s a dragon is orange and brown because I wanted it to feel closer to the red/yellow normal world, and the Skylands are green because, well, that’s kind of the color of the lead of Five Glasses of Absinthe, which also takes place there. Not that I ever actually used representative colors in that story either.

Steve: The more I read of the comic, the more craft I notice in your structure and design. What’s your artistic background? Who are your influences?

Margaret: The short version is “Animation burn-out”. I spent some time in animation school, and ended up hanging around Spümcø for several years. In a non-drawing role, for a bunch of complicated reasons. Which is part of why I drifted out of the industry. As I mentioned elsewhere in this interview, a lot of the action drawings in Rita are me finding an excuse to do wild smear drawings. I still miss animation sometimes but I wouldn’t go back to it; it’s a colossal amount of work and it’s really hard to do a project that’s not full of compromises due to the sheer number of people and dollars involved.

Influences. Hmm. Let’s be alphabetical here:

M.C. Escher, Fleischer Studios, Phil Foglio, Edward Gorey, Walt Kelly, John K., Matt Howarth, George Herriman, Al Hirschfeld, Carol Lay, Winsor McCay, Mike Mignola, Ralph Steadman, WB cartoons.

Not all of these are influences I wear on my sleeve, but I think they’ve all been important in shaping my work. Rita, in particular, I’d say owes the most to Howarth, Mignola, and WB shorts out of this list. Matt’s work is full of parallel-universe shenanigans; “Savage Henry”, about a dimension-hopping music act, is my favorite of his various ongoing projects. I would love to see some major reprint efforts of his stuff someday.

Mignola, obviously I learnt a ton about chiaroscuro from his work, which I think really informs how I’m doing the three-color worlds of Rita. And the WB stuff, well, it’s just your basic solid cartooning with occasional crazy action, you know?

Steve: Where did the idea for this series in particular come from? How did you get the initial premise of the story together and then thread it together into a comic?

Margaret: Ah, this is a dense little knot of history.

The short version is “I got really stressed during a breakup, and hid in my studio smoking a lot of weed until I moved out on my own”. The long version…

I’d moved from Boston to Seattle with my boyfriends. We were living in a house with several of their friends. It turned out I really, really didn’t get along with these friends, and there was a nasty breakup when my boyfriends went back on their promise to move out with me if it didn’t work out – living with them turned out to be a thing he really, really needed, just as much as not living with them turned out to be a thing I really, really needed.

I’d been working on a comic with one of those boyfriends. “Five Glasses of Absinthe”, a story about a thief who steals something too valuable to sell, fucks up all her relationships, and has a lot of kinky sex. We’d done the first chapter, and had the rest of it in various stages of completion, from “loose outline” to “second draft script and full chapter thumbnails”. And loose ideas for two sequels set later on in the same world. I was getting ready to really get going on the second chapter of it when the breakup happened.

It was definitely time for me to be making comics, but there was no way in hell I was going to work on Absinthe any more. I mean, I held a lighter to the corner of the folder full of notes on chapter 2 of that at one point. Until I managed to move out, I spent a lot of time alone in my studio, getting very stoned, drawing stuff, and pondering what on earth I was going to work on. I wasn’t ready to work on “The Drowning City”, a dark angsty story I’ve been slowly piecing together since 1995. I didn’t think the other ideas I’ve had kicking around for a while felt worth developing into a full comic, not just then. So I just kind of let the back of my brain work on it.

I got the idea for doing a comic with several parallel worlds. I did some little doodles thinking about interesting things I could do with the panels in that. I liked it but didn’t have a story, so I put it away.

I bought a copy of the catalog from the 1965 MOMA exhibit “The Responsive Eye”, a major exhibition of Op art. I’ve always been fascinated with Op ever since reading Ed Emberly’s “The Wizard of Op” as a kid; I’ve done a few pieces using Op techniques over the years. I did a drawing inspired by Yaacov Agam’s pieces that change based on your viewpoint, called “A Moment Outside”.

Its imagery came, in part, from a brief vision of being surrounded by an infinite tessellation of color-cycling stylized eyes, of the kind that keep showing up in Rita. Did I mention that I spent a lot of my time hiding in my studio being very very stoned? For a while I was followed around now and then by networks of watching eyes whenever I’d close mine. I’m really not sure of the objective reality of those, but it’s certainly an experience that fed into what would become Rita. I don’t want to get all Alan Moore here, but I’ve dabbled in chaos magic just enough to be really unsure about what “reality” really is. Really.


I started attending Indigo Blue’s school of burlesque dancing and learning a lot about how to better inhabit my body. There is definitely something of what I learnt there in the way I pose Rita in the early action sequence. The blue may or may not be a coincidence.

And then I read a discussion on Sean Witzke’s blog about Steranko’s first issue of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (http://supervillain.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/seneca-vs-witzke-vs-steranko-vs-everything/). I took a healthy bong hit, and took a shower. As my mind wandered around, I had a sudden vision of what became the second page of Rita: a white, feminine silhouette – that I knew was a robot – climbing a building, rendered starkly in blues and whites. I finished my shower and went straight to the computer to draw this.

Then I typed “EDUCATING RITA” on it in a Saul Bass-looking font — I knew her name was Rita, I didn’t have to give this any thought, it was just there along with the image — and thought that sounded good until it was pointed out that there’s an Oscar-winning movie of the same name and maybe I should change it. I really don’t watch many movies. Maybe this was cryptomnesia, maybe not. Either way, I filled a page of my sketchbook with alternate titles; “Decrypting Rita” was the clear stand-out. It wasn’t until about halfway through the first book that I remembered that “Rita” is one of the several shortenings of my full name; I prefer the inexplicable short form of “Peggy” so it took a while.

I started drawing the next few pages and posting them on my blog. People liked them. So I started asking myself questions: who’s this woman? Who’s this voice giving her directions? What does she want? I really had no idea going in, but it feels like it came together surprisingly fast; it worked well with my vague ideas of doing a multiple-world comic, I pulled the eye images out of that riff on Agam and started using them for a mysterious Thing watching the goings-on from the space behind the panels. At times it really felt like it was writing itself. Tom was just going to be some hired assassin until he opened his mouth and revealed himself to be Rita’s crazy ex, then completely broke her reality for her because he thought she’d like it.

Ultimately, I think it may be some sort of exploration of various ideas of mystical transcendence and enlightenment. There’s a sequence I have planned for the end where I really hope to capture something of the slippery nature of the vast thoughts that can run through your mind when very high, and can’t be put into words afterwards. We’ll see if I can make it work in words, pictures, and the spaces in between them.

Somewhere in the first rush of pages I moved out of that bad situation to an apartment all by myself, alone in the University District.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I mostly patched things up in that relationship. The ex I wrote Absinthe with is now my “ex with benefits”; I see him regularly, and he’s had some very thoughtful questions to ask about Rita’s story as it evolves. I’ll probably be resuming work on our collaboration once I finish Rita, along with doing that long-simmering angstfest I mentioned not wanting to work on so soon after a nasty breakup. Happy endings!

Steve: Do you think of yourself as an experimental artist? Your design – especially once we reach the second volume – seems to really expand, and you seem to always be pushing forward.

Margaret: Part of it is that I had to teach you to read the comic in the first volume! I made myself hold back and introduce the whole parallel worlds thing slowly, to give readers time to make sense of it.

I’m definitely experimenting in this comic; I keep on trying to find new ways to weave these storylines together that suit what’s going on in them at the moment, and to suggest that all these parallel worlds are getting increasingly tangled with each other. I often refer to it as my PhD thesis on the nature of time in comics. I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an experimental artist so much as someone who’s in an intensely experimental phase right now; my next project is going to play some other games with the form, but I’m going to really relish only telling one story at a time once I finish Rita. I won’t say I’ll never do another parallel-stories comic like Rita, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be a long time before I decide to do it for another 300 or so pages!

I also kind of need to keep surprising the reader in this story. I want you to sympathize with Rita’s utter lack of a real idea of what’s going on, even though you have more information than any particular incarnation of Rita has. At the end of the story, well, you probably won’t have a definite idea of What Really Happened, but if I’ve done things right, you’ll have two or three very compelling theories of that. So I have to keep on shaking up the panels just enough to keep you on your toes, without throwing you completely out of the story.

I’m also of the mind that I don’t want to stagnate. Some of my idols really aren’t producing work any different from what they were making when I was first discovering them in the eighties; I can see a lot more of their consistent flaws than I could when I was a kid. I still love what they do, I still eagerly follow some of them, but my eyes are so much sharper now. Some of them have even lost a certain edge to their work. I’m hoping to avoid that as long as I can; I want to keep myself fresh by playing with different techniques and ideas. That next project is going to be much more painterly than Rita, which will force me to confront some of the holes I know I have in my skills.

Take your best work so far. Put it where you can see it regularly. Try to top it. When you do, repeat this. That’s the advice I give beginning artists, and I try to follow that myself. I don’t want to rest on my laurels. Maybe that makes me something you could describe as “experimental”? And maybe eventually I’ll come to a place where I feel I don’t need to push myself any further in any particular artistic direction. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not at that place yet, and I’ll be perfectly happy if I never get there.


Steve: The story speaks to the idea of an internal and external monologue, and of inhabiting different worlds. As a trans woman, do you see this as an element of autobiography, almost? How personal is the story to you?

Margaret: It’s… more about myself than I really intended it to be, I think.

Blue-world Rita is definitely my Mary Sue. I’m a transhumanist at heart, not just a transgendered person. I’d love to be able to separate my consciousness from the network of meat that it started running on and be able to pour it into different, stylish bodies, back it up, and play around with who and what I am. The whole story is quite possibly triggered by her difficult-yet-charismatic ex. There are lots of casual mentions of the kind of three-person romantic relationships I’ve had.

At times, I seriously wonder about the reality of the world I live in. It seems to be a lot more malleable than I thought it was as I was growing up. This story’s definitely about that slightly-paranoid PKD kind of place. The flashback to the conversation with the normal-world Kim was a way to talk to the part of myself that pretty much believes what she says there. A hundred pages later, it’s pretty obvious who won that argument – if life’s a game, I’ve decided to keep playing it and try to rack up the highest score I can. Assuming I’m not just a colorful NPC.

But I’ve taken deliberate steps to make it not About The Transition. Rita, no matter who she is, is happy in her skin. She’s very much the person she wants to be, whether that’s a robot, a skyfaring wizard, a normal human, or a dragon. Well, maybe normal-world Rita isn’t quite who she’d like to be; she and her friends are trapped in the same sorts of problems that most people I know are.

“The Drowning City”, my next project, now that’s gonna be a definite trans metaphor. That’s about a girl who’s slowly turning into a monster. That metaphor is quite obvious, and I’m willing to let it be there, what with the story also being set in my hometown of New Orleans and touching upon what it felt like to move back three days before Katrina. And some other bits of personal angst as well. And creepy rapey elves and magical graffiti and destined heroes and prophecies and magic swords and stuff. It’s not what you’d call autobiographical, but it sure is holding a funhouse mirror up to a lot of the things I’ve had to work through. I’m probably going to lose a lot of whatever audience I build up for Rita when I start doing that thing.

If Rita’s about the transition at all, it’s about what happens when the transition is over.

Steve: Do you feel that the American comic industry speaks to trans readers and creators? I was trying to think of trans characters in mainstream comics, and the only one came to mind at both DC and Marvel – and they were both created last year. 

Margaret: Oh god no, not at all. Not explicitly – there are certainly things that resonate by accident. I was a big fan of DC’s ‘Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld’ when I was growing up, for instance, in no small part because the basic setup of ‘kid gets magical gem that portals her to an alternate world where she’s a powerful and beautiful princess’ was a fantasy I could totally inhabit, despite a little voice in my head telling me that this was totally not supposed to be a fantasy that appealed to a boy. Adding a bit of cross-world gender-swapping wasn’t exactly a stretch when you were suspending your disbelief that far. Or now and then one of the kids in “Dial H For Hero” would get a cross-gender hero for one issue.

But really? Trans issues did not exist to most people until the past decade or two. It took me a good while to figure out what was going on and that I could do something about it; I really envy today’s trans kids, who can hear about it in their teens and see it as something they can actually do. Or even younger. I think as we start to see more trans creators ,more creators with trans acquaintances, and easier transitions, we’ll start seeing more trans characters, too. Ones whose transition is not really a subject for deep discussion or narrative interest, just something that casually comes up now and then.

I’ve only done an explicitly trans character once; the title character of “Five Glasses of Absinthe” is a woman with a penis. Nobody in the story cares about this in the least; she presents as female, gets female pronouns from everyone, and is generally considered hot and sexy (if you can look past the fact that she’s kinda crazy and incredibly self-centered). That’s mostly the world I inhabit, and I’d like it to be the world more people live in.

The only Marvel or DC comic I read right now is Hawkguy, so I haven’t seen how DC and Marvel have handled those token trans characters myself. I’ve vaguely heard good things about them; they certainly seem to be less sensationalistic and othering than, say, the transwoman in that one Sandman story, or Grant Morrison’s majgickqal drag queen persona showing up in The Invisibles!

(And tangentially? I’d kind of like to see not just trans minor characters or superheros in the cape books, but trans supervillains as well. For whom the transition is a side-note rather than the reason they’re a criminal. Which I’m quite sure will be hard to do without an uproar, even if the entire creative team involved is full of Pronoun Trouble.)

Steve: Decrypting Rita has now been successful twice on Kickstarter – for the first and second collected volumes. How has your experience on Kickstarter been? I note that your second Kickstarter hit a higher goal than the first, so is there a sense of progression there, for you?

Margaret: I LOVE KICKSTARTER. Kickstarter is the best thing to happen to small-press comics since whatever technologic/economical shift set off the B&W boom of the eighties. I basically use it as a pre-order system: this is how much it’ll cost me to do a print run of the book at a reasonable cost per book, if I can’t get that then OH WELL.

My first volume hit its very modest goal in two days, despite launching on a weekend (everyone says never do that), then managed to barely get close enough to my stretch goal that I shrugged and made next to no profits so I could have spot gloss throughout the story, which enhances it a lot. The second volume HAD to have a minimum goal around the final level of the first; it would seem really weird to have spot gloss be a crucial part of the story in the first part and not the second.

There’s a definite progression. I’m really hoping that my audience will have expanded enough by the Kickstarter for book 3 that I can pass 10k, mostly on just selling the book. That seems to be the point when a campaign takes on a life of its own just from the sheer inertia of all those people sharing it with their friends, and a few of those friends happening to be major connectors or tastemakers who can reach a huge new pool of potential buyers

I’m also kind of hoping that this progression eventually leads to someone being interested in taking over some chunk of pre-press, shipping, and promotion, whether it be a traditional publisher of books, or one of the new hybrids emerging out of online collectives. I had a taste of that when Lo Scarabeo dealt with printing my Tarot deck in China, translating the book into several European languages, getting it into stores all across Europe, and sending a big pile to Llewellyn here in the States.

There is no way I could get that kind of reach on my own without investing almost all of my time in that part of the business. I’d gladly trade 100% of the profits and 100% of the work for like 20% of the profits on a print run a couple orders of magnitude larger that just sort of happens without me doing much. But until then, I guess I’ll just keep trying to make each campaign build on the lessons I learnt the last time.

(I’ve also been playing with Patreon; after about a month of that, I’m pulling in a whole five bucks per page. Which is pretty good given that the extent of my promoting that has been a couple of tweets and a diffident link at the end of every fourth chapter. It is also turning out to be a surprisingly useful extra carrot to hold in front of myself sometimes – right now my id doesn’t care how little I get paid, it just cares that finishing a page means an external reward!)


Steve: What advice would you give for other creators looking to head onto Kickstarter? 

Margaret: You need one of two things: a serious track record, or a definite chunk of the final product.

Tim Schaefer could go onto Kickstarter, say “Hey guys, I wanna make a point and click adventure, wanna give me four hundred thousand bucks? I have no idea what it’ll be about, but I’m sure it’ll be cool!”, and make three million dollars. Tim Schaefer has also been making video games since 1988, with his name on some of the best-loved examples of the point-and-click adventure genre.

You are probably not Tim Schaefer. You will probably need to have a playable prototype of your game, a big chunk of your comic, half of your concept album, whatever, available online for people to check out and say “woo this is awesome I want to see more!” The link to that should be one of the first things in the text portion of your pitch.

Make a video. Tell people why your project is cool, tell people why you’re passionate about making it.

Don’t assume people know you, or your work. Sure, that’s your initial sales. And that can be a big part of them. But ultimately I think Kickstarter is great for growing your audience, as it asks all of your existing audience to tell their friends about this cool thing they pledged for and want to see happen. You need to sell your book or whatever to THOSE people, who are hearing about this thing you’re making for the very first time.

Reach out to new places. Part of why the second volume did better than the first was me getting a mention on Boing Boing, because I dropped them a note myself. Figure out the places where your audience goes looking for new amusements, and throw out a link to your thing – expect it to not get run, but be happy if it does. You should do this kind of thing now and then, not just before your campaign, but it’s not like I actually follow THAT advice myself.

The more work you do up front, the easier it is to set an achievable goal. I spent a year and a half drawing the first third of Rita; it was all there online when I launched the first Kickstarter. You could read it all for free and be done with it at that point. Or you could get it in a convenient single package that sits on your shelf, with some cool physical effects. (If you can make your thing a cool physical artifact, that’s a bonus.)

Either way, I wasn’t asking for enough money to support myself for a year while I drew the comic, with only chapter 1 on display; I just wanted $2.5k to completely pay for a modest print run. (About four times the number of people who pledged on the first campaign; I didn’t make much profit off that at all – but I had about 300 books sitting in my closet, and selling them has been a big chunk of why I attended ten cons in 2013, and broke even at almost all of them, including the one I had to travel all the way across the US to attend.)

If you’re gonna be making a print run, plan to print a lot more than just your KS backers.

I like to keep it simple. I’ve played with things beyond just the book, and they really don’t bring in enough money to be worth the extra hassle. The tiers for volume 3 are going to be “pdfs of all three books”, “volume 3 + pdfs”, “all three volumes” (limited by stock on hand), and a couple “volume 3 + drawing, some level of sponsorship, and I’ll throw in 1 and 2 if you want them as well”. No prints, no shirts, no stickers, no nothing. Because I have to draw that stuff, and I have to make it get printed, and I have to pack it and ship it, and ugh I just want it to all be over with and can I please get back to drawing the next comic instead.

There’s a nasty productivity sink there where I feel like I can’t work on drawing more comics until I’ve gotten the book out the door, and I really don’t want to work on the book because it’s boring, and suddenly it becomes drastically important that I complete this quest chain in Skyrim or something like that. Especially because I seem to end up printing in the dead of winter when I have no energy anyway.

If your basic deliverable is purely digital, then you probably need to hassle with some extra thing. I don’t have any experience with those so I can’t say for sure. I just know that I don’t EVER want to have to wrangle more than just the book ever again unless I have people to deal with that for me. Scale changes these things, if you’re planning a project that needs several people working for a while to make it happen then please ignore these last couple paragraphs and go talk to someone who’s done big multi-person projects with lots of add-ons and options.

Steve: Aside from the third volume of Decrypting Rita, which I believe is coming up later this year, what else are you working on at the moment? Where can people find you and your work online? 

Margaret: Let’s see. There’s a short story in the works for the back of Image’s ‘Prophet: Earth War’ about the power of massage, and a short piece about a demonic booty call for Heavy Metal. I’m also slowly getting things together for my next project after Rita, a dark urban fantasy called “The Drowning City”. That’s described more fully earlier on in this interview; the last piece of the puzzle came to me in winter of 2012. I’ll also be resuming work on “Five Glasses of Absinthe”, the sexy prog-rock fantasy I was about to get back to when my co-creator/scriptwriter/boyfriend became my ex-boyfriend, and I started Rita on my own instead. I will need to work on something silly while working on Drowning City.

The main place to find my stuff online is my web site, http://egypt.urnash.com. You’ll find Rita, the first chapter of Absinthe, and a bunch of standalone art, as well as my blog, and links to my presences on DeviantArt, FurAffinity, Live Journal, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

I guess that’s about it. Holy crap I sure can go on, especially given how stripped-down my comics are. Thanks for reading this far!

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32. Interview with Wendy Godding, Author of Time After Time

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Good morning, Wendy!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Wendy Godding] A daydreaming, shopaholic chocolate addict.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Time After Time?

[Wendy Godding] Time After Time is the story of a girl who can remember her past lives through her dreams.  But those past lives always ended in her murder by the same man before she turns eighteen and now that same man has moved into the house next door.

I’ve always loved the idea of  reincarnation and what would it would mean if you could actually remember your past lives.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Wendy Godding] My favourite scene is definitely towards the beginning of the book,  where Penelope is making her way up to Broadhurst Manor and she sees the stranger on the horse on the hill watching her.  When I was writing that scene I had chills.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

[Wendy Godding] Bringing the two time periods together and linking them so that there was a crossover between them.  I had to change and rewrite that many times. Time After Time as it is now is completely and utterly different from the original plotline.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Wendy Godding] Earrings.  I feel naked and underdressed without them.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Wendy Godding] Happiness – a cute journal I picked up from Kikki K, an owl pen holder full of glitter pens (I have a thing for owls and glitter pens) and a massive faux diamond paper weight that was a gift from a good friend.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Wendy Godding] That is really, really hard.  I’m not sure I’d actually want to BE  anyone else in particular. But I would love to walk the red carpet of the Oscars, not as anyone in particular but just to have that Cinderella moment and wear a stunning dress.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been transported back in time to 1806.  What modern convenience would you miss most, and what would you like best about your new time period?

[Wendy Godding] I would miss my espresso machine!  I don’t know how I’d start the day without it and I won’t drink regular or instant coffee, I’m a bit of a coffee snob.  And I would LOVE the manners of the new time period.  And the dresses.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Wendy Godding] I’ve been reading quite a bit of dystopian young adult lately and have just finished These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth as well as Veronica Rossi’s third book in her trilogy, Into the Still Blue.  All were wonderful!  I’ve just picked up Wayfarer by Lilli St Crow and am having a lot of trouble putting that down to get on with my real life.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Wendy Godding] Via my facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/wendygoddingauthor or very soon via my webpage http://wendygodding.com/


‘I think Mr Lockwood has taken a fancy to you,’ Georgina informed Penelope as soon as they were alone. They walked the gardens of the Manor, enjoying the last rose blooms of the season.

‘I’m sure you’re mistaken,’ Penelope replied, hoping just the opposite. ‘I think he is only being polite.’

‘I see how he looks at you. He doesn’t look like that at me — nor Annie — and he is just as polite with us. No, I do believe, my dear cousin, that you have your very first admirer.’

Penelope flushed with pleasure as she recalled Heath’s dark brown eyes and how he’d looked at her with such…She couldn’t find the right word. It wasn’t interest. It wasn’t admiration. It was something else entirely.

‘You like him too!’ cried Georgina, eyeing Penelope’s coloured cheeks.

‘How could I not? You, yourself pointed out how handsome he is. And agreeable. Many times.’

‘Yes, I suppose I did,’ Georgina frowned slightly before continuing, ‘but you know, I simply cannot find out anything about his family.’

‘It’s a delicate subject,’ Penelope observed. ‘Being an orphan must be difficult, and it’s amazing to hear he has no other kin to speak of, save a brother.’

‘Yes, I thought so, too. That’s why I have sent a note to my aunt in London to see what she can find out about Mr Heath Lockwood.’

‘Georgina, you didn’t!’

Georgina shrugged, looping her arm around Penelope’s. ‘Of course I did. Father would not want someone of questionable character staying in our home, I am sure. And as for Mr Lockwood, well, there is no point keeping secrets — if he has any. Everyone knows secrets always come out in the end.’

Something about the way Georgina said that made Penelope feel uneasy, her stomach performing a small flip in the pit of her belly. But she ignored it, spying a bright orange rose bloom and hurrying across the lawns to inhale its scent. ‘Look!’ she cried, ‘Isn’t it marvellous? I’ve not seen one this colour before.’

Georgina eyed it sadly. ‘That bush was Mama’s favourite. It hasn’t bloomed since she passed away. I think it has been in mourning, too.’

Penelope felt for her cousin. ‘You miss her still?’

‘Every day,’ Georgina nodded, ‘I miss her counsel and advice. She would know exactly what to do about Mr Lockwood.’

‘I’m not sure anything needs to be done.’

‘Oh Penelope, you are so naive!’ Georgina admonished. ‘Of course there is everything to be done. Mama would find out in an instant who he was, where he came from, who his parents were, and how much income he has.’


‘Mama would work him out well enough,’ Georgina continued confidently, ‘and advise whether he is good company to keep — or a good beau to pursue.’

‘I think it’s best to make a judgement when it’s not influenced by things such as money and family,’ Penelope said thoughtfully. ‘We should decide his character based on manners and countenance.’

Georgina sniffed. ‘Well, based on your theory we should all adore Mr Lockwood.’

‘Your father is a good, sensible man,’ Penelope continued, ignoring Georgina’s sarcasm, ‘and a good judge of character. He doesn’t seem to have any objections to Mr Lockwood, and neither does Harry.’

‘Harry would invite a tramp into the house if he thought it would upset me and give him a laugh,’ Georgina replied. ‘I’m not sure Harry is a good judge of character at all. But you are right about Father. He seems just as taken as the rest of us.’

‘Well, there you are,’ Penelope said, pleased and somewhat surprised by her eagerness to defend a man she barely knew. ‘And don’t forget you were singing his praises only a few days ago.’

‘I suppose I was. Still, I look forward to hearing from my aunt,’ Georgina added, ‘and I’m sure you are, too, my dear cousin. Despite your protests of good manners and countenance being enough!’

They had made their way back to the house when Penelope felt the slightest breeze rustle her skirts. She paused and turned, her arms traced with goosebumps.

‘What is it?’ Georgina asked.

Penelope’s eyes scanned the wide expanse of lawn: the gardens, the hedgerows, the rose garden and the late, splendorous orange bloom. Nothing. There was nothing to make her uneasy, nothing to suggest anyone was there.

Turning, she smiled at Georgina, pushing to the back of her mind the sudden chill, the inexplicable anxiety in her stomach, and the feeling they were being watched. ‘Nothing. It’s nothing at all.’

About the book:

She has died countless times before, and she is not going to let it happen again.

Abbie Harper dies just before her eighteenth birthday. It has happened before, more times than she can remember — and always at the hands of the same man. Her dreams are plagued with past lives, cut short.

But this latest dream feels different. Her past life as Penelope Broadhurst — an English pastor’s daughter in 1806 — keeps bleeding into her present life in ways both sinister and familiar. As Penelope meets and falls in love with the dashing Heath Lockwood, so too does Abbie meet the brothers Marcus and Rem Knight. One wants to love her; the other to kill her.

Time is running out for Penelope, but as Abbie mourns her inability to change the past, she chases the slim chance to save her future. To survive, she must solve the puzzle of an ancient love story…and Penelope just might be able to help.

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33. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Petr Horáček

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair may be over, but I’m still on an international kick here at 7-Imp. Today, I welcome author-illustrator Petr Horáček, born in Czechoslovakia and currently living in England.

Horáček has been making picture books for over ten years now, one reviewer even describing his vibrant and textured mixed-media paintings and collages as “strangely beautiful.” It may not be surprising to many to read below that Petr gets great inspiration from the work of Eric Carle. In fact, he describes having first seen Carle’s work as a life-changing moment, indeed. Both illustrators work in bright colors and craft stories that are gentle and reassuring to the youngest of readers. In fact, as you’ll also see below, Petr has many a board book under his belt, including some new ones coming from Candlewick this Fall — and he has passionate opinions about the role of board books in children’s lives.

It turns out that breakfast is Petr’s favourite meal of the day and always has been. “Both my parents worked,” he tells me. “They had already gone when our neighbour woke me up. The large lady pushed her head around the door, said ‘good morning,’ and disappeared. I had to wake up, get washed, and go to the kitchen, where on the table was hot cocoa and bread, spread with butter, honey, or jam. The radio was playing music approved by the communist government, and a voice coming from the radio was telling us that it was nearly 7 a.m. and, therefore, time to go to school.”

Petr’s favorite breakfast was always these spreads with hot cocoa and Czech rolls with butter. But “I rarely have cocoa and bread for breakfast these days,” he says. “I have muesli with bran flakes, cinnamon, and cold milk. It is my second choice. It is a healthier option.”

I think today we should have some cocoa and rolls, though. I’m thinking we should be decadent. I’ll set the table while getting the basics from Petr before our seven questions over breakfast. I thank him for visiting and sharing lots of art.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Petr: I consider myself both.

I studied fine art and, therefore, working on the pictures is what I like best. I also like making up stories, but getting it right and making it work so that I can make a nice picture book out of it is a different story.

I’m very lucky to work with my editors, Denise and Louise, at Walker Books. They make my life much easier.

Spread and cover from What is Black and White?

(Candlewick, 2001)

I occasionally illustrate for some other authors. I don’t do it very often, and I find it very challenging. In my books I always start with a picture. The text is the last thing. Working on somebody else’s text is working the other way around. Starting with the text — for me, it is definitely harder.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?





Jules: What is your usual medium?

Petr: Colours and texture are important in my work. The materials I use inspire me, and I’m always ready to try something new.

I use pencils, coloured pencils, wax crayons, watercolours, pastels, and acrylics.

I also use collage in my work. I paint and print patterns on papers, which I then cut and use in my illustrations.

Pencil and acrylic are probably my favourite materials.

Spreads and cover from Animal Opposites

(Candlewick, 2013)
(Click spreads to enlarge)

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Petr: I do board books, novelty and pop-up books, picture books — and I have also illustrated some early readers.

Board books are something I’m quite proud of. You hardly ever hear about authors who illustrate board books. In fact, you hardly see good board books in the shops. Board books are thought to be something too small to be taken seriously.

People think that board books are for babies; therefore, it doesn’t mater what you show them, as long there are some pictures. It’s rubbish, of course, and it makes me very cross when I hear that bookshops don’t want to keep board books, because they take too much space on the shelves and make little profit.

I take my board books seriously. A board book is often a child’s very first contact with visual art and literature.

Children may not have as many experiences as adults, but it doesn’t mean that they are stupid. They definitely deserve more than just a squeaky washable book with an image of a flower and dolphin. To this day, I have published about twelve board books and I’m working on more as we speak.

All of these books have some novelty aspects. Pages build up to a final picture as you turn the page. The pages have holes and cut-outs so that you can chase the mouse through the book and so on.

Spreads and cover from Run, Mouse, Run!

(Candlewick, 2005)
(Click second spread to enlarge)

I also like working on picture books. I like thinking and developing new ideas. The format of a picture book gives me the chance to paint more and play with the pictures.

I like to think that the difference between a board book and a picture book is similar to the difference between a poem and a novel. With board books, you have to think simple, trying to fit a story or message in to a very limited format. A picture book gives you more space.

Spreads and cover from Puffin Peter (Candlewick, 2013)

(Click spreads to enlarge)

Novelty books with holes and cut-outs are fun. You have to think about the book as a complete object, where every cut-out and detail has its place. So what you see through the hole of one page makes sense even when you turn the page and look back.

It takes time and lots of sketching. It’s almost a mathematical task sometimes. I enjoy it, which always surprises me, since at school I didn’t like maths and difficult logical exercises. Too much thinking always hurt me.

Spread and cover from Butterfly Butterfly

(Candlewick, 2007)
(Click spread to enlarge)

A very different experience for me is working on early reader chapter books. I don’t write these kinds of books, so I have to follow the text written by somebody else. My imagination is working but is usually preoccupied with too many details, and I find it quite hard to simplify the pictures. I like the challenge, but it can be hard work sometimes.

Spreads and cover from My Elephant

(Candlewick, 2009)
(Click spreads to enlarge)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Petr: I was born and lived most of my life in the capital city of the Czech Republic Prague. Prague is beautiful but also quite busy, as you can imagine.

Now I live in Worcester in the middle of England. It’s a rather pretty and quiet city. I like that. It’s easy to travel anywhere from here. I cycle to the city, and it takes no time to go to the countryside if you wish to do so.

Spread and cover from Look Out, Suzy Goose
(Candlewick, 2008)

(Click spread to enlarge)

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Petr: I started to write and illustrate books around the time when my first daughter was born. At the time, I was working as an art technician in a high school.

The mother of one of the students had written a book and was looking for somebody who could draw. I had no idea about the publishing world, and neither did she, but we worked together. The books were self-published and, therefore, never reached a shop. I realised that I loved working on these books, and it inspired me to write my own stories.

Spread and cover from Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star

(Candlewick, 2010)
(Click spread to enlarge)

Probably the final point was when I saw the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The book was given to my daughter, when she was born, by my friend. Coming from a different country, I didn’t know about the existence of this book. I didn’t know how well-known it was. I thought it was a true masterpiece, and I wished I could do something like this myself.

Over the next couple of years, I made some mock-ups and sent them to agents and publishers.

Spread and cover from The Fly
(Walker Books, 2010)

(Click spread to enlarge)

I must say I’m very grateful to my wife, who didn’t try to explain to me that I was naive to think that I could be published. She would have had a case, though. I didn’t have an agent, and my English was almost non-existent. Instead, she gave me all the support I needed. She helped me with my texts and letters to publishers.

I got a few nicely-written rejection letters, but one day I got a phone call from Random House. On the line was a very kind editor who liked my books. He gave me some tips and said that, once I re-worked some of my ideas, we could meet up for a chat. I was thrilled. The next day I received another phone call. This time it was Walker Books. They asked me to come to see them, and this is how I ended up with one of the best publishers of children’s books in England.

It was at just the right time, since I had already signed myself up for stacking shelves in a supermarket. Times were hard.

My first books were Strawberries Are Red and What is Black and White? I got my first award for these two books, “Newcomer 2001,” from Books for Children.

Spread and cover from Strawberries Are Red

(Candlewick, 2001)

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Petr: My website is at www.petrhoracek.co.uk. I do write a blog. It’s accessible from my website.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Petr: I do quite a few school visits every year. Those are well-organised for me by Speaking of Books.

I usually do one or two talks in the morning. I show lots of images and pictures, using a slide show. I talk about my work and about the books. I try to explain how the idea for a book develops, showing all the sketches and pictures which didn’t make it to the book. I try to inspire the children by showing them that is okay to mess up or not finish a story — and that we all have to go through the learning process. What is important is not to give up and start again, if necessary.

Some of Petr’s small canvases
(Click each to enlarge)

7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Petr: I don’t teach. I’m still in the learning process myself.

Occasionally, I do talks for students or a panel with other authors. It’s always inspiring for me, and I always leave with the feeling that I still have much to learn.

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Petr: I’m always thinking about new board books.

I have finished a picture book, which is going to be called The Mouse Who Ate the Moon [to be published by Candlewick in the Fall]. It’s a sequel to A New House for Mouse.

Recently, I headed out to the Czech Republic, where in the countryside by the woods I wrote down some new ideas.

Spreads and cover from A New House for Mouse

(Candlewick, 2004)
(Click spreads to enlarge)

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, our coffee is ready, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Petr again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


: I studied fine art, and things I see around inspire me. It could be an abstract painting in a gallery, a drawing done by a child, or an interesting photo in a magazine.

A Bit of Light

A Meeting Point

About a House

From the Garden

Funny Beetle

Home with Garden

In Layers

In the Clouds


Midnight Garden

Petr: “[These are] samples of my paintings. I originally studied fine art,
and I still paint when I can.”

(Click each one to enlarge)

I start sketching the story first on separate sheets of papers. I draw twelve windows that represent twelve double spreads. Then I try to fit the story into those frames. I often have to draw a few more, because I can’t fit the story in. I edit the length of the story later. I keep changing and editing the story. Each time, my doodle drawings get better and more precise.

As I’m sketching, I’m thinking about how to do the illustrations and what materials I’ll use. I also start to write the text under the thumbnails.

Petr: “[This is] a sample of a storyboard and of how I sketch a book.
This one is
The Fly.”
(Click to enlarge)

I choose one of the spreads I want to illustrate first. At this point, I get quite excited about the book. The way that I paint the first picture is usually how I will deal with the rest of the book.

I use collage in my artwork. It gives me a chance to loosen up. I like shifting the images on the paper and finding something “extra.” I do each picture at least twice, sometimes more. I choose the best one for the book.

I’m lucky to work with two very good editors. I always listen to what they have to say, and I’m quite happy to do as many changes as necessary.

Petr: “This [is from] a book, which I’ve started many times
but never finished.”

(Click sketch to enlarge)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: I work at home. I have my studio in the attic. I built it mostly myself. It’s not very big, so I have to be organized. I have a sky-light window, which faces south, and from my window I can see our garden and the gardens of our neighbours. I can also see the Malvern Hills, if I stretch a bit.

(Click to enlarge)

I work at the table, which has toughened glass on it. It’s rather practical and easy to keep clean. I have another table on my right side. It’s a table for the computer and printer. It’s always partly covered with things that belong to my children, such as bits of paper and printed homework that they don’t want anymore.

In front of me and behind the desk are steps downstairs and a wall with pictures and prints done by my favorite Czech illustrator, Jiří Šalamoun. There are also pictures and drawings done by my children. Under these pictures, you can see shelves in the length of the house, full of CDs.

Behind me is a hi-fi, speakers, and books. On the side where the window is are shelves and storage, where I keep papers and drawings.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: As a child, I never was a great reader. When I was little, nobody talked about dyslexia. I preferred to listen to stories on the radio — or somebody reading to me.

I liked books for the illustrations. I could look at a book with nice pictures for ages, but it still didn’t make me want to read it.

The books I grew up with were, of course, very different from books you know. I liked stories about a robber called Rumcajs. He was a nice guy who lived in the woods with his wife Manka and little boy Cipisek.

One character from Czech books people may know was Krteček, a little mole, whose friend was a little mouse. The author/illustrator was Zdeněk Miler.

We had lots of very talented people, such as Jiří Trnka. In fact he was a great puppet-maker, animator, illustrator, and writer.

I love very old, half-animated and half-acted films done by Karel Zeman.

Two of my favourite Czech illustrators are Jiří Šalamoun and, of course, Josef Lada.

Petr: “These are pages from my sketchbooks. I collage into the sketchbooks left-over drawings, bits of papers, drawings done by children, and so on. I look at them from time to time to get myself in a creative mood.”
(Click each to enlarge)

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Petr: This is a tricky question, since the creator of interesting art could be a quite boring person to talk to, but I would take a risk and love to witness a conversation between Josef Lada, Jiří Trnka, and Eric Carle. I know that you may not know Josef Lada and Jiri Trnka, but I’ve read their autobiographies, and—trust me—they were very interesting guys with very interesting things to say. And Eric Carle? Well he is one of the best, and I’m sure he would fit well.

(Click to enlarge)

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Petr: Oh, don’t get me started. I’ve been always working with music, and I listen to almost everything, except perhaps pop music and jazz.

My wife comes from a musical family, she is a very good cello and viola de gamba player, and she is responsible for my likes and taste in classical music. I like renaissance and baroque music. I also like Stravinsky and some of the classical contemporary music. From Stravinsky, it is just a step to Frank Zappa and from there … well, everything.

When I need to think or relax, I can listen to Monteverdi, Buxtehude, or Glenn Gould playing Bach. When I’m working on the pictures, it could be anything from Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Jimmy Hendrix

, Laurie Anderson, or My Bloody Valentine. When I’m preparing papers or printing, I need to work fast and then I play something more energetic. Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, or The Mars Volta would do the job.

In my CD player at the moment are Patti Smith and Nick Cave.

(Click to enlarge)

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Petr: I did mention my dyslexia. I can’t spell very well. In English or in Czech.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Petr: I have no problem answering any questions people ask me, but at the same time I don’t consider myself to be so interesting that I need to shout outloud everything about myself.

Also, next to my table I keep little sketchbooks. When I have enough of working or when I feel like it, I do a little drawing into them. I fill them up with cut-outs from papers and with little collages. I also make little pictures about what I just heard on the radio or what I remember from my dreams. I like these drawings, since they are a kind of diary. I look at them from time to time for inspiration.

(Click each to enlarge)

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Petr: I’ve seen this question before, and I found it very strange that I can’t really answer it. I don’t really have a favourite word. Maybe the word “right” is the one I like to use.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Petr: Same as above, but there is one phrase I truly hate: “What are you on about?” This drives me mad.

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Petr: A walk in the woods, being in the countryside, or a good art exhibition.

Jules: What turns you off?

Petr: A day by the computer, answering emails or writing explanations to something that should be obvious.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Petr: “Do prdele” in Czech. (It means “Bugger.”)

In English, “fuckity fuck!” (It means … oh, well …)

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Petr: I love sounds — the sound of a dog barking in distance, the sound of a train coming from far away, the sound of cockerel in the morning, a gentle knock on the door, the sound of an ironing board when somebody is ironing …

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Petr: Anything too noisy. Who likes the sound of a dentist’s drill?

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Petr: I would like to work with wood. Being a carpenter would be nice.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Petr: Accounting would be a nightmare.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Petr: “Hi, mate. Come in. It’s nice to meet you finally. I love what you do.”

I would say:

“Taa. I like your work, too.”

Him: “Coffee?”

Me: “Yes, please. Strong with milk. No sugar.”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images are used with permission of Petr Horáček.

The black-and-white photos of Petr were taken by Anthony Pearson.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

4 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Petr Horáček, last added: 4/4/2014
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34. Interview: Varsha Bajaj

If you liked the film What a Girl Wants, you should check out Varsha Bajaj's brand-new novel Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood. When 13-year-old Abby, raised by her single mother, learns that her father is a famous Bollywood actor, she travels across the world to meet him.

I got to know author Varsha Bajaj while working on her official website. Now this interview can let you all get to know her a little better!

You grew up in India, then moved to America when you were a graduate student. Had you ever visited America before?

I had not visited America before except through books and movies! American Universities were and still are highly respected in India.

What inspired the move?

I wanted to study abroad, see the world. I wanted more from life. I had been to England a few years before I came here and America felt like the next logical move.

Do you enjoy traveling?

I love traveling but I also love coming back home. In fact there is nothing like traveling to make you appreciate home.

Have any of your kids been bitten by the traveling bug?

We have traveled as a family since the kids were young and so yes, both kids want to travel. My son talks of doing a semester at sea, and my daughter talks of studying abroad too.

In your novel, Abby is very close to her mother and maternal grandparents. Were you close to your parents and grandparents when you were growing up? Which adult was your biggest confidant?

I was close to my parents and grandparents. My paternal grandparents lived with us when I was growing up. My grandfather first introduced me to Western literature. He would read Jane Austen aloud. I would say that my aunt was my biggest confidant. She seemed more accessible somehow.

What traits do you and Abby have in common?

Abby is optimistic and spunky. She absorbs new situations with enthusiasm. I like to think I do the same.

What would you like booksellers, teachers, and librarians to know about your book?

My book is heartfelt and addresses issues such as cultural identity and disparities in society without being preachy. I try to never forget what kind of book I would have liked to pick up when I was tween.

You've taught creative writing and spoken at schools. What do you enjoy most about working with young readers and writers?

They have such energy and joy. Sometimes as an adult you lose that magical optimism. Being around young people is a great way to stay young at heart.

What's the biggest challenge you face when writing a picture book?

I love picture books. The biggest challenge is to not overwrite, to leave room for the illustrator. It is not easy to make an emotional connection with your very young reader and the adult reading aloud with few words at your disposal.

How do you find your collaborators, your illustrators?

Once a manuscript is sold, the acquiring editor pairs you with an illustrator. The editor usually asks for your approval. I have been lucky that every time I have been blown away by the illustrator.

What's next for you? What other cool projects do you have on your plate?

I am working on my next middle grade novel. It’s too early to talk about the details. I also have a picture book manuscript that is out on submission. I have my fingers crossed. It’s exciting!

Good luck! What are your top ten favorite books?

Oh my! There are so many books and so little time. Don’t you agree? But some of my favorites are:

Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck
The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
You Read to me, I'll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman

I really could go on and on. I am a book addict and I don’t want to recover!

To learn more about Varsha Bajaj and her books, please visit http://www.varshabajaj.com

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35. The Great Scots Blog Tour and Giveaway!


This morning I have a fun post featuring recent releases with Highlanders.  I have an excerpt from Paula Quinn’s latest book, as well as an interview with Sue-Ellen Welfonder.  Please enjoy, and be sure to enter the awesome giveaway!



Edmund MacGregor will do anything to save Scotland from English rule-even kidnap Lady Amelia Bell for ransom. As the daughter of a duke and the chancellor’s betrothed, she’s the perfect pawn in this game. But from the moment he first lays eyes on his spirited captive, he can’t resist stealing a kiss.

Lady Amelia’s duty is to marry well, but that hasn’t stopped her from fantasizing about true love. So when a sexy Scot appears in her home, she’s beguiled. When he kidnaps her, she’s furious. Yet as Edmund introduces her to a world of passion beyond her wildest dreams, can she leave her family behind for this handsome Highlander? And will Edmund risk the only true home he’s ever known to capture the heart of this lovely lass?


What was left? Everything! Why was she saying all the wrong things today? Why were the two people she cared about forbidden? When he moved to turn away and leave her as Sarah had, she stopped him, taking hold of his arm. Forbidden had never stopped her before. She wouldn’t let it now.

He turned and she looked up into his despairing gaze. Did he care for her?

She reached her hand up to his face and watched his lids close as she touched him.

“There is something between us, Edmund. It draws me to ye even when every thought in my head is shouting to keep my distance fer our hearts’ sake. It tempts me to beg God that if this is a dream and I am still asleep at David’s feet in my uncle’s garden, never let me wake. I don’t want to contemplate

my life. I want to live it.”

She spread her thumb over his enticing mouth and inched closer toward it. “And all the pleasures of it. With ye. I know none of them and I want to learn with ye.”

He pulled her in the rest of the way and covered her mouth with a hot, hungry kiss. She answered, rising up on the tips of her toes and plunging her fingers into his locks, then pulling him down to answer her passion. She felt engulfed in flames. Her nipples burned, as did the crux between her legs. Her lungs, too, so she didn’t waste any breath speaking, except to say, “Take me inside.”




About Paula Quinn

New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn lives in New York with her three beautiful children, three over-protective chihuahuas, and a loud umbrella cockatoo. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven.  She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.

Learn more here:





[SEW] Thanks so much for hosting the tour today, Julie! It’s great to be here and you asked some clever questions. I love that, so thanks! (also loved seeing you’re a fellow animal lover)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you for taking the time to drop by and answer my questions!   Describe yourself in five words or less.

[SEW] Loves Scotland, animals, books, quiet.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[SEW] Water. (I live in most-times sunny and broiling southwest Florida)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now?

[SEW]  Scottish rocks, an empty tea cup, and a framed picture of my beloved Jack Russell terrier, Em. (he’s sharing my desk chair, sleeping soundly behind me, snoring his little dog snores)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[SEW] Anyone who lives in the wildest, most empty and remote corner of Scotland.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You are lost in the mountains after a hiking trip gone terribly awry. Who do you want to rescue you?

[SEW] Grim Mackintosh, hero of ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS, Scandalous Scots 0.5. Grim also had a strong role in my Highland Warriors trilogy and makes continuing appearances throughout my new Scandalous Scots series. Here’s his description…

Tough and battle-hardened, Grim is a fearsome warrior. He’s formidable with both a sword and a Norse war ax, which he prefers. He’s also fierce-looking, being a big, powerfully-muscled man with smoke-gray eyes, wild black hair and his beard rings. For all his ferocity in battle, Grim is great-hearted and a good man. He is loyal, a staunch friend, and he loves animals.

I’d trust my life to Grim and I’m convinced he exists out there somewhere, just the other side of a swirl of Highland mist.

Julie, thank you again for hosting the tour. And thanks to all readers looking in today. Your participation makes these tours so much fun. Good luck in the drawing! I hope you’ll enjoy TO LOVE A HIGHLANDER.

Visit me online at:


Newsletter: http://welfonder.com/mailing-list/

SE’s Book Info Only Blog: http://tartaninkafterhours.wordpress.com

FB: facebook.com/SueEllenWelfonderAuthor

Twitter: @se_welfonder

Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/sueellenwelfonder


As one of the bastards born to the Stirling court, Sorley the Hawk has never known his mother or father. It’s a burning quest he has devoted himself to uncovering at any cost. But as a roguish warrior who serves at the pleasure of the King, his prowess-both on the battlefield and in his bedchamber-is legendary. So when a flame-haired Highland lass sneaks into his quarters with a tantalizing proposition, he can’t resist taking her up on her offer .

Lady Mirabelle MacLaren will do anything to keep from marrying her odious suitor, even sully her own good name. And who better to despoil her than his sworn enemy, the one they call “Hawk?” As they set about the enjoyable task of ruining her reputation, Hawk and Mirabelle soon learn that rebellion never tasted so sweet.





About Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Sue-Ellen Welfonder is a Scotophile whose burning wish to make frequent trips to the land of her dreams led her to a twenty-year career with the airlines.
Now a full-time writer, she’s quick to admit that she much prefers wielding a pen to pushing tea and coffee. She makes annual visits to Scotland, insisting they are a necessity, as each trip gives her inspiration for new books.
Proud of her own Hebridean ancestry, she belongs to two clan societies: the MacFie Clan Society and the Clan MacAlpine Society. In addition to Scotland, her greatest passions are medieval history, the paranormal, and dogs. She never watches television, loves haggis, and writes at a 450-year-old desk that once stood in a Bavarian castle.
Sue-Ellen is married and currently resides with her husband and Jack Russell terrier in Florida.
Learn more here:


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36. Rachael Smith on House Party: “I’d Like to Answer this Question in the Form of a Play” [Interview]

The British comics scene is in one of the healthiest places it’s ever been right now, with new projects coming from all angles, and new creators breaking onto the scene. Among them is Rachael Smith, who came to attention last year after publishing a series of mini-comics including How We Write, and I Am Fire. But for her latest project she’s decided to up the ante and put out a graphic novel, called House Party.

To do so, she’s taken the project to Kickstarter, where she’s already hit her target goal. With the news that she’ll subsequently be publishing the book with Great Beast comics, I spoke to Rachael about the idea for the story, her creative process, life in Leicester, and what people can expect from the story, were they to pledge to the project.

And at one point she also writes a short play.



Steve: What’s the premise of House Party? What is the book about?

Rachael: House Party will be a 92 page graphic novel where three lost 20-somethings Michelle, Neil, and Siobhan are feeling disillusioned after being shoved into the real world since feeling like superstars at university. In an attempt to get their carefree composure and happiness back they throw a massive house party, just like they used to. Instead of reconnecting them with their younger selves, however, things go a little differently and the three of them must decide how to move forward in lives that none of them really asked for.

Steve: This is your first graphic novel, having previously worked on several shorter stories like “I am Fire” and “How We Write” How did you find the process of scripting House Party in comparison? Was it daunting to take on such a bigger project?

Rachael: Amazingly so! It was a story I really wanted to tell though, so I ploughed on in regardless. My process didn’t really change that much from when I was writing the shorter stories…but obviously it did take a lot longer, and I had to work a bit harder to make sure to keep the characters consistent throughout.

Steve: How did you get involved with Great Beast, who’ll be publishing the book?

Rachael: Well, Marc Ellerby and Adam Cadwell (co-founders of GB) had both been giving me advice over Twitter and Facebook on how to make it as a comic book illustrator. Once I got to the stage where I was able to quit my day job and start spending a lot more time on comics, I think they started to pay attention to my work bit more closely. Then when I tweeted the cover image for House Party, Marc immediately told me to keep them in the loop about it – which lead to me pitching it to them as a project when I had 5/6 pages done. The rest is HISTORY!


Steve: What’s been your experience so far of the British comics scene in general? The last year was essentially the year you ‘broke in’ – have you found it to be pretty welcoming as a community?

Rachael: Oh my goodness it’s been SO welcoming! More so than any other creative industry I’ve ever experienced. People seem a lot more eager to share information and help each other. Last year I asked so many creators for advice and they ALL answered me – I was expecting to hear from maybe 20% of them. Like, honestly, since writing that last sentence I’ve been sitting here for 5 minutes trying to think of a time when someone in the industry was mean to me and I can’t (and I’m pretty sensitive, I cry at adverts and stuff).

Steve: The various comics published by Great Beast have all been, to various extents, rooted in their specific setting – Blood Blokes, Chloe Noonan, and so forth. Where is House Party set, and how did you decide on that setting?

Rachael: House Party is set in Leicester, where I went to uni and now live. I decided on Leicester because the story is, in parts, very autobiographical – I did Fine Art at uni and then worked at a coffee place for a while – just like Siobhan. Also, my friends get a real kick out of being able to recognise the campus or other scenes – and I think it lends them a reality that I don’t think I’d be able to give the scenes if I was just making places up out of nothing.

Steve: House parties in general – they’re a bit rubbish, really, aren’t they? Especially when they’re at YOUR house in particular.

Rachael: Haha! Yes I suppose so – although I have been to some pretty good ones, and if they are at your house at least you don’t have to shell out for a taxi home? And often people bring too much booze with them and then leave it so you’ve got leftovers for a nice night in…I’m going to stop answering this question now ‘cause I think I’m coming off as WELL STINGY.


Steve: What made you want to make this your first graphic novel? What about the story or characters was it which you first got invested in to the extent that you settled on this to be your next big project?

Rachael: Hmm…well it was the first idea I’d had which I knew was going to be too big to fit into a mini comic. I had also been feeling pretty despondent and unappreciated at my full time admin job (which I was actually able to quit in December – yaaay!) and so a story about a group of ex-students feeling like they had nothing to put their creative energy into anymore was probably inevitable.

Steve: Where did you first start when you actually sat down to write the story? Is your main focus typically on character or on narrative?

Rachael: I started writing ‘House Party’ when I was still at my day job – I’d take my laptop in and sit with it on my lunchbreaks. My stories usually start with a situation, rather than a character. For I Am Fire the inspiration started when an ex-colleague told me how he’d been at work and they’d had a particularly awful fire drill.

House Party was inspired by a friend telling me an anecdote about a house party he’d been to himself that involved a baking tray. If I tell you any more than that I shall have to kill you.

Steve: Do you plan out a skeleton of a story, with a start and end, and then fill in the middle? Do you approach things as a stream of consciousness, of sorts, where you know the start and you see where things take you? What kind of approach do you take to scripting?

Rachael: When I’m at the writing stage, I will write 750 words a day until I’ve got a sort of a story. Sometimes I won’t be in the right frame of mind to write a scene or a piece of dialogue – so I’ll just pick a character and write 750 words about who they are – what do they want? What are they afraid of? How would they react if they were stuck in a lift? Etc. Or I’ll pick two characters and write 750 words about how they feel about one another.

Once I feel like I have enough stuff to construct a story I’ll print the whole thing out (sorry rainforest) and I will literally cut it up and build a rough script on my bedroom floor. All the character stuff I’ve written will become reference material. Then I’ll type it all up again and edit it and start adding proper dialogue and page breaks. I’ll constantly be looking at Dan Harmon’s story circle structures throughout this process to make sure I’m telling a story and not just writing stuff until stuff stops happening.

I’m a bit embarrassed I’ve just told you all that now. It sounds crazy. Is it a crazy way to write a story? Probably. If I’m gonna write anything bigger than House Party I’ll have to move into a bigger bedroom.

Steve: As writer/artist – and also colourist and letterer – do you find that when you’re writing the story, you’re writing with an eye to interesting visuals or specific images? Do you try and write pages which’ll challenge you as an artist to keep trying new stuff?

Rachael: I always put the story first. If I really feel like drawing a horse I won’t shoe-horn a horse into a scene in a bar. I hate drawing cars, but unfortunately they do exist in the world I’m writing about so they tend to crop up. So, yeah I don’t think ‘I’m really bad at drawing this thing so I’ll put it in a story’ – but I won’t try to avoid it if it does need to be there. Does that make sense? I kind of want to draw a horse now.


Steve: Who’re your influences as an artist? If I were to make a comparison, it’d likely be to people like John Allison?

Rachael: Kate Beaton was the first comic book artist I found online that actually made me want to give it a go myself. Her stuff was just so hilarious and different from anything I’d seen before. So she’s a massive influence. After that it was Bryan Lee O’Malley, Marc Ellerby, and John Allison who I looked up simply because people kept comparing me to them. And they’re all rad so that was awesome.

Steve: You’re involved in basically every aspect of the creative process for the book. What’ve been the most challenging parts of making House Party?

Rachael: I’d like to answer this question in the form of a play:


‘Trapping’ – a play by Rachael Smith, aged 29

Marc Ellerby: Thank you for these pages Rachael, they look great. Are you trapping them as you go?

Rachael Smith:

Marc Ellerby: Do you know what trapping is? Should I have asked you this before you’d finished the first two chapters of your book?

Rachael Smith: *sobbing forever*


Nb: Marc was actually amazingly supportive of my ignorance of trapping and had three pretty intense Skype conversations with me about it. Thanks Marc!

Steve: Now I need to go find out what ‘trapping’ is myself!

You’re remarkably prolific – last year you released I think three comics as well as being featured in Aces Weekly. What else do you have coming up, aside from House Party?

Rachael: At the moment I’m struggling to see a life beyond House Party as it has swallowed up so much of me since last September, but I would like to start writing something else soon. I’d quite like to go and see what Jenny has been up to since I Am Fire…but we shall see. I’ve also got Will Brooker’s script Towards the Moon, which is a beautiful story he wrote for me to illustrate. I’m only two pages in so I need to get on that.

Steve: Where can people find you online? Do you have any last words to encourage people to check out the Kickstarter, and perhaps pledge to it?



Twitter: @rachael_

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rachaelsmithillustration

Tumblr: askflimsy.tumblr.com/

Oh my gosh you guys, it’d be so awesome if you could take a look at the Kickstarter and pre-order House Party. There’s a well cheesy video on there with me, Marc, Adam, and a bunch of my friends AND my cat that you can laugh at. The project has been funded now, but we’re in the process of putting together some PRETTY EXCITING STRETCHGOALS to make this book actually amazingly beautiful and something that all your friends will be jealous of when you show it to them.

…too much? I don’t care, I’m shameless. Just click here already:


3 Comments on Rachael Smith on House Party: “I’d Like to Answer this Question in the Form of a Play” [Interview], last added: 3/28/2014
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37. Interview with Varsha Barjaj, Author of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Varsha!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Varsha Barjaj] I am hard working, idealistic, optimistic, loyal and driven!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood?

[Varsha Barjaj] What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star–in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Varsha Barjaj] My favorite scene is the one in which Abby and Shaan take a rickshaw ride to the beach in Mumbai. I loved writing the details of the rickshaw ride.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

[Varsha Barjaj] Striking the balance between the fun, playful aspect of the story and the deeper issues of cultural identity, belonging within a family and being in a city with vast disparities between the rich and the poor.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Varsha Barjaj] My comb

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Varsha Barjaj] A picture of my family, A Don Quixote card holder, and a sunshine yellow “I Love Mom” mug made by my daughter.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Varsha Barjaj] Michelle Obama. I love her charm, her look and her intelligence.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Varsha Barjaj] I just finished re-reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and it blew me away. I also read the ARC for School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott and was charmed.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Varsha Barjaj] Readers can connect through my website or on twitter (@varshabajaj

Thank you for this opportunity to “talk” to you and your readers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

About the book:

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star—in Bollywood! Now she’s traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India’s most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

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38. Interview with Katie Lane, Author of A Match Made in Texas and Giveaway


[Manga Maniac Café] Good morning, Katie!  Describe yourself in five words or less. 

[Katie Lane] A creative, wacky romantic.

[Manga Maniac Café] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without? 

[Katie Lane] My antibacterial gel.  I have a bottle in my car, in my purse, in my coat pocket, and in my husband’s truck.  What’s even weirder is that I don’t use it very often.  I just need to know that I have it in case some weird bacterial virus shows up and I need to wipe it out and save the world.   

[Manga Maniac Café] Name three things on your desk right now. 

[Katie Lane] A picture of my daughters.  A bag of Sunny Cranberry Trail Mix.  And dental floss because the pepita seeds in the mix can really get in-between your teeth and annoy the heck out of you.

[Manga Maniac Café] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be? 

[Katie Lane] Trade?  As in they would take over my life for a day? 

Martha Stewart.  My house needs to be cleaned, decorated, and organized in a major way, and my husband could use a home-cooked meal.  Meanwhile, I would spend the day writing in Martha’s garden, feeding her chickens, and eating all the great food in her refrigerator.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Katie Lane] I love holiday books so I enjoyed Susan Mallery’s Christmas on 4th Street and Debbie Macomber’s Starry Night.  Since the first of the year, I’ve been reading a daily devotional Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.

Thanks for hosting me, Manga Maniac Café!  It’s always a pleasure.

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!


Living with four over-protective brothers is enough to make a good girl go bad. But the day Brianne Cates hits the road for a taste of freedom, she gets more trouble than she bargained for when she’s arrested by a sexy sheriff in mirrored shades. Now doing a stint of community service, she’s not going to let a cowboy cop like Dusty Hicks mess with her newfound independence-even if he awakens every wicked fantasy she’s ever had.
In Bramble, Texas, Dusty is the law. That means no leniency for the gorgeous rebel whose highway antics almost got them both killed. The divorced lawman doesn’t need another rich, pampered princess, even if Brianne has the lushest body and sweetest smile in the whole darn state. But even as Brianne proves that she lives to walk on the wild side, Dusty begins to wonder if maybe he has what it takes to tame her.





About the Author

Katie Lane is the USA Today bestselling author of the Deep in the Heart of Texas and Hunk for the Holiday series.  Katie lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and when she isn’t writing, enjoys reading, going to the gym, golfing, traveling, or just snuggling next to her high school sweetheart and cairn terrier Roo.

Learn more about Katie Lane at:




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39. Steve Ellis on The Only Living Boy: “He’s a Classic Hero” [Interview]

A year or two ago I spoke to the creative team of The Only Living Boy about their project, a successful Kickstarter which led to a print comic coming out in two volumes subsequently. And now one half of that creative team – artist Steve Ellis, who works on the comic along with writer David Gallaher – comes to The Beat to talk about the newest move for their story. We don’t forget a project here at The Beat!

Launching today, The Only Living Boy will be published as a webcomic, with instalments coming out online for anyone to read. As the story progresses online, print editions of each issue will come out once enough story has been collected together. Considering Ellis is a veteran of digital comics by now – he’s worked at Zuda, had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has just announced a comics-related film through Amazon Studios – I wanted to find out more about the story of The Only Living Boy, and what was behind the decision to put the comic online. Read on!


Steve Morris: What is the general premise of The Only Living Boy? How did the project come about?

Steve Ellis: It’s about a runaway who finds himself in a patchwork fantasy world, filled with all manner of crazy alien- and other-types of creatures. He has to find his way and learn to survive in a place that resembles his own fractured identity. How do you like THEM apples? I wanted a project that has the life and adventure of the stories that made me excited about reading as a young person, but also a project that provides the depth of storytelling that engages me as an adult.

SM: You’ve worked with writer David Gallaher for a long time now. Did he come to you with the concept of the series, or was this a story you came up with and worked on together?

Steve: David came to me with an idea of riffing off an old Simon & Garfunkel song! But he left it there, and I pushed it to go further. The initial concept was very different and involved zombies. But aren’t there too many zombies? It was too nihilistic at the beginning, and we wanted something more adventurous and fun. So we worked on developing it into a wider, more expansive story.

SM: How does the collaborative process between you work? How do you go back and forth about ideas, characters, or designs?

Steve: On my end, it involves a lot of talking on the phone and jumping up and down. We get really excited about our ideas. Usually David will come with loose story framework that we’ll brainstorm. I usually waste a lot of his time changing things, haha. But he has a strong influence on my drawings too, so it’s very collaborative.


SM: When you set about designing the world of this series, what kind of influences or inspirations were you keeping in mind?

Steve: Oh wow. John Carter of Mars, Thundarr the Barbarian, Saturday morning adventure cartoons from when I was a kid–I hate to admit it, but I can’t do anything that’s not influenced by Star Wars on some level. Honestly, in a weird way, certain anime series and animated films had a big influence on it, like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds.

SM: When you take on a new project, to what extent do you consider various different line styles, sequencing ideas, inking and so on; to fit the tone of the series?

Steve: That’s a huge thing for me; for some people who follow my work, it might actually be confusing. I try to consider each project I work on to be a wholly different idea. Some projects I do with pencil and no ink and a painted color style, some I do with very rough inks (like High Moon). Only Living Boy has a cleaner color and ink style to emphasize the sense of adventure, where the mise en scéne of High Moon is dark, gritty horror.

Basically, each project is its own individual. Only Living Boy is obviously about youthful energy, and the design style is meant to resemble the clean, open aesthetic of animated films rather than traditional comic books.

SM: Does the fact that this is deliberately a young adult story have any effect on your approach to the art of the series? With a younger audience reading, do you change things up at all?

Steve: A lot of young adult books explore more “mature” themes and concepts. The Harry Potter series is an easy example, but both my eleven-year-old son and I enjoy that series on different levels, despite some of the more violent or frightening aspects. Only Living Boy won’t shy away from stronger themes as the character grows; young adults live in the same world as the rest of us, and face the same problems and fears. Erik’s answers might just be a bit more fantastic.

SM: How did you plan out the central design of your main character, Erik? What do you think motivates and drives him, what’s his personality?

Steve: What’s nice about Erik is that he’s kind of a cipher: he comes off as a fairly average kid, but there’s something darker underneath his skin. He’s running away from something at the start of the story, but he doesn’t remember what. Whatever it is, he’s haunted by it. So his design is going to grow and change as he grows and changes and assimilates his complex, shifting environment. He’s a classic hero in the midst of change! His design is very simple and becomes more complex, like a warrior collecting scars.


SM: The greater world itself is a mix of fighting pits, jungle – inhospitable domains. When building a world, how much world do you actually, well, build? Do you map things out, to give a sense of perspective, or plan aspects which never actually show up in the comic itself?

Steve: Ha! Actually, there’s a lot of backstory to all of my projects visually and narratively. For example, we have been developing an upcoming race to be revealed soon: the Myrmidonians. A great tragedy in their past has made them what they are. We don’t know the tragedy as an audience, but it permeates their personalities and society.

Their culture, hierarchy, and even architecture is very protectivist in nature to reflect their tragic history and their response–but it isn’t necessarily directly relevant to the story at hand. You get hints of it through their attitudes towards Erik and other creatures in the world of Chimerica, but, yeah, a lot of the work we do to develop these cultures goes unseen! David and I are both history buffs, and we put in a lot of forethought to give these things richness.

SM: You’re not a stranger to digital comics, having worked at Zuda and on several other digital projects. What was behind the decision to bring The Only Living Boy to webseries?

Steve: Underneath it all, we make art so it can be seen. Kickstarters are great, but you still have a limited audience! Maybe it’s naive of me, but I want to give this story to the world and feel the web is the best way to do that. Anyone can read it for free and easily pass it along to somebody else. How that works out for us, we have yet to see.

In a way, I think of being an artist as being a storyteller after the manner of an ancient tribe, and I want my tribe to be as big as possible. Sharing stories builds community, and having a webpresence for the book allows us to reach a broader, more diverse readership.

SM: How will the story now progress? Once the webcomic catches up to the print books, will you continue on, or release print first?

Steve: Right now, the plan is to release the story online and have print follow. But depending on how our relationship with different publishers and other media goes, the plan could change.

SM: What are your thoughts in general on the rise of webcomics and digital? You’ve seen this rise almost from the ground floor yourself – how do you think digital has changed comics?

Steve: I think it’s created a whole new audience for comics that’s very large, international, and transcendent of the traditional, direct marketplace idea of what a “sellable book” is. There are a lot of projects that wouldn’t get traction in a tradition direct market but that get traction beautifully on the web. From a creative standpoint, not being restricted by page count enables us to tell different types of stories. Print isn’t an obstruction to the creative processes.

I also think it’s an excellent way to develop an audience for print. While I generally consider digital media as a completely unique and enjoy the new types of comics found there, print still has a certain amount of prestige. The print object becomes a prestige format for the devoted fan, but you can only get devoted fans from having a large readership. If you have an immediate print price point, you’re already alienating an audience that doesn’t have the money to pay for anything outside of what they usually read.

If I knew I could read Superman online for free, I would probably read more Superman. If I read Superman online for free and loved it? I would probably buy a good-looking prestige collection. You see how they work together?

SM: What else do you have coming up? Where can people find you online?

Steve: We’ve got new things coming for High Moon, and I’m currently waiting on a reprint of The Silencers, which is a book I created with author Fred Van Lente. But if someone was hunting for updates, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as hypersteve!

But for something more direct, I’ll be doing an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, March 28, so people should definitely come say hello! You can see stuff from David Gallaher and I at Bottled Lightning, on The Only Living Boy site, and my personal stuff at http://steveellisart.com.

I also blog at http://hyperactiveart.blogspot.com, and I put a lot of sketches and instructional stuff there.

0 Comments on Steve Ellis on The Only Living Boy: “He’s a Classic Hero” [Interview] as of 3/26/2014 7:41:00 PM
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40. Interview with Danielle Jensen, Author of Stolen Songbird

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Danielle!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Danielle L Jensen] Quiet, smart, quirky, obstinate, and ambitious

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Stolen Songbird?

[Danielle L Jensen] Stolen Songbird is about a girl named Cécile who gets kidnapped by trolls to break the curse that has imprisoned them under a mountain for five centuries. At first all she cares about is escaping, but then she learns about a revolution that is forming to help the half-bloods who are enslaved by the full-blooded trolls. When she realizes she might be their only hope, she joins them and their secret leader, the enigmatic Prince Tristan. There is magic, strange creatures, intrigue, and kissing, so get yourself a copy if that’s your sort of thing ?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Danielle L Jensen] The setting actually came first, which might seem a bit strange until you read it and realize that the location is actually one of the antagonists. Basically I had dream about a city covered by rubble, and the rest came swimming out of my imagination. Forsaken Mountain is based on a real mountain in the Rockies, and once the snow melts, I am totally going to do a vlog on location.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Danielle L Jensen] I liked creating the world. It is quite fantastical and exists in a very precarious balance. I also really like a lot of my secondary characters, and I put a lot of effort into creating their personalities.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with this story?

[Danielle L Jensen] The political situation in Trollus is a very major plot arc in the novel, but at one point, it was one of the weaker elements. I went through a lot of revisions with my agent in order to make that aspect stronger and more important, and now it’s one of the parts I’m most proud of.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had a theme song, what would it be?

[Danielle L Jensen] My current theme song is Work B**ch by Britney Spears. Not so much because I want the things she lists in the song, although I wouldn’t turn them down, but because it reminds me that success is a function of effort. Also, it’s a catchy tune to workout to.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Danielle L Jensen] Chapstick. The second I realize I don’t have one my lips seem to turn to sandpaper. I’m sure it’s all mental.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Danielle L Jensen] My desk always looks disastrous. But I will name three things sitting on it that you might not expect.

2 troll dolls that I dug out of a box for “reasons”

A Tanda blue-light zit zapper that I’m pretty sure doesn’t work

Arm socks for cold Canadian nights (they are sitting under the calendar)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Danielle L Jensen] If I could be a guy for a day, I would. Is that weird? Mostly, I think it would give me a much greater perspective on life.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Danielle L Jensen] I recently read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, and Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. Next on my list is a book by one of my fellow 2014 debut authors: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Danielle L Jensen] I like to read, drink coffee, watch movies, and hang out with my friends.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Danielle L Jensen] Twitter: @dljensen_

Website: www.danielleljensen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Danielle-L-Jensen/259768120828794 

About the book:

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

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41. Solving Puzzles with Jonathan Bean

Early car studies
(Click to enlarge)

Just last week at Kirkus, I wrote about two new picture books that are about children and their families moving. After that posted, did you hear me smack my forehead way over here in Tennessee for having completely forgotten to include Deborah Underwood’s Bad Bye, Good Bye (Houghton Mifflin) in that post? Illustrated by Jonathan Bean, it’s a wonderful picture book with a spare, rhyming text about the range of emotions children can feel when moving away from friends to a new home in a new location. The book’s strength, writes the Kirkus review, “is in the emotional journey that’s expressed with a raw honesty.” It’s true, oh-so true. Look closely, if you get a copy of this in early April, when it’s released. The boy whose family is moving rages on the day they get in the car to drive away. Be still, my heart. (No fear. Things are looking up for him at the book’s close.)

One of the reasons I think I forgot it, though, is that I knew I’d be doing a post in the near future about, in particular, the illustrations for this book. And the illustrations are captivating. I mean, what Bean does with the depiction of light alone in this book … wow.

Regular readers of my blog know I always like it when Jonathan Bean visits to talk about how he creates the illustrations for his books. In this one … well, here’s what Jonathan had to say about it:

The illustrations are made in a somewhat old-fashioned way. Instead of pre-set CMYK colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), I picked Pantone colors from a book of paint swatches, similar to what you find in a home paint shop. This allowed me to create a particular mood, depending on the colors I chose. However, it also meant that it was my job to pre-separate the art (separate the illustrations into four colors, corresponding to the traditional CMYK.) This was a lot like solving a complicated puzzle, since each illustration required four paintings, a separate painting in black and white for each color. The rewards for the extra hassle are consistent and deeply saturated colors throughout the book — an effect CMYK can’t match.

Jonathan offered to talk a bit more about his process for creating these illustrations, but I think that covers it, and as I told him, I like to let the art do the talking anyway. That said, if anyone has further questions about his process, I think Jonathan would be happy to continue the conversation in the comments.

Enjoy the art and sketches below …

Early manuscript doodles
(Click each to enlarge)

Early media study
(Click to enlarge)

Early sketches
(Click each to enlarge)

The moving spread — black
(Click to enlarge)

Moving spread — blue
(Click to enlarge)

Moving spread — red
(Click to enlarge)

Moving spread — yellow
(Click to enlarge)

“Bad truck / Bad guy”
Moving spread — everything combined

(Click to enlarge)

The park spread
(Click each to enlarge)

The park spread — black
(Click to enlarge)

Park spread — blue
(Click to enlarge)

Park spread — red
(Click to enlarge)

Park spread — yellow
(Click to enlarge)

“New park / New street New bark”
Park spread — everything combined

(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

BAD BYE, GOOD BYE. Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Underwood. Illustrations © 2014 by Jonathan Bean. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. All images here reproduced by permission of Jonathan Bean.

10 Comments on Solving Puzzles with Jonathan Bean, last added: 3/27/2014
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42. Danica Novgorodoff on The Undertaking of Lily Chen: “I Had to Go On Quite a Journey” [Interview]

Out today from First Second is the latest project from writer/artist Danica Novgorodoff, whose previous works included Slow Storm and Late Freeze. A slight departure from her prior stories, The Undertaking of Lily Chen follows two young characters, Deshi Li and Lily Chen, as they head away from their separate families and out into the World.

A sweeping story which retains a keen focus on the two central characters, this is a book filled with ideas of tradition and family, independence and romance. Set in China, the book begins with Deshi, who leaves home when his older brother dies, tasked by his family to find a ‘ghost bride’ for his departed brother to head into the afterlife with. This is based on a long-standing Chinese tradition called a “ghost marriage” – and to find out more, I spoke to Danica about the story, the research that went into it, and her creative process as writer/artist.


Steve: What actually is a ghost marriage? What’s the history behind the tradition, and what is the ceremony itself?

Danica: A ghost marriage is when two dead people are married and then buried together, as partners for the afterlife. The concern is that a lonely ghost might haunt its family. A ghost marriage might also be performed for the normal reasons that arranged marriages are performed—to create bonds between families, or for dowries.

I believe the earliest recorded instance of a ghost marriage is the wedding of Cao Chong, the young son of a powerful warlord in 208AD, whom I mention in my book. Apparently the boy was a prodigy and his father’s favorite son, and so his father arranged for a lavish wedding when the boy fell ill and died at the age of 13.

Steve: How did you first become aware of the custom, and what was it about the concept which inspired you to this story?

Danica: I first learned about ghost marriages when I read an article about the custom in The Economist magazine. The article described a recent resurgence of ghost marriages in rural northern areas of China, where young men often die in mining accidents before they reach a marriageable age. Apparently, a black market for female corpses has emerged in order to provide brides for the weddings.

Two things immediately drew me to the concept as material for a graphic novel—first, I was immediately struck by the imagery of a windswept gravesite in the mountains, where one freshly-dug grave is marked by graverobbers with a white ribbon. Secondly, a man by the name of Song Tiantang was described as having turned from graverobbing to murder in order to sell women’s bodies, and he was caught when he dropped his cell phone in a grave he had dug up. The name Song is a homonym for the phrase “to send someone to heaven,” which I found poetic and terribly disturbing. This man was inspiration for one of the major characters in my book.


Steve: Many of your other books have been set in the US, and this feels like a change of direction for you as well as a change of location. Were you looking to write a different kind of story when the idea of Lily Chen first came to you?

Danica: I’m always looking for a change of pace, a different kind of story. I don’t like to do the same thing over and over—I think the practice of making comics can, at times, become a labor-intensive and even tedious artform to produce, and I always want to keep things fresh and exciting for myself, because I think it comes through in the finished material.

I wasn’t specifically looking for a new setting for my story, but I have always been interested in Chinese brush painting and Chinese customs (my dad was originally from Shanghai), so this project seemed like a good fit for me. It’s really a mash-up of Eastern and Western influences and sensibilities.

Steve: When you start a project like this, where do you tend to start? Do you find characters to serve a narrative, or a narrative which requires characters?

Danica: In this case the narrative and the characters developed simultaneously. Mr. Song, the grave robber, was the first character to come to me, along with the idea of a dead boy who needs a bride. The dead boy’s brother came to me next—a younger sibling who is sent on a mission to find that bride. He became the main character, and Mr. Song his friend and antagonist. The other main character, Lily Chen, came to me more slowly. She and the plot had to work together, and there was a lot of back and forth to make them fit.

Steve: There are two main characters here – Deshi Li, and Lily Chen. Did you develop them in tandem with one another?

Danica: No, Deshi was the more constant of the two. I knew that he would be a shunned younger brother, less-loved by his parents and a bit of a mess. I knew that he would be looking for a corpse bride, but would find instead a beautiful, living girl. But who she was, and what their relationship would be, took a long time to work out. I guess I had to go on quite a journey to find her, just as he did.


Steve: What do you think motivates each as the story first starts? What links them as characters, and what marks them apart?

Danica: They’re very different characters. Deshi is motivated by fear, and guilt, an overwhelming sense of duty to his family, and a longing for their respect and love. Lily is motivated by ambition, frustration at society’s limitations, and the desire to live a fuller life than the one she’s been offered in her backwater village. I think they’re both lonely—that’s a bit of a theme in my books. They both need a friend or ally. They’re both stuck with unreasonable expectations from family and society.


Steve: How do they bounce off one another? As they first meet, what is their relationship like?

Danica: Deshi is under a great burden, struggling to fulfil his promise to his parents. When they first meet, Lily asks—no, insists—that he take her with him on his journey, without understanding what his journey is. She just needs a ride out of town and he’s the only thing to pass through.

Neither understands the other’s quest, but after travelling together for a while, they get to know and like each other. Lily is outgoing and optimistic, whereas Deshi is taciturn and despairing. She helps open him up and come to terms with his suffering.

Steve: As writer/artist, how do you research a story like this? Do you take reference photos, read up on contemporary and traditional Chinese culture, that sort of thing?

Danica: Yes, all of those. I went to China for a month to do visual research for the project. I needed to find the right place to set the story. I watched a lot of films, and read folk tales and articles and academic papers related to my topic. I looked at a lot of ancient Chinese scroll paintings as well as contemporary comics.

Steve: Did you look to change your artistic style to reflect the Chinese setting? I know in prior interviews you’ve said that you explored the idea of using Chinese brush painting for the art?

Danica: Yes, I briefly studied Chinese brush painting. I wanted the backgrounds to recall that style of brush and ink. But I quickly learned that brush painting is incredibly difficult and takes decades to master. I settled for a style that “evokes” the Chinese landscape art, but is done on watercolor paper such that I could also do my own, more graphic style of figure drawing for the characters within each scene. It took a long time just to decide what materials to use to create the artwork—pen or brush, rice paper or watercolor paper, paint or ink.

Steve: This is one of the longest and most ambitious projects you’ve worked on to date. How did you plan out the narrative – do you tend to leave space to allow you to go on artistic tangents, or do you script a story tightly?

Danica: I tried to script the story tightly but it still changed a great deal as I worked on it over the course of several years. It takes so much time to draw a page that I hate to make major changes in the script once I’ve started drawing—it can be a big waste of time to end up throwing away pages of artwork because of a script change.

But I still had to look for ways to keep the process fresh for myself, so I ended up storyboarding (thumbnailing) each chapter right before I created the final art for that chapter, rather than storyboarding the entire book in advance. That’s why I had no idea that my 40-page script would turn into a 430-page book, until I got to the end and counted the pages.


Steve: Were you ever surprised at any point in the creative process by the directions the story went in?

Danica: I was surprised by the ending, because it changed many times, and was the last thing about the script to be finalized. It took me a long time to find the right ending. As I was writing, too, I was sometimes surprised by the people the main characters met along the way—different people would show up on their path and give Deshi and Lily the run-around. It was fun.

Steve: Ultimately, what do you feel is the core of the story? What would you like for people to take from it?

Danica: I think it’s a love story, at its core. Deshi and Lily find each other under strange circumstances and help each other escape from the impossible constraints that tradition and society have placed on them. Also, despite the macabre premise of the story and the dark mission that Deshi embarks upon, I hope people will enjoy and remember the humor in this book.

Steve: What else are you working on currently? Where can people find you online?

Danica: I’m working on many things—children’s books, a poetic-biographical-historical-illustrated book about volcanoes, an installation piece for a park in Brooklyn, and some ideas for a non-fiction graphic novel. My website is www.danicanovgorodoff.com. I’ve recently published my first illustrated poem in Orion Magazine and I did illustrations for this month’s book reviews for Slate Magazine. I’m a contributing editor on Killing the Buddha and I’m on twitter here, though I’m a little better at sending postcards.


The Undertaking of Lily Chen is out as of today from First Second. Many thanks to Danica for her time – and also to Gina Gagliano, for arranging the interview for us!

1 Comments on Danica Novgorodoff on The Undertaking of Lily Chen: “I Had to Go On Quite a Journey” [Interview], last added: 3/25/2014
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43. “They Won’t All Get Along”: Dan Slott and Nick Lowe on ‘SPIDER-VERSE’ [Press Call]

It’s been an age since I went onto a Marvel conference call – heck, it’s been an age since I did anything over here which wasn’t an interview. So today when Marvel set up a call with Dan Slott and Nick Lowe to discuss the next Spider-Man event storyline, I decided to nip across and see what was going on.


Spider-Verse will be a six issue storyline starting in issue #9 of Amazing Spider-Man – for Peter Parker is returning next month, as well as the Amazing Spider-Man series – and will see the villain Morlun return to take his attack on Peter Parker to multiple Universes.

Marvel are advertising this as a storyline where every Spider-Man to have ever appeared (as well as Spider-Girls and Spider-Womens) will appear once more, to try and take on Morlun. As you can see in the images here, all kinds of Spiders will show up. Spider-Ham is there, as is Miles Morales. Scarlet Spider, Venom and Spider-Man 2099. Morlun wants to kill every Spider, so every Spider is going to have to work together if they want to stop him.

With art from Olivier Coipel, the story will be teased in next month’s Amazing Spider-Man #1, but will also be previewed in Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day issue with a five-page story from Slott and artist Giuseppi Camuncoli – two pages of which you can see here.

When you get in on one of Marvel’s press calls, you’re willingly opening yourself up to “the full Nick Lowe experience”, which typically ends with you feeling like you’ve just eaten a whole bag of sherbet. Routinely pausing to scream the words SPIDER VERSE!! at the rest of the Spider-Man office, Lowe said that this was the first script he read upon moving to role of Spider-Man editor.


It was a fun call, and a lot of details came out during the press questions – the press being CBR, Newsarama, Crave, ComicVine, John Siuntres (the one man brand) and Nerdist. With Superior Spider-Man soon ending, and Peter Parker returning, the story was decided upon as it would hit on an interesting slant for the character: having just come back to life, Peter will now find himself face to face with the man who killed him during ‘The Other’. Morlun is a fairly recent villain, and Lowe said  “Spider-Man is never closer to defeat than when he is facing Morlun”.

When I asked about why they chose Morlun to be the villain who is tracking down and killing off every version of Spider-Man he could find, Slott answered:

So many questions haven’t been answered yet about Morlun. He always dies at the end of each story he appears in… but always comes back, as an unstoppable force. It takes the most desperate, flailing measures to take him down. Doc Ock gets beaten a million times, and we’ve seen him lose repeatedly. On the other hand, Morlun has a really good record! Morlun means business.

This is being pitched as a war story for Spider-Man, as he heads off to battle with an army by his side. And that army will include Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man:

We loved Spider-Men, and the characters certainly remember meeting…

Lowe said. The idea of this being a story with multiple Spider characters in it led many people to speculate on which characters would or wouldn’t show up. John Siuntres asked if the Spider-Man from the Broadway production “Turn Off The Dark” would appear, whilst Crave were told that the Spectacular Spider-Man from the cartoon series would not get to show up – the character is partly owned by Sony. The Ultimate Spider-Man of the cartoon will show up, though. As will Mayday Parker.

Slott said that he wanted to write a story where the Spider-Car would come to life – a sentient creature, in the style of Pixar’s Cars – and would be called “Peter Parked-Car”. Lowe said he wanted Stingray to show up.


Marvel’s press calls are very silly things. In the poster right at the top, from Gabrielle Del’Otto, five of the six covers for the series are displayed. The sixth one will follow on to the right, but is being held back for the time being. Also held back were details on the tie-in storylines for this event, which’ll be announced at C2E2 instead. There will be a series launching alongside this event, as well as several different miniseries.

I asked about working with Coipel, as I believe this is the first time Slott and Coipel have collaborated.

One of the things about Olivier – when he signs on – is he first and foremost has a love for characters. He wanted to make sure there was a good story for Peter Parker. What clinched it for him is that this is a story which is meaningful for Peter. It’s not just a battle filled with splash pages of all these characters leaping about – but there’s character, and a real arc for Peter Parker himself.

The scope of the story will be large, and head to other dimensions as Morlun goes on his killing spree. Slott first had the idea to write this when he worked on the video-game “Shattered Dimensions”, in which the player got to take control of four different Spider-Men at different points in the game. This is the natural progression from that, and obviously a bit bigger in scope.

The call wrapped after three questions each. Although for my final question, I simply asked “will Spider-Kitty be in this story?”

Spider-Kitty, of course, being the hero of a Skottie Young short story set during the previous Spider-Island event. After a pause, Slott said “I hadn’t thought of Spider-Kitty… but now we’ll have to write it in”.


So, y’know, you’re welcome.

Spider-Verse starts way into the future, in November, with Amazing Spider-Man #9. It’ll be teased in Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day issue, out in May.

5 Comments on “They Won’t All Get Along”: Dan Slott and Nick Lowe on ‘SPIDER-VERSE’ [Press Call], last added: 3/25/2014
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44. Interview with Jennifer McQuiston, Author of Moonlight on my Mind and Giveaway


[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Jennifer!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Jennifer McQuiston] Multi-tasking creative scientist. With migraines.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about your book?

[Jennifer McQuiston] I am really glad I don’t have to do this in five words or less! Moonlight on My Mind is the third and final book in my debut series, and I am describing it as a “marriage of inconvenience.”

Briefly, the book’s hero, Patrick Channing, marries the heroine, Julianne Baxter, to keep her from testifying against him. Eleven months ago, Julianne’s statement to the authorities wrongly implicated Patrick, the new Earl of Haversham, in his older brother’s death. When she appears out of nowhere in the wilds of Scotland, insisting that he return home to face a murder charge and save his family from ruin, Patrick wants nothing to do with her. But a clandestine wedding may be the only way to save her reputation—and his neck from the hangman’s noose.

Julianne Baxter has spread her share of gossip, but none she has regretted as much as the debacle with Channing. When Patrick suggests marriage as a solution to their problems, she has no objection to the match. More and more she’s convinced of Patrick’s innocence, though when it comes to igniting her passions, the man is all too guilty. And if they can only clear his name, a marriage made in haste could bring about the most extraordinary pleasure…

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jennifer McQuiston] In my first book, What Happens in Scotland, Patrick Channing is a secondary character who is hinted to be hiding in the isolated Scottish town of Moraig and being very tight-lipped about his recent past. In my second book, Summer is for Lovers, I introduce readers to a feisty Society miss named Julianne Baxter, who on the surface appears to be something of a manipulative “mean girl.” In Moonlight on My Mind, I bring these two questionable characters together and have them battle it out for a “happy ever after”.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Jennifer McQuiston] In Summer is for Lovers, Julianne is a bit of an enigma. She stirs up trouble, and serves as an antagonist toward the heroine. But I love the idea of taking a character who is superficially unlikable, finding a quality that will redeem them, and then showing them as heroic in their own right. At her core, Julianne is defined by loyalty. Crafting Julianne properly, in a way that you could appreciate both her attributes and her flaws, was the challenge I enjoyed most about this book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with this story?

[Jennifer McQuiston] The plot of this book involves a rather complicated murder mystery, and I would love to say that it gave me the most trouble (given that I had never written anything like that before).

But alas… it was actually the love story!

One of the problems was that I had created two characters at such odds with each other, I had to build some big bridges toward reconciliation. Another issue was that in the first draft, I was far too focused on wrapping the murder mystery up, and my poor beleaguered editor (the amazing Tessa Woodward) had to point out that while I had done a good job with the mystery, I needed to go back and show these characters falling more effectively in love.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had a theme song, what would it be?

[Jennifer McQuiston] I am not sure I would be the sort of person to have a theme song, but I have one for Julianne and Patrick. ?

Julianne’s is How to Be a Heartbreaker by Marina and the Diamonds (and I predict you will hit replay on this one, if you’re anything like me!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKNcuTWzTVw

Patrick’s is Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, by country artist Luke Bryan, because the words capture the pain of feeling a strong attraction for someone, even as you dislike the person you think they are. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5M_rT89kxY

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing you won’t leave home without.

[Jennifer McQuiston] Definitely my Nook. I snatch moments to read whenever and wherever I can find them!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Jennifer McQuiston] Tea Bags (4 of them, Lipton, because I drink hot tea when I’m writing).

Donna Thorland’s Advance Reader Copy of “The Rebel Pirate” (soooooo good, I am interviewing her for an upcoming blog post)

And around 15-20 post it notes and scattered memos (because I am a list maker, through and through).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Jennifer McQuiston] I would love to trade places with Angelina Jolie for a day. Preferably on a day she a) wins another Oscar, b) visits a refugee camp in her role with the United Nations, or c) has mind-blowing relations with Brad Pitt. I think she is a pretty amazing role model, even with the controversy and drama that so often follows her, but I think a single day would be *just* enough.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Jennifer McQuiston] I mentioned I had just read the ARC for The Rebel Pirate, by Donna Thorland, and I highly recommend it. It is sexy historical fiction, based in the Revolutionary War era.

I am currently reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and it is making me laugh out loud (probably because I work with about 10 scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who totally fit the profile of the main character).

And though I should probably be slapped for admitting such a delinquency (especially as I wrote a book about Scotland), I have recently been sucked into the Outlander series by Diana Galbaldon, and have a serious crush on one Jamie Frazier now. In fact, I am cyber-stalking Sam Heughan, the delicious Scot who is playing him in the upcoming STARZ series on YouTube. Yeee-um. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOR_8tLUMTo

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jennifer McQuiston] Anyone who’s followed my writing story knows that I promised my kids a pony with my first book deal, and delivered on that promise. But what they may not know is I am completely in love with our family’s horse myself… I would spend every free moment I have at the barn, riding with my kids, if I thought I could get away with it.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jennifer McQuiston] I love hearing from readers, and engage with followers on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jennifermcquistonauthor), Twitter (@jenmcqwrites), and via my website (www.jenmcquiston.com). Readers who want regular updates (and special sneak peeks for upcoming books) can subscribe to my newsletter, at http://eepurl.com/LgUkT.

About the book:

Moonlight on My Mind

By: Jennifer McQuiston

Releasing March 25th, 2014


To ruin a man’s life once takes a regrettable mistake.
To do so twice takes a woman like Julianne Baxter.
Eleven months ago, Julianne’s statement to the authorities wrongly implicated Patrick, the new Earl of Haversham, in his older brother’s death. The chit is as much trouble as her red hair suggests, and just as captivating. Now she has impetuously tracked him to the wilds of Scotland, insisting that he return home to face a murder charge and save his family from ruin. A clandestine wedding may be the only way to save her reputation—and his neck from the hangman’s noose.
Julianne has no objection to the match. More and more she’s convinced of Patrick’s innocence, though when it comes to igniting her passions, the man is all too guilty. And if they can only clear his name, a marriage made in haste could bring about the most extraordinary pleasure…

Buy Links

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DB369D0/ref=cm_sw_su_dp?tag=avonromancehc-20

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/moonlight-on-my-mind-jennifer-mcquiston/1115554699?cm_mmc=affiliates-_-linkshare-_-mdxm68jzjz8-_-10%3a1&ean=9780062231307&isbn=9780062231307&r=1

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/moonlight-on-my-mind/rG0xO8l9wEaOCyTpHUhSMw?MixID=rG0xO8l9wEaOCyTpHUhSMw&PageNumber=1&utm_source=linkshare_us&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=linkshare_us&siteID=MdXm68JZJz8-ZYw5pcAPK3AGICuNQU.geA

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/moonlight-on-my-mind/id660510976?mt=11

Link to Follow Tour: http://tastybooktours.blogspot.com/2014/01/now-booking-tasty-virtual-tour-for_9612.html

Author Info

A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, their two girls, and an odd assortment of pets, including the pony she promised her children if mommy ever got a book deal. Jennifer can be reached via her website at www.jenmcquiston.com or followed on Twitter @jenmcqwrites.

Author Links





(Paperback Copy of WHAT HAPPENS IN SCOTLAND & SUMMER IS FOR LOVERS, Pack of Mother Mae’s Chocolate Chip Scottish Shortbread Mix and Delightful Ceramic Shortbread Pan)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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45. Stan Lee talks to Playboy about everything—but is it the truth?

[Stan Lee answers the greatest question of all: who would win, Thor or the Hulk in this shot from the Wizard World FB page.]

Playboy has a long interview with Stan Lee here (link NSFW but not really as much as you’d think), Normally I’d call this an “autumnal” interview, but under the circumstances, it’s more…the lion in winter. Lee, perhaps realizing this is one of the few spots he has to dig in a little, sometimes avoids the kind of jokes and spin he uses in other interviews. And while his memory is always spotty (and any Lee interview includes may places where he takes the question and moves the answer to more familiar territory) his grasp on things is still pretty sharp all things considered. This is truly a “you need to read the whole thing” interview, as he discusses Kirby and Ditko at length, discussing the last time he saw Ditko (10 years ago) attending Kirby’s funeral 20 years ago and staying in the back (something I can attest to as I was there) but ultimately saying he did the best he could by them. And that’s his final word, I’m sure. But I’m sure this interview will eventually get some vetting. Mark Evanier has already noted that there is a LOT to dispute:

A lot of the history is not only at odds with my understanding but it’s different from things Stan has said in the past, both in print and in private conversations. I suspect an upcoming issue of Playboy will feature a letter from Steve Ditko saying much the same thing.

That said, there is still a lot of vintage Stan:

You have to understand that growing up during the Depression, I saw my parents struggling to pay the rent. My father was always unemployed, and when he did have a job, he was a dress cutter. Not very much money there. I was happy enough to get a nice paycheck and be treated well. I always got the highest rate; whatever Martin paid another writer, I got at least that much. It was a very good job. I was able to buy a house on Long Island. I never dreamed I should have $100 million or $250 million or whatever that crazy number is. All I know is I created a lot of characters and enjoyed the work I did.

And memories of WWII:

PLAYBOY: You went off to the Army in World War II and wrote military pamphlets with an elite group that included Frank Capra, William Saroyan and Theodor Geisel. What’s your standout memory?

LEE: That Dr. Seuss was slow. In the comic-book world, you live and die on your speed, but Geisel was slow. Most of them were slow. I was writing faster than all of them. One day the major who was in charge of our unit said, “Sergeant, will you work a little slower? You’re making the other guys look bad.” I wrote all these training films about things I had no knowledge of. I remember I did one film, The Nomenclature and Operation of the 16 mm IMO Camera Under Battle Conditions. What got the most attention, though, was something I wrote about venereal disease.

I think Lee has slowed down a bit over the last few months. Since his lawyer Arthur Lieberman died in 2012, we’ve seen a lot less “pacting”. I haven’t seen Stan showing up at quite as many comic-cons of late, although he’s confirmed for Dubai. Certainly the guy has earned a wee rest, and whatever the sins of his past, Stan’s late in life resurgence has allowed fans of all ages to connect with a living myth.

16 Comments on Stan Lee talks to Playboy about everything—but is it the truth?, last added: 3/21/2014
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46. Meet Penelope Clayton from The Duke’s Quandary by Callie Hutton

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Good morning, Penelope! Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Penelope Clayton] Shy


Passionate (about science)



[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share a typical day in your life?

[Penelope Clayton] I am a botanist, and love the field so much. Shortly after breakfast in the morning, I don my work clothes, which consists of men’s trousers (yes, I know—rather scandalous) my old boots and my father’s worn greatcoat. Then I do my research in the garden and woods behind my house. That takes up a great deal of my day. My housekeeper, Mrs. Porter is always fussing at me to put away my ‘digging in the dirt’ as she puts it, and get married. But I’m not interested in a husband. Which is why I’m not happy to have to go to London for a Season.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words come to mind when you think of the Duke of Manchester?

[Penelope Clayton] Frightening



[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you find most exasperating about him?

[Penelope Clayton] How little he thinks of my work as a scientist. Like most men, he thinks a woman, even if he admits she has a brain, shouldn’t use it. Unless it’s to perform duties on his behalf. Very frustrating.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could change one thing you’ve done in your life, what would it be?

[Penelope Clayton] I probably would have paid closer attention to my dance master when Father hired him years before I ended up dancing with Drake. What a muddle I made of things.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Penelope Clayton] My spectacles. They help me see, even though my aunt insists young ladies won’t get offers if they appear to be a bluestocking. Of course, I proved her wrong, though, didn’t I?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share your dreams for the future in five words or less.

[Penelope Clayton] Happy husband, happy wife, children.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

  About the book:

(affiliate link)


Author: Callie Hutton

EBook: 285 pages

Release Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1622664641

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

London 1814…
Drake, Duke of Manchester is searching the Marriage Mart for a perfect bride. He wants a woman who is poised, sophisticated, and worthy of the title Duchess. But most of all, he wants a woman who does not want the useless emotion of love.

Socially awkward Miss Penelope Clayton isn’t meant for marriage. A serious botanist, she has no desire to wed, so being forced by her guardian to participate in the Season to find a husband is torture. She’ll never fit in with the ton, especially if they discover she’s been pretending to be a man within the scientific community.

As Drake’s family makes over Penelope, turning her from naive bluestocking to enchanting debutante, he is put upon to introduce her to society and eligible bachelors. Despite dance lessons and new gowns, Penelope is the opposite of poised and sophisticated as she stumbles from one mishap to the next. Why then, does he find it so hard to resist her?

About Callie:

Callie Hutton always knew those stories she made up in her head would be written down one day. There was nowhere else for them to go. After years of writing articles and interviews for magazines and company newsletters, she decided to tackle writing a book. That was back in 2010. Now with twelve books under her belt, and seven more contracted, the relief at having somewhere to tell those stories is wonderful. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, adult children and three dogs.

Website /Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads

Giveaway Details:

1 necklace and a pair of earrings US Only (attach photo)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule

Week One:

3/10/2014- Books, Movies, Reviews. Oh my!- Review

3/10/2014- book’s blog- Guest Post

3/11/2014- Bitten by Romance- Review

3/11/2014- Dawn’s Reading Nook- Interview

3/12/2014- Margay Leah Justice – Review

3/12/2014- Ex Libris- Guest Post

3/13/2014- Dear Brighton- Review

3/13/2014- Rookie Romance- Interview

3/14/2014- Talking Books Blog- Review

3/14/2014- Living Between Books- Review

Week Two:

3/17/2014- Fade Into Fantasy- Interview

3/18/2014- Romantic Reads and Such- Interview

3/18/2014- Suzi Love- Review

3/19/2014- Toot’s Book Reviews- Guest Post

3/19/2014- Cocktails and Books- Interview

3/20/2014- The La La Land of Books- Review

3/20/2014- Becky on Books- Review

3/20/2014- Ramblings From This Chick- Guest Post

3/21/2014- First Page to the Last- Review

3/21/2014- Manga Maniac Café- Interview

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47. The Beat Podcasts! More To Come: Brian Stelfreeze, Justin Jordan & Rico Renzi interviewed


Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.

In this week’s interview special, Heidi goes to Mid-Georgia Con in Macon, Georgia and interviews comics creator Justin Jordan of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode and Shadowman, Rico Renzi – creative director of Heroes Con and successful comics colorist, and veteran comics artist Brian Stelfreeze, currently working on the new Boom comic Day Men on PW Comics World’s More To Come podcast.

Listen to this episode in streaming here, download it direct here and catch up with our previous podcasts on the PublishersWeekly website, or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes

1 Comments on The Beat Podcasts! More To Come: Brian Stelfreeze, Justin Jordan & Rico Renzi interviewed, last added: 3/21/2014
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48. “You Choose” Alison Sampson and Nathan Edmondson on “Genesis” [Interview]

Out this April comes a one-shot from Image Comics by the creative team of Nathan Edmondson, Alison Sampson and Jason Wordie. Called Genesis, this is a story is all about imagination and creation, and restriction, and limits. When given unfettered ability to shape and create the world in your own imagination, how far would you go and what would you do? And what if it all goes wrong?

Genesis spins wheels within wheels, and forms a tricky, unexpected and startling story as a result. Ahead of the release of the issue this April, I took the chance to talk to Sampson and Edmondson about, well, the genesis of their project. How did they plan the story together, and what can readers expect from the issue? Read on to get a look into their creative process, as well as at Sampson’s art from the issue.

This interview starts and ends with the pair together, but spins off so we first talk to Edmondson, and then to Sampson. I think it makes for a more interesting read than if everybody answers the same questions each time.


Steve: What is the general premise of Genesis? What is the story about?

Nathan: A preacher who wants to make a difference in the world finds himself with the ability to change everything about the world, but his will, he tragically learns, is not strong enough to protect the world from himself.

Alison: Genesis is the story of a man who finds he can create anything, and what happens next.

Steve: A lot of the story hinges on your main character’s imagination, and his ability to think and build and create – was it difficult to find an artist whom you trusted to visualise the imagery of the issue?

Nathan: I looked around a bit and talked to a few illustrators but the fire wasn’t really lit until I saw Alison’s work and realized what she could bring to the story with her background in architecture.  The story is different and radical and trippy and I wanted someone who could bring something equally as mind-bending to the illustration.

Steve: What about Alison’s work led you to pitch this project to her? What made her the right fit for Genesis, in your opinion?

Nathan: Much of the book deals with building the world and then twisting it–sometimes very literally.  Alison, as an architect, understands how the pieces of the world fit together and thus how they can be warped and torn apart — I thought that approach would add a level of believability and even horror to the story that would help anchor the reader through the LSD trip that follows after the opening pages.


Steve: How did you build up the story together? What was the collaborative process like?

Nathan: As is typically the case with my collaborators, I’m happy to have the artist just run with the script and play jazz and make something of it true to their own vision; Alison especially had in mind a specific layout and design approach on the pages which I could never have described in a script.

Steve: The narrative is essentially a stream of consciousness, I would say – it feels like, rather than having a strict start and end, you set up a premise and then followed it across whichever twists and turns came up. Was that the intention?

Nathan: In a sense; there is a three act structure here, but I’m happy in this story to leave certain questions asked but not directly answered, so that in a way the story beats will echo after the end of the book and the reader will be left to consider them.

Steve: You’ve written elements of fantasy before, but this feels like a different style of storytelling from you, from anything we’ve seen in your comics before. Do you think this might be the stepping stone for more experimental-styled work as you continue on in comics?

Nathan: My interests are diverse; there are lots of different sorts of stories to tell and while I’ve centered in a way around my spy-fi and military worlds recently, building and expanding that fan-base, it’s a thrill (and a welcome change of pace and headspace) to explore wild and new story universes.  I’ve got a lot of things coming, in many different genres.   I just hope my readers are as adventurous as I am.

Steve: Was there ever a temptation to stretch out the story and tell this as a miniseries rather than a one-shot? What was it about the one-and-done format which most appealed to you?

Nathan: At some point I had outlined it that way, yes.  Eventually the story revealed itself at this length, and that was the right way to go with it.


Steve: Alison, what attracted you to the project?

Alison: Nathan asked me to be part of this project, at the point where my architecture contract was just coming to an end. I’d done that for a long time, so to take on a new challenge seemed like a good idea. At the time, I’d just drawn one comic and had just started to write and draw another. I really missed designing by drawing.

It seemed like a good idea for someone of my level of comics experience to work with a writer, so my art would be challenged. I wouldn’t only draw what I could draw – I might have to draw anything, which turned out to be exactly the case. The ideas themselves seemed highly attractive – the kind of thing you’d find in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – and fun.

Steve: Do you have a particular approach to storytelling, do you think? As well as making comics, you’re also an architect – which I think is reflected in the comic, both in the central story and in your artistic style. 

Alison: I don’t know. What I draw comes from responding to the script and my trying to make something comprehensible, with enough space, on the page. I take an engineering approach. “it is what it needs to be”. It needs to look nice, of course. That’s the unwritten secret of architecture. And just because I respond to the script, doesn’t mean it is lengthy- this one, as far as I know, was quite concise. I try and work off the dialogue and make an interesting looking, telling page.

Steve: Who are your influences as an artist? In an interview with Jason Sacks, you brought up Emma Rios – which was the comparison I would have made myself.

Alison: My architecture work is what influences my work as an artist, and the work of painters like Robert Rauschenberg and narrative photographers, like Jeff Wall, and many others. I’ve come late to comics as a reader and I was drawing before that, so it’s probably fair to say it has not come from comics. I judge the art on the page like I’d judge anything else aesthetically, and if it doesn’t look OK, I alter it.

There is a lot of art I like, including Emma, and Nate Powell, Brandon Graham and Jock; but I’m not going to say it is an influence. Catalyst might be a better word. As influencing goes, I look to certain comic artists and writers for how they handle themselves and a sense of principles. Drawing isn’t the only part of making comics.


Steve: The central character, Adam, is by design a fairly ordinary man, somebody you wouldn’t expect to have something like this happen to him. How did you approach designing him? 

Alison: I wanted him to have a simple graphic look that would be strong in black and white, and before we started the comic, I drew some sketches: white hair and a decent black suit, but a good looking man. Slightly offbeam, like this was a special person, but living in the world- and it would lead to a solid page structuring graphic. Then, when he comes out of hospital, in the script, he was in a blue shirt and not the suit- it was the only piece of colour or clothing description in the whole script, and he never put the jacket on again. So that was that.

The book is very much about what is inside him (with his external appearance being a foil for that), so this is fair enough. What is inside him isn’t ordinary, or maybe it is. You choose.

Steve: What’s your storyboarding process like? How do you decide when to use a more, I suppose, formal structure, and when to start changing the shape and composition of the panels?

Alison: I look at the script and break it down by drawing a small thumbnail, and that’s it. The script doesn’t tell me to do this, it’s just what I think gets things on the page in the right way. I couldn’t apply an over-riding concept without risk, even if I had wanted to- I did not have the whole script for more than a year. I don’t think any reader would be second guessing where Nathan would take the story, and it was the same for me.

Steve: Do you ink your own work? What do you look to emphasise when inking over your pages?

Alison: Yes. I try and bring the page to life as much as I can. Sometimes that is a much about taking ink off as putting it on.

genesis_p15_150_web FOC

Steve: How did the collaborative process roll out for the story?

Alison: Nathan told me about his idea and asked me to do some sketches. The story was in San Francisco, it was about this man. He could distort the world, and make things- anything. I did some sketches, and it is pretty difficult when you subject is anything. So I had to do research and sketches for my sketches. How do you ground this power, and give it meaning? I also sent some visual references, like this.

When I’d drawn the fourth drawing (they weren’t really sketches), then Nathan let me have the eighteen pages of script and we never talked about the art again until it came to fixing that it was Jason coming on board to colour. Nathan trusted me to get on with it and I took on an unfolding story. I was given space to do what I do, and I trusted in Nathan’s skills to provide a viable script- that is collaboration.

Steve: Do you consciously try to find motifs of your own – unmentioned in the script – to add to the story? 

Alison: Yes, all the time. That’s part, or maybe most, of my job. There is a long way between a brief script and a fully executed comic.

Steve: Later in the story, things get more abstract and wild. Which sections of the story did you work on first? Did you create the mad, surreal landscapes of the latter half of the comic first, and then contrast it to this relatively more formal and intimate opening; or the other way round?

Alison: I worked on the pages consecutively, largely, as that was how I had the script, but `I tried to have an overview on the geography of the whole thing, if that makes sense.

Steve: Thank you both for your time! What else do you both have coming up? Where can people find you online?

Alison: I have more comics coming up. I curate and manage Think of a City. A week after Genesis comes out, there is a story I drew for In the Dark, Rachel Deering and IDW’s massive horror anthology. Shadows, written by Matthew Dow Smith. Mainly, though, I have a specific project that should be announced soon.

The best place to find me is on my portfolio tumblr or on Twitter here.

Nathan: I can be found on twitter here - and also here. Upcoming, beside wrapping THE ACTIVITY and WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS?, continuing BLACK WIDOW and THE PUNISHER, I have a few creator owned works — but all of that in good time…


2 Comments on “You Choose” Alison Sampson and Nathan Edmondson on “Genesis” [Interview], last added: 3/22/2014
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49. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Klaas Verplancke


Klaas Verplancke simply doesn’t have breakfast without a single or double espresso. If he has his way, he also has a glass of champagne to kick off his day.

I’m down with both espressos and champagne, so we’ll pretend to have some here, as we chat today.

Now, all my illustrator interviews are pretend. Someone once asked me how I manage to do these interviews when folks live all over the globe; they truly thought I was meeting them for breakfast in person. I WISH. I’d be game for a children’s-lit version of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Oh, would I!

But, even if these weren’t cyber-interviews, I’d still have to have a pretend breakfast with Klaas, because he’s in Bologna this week for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. And if I can’t be there (which I can’t — I’m very much sitting in my home in middle Tennessee), I can at least bring my readers some art from over the pond, as they say — in honor of the fair. Verplancke himself lives and works in Belgium.

As you’ll read below, Klaas has been illustrating for years, yet only a couple of his children’s books have been brought here to the U.S. In 2012, we got to see Applesauce (which I wrote about here at Kirkus), originally published in Belgium in 2010 and released here by Groundwood. I like that book, but I won’t go on about it here; you can read why at that link. Applesauce was included in the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art exhibit in 2013, and it received a bronze medal at the No. 10 Picture Book Show at 3×3.

I think Verplancke’s work is best summed up by illustrator Steven Guarnaccia: “[His] work is strange, yet strangely comforting. Beautifully crafted, and beautifully bonkers.” Yep. What Guarnaccia said.

This morning, Klaas shares lots of thoughts on children’s books, lots of passion, and lots of art below, so let’s get to it. I’m curious to know what he’s up to now. I thank him for visiting 7-Imp.

(Note: Klaas may be the first interviewee—I think? There have been many interviews here over the years—to ever direct a question at other illustrators, if anyone wants to chime in. See question #7.)

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Klaas: Illustrating author. I puzzle with mostly images, sometimes with words, in function of the story. I start from the idea that everybody is born with the tools for visual reading. We have to cherish and develop this talent. But unfortunately, what usually happens when growing older is the narrowing of our imagination and a growing fear for our spontaneity and intuition to understand what we see and feel.

(Click to enlarge slightly)

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Klaas: Almost 150 titles — and more then 60 translations so far. Too long to list here. Only two titles are available in English: The First Klaas Book and Applesauce (Groundwood Books, 2012). Please check my bibliography on my website.

“A thunder daddy is no fun. Stupid Daddy, I think.”

“But then suddenly it’s quiet. I smell applesauce.”

Above: Art from

(originally published in Belgium in 2010 and released in the U.S.
by Groundwood Books in 2012)

(Click images to enlarge)

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Klaas: My usual medium is my brain. My way of thinking is my style, not a specific technique. Form follows function and usually arises out of experiment.

Recently, I started exploring monotype. But I also like to work with acrylics, gouache, colored pencils, Photoshop and Pentel brushes.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Klaas: A story must find an author and readers, not vice versa. Therefore, the potential reader is never the starting point of my writing — but the angle or the viewpoint of the characters in my story, which will ultimately determine what readers my story will attract. When you tell a story about a house and you describe the value, the dimensions, and the construction, then you will attract other readers, as opposed to describing the color of the tiles or the flowers on the wallpaper.

Hansel and Gretel

I always get curled toes in the discussion on the suitability of books for children. One always throws all children on a pile, as if The Child exists. Like a baker would bake his bread for a particular kind of child. Let’s apply this reasoning to adults to show how absurd this argument is: Not all adults understand and read Kafka’s books. So, the books of Kafka are not suitable for adults.

In assessing books, one mistakenly starts from the perception that ‘not understanding’ is a problem. “We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is the narrowing of our imagination,” said David Lynch. Maybe we should assume that ‘not understanding’ creates fascination and imagination, that we should understand that there is something called mystery, and that children intuitively assume that they need to learn if they want to grow. Let me quote Guus Kuijer: “If we don’t want to learn, then everything is elitist and unintelligible, even opening a door.”

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Klaas: Brugge, close to the Groeninge Museum. My neighbors are Bosch, Memling, and van Eyck.

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Klaas: I produced my first illustrations when I was still in uniform. It is a career born more or less out of need: As I was liable for military service, I helped shape the military weekly, Vox, and when there was a lack of photos, I filled in any empty spaces with drawings. I studied Advertising Graphics and Photography from 1982 to 1986 in an art high school in Ghent, Belgium. After my military service, I worked for a few advertising agencies and continued to do my illustrating after office hours. In 1990, I decided to become a full-time illustrator. Advertising acted as a handy training ground for my new profession, teaching me to analyse issues and to get a story across to the public at large.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Klaas: http://www.klaas.be.

Above: Klaas at the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art opening, 2013;
Klaas and Klassen at the opening

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Klaas: I lecture for students. I try to make them familiar with visual literacy and storytelling so that they can apply this in their future jobs — and convey an enthusiasm and love for books.

7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Klaas: Every day I do a lot of things intuitively in my artwork. Teaching requires me to bring these actions into words. In other words, teaching is a constant self-reflection, which is so very instructive for me. I give a lot, but I get a lot back from the students themselves. Their questions, thresholds, and viewpoints broaden my way of seeing and evaluating.

Some editorial work

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Klaas: A new picture book after the success of Applesauce is particularly difficult and confrontational. I have a dozen books going through my head.

In the meantime, I’m engaged in two new animation projects as an art director, which is very exciting. Here are character designs and storyboard sheets:

Below is a preview of another new book project, a series of humorous interviews with daily objects. The title in French (the language of the original rhyming text was written by Pierre Coran, inventor and creator of this concept and father of another famous french writer, Carl Norac) is Paroles d’une casserole & d’autres bricoles. Google translates this as Words of a Pan and Other Odds.

Every spread combines two objects/interviews in one surrealistic, weird, or crazy scene. I use a special digital technique, which I cannot yet reveal completely, but it is based on a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black — and inspired by vintage Polish and Russian picture books. The first book of this series will be published by the end of this year.

(Click each image to enlarge)

In addition, I am currently working on two new picture books, for which I wrote the text — but they will be illustrated by two other illustrators. Very exciting! One is a famous illustrator from Japan; the other, an author from Poland, not yet known. But, unfortunately, I cannot reveal the names yet. When writing these stories, I obviously had particular ideas in mind. Now it is extremely exciting and interesting to compare my personal vision with the imagination of another illustrator. It opens my mind, broadens my horizons, and obliges me to question certain evidences or automations.

These are sketchy illustrations I made for the Dare to Dream project:

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, our espressos (and champagne) are ready, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Klaas again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

A a self-portrait drawn by Klaas’s son Pieterjan,
whose questions were the inspiration for

Klaas: Picasso once said, “There are artists who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but some artists transform a yellow spot into a sun.” I would like to suggest a variation on this quote: There are illustrators who transform a word into an image, but some illustrators transform an image into a feeling or a thought.

Klaas’s character studies, based on Pieterjan’s self-portrait

Drawing is reproducing what you see. But René Magritte was right: “Ceci n’est pas une image.” What you see is not an image but imagination, and we all look and imagine different about the same. That’s why the storyteller in The Little Prince draws a sheep in a box with two holes. What we look at is a shell. What’s really important is invisible.

We look, we understand, and we feel. That’s the process of seeing. He who understands this process understands how to imagine.

Early sketch and final spread from Applesauce
(Click to enlarge second image)

When I illustrate, I try to draw what we see when we close our eyes, to capture the invisible in images. All those feelings we all experience ourselves but we cannot represent in any way: How do you draw joy, loneliness, being in love, hope, sorrow? How do you give a face to such abstract concepts that are both surprising and immediately recognizable?

That is why I fret a great deal before I actually get down to drawing. I have to delve long into a story before I can get something out of it. Images emerge from a chaos of thoughts, impressions, and memories — and gradually take shape. It’s a long, tough, and unknown road between the image in your head and the final result on paper or in a book. It’s an adventure, because you never know which obstacles you may encounter en route. But you always come home differently than when you left, even after 22 years of making books.

Early ballpoint-pen sketches from Applesauce

The silence of an image is deafening significant. It is the secret place where reader/viewer and story meet. I like this intriguing contradiction in terms, because it’s a sort of perfect definition of the essence of a good illustration (or image, in general), namely the lack of response or the suggestion that stimulates the soundless process of thinking and searching for the meaning, the story behind the layers we see in an image. That respect for mystery, to not fill in everything, is in my opinion one of the essential differences between print and digital media. The reader of a soundless, static image has to create the third, fourth, and fifth dimension within his imagination. What happened before and after the image I see? Whereas in digital media every aspect is determined.

Seeing is believing. Or should we say: Seeing is feeling, and feeling is believing. Really happened is not important as long as it is true. The art of illustrating is that the reader images that the image is his own imagination.

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.



: I think the pictures speak for themselves. A long time ago, this place was a factory. It looked like this:



Now it looks like this:


3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: Like every true Belgian, I was a big fan of the famous Belgian comics, such as Tintin, the Smurfs, Guust Flater, Suske & Wiske, Lucky Luke, and Jommeke. Apart from that, I was a slow reader of children’s books, but I read all the Flemish and Dutch classics. One of the most intriguing books was, no doubt, Koning van Katoren by Jan Terlouw. I loved this book, because it was an adventurous, exciting, and at once classic and modern fairy tale I did not fully understand. It continued to fascinate me, and the layering of the story and the themes became clear later.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Klaas: God, Jeroen Bosch, and myself at the age of 80.

With Peter Sís at a USBBY conference in St. Louis

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Klaas: Everything between Monteverdi, Rammstein, and complete silence. It depends on the mood. Right now I’m listening to some ambient mix.


6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Klaas: I can hold my breath for two minutes. I prefer well-baked bread, especially the crunchy tops. And I have an obsessive technique for filling the dishwasher.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Klaas: In fact, this a question I would like to ask to my colleagues: When do you know an image is finished? When and why do you stop?

Honestly, it’s the deadline that decides when I finish a drawing. I use all the time I have, and still it is always different from what I imagined. Every nuance, every space, every line is a choice and means the release of other ideas and opportunities. You draw a lot to draw little. It’s a strange cocktail of excitement and frustration. Finishing a detail and then back stepping. These three, four seconds without doubts — these are the happiest moments in my work.

But I can live with the imperfection. That makes art human. A ten-year-old girl once said: “Children need to see art from time to time, so that we never forget that some things in this world are made with love and passion.”

Klaas: “This is an accidental snapshot made by Junko Yokota,
while I was posing as a stand-in for a portrait shoot for someone else.”

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Klaas: “Yes.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Klaas: “No.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Klaas: Everything that looks or sounds seemingly common or simple, but hides conviction, sacrifice, vulnerability, sustained hard labor, and profound thinking — such as, Ella Fitzgerald singing, or Hopper’s painted light, or the reflection in van Eyck’s jewelry.

Jules: What turns you off?

Klaas: Pretension and immodesty. Heroes do not exist. You’re nobody, when nobody is watching.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Klaas: “Miljaardenondedjubegot.” Don’t try this at home. It’s Dutch.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Klaas: Crunchy bread.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Klaas: Chalk scratching on a chalkboard.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Klaas: Being Bach, Picasso, Magritte, and Santa Claus at the same time.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Klaas: Painting dots on dice.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Klaas: “Well done lad. But next time you should be drawing instead of losing time on Facebook.”

me, myselfie, and i (the first of a series)

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images are used with permission of Klaas Verplancke.

APPLESAUCE. English translation copyright © 2012 by Helen Mixter. Published in 2012 by Groundwood Books, Toronto. The APPLESACUE art and sketches are re-posted here from this 2012 post.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

10 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Klaas Verplancke, last added: 3/25/2014
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50. “She Has to Adapt Right Now” Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone on Transformers: Windblade [Interview]

Next month sees a launch which The Beat has been following on and off for the last few weeks. A new Transformers miniseries will be launching at IDW in April, chronicling the introduction of Windblade. A female Transformer – causing raised eyebrows from fans who think Transformers are genderless despite being obvious blatant big male robots – Windblade will be entering the IDW Universe in the immediate aftermath of the crossover event storyline Dark Cybertron.

Written by Mairghread Scott and illustrated by Sarah Stone, the miniseries has already garnered a lot of attention, as Windblade was chosen to be created as part of a fan vote, and this miniseries will be the first Transformers comic with a female writer and artist onboard. But, y’know, beyond that – there’s a story here, and a character. So! In order to find out more about who Windblade actually is, I spoke to both Mairghread and Sarah about their plans for the characters, and the miniseries as a whole. Read on!


Steve: How did you first get involved with Transformers? Were you fans before you started working on the comics?

Mairghread: I watched Beast Wars as a child but I really fell away from the fandom until the Bay films and being hired on Transformers Prime. In a way it’s been a real blessing because I still have my childhood love of the Beast Wars transformers but I get to explore all the rest of the Transformers lore (the main lore, really) as an adult when I can appreciate it and the work it took to keep things rolling this far.

Sarah: I was! I grew up with Beast Wars originally, but sort of rediscovered my love for Transformers with Transformers Prime and that’s when I really got lost in it. From there I realized I needed more and learned about what IDW was doing with RiD and MTMTE, and I’ve been really hooked.

Steve: What do you think it is about the franchise which has had such enduring appeal?

Mairghread: First, it’s just AWESOME! Even if you don’t like Transformers (and you should) you have to admit that you can’t beat the brand for fantastic and mind-blowing action. But, underneath that, is a really core appeal that a lot of people miss. Transformers themselves are surprisingly human.

In fact, I think because they’re aliens we often write them as more human (emotive, social, flawed, a little irrational at times) than many characters that are actually human. That combination is super-rare and it’s something I just can’t get enough of.

Steve: This miniseries comes about following the end of the Dark Cybertron crossover event, which saw things get very bad for all the Transformers. What kind of world is Windblade entering into as your story begins?


Mairghread: It’s a world that mirrors our own in a lot of ways.  The war is over, but there are huge problems that everyone knows about but no one has been able to solve yet.  The leadership is corrupt, but not freakishly evil.  People are focused on making it day-to-day and the milestones characters set for themselves are getting smaller all the time. No one’s really dreaming the big dream anymore and that’s something Windblade is going to change – or try to, at least.

Steve: What do you think defines Windblade as a character? When you sat down with the character, what did you want to emphasize about her personality?

Sarah: What stands out for Windblade to me is her determination despite being completely overwhelmed. She’s thrust into this situation and conflict that most Cybertronians have had centuries to get adjusted to, but she has to adapt right now, and you can tell she’s behind the curve and it’s taking its toll. I wanted her to show signs of this weathering but she’s still trying her hardest anyway. She’s not perfect – she gets shaken up and lost, and I think we can all relate to that a little bit.

Mairghread: Our book starts a bit after the end of Dark Cybertron, so no one is in active triage-mode anymore as they would be during a huge life-or-death struggle like that was. Plus Windblade is an optimist. She really believes that she can help make Cybertron better, that everyone can help Cybertron be better.  Whether or not she’s right, that’s a whole different story.

Steve: How have you both found the collaborative process?

Mairghread: Fantastic. Sarah never thinks of what can’t be done, only how we can accomplish it. That kind of mindset is what’s given Transformers Windblade such a unique look. It is definitely going to be a comic that surprises people and is a great introduction to even those who’ve never been to Cybertron before… plus Issue 1 and 2 are still available for pre-order. So if you’ve ever thought about dipping your toe in the TF pool – now is definitely the time!

Sarah: I love working with Mairghread because she likes focusing on similar things that I do, and she’s really enabled and encouraged me to really push things where I might have been a bit to timid to otherwise. We have a lot of fun going through scripts and thumbnails to really push body language and interactions. Really I’m just trying to do justice to her script and these characters, and hope that in some way I succeed on the page.


Steve: One of the details I noticed in the preview pages of issue #1 is that you’re using her jet flames to convey her movement and transformations. How do you approach her body language and movements? She’s a giant robot sure, but she seems pretty deft and light-footed.

Sarah: Mairghread had to really extrapolate a lot off of a pre-existing design for a character that we didn’t know much about. What kind of a bot has this kind of makeup, or has such an elaborate sword? She guided me a lot when we first started, and we wanted Windblade to be graceful and kind of ceremonial. Since wind is kind of her element and she functions as sort of a diplomat, it seemed fitting.

I wanted her to feel light, especially compared to Chromia, her bodyguard, who is the exact opposite. I love them because they’re such great foils for each other – where Windblade is tactful and graceful, Chromia is both tactless and graceless. Windblade can sit down politely with her legs together, but Chromia sits like a total guy. They both serve to point out how different they are from one another, and it’s really fun.

Steve: Is it difficult to draw personality onto a robotic character? That question may be a little racist against robots, sorry

Sarah: It might be, but I live for it. It’s arguably one of my favorite parts of drawing the bots. I really love taking atypical features and giving them expression, just like we read expressions on animals without the same cues that we get from people. I love thinking about how personality can be expressed through their different features.

How does this guy hold his wings, can his helmet be used as sort of a brooding brow, does this part move when they’re scared? Stuff like that makes my job really fun.


Steve: One thing that comes across quickly in the preview is that she has quite a wry sense of humour about her. What’s her personality like? Do you want her to bring a sense of freshness with her, a lightness of tone?

Mairghread: She’s definitely in a younger mindset than most transformers. But more than anything she’s a three-dimensional character. She takes her job very seriously but that doesn’t mean she takes herself seriously (although she probably should, if I’m looking at her from a ‘mom’ perspective).

I wanted her to like Cybertron and like life; there’s enough dourness in the real world. Transformers Windblade is still a dramatic read, and we do get a little dark, but I’ve worked hard to make sure it never loses the optimism and hope that Windblade as a character has.


Many thanks to Mairghread and Sarah for their time! The first issues of the series are still available for pre-order – today is the last day they will be – and issue #1 is due in stores this April. You can find Sarah at various places around the internet - on her blog, her DeviantArt, and Twitter. Mairghread is on twitter here, and you can find her Tumblr here

4 Comments on “She Has to Adapt Right Now” Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone on Transformers: Windblade [Interview], last added: 3/27/2014
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