The Racc Pack
The Racc Pack.

No garbage container is safe in The Racc Pack by Stephanie Cooke and Whitney Gardner! The new middle grade graphic novel from Simon & Schuster follows the Bins family, a trio of raccoons who are about to pull the dumpster heist of a lifetime.

The Racc Pack is available beginning today, so to mark the occasion, The Beat caught up with Cooke and Gardner over email. We asked all about their favorite gags and puns, setting the story in Toronto and about what kind of trash they personally prefer.

AVERY KAPLAN: What were the origins of The Racc Pack? What inspired the combination of cute critters and heist tale?

WHITNEY GARDNER: The allure of raccoons has captivated me for as long as I can remember. During my time in New York, I took great pleasure in observing these nocturnal mischief-makers and crafting imaginative tales about their nightly escapades. Years later, fate introduced me to Stephanie, a fellow raccoon enthusiast whose passion for these creatures rivaled my own. Our shared love led to many excited text exchanges and The Racc Pack was born from there. It’s been a match made in trash heaven. 

KAPLAN: Can you give us an idea of what your collaborative process looked like on this project? 

STEPHANIE COOKE: Working with Whitney has been one of my all-time favourite collaborations. We have such similar senses of humour and ideas, and I think we really round each other out in the best way. We wrote the story itself together, doing all the character creation and outlining until we were both happy with everything. From there, I went in and did the script for our story, and would check in with Whitney if I ever got stuck or wanted her thoughts on a scene or dialogue or whatever, really. Once the script was done, and Whitney had looked it over, I trusted her to do what was best for the story when it came to the art. Whether that meant having some moments extended or shortened based on how it looked on the page, or gags switched up. Whitney is such a superstar and I knew that she would knock it out of the park.

KAPLAN: Stephanie, do you have a favorite pun from the book?

COOKE: YES! Well, kind of. It’s a bit general, I suppose, but I love the raccoonification of the English language throughout. It’s really fun writing the dialogue for the book and then thinking to myself, How can I make this into a raccoon word or joke… and seeing what I come up with. So, since this is a heist story, there’s some good old-fashioned reconnaissance that happens. But instead, it’s racconnaissance, of course! 

KAPLAN: Whitney, what was the character design process like for The Racc Pack? What went into depicting the book’s Toronto setting?

GARDNER: I started by just drawing little raccoons over and over again. Each with sneaky faces, each scheming to get their paws on trash. When I settled on what all the characters would look like, I tried to pick Canadian specific outfits for each of them. Dusty in the classic toque and buffalo plaid, Scraps in his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and ReRe with her Blundstones. 

I spent a lot of time on Google Street view and asking my Toronto-based friends for pictures of their favorite places. I tried to include lots of landmarks that locals may recognise. My favorite being Graffiti Alley. 

KAPLAN: Were there any Easter eggs you were particularly pleased to sneak in the text? (I loved the name of J.B.’s owner)

COOKE: I definitely think you got one of my faves! But I also really love a couple of the homages to caper films that we both love like Fast Five and Fantastic Mr. Fox. We watched a ton of films to get inspiration from, and elements of both of them trickled their way in.

GARDNER: Speaking of J.B.’s owner… All the paintings in her apartment are depictions of real paintings. More than a few of them went missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990…

KAPLAN: This book is laugh out loud funny. I’m curious if you have a favorite gag?

COOKE: Oh gosh, I have so many favourites! But I think one of my favourites is with Scraps, who is our gadget guy character, and the sibling of raccoons, Dusty and ReRe. He also happens to be a possum, but he thinks he’s a raccoon with alopecia. Having grown up with his raccoon family, he’s only ever known a life as a raccoon! So throughout the book (and series, really) we have a lot of fun gags hinting at his unique possum instincts and abilities…that he doesn’t realize are his possum traits. I really love playing that up and having him just love himself wholeheartedly as a raccoon that he couldn’t imagine himself any other way.

I think that’s gotta be up there with my all-time fave Racc Pack gag…that and when the Bins Family get themselves little bandit masks.

GARDNER: Mine would have to be the page where I attempted to teach children how to pick locks but got “censored” by the legal team. 

KAPLAN:  Do you have any personal experiences with raccoons (or any of the other animals featured in the book)?

COOKE: Ha, yes! I live in Toronto, which is pretty much the raccoon capital of the world. It’s the unofficial mascot of the city, so we’ve really embraced the trash panda here. That being said, there was a summer when I spent every day after garbage day rescuing a young raccoon from the bottom of my garbage bins. He would go in there at night, not realizing how empty they were after the trash had been picked up, and subsequently would get stuck at the bottom. Every morning before work, part of my ritual that summer was to go out back and help get him out. I recorded the whole thing, just in case something happened (like getting bit), and over the weeks, I wound up with a little timelapse where I saw this raccoon grow up and get very large and CHONKY. I really love raccoons!

And then, as a tribute to my little trash son, I decided to dress up as a raccoon in a trash bin for Halloween the following year. The costume went “Toronto viral” and my fate was officially sealed as a human raccoon queen…but I love it!

KAPLAN: What is your favorite kind of trash (please interpret as you’d like)?

COOKE: Reality TV!!! I love a good reality TV show, especially after I’ve been working all day and my brain is mush. I want drama in my life that doesn’t involve me whatsoever! I call it my trash TV time.

GARDNER: I’m a junk/snack/trash food fiend. I would often really relate to our band of heroes when they would drool over snacks. I even found myself getting hungry when I was drawing the (not super moldy) treats for the team.

KAPLAN: Do you have any advice for your readers who are planning their own heists want to make their own comics?

GARDNER: I suggest testing the waters by making a mini-comic first! Making an entire 180 page graphic novel can feel like such an insurmountable task. So start small! You will learn a lot about what parts of comic creation you love. And finishing a whole mini-comic will build your confidence going into something larger. You’ll be able to tell yourself, “I finished a comic before, I can do it again!”

COOKE: Don’t wait for the right moment to start. There is no “right” moment, you just gotta dive in and make the things that you want to see in the world. That’s a big thing too—don’t make things for other people or spend too much time trying to figure out what’s missing from the market. That’s good to be aware of and all, but telling the stories that you’re passionate and excited about is always the thing that—for me—comes through the most in my favourite books and comics.

KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?

COOKE: If you enjoyed The Racc Pack, thank you so much for reading it and stay tuned for more adventures from the Bins Family. We’re so excited to keep on telling their stories and bringing you more zany raccoon shenanigans!

The Racc Pack is available at a local comic shop, bookstore and/or public library near you beginning today.