Teenager Aliera Carstairs has a pretty good head on her shoulders. She doesn’t have much patience for angst or drama; she describes herself as “A smart, lonely girl with a singular talent for swordplay.” By swordplay, she means fencing, which she is serious about and which forms the motif for both Yolen’s first book, Foiled, and the sequel, Curses: Foiled Again, both illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. (We all did a roundtable discussion about Foiled when it first came out.)
Aliera is pretty solid, but in Foiled, Yolen threw her a couple of curve balls: First there was the cute if not too bright boy Avery, who stirred a few preliminary feelings that Aliera found rather confusing. Then, on what was supposed to be her first date with Avery, in the grand concourse of Grand Central Station, Aliera found herself in the center of a battle between fairies and other otherworldly creatures and learned that she, Aliera Carstairs, was the defender of the fairy kingdom of Seelie. And Avery? He was a troll. Literally.
Curses: Foiled Again picks up Aliera’s story, with more trolls, more fairy-fighting action, and more wry humor. You can see a preview of it here, and we asked writer Jane Yolen to talk about writing comics in general and this graphic novel in particular—and we have a few sample pages as well, so you can get a look at Cavallaro’s art.
GC4K: What comics did you read when you were a child?
Jane Yolen: Archie, Superman, Pogo, and Tales from the Crypt were all favorites, an odd collection, don’t you think?
Indeed! Are you still reading comics? What are your favorites?
Linda Medley, Hellboy, anything by Neil Gaiman, anything by Charles Vess, anything put out by Toon, First/Second, Dark Horse. Love graphic novels like Stitches, Maus, Laika, Deo Gratias, etc.
How has your view of comics as a storytelling medium evolved as you have worked on these books? What surprised you as you worked on them?
As a picture book author, the writer and illustrator are always kept apart. They do not confer. As a graphic novelist I was thrown into the real maelstrom/compost heap of consultation/advisory working together.
You have written picture books and prose novels—how is writing a graphic novel different? Do you visualize the scenes as you write them?
LOTS of visualization and re-visualization going on when working on graphic novels. Very cinematic. I am the writer, and now I must learn to be director and costumer, too. And I have to speak in lyrical shorthand. Being a poet at heart really helps.
Writing about teens for teens is tricky. How did you shape Aliera and Avery to make them seem genuine to the readers?
My teenage grandaughter lives next door with my daughter. I spend a lot of time eavesdropping. They also read the mss. and told me when I missed the mark.
Did you start with the characters and develop the story for them or vice versa?
The characters tell me what is to happen next within a rather loose framework of story/plot. I listen.
With all of myths and legends to choose from, how did you decide which types of characters to include–why trolls and not ogres, for instance?
Even with all the conversation about eating Aliera, with trolls it’s all bluff. Ogres are the awful cannibalistic ones. There are a few in the final battle scenes.
Will Aliera’s story continue after this? How long do you think the series can go on?
Right now I a hoping the publisher will pick up book 3. It’s not a done deal. Ask me again if and when that one gets done.