In Weenie featuring Frank & Beans Volume One: Mad About Meatloaf by Maureen Fergus and Alexandra Bye, available Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 from Tundra Books, readers will meet a trio of anthropomorphic animals who are simply irresistible!
To learn more about the mouth-watering upcoming kid’s graphic novel, The Beat caught up with Fergus and Bye over email to learn about the real world animals who inspired Mad About Meatloaf, to learn what sources were enlisted for character models, and to find out why the grocery store doesn’t have a meatloaf aisle!
AVERY KAPLAN: Can you tell us about the origins of MAD ABOUT MEATLOAF?
MAUREEN FERGUS: I’d wanted to write a story about a wiener dog for a couple of years because wiener dogs are hilarious and because Weenie had been rattling around in my brain in all his naughty, lovable glory. For the longest time, I tried to make it work as a picture book featuring just Weenie and Bob but it wasn’t quite clicking. Then my editor suggested that I try writing an early graphic novel. When I started playing around with the new format, Frank and Beans suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and I was seized by a powerful (and hilarious) image of Weenie staring up at an out-of-reach meatloaf with a tortured expression on his face. The rest, as they say, is history…
KAPLAN: Were there any real world animals that inspired MAD ABOUT MEATLOAF?
FERGUS: Every wiener dog that has ever allowed itself to be photographed wearing a clown or hot dog costume was a source of inspiration.
ALEXANDRA BYE: I have a golden retriever named Oliver who inspired a lot of weenie’s silly facial expressions. My corgi niece Fanny, and our corgi neighbor Billy were my models for sketching an anatomy similar to that of a Dachshund. Unfortunately, I don’t know any real-life Weiner dogs but, corgis have the long body, short legs and big personalities that helped me with Weenie’s character development.
KAPLAN: What is the best snack to eat while reading comics?
FERGUS: Sunflower seeds and Coke Slurpees.
BYE: Anything crunchy but not greasy, you don’t want to get greasy paws on your comics! I love pretzels and dip, apple slices, cereal and pickled carrots!
KAPLAN: What does it take to get into the mind of a wiener dog? FOLLOW-UP: why doesn’t the grocery store have a “meatloaf” aisle?
FERGUS: To get into the mind of this particular wiener dog, you have to pretend that your brain is a super ball, then you have to hurl it into a closed room and let it ricochet around at a thousand miles an hour. You might be able to focus for a millisecond — for example, if meatloaf is involved — but then you’re madly off in another direction. Thinking outside the box, wearing your heart (and stomach) on your sleeve and ignoring the laws of physics are also key.
As for why the grocery store doesn’t have a meatloaf aisle, I honestly don’t know. If you ask me, it’s a travesty.
KAPLAN: One thing readers might not expect when they pick up this book is how articulate Weenie can be as he shares his vast, worldly knowledge! Did you always know you wanted Weenie to directly speak to the reader? What went into his delightful personality?
FERGUS: From the moment Weenie burst forth from my imagination, he was a hilarious little troublemaker with a larger-than-life personality. There was something missing, though, and I spent a long time playing with the character to try to figure out what it was. Then Frank and Beans walked onto the page, and through their interaction with Weenie, I found the dash of sweetness and penchant for melodrama that had been missing from his personality.
Initially, it hadn’t occurred to me to have him speak directly to the reader. However, I studied a number of books in the genre to get a sense of the structure and rhythm (because it was a new genre for me) and noticed that a few of them had characters who occasionally broke the fourth wall. I really loved that because it seemed like a great way to engage the reader. So, I decided to have Weenie occasionally do the same.
KAPLAN: Wiener dogs, guinea pigs, cats, common pigs – there are all kinds of pets in MAD ABOUT MEATLOAF! Did you have specific models that you used for any of the animals, or any other visual inspiration for the furry cast?
BYE: When I got the manuscript, I was excited to discover that each character had a very strong personality. I searched for human characters that exuded the personality traits I wanted to communicate. For example, Frank is loyal but grumpy and gets a kick out of being sarcastic. I took inspiration from Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec. and tried to design a cat with as much indifference. I chose a long-haired Persian cat for Frank’s design because the muzzle looks like a perpetually scowling mustache and the heavy brow is constantly skeptical and uninterested. However, you can’t help but love him because of those li’l cat mitten feet!
KAPLAN: There are loads of laugh-out-loud sight gags in this graphic novel! Was there any one in particular that you especially wanted to include, or that was especially enjoyable to depict?
BYE: Thanks to Maureen’s hilarious script, I was able to resurrect what I had learned from cartoons growing up in the ‘90s and early 2000s. A lot of my children’s book work is non-fiction so I don’t have a lot of opportunities to be this silly. I went to school for animation so illustrating a comic with this much energy really made my heart sing. I had a ton of fun illustrating the expressions. I didn’t realize I was actually making the faces as I was sketching until My fiancé caught me. My favorite scene is where weenie describes his plan for sneaking into the grocery store in disguise to get meatloaf ingredients but, is thwarted by a delicious display of breakfast sausages. I listened to Mission: Impossible bongos and Oceans 13 soundtrack as I drew that spread to get in a sneaky headspace.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to be sure and include?
FERGUS: Just that MAD ABOUT MEATLOAF is only the beginning for Weenie and his friends!
Mad About Meatloaf will be available at your local bookstore and/or public library beginning next Tuesday, October 12th, 2021.