In Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter, even though her brothers are chaotic and her parents are preoccupied with an impending new arrival to the family, Maggie’s got it made! That’s because she’s about to get a pet puppy for her birthday.

But soon after she meets a prospective puppy, she finds herself breaking out in an allergic reaction (don’t take our word for it – see for yourself with your own itchy eyes thanks to The Beat’s exclusive preview)!

Allergic will be available at your local bookstore and public library beginning on March 2nd, 2021. In the meantime, The Beat caught up with Lloyd and Nutter to find out more about what inspired the very true-to-life story of navigating allergies, what comics inspire them, and the challenges of drawing abstract concepts like “itchy”!

AVERY KAPLAN: This is a story about allergies but it is also a story about friendship! What was the inspiration between examining these two themes?

MEGAN WAGNER LLOYD: I was interested in the way Maggie’s allergy and friendship experiences both intersected with the deeper theme of longing to feel connected with others, yet struggling with that, given the complications of real life.

MICHELLE MEE NUTTER: For me, the inspiration came from learning more about allergies and remembering how I felt when I was Maggie and Claire’s age. Friendships are your whole world and it’s so hard to navigate jealousy with the ones you love. All Maggie wants is a friend and that’s a struggle I could relate to. 

KAPLAN: Do you have any pets?

LLOYD: Nope! 

NUTTER: I do! I share a house with four other artists and we have a very wide eyed cat named Sasha. We adopted her about two years ago from an animal shelter and we couldn’t be happier. 

KAPLAN: Do you have any allergies?

LLOYD: I’m allergic to animals with fur or feathers, dust, mold, pollen, and a few other things. For Allergic I wanted to focus on animal allergies, both because that was the allergy I was the most frustrated about growing up, and because I felt like kids would really be able to relate to and sympathize with not being able to get a cuddly, furry pet.

I’ve been allergic to animals since I was little, but at first I was mostly okay being around other people’s pets. But then my allergies got worse and worse as I grew older, and I had to be more and more restrictive and deal with more and more reactions. As an adult, after getting allergy shots, and with strict dedication to my prevention and treatment plans, I am doing much better! I am even okay visiting homes with some types of dogs now, though I usually have to take extra medication and extra showers and deal with some level of itchiness. With cats I am still pretty much guaranteed to get quite sick. (And having a pet with fur or feathers of my own is still out of the question, as my allergist reminds me whenever I bring it up!)

NUTTER: I don’t have allergies, but through Maggie, I have a whole new understanding and deeper empathy for those who do. 

KAPLAN: It has been an unusual year! Has there been any activities (or snacks) that have been especially comforting for you during the COVID-19 pandemic?

LLOYD: Audiobooks, coffee, funny TV, and going on walks and playing video games with my family.

NUTTER: Getting lost in imaginary worlds has really helped. My roommates and I have an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign that we’re converting into a graphic novel together. I feel so fortunate to have the friends that I do and we’ve spent plenty of nights playing games and a lot of Animal Crossing. 

KAPLAN: Have there been any books or comics that you have been especially enjoying lately?

LLOYD: I really enjoyed the last two graphic novels I read—Class Act by Jerry Craft and The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. My current audiobook is The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White (a YA fantasy novel, sequel to The Guinevere Deception), and I’m loving being immersed in world of magic and mystery.

NUTTER: I loved Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. Also, Stargazing by Jen Wang. Both are middle grade graphic novels that are heartwarming, full of a lot of joy and are so stunning.

KAPLAN: Maggies trip to the allergy clinic is going to be familiar to a lot of readers! What was the inspiration behind this scene?

LLOYD: When I did allergy testing, I found it a very strange experience to see my skin have these bad reactions right before my eyes, but in these neat, organized rows. Kind of like watching a science experiment happen, but on your own skin. And there’s nothing you can do but watch and see what happens. I wanted to capture that lack of control, as well as the disappointment in the results.

KAPLAN: Megan, you have previously published several illustrated books. Did writing a comic present any unexpected challenges when compared to writing a picture book (or vice versa)? 

LLOYD: I’m finding it hard to compare them. I think maybe because I approach the projects quite differently. For picture book manuscripts I’m definitely a “pantser” and for graphic novel scripts I’m much more of a “plotter.” So the experiences feel very distinct. Fortunately when I started Allergic I had already written a bunch of failed (and unpublished) traditional prose novels, so I had learned a lot about structuring and plotting a novel-length work. I don’t know if I personally could have jumped straight from only writing 300 word picture books to writing a graphic novel script. 

KAPLAN: Michelle, you had to draw SO MANY ANIMALS for this book! Was one your favorite to draw? Was one especially challenging to draw?

NUTTER: There were so many! It was a lot of fun and it’s so difficult to pick a favorite. I loved drawing all the small critters, especially mice. 

KAPLAN: How do you draw abstract concepts like itchy?

NUTTER: When I was drawing Maggie having her reactions, I kept having flashbacks to when I was younger and had hives. I was about Maggie’s age and had a severe case of hives that lasted a few days. All I can remember is scratching incessantly and when my mom would stop me, all I could think about was scratching.

Allergic will be available at your local bookstore and library beginning on March 2nd, 2021.