Interview with a Webcomic: Mari Costa on Lesbian Love Triangles, Working for Yourself, and Past Comic Baggage

By | October 18th, 2021
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

The webcomic creator is never far from their audience. Be it through social media, public email addresses, Discord servers, or simply the comments section beneath a page, there is a rapport and a conversation that is developed that is unique to the medium. We’re continuing those conversations here, albeit a little more formally, by interviewing webcomics creators to pick their brains about craft, storytelling, and their personal experiences with the medium.

Romance, fairytales, and our favorite gremlin children are all topics Mari Costa is familiar with through her many webcomics works. Spanning from “Supermahou” to “The Well by the House on the Hill” to her more recent works “Peritale” and “Life of Melody,” there’s a lot to love and a lot to talk about, not even counting her just released and upcoming works. Join us as we dive into these wonderous worlds, find out about the creative process behind them, and get a brief glimpse at the future.

Thanks to Mari for taking the time to chat!

To start us off, tell us about your experiences with webcomics prior to “Supermahou”/“The Well by the House on the Hill?”

MC: Oh! Fun! I don’t think I’ve thought about my pre-“Supermahou” internet footprint in a really long time. I got hooked on comics at a super young age. There’s a Brazilian series called “Turma da Mônica” that pretty much taught me how to read, and when I got a bit older my parents moved to America and I had a wealth of manga to read.

For a while in my preteens I had big dreams of going off to Japan to become a mangaka, because that’s where all the interesting comics were being made.

My first foray into making real “comics” was actually little one page hand-drawn skits where I interacted with my favourite cartoon characters du jour. It took me a while to realize there were completely batshit people out there making their comics and posting them on the internet for Completely Free, without the editorial hand of Marvel, or DC, or Nakayoshi, or Jump.

I owe a lot to early Smackjeeves comics for making little teen Mari believe she could make something truly special if she applied herself (shout out to “Moképon” and “Vampire Fetish,” wherever y’all are now).

My first failed endeavor into making a real Webcomic (TM) was actually called “Bitter Cherry,” a short story about a Wizard cursed by his Magic School nemesis to live in the body of a middle schooler until he stopped being a whiny baby brat. He gets befriended by an Actual middle schooler who would end up instilling a sense of parental responsibility in him and break his curse. It was kind of cute, I drew and scripted every single page, I started the painstaking task of adding screentones with a mouse and elbow grease (like a real mangaka), I got really frustrated with how hard that was, and I gave up on page 3! Sorry, wizard guy.

I stayed away from comics after that for a while, mostly just making OCs for fun or for Deviantart OC tournaments (one of those turned into Periwinkle, actually), but around when I was 15 again I started reading webcomics again (once again, shouting out Mari favourites “Sakana” and “Cucumber Quest,”) and the siren call of writing a novel without having to describe a background or actions drew me in again and I got started on “Supermahou.”

What about the creation process do you find the most challenging? Is it the scripts or a part of the art, like lettering, coloring, inking, etc?

MC: Oh, gosh, definitely the script. I don’t script anything before I thumbnail, at best I make a vague outline of each chapter and use that as a guide, so my scripting process combines with the thumbnails. I’ve found it forces me to cut out unnecessary expository dialogue and helps with getting into the mind and body of the characters I’m writing. It also helps to avoid a lot of “talking heads” or “shot-reverse-shot” sequences. There’s nothing wrong with those, of course, but they can get a little boring to draw!

Other than that, I find colouring the second hardest part of comics, both flats, and choosing palettes. I just feel so inadequate at it!

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My more recent work has actually been going back to my roots and using limited colour palettes, which has been a breath of fresh air and really helps me learn to play around with values rather than hues. I’m a little nervous to get back to full colour (flatting is so boringgg!), but I do miss it.

Do you primarily work traditionally or digitally? Or is it a combination at different steps?

MC: I work digitally the whole way through except, surprisingly, when I thumbnail. There’s something about the roughness of pencil on paper and erasing something takes Just a bit more effort than a ctrl+z that makes the process quicker and more decisive. I also like handwriting my scripts traditionally better than digitally for whatever reason.

The only exception to this is when I have to thumbnail for an editor. It’s a lot easier to save some png files to email than to painstakingly take badly lit pictures of sketchbook scribbles only I can make out half the time.

Are there any particular themes or genres you enjoy working with?

MC: I LOVE writing romance, but overall I love writing complex relationships in general. I’ve never been very good at worldbuilding or setting up interesting grand-scale conflict, but my whole brain is filled up with complex relationship maps and deeply personal stakes. Family drama is also something I wish I could explore more in my comics, but it’s something that’d be a little more involved to tackle than a single volume of a book, which is what I’m focusing on now.

As for genres, I’m huge into Fantasy and soft magic systems. Sometimes I’ll dive into some more gothic aesthetics, but my heart lies pretty solidly in the whimsical fairytale territory.

”Peritale,” your most recent and longest running webcomic has been going on for six years. What’ve been some of the joys of working on such a long running series and some of the challenges?

MC: It’s definitely really fun to see a warping, evolving proof of your work quality just available for you to check back on whenever you want. It’s also a genuine joy to be able to share your work with everyone online with no paywalls, or licensing deals, or physical barriers. If I was able to put every single one of my works out there for anyone to read, I’d honestly do it in a heartbeat, but I do need to make a living somehow hahah…

That all being said, it’s a really stressful work environment! Honestly, I’m floored at how webtoons and tapas artists can churn out so much content so quickly, it really wears you down after a few years. And I was with Hiveworks through the whole process, so I was getting paid, but just the love of the game ended up not being enough for me.

I realised I like having a specific structure! Planning and thumbnailing my entire story, then holing in a cave for however many years it takes to complete it, then releasing it to the public all at once. Print comics ended up suiting me much more!

That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on “Peritale,” though. It’s the first big story I’ve ever had to tell, and I’m a Taurus Moon, so I’m very stubborn (lol).

In addition to your webcomic work, you’ve drawn a graphic novel for another writer at a big publishing house, “ParaNorthern,” and are currently working on two more of your own. What’s been the biggest change in your process for those, since they don’t have a page by page release schedule, or a batch release like you did for “Life of Melody” on your Patreon?

MC: I feel like I explained it a bit earlier, but it’s essentially been the same, but in larger batches since it needs to go through approval processes.

While in “Peritale” I would do thumbnails>pencils>inks>colours per scene, for a publisher I do each of these steps one at a time, and once they’re cleared by my editor, I’m good to start working on the rest of it!

It’s a lot more repetitive for sure, and thumbnailing an entire full graphic novel in one go can be Really hard on your noggin, but afterwards there’s a rush I get when I know I can just cut loose and draw as mindlessly as I want. It’s a great time to catch up on podcasts!

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I know you had to put “Peritale” on hiatus due to your graphic novel work. Do you miss working on it? And, similarly, do you miss working on a weekly schedule for completed pages?

MC: I miss working on it almost every day! I think about all the juicy bits I never got to so often, so really I’m excited to find my spark and get back into writing it again. There’s a bit of detangling I need to do to fix some of younger Mari’s worldbuilding blunders, which has been the hardest thing to sit down and work on for me since I have so much on my plate right now, but I hope once I get that free time again I can hop back into it and do the story justice.

With regards to the schedule, though… Good riddance. I think if I finish “Peritale” one day I’ll just manically drop it off on the website in one go and vanish into the mist like a little hermit fairy peddler.

Do you have an example of that you’d be able to share re: worldbuilding blunders?

Ugh, gosh, there are so many small ones and they all boil down to wanting to be spontaneous and adding little subplots that weren’t in the original outline that I wasn’t sure how to cleanly resolve.

I guess if you want the gorey specifics, for fans of “Peritale,” while Dagmar is my beautiful awful child and I don’t regret bringing them into the world, they really didn’t exist in the first iteration of the story. I felt the first arc of Periwinkle’s journey needed a foil (a miniboss, if you will), so I came up with Dagmar on the fly not realizing they’d come with their own baggage I’d have to wrap up. Now I’m struggling to tie it all neatly, but I do think I’ve got it mostly figured out!

The moral of the story here is to have a tight outline if you don’t want to derail your story into uncertain territory!

Back to those graphic novels, can you tell us more about “The Demon of Beausoleil” and “Belle”?

MC:: Sure! Beausoleil is actually out right now as a digital, unedited pdf on the Hiveworks store and we’re looking at kickstarting a print version soon!

“The Demon of Beausoleil” is a romantic dramedy about Helianthes, a half-demon exorcist, and his bodyguard Elias as they face off against an increasing amount of demons in their dingy little pseudo-Victorian town and try not to fall in love with each other in the process. It came to me at a time when I was completely creatively wrecked. I was working exclusively on other people’s projects, and a couple of those projects were really starting to drain me, so I put “Beausoleil” together super quick one day so I could have full and complete control over a project. No editors watching over my shoulder, no checking in with anyone, just pure, self-indulgent demon fun.

I think it ended up being something really special because of how indulgent it ended up being, so I hope if it becomes a bit more widely available, people will like it!

“Belle” is my very first book with a publisher that’s entirely my own, and I couldn’t be happier with the team at First Second. They give me so much creative freedom, and all their feedback is really constructive and they’re super chill about rediscussing something if I dislike a suggestion, or don’t think it’s true to a character. I really feel like they trust me to tell a story.

“Belle” is about a love triangle between three seniors in High School: Belle, a wallflower who’s spent the past 3 years under the radar as the school mascot; Chloe, the school’s soccer star who’s badly failing English 103; and Regina, head cheerleader, valedictorian, smart, pretty, and definitely not stressed out of her mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a story where each protagonist has such a big piece of my own experiences and personality traits in them, I actually tend to stay away from projecting on my babies, but I figured if I was going to do it anywhere, I’d have to do it in a vulnerable slice of life teen romance.

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“Belle” is slated to come out early 2023. Please enjoy!

Since you’re actively working on one, what do you think is a good balance of pining & will-they-won’t-they to forward relationship momentum, be that a confession and rejection or moving to the dating stage or whatnot, in love triangles like these?

Well, it really depends on what types of characters you’re working with! Writing a love triangle has less to do with the triangle itself but how each character reacts to it. In “Belle’s” case, it’s a true triangle (not, like, a V shape), so at some point in the story every character has feelings for another on the vertices, which was a lot of fun to navigate through with such different personalities.

This is a hard question to answer, because it’s hard to just dole out strict tips on how to successfully use a trope. I guess the best answer I can give is take inspiration from stories you love! Figure out what made them work and why you liked it so much. And that sometimes characters have minds of their own, so you’d be surprised how much of my writing process is just a stream of consciousness tapping into what a certain character would say or do or feel in any given situation.

By the way, I love the quote they have for you in all the announcements for “Belle:” “Thanks First Second for setting me loose at the lesbian factory.” How gay can we expect these books to be, on a scale of very to oh wow very?

MC: Well, it is a lesbian story written by a lesbian about 3 lesbians in a love triangle with each other, so I’ll let you decide when the book is out!

Okay, final question. What are three webcomics you’d recommend for fans of your webcomics

MC: I haven’t actually read a webcomic in a while, what with all the work I’ve had, mostly I’ve been sticking to audio media like podcasts, musicals and audiobooks, but just from being in the know some I think would really vibe with “Peritale” readers would be “Witchy,” “Alice and the Nightmare,” and “Namesake!”

(Also read my other comic “Life of Melody!!” It’s set in the same universe and it’s free to read online!)

//TAGS | Webcomics

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after wining the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and really needs to update his profile photo again.


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