Grand Slam Romance: Book 1 by Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhous is the bawdy sapphic softball magical girl melodrama of your dreams! The new graphic novel is available beginning today from Abrams imprint Surely Books, and you’ll want to be sure and catch this one.
The Beat stole home for a chance to chat with Hicks and Oosterhous over email about Grand Slam Romance. We asked all about developing the hilarious character names, the process of designing the charismatic cast of characters, and
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of Grand Slam Romance?
OLLIE HICKS: Emma and I had been dating for a few months, and we both made our own indie comics separately, and Emma just suggested one day we do something together for fun. I think a lot of the comic is informed from where we were in our lives when we started working on it – you know, that sort of rush of a new relationship that’s going to be really important to you.
EMMA OOSTERHOUS: Originally, GSR was an extremely silly story that we wrote to make each other laugh and to give me an excuse to draw some hot makeouts. It wasn’t always meant to be a graphic novel— it started as a 19-page genre-mashup short comic with two characters and a world that operated on vibes alone— but when we expanded the universe to make it big enough to fill a book, I think the silliness and drama and heart expanded too.
KAPLAN: Where did the idea to combine magical girls and softball come from, and why do they fit together so snugly?
HICKS: The idea to genre mix just came about because we want to do different genres. I wanted to do a sports comic and Emma really wanted to do magical girls. We decided a mash up would be fun, and I was adamant that the sport be softball because the classic uniforms are really cute! Just a bunch of silly organic decisions that snowballed out of control.
OOSTERHOUS: So even though it was kind of a random decision, I think softball is a great backdrop for magical girl antics because of the team element that’s often present in the magical girl genre, but Astra’s an interesting one because she’s kind of a loner. She’s almost an anti-magical girl?? She’s got her own secret motivations, she doesn’t play for any higher purpose, she loves to cause chaos… and she’s at odds with Wolfgang, her ex, who’s very much a team player and is on a mission. I also think that Astra’s and Wolfgang’s magic powers fit into a sports narrative in a very sports manga way— they’re both ridiculously overpowered and always pulling out special moves and having dramatic monologues in bullet time. We love to play with genre conventions!
KAPLAN: Ollie, the characters in Grand Slam Romance all have very clever names. What was the process of coming up with them like, did any pose any special challenge, and do you have a personal favorite?
HICKS: Oh, the names come from anywhere and everywhere. Babies’ Names books, the iconic Autostraddle ‘Most Lesbian Names’ article, bits of pop culture like the Tony Basil song ‘Hey Mickey’. Emma’s got a great ear for names, especially for assonance, and really pushed me to be more imaginative than I had been before. Eventually, we ended up with an ear for silly fun names and now we make notes when a great name combination strikes us. Probably the name we struggled with the most was deciding the title – Grand Slam Romance. And I think my favourite name has to be Astra Maxima, which is one of Emma’s and just has a great mouthfeel. But Brooklyn Danger also has a special spot in my heart.
KAPLAN: Emma, what was the process of designing the characters like?
OOSTERHOUS: Hard! It turns out that I am the most indecisive person ever! I cannot commit to a character design to save my life! Astra and Wolfgang in particular went through sooooo many design iterations, I’ve lost count. I loved trying to create characters that felt like real people but also like these larger-than-life, sexy, softball goddesses. I think I was changing outfits and uniforms right up until the very, very end of the final art edits, and I’d probably still be changing them if I could!
KAPLAN: Ollie, do you have a favorite page or panel drawn by Emma for GSR? Likewise, Emma, do you have a favorite gag, line, or anything else written by Ollie from the book?
HICKS: Aaaagh this one is tough! How do you choose between your children? So many of these pages are slam dunks because Emma’s a genius. But my favourite panel is probably when Astra and Mickey kiss for the first time and there’s a close-up of their tongues… chef’s kiss. It’s just hot and wet, you know? And the colours pop. I love it so much I uh… strongly advocated for it to be the case cover.
OOSTERHOUS: There are so many things in this book that make me HOOT with laughter every time I read them! Like Jasmine being the heiress of a nasty yogurt sports drink corporation (Schitzmilk®), or Mickey’s abominable pick up lines when they’re flirting with Wolfgang, or page 69 (nice) when Astra is… let’s say… manifesting her goals for the future. :) There are also some jokes that, hilariously, only work in Ollie’s British accent– like when Zoe mishears Astra saying “walk me, Mickey” and thinks she’s saying “pork me, Mickey.”
HICKS: Yes, if you think a joke doesn’t land, try saying it in the accent of a British person doing an American accent and then it should work.
KAPLAN: As wife and wife, what did your collaborative creative process on this graphic novel look like?
HICKS: I’d say it’s fairly involved! So we sort of come up with the story outlines together, and then I go away and write up the script, and Emma is constantly coming in and asking questions, about what the characters are feeling and thinking and challenging me if she doesn’t think the characterization is landing. If I had been left to my own devices this book would still have been funny, but it would have been missing the emotional heart and the angst and any sense of softball gameplay logic, ha! Because that all comes from Emma pushing me.
We were long distance for most of this book’s creation (#OpenBordersAreAHumanRight) and reading the scripts to each other helped to a) keep us sane but also b) really develop the characters and the worlds and the voices. And then eventually the script is done and then Emma starts drawing it and I don’t have to ask any piercing questions because her art is flipping incredible and so I just get to sit back and give compliments for a year and a half!
OOSTERHOUS: I love working with Ollie! It’s very convenient to be married to my writer because I can just fire off endless questions and opinions without feeling annoying. But also we love this series and these characters so much that we goof about them ALL THE TIME, and pretty often, the things that we goof about become important plot points in the next book! So I love having the kind of creative relationship where we’re just always talking and organically creating and developing this story.
KAPLAN: Were there any particular comics, books, TV shows or other media that were particularly inspirational to you during the creation of Grand Slam Romance?
HICKS: The other day we were talking and I realized that probably one of the single biggest influences on me writing this was Tite Kubo’s Bleach! Because I read Bleach rather than shoujo or sports manga as a teen so I think Bleach has really profoundly shaped this in a bunch of ways I haven’t even begun to unpack yet. And then Mira Ong Chua’s work – I remember right at the start thinking I wanted to write something that made me laugh and hoot and feel as elated as I did when I read their seminal lesbian work Road Queen: Eternal Road Trip to Love. And then probably Archie comics and just a smidge of the 1992’s A League of Their Own (this was written before the Amazon reboot, or that would have been a significant influence).
OOSTERHOUS: This isn’t a visual medium but I think music actually had a huge influence on GSR. We have tons of playlists for different characters and ships and scenes in this book, and there were a lot of times when one of us would put a song on a playlist and I’d go !! Oh my god, this changes EVERYTHING, and it would actually affect how I drew stuff sometimes.
In terms of other media, I think Carey Pietsch’s work on the Adventure Zone graphic novels is so dynamic and genius. I also think I absorbed the aforementioned character design/outfit indecision from my favorite magical girl series, CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura. Why have one magical girl uniform when you can have dozens?
HICKS: Oh yeah, music’s a huge influence on this book. Indie queer rock music, German rap/hip hop… it all helped shape the world.
KAPLAN: Without veering too far into spoiler territory, can you give us a hint about what to expect in Grand Slam Romance: Book 2?
HICKS: More magical girls, more Wolfgang, more messiness. Basically, we’re gonna see more of this over-the-top magical world that took Astra away from Mickey. I really love GSR 2: it’s funny, sexy, has pining, ridiculous antics, everything that I hope readers will want from another book!
OOSTERHOUS: We’re going on a road trip, so say goodbye to Belle City (temporarily)! There’s gonna be bureaucracy, huge personalities, malfunctioning magic powers, Love Dilemmas, bad decisions, more flashbacks to high school, super destructive softball sequences, sweatiness, butt slapping, sex marathons, hilarious new side characters, choreographed dancing, and another horse.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like to include?
HICKS: I hope people enjoy this book! I hope it makes them laugh and feel things! Sexy things!
OOSTERHOUS: I’m so proud of GSR! I’m really grateful that people took a chance on us and let us make this book, which is joyful and messy and full of dirtbags, because we need more messy queer joy in the world.
Grand Slam Romance is available at your local bookstore and/or public library beginning today.