In the first volume of Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger, which was one of The Beat’s Best Comics of 2020, readers were introduced to the wonders of Bug Village and the irresistible friendship of Stag-B and Rhino-B. Now, in Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond, available now from RH Graphic, the two best beetle buddies are back, and they’re off on new adventures!
The Beat caught up with Knetzger to find out more about “Night Colors,” discover what real-world locale inspired Centipede City, and learn about how Undertale inspired one of the Bug Boys stories!
AVERY KAPLAN: One of the delightful things about the Bug Boys series has been the way it blends tangible elements (like nature and insects) with more abstract concerns (like growing up and the navigation of one’s feelings). How do you strike the perfect balance these apparently disparate elements?
LAURA KNETZGER: These things aren’t that disparate to me. Looking at nature and walking in nature always makes me think about how the world is much bigger than me and bigger than humankind. Feeling small in the grand scheme of things helps me make art, because I remember that my life is short and spending part of it making comics is a blessing. It makes me introspective and inspired, which puts me in the perfect mood to make Bug Boys. Also I went to a junior high that made us do school camping trips and restoration projects in the woods, so sometimes forests make me think of being Rhino-B and Stag-B’s age.
KAPLAN: In the story “The Pearl Dragon’s Spirit,” Rhino-B and Stag-B encounter an entity that may seem (in some ways) familiar to readers of volume one (a fact observed by Rhino-B)! Why was it important for you to build on these ideas in the sequel?
KNETZGER: It’s important to me that Bug Boys contain wildness, weirdness, and real danger. For some people, an unsolvable mystery or something that can’t be explained by science is a real danger, an emotional danger. I wanted to depict Rhino-B and Stag-B encountering and withstanding the idea of something that isn’t explainable or understandable. I revisit this concept when I feel like Bug Boys is in danger of being too sweet or safe. I know it needs to be appropriate for kids, but I want it to have baby teeth at least. I wrote “The Pearl Dragon’s Castle” right after playing the video game Undertale for the first time, and it’s a response to the themes of Undertale to a certain extent. I don’t know if there’s a coherent thesis to it, it was more like I was inspired to do the Bug Boys take on similar themes.
KAPLAN: In Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond, we get to see more of the world of Stag-B and Rhino-B, both literally (as they expand their geographic horizons) and figuratively (as we get to see more of the perspectives of the supporting characters in addition to the two best friends). Was it important to include a story from Dragonfly’s perspective in Outside & Beyond?
KNETZGER: Yes, I really wanted to have more stories from the point of view of characters other than Rhino-B and Stag-B. I’m interested in developing Dragonfly, because she isn’t as brave as Rhino-B or Stag-B and she doesn’t have a best friend to constantly explain her feelings to. The tension between “heroes” and “supporting characters” is fascinating to me, because it’s really just framing that differentiates them.
KAPLAN: We saw Rhino-B and Stag-B take part in the Coming-of-Age Festival in volume one – but even though they may be considered adults, they still have a lot of bugs they look up to, like the Bee Queen, Tula the Tarantula, and the lovely and wise Dome Spider! Why did you choose to put such an emphasis on the community surrounding Rhino-B and Stag-B? Were there any particular inspirations for any of the “mentor” characters?
KNETZGER: None of the mentor characters are based on anyone in particular, other than Dome Spider being inspired by the spider in James and the Giant Peach. It’s important that Rhino-B and Stag-B meet new bugs and learn new perspectives on life, even if they don’t agree with their ideas or they’re not ready to appreciate what the bug has to say.
KAPLAN: We get a glimpse of Centipede City in this book! Was there a particular city that inspired Centipede City?
KNETZGER: Centipede City is definitely inspired by my time living in New York City. I really wanted a contrast to the pastoral fantasy of Bug Village, and to introduce the question to Rhino-B and Stag-B that they could possibly move away from Bug Village if they wanted to. No matter how huge and fabulous a city is, it can’t have the attribute of “not being a city” and therefore can’t contain everything.
KAPLAN: We also get to see the All-Bug Library Conference! Are you a fan of conventions? Have you missed them this past year?
KNETZGER: Please don’t be mad at me. I haven’t really missed conventions. I miss people badly, and I miss friends and the random meetings and discoveries at conventions. But the last few years I’ve found tabling at conventions more tiring than invigorating. I wanted to scale back how many I did, but I also felt like I might be missing out on career development or important community building if I didn’t go. Pre-pandemic, I already worked from home so I was pretty socially isolated, so spending 3 days surrounded by people was overwhelming even when I enjoyed it. I don’t know. I will certainly feel different when I attend my first post-COVID convention, if we ever get there.
KAPLAN: We get to meet some new friends in Outside and Beyond, including Wave the bat, who introduces the concept of “Night Colors.” Can you tell us a little bit about this concept and its origin?
KNETZGER: The concept of “night colors” is a metaphor for a flow state. I love bats and wanted to draw a laid-back, friendly bat in Bug Boys. I wanted him to have a philosophy that was about pleasure, and I imagined a bat would feel a hazy, happy flow state while it was flying, and develop a term for that feeling.
KAPLAN: I notice in your biography you mention that one of your hobbies is playing video games! Is there any that have you have been particularly enjoying lately?
KNETZGER: I’ve been playing Death Stranding lately, which is a far more “true to life” experience in 2021 than the creators meant it to be, I think. (It’s about being a courier after a disaster has made the outside world unsafe for people and everyone lives in underground bunkers.) I’m enjoying it a lot! I usually play much cuter games like Pokémon, Harvest Moon, or Dragon Quest. The main appeal of games for me is to feel a relaxing flow state and to be immersed in a cartoon world.
Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond is available now at your local bookstore or public library.