A mix of fashion, allergies and the precarious world of online fame, "Snotgirl" arrives in stores this week from Image Comics. Co-created with artist Leslie Hung, the book allows O'Malley to move forward with his storytelling on a number of fronts. "Snotgirl" is his first major collaboration as a writer, his first long form series since "Scott Pilgrim," and his first comic ever published in the traditional monthly single format. All those ideas feed directly into the story of Lottie Person -- a fashion blogger whose perfect online image of trendsetting pseudo-fame isn't a perfect match for her snotty, messy personal life.
In speaking with CBR News about the origins of the comic, O'Malley explained what "Snotgirl" and its main character say about modern online life, how his creative process will be shaped by fandom, and the surprises he's got in store for his Comic-Con announcement of his next graphic novel.
CBR News: I've seen you talk a little bit about the origins of "Snotgirl" in terms of your desire to work with artist Leslie Hung, but I haven't heard what specific inspiration sparked this story. Was there one core idea that got the ball rolling, or was it a general desire by the two of you to play in the world of fashion blogging?
Bryan Lee O'Malley: It was pretty much the latter. I liked Leslie's art, so the first question was how we could create a comic where she could draw pretty girls and flowing hair and stuff like that. Our other interests just layered onto that. Honestly, it was very fast. It was just us saying "girl," "fashion" and "allergies." Those elements got thrown into the mix on day one, and we just went from there.
What's your fascination with fashion blogging? I feel like people who interact with that world are pretty different from an industry like comics where the business is so small, and bloggers have access to everyone. Fashion seems like some of the people are in a different universe.
Yeah, I wouldn't correlate fashion blogging to comics blogging or being a general writer about pop culture. That requires a whole specific skill set, while being a fashion blogger is all about wearing nice clothes and being able to put ideas like that together. It reminds me more of cosplay. It's more of a fandom than it is a blogging job. It's adjacent to the corporations and the material getting put out. You hear this phrase "big name fan," and that's what I feel we're talking about. It's the idea of influencers -- the fans who have a following of their own and who can spread their own message in an organic way. That's grown up in the fashion blogging world, and now you're seeing it happening in fandom. It's happening in fandom right now -- later than it did in the fashion world, because comics have no money and not enough infrastructure, so fans have always been closer to the creators in this world. So while it's not really a one-to-one correlation, it gives me a way to approach it.
One idea that's dominant online these days is that you're presenting a version of yourself. Whether it's you trying to prove you're the best possible take on who you are, or opening up about something terrible in your life, there's a performative quality to being online. Fashion must push that idea to the extreme. I can't imagine what it's like to be a young person now, when everything about your life gets broadcast when you're in your early 20s, or even your teen years.
Yeah. But like you said, everyone does it to some extent. "Snotgirl" is coming along at this weird moment where there's almost a race to the bottom on social media. There's this push to "out" your worst qualities before someone else can do it to you. All these kids have their bios saying that they're trash, or whatever. They want to prove that they're good by showing how bad they are. I'm having a hard time articulating it, but I think "Snotgirl" makes a lot of sense right now. She wants to present herself as good, but we're also working to present her as this well-rounded person who has good sides and bad sides. That's what snot is a metaphor for.
In your previous work, like "Scott Pilgrim" and "Seconds," you were able to tell stories that felt emotionally realistic on the back of wild genre stuff. I get the feeling that we won't get to "Snotgirl" #3 and see her battling an evil wizard or anything like that. Has it been liberating to tell a story set in the real world, or have you lost a crutch you've had before?
It's certainly not going to get that wild. It doesn't have the same anarchist spirit as something like "Scott Pilgrim." But not everything is quite as it seems. I'll hold my tongue on that until a few more issues come out.
Looking at the particulars of the series, the design of lead character Lottie Person is visually memorable. Maybe this is just my knowing that you love Marc Silvestri X-Men comics, but when I see a girl with green hair, I automatically think of Lorna Dane. Did you have any visual influences or ideas you wanted to incorporate, or did you put it all in Leslie's hands?
I let her go with it, and I honestly didn't think of Lorna Dane until you mentioned it. [Laughs]
What's funny is that Leslie's work does remind me of Marc Silvestri's art. One of the things that appeals to me about [his '90s comics] is that he always showed the fashion. That was my era of X-Men, and what I took away from it was the characters always hanging out and dressing cool and going to the mall. All that shit was my favorite. "Snotgirl" is definitely descended from that reading experience I had as a kid. Leslie's art is just so full of life, so in terms of directing her, I've had almost no input. I don't need to have any input. I've never given a color note on this series, because Leslie and her colorist work hand-in-hand. She does what she wants, and it's very much her world visually, which I love.
How has your writing changed as you've approached this story? "Scott Pilgrim" was serialized, but doing it in monthly issue chunks must be different. Did you try to deliver a fully developed "pilot" story for issue #1, or just get the ball rolling?
The first thing to adjust to is that it's only 24 pages per issue. I'm used to working with something like 160 pages. So it's a lot less, and there's definitely more pressure on the first issue to grab people. One of the things with "Scott Pilgrim" was that you could wait until page 120 to reveal something. Here, I can't introduce every single element of the story in 24 pages, so we give you a hook, and hopefully you'll come back as we keep expanding this world as we go along.
And then there's this element of improv. Because it's monthly and we have to keep pumping it out, I can't -- I mean, normally I plan my books out for years. This book, we had about two years to plan it, but that doesn't mean we've planned the entire thing. There are things I've not fully thought through that I'll be working out as I go along. The first issue was written a year ago and drawn earlier this year. I spent some time with the lettering revising a few things because it found a new life after it was drawn. That was partly because I'm not really used to the comic book format yet. It's so much bigger than my digest-sized stuff; you can fit so many more words, and that really helps set the tone in the story.
One thing some creators enjoy about an ongoing series is the interaction you get with the readers. Are you doing a traditional letters column, or do you think that what the fans have to say issue-to-issue on social media will shape what you do with the story?
More the latter. We do have a letters column -- I don't know how that's going to go. It's kind of an experiment. But these days, feedback is instant -- and unasked for. [Laughs] You just look in your Twitter feed, and there it is. We're expecting that. But ,what people say I'm sure will shape the second arc. We're pretty much done with the first arc at this point.
The pace, I'm still not used to it, at all. It's not like an episode of TV. The comic is much shorter than that, but an arc is not like an episode of TV either. It's longer, but not too much longer. It'll probably take you an hour to read the first volume. So it's something I'm not used to, but I think the serialization of the story makes it feel longer. It makes the world feel bigger. That was my experience with "Scott Pilgrim," anyway. My one hope is that people aren't kind of expecting "Snotgirl" to be 120 pages long, because that's not all in the first issue.
From what we know of the story, Lottie is struggling with the idea that she presents herself as perfect online, but is kind of a mess, personally. What do you connect with in that idea, and how have you started to develop it in the telling?
It's a very character-driven story, especially with Lottie. Her core relationships are what's really driving the story right now. We have our twists and turns in the plot, but the real core of it is her personality. She's the narrator, so we're right up inside her head, and it's very subjective. That always tends to be the way I write.
Then, in the second issue, you'll meet another character that will become a second viewpoint, which is something I think will be fun. With that serial format, I want to be able to surprise people and take things in a different direction. It's not necessarily that I'll stick to one person's head, which is how all my books have been before now.
I think I've heard you compare Lottie to some of your past characters in her outlook. Have you pushed yourself to get her into a different direction at the same time?
Yeah. I don't think Lottie is that much like my other protagonists, specifically -- it's in terms of how I approach the writing. It's very much about her worldview -- the way she sees herself, the way she sees other people and the way she imagines other people see her. That's the focus of it. The starting theme is authenticity. Is the person she presents online a real person? Or is she even a real person when she's not presenting that online? It's a real thorny topic, and it's still very new to me and to society in general, I think. I'm just exploring.
The character is what consists of me and Leslie's ideas on things in general. Then, we've got all these other oddball characters that will be fun to explore, too. At this point, each one is maybe just a page or a few panels, so there's not much I can say about them. But it's going to be fun exploring all that going forward.
Creatively, it seems you have a few plates spinning. I know you had an injury during the last phases of drawing "Seconds" that delayed you, but are you gearing up now to do another run of drawing a lot?
Yeah. I feel good. What happened a few years ago was that I injured myself while working out. I tweaked something that was a shoulder injury, and I literally could not draw. I could barely hold a pen, which was super frustrating and depressing. But I got back on track and got "Seconds" done. I've been seeing trainers and physical therapists, and I've learned a lot about how bodies work. I feel like I didn't know about that stuff before. The last few times I've done signings and conventions where I'm autographing a lot of stuff, it's been fine. I used to sign books for an hour, and it would have an impact on my well being. My hand would hurt, and my whole body would hurt. But I've been learning about posture and strengthening a lot of the muscles you use to draw. Drawing is a lot more physically intensive than I would have thought when I was younger.
"Snotgirl" #1 is on sale now, from Image Comics.