Contributed by Sally Decker in August, 2011
Meet Corinne Mucha, new this summer to the Writers Workspace and a graphic novelist, author of the recently published Freshman: tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other Nonsense. I recently read this book and found it charming and incredibly realistic in its depiction of freshman year in high school… I think she does an especially great job of illustrating the seriousness with which we all seemed to take that year (the BEGINNING of the REST of our LIVES..) yet also balancing that notion with humor and perspective through the way the characters respond to each others’ anxieties. One of my favorite parts of Freshman was its portrayal of the “types” of teenagers, and the need for something—an activity, a club, a band, a sport, a group of friends—something—to define you. I remember that being such a frustrating part of high school, how people so quickly resorted to placing others in boxes. Another part that stood out to me was the ending. Something about the timeline of years, and I think school years in particular, prompts a very strange warping of time. So much happens! And then suddenly it’s all over and we’re wondering where the time went. As someone who just finished their freshman year of college I can definitely say I had that response when it became June and I was packing up to come home. I loved Annie’s stunned reaction to the time passing on the second to last page.
While reading Corinne’s book I was also reminded of how fun the graphic novel form is. Your eyes are free to dart around the pages so quickly! The reading itself is very active, and the number of pages and amount of material you get through in one sitting is satisfying. I think the form works especially well with the subject matter in this case, how the four seasons lead the reader eventually to the end of the year. It imitates again that odd sensation of so much passing so quickly…the reader feels that surprise along with the characters when suddenly it’s the end of spring at the school dance. I was interested in Corinne’s process of writing this, and the different ways in which graphic novelists work and get out their ideas out in general. I sent her over some questions and she was happy to respond. Here’s the Q&A…
S: How were you first introduced to graphic novels and why did you take a particular interest in them?
C: I started drawing comics during my junior year at RISD, while doing independent study abroad in Rome. I found that when I had the time to do whatever I wanted, art-wise, I wanted to spend most of my time doodling little diary comics about my day. When I returned to Providence in the fall, I pursued making comics more seriously, and started self-publishing minicomics that spring. I also started reading graphic novels that year, but it took a long time for me to work up to creating stories of that length.
S: Tell me about your new publication. Where did the idea come from and from where did you draw inspiration? How long did it take to write this novel?
C: The general idea for this project mostly came from my publisher, Zest Books. I had illustrated a book for them previously, and when they decided they wanted to put out a graphic novel, they asked me to write it. Then they brainstormed what kind of theme they wanted the book to have, and decided it should be about a group of teenagers completing their first year of high school. I took it from there, adding bits and pieces of my own high school experience in between. I spent a little more than a year writing, drawing, and coloring this book.
S: How much time does it typically take to draw one page of comic strips?
C: It varies a lot! If I’m working really quickly, I can tackle one in a few hours. Other ideas that are more complex, or that require a lot of photo reference, take more time, maybe a day or two.
S: Tell me a little bit about the process of writing/illustrating a graphic novel in general… does a full, fleshed out idea have to come first, next the words that will appear on the pages, and lastly the drawing? I know sometimes for me just the act of writing itself helps me think through my ideas in a clearer way—can drawing act as that kind of brainstorming tactic?
C: For some cartoonists, the words come first, and for others, the pictures. There’s really no right way to do it. I work in my sketchbook or on loose leaf paper, scribbling ideas in a loose grid, so it looks like I have nine tiny paragraphs on a page. After I’ve got all the narration, captions, or dialogue figured out, I go back in and scribble some pictures that will accompany the words. I don’t usually have the idea completely fleshed out when I start—I just know how it starts and then I let the act of writing lead me from there. I think that drawing could act as a brainstorming tactic, and definitely does for some people, but drawing doesn’t usually help me organize my thoughts.
S: What has been one of the most satisfying moments/events/aspects of your career thus far as a graphic novelist?
C: Hmm, it feels like I’ve really only just started! It feels satisfying every time I’m asked to do a new project. I love the beginning of every new writing project, making pages and pages of chicken scratch, getting my ideas down, before I have to start wrestling with editing. I think one of the most satisfying events of my career so far though was getting a Xeric grant to self publish my first graphic novel, “My Alaskan Summer.” I had no idea how hard it was going to be to put together a comic book of that length, and I learned so much in the process. It was the first time I felt like a “real” cartoonist, and publishing that book opened a lot of doors for me.
S: What current project or projects are you working on currently? Plans for future work?
C: This summer I’ve mostly been working on anthology contributions, all of which I’m really excited about. I’ve also got some plans for exciting new self published projects, including a minicomic called “It Doesn’t Exist,” which is supported by a CAAP grant.
Check out Corinne’s comics and look out for her upcoming projects! Her website is located at http://www.maidenhousefly.com where you can see samples of her illustration, comics and her blog (I especially like the diary strips about her days and events from her life). And as usual, say hello next time you see her around—it’s exciting to have her here at the Workspace.