feature by Brittany Matter, originally published in IMAGE+ #13
What happens when a werewolf, a centaur, and a fairy walk into a coffee shop? Typical things like ordering drinks, reading the Pleasant Mountain Sisters books, and falling in love.
That’s what MOONSTRUCK is, a story about life and relationships in a fantasy setting where anything can happen. We asked Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, & Laurenn McCubbin about what makes their magical book so relatable and how they built their creative team.
BRITTANY MATTER: I’m always intrigued by how people find one another, whether it’s a new friend, partner, or collaborator. In regards to the creative team, how did y’all come together to make MOONSTRUCK?
SHAE BEAGLE: So Team MOONSTRUCK started out with a short script from Grace that she sent in to a class at Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) as part of a student artist/professional writer collaboration anthology. I selected Grace's script and we worked together on the short comic, and we worked together well! My professor for the class (that's Laurenn!) saw the potential of the world Grace created and the art style I brought to it, and we all kind of fell into place working together!
GRACE ELLIS: Yep, Shae and I met through CCAD's Spitball anthology, which is honestly the ideal way for a team-up to happen. We got to know each other's creative styles concurrent with getting to know each other as friends, so now working together creatively is easy because it's a built-in part of our friendship, you know? And Shae is a great friend and a great artist, so I'm very lucky in both regards.
BRITTANY: When MOONSTRUCK was announced at Emerald City Comic Con, Shae was introduced as a newcomer to the comic book industry. Shae, talk to us a bit about your art direction and working on this series with GLAAD award winners Kate Leth (who provides a special comic-within-the-comic) and Grace Ellis.
SHAE: It's true! I'm very new to the comics industry, but I've been making comics for a while. I've created comics for CCAD's Spitball anthology twice now, as well as done a guest short for the webcomic Riven Seal, but this is my first big leap into a published series! (I'm equal parts excited and nervous as all get out.) Grace has been so super helpful and encouraging every step of the way, and it's just been a dream working with her and Kate!
BRITTANY: Shae, your coloring is so jubilant and magical, which helps drive the supernatural elements and giddiness of MOONSTRUCK’s characters. Tell us about your inspirations and when you discovered your passion for coloring and design.
SHAE: (Firstly, thank you so much!!) I'm always finding new inspirations, but right now I'm inspired a lot by marker art and people like Sam Bosma and Anna Cattish. I feel like I've only really recently got so passionate about coloring, and I think I can thank MOONSTRUCK for that! I really enjoy using bright palettes and good old fashioned sparkles.
BRITTANY: Also at the panel, you said about the series that, “It’s very fun, very cute…and it’s very gay.” This aspect is super exciting to a lot of readers who are looking for more inclusive stories. Without divulging too much, what else can they look forward to?
SHAE: Readers can look forward to Julie and Selena immediately, our lovely werewolf girls, as they explore their newfound relationship. It's puppy love at it's most...literal. But be assured that they aren't the only ones! (We tend to stick together, ya know?)
GRACE: I have a lot to say about this, unsurprisingly! I'm gonna try to be brief: I am a lesbian, and I understand how important it is to the LGBTQ community to have not only more representation but also higher quality representation. Historically, LGBTQ characters have been portrayed stereotypically, tragically, as side characters, and/or not at all, and with MOONSTRUCK, we're making a conscious effort to thwart all of those issues. (And Shae is right! Selena and Julie aren't the only queer people in the book. We DO stick together.)
Julie and Selena, the main couple in MOONSTRUCK, are lesbians, but this is not a coming-out story or a being-gay-is-ruining-my-life story. We've done our best to make our characters three-dimensional, and being gay is just one of those dimensions. That being said, I wouldn't say that this is a story about characters that "just happen to be gay," either. Being a queer person affects how you interact with the world on a fundamental level, and that's something I think we've successfully infused in these characters and in this story.
Julie and Selena's relationship is at the heart of this story, so if you're into cute werewolves in love—and who among us isn't?—you'll probably be a fan. They fall for each other fast and hard, but it isn't all sunshine and lollipops. Don't worry, though. Your lesbian werewolf babies are in good hands.
BRITTANY: The magic within the story has been described as close-up, like card tricks and tarot. What can y’all tell us about the magic? What other kinds of micromagic will we see?
SHAE: (I'll leave the magic up to Grace! But oh all the corny magic. In this world where magic is actually quite regular, your typical magicians have a hard time making the cut.)
GRACE: The street magic aspect of this book is so fun! In a world where real magic exists, close-up magic has a very particular role. It's not about the mystifying aspects as much as it's about trickery and illusion, but people in this world still go to magic shows because they're fun!
The actual magic in MOONSTRUCK is ubiquitous. It's as much a part of everyone's lives as heading to a coffee shop in the morning. There are hunky minotaurs and weird divination students and a fraternity of fairies and just about anything else you can think of. It's a world you can really step into because it's a familiar urban setting, but there's so much magic around that it feels like almost anything could happen.
BRITTANY: Grace, having co-written Lumberjanes, you’re no stranger to fantasy themes and creating characters that go through transformations. What draws you to these themes?
GRACE: I love writing wild fantasy that takes place in a world that's very similar to our own. I think it's because it's particularly fun to imagine that the story you're reading could ALMOST happen in your own world, like maybe if you squinted, you'd break through the haze and see a fantasy world on top of the one we're living in. Also, it's SO easy to use fantasy elements as metaphors and to build themes. I mean, wow. If you're trying to say something, try saying it with a centaur, you know what I mean?
I didn't even make the transformation connection until just now. I think I'll have to do some soul-searching in order to find the true answer because it's probably not a coincidence. I mean, Julie's werewolf transformations stem from some themes in the book, but I think part of my attraction to characters who physically transform is probably because it's fun to have a character with a built-in disguise.
BRITTANY: What’s the number one thing y’all want readers to know about MOONSTRUCK in 140 characters or less?
SHAE: Julie just wants a normal life. Date a cute girl, drink some coffee, do some light reading, forget about being a werewolf...Don’t we all?
GRACE: Oh no, Shae's answer was perfect. I don't have an answer that's better. I just want people to know that it's fun and cute and gay and an eensey-weensey bit melancholic, and that they're going to like it.
BRITTANY: Laurenn, you're editing and designing MOONSTRUCK, correct? Can you tell us about your dual role?
LAURENN McCUBBIN: I am pretty much the support system for Team MOONSTRUCK. As the editor for the book, I keep track of our schedule and make sure that everyone stays on track. If they need me to, I will go over the script with Grace and make suggestions or talk through any issues that she might be having with the plot, and I go over thumbnails and pencils with Shae and make suggestions to them about layout.
As the designer, I created the logo and I design the backmatter. I also design any promotional materials that we need with Shae's illustrations in mind—we will have some SUPER COOL fortune telling cards and enamel pins available for SDCC this year!
BRITTANY: I studied comics about eight years ago as a part of my degree, but classes on the subject were few and far between. As a professor of comics and narrative practice, have you found that comics studies in particular is gaining more traction in higher education?
LAURENN: My school (CCAD) is starting a brand new major in Comics and Narrative Practice next year, focusing on both writing and drawing comics. I am lucky enough to teach full time at an art school, and my students are all very interested in making comics. I am happy that I get to teach something that I love so much!
BRITTANY: How have your studies and background influenced MOONSTRUCK? Has working on the story with the creative team influenced your curriculum?
LAURENN: Before teaching, I worked as a freelance designer and illustrator for about 10 years, (including a stint at Image!) so I have experience in the industry, which has helped in all the aspects of getting the book together. I am also a BIG fan of spooky fairy tales, so helping Grace and Shae come up with the world of MOONSTRUCK is like a dream come true.
I feel like it's the other way around, and my curriculum influenced this book! Shae and Grace were partnered up in my Comics Practicum class, where students work with professional comics writers to create short comics for our yearly anthology Spitball. We've been lucky enough to have students working with a bunch of Image writers, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Kieron Gillen. MOONSTRUCK came directly out of the Spitball anthology, and I was thrilled to be able to help Shae & Grace expand the world of the book.
MOONSTRUCK #1 arrives 7/19 and is available for preorder now.
Brittany Matter is a firecracker empath with a deep love for storytelling, ramen, and pour-over coffee, ideally all at the same time. You are most likely to find her immersed in a graphic novel, writing over cocktails, or looking after the people she loves. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.