Avast ye all! Thar be… no, no. Every time I try to write in Medieval style, it just comes off sounding like pirate talk. Today Monkeybrain announced five new titles which are all available right now. However, the one we immediately honed in on was AVERY FATBOTTOM: RENAISSANCE FAIR DETECTIVE #1, by Jen Vaughn. How can you not, with a title like that? The first issue is available through ComiXology now.
Ahead of the announcement, I spoke to Jen about the new series, which comes with a great Dylan Todd cover logo. What’s it about? How did it come to be? And what’s it all got to do with NBC’s Hannibal?
Steve: What’s the basic idea of AVERY FATBOTTOM: RENAISSANCE FAIR DETECTIVE? Was this a story you’ve had in mind for a while? What inspired the choice to set the series at, y’know, a renaissance fair?
Jen: Avery Fatbottom has definitely been percolating for awhile. The Renaissance Fair seemed like an obvious choice to tell a mystery because everyone involved is nuts. You have consenting adults and kis who willinging go out the middle of nowhere like a forest is a time machine to pretend they live in a land of duty, honor, no deodorant, no birth control or air conditioning, much less rights for women.
It’s a step beyond war reenactments because of the level of interaction and commerce that is involved. I speak from some experience, as a former actor and bawdy singing wench in madrigal dinner theater in Texas for three years. We’d spend a weekend or two ad-libbing/getting into character at the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF).
While I lived in Vermont, I started illustrating children’s activity sheets for a puppeteer and mask-maker who asked me to start performing with his giant puppets at festivals and Mardi Gras. It’s amazing how much cross-over there is between renaissance fairs and Mardi Gras. And conventions of the vague ‘geek’ variety. See someone there making scale-mail or selling corsets? They do the same thing in the sweltering sun during the summer too.
Steve: What struck me most about the first issue is just how lifelike the characters and dialogue felt – they’re like real people! How important is it, to you, to make sure you have strong characters first and foremost?
Jen: Wait, Avery, Gwen and Ben aren’t real people?
Steve Bissette and James Sturm taught me about the importance of a character-driven story and a plot-driven story. In one, the characters can change things, affect what happens around them. In the plot (like a disaster movie), they can only react because they are constantly being propelled forward. I am trying to do both.
In a recent interview about Hannibal (which I love, I’m serious, I wouldn’t have watched it until I heard who was calling the shots), Bryan Fuller said his FBi character Will Graham had to be cute or else the audience wouldn’t care about his slow downfall. They even surround him with cute big dogs and poor Hugh Dancy (the actor) must have a boxer clause stating he must be pantsless in every other episode. Same goes for me – if you don’t think the characters are real or have a connection, why would you care what happens to them?
Steve: This is probably the most gleefully dirty Monkeybrain title that’s been published so far. Especially the limericks! Did those already exist, or did you invent them yourself?
Jen: I absolutely did not invent those limericks. They are a proud tradition of bawdy singing wenches and footmen for decades and more but now I think I should have made a footnote about that. Did I include the ones I enjoyed singing? Hell yes. Can you make up your own? Of course!
Life is nothing but dirty jokes, have you seen human genitals? The fact anyone touches each other is a DNA-replicatin’ miracle.
I let loose because I’m also working on a 120+ page comic written by Steve Duin about meth and prostitution called Unassisted Suicide… HEAVY STUFF but a challenge in a different fashion.
Steve: You both write and draw the series, with complete control over how the story comes together. What’s your process on a book like this? Do you script and then plot out the panels, or do you allow yourself space to play around with the pages and then fiddle with the dialogue later?
Jen: The first person who usually sees my comics is probably my friend, cartoonist Jesse Lonergan (he’s had a few books from NBM come out). We usually trade thumbnails or pencils because we don’t cunt-coddle each other, the way your drinking buddies or workout partners would do. Before Jesse, another CCS alum Laura Terry would do the same thing – but she’s busy!
My process is probably boring but usually I come up with a beginning and end, work towards the middle with notecards I carry around held together by a blown-out ponytail holder. Once Act 1, 2 and 3 exist, I then start thumbnailing the comic to figure out pacing, dialogue, layout. Character design is that fun thing you do to impress guys or girls in public meanwhile at home you’re beating your head against a wall attempting to have the story flow and make sense.
Once the illegible thumbnails are made, I redraw it all larger to send to Jesse, another cartoonist Nomi Kane, and maybe my boyfriend or mom because they aren’t IN comics per se and if they don’t understand something, maybe there’s an clearer way to convey it.. Pencil, Ink, Scan, Clean, Dance! Dance breaks are important, nobody wants to get that hump in their back.
Steve: Am I right in thinking the issue was inked by hand?
Jen: Yes, this was inked by hand (save the color on the cover) because I spent way too long in Vermont around loggers and people who pray for the day the grid goes down. Also because I like the feel of ink, bristol, when you break in a new nib. And finally because holy shit, there’s always something new to learn computer-wise with coloring/shading/new brushes etc. I want to know the limits of my own hands and then I’ll start playing around with Parts of Avery Fatbottom will be in color, maybe the whole thing, its part of the mystery….
Steve: What are you most enjoying about the series, yourself? Is it the elephant? It’s the elephant, right?
Jen: The elephant Loxley (named after a Robin Hood: Men In Tights’ character) is definitely coming back. I never sold original pages before but someone has already asked about it (CALL NOW). I’m enjoying the friendship between Gwen and Avery, the short hand type of language they can use but obviously not too much because I want people other than me to read this.
Steve: Did you bring the story to Monkeybrain, or did they come to you? How did the comic come to find a home with Monkeybrain?
Jen: Some great minds of other people to taffy-pull the story into what it is. I first performed it for friends and drunkards in Portland as part of their alt-weekly’s Comix Underground (thank you, Mercury editors Alison Hallett and Erik Henriksen. Allison Baker and Chris Roberson are some friends I’ve had since going back to Austin–we met on Twitter and they took me to dinner. How happy was I when they moved three hours away from me? I didn’t even wait for their guest bed to arrive before camping out.
Anyway, they asked why I hadn’t pitched something, I sent 3 stories in and they wanted Avery Fatbottom after the flawless performance by me (as Avery), Lucy Bellwood (as Gwen) and Ben Coleman (as Benn).
But I took it back to the drawing board partially to letter it and I enlisted freelance editor (Abrams’ former marketing director) Nancy Lambert. She, too, did not cunt coddle me and I’m happy to have her working with me.
Steve: What can readers expect from the series as it goes on? What would you say to persuade anybody who is still – ludicrously – on the fence about Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective?
Jen: They better watch out.