In the four years she’s been involved in the comics world, Kate Leth has made a huge impression. Her super cool comic “Kate or Die” has matured into a beautifully intimate, honest look at her life on the page, while her day job at her local comic book store inspired her to found a group of female comic book store employees known as The Valkyries. As if that wasn’t enough, Leth is also working on “Adventure Time” with BOOM! Studios, focusing on characters like Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum as well as taking the reins on IDW’s “Edward Scissorhands.” Her latest endeavor is a recently launched a podcast, stemming from her collaboration with Welcome to Night Vale, “Less than Live with Kate or Die,” where she talks comics and nerd culture.
In-between a few of her adventures, CBR News and Leth discussed how she’s balancing her workload, the joys and pitfalls of podcasting and her desire to showcase diversity in all-ages comics.
CBR News: Kate! You’ve been making comics since 2010 and, apart from creating, do so many other things in the world of comics — working in a store, running The Valkyries, “Kate or Die” — what keeps you motivated to branch out into so many areas? And do you sleep?
Kate Leth: I think I just keep wanting to try new things, and often new things happen to find me. The Valkyries were formed after a short conversation with my boss at the comic shop and a frustration with a lack of people like me to talk to. I ended up being the person to design embroidered patches when Welcome to Night Vale liked some fan art versions I designed. I just keep saying yes to things, because so far it’s taken me to some really awesome places! I just want to do everything, I guess. Haha. And yes, I sleep. I procrastinate. I travel. I am just always, in one way or another, working. I am always on my phone.
You’re also working on an “Adventure Time” book due out this fall, and you’ve spoken strongly in the past about the comics world needing more diversity in all-ages comics. Is that something you’re thinking about for “Adventure Time?”
The next volume is about Princess Bubblegum and Peppermint Butler, and it’s called “Bitter Sweets!” As for diversity in all-ages comics, it’s something I care about an awful lot. I try to work it into everything I do, in one way or another, whether it’s insisting on characters of color or sneaking some flirtation between ladies into a panel or two. Even in a fantastical world full of magic and rainbows, it can make a big difference. Lots of licensed properties are very cautious about what they will and won’t represent, and I’m just constantly trying to push those boundaries. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I know that when I do my own all-ages original work, it’ll be queer and weird and honest as heck.
Is that something you’re currently working on? Can you tell me anything about it?
Ahah — I’m always working on something new! I have a story lined up with a really great artist and friend of mine that’s in the very early stages of development, as well as some other secret things that may or may not come to fruition. You’ll definitely see me writing a lot over the next few years; I’m grateful to kind of be cutting my teeth using all these existing worlds and properties before I go about building my own. I’m learning a lot about storytelling. I’m faking it ’til I make it.
And, as if you’re not busy enough, now you’ve also started a podcast, “Less than Live with Kate or Die,” which is super exciting! How did this come about?
The podcast came together when local musician/recording engineer Jason MacIsaac proposed the idea. His recording studio was looking into branching into podcasts and he sought me out — I used to sell him coffee, in my late teens. We talked at length about what we wanted from comics podcasts and really clicked. We wanted to make something positive, to talk to a wide variety of people in the industry, to be funny and approachable.
You’re five episodes in, so far. Do you feel like you’ve defined the scope of the podcast? What are you hoping to see from it in the next year?
It’s already starting to take a more defined shape. The first few episodes were pretty free-form, but we’ve begun to lock down a more distinct format. If you’ve listened to it, you’ll know the interstitial music is a total joy. That’s all the guys at Village Sound. As we figure out our segments, they make more of those awesome little songs. It’s great.
As for the next year, there are hundreds of people I’d like to talk to. I’m saving quite a few for when I feel a lot more sure of myself as an interviewer — I want to get it right. I’m lucky that I have this incredible variety of friends in comics and geek culture to draw from as I get my feet. Talking to people you know and are comfortable with is a great way to figure it out.
What is your set up like? Are you recording at home?
It’s recorded in a full-production studio. I’m in a fancy black soundproof booth with a microphone, laptop and headset. Village Sound does music and soundtracks for television and film, so they really know what they’re doing. The show wouldn’t be half what it is without them and their dedication to this weird, awesome project. It would be me, on my laptop, using pirated software and a ukulele. This is way better.
You’ve done some collaborations with Welcome to Night Vale — will there be any crossover into your podcast?
You can bet that some of the Night Vale crew will show up on the podcast. Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, the two writers, have already agreed to come on when all our schedules align. Those guys are fantastic. I love working with them.
What are some of the challenges with the podcast?
So far, we haven’t had too many. It’s actually been far more successful than we even could have expected, for five episodes in to a very niche show. Mostly it’s figuring out how to structure it, how to promote it, how to make it financially beneficial. We’ve been very fortunate with guests and have quite a few cool people lined up from all different branches of the nerd world.
Mostly, it’s trying to stop saying “Super!” and “Excited!” so dang much!
In everything you do, you foster a strong sense of community, especially among women in the comics world. Can you tell me about the growth and changes you’ve seen in recent years?
I think it’s always getting better. I’ve only been in comics for four years, but I definitely see a strength and unity between women that either wasn’t there when I started, or I wasn’t aware of it. Women have each other’s backs. More women are working for the big two, running conventions, actively influencing the industry. Organizations and groups seem to be popping up all the time, to bring people together. The Internet and conventions are bringing people together who might never have met or collaborated, and it’s an amazing thing to watch.
You’ve only been in comics four years — how did you come to them, both personally and professionally?
I moved in with some friends who were all really into comics, and I started picking through their collections bit by bit and eventually started shopping at Strange Adventures, where I ended up working. I applied probably four times. It just has a great vibe and a reputation for being welcoming and friendly. I got into making comics through doing art and advertisements for them, and eventually putting my own stuff on Tumblr and Twitter. It just kind of grew from there. I collaborate and contribute to a lot of things, and sometimes get asked to do more. It’s pretty crazy and wonderful.