Joey Weiser’s Mermin started out as, literally, a “fish out of water” story: A strange sea creature washes up on a beach, a boy takes him home, and we get to watch Mermin—the mer-man from Mer—cause general chaos at his new friend Pete’s home and school. But from the very beginning there are hints of a deeper, more involved story, and over the next four volumes Weiser fleshes that out, as Pete and his friends find out Mermin’s true identity and travel to the undersea land of Mer, where they become caught up in a battle with Atlantis over scarce resources.
Volume 5, which is due out in April, brings the story to its climax and finale. Kirkus recently reviewed it, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Weiser about his story and how it evolved from beginning to end. He also shared some art from the books, and we have a preview of vol. 5 at the end of the interview.
It has been four years since the first volume of Joey Weiser’s Mermin was published, and now he’s rounding the final curve, with the fifth and final volume due out in April. The series starts out as, literally, a “fish out of
Mermin started out a couple of years ago as a fairly straightforward story about an alien from the sea who escapes from his undersea kingdom and makes friends with a couple of ordinary kids. Now it’s a pretty complicated tale, with a lot more characters, warring kingdoms, and a bit of darkness. Is that how you envisioned it from the beginning?
Yes, this was the plan from the beginning! When first creating the concept for Mermin, questions like “Why is a fish-boy on land?” and “Why has this never happened before?” came up, and in the answers to these questions, more and more of the future volumes’ story began to take shape. I will admit that there was a part of me that was just covering my eyes and jumping in though. It’s pretty easy to say, “And then EVENTUALLY there will be two giant armies facing off with our characters caught in the middle…” but EVENTUALLY you have to actually make that happen!
The trio of “ordinary kids” you picked is kind of interesting: Two boys and a slightly older girl. Why did you choose those particular characters?
I believe this just came from doodling characters and building a story around the ones I enjoyed drawing. I wanted to have a young kid that would be the straight-man to Mermin’s antics. It made sense to me to give that kid a friend, and I liked the dynamic of having an older sister looking after them and getting caught up in their adventure.
A couple of years ago, in an interview at Good Comics for Kids, you talked about how you wrote the first book as a series of minicomics. You weren’t planning to do that for the subsequent volumes. How has that shift affected the way you tell the story?
I tried to keep a similar mindset when writing the following four volumes. Each book has five chapters, much like the five issues that were turned into Mermin Book 1. I still tried to make each chapter work relatively well on its own, as if it were a single issue of a comic book. The biggest change is that as time went on, the fact that they were going straight to graphic novel meant that each chapter didn’t really have to have a set amount of pages. I think the final chapter of Book 5 is much longer than any of the other chapters!
You also mentioned that the character of Mermin started out as a possible character from another story, and you described him as “a young Creature from the Black Lagoon.” What appealed to you about that sort of character, and how has he evolved as the story went on?
I’m a big fan of monsters and creatures, especially Japanese movie monsters like Godzilla or Gamera. The Creature From The Black Lagoon is the most creature-y of all the Universal movie monsters, so I love it! That old character of mine isn’t really anything like Mermin in personality. The similarities are basically just cosmetic. The little nugget of an idea of a fish-boy was enough to get started.
Has the story changed in other ways? Have any of the characters surprised you?
The main cast kept growing, even though that wasn’t my intention! In Book 2, I brought one of Pete’s classmates, Penny, in as a new set of eyes to be amazed with Mermin. I liked her more positive look on him, in contrast to Pete who is Mermin’s friend but often embarrassed by him or concerned about them getting into trouble. So, I surprised myself by thinking, “Maybe Penny should join them on their way down to the undersea kingdom of Mer in Book 3…?”
At the same time, I was totally loving writing the bully character, Randy. He’s terrible, but very fun to write for, and I was a little sad that his dynamic with the other characters was going to be gone once they submerged. So…he ended up sneaking in and joining them in Book 3 and beyond as well!
Then, in Book 4, I introduced an Atlantean girl named Alexis, who was going to just be Pete’s guide through this second underwater kingdom of Atlantis. I ended up really growing attached to her as well, and sure enough, she ended up being by Pete’s side in Book 5!
Even Kuda and Mak, who were supposed to just be one-off villains in the first book, ended up sticking around in different capacities. That’s one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gained from working on a series for the first time. You have a lot more time to develop ideas and characters, and build a whole world and cast that you might not have in a single volume.
Do you have a favorite moment in the four books so far?
Not an exact moment, but probably my favorite part is the human kids visiting Mer for the first time in Book 3. Creating a whole new undersea civilization was something that I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but when I finally dove in, it was a lot of fun. And characters like Mermin’s sister Merma or the eccentric Chef Panz, who’s like a fanboy for humans, were fun to create.
What is the most challenging part of being both writer and artist for this story? Do you hate yourself when you come up with a scene like a swimming pool full of fish, that’s complicated to draw?
Yes, this is something that happens, actually! I hate that I’m this way, but I actually have a lot of dread leading up to drawing complicated scenes like that, or undersea kingdoms, or big battles like I mentioned above. However, I feel like the fact that I still write stuff for myself to draw that seems like a pain is evidence that I’m still challenging myself and that the writing is solid and not “pulling any punches” in regards to the imagery that I want to include in the books.
When I sit down and write it in outline form, the thought might cross my mind, “Ugh, this is gonna be tough to draw.” However, I set that aside and go forward. Then, when I’m thumbnailing the book, I do a quick sketch of what it might look like and it seems a little less scary. Then, when it’s time to pencil and ink that part, I just have to set aside a day or whatever and just get started on it. Sometimes it feels like it’s going to take forever, but I just load up a few long podcasts, get into it, and time passes quicker than I’d think. And suddenly it’s done! I usually sit back and think something like, “Huh! I guess that’s it, then!”
THEN, eventually it’s time to color it and I start kicking myself all over again…
Is Book Five the last in the series? What will you be doing next?
Mermin Book 5: Making Waves will, in fact, be the last volume of the series. I pitched Mermin to Oni Press as a five-book series, and here we are! The two undersea kingdoms, Mer and Atlantis, are at war, and Mermin and his friends are stuck out on the battlefield! There’s action, comedy, and a few scenes that I’ve been envisioning since I started working on issue 1 of the mini-comic! This book ends the arc I set up in the beginning of the series, and that really started moving full-steam in Book 3. I’m not sick of the characters or world at all, but I am looking forward to doing something entirely new now that it is complete.
My next book is a self-contained graphic novel, Ghost Hog, also with Oni Press! It’s about the ghost of a young boar, Truff, who has to adjust to her new afterlife and grapple with her desire for revenge against the hunter, who is the last thing she saw with living eyes. In concept it sounds pretty dark, but it will be a similar feel to my past work, with maybe a little darker lining. Truff makes friends with dopey forest spirits who attempt to guide her, and there’s action when she comes to blows with an evil mountain demon! Lots of fun stuff!