Growing up can be really hard sometimes. Everyone has those moments in childhood where they don’t feel like they have the power to solve their problems. Sometimes, they invent imaginary friends to help them and give them strength to make it through the day. But what if someone decided they wanted to become their imaginary friend?
From cartoonist Charise Mericle Harper and First Second Books comes Crafty Cat, a new all-ages graphic novel series about a young girl who solves her problems with the help of her artistic alter ego, the eponymous Crafty Cat!
Birdie’s panda birthday is going to be perfect, but after a cupcake accident, a maliciously inclined litterbug, and bossy classmate Anya everything is ruined. Should Birdie run away and cry? Not a chance, because her crafting alter-ego Crafty Cat can save the day!
Harper is a prolific writer, and has penned over 50 children’s books in the past. She has made comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, Spongebob Comics, and other great anthologies. The Comics Beat is proud to be the first outlet to show off art from her latest book and talk to her about the inspirations behind Crafty Cat.
Kyle Pinion: First things first, tell me all about your love of cats. I assume you’re a pet owner? How much did that inspire the genesis of this story?
Charise Mericle Harper: I do have pets – two cats and one dog. I love watching the cats, because you never really know what they’re thinking. They’re mysterious. Why do they sit in boxes, race off to different rooms or always have to lay on my papers? Mycat Harley loves craft projects. Anytime I’m cutting paper, or sewing he’s right there next to me watching. He has crafty paws. If only he had thumbs – he could be my helper. I like to think of him as my cat-inspiration for this series. I even made Crafty Cat the same color as him – golden brown.
Pinion: When you sit down to craft one your comics, do you set out to pitch your story to one particular audience? How does that affect your panel to panel construction and the themes you hit upon?
Harper: At the start, when I first come up with the idea, I know what age group I’m writing for, but I don’t think about it much beyond that. When I’m writing and sketching, I’m having fun for me. I guess I’m hoping that if I’m having fun with the writing – someone will have fun with the reading. Sketching out the book is my favorite part of the process. It’s like magic – stepping into that story world. Anything can happen and with comics there’s freedom to linger on a moment. I like that. The comic structure allows for the manipulation of time. It’s a gift.
Pinion: What’s the core idea behind Crafty Cat that you want readers to take away from this new effort? How does Birdie differ from her alter-ego?
Harper: Life is chock-full of both great and uncomfortable moments. Crafty Cat is about those moments. I think younger audiences are especially attuned to the extremes in life. One minute something is great, and the next it’s devastating. It’s not easy to ride on that roller coaster. Birdie, the main character in Crafty Cat, has a recipe for the bad times. She has a place a refuge, her alter ego – Crafty Cat. I have a lot of inner dialogue in my life, that’s probably expected for a writer, but I think everyone does. Birdie certainly does, and I hope that’s the charm of this series. I’d love for the readers to be inspired by her to embrace their own hopeful and strong inner dialogue.
Pinion: Will the story include any practical how-to’s of crafting? Or do you hope that you may inspire some new younger crafters out there?
Harper: Crafty Cat is full of crafts, Birdie is constantly making things. At the end of the book there’s a craft section, so readers can try their hands at crafting too. I love making things, so I was especially excited about incorporating crafts into the story.
Pinion: Your drawing style is minimalist yet expressive. Who inspires you as an artist? What works influenced you when you were working on Crafty Cat?
Harper: I’ve always been drawn to the main event. What I mean by that is, I want to know, What happened? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? etc. I don’t want the background details – that takes too long. My drawing style reflects that impatience. Very early on, I was a big fan of Mark Beyer’s work. His comics style is very simple. I really only have one working eye, so I’m not great with perspective. I like to focus on my character, what they are thinking, how they’re acting and then add some talking flowers and clouds.
The first volume of Crafty Cat will be released in Winter 2017!