With a line-up of graphic novels and original series spanning genres and housed under multiple imprints, BOOM! Studios is one of the most interesting publishers in the industry today. A panel of the publisher’s diverse creators came together for [email protected] to discuss their projects and tease some new titles. The panel, moderated by BOOM! President Filip Sablik, featured An Ember in the Ashes: A Thief Among the Trees collaborators Sabaa Tahir and Nicole Andelfinger, b.b. free writer Gabby Rivera, Folklords writer Matt Kindt, and Giant Days writer/artist John Allison.
After panelist introductions (minus Allison, who would join later), Sablik asked the panelists about what’s been bringing them joy recently given the otherwise fraught and difficult times in which we’re living. Tahir said she was excited to see a debut author, Rosanne Brown, make the New York Times bestseller list. Sablik mentioned that Tahir also made the list with her debut novel many years ago. Andelfinger said the news that Percy Jackson is coming to Disney+ as a series made her very happy. Rivera said it’s been tough to find joy recently, but that she’s been enjoying a “wacky little show on Netflix” called The Big Flower Fight, a show that features people making enormous sculptures out of flowers. Kindt said he’s had a lot of extra time to catch up on Red Dead Redemption due to not traveling, but that the high point of his week was walking into the bank wearing what he described as a “bandit mask” and it being totally fine.
Sablik asked Rivera about the graphic novel adaptation of her novel Juliet Takes a Breath. The story follows the main character as she travels across the country to take her dream job, and as she comes out as queer. Rivera said writing Juliet was trying to write about herself as she was at nineteen years old, but also that she wants the character and her curiosity about the world to be a model for readers as something they could try to be as well. She explained that she wanted to write a novel that her friends could read and see themselves in, particularly in terms of their queerness.
Sablik said b.b free is similar, though it’s set twenty years in the future after 60% of the population has been wiped out by a bacterial infection (“I wrote this last year! You can call me a soothsayer if you want,” Rivera joked). Rivera said she tries to bring a gentleness to her character that she thinks kids of color don’t often see reflected. She described the world of b.b. free as one in which the characters are trying to rebuild together. Sablik described the “exuberance” of the series, particularly as illustrated by artist Royal Dunlap, juxtaposed against b.b.’s struggle against the system, and asked Rivera if she drew from personal experience for that aspect of the series. Rivera said she wanted b.b. to be a lighter character, but that she needed something to push back against. Asked what advice she has for young people, she said they’re already “exceptionally motivated,” and that she wants them to know that they’re supported.
Sablik next jumped to a previously-recorded segment with UK-based Allison to talk about his current series, Wicked Things, which focuses on a teen detective who has appeared in previous work by Allison. Sablik asked Allison who his favorite teen detective is, and Allison named Veronica Mars as his favorite. Sablik agreed and compared it to Allison’s work in that it takes familiar procedural and genre elements and adds something new to them, particularly in terms of the dialogue.
On the question of how Wicked Things’ main character, Lottie, has dealt with going from being an independent detective to working with the police, Allison joked that people don’t really like the police now, and describe it as “a square peg/round hole kind of deal” with Lottie bumping up against the institutions. Allison said the series was inspired by people he knew who had dropped out of academia and moved into the workforce more nimbly and who had to grow up more quickly than those who remained in academia.
He described the series as very plot-driven, whereas Giant Days was more of a character-driven series, which resulted in his taking a different approach to writing the series. Asked which Giant Days character he misses the most, Allison said he misses all of them, but that he probably misses Susan the most because of her personality and her ability to give him new story paths.
Returning to rest of the group, Sablik transitioned into Tahir and Andelfinger’s A Thief Among The Trees graphic novel, a prequel to Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes novels. Tahir praised Andelfinger for the ease of their collaboration, and how much she has learned about scripting graphic novels from her. She said the graphic novel allowed her to dig more deeply into her characters’ pasts than she was able to in her novels, and that the graphic novel answers a lot of questions about the characters’ origins and how they ended up the way they were at the beginning of the first novel. Andelfinger said she was honored to be trusted to work with Tahir’s characters and world, and said the experience has been “a blast.” She said that, as much as Tahir learned from her, she also learned from Tahir during the scripting process.
Sablik asked Tahir and Andelfinger about the parallels between An Ember in the Ashes with what’s happening with young people in the world today, and if they have any advice for young people. Tahir said she “wouldn’t dare to give advice to young people,” and reiterated what Rivera had said earlier about how well they’re doing already. She said that she sees young people finding hope in the world, similar to how the characters in her novels do the same thing, and that she’s amazed by that and by readers’ abilities to take things away from her books. Tahir said she likes to write about younger characters because young people have a sense of optimism that older people often lack.
Andelfinger said the characters in Thief Among the Trees inspire her in terms of knowing when to listen and when to speak up, particularly coming from a place of privilege and being able to know when to say “I was wrong.” Sablik joked that the book may end up being more helpful to older readers than younger ones in that respect, and Tahir said there are conversations that need to be had with older generations that young people are more willing to have than older people are. Tahir teased that there will be another Ember in the Ashes prequel graphic novel, for which she just turned in an outline.
Moving to Kindt, Sablik mentioned the recent announcement of his collaboration with Keanu Reeves for BRZRKR. Asked about working with Reeves, Kindt said he approached it like any other collaboration, with a certain level of apprehension, After hearing Reeves’s pitch, about an immortal warrior in a story that spans from the beginning of time to the far future, Kindt said was excited by the amount of thought and research Reeves had put into it, and that he’d been kicking around an idea for a character who can’t die for a while but that it had never come together for him on his own.
Kindt said that, beyond the initial pitch, Reeves has been “so involved” in the creative process, from plotting to outlining and developing the characters. He said he wouldn’t have wanted to work on the project if Reeves was just going to put his name on it and walk away, but that Reeves has brought not just science and research to the project but also the visual storytelling elements. He described hearing Reeves read the dialogue out-loud as “kind of a nightmare” for him as a writer, but said it’s a great test of the writing, and that they both bring something the other is missing to the project.
On the topic of Folklords, Sablik asked Kindt what lessons the story’s lead, Ansel, can teach about the value of perseverance. Kindt joked that he doesn’t put lesson in his books, and said he never knows what his books are going to be about until they’re done. He described Folklords as “this weird waking dream I had” in which he imagined a character in regular clothes in a fantastical setting, and he’s only found out what it’s about from fans who talk to him at cons. “I’m old,” he said, “so I think old people have figured out how the system works but they don’t know what to do, and then the kids know what to do and they don’t know how to do it. So it’s important for the old people to help the young kids that know what to do, to help them do it.”
Asked about the initial spark for An Ember in the Ashes, Tahir said in the mid-’00s she worked the night shift at the Washington Post on the international desk, and that reading stories coming in from Iraq, from Afghanistan, and from other middle-eastern countries made her realize that a lot of the fiction she was seeing is very Euro-centric and not reflective of what’s going on in other parts of the world. She described a story she read out of Kashmir about male family members who are taken and never seen again, and she said Ember was an answer to the question of how their female family members would react to that situation and get their family member back, even if just in a fictional realm.
Rivera already addressed where b.b. free came from, but said that a story she wrote for a speculative fiction anthology featuring writers of color called A People’s Future featured an early version of the world of b.b. free, and that the baby born at the end of that story became b.b. in the comic. “I wanted to make sure that she was gentle and curious, and that even if you remove all the greed in the world, there’s still a world for you to inherit and take care of, and there’s still a world that is gonna challenge you, and there’s still a world that you might even be afraid of, but that you have that energy and that goodness in you to handle it all and find your magic.”
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