As the fall approaches and the weather turns towards the cold, as the leaves turn and the sun retreats, the specters come out to play. It is the time of year when things get spooky, at least in the northern hemisphere, and it’s when the mysteries seem to be at their most potent. Vera Greentea is no stranger to this feeling, channeling it into her newest graphic novel “Grimoire Noir” and her many other projects, such as the just recently funded one-shot, “Women Do Not Creepy By Daylight.”
We got the chance to chat with Vera about some of her influences, the self-publishing process, and some of the more spooky aspects of her work.
You’ve been writing comics for a few years now, both smaller one-shots like “Papa” and longer series like “The Idols of Solanşehir.” Tell us a little about your process.
Vera Greentea: My process is a bit chaotic, I think, because I sort of just let my brain do whatever it wants. (For better or worse!) When I wrote “Papa,” I was having a lot of curious thoughts about what parenting and autonomy was, and I was haphazardly following each of the thoughts through. It was also during a time when I spent a lot of time daydreaming on a bus while commuting – and I think that environment forced me into ending the train of thought quicker, which led to several short stories instead of one long thing.
But once I realized a thought had a potential to be a story, I would write down some notes on my phone and hope that it would be coherent to me hours later. At home, I would get on my computer and kind of try to add color and dialogue to a weird tornado of words, and try to turn it into something entertaining and worth reading.
When I wrote The “Idols of Solanşehir,” I had more time to develop a story into something longer, and more time to research the topic as well (in that case, it was the military and coming home as a veteran.) So my process for that was a little more involved. Generally, if I think something is interesting, I start writing it down and following it down a rabbit hole. Sometimes, I need to stop and do research and sometimes it’s all made-up, but it almost always begins with an impulse to follow an idea.
Each of your projects has a different artist. Do you find yourself approaching each story with the intent of matching an artist to the story or do you find the artist first and write to fit their style?
VG: I think I’m pretty lucky for a comics writer in that I happen to be a visual person. I imagine everything first almost as photos or pictures, and then write it down. It makes it both easier and harder to find an artist because I look for someone very specific.
For example, for “Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits,” a middle-grade story set during the festival of the Day of the Dead, I was looking for a kinetic and cheerful style. For “Grimoire Noir,” it was more important to have an artist with an atmospheric color palate and detailed gesture acting. Once I find someone who is already doing work that looks like what’s in my imagination, it’s also easier for me to let go of some control and let the artist bring in their own vision and style. At that point, I usually find that their vision often enhances my own, and the collaborative back and forth brings out something even more lovely than I originally imagined.
Many of your works deal with the witchy, magic side of the world and the darker edges of the pursuit of magic. What are some of your tonal influences?
VG: I sometimes wonder if people look at my work and think, “oh yeah, that girl definitely watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer an alarming amount of times.” I would say that I tended towards darker material even as a kid. I love stories that really paint a scene, so the moody work of Ray Bradbury and the magic and imagination of J.K. Rowling are books I come back to over and over again. And as I got older, I discovered the dark levity of the Coen brothers and the tragic fantasies of Guillermo del Toro. All these things sort of settled as a foundation for where I can go when I need inspiration and comfort.Continued below
“Grimoire Noir” is your first full length graphic novel. Was the writing process different from your other serialized comics?
VG: I think in my serialized comics, I’m consciously thinking about getting people to pick up the next issue, so I’m a bit more concerned about plot cliffhangers, dynamic end-panels, and more memorable exaggeration in the drama. In “Grimoire Noir,” I had more room and time to tell that narrative, so I was able to concentrate on the quieter aspect of it, and I chose to explore the character’s broken relationships. I was able to really focus on Bucky and his lingering feelings of love for someone who betrayed him, or Chamomile’s desire for both approval and escape from her father. I guess I find that the format and length of a project can mold the project itself, even within the same medium.
The genre of the book is a cool mix of noir and fantasy magic, highlighting and heightening the spooky and mysterious nature of both. Why do you think people are attracted to these genres and do you find them to be complementary outside of this story?
VG: Thanks so much! That’s an interesting question, and I can’t say I know exactly why people are attracted to it. I think that life can have a lot of mystery that will never be solved, and perhaps there’s something cathartic about solving any mystery. It feels a bit like taking control over something that should have been unknowable, and maybe having a little control in a mysterious world helps one feel a little more empowered and smarter in the real world.
Fantasy is a bit of an opposite; instead of pulling the story towards yourself and seeing if you can control the narrative, in fantasy, you must go outside of yourself to experience and process the richness of that world. But fantasy stories are full of relatable experiences for us – emotional negotiation, a push for willpower in trying times, a search for hope in dark places – and perhaps in that way, fantasy can add a different sort of context to a noir.
What was it like working with First Second rather than the self-publishing you do for your other books?
VG: First Second is a wonderful company, and they’re truly changing the landscape for comics and graphic novels. I am so lucky that they decided to take a chance on me and give me the opportunity to publish a book traditionally. They were incredibly supportive of the kind of story I wanted to tell and gave me a lot of freedom for choosing my collaborators. Mark (Siegel) was always a phone call or text away if I had questions about any part of the process, and that was very helpful in learning about how books get made in the traditional publishing world at large. It’s also a completely different experience to have a support system that helps you with distribution and marketing, which are things that can be tough for a new self-publisher. Self-publishing was (and still is) a valuable experience for me, but there is something so special about having a traditional publisher with a track record like First Second has behind your book.
Is self-publishing more satisfying? Is there a greater freedom afforded to you or does the risk outweigh the freedom, stress-wise?
VG: Exactly, yes, so you understand the balance. Self-publishing definitely allows me more control, and at the same time, more anxiety. It’s a very different experience from traditional publishing, however the work that goes into it is very valuable. I think it’s probably important for every comics creator to try to self-publish at least one book, because then they are forced to learn a bit of every single skill that goes into making comics. I learned how to photoshop and make peripheral (aka non-comicked) pages in my comics, and now I hold a greater reverence for graphic and cover designers. I had to understand how long it takes to draw and color one page of comics, so that I can negotiate competitive payments and smarter deadlines that won’t burn out an artist.
I was stressed out trying to teach myself things I didn’t think I was good at, but the foundation it gave me to understanding the industry is absolutely worthwhile. It also gave me the freedom to experiment and realize that there are a lot of people out there with interest for the kind of dark and thoughtful weirdness that I like to write, which in turn gave me confidence to push myself harder and experiment with ways of telling a story. I don’t know if I would have ever written a mostly silent kid comic (“Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits”) or a lighthearted fantasy about PTSD (“The Idols of Solanşehir”) if I only went into traditional publishing, and both of those stories are constantly selling out on my website.
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you like to stagger your kickstarted stories. Does this ping-ponging of narratives help you find the right rhythm for your stories and afford you the right amount of time so as not to overwhelm yourself and your audience?
VG: Ha, I like that, but honestly I mostly do it for practical reasons. Staggering projects gives space to the artists I’m working with. In the indie comics community, many people are typically balancing making personal work and getting paid. The artists I work with are all making their own art and I like supporting that by giving them an accommodating schedule. It’s too easy to get too tied up in your own work, but we are a community and it’s important to be mindful of the work others are doing, especially if you’d like to collaborate with another emerging or thriving creator in their own right. To me, project management is not just making sure my own thing gets made, it’s also about considering the people I respect as best I can in their own work.
Are there any comics you’d recommend for fans of your work? Or any you’ve been enjoying recently?
VG: Oh gosh, there are so many! Comics are really amazing lately, especially in the moody horror genre!
For horror and child ghosts on a playground, check out my favorite horror graphic novel “Animus” by Antoine Revoy.
Straight-up weirdness can be found in the French horror “Petit: The Ogre Gods” by Hubert and illustrated with insane, creepy details by Bertrand Gatignol.
For melancholy and introspective spookiness, try Inio Asano’s “Nijigahara Holograph” (or his less spooky and but still emotional “Solanin.”) Asano is really taking manga to fascinating places, I think, and it’s been exciting to see his career evolve.
For that magic in an unknown world feel, I’ve really loved gorgeous graphic novel “This Was Our Pact” by Ryan Andrews.
And of course, never ever forget to check out everything by Emily Carroll, she is the queen of horror in comics! I’m pretty sure everyone knows her by now, but it would be pretty rude not to mention the genius in our industry. Can’t be rude, folks!
And if you hate my stuff, but somehow you’re still here reading my interview (why??), check out “Roadqueen: Road Trip to Love” by Mira Ong Chua. It’s romantic and hilarious and opposite of everything I do, but probably one of my most favorite comics created in the past few years!