Graphic novel sales continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, and one of the fastest growing sub-groups is young female readers. Traditionally, teen girls were an important demographic for Manga sales, but in recent years the likes of Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Sisters) and Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, LumberJanes) have expanded the medium beyond traditional super hero fare and Japanese imports. Papercutz (one of the leading publishers of graphic novels for younger audiences) has just launched a new imprint focusing on this quickly expanding demographic called Charmz. One of their first offerings, entitled Stitched, is sure to make young horror fans happy. Horror News Network had the chance to speak to both the writer (Mariah McCourt) and artist (Aaron Alexovich) of the new title, and they were able to answer questions about their story, the changing face of graphic novel readership, and, of course, horror.
Horror News Network: What was your inspiration for Stitched?
Aaron Alexovich: I think I’ll let Mariah take that one, because it all started with her. MY inspiration was to finally work with her after all this time!
Mariah McCourt: My first thought for Stitched was “Girl Frankenstein monster”. I really wanted to tell a story about a girl made of different dead people, who was kind and curious, but had to figure out a new sense of self. After that, the world of Assumption just kind of unfolded and the other characters came from that.
HNN: Was it difficult to “soften” some of the horror elements for a younger audience?
McCourt: You know, it wasn’t. I think kids can handle a lot of complexity, so the differences are more about avoiding gore or that kind of obvious horror. We focused on “spooky” horror, comparable to Coraline and the Lemony Snicket books. And there’s a lot of humor and a lot of fun in the story, along with the deeper questions about life and death.
Alexovich: I’ve been doing the “spooky cute” thing for so long now it’s pretty much second nature to me. I didn’t have to adjust my style to fit the story or anything. Mashing horrible and adorable things together is kind of what I do, and I would have approached this the same way even if the content was more extreme/adult/whatever. In a way, I feel like Stitched could be taking place in a cozier, less intense corner of my usual stompin’ grounds.
HNN: How would you describe the main character Crimson? Who was your favorite character to write/draw/design (not including Crimson)?
McCourt: Crimson is a really enthusiastic, inquisitive, fearless character. She’s very caring but she’s also a bit self-involved. She’s a hero, though, and she does the right thing even if it’s tough. With everything being new to her, I wanted to make sure she still had a solid personality that comes through.
I am also extremely fond of Wisteria, our shy werewolf. I just love that juxtaposition of sweetness with fierceness. But I love the whole cast. Parameter, Simon, Quinton…even our mad ghost is a lot of fun.
Alexovich: Fearless! That’s what I’d call Crimson. She’s the kind of person who would dive into any situation head-first, even if she shouldn’t. I kind of admire that, because it’s not really me at all. She seems very un-self-conscious, and I tried to reflect that in her design. Her hair is this massive, crazy mess of a thing that would embarass a lot of people, but it doesn’t seem to bother her at all. In fact, she seems almost proud of it! Wish I could be a smidge more like Crimson.
McCourt: I’ve known Aaron for years and I wrote Stitched with him and his art style in mind. I really wanted Stitched to be fun to draw for him and I knew he’d do amazing things with the characters and storytelling. So basically it’s been the best. I love the collaborative process of comics and I trust Aaron completely. He made this world come alive, along with the colorist Drew Rausch.
Alexovich: Collaborating with Mariah was wonderful! We’ve known each other for a million years, so it was neat to finally get a chance to work with one of her scripts. I think we have a similar way of looking at horror and the fantastic, and Stitched is a perfect expression of that. The whole feel of the book is sort of “Nightmare Before Christmas filtered through Sandman.” We’re playing with a lot of big, fun, silly horror tropes here, but there’s also this more subtle, mysterious, almost mythic feel bubbling under the surface.
HNN: Stitched seems to have a lot of references to classic gothic literature as well as modern authors. What would you say are the biggest influences on the story?
McCourt: Well, the Frankenstein monster is probably the most obvious with Crimson being made of different dead girls. There’s also a lot of Buffy, some Penny Dreadful, and a fair amount of Half Magic in there. Terry Pratchett and Stephen King are big influences, too.
Alexovich: That’s more of a Mariah question, but I know I definitely picked up on a lot of Mary Shelley in Stitched. And not just the obvious “Crimson is stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster” thing. Both stories are basically about confused children trying to make sense of their new world and understand why their parents aren’t around. Frankenstein cruelly abandoned his creation and wants nothing to do with it, but Crimson’s mom seems to be leaving clues scattered around… It’s like “What if instead of a selfish deadbeat dad, Frankenstein’s monster had a mysterious supernatural mom?”
HNN: You deal with a lot of monsters in the story. Are both of you fans of Universal Monsters? For parents who are fans, is your graphic novel a way to introduce young readers to these classic monster-types?
McCourt: Definitely a big fan of those archetypes and films. Who doesn’t love Boris Karloff? Or that amazing hair on the Bride of Frankenstein? Although my favorite use of them is probably in Monster Squad.
We’re very deliberately playing with those already established types in the story, so that there’s a familiarity for parents to have fun with along with their kids. We absolutely wanted Stitched to be a way to introduce horror/spookiness in a fun, relevant, thoughtful, way.
Alexovich: LOVE the classic Universal monsters! Bride of Frankenstein is one of my favorite movies. ANYTHING with Boris Karloff in it is gold, really. And the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s an all-time great monster design. But I think Universal’s 1930’s stuff is their best. The mood is just so strange and atmospheric, almost dreamy, like anything can happen. I’d like to think if Universal was making full-color monster movies for kids in the 1930’s, it’d be something like Stitched. These old monster tropes will never go anywhere, but if Mariah and I can be part of putting a new spin on them, that’s awesome!
HNN: Do you think the tween girl population is under-served when it comes to graphic novels?
McCourt: They definitely have been, although it’s been improving a lot over the past few years. These days there are a lot more titles for girls from a lot of different publishers. But I don’t think you can ever go wrong writing for tweens/teens. They’re voracious, smart, readers. And very enthusiastic about stories and characters they love. So they’re really awesome to create for and meet and talk to.
Alexovich: I’m honestly not sure… 10 years ago, when Mariah and I were working on the Minx line (published by DC Comics), there was basically nothing on comic shop shelves that would obviously be appealing to tween girls. I mean, sure, there were 12-year-old girls getting deeply involved in Hellboy and Fables and Love & Rockets and so on (age appropriate or not), but none of those things were designed specifically with them in mind. Tween girl comic readers have a lot more options now, mostly because manga and YA publishers carved out a space for them in bookstores, but I know there’s still a lot of work to do. I’m just glad publishers like Papercutz are out there helping to wreck all those stereotypes about who comics are “for.”
HNN: Are there any current or future projects that either of you are working on?
McCourt: Yes! There will be two more Stitched books from Aaron and I, plus the whole Charmz line that I’m editing. I have another horror comic that’s more adult oriented called Breaker out, a surfer werewolf mystery. It’s published by Stela and you can get it for your mobile phone via their app. My latest Emily and the Strangers OGN from Dark Horse is also out now, another tween book with lots of horror elements. And yet another werewolf story will be in an upcoming anthology called Pet My Werewolf.
Alexovich: Always working on something! Right now I’m back in my old day job doing character designs for the Invader ZIM TV revival, but I also have a big, monstery children’s book in the works. It’s really hard digging out time for that, especially since I’m trying to teach myself to paint digitally as I go, but it’s been super-fun! Hopefully I’ll have it out sometime next year. I’m also still involved with the Invader ZIM comics off and on, and did some artwork for a Little Nightmares tie-in comic, so yeah… Always busy!
HNN: Thank you both for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to more Stitched installments in the future!