Moonstruck is a comic that feels like it's in the right place at the right time. Written by Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis, drawn by newcomer (and Columbus College of Art and Design graduate) Shae Beagle, and published by Image Comics, it's a fast-moving all-ages tale that tosses together mythical creatures, mystery and romance; all set in an urban backdrop with coffee shops and struggling bands.
Everyone in this comic is a magical creature, though Julie, the lead character, is embarrassed to admit she's a werewolf -- which makes her budding romance with the so-far-unseen Selena even more awkward than it would otherwise be. Her best friend Chet, who works alongside her in a busy coffeehouse, is a centaur who is more comfortable with his identity. But when Julie's friend Cass (as in Cassandra) has a frightening vision, everything turns dark in a hurry.
The first issue of Moonstruck is scheduled for release on July 19. CBR talked to Ellis, Beagle, and editor Laurenn McCubbin about what makes Moonstruck special -- and why it's important.
CBR: Shae and Grace, I understand you met while working together on a comic at Columbus College of Art and Design, and that comic was the genesis of Moonstruck. Can you tell me how that came about and what it was like working together?
Grace Ellis: I’m gonna let Shae take the bulk of this one since they’re the one who actually went to CCAD and took that class.
Shae is a dream to work with, honestly. They’re a real professional, and they’re so talented it makes me want to barf. The art in Moonstruck feels like taking a drink of hot chocolate; it’s so sweet and delicious and it makes you feel warm all over.
Shae Beagle: Moonstruck was originally a five-page short comic for the Spitball anthology, self-published by the Comics Practicum class at CCAD. The students in the class got to collaborate with professional writers on these comics, and Grace and I were paired up for the project! We found out how well we worked together, how similar our sense of humor was, how well our styles meshed, and Laurenn saw that the world Grace created had a lot of potential as a series, so we joined together to pitch the idea, and here we are!
What was the initial spark for that story, and how did you develop it into a full-length comic series? What changed along the way?
Ellis: Well, the initial spark for Moonstruck was, “what’s a fun reveal I can put into a five-page comic, what if the reveal was that this normal-looking world is full of mythical creatures.”
Part of the reason why Laurenn came to us about turning it into a full story was that the world felt so rich with possibilities, and I have to agree with that assessment since the adaptation was remarkably easy. The themes and characters that were present in the short story were really simple to expand upon, so it was mostly a process of coming up with a plot that was particular to this world and that would highlight the themes and that was fun and goofy. Nothing changed at all; we’re treating the five-page short as prequel (that you don’t have to read to understand the rest of the book).
Are you thinking of Moonstruck as a single story or an ongoing series of stories set in the same world?
Ellis: It’s definitely a series of arcs that make up one long story, the story of Julie and Selena’s relationship.
Beagle: Moonstruck is a series, following our main cast through lots of adventures in magic and relationships.
Your world is filled with magical creatures, many of them familiar from mythology. Some shift back and forth between human and nonhuman forms. How does this enhance your storytelling -- and what challenges does it present?
Ellis: It’s equally fun and challenging. It’s fun because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to write about werewolves in love or fairies in a fraternity or witches who can tell your future while they’re making you a latte. But I mean, it’s also really fun because of all the metaphor and symbolism you can slather your story in when you have an unlimited numbers of monsters at your disposal.
It can be hard, first of all, because sometimes it’s tough to think of monsters that Shae can realistically draw (and I don’t always rise to that challenge -- sorry for making you draw a centaur in the backseat of a car, Shae). It can also be challenging in a fun way to think of good jokes that incorporate mythical creatures. For example, in the opening pages of the first issue, there’s a tiny joke about a two-faced guy named Janus who can see the past and future. It’s little details like that that help make the world feel full and real, but some days, I have to refer to my running cheat sheet of mythical characters.
Beagle: From the visual standpoint, this makes some good opportunities to spice up the background. I also probably spend most of my time trying to come up with what creatures are going to populate what panel. [Laughs] Also trying to fit Chet in places where horses are not typically meant to go is a struggle all on its own. I think solving these problems helps enhance the world a lot though. Are there cars specifically made for centaurs? There are now!
While most of the characters are comfortable with their dual nature, Julie alone is not -- she seems to be embarrassed about the fact that she changes to a wolf when she's upset. Why is she different?
Ellis: Julie has spent her entire life obsessing over a particular series of books, The Pleasant Mountain Sisters, which are about some aggressively normal, tiny, human, white girls, and she’s really internalized that. If you spend your whole life reaching for an ideal that is inherently out of reach for you, it changes how you see yourself. She’s comfortable in her identity as a lesbian and as a person of color, but being a werewolf, since it’s something she can theoretically turn on and off, makes her feel uncomfortable in her own skin.
Beagle: Julie would so much like to be a human like the sisters in her favorite books, flying under the radar in a magical world. But that’s not really a goal she can reach, and it takes a toll on her. She’s convinced that turning into a werewolf scares people, but in reality it’s not as big a deal as she makes it out to be.
Do you intend this to be an all-ages story? What sort of constraints does that impose on your storytelling?
Ellis: Yeah, it’s an all-ages story. I don’t really think of it as a limiting label, though, except that there’s no swearing or sex or gratuitous violence, but you don’t need those things to write a compelling story. I don’t condescend to kids; they’re very smart, and they can tell when you’re talking down to them or over-simplifying on their behalf. So Moonstruck is a true all-ages book, in that way: There’s something for everyone.
Beagle: Grace worded this wonderfully. A story being all ages shouldn’t be a deterrent to anybody. A good story doesn’t especially need overly-mature themes to make its point, so our audience doesn’t constrain us at all.
Why did you choose Image as the publisher for Moonstruck?
Ellis: Image allows its creators a lot of freedom, and for an off-beat book like this, that was very attractive. Plus, they were looking to branch out into young adult books, so it was really a perfect fit.
Beagle: We were curious if Image would have an interest in an all ages/young adult type book, and we were in luck that they did!
Shae, how do you feel about getting a professional comics gig before you even graduated? Have you done other comics besides Moonstruck?
Beagle: It’s really cool and incredibly validating! There’s always a lot of stress to get a job immediately out of college, and getting this opportunity lifted that weight off my shoulders, while adding on a lot of new responsibilities. As far as my comics history, I’ve jumped back and forth, making a couple of my own short stories, doing guest work in webcomics like Riven Seal, as well as participating in CCAD’s Spitball anthology for its first two issues. But I’ve got a long future ahead of me; I’ll see where it goes!
Grace, if I remember correctly, Lumberjanes was your first comic. Now you are the senior member of the creative team. How does that feel? Was there anything you learned the hard way on your earlier projects that you hope to impart to Shae?
Ellis: It feels great! It’s really freeing to be so in control. I mean, it’s kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, to be so responsible for every single aspect of the book, but it’s worth it to know where all of the moving parts are at all times.
Shae came into this project much smarter than I was when I came into comics, that’s for sure. I feel like if there’s one thing I want to teach Shae, it’s to not be afraid to say no to something, whether it’s on the creative side or the business side. It’s easy to be agreeable until you’re up until 3 a.m. trying to finish something because you didn’t say no to an unreasonable deadline.
How do you work together? Are you in the same place at the same time, or do you pass things back and forth?
Ellis: Even though we live in the same city, we don’t usually work in the same room, although we are looking into getting a studio together. It’s nice to live close to each other and have face-to-face meetings. It makes a really big difference sometimes, like when I need help working through part of the story, we can meet up for coffee and dig into it rather than just sending a hundred faceless emails about it.
Beagle: We’re always in touch in some way or another, but with all of us living in the same city it’s nice to have a business-y coffee meeting every so often (which helps when you’re as bad at answering emails as I am).
Grace, in an interview about Lumberjanes you said that the biggest influence on the story is what wasn't there -- that Lumberjanes was the comic you wish you had when you were a kid. Does Moonstruck fill a similar void for you?
Ellis: Oh, for sure, I would be all over Moonstruck if I weren’t writing it. The kinds of stories that LGBTQ people (and lesbians specifically) are relegated to are pretty limited. They’re tragic or stereotypes or secondary, or they’re coming out stories, or they’re about a lesbian meeting that special man who can “turn her,” which broaches so many issues that I can’t even get into it right now. So my plan right now is to keep writing different kinds of stories, stories that queer people don’t usually get to star in but also stories that are totally original on their own and bring something unique to the table.
Shae, you're just a bit younger than Grace, but it seems like the comics world has changed a lot in the past few years. When you were thinking about becoming a comics creator, what sort of comics did you have in mind?
Beagle: My first real introduction to comics was less in the vein of superheroes and more like manga, webcomics, and self-published indie works. For a long time I didn’t even consider being a comics creator as an actual career path, but I’ve always had encouragement along the way. I think I’d like to try all sorts of comics as I go along, it’s a long road ahead, and I’m always about going outside my comfort zone!
One thing I noticed about the first issue was the expressive use of paneling -- shifting from a grid to angular or curved shapes, and from white to black borders to indicate changes of mood or action. How did you work on those? Was it all Shae, or Grace, did you suggest some of these?
Beagle: That would be me! Being an illustrator, I like to think of each page as if it could stand alone. I want the panels to pull their weight as part of that and add to the page as a whole, really add to the mood of the story.
It's sort of ironic that the most "normal" part of the comic is the fictional story-within-a-story, which features three human girls in a suburban setting -- no magic, no supernatural creatures. What part will this story play in Moonstruck?
Ellis: The Pleasant Mountain Sisters are a pretty vital part of the story for a couple reasons. The first reason is that we live in a world that is totally saturated with media, and the media we consume informs who we are. So by including pages from Julie’s favorite book, we’re able to tell you a lot about Julie’s character and mirror the action in the main story. The other reason I think it’s important is because it expands the world of the story in general; why is this comic popular, where did it come from, what does it say about their culture, etc.
Also, it’s fun to write, and Kate’s art is very cute, so. That helps.
Laurenn, you are editing this comic, and you're also a professor at CCAD. I looked at your website, and you have collaborated with some pretty well known creators, including Matt Wagner, Kieron Gillen, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. You even worked with Joyce Carol Oates -- I didn’t realize she had done a comic! How do comics fit into your work?
Laurenn McCubbin: Well, originally I was a comics artist, and as well I used to be the Art Director at Image Comics. My personal artistic practice has changed (I do experimental documentary video installations now, you know, like y’do), but I am still very much involved in comics, through teaching and advocacy. (Also, most of my friends work in comics in one way or another!)
How are you contributing to the creation of Moonstruck?
McCubbin: I am the traffic manager/sounding board/spellchecker/designer/researcher/business manager. In other words, I’m the editor! I do research on different kinds of fairies and monsters, I bounce ideas around with Grace, I work with our awesome colorist Caitlin Quirk and our delightful letterer Clayton Cowles to make sure the trains run on time, I work with Shae to figure out covers and layouts, and I design and lay out the logo and backmatter. I basically try and make it so that the only thing that Shae and Grace have to worry about is making work.
Moonstruck #1 is scheduled for release on July 19.