Katie the Catsitter: Secrets and Sidekicks, the third book in the Katie the Catsitter series from RH Graphic, is available at your local book store and/or public library now! To celebrate the release of the most recent release in the ongoing series, The Beat caught up with writer Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Stephanie Yue over Zoom.
We asked all about the development of the ongoing middle grade graphic novel series, found out more about designing a new superhero costume, and asked about continuing to include the main themes of the series. Please note that this interview may include slight spoilers for Secrets and Sidekicks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
AVERY KAPLAN: How did you approach the third volume in the Katie the Catsitter series, both as a sequel and an ongoing continuation?
COLLEEN AF VENABLE: We set it up in Katie the Catsitter: Best Friends for Never that Katie was trained to be a sidekick, but it was none of the fun parts of being a sidekick. So in Secrets and Sidekicks, now it’s the fun parts. Now it’s learning the physical things, learning all the cool things, learning where all the gadgets come from, learning all this stuff. Learning where the training happens – I love the montage of the training area.
But, what happens if you’re not good at it? That’s a lot of it too. In a lot of these things, the montage happens in five minutes and they’ve lost fifty pounds and they’re suddenly great at everything. Which, I also hate montages where anyone loses weight, for the record. But, what if Katie struggles with these things? What if it’s not completely natural for her to do a push-up, like most people out there?
I started with that, and I also wanted the idea of other heroes and villains in the city, and really starting to gray that line with the Moustress. The fact that she saves the city… I don’t know how many times in the book, and they react by saying, “Oh my gosh, did you see, the Moustress destroyed the city again!”
Also, secret identities being found out, I think is a really interesting idea. And Katie is a kid, she’s got a parent. The parent doesn’t know she’s doing this, and suddenly, her parent is around more. I wanted it to be the one-upping of getting into this world of side-kickery.
AVERY: Can you tell us more about designing the Cheesy Justice costume?
STEPHANIE YUE: I did a whole line-up of slight variations. Some of them had a big collar, and some of them had a bob wig. I had some that were a play on “Justice.” One of the iterations before we went with the current Cheesy Justice outfit, which is also ridiculous, had a Ruth Bader Ginsburg collar.
I don’t know how the final costume would actually work. In my mind, I wonder, “What if someone actually wanted to cosplay this?” I don’t know how this cape/shoulder thing would exist in three-dimensional space. It’s like an Astroboy deal, where you just turn a certain way and it looks a certain way.
COLLEEN: Or the way Mickey’s ears always perfect circles, no matter which way he turns his head.
AVERY: What was the process of expanding on Madeline’s story like?
COLLEEN: We hadn’t really explained any of her backstory. We knew that she ran a series of restaurants, and we knew that she had issues from having been caught in the first book. I think she had a big character arc in the second book, where it was the first time that people were relying on her, and she was letting them in.
In Secrets and Sidekicks, her realizing she’s never been truthful with her family about it, that’s a hard scene for me to re-read, even though I wrote it. Everything’s not perfect just because she’s this secret hero. There are still a lot of other things in her life that she’s neglecting. And I think she neglected friendship in the earlier book, and now I think she’s embraced that part of it, but it’s still really hard to be herself around everybody in her life.
STEPHANIE: It’s nice to see Madeline more humanized.
COLLEEN: Like the reveal of where she gets the cats. And if anyone asks, there are still only 217. Some of them graduate, so they go off to live with other people. I just wanted there to be room to explain where she gets the cats because this has to be a realistic book.
STEPHANIE: In my mind, there’s a potential spin-off series in the cats that graduate, and whatever cluster of skills they have.
AVERY: I appreciated the continuation of the sexism theme (+ return of Cold Hands) from Best Friends for Never. How important was it to continue including this theme?
COLLEEN: Really important. There are so many horrible gender assumptions, in a thousand different ways, from a lot of people. And the more we can get awesome representation of all different people doing awesome things.
And the fact that it’s still a world that is very much run by white cis men. Madeline has a line where she says, “I came out and I thought I was a hero, and everybody took one look at me and saw I was a Black woman and assumed I was a villain.” And I feel like that line was way more true than I wanted it to be. I feel like it’s a theme that’s never going to go away because the world is never going to get perfect.
But any chance we get to have an awesome hero in any form… Whether it’s a little kid that I might think is ace, or just making sure that Madeline and Stainless Steel and all these powerful women of all different body types are represented.
STEPHANIE: That’s also a fun thing to draw. I want to draw different body types; I want to draw different people. I want everyone to have a little bit of representation.
AVERY: Is there anything else you’d like me to be sure and include?
COLLEEN: This is my favorite Katie. Maybe it’s just because it’s the newest, is that how it works? I’m kidding; as the youngest, I should not be saying that out loud. But really, I feel like we got into such a good groove in this book. I feel like the jokes really land, and the heartwarming parts really land.
Katie’s mom is great. I love that you find out a little bit more – things I always assumed kids would notice are said flat-out in this one. Like I always thought people would notice that Katie’s mom doesn’t have a bedroom. But I guess if you never knew anybody who had a parent who had to sleep in the living room because they didn’t have the extra room, you wouldn’t go there mentally.
So I wanted to flat-out say, “Her mom is working these ridiculous hours; she’s falling asleep all the time. She sleeps on the couch because they don’t have enough money.” And then to have her mom kind of figure her life out at the same time as Katie figuring it out… I just love that kind of secondary character growth. That’s something I really like doing, is making the side characters have growth.
STEPHANIE: I think part of that is because it’s the third book, so you can kind of lean in and explore the characters a little bit more. Even if it’s just a little quip in the background that gives the character more dimension… I feel like you’re really good at doing that for all of the cast.
COLLEEN: I will say, I always have books with too many cast members, though. I love recurring characters, I love recurring gags, and I love people coming back that had a small, one-panel cameo in another book. Knowing that barely any readers will realize that’s the same character, but the ones that do will be so excited.
STEPHANIE: I think readers will notice when they come back. Just based on the cat continuity errors that have been pointed out to us. Readers will notice, so it will be appreciated! “Is that a different cat?”
COLLEEN: We definitely have some kids that call us out. And now we have another pass that we do for every book that’s all cat continuity.
STEPHANIE: The cat continuity pass.
COLLEEN: It’s a lot.
STEPHANIE: It’s 217!
Secrets and Sidekicks is available now.