When Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker originally conceptualized the idea for Mooncakes, their webcomic that will see print in October from Lion Forge Comics, the story was a short pitch for an anthology. When said anthology chose not to take the pitch, Xu and Walker loved the story enough to turn it into a webcomic, which debuted in 2015.
Now, Xu has redrawn and recolored the entire story for the graphic novel version, which also features lettering by Joamette Gil. Ahead of the book’s release, The Beat caught up with Walker and Xu via e-mail to talk about Mooncakes, their inspiration for the story, their current projects, and more.
Samantha Puc: Has the story changed at all since it became a graphic novel?
Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu: We shifted a couple of things around to have it fit as a standalone graphic novel rather than a serialized webcomic — the backstory behind Tam’s connection with the demon changed quite a bit. Nova’s arc also wasn’t as fleshed out in the original webcomic plotting — we added the conflict of her not wanting to leave home, in opposition to what most witches her age do.
Puc: Wendy, what has it been like to update the art for this comic for the print release?
Xu: A lot of fun (and work!). I went through several different inking brushes in Clip Studio to get the lineart to a place I was satisfied with, as well as several different coloring methods and palettes to try to find the most cohesive and efficient way to color this entire book. But this is the kind of thing I love figuring out. I also love seeing my own artistic growth from when we first started this as a webcomic; it makes me want to keep going, keep growing.
Puc: Do you have a favorite page or panel?
Walker: I love Wendy’s art when we’re first introduced to the forest sprites. Also any panel where Tam makes a terrible pun (there are several).
Xu: One of the pages I had the most fun working on is where Qiu comes out with all the food! I love drawing food. And the page panel where Terry Shin lovingly pecks Tam on the head. I think my favorite line though, is, “My mother met Einstein once. Terribly limited man.”
Puc: Are there any characters that resonate with you in particular?
Walker: A lot of Nova’s story comes from my own life. Her hearing loss, obviously, is based on my own disability and reflects my own experiences, but also her relative innocence and fear of change. I was terrified to leave home when I was 18, there were so many ways in which I wasn’t ready. I think there’s something powerful in how she moves forward with the gentle support of her loved ones.
Xu: I grew up with movies like Practical Magic and Halloweentown. To me, a witch story has always been a diaspora story — you’re the kid who stands out, eats weird food, has a weird, eccentric mom/aunt/grandma nobody else understands, and weird family customs — how is that not the way society sees immigrants? I wanted Tam and Nova and her family to be Chinese-American because I never got to see that. Grandma Qiu looks a bit like my own maternal grandmother, who I loved very much — she was equally badass.
Puc: Are there other works that inspire Mooncakes, or works you seek to emulate?
Xu: In terms of art, I’ve always loved Studio Ghibli and the warmth they convey through the environments and characters (especially the spicy grandmas and cool aunties!) and I wanted to bring that into Mooncakes. Growing up, I read a lot of Clamp and other shoujo manga, which dressed their characters in these beautiful, elaborate outfits. I didn’t get as elaborate, I wanted the characters to be practical-looking, but I definitely didn’t want them to wear the same stuff all the time. So I had fun designing wardrobe for Nova, Tam, and the Nanas.
Walker: I wouldn’t say that Harry Potter “inspired” Mooncakes, but I definitely wound up responding to some parts of HP that leave me dissatisfied. Both are modern-day magic settings, but in Mooncakes I wanted to make it clear magic is more integrated with non-magic society — witches go to school alongside non-witches before embarking on their apprenticeships, etc. And of course, make it more diverse than Harry Potter, hah.
Puc: Do you have any memories associated with real mooncakes? Do you have a recipe or a favorite person who makes them?
Xu: My mom makes mooncakes for church potlucks, with her own homemade red-bean filling and dough. I think she uses mochiko (rice flour). I have no idea what the recipe is because I can’t read Chinese. My mom is very exacting in how she makes them — she has a food scale. She started making them after my sister went to college and I moved out and she got really into baking and trying different recipes. So now I am the go-to recruit to pinch off balls of red-bean paste and weigh them whenever I’m home for the holidays.
Puc: Is there more planned in the Mooncakes universe, such as a sequel or spin-off?
Walker and Xu: We’ve come up with a couple of vague ideas, but there’s nothing in the works right now.
Puc: What do you hope readers take away from this story?
Walker and Xu: Love will save the day, never trust white ladies with soccer-mom haircuts, cool witch lesbians are the best role models.
Puc: How do you think Mooncakes fit into the overall comics landscape of 2019?
Walker and Xu: Mooncakes has been described in the past as having a “niche” audience, but in today’s comics landscape I don’t think that’s true at all. It has broad appeal to the general YA audience looking for fantasy graphic novels, and is a great example of a way a story can have diverse elements without centering on a marginalized character’s (or creator’s) identity. I’d also comment on our creative partnership as a strong example of how writers and artists should collaborate on projects. We’re one of several webcomics that have made their way into traditional publishing, and as more mainstream publishing houses develop graphic novel imprints, one hopes this is just the beginning.
Puc: What other projects are you working on right now, if you’re able to talk about them?
Walker: Working on revising and querying a prose novel set in an Arab-inspired, secondary fantasy world where they use raptors instead of horses. Also lots of short stories about sirens.
Xu: I have three books coming out with HarperCollins in the next few years and I’m working on the fantasy middle grade one right now about a young witch in a seaside town learning her family’s magic and how to work with their local water dragons (Tidesong). I’m having a lot of fun doing concept art — the age range is different than Mooncakes, but I want it to have a similar warm, Ghibli-esque feel.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Walker: Thanks for having us!
Xu: Don’t take any wooden nickels, and horses are not to be trusted.
Mooncakes hits comic shops October 2 and bookstores October 15. You can pre-order a copy today. To keep up with Wendy Xu, follow her on Twitter @AngrygirLcomics. To keep up with Suzanne Walker, follow her on Twitter @suzusaur. Xu will also be at Flame Con T180 Aug. 17-18 at the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square.
Disclaimer: The Beat is owned by Polarity, which also owns Lion Forge Comics.