First Second to release Andy Hirsch's all-ages Western 'Varmints'

First Second Books has announced it will publish Varmints, an all-ages graphic novel by Dallas-based Andy Hirsch, whose credits include The Royal Historian of Oz and BOOM! Studios' Garfield, Peanuts and Adventure Time.

ROBOT 6 also has a first look at the Western, which began in 2011 as a self-published digital comic, and a brief Q&A with Hirsch.

Described as a "madcap tale," Varmints follows a girl and her kid brother as they make their way across the American frontier in pursuit of their deadbeat father, the Criminal King of the West: "If they ever want to find him, though, they're going to have to deal with a giant wearing a bear, a booby trapped train, and the menacing lineup at the ... look, it's trouble, and things would be a lot easier if these two could just get along for once. Siblings, right?"

ROBOT 6: You’ve tried your hand at a lot of genres. Why was a Western right for this story?

Andy Hirsch: Opie and Ned’s relationship is central to the story, and a frontier setting provides a good way to isolate them at times and force them to interact one on one. Also, Westerns are rife with mythmaking and tall tales -- that built-in measure of exaggeration is perfect for the tone I’m going for. Events can escalate to cartoonish degrees, but the characters are still grounded in (a version of) the real world, keeping them relatable.

Or maybe I just wanted to draw a bunch of horses. There’s really no telling.

What draws you to creating all-ages stories?

When I was younger, the comics section of the library was about half a foot of shelf space devoted to a handful of newspaper strip collections. I read them over and over, mind you, but there was nowhere to go from there. So there was a chunk of time when my comics habit petered out. If you go to that library now, of course, things are far better, but I think back to myself as a young reader. Yeah, I want to make the kinds of comics that get people reading them, but more than that I want to make the kinds of comics that keep people reading them.

You began serializing Varmints online and self-publishing the comics back in 2011. What brought you to First Second?

I began and then stopped in 2011, I should note. Self-publishing is a tough road, particularly for what was to be an ongoing story. I’ve never stopped putting out my own one-off comics, but for this story First Second is a perfect fit. For starters, their catalog is fantastic company to be in -- I can’t overstate how proud I am to be a part of it. It seemed to me that the creators First Second works with very much get to make the books they want to, so I knew they’d give me the support I need to make Varmints the best it can be. Plus, once the book is done and ready for reading, they’ve got the expertise to connect with an audience who will enjoy it.

What can we expect from the First Second edition? Will it simply be a collection of the previously released comics, or will it include new material?

Working in a graphic novel format has let me stretch out and tell a complete story, so it’s mostly all new. Some material from the self-published stories has been folded in, reworked and redrawn. A version of this preview sequence was in the first issue, for instance. And if you weren’t previously one of the dedicated few, entirely all new! Also: full-color!

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