AiPT! interviews writer Grace Ellis & artist Shae Beagle about their new comic book ‘Moonstruck’
Dating isn’t easy for anyone. You’ve got to pluck up the courage, be willing to talk to new people, share yourself and your interests, and not freak them out by accidentally turning into a wolf. It’s pretty tough out there. Julie, the main character in the new Image comic book Moonstruck, totally gets it.
Moonstruck is a romantic comedy set in a world where fantasy creatures live mundane lives alongside humans. Julie, a barista, tries to live a normal life, looking for normal love, and keeping her emotions under control, lest she turns into a snarling werewolf. Alongside her best friend and co-barista, the centaur Chet, the two get wrapped up in some kind of dark, foreboding, magical plot. That’s probably not great for Julie’s anger management…
AiPT! had a chance to talk with writer Grace Ellis (co-creator of Lumberjanes) and artist Shae Beagle (fresh talent!) about the book, their process, and what’s in store for the book, debuting July 17th.
AiPT!: Every project is full of learning opportunities. How have your past projects impacted Moonstruck?
Grace Ellis: Lumberjanes was the first comic I ever worked on, and I was there from the very beginning, so I had a chance to see the entire process, all the good-bad-ugly parts. So I was infinitely more prepared to tackle Moonstruck because of Lumberjanes.
Ultimately, as far as writing goes – I mean, I’m a much better writer now that I’ve been writing for longer, but I think one of the best lessons I learned through Lumberjanes as that in comics, it helps to know exactly where you’re going. In most other forms, you have more leeway because you can always go back and change the beginning, but because comics are serialized and being published as you’re writing, telling a tight, coherent story is challenging unless you have a clear path laid out.
Shae Beagle: Being freshly out of college, I don’t really have a ton of past projects to speak of. For the most part I’ve worked around, from being a part of my college’s comics anthology (Spitball and Spitball 2), to producing a guest short for the webcomic Riven Seal. I think through these projects I learned how much more I like comics when I can work with a team!
AiPT!: The world of Moonstruck at this point seems “fantasy-lite.” What are the real-world topics you are trying to reflect in this fantasy world, if any?
Ellis: Well, ultimately there are a lot of topics we’d like to use this the fantasy setting to talk about, but I think the most obvious is the idea of like, being a magical/mythical creature as being a type of “other.” In the real work, things like race or sexuality or ability all impact how the world interacts with us, and in turn, that impacts how we interact with the world. So in the world of Moonstruck, being a centaur, for example, changes your outlook on the world. So it’s a character study and a way of talking about identity in a new and hopefully interesting way.
Beagle: A big focus of ours is identity, and the ways that can change when you throw magic and myth into the mix. Your surroundings have a huge impact on how you see yourself. Fantasy as a genre tends to lean very white, very male, and very straight, which pretty much sounds like my average day out. Diversity doesn’t just come in fantasy races, and we want to represent that.
AiPT!: Tell me about your collaborative process. How do you work together? How did the idea for Moonstruck develop?
Ellis: Moonstruck first came about as a five-page mini for an anthology, actually. Shae was taking a class at the Columbus College of Art and Design that involved a professional comics writer giving them a script and then the students illustrating it, and eventually it’s all assembled in an anthology called Spitball. It’s really good, you should check it out.
Anyway, the professor, Laurenn McCubbin, saw how well we worked together and thought the story had a lot of potential, so she asked if we wanted to try and develop it into a full series. Obviously we jumped at the chance, and now Laurenn is our editor. It really worked out better than any of us would’ve guessed.
Shae and I work together incredibly well. It’s a really collaborative relationship; their art actively makes my writing stronger, which is awesome. And I mean, Shae is just so talented in general, it’s disgusting. Have you seen their art?? It’s TOO GOOD. So if nothing else, I have to step up my writing just to keep up with their art!
Beagle: Grace said it all! I read the short script for what became Moonstruck and was instantly hooked by the humor and loveliness of Grace’s writing, also just the fact of a lesbian first-date. Oh and they’re werewolves? Sold.
We work very closely together through the whole process, and all for the better! Grace’s writing makes me excited to illustrate each and every panel, I’m a big fan. Quick aside, hey Grace? You’re pretty cool and I appreciate you a TON.
AiPT!: There’s a long history of fictional characters with hidden dark sides. What about Julie’s inner conflict makes her unique?
Ellis: Hahaha, well, part of what makes it unique is that her inner conflict isn’t always inner. Being a werewolf is very public, much to her chagrin. Even though she lives in a world full of magical creatures, wolfing out makes her feel embarrassed and causes her all kinds of stress. So we’re going to dig into that, among other things.
Beagle: Julie’s conflict is with herself being a werewolf, and that she’d really really rather not be a werewolf. As the story progresses she’s going to learn more about this part of her identity and how integral it is to her despite how much she thinks it freaks everyone out.
AiPT!: How does the book Julie reads, the story-within-a-story, factor into Moonstruck’s bigger story and themes?
Ellis: The Pleasant Mountain Sisters (illustrated by the incomparable Kate Leth) are like a Sweet Valley High knock-off, ya know, like a gentle poke at serialized middle-grade fiction, and those pages function in the story like a kind of Watchmen For Kids. They reflect not only the action that’s happening in the issue but also hint at what’s to come, and most importantly, they act as a sort of inner monologue for Julie. I’m really interested in exploring the idea that the media we consume shapes us as people, and Julie has been obsessed with these books for so long that they’re fundamental to who she is. It’s also just super fun to write.
Beagle: The Pleasant Mountain Sisters stories that Julie obsessively loves are a good insight into not only the story to come, but also Julie’s thoughts a little? She’s very reserved normally, and her little notes and analyses inform how she views herself in comparison to these stories. Kate Leth does such a beautiful job on these pages!
AiPT!: What’s the scope of this book? Should we expect a more intimate story, or will we see her as part of a bigger, broader world?
Ellis: A little of both! We’re doing a lot of world building in this first arc especially, partly because the world feels so full of fun possibilities. But the beating heart of the story will always be the characters and their relationships with each other. So no matter how much time we spend out in the world, we’re always going to come back to the Black Cat Cafe, and we’re always going to put our characters first.
Beagle: We’ll definitely explore both the world and our cast, but I feel the characters are really the heart of the story.