Small-Town Romance With a Magical Twist
June 18, 2019 | Tobias Carroll
Grace Ellis on the Evolution of Moonstruck
An idyllic small town, a group of friends, and the headiness of being in love: Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle’s series Moonstruck taps into some gloriously archetypal scenarios. Where it differs from the romantic comedy playbook is in the details: nearly every character in the comic’s cast is some sort of supernatural being. Barista Julie is a werewolf, as is her girlfriend Selena. Chet, Julie’s coworker at a local coffee shop, is a centaur. It’s a concept that resonates: if you’ve ever worried about keeping your cool around the object of your affection, the risk of suddenly sprouting fur all over your body only accentuates that feeling.
But Ellis isn’t necessarily looking for a straightforward metaphor in this book. “Something like X-Men often uses mutant powers as a metaphor for race or sexuality or various other identities, but Moonstruck works a little differently by design, partially because our cast is so diverse,” she explained. “In Moonstruck, we looked at each character’s magical identity and asked, ‘how does the world see them? How is the world built or not built for their body and abilities? How does this character see themself?’ So their magical identities don’t perfectly graft onto any particular real-world identity.”
“In a way, it puts all of us in a position of privilege: As non-magical humans, we have to think about how these people interact with the world,” she added. “Ideally, it’s that sense of empathy that translates onto real-world identities.”
The series’ second volume, Some Enchanted Evening, finds much of the cast exploring a new element of their college town setting: a fraternity party. But there’s a mystery to be solved there—as well as a revelation about a secret held by one of the book’s supporting cast, and a subplot about rival groups of fairies plotting against one another.
Ellis established the groundwork for this in the book’s first volume. “It’s also been fun to play off college-y tropes—like the fraternity of fairies came up totally organically when we were populating the world in the first volume,” she said. “They ended up being a centerpiece of the second volume because they were so fun to work with.”
The world of Moonstruck is a charming one: Shae Beagle’s art abounds with physical comedy, and she shows an equal skill at handling the supernatural and the mundane. And there are also a few great background details, including the fact that apparently, in the world of Moonstruck, Liza Minnelli and Godzilla are the same being. All of this raises the question: how much of this world did Ellis create before writing the comic itself?
“The whole project started as a five-page short story, and I can tell you I didn’t think about worldbuilding very much at all. When it came time to blow it out into a series, it all fell into place very quickly,” she explained. “It was just like, oh, a diverse world where everyone’s individual experiences are impacted by their innate characteristics? That’s Intersectionality 101. I can do that.”
Moonstruck’s penchant for slapstick also makes for one of the most unexpected comedic joys of the book: namely, its vampires fart a lot. “I imagine drinking blood would make you so gassy. I mean, think about what it looks like when a vampire is drinking blood,” Ellis said. “It just seems like you’re probably getting a lot of air during that process. Like I imagine Edward is just like, belching every time he’s off camera.”
There’s also a recurring series within the series, Pleasant Mountain Sisters—essentially Moonstruck's version of Twin Peaks' Invitation to Love. Kate Leth handled art for the first volume, while Kat Fajardo has taken over for the second.
“I’m a real form nerd, and by that I mean that I’m always thinking about all the properties of comics that you can call upon to tell your story most effectively,” Ellis said. “So when we were planning Moonstruck, I was thinking about different visual styles in comics and how we could potentially incorporate them into the narrative, especially in a way that wasn’t gimmicky and was a genuine part of the story.”
Julie’s interest in writing this series—essentially, a riff on the Baby-Sitters Club books—is a running thread in Moonstruck. “Julie is the right age to have grown up reading serial fiction like that, so it would let us talk about, one, how the media we read impacts us, as well as, two, what it means for her character if all she wants is to take up a pen name and write those books herself,” Ellis said.
The second volume of Moonstruck finds the series moving from a collection of single issues to a comic being produced directly as a trade paperback. “The hijinks are all new, [and] the centerpiece of the second arc is different,” Ellis said. “But the emotional journey of the characters are in motion in the second one in a way that they weren’t in the first one. Julie and Selena/Chet and Manuel are further along in their relationships, and all of the trauma and drama is affecting them differently.”
For Ellis, the change in formats hasn’t changed her approach to writing. “We have a pretty established pace as far as the story goes, and I’m not interested in changing horses midstream, so to speak,” she said. “It’s nice to know that I’m not on a regimented 22 pages for each chapter, but I’ve found that they sort of naturally fall to that length anyway.”
“Also, there is a master plan for this series! I know where we’re heading. Don’t worry,” she said. “Or do I???”
Moonstruck is a journey for both its creative team and its central character. “College towns are also kind of a liminal space for a lot of people, in that they’re a place you live for a couple years before you move on, so putting Julie, a character that’s around college-aged but isn’t in college, in this particular town seemed like the most interesting choice for that character,” said Ellis.
And as Julie grapples with her anxieties about her supernatural abilities, she's sent on a path of her own. “Julie is on a real journey in finding her true werewolf self,” said Ellis, “and it’s only going to get more harrowing!”
Moonstruck, Volume 2: Some Enchanted Evening is in stores now!