Four Women in Graphic Novels, and How They Made the Leap from Fan to Creator | Stellar Panels

Christina “Steenz” Stewart, Dylan Meconis, Amy Chu, and Janet Lee talk about finding—and making—comics.

 

Raina Telgemeier’s how-to book, Share Your Smile (Scholastic, April 2019) includes excerpts from her graphic novels followed by a discussion of how she created the stories. But the heart of the book is her advice for readers who want to create their own comics. Each section starts with Telgemeier’s explanation of how she developed a particular aspect of her books (characters, setting, travel and supernatural stories), then invites the reader to brainstorm some ideas and work up one of them into a complete story. It’s more a series of prompts than a set of explicit instructions, encouraging readers to take their ideas and run with them.

While the book holds few surprises for Telgemeier fans, its mere existence shows how far middle-grade graphic novels have come. Young readers today have plenty of graphic novels to choose from, but many of the creators who are making them came of age at a time when monthly comics had disappeared from the newsstand and graphic novels were hard to find in bookstores. I asked some of those creators how they encountered comics and how they made the leap from reader to creator.

Christina “Steenz” Stewart is a former library tech and comic shop manager who is currently an associate editor at Lion Forge Comics, as well as the co-creator (with Ivy Noelle Weir) of Archival Quality (Oni Press, 2018), which won the 2019 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics.

Christina “Steenz” Stewart

“I actually got into comics from my interest in the animated series like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League,” Stewart says. “And from there I started reading the graphic novels and trade paperbacks from my local libraries. I’d go online and figure out reading order and just order what the library didn’t have from worldCAT and other interlibrary services. Then about 10 years ago a friend of mine wanted to start getting into single issue series, so we found a comic shop and started with 'Green Lantern.' I was a converted single issue ‘Wednesday Warrior’ from then on.”

As for becoming a creator, she says, “I’ve always been interested in drawing, but didn’t get really into drawing comics until I started working at my local comic shop. That’s when I started seeing people that looked like me on the shelves. Namely, Brittany Williams [the artist for BOOM! Studios’ Goldie Vance]. And that’s when I was like ‘oh, wait… I can do this, too!’”

Dylan Meconis

Dylan Meconis started out making webcomics; her adult graphic novel The Long Con was published in February (Oni Press), and her middle-grade graphic novel Queen of the Sea will be published in May by Walker Books.

“My parents had a subscription to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (RIP), so I was reading daily strips with my bowl of Kix every morning as soon as I was even semi-literate,” Meconis says. “I was born in ’83, so I hit a real sweet spot for newspaper comics—Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Foxtrot, Boondocks all hit the scene while I was still a kid.” In fifth grade, a friend turned her on to the X-Men.

Meconis started posting her art online in high school and started getting paid for it in college. “I think that people were so happy to see me and my little band of fellow geeklings, and so pleasantly startled that we had somehow developed professional skills over the internet, that we received a really warm and encouraging welcome,” she says. “That whole community treated me like a creator, not a kid fan, and when you're 19, that's the most incredible feeling in the world.”

Amy Chu and Janet Lee are the co-creators of Sea Sirens, a middle-grade graphic novel that will be published by Viking in June 2019.

Janet Lee  and Amy Chu

“I think everyone read comics of some sort when I was kid,” says Chu. “As a kid, I remember an occasional issue of 'Archie,' 'Wonder Woman,' 'Donald Duck,' the Sunday funnies. My parents would have a few volumes of 'Old Master Q,' a series from Hong Kong.”

Chu set aside comics after she graduated from college, but in 2011 she took an online course on impulse. “Once I put together my first short story, I just kind of got obsessed with learning the craft,” she says. “By 2012 I self-published my first comic and got accepted into an Asian American comics anthology. By 2014 I had my first professional credit, a short story in a Vertigo anthology. I suppose that's when I realized I could actually do this professionally.” Since then, she has written for some of the most iconic characters in comics, including Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, and Poison Ivy, as well as a graphic novel for tweens, Ana and the Cosmic Race (Papercutz, 2017).

Lee also started out reading comic strips, but not in the newspaper. “The first things I remember reading obsessively were paperback collections of strip comics,” she says. “I was five or six, and my best friend’s next-door neighbor was a salesman of novelty goods—you know, wax lips and plastic vampire teeth. And little paperback collections of strip comics. I vividly remember boxes and boxes of the most amazing and unexpected toys, and the thrill of being allowed to pick something for myself. That’s how I found my first comics.” Later on, she, too, became a fan of the X-Men.

Lee worked on the business side of publishing for years and made art as well. Eventually some publishers asked her if she was interested in illustrating children’s books. “I really thought that was where I would get my break,” she says, “but instead a dear friend and former co-worker wrote a graphic novel and asked me to illustrate it. I had absolutely no experience with making sequential art, but I said yes.” That friend was Jim McCann, and the book was Return of the Dapper Men (Top Shelf, 2017). “It was my big chance to illustrate comics for a living,” says Lee, “and I didn’t want to blow it, so I treated Return of the Dapper Men as if it were my calling card to the industry. I put my heart and soul into the book, and it worked. It won an Eisner. THAT’S when I knew I could go from fan to creator.”

"The Queen of the Sea" by Dylan Meconis

Brigid Alverson is the editor of the blog "Good Comics for Kids."

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