Write what you know, they say, and as you can see from the picture to the right, Jen Vaughn knows Renaissance fairs.
So it’s no surprise that her new Monkeybrain Comics title, debuting today on comiXology, is about a Renaissance fair organizer and, as it turns out, detective.
“The comic is about the Renaissance Fair, a summer long affair,” she told ROBOT 6. “It’s a living, breathing organism with multiple parts (crazy, though). Avery Fatbottom is the organizer, a king is what it’s called. They are usually a bit self-absorbed and self-important. After being the fair’s accountant for years, she’s taken over after the death of her parents. But someone doesn’t like that and people (and animals) are gonna get hurt. She’s got a best friend in the fair and a little love interest but the fair’s the thing.”
I spoke with Vaughn about Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective, her day job at Fantagraphics, her own history with Ren fairs, and more.
JK Parkin: I noticed on your Tumbler that you’re a transplant from Texas (living in Seattle now, of course, and working for Fantagraphics). Where did you grow up, and when did you start reading comics?
Jen Vaughn: Wow! I’m a bit of a Gary Panter, born in Oklahoma, lived the longest in Texas, we moved almost every summer for my parents’ job. Long Island, Houston, countless Kansas suburbs, Las Vegas, Dallas suburbs, Austin and then finally Vermont for grad school. Seattle’s perfect, I don’t need to see the sun again. I started reading Archie, The Little Mermaid, those blissfully boring illustrated Bible comics. When I was ten I marched into the store and demanded something more adult than girls dating guys like in Archie. The rather large woman behind the counter somehow convinced my mom to buy me Lady Death by Brian Pulido. Alternative comics came into my reading fray after I got bored with DC/Marvel, Image, Wildstorm and my boobs didn’t grow as large as Caitlin Fairchild’s. Bless libraries for carrying Kim Deitch, early Vertigo, Crumb and every new graphic novel.
What was that transition like going to Vermont, and how was your time at the school?
The transition was easy. I had been working at a construction company, then a university in addition to being a resident assistant manager at a hostel. It was a bit odd to go from a large city to whatever a 2,000-person village is called. The school advises students to not fall into their favorite vices: drinking, weed, sex. The early darkness … is inviting. Going to CCS was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made along with moving to Seattle for Fantagraphics. There’s a documentary about it, Cartoon College, that gives you a glimpse. I owe them a a lot (including money so please buy my 99-cent comics!).
What’s your role at Fantagraphics?
At Fantagraphics I’m the marketing and outreach manager. Most of my day is spent working in tandem with Mike Baehr (marketing director), Jacq Cohen (PR director) and Eric Reynolds (editor). And plus the Internet: blogging, twitter, Facebook, Instagram. That shit some annoying young person with dyed hair and glasses is hired for in movies -oh wait. And working with cartoonists and venues to book signings, I love getting a bookstore booked. Fantagraphics is truly like a family, working on a team, with smart people and trusty interns is a true joy.
What’s your personal history with Ren Faires … are you a frequent attendee, or were you in the past?
It came from years of performing in dinner theater, a few Ren fairs, Mardi Gras. The number of strong personalities that manage to ignore each other, work together and reign it in to create a whole other world is fascinating. I do remember my first winter at CCS attempting to wrangle the few students who could sing into some three to four part harmony songs at the local underground bar but the environment was a bit … it wouldn’t have enjoyed our show.
Tell me a little bit about the title, which, before reading the story, gave me the impression that I’d be reading something akin to Sherlock Holmes working at Scarborough Faire. Is the title more of an in-joke, or are you planning for future issues to be more in the detective genre?
The first issue is a bit of ground layer, originally it was a performance piece for bars and any place adults are with addled brains. But now it’s on, Avery’s got more than one mystery to solve. Is she a reclusive freelancer with a photographic memory? No, but she uses the tools, the people, the network she has to figure things out. There’s a bit more struggle involved than with Sherlock.
How did you end up working with Monkeybrain?
I ended up with Monkeybrain because they saw me perform a version of the comic at Comics Underground in Portland, Oregon. It’s night of two to three cartoonists reading from their work, playing with their band, and what not thanks to the alt-weekly The Portland Mercury (and editors Alison Hallett and Erik Henriksen). Allison Baker and Chris Roberson of Monkeybrain had been friends of mine for a few years and we always have fun together. I trust their judgement, editorial eye and honesty when it comes to making fine comics.
What can we expect from future issues of Avery Fatbottom?
More codpiece jokes. More exploration of the fair and plenty of red herrings (can I say that?!).