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Interview: Kel McDonald on ‘Misfits of Avalon’

Kel McDonald may be the youngest veteran creator in the business. She started her webcomic Sorcery 101 while she was in high school, and she’s about to wrap it up and collect it into an omnibus edition that she’s funding on Kickstarter. She has also Kickstarted several other books, including two Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales anthologies (Michael May reviewed one of them here.) And Dark Horse has just published the first volume of her trilogy, Misfits of Avalon. We talked to her about Misfits and about how she makes a living as an independent comics creator, via self-publishing, traditional publishing, Kickstarter, and Patreon.

Let’s start with Misfits of Avalon, as that just came out last month. Can you briefly explain what it’s about?

The elevator pitch is: Misfits of Avalon is about a team of magical girls who are jerks fighting King Arthur.

You’re also the creator of Sorcery 101, which has been going on since 2005. Tell us a bit about that comic and what inspired it. Is it still ongoing?

Sorcery 101 stars Danny, who is a history teacher learning sorcery from magic from a grumpy vampire. It follows Danny’s struggle to balance his mundane life with the supernatural he has gotten increasingly involved in.

I really like supernatural stories and started making comics to entertain myself. Sorcery 101 in particular I made because I wanted a story that focused on the characters that aren’t usually the main character.

Sorcery 101 will wrap up next July/August. It’s going to end at roughly 1500 pages long. I’m kickstarting an omnibus that collects the first half of the comic. The second half will be kickstarted in July.

I know you redrew part of Sorcery 101 a few years ago. What have you learned in your nine years of creating this comic?

I redrew 460 pages of Sorcery 101 because when I started the comic I was in high school. I didn’t know the way to properly save images for printing. So the first three or four years couldn’t be printed. So I definitely learned about the production side of comics the hard way.

On the creative side, I learned about pacing. Sorcery 101‘s story get tighter and more focused as I worked on it. My choices as a writer are more deliberate now.

Your works often seem to deal with supernatural phenomena in an everyday setting, as in Misfits of Avalon, where four teenagers are deputized to retrieve the sword of Excalibur—they go from goofing off in high school to fighting monsters with their superpowers. What do you find interesting about that mix of normal and paranormal?

I’ve always been a fan of supernatural related shows. But the more I look at fantasy and sci-fi stories, anything like that so far out of our daily experiences will need a human element to ground it. So I tried to mix that into both Sorcery 101 and Misfits of Avalon. So Danny’s relationship with his friends Brad and Ally is just as important as him learning sorcery. And Morgan and Elsie’s homelife is just as important as the mission to retrieve Excalibur.

In Misfits, your heroines are four girls who are very different but all scrappy and resourceful in their own ways. Are they modeled after anyone in particular?

The girls aren’t based of anyone in particular. I just tried to write about girls we don’t often see in media.

Which came first, the characters or the storyline?

The characters came first. I made the team of magical girls and then a theme for the team. I figured all the best magical girl stories give their team a solid theme that is tried to the story. So once I decided on the King Arthur theme for the team, then the story started to take shape.

In Misfits, the girls are no angels. The first two that we meet, in particular, are fighting, ditching school, shoplifting, and cussing. Do you think there’s a risk in showing that sort of behavior in a book aimed at teens?

Not really. I mostly wanted show the girls doing all that stuff because you don’t really get to see girls act this way in fiction. You often get boys doing all this stuff. Girls in fiction are usually shown to be mean by being slutty or catty. But there are plenty of girls who are just as aggressive or tough. And while it’s not role model behavior, I think it’s just as important to show girls acting out in different ways.

Is Misfits of Avalon your first graphic novel to be published in the traditional way, i.e., not self-published? From your point of view, how is this different from serializing online and then self-publishing?

This is my first book with a publisher, yes. Self publishing is definitely a lot more work. It was nice to just hand in the art and then be able to more or less step away. There are a lot of little things that go into making a book, like logo design, book layout, and promo flyers, which a publisher will handle for an artist. Kickstarting and self-publishing a book really requires an artist to put on more of a salesman hat. You got to basically find creative ways to say LOOK AT ME over and over while kickstarting. It’s probably my least favorite part of self-publishing.

Then when it’s done you have the heavy lifting of self publishing, which requires a lot of organization. Because you need to talk to multiple printers to get the best printing price. You need to make sure you keep hundreds of people’s information straight.

So working with a publisher definitely resulted in much less work. Also, less of the risk is on me. But I get to keep more of the money for each book sale when I self publish.

You have been part of the webcomics scene for a while now, and you have funded your projects in different ways. You were one of the first comics creators to use Kickstarter, and now you are using Patreon as well. How does all that fit together to allow you to make a living as a comics creator?

Well, most of my money comes from either ads on my site or sales at comics conventions. Kickstarter is super helpful at making sure I have something new whenever I return to a convention. That’s why I usually have my Kickstarters run in the winter. That way I’ll have my new project in hand by March, which is when convention season starts up.

In all honestly, I’ve been kinda neglecting Patreon. There are other artists who I KNOW are doing a better job utilizing that site. I just haven’t had much time to make extras. So mostly on my Patreon I’ve been showing people the pencils of the newest Sorcery 101 page, with my incentive being less ads on the website.

Being a webcomic artist is kinda every little bit helps. So you have to balance several different avenues.

What are your goals for the next few years?

Well, I would like to start up a series of short stories that are follow ups to Fame and Misfortune.

And what are you working on now?

I am working on Misfits of Avalon volume 2, which comes out in 2016, and finishing Sorcery 101. I’ve also finished the script for short called The Better to Find You With that will probably self publish in 2016. I’m also organizing the next volume of my Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales series. That volume will kickstart in 2015 and be Asian Fairy Tales this time around.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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