The Little Strip That Could: "House of Sugar"

Every comic in the shop is distributed by Diamond, whose catalog is the positively mammoth Previews. There are hundreds of comics in there, but getting into the catalog is by no means a sure thing. Failing to get accepted for distribution through Diamond is usually the kiss of death for a comic book.


For Rebecca Kraatz's graphic novel House of Sugar, it might have been a blessing in disguise. House of Sugar was chosen to be the very first offering from Hope Larson's Tulip Tree Press. Larson, creator of the acclaimed Gray Horses and wife of Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley, hadn't planned on using Diamond as the main means of getting House of Sugar to the public, but she submitted it anyway.

Then it was rejected, which came as no surprise to Larson. She bemusedly posted a copy of the rejection letter to her livejournal, which was when something interesting happened. The word got out and fans and pros took up the cause. Diamond reexamined their choice and not only carried the book, but featured it. The net effect was to put the book in the mind of a lot more people, which is pretty much the exact opposite of a self fulfilling prophecy.

None of which got under Kraatz's skin.

"To tell the truth, I didn't think about it too much," Kraatz told CBR News. "Hope informed what was happening and said don't worry."

House of Sugar ran for two years in alt newspaper The Coast and it was about, well, lots of things.

"House of Sugar first appeared as a weekly strip and I wanted to tell one story each week. The stories are my recollections and my love of things from the 1940s. I also like to think there are magical aspects to the simple telling of someone's life," Kraatz explained, "I had been making little books for awhile and wanted to try something else. I also had an idea for what I'd like to see in a weekly newspaper comic."

Getting that strip to happen was, according to Kraatz, remarkably simple.

"I asked them, they thought about it, then said okay."

Of course, that was the culmination of an artistic style Kraatz had been developing since childhood.

"I have been writing stories since I was a youngster. Sometimes I illustrated the story, but writing was my primary focus. I wanted to be a writer, actually a poet. The first story with drawings I remember making was about my best friend and I trying to get to Disneyland."

Kraatz's inspiration for her work are reflected by her life in the arts, reading and absorbing from sources that were diverse, to say the least.

"The gold-crown of those who inspire me goes to people I know, mainly my brother and my husband. Others inspire me too, but nothing quite like they do. Writers, like Sam Shepard, Silvinia Ocampo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and James M. Cain also inspire me. In fact there is numerous reference to 'Postman Also Rings Twice' by James M. Cain in 'House of Sugar.' I also love Canadian non-fiction especially by writers like Barry Broadfoot and Emily Carr," said Kraatz.

"Comically speaking inspirations: my co-worker influenced the first comic book I made ten years ago at the time. He was making a comic about Mods, scooters and that whole scene. I didn't realize regular people could do such a thing. Around that same time I found in a Thrift store these lovely, falling-apart British children's books about 'Mary Mouse.' The author is Enid Blyton and Olive F. Openshaw illustrates the stories. I also made a comic with no words influenced by silent and Super 8 movies and [artist] Lynd Ward. Lynd Ward was also the influence for a linocut comic I made. The four-panel layout of 'House of Sugar' is influenced by Lynda Barry. I also like her drawing style; it is wonderfully unperfect and so has soul."

The move from strip to book was just as streamlined as you'd expect from how it came into existence.

“After two years in the paper I ended it, said Kraatz. Then Hope Larson contacted me and offered suggestions on how to get them all published in a book form. Then she said she was thinking of starting a publishing company and said she could do it. I had a good feeling from her and said okay."

While House of Sugar makes its way into the hands of readers, Kraatz has been keeping busy.

“I finished doing the cover artwork and drawing a booklet for my husband's band –Joel Plaskett Emergency – and their upcoming new record, 'Ashtray Rock.' I have some unfinished woodburn paintings I want to complete. I am writing and trying to get rid of some of my vintage clothes and shoes to make more room in our house," said Kraatz.

As for House of Sugar, there may be more in the future. Or not. Kraatz explains in her own cryptic way.

“Not that I can say at the moment; I may take things out of there and elaborate on them."

Thanks to Diamond, House of Sugar can be had at your indy friendly comic shop or you can go direct to Tulip Tree Press.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Indie Comics forum.

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