In Lifetime Passes by Terry Blas (Reptil) and Claudia Aguirre (Black Star), with lettering by Dave Sharpe, a group of teenagers attempt to capitalize on a local amusement park’s unofficial policy of granting lifetime passes to the surviving members of any party of guests who have one of their number die during a visit!
To find out more about the graphic novel, which is available beginning today from Abrams Books imprint Surely Books, The Beat caught up with Blas over email and asked all about real-world amusement park inspirations, where the concepts behind protagonist Jackie’s awesome wardrobe came from, and what it’s like to include queer characters in a book that isn’t necessarily foregrounding queerness!
AVERY KAPLAN: Lifetime Passes has a singular set-up (and although I certainly won’t spoil it here, it also has a heck of a follow-through). What was the genesis of this story?
TERRY BLAS: Ha! It’s a bizarre set up, isn’t it? It takes a bit to explain which goes against everything I’ve ever been told about selling an idea or pitching a book: Be able to explain it in a few sentences, right? That’s not the case here. The idea came from several things. I moved to Santa Clarita in 2001 and lived there for several years. I made good friends there but when I got there I didn’t know all the houses literally look the same. It had an eerie quality to it, in my opinion. And while living there I started going to theme parks and became friends with some people who had worked in them extensively. Hearing stories about working at them, and all the weird things they would have to see or do felt too juicy not to try and create a story with. I also like throwing a curve ball at people when they think they are going to read this comedic novel that seems really dark and end up feeling what they just read was sweet or uplifting. So I knew what kind of tone I wanted it to have.
KAPLAN: Let’s talk about the setting! It seems like the amusement park at the center of Lifetime Passes may have been inspired by certain real-life locations. Do you have any personal history with amusement parks? Is this a loving send-up?
BLAS: Yeah, it’s definitely a love letter to theme parks despite some of the kids relationships with Kingdom Adventure being a bit surface level and shallow and obsessive. When I lived in Southern California I went to several theme parks and noticed that for many people those parks bring them happiness and an escape from reality, and that’s what Jackie is seeking. Also, Kingdom Adventure feels very real to Jackie despite it being a fake place. And she feels like the town she lives in feels very fake despite it being a real place.
KAPLAN: What went into designing Kingdom Adventure? Is there any detail that you were especially excited to include?
BLAS: It was really fun to design a whole theme park. I realized most of them are set up like a wagon wheel or I guess a pie is a better image. Each place in the park has its own section stemming out from the castle at the center. I knew I wanted it to be a fairy tale themed park. That allowed for us to have costume characters like a princess and a wizard and a witch. Doing that inspired the different sections. If there’s a witch, her area is a spooky forest. The princess would likely be near the castle or with unicorns so there’s a whole area called the Unicorn Glen. I gave it all a specific color palette and talked with Claudia about what we felt it should look like.
KAPLAN: One of the things I really appreciated about Jackie’s style are her incredible graphic t-shirts. Were these included in your script? Was it important to show her wearing the same shirt more than once (another detail I adored)?
BLAS: I’m not sure they were so much included in the script but Claudia is an artistic genius and I asked her to draw some shirts that I think Jackie would wear. I send Claudia sketches of what I’m thinking and then she just takes that and elevates it to another level. And yes, I did want to see her wearing the same clothes again. Who didn’t have a favorite t-shirt they wore over and over? It’s implied that Jackie and her aunt don’t have a ton of money too but yeah, we all wear clothes over again.
KAPLAN: Lifetime Passes is an intergenerational tale, featuring characters that are teenagers and characters who are octogenarians. Where did you draw inspiration for the multi-generational group of characters? Did you face any particular challenges?
BLAS: I had done a little of that in Hotel Dare as well, the other book that Claudia and I made together. I remember an old episode of the Simpsons where Lisa and Grandpa are sitting at the kitchen table and Lisa says: “When you’re a kid nobody listens to you.” And then Grandpa says: “When you’re old nobody listens to you.” And neither one of them even hears the other. That was such an interesting moment to me, to see that these two groups, children and the elderly, have more in common than we think they do, and the bonds that they have can be really strong. Jackie, who has lost her parents to deportation and is a DACA kid, doesn’t have a relationship with her own grandparents. She’s never even met them because she can’t go back to Mexico, so at first she doesn’t know how to even be around Phyllis and when Jackie begins to open up, she sees that she has more in common with and feels more understood by this old woman than by her teenage friends. Also, I love Harold and Maude.
KAPLAN: You’ve worked on both licensed properties and your own characters. Can you talk about some of the challenges and benefits of each?
BLAS: Well they both present their own challenges, I suppose. When I was writing Steven Universe and Rick and Morty the challenge was to stay true to established characters that already have a strong voice. “Can I write in their voice” is the question for me. Or “Would they really do this thing I’m writing them doing?” You know, like that. When creating my own characters, that’s building up a person from scratch, they don’t have a voice yet. They aren’t fully formed because that all rests on you. I find that part of the process exciting though, creating a character and then asking myself a million questions about them to get to know them really well. I feel like if you know your characters really well then that obviously helps guide the story. You can put your characters in any situation and you know how they would act and react.
KAPLAN: While there is a hint that a main character may be queer, this book does not specifically focus on queer content. Can you talk about how you approached this book with Surely Books, and what it was like to work with the imprint?
Well, Jackie hints that she’s queer, and she is, but what I love about that scene is that the reaction from Phyllis says more about their relationship and how they love each other than anything. Phyllis doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just who Jackie is and she sees that she’s in pain and dealing with a great loss more than she sees her sexuality. It’s who she is but not important to this story. Daniel however, he talks about being gay and being bullied and finds a kindred spirit in Allen. The two of them have a sweet and surprising relationship too.
Lifetime Passes is available at your local bookstore and/or public library beginning today!