Small Press Expo (or SPX) is a nonprofit created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. It’s mission is to “To provide a forum to showcase new and emerging talent in the fields of comics, graphic novels and political cartooning”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interview with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s Small Press Expo. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
KD: Sure! I studied graphic design for two years in Nashville, then transferred to Memphis College of Art to pursue sequential narrative, where I graduated in May 2016. I draw a lot of cute, cartoony characters in colorful worlds, so most of my comics are written for all ages. My first big comic project was Oddity Woods, which launched March 2016 and is now published by Hiveworks. Currently I update it twice a week, while also self publishing other stories in my spare time.
PL: You’ve been working on Oddity Woods, your web comic about a young detective trying to solve the murder of her missing father and ending up in a mysterious forest. It’s a fantastic coming of age story about kids solving mysteries in a supernatural wood. What made you want to tell this story?
KD: Oddity Woods came from a combined love of mystery visual novels, detective fiction and horror games. It’s sort of a love letter to the media I grew up with. I wanted to create something readers could engage with, theorize about and try to solve each chapter’s mystery for themselves. “Whodunnit” stories are something I don’t see often in webcomics, so I thought I’d take a shot!
PL: Oddity Woods mixes a lot of your influence and elements from fantasy, urban legends and to a lesser extent, horror? How are you using those influences to guide your story?
KD: I find that the supernatural elements are not only fun to use when developing the mystery aspects of the comic, but also with creating ways for the protagonists to solve them. For example, the main character, Marietta, possesses a magical magnifying glass that acts as a sort of lie detector. Marietta starts off wanting to be this great detective, but is but is blown off as nonsensical by the adult characters.
When Marietta ends up lost in Oddity Woods (which is like a giant, purgatory-like forest), she’s able to start living her dreams by helping other people she comes across. In a world that isn’t bound by “adult control,” and with her power of seeing lies, Marietta has the upper hand for the first time in her life. But while it’s a fantastical world, it’s also very dark. Sometimes the darkest things there aren’t so obvious. So while the woods allows Marietta to take action, there’s a lot of bad stuff there that she’s too naive to understand. In a way, the horror elements are a parallel to real world situations that kids don’t always understand, such as death and grief.
PL: Trust and growing up, or becoming mature, are important themes in your book. Why did you want to explore those themes?
KD: Coming of age themes are very relatable for a lot of people, I think. When you’re a child, you’re still figuring out how great and how terrible the world can be. It’s hard to know who you can trust. Sometimes I look back on my own life and the people I thought were supposed to be good role models, but realize later that even your heroes can be pretty messed up. It’s the switch from a good vs evil view, to the reality that no one is completely good. A lot of the characters in Oddity Woods have made bad mistakes. Marietta’s one dream is finding the bad guys and helping people, but she’s yet to realize even her allies may not be entirely guilt free.
PL: I’m fascinated by your use of colour in Oddity Woods. Your colours are very vibrant and set the supernatural and paranormal mood of the story really well. How do you approach colours in your work?
KD: Figuring out color palettes is probably my favorite part of the comic process! I always start by asking what kind of mood I want to convey with each scene. I tend to focus a lot on the lightsource and contrasting shadows. I think the darker shades against the vibrant light sources are what help give it that otherworldly feel. I’m glad to hear it gives off a spooky mood!
PL: Do you have any new comics or material you’re bringing to SPX? If so, can you tell us a little bit more about it?
MO: Yes! I’m debuting an all ages comic called Spectral Zone. It’s about a group of five teens trying to rid their town of a weird neon-colored zombie apocalypse. This first issue focuses on fighting these creatures at their school, while learning to work together despite their differences. It also features a killer zombie laptop.
PL: What do you want readers to take with them once they’ve finished reading your comics?
KD: Don’t give up, even if things seem bleak. You never know what’s around the corner.
You can follow Kay’s work on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter, Tumblr or on Instagram. You can find Oddity Woods online as well. She will be at SPX this weekend at table K11 with her latest comics Spectral Zone. She’s looking forward to meeting you!
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.