Written by Brendan Brown
Just ahead of this year’s Free Comic Book Day on May 7th, I was able to talk with Maija Plamondon and Christopher Eric Peterson, two local comics creators who are making a web/print comic called Coming of Age. Maija will be signing and talking with comics fans at the yearly event at Variant Edition in Edmonton’s Oliver District on May 7th.
Here’s a synopsis of where the story is so far: Coming of Age is an autobiographical comic about the life of a teenage girl. It tells a story of love and pain through the eyes of a shy, sensitive youth. After a traumatic event, 14-year-old Aisling tries returning to her regular life, to no avail. Not feeling able to talk to her high school friends, she begins forming new relationships; some healthy, and some not. Aisling struggles with balancing school on top of new feelings and life changes and puts her mental health in jeopardy. Coming of Age started in August 2015 and is planned to run into 2018 as a webcomic: free to read online.
So, while the book is released as a webcomic, reading the first issue it didn’t really feel like a typical web product. The story seems designed to be read in issues. Do you have an ideal end-product in mind while working on it, either print or digital? Have your readers come down on either side of this question in any definitive way?
Maija Plamondon (writer/colourist): My original plan was to release it in a large, complete volume. So far, we have a 30-page printed issue of the first chapter and we try to post two pages a week online. My end goal is still to release the complete story in one book, but in the meantime readers can keep up with the progress weekly. I don’t know when or if we’ll be printing the next chapter, as the issue we did print was mostly meant to spread word about the webcomic. We’ll see, though!
The characters found within Coming of Age are drawn to look like animals, but apart from that they seem to be regular, fragile human beings. What was the thought process behind using animals for this sort of story, and was it tough to figure out what each person’s animal version would be?
MP: I love animals and I love assigning people to animals based on their personalities and likeness. I’ll usually have an animal in mind for main characters, but sometimes I’ll just tell Chris to draw whatever he wants. It helps when expressing emotions too, instead of just describing a sad character as frowning in a script, I can also include that their ears are drawn or their tail is between their legs.
Christopher Peterson (artist): When Maija says “any animal” for certain characters, I try my best to find something usually exotic – then end up not knowing how to draw them – then grateful that they only show up three times. But it’s fun to try out different looks to set characters apart; my main concern when I do is that Maija is cool with it and so far it’s worked out.
I found the colouring in this first issue to be really interesting. I especially liked the scenes in which the bright “normal world” colours faded away to a sepia tone, usually at moments when Aisling is either happy, sleeping, or otherwise engaged. Could you go into detail as to how colour is affected by the story?
CP: Since I’m not a colorist by trade and only a dabbler, I have a hard time with colors, especially [on a sequential basis]. “Now what do I color this?” or “OK, now this?”—it’s easier to just make a basic palette and conform everything to that. The main goal was to make something that can be done relatively quickly without lots of thought – and it worked out when Maija took over colouring to keep everything cohesive while keeping characters recognizable. The monotone-coloured panels were mainly for some speed, but also storytelling, so people could easily identify a sequence as a “montage” without thinking “are there word balloons missing from these panels?” The next chapter will have a new color change to break it up.
Self-confessional comics have a long and storied history in the medium, but they especially took off around the indie comics boom of the late Sixties-early Seventies. What sorts of influences have you drawn upon, both for story beats and for art style, when putting together Coming of Age?
MP: Dean Trippe’s short comic “Something Awful” is definitely an influence. I find being able to share such personal experiences really admirable, especially when it involves hard to talk about topics like trauma and depression. I want to be able to share my own experience with these topics in Coming of Age. Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Craig Thompson’s Blankets are a few other personal stories worth checking out too.
CP: Art style for me came down to making things simple, accessible, not too complex – but also for time management. Really though, I think if I went over-detailed or realistic, it would have a much different vibe that may not work. The next chapter will see a break from this style as well as I’ve become more confident in the process.
Do you guys have other comic ideas you’d like to share with The Pulp right now? Any other projects coming down the pipe?
MP: I actually just pitched a new comic series I want to write to a few publishers at Emerald City Comic Con a couple of weeks ago. It’s about an anxiety-ridden man who develops a mind reading power that’s both a blessing and a curse. Along with his service dog named Pony, he goes around trying to help others despite his own burdens. Chris did some character designs for the pitch and said he’s on board to draw it, too!
CP: I’ve got a couple things going – most not really announced, but being attached to cool concepts like Maija’s new idea as well as other things being developed, I’m hoping to explore comics a lot this year and next. I do want to do an all-ages book again – something for my daughter and hopefully something she can even relate to or others looking for different kinds of stories.
Images courtesy of Plamondon and Peterson and the Coming of Age comic.