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Interview: The Team Behind the Newest Sweet Valley High Incarnation Talks Nostalgia and Reinventing the Teen Series

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The Sweet Valley High series defined a generation of preteens who got lost in the world of the Wakefield twins and their circle of pals and frenemies. This May, Jessica and Elizabeth get a new tale thanks to Dynamite, writer Katy Rex (Charmed Magic School, Jade Protection Services), and artist Devaki Neogi (The Sceptics, Curb Stomp). The original graphic novel, Sweet Valley High: Academic All-Star?, also features Pippa Mather (Charmed Magic School) on colors.
The Beat spoke with Rex and Neogi about the upcoming book and how this nostalgic work came to be.
Deanna Destito: Katy, I hear you’re a huge Sweet Valley High fan. How excited were you to jump into this project?
Katy Rex: I grew up reading Sweet Valley High and on some level it felt like Francine Pascale was a superhero type legend… So getting the gig and then ACTUALLY GETTING TO TALK TO HER about MY ideas in her world… It still feels surreal, honestly. Being able to contribute to the canon of a universe so foundational for so many women my age is the absolute coolest thing. And then, when Francine liked my ideas and the book started to really take shape, it was just so deeply validating.

Destito: Devaki, were you a fan of the series and if not how much research into the novels did you have to do?
Devaki Neogi: I had read a few of the novels but was not in sync when this was given to me. So I did do my usual research that I do — looking up their transition across different mediums like books to TV series. How much their evolution was across the ages as we were doing a modern take on it. Fashion, as you can guess, is a cool thing for teens of all time periods. So, I did put emphasis on it when the narrative went from one scene to another.

Destito: Did you have stories cooking for a long time before you got this gig and if so did you use any?
Rex: When I was a young Sweet Valley fan, it was before the days of easily ordering books from the internet and I was too young to drive. So when I started to do my research for my pitch, I learned that actually a lot of ground had already been covered, including the story I initially had in mind. Fortunately, the SVH universe has a lot of space for new stories, too!

Destito: How did you end up attached to this project?
Neogi: Katy and myself had worked earlier on Kim N Kim, and we had been wanting to team up again. At the same time, I was in touch with Dynamite at the time I was looking for new work. The timing matched — Katy was roped in and she put forward my name. I did some sketches for Joe, our editor, and they thought I fit just right with this project. I was lucky to get to work with Katy again, and for Dynamite for the first time.
Destito: Who is your favorite character and why?
Rex: This question is totally unfair! They’re all my favorites. I think, though, when I was younger and reading the books, I wanted to be Jessica. But I could see myself in both. I was a book reader and kind of goody-goody, but my bedroom looked like it had been hit by a hurricane and I’d definitely consider breaking a rule or two to join the Unicorn Club. Also, though. Lila Fowler is excellence.
Destito: Who is your favorite character to draw and why?
Neogi: I am really drawn to complex characters. Jessica was more outward or you may say a bit over the top in her ways. So, I had a lot of fun in doing her in such a way as to show her often exuberant energy. She loves herself and her world, and that way she was fun to draw.
Destito: How have you added your style to these classic characters?
Neogi: I really did not have to change my style. I went with the flow. It was meant to be graphic in execution. So, I drew the usual way I do, but technically, the emotions that they portray are important to show since that plays a very important role throughout. Their emotions, not just for their personality but just as teens, are what give character to the book.
Destito: What is in this graphic novel for old fans of the series and what makes it accessible to new readers?
Rex: The reason this book works, in my opinion, is because it’s 100% classic Sweet Valley High, totally there for OG fans, continuing in the same spirit as the original. And that’s also why it will appeal to new readers. It has the same timeless characters, but also the same modernity, the same way of addressing today’s teen reader. A teen today coming from a similar emotional place as I was in circa 1998 would get the same Sweet Valley heart.
Destito: What have you enjoyed most about working on this book?
Neogi: I worked on this book for a long time, 108 pages. It gave me a lot of length to build their world and sync into it with them. My favorite was just knowing teenage life as teens again through theirs. Besides, their life is no short of drama as you’ll see. It’s a well-paced, easy read and the team gave me much freedom to execute it.
Destito: Would you want to work on future installments and if so can you tease some story ideas?
Rex: I would LOVE TO work on future stories, but as far as teasers go, there’s actually one at the end of the book so I won’t spoil it for you! I will say that if more is to come, Elizabeth’s main conflict won’t just be about taking care of other people. My heart goes out to her. She’s so caring that she always ends up helping others instead of herself.
Sweet Valley High: Academic All-Star? is slated for release this May. The graphic novel will also be available on Comixology, Kindle, iBooks, Google Play, Dynamite Digital, ComicsPlus, and more.

1 COMMENT

  1. What’s the audience for this? Middle-aged women who read the books as teens in the ’80s or ’90s?
    This reliance on nostalgia is getting out of hand.

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