First Second Books continues to kill it. Seriously, someone over there must have a magic spellbook dogeared to “books nobody can refuse.” Or a finely tuned magic wand set to create spectacular graphic novels. Or they just have awesome people who know how to acquire and develop phenomenal content. Yeah, that’s probably it.
First Second is also no stranger to experimentation. They’ve published award-winning graphic novels, kid-friendly graphic novels, picture books, and adult-oriented graphic work. They’ve also taken a few webcomics and helped translate them into printed books.
And they’re at it again.
GeekDad is thrilled to break the news and announce that First Second Books (an imprint of Macmillan) has acquired Drew Weing’s amazing The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo. Margo Maloo began online in 2014 and continues to update weekly; the first book is scheduled to come out in September 2016. (Mark Siegel, who’s no stranger to taking a serialized webcomic and turning it into an acclaimed graphic novel for First Second, will be editing.)
I recently caught up with Drew to chat about his process, taking Margo to First Second, and monster hunters.
GeekDad: You’ve been doing The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo as a webcomic for about a year and a half now. What’s your best description for those who aren’t familiar with it?
Drew Weing: A boy named Charles Thompson is not pleased to move from his prosaic suburban home to a spooky, run-down old apartment building in the big city. He’s even less happy when it turns out the apartment — and most of the city, seemingly — is teeming with monsters. Luckily, the city’s children have a “monster mediator” they can turn to — a mysterious girl named Margo Maloo.
GD: Chapter 3 recently concluded online. How far into the story are we at the moment? How far ahead do you plan?
DW: We’re still pretty near the beginning! I have a rough master plan but try to keep each chapter open for improvisation. I get surprised by how the story unfolds myself sometimes — it ended up taking a lot longer to team up Charles and Margo than I thought it would! Margo turned out to be such a lone wolf, and Charles can be pretty obstinate. It was almost like trying to introduce two real-life friends to each other who you know would get along if they’d just stop butting heads.
I expect it’ll take at least three books to tell the whole story, but the characters might have other ideas!
GD: This isn’t your first webcomic, so I’m assuming you enjoy the format. For you, what’s the biggest advantage of serializing a story online in weekly installments?
DW: I like the feedback and positive reinforcement. Sitting in your studio by yourself, drawing page after page with nobody to show it to, for what can be years — I think that’s what makes so many cartoonists turn out a little nutty! Also, reading comics serialized can be a unique experience all to itself — you live with the characters a lot longer, and they almost become part of your life. But I always planned on eventually collecting it into a series of books.
GD: You’re now bringing the comic to First Second as a graphic novel. What, if anything, is changing?
DW: I think the main thing changing will be the audience! First Second is so great at getting comics into the hands of younger readers who might not be online or reading webcomics yet. I was so happy to have them pick up the book — they were my ideal publisher for Margo. I don’t know anyone who’s doing a better job of getting diverse, beautiful, all-ages comics into the libraries and bookstores of America.
Also, I still have many Luddite friends who have been waiting to pick up the story until it made it into print.
GD: How much of a “reinvention” will this be? Are you going to George Lucas it by adding or removing panels, tweaking the art or color, or changing dialogue?
DW: Very, very few changes. I fixed a few stupid mistakes — like, for some reason, I kept forgetting to draw Charles’ wristwatch! And I tweaked a few lines of dialogue that people found confusing — again, one of the nice things about getting feedback.
GD: Will you continue to update the webcomic? Or will you focus on the print version instead?
DW: I definitely will keep updating the webcomic. It feels a little risky letting people see so much of the book for free, but so many of my readers have been so supportive — champing at the bit to know when a book will be released. And it seems like in the age of piracy, the comic is going to leak online no matter what — you might as well control where. First Second has been really supportive and encouraging of that, and I appreciate it.
GD: Much of your work has a very unique feel, and your stories are all incredibly distinct from one another. Margo Maloo is very different from Set to Sea, which is very different from something like Flop to the Top. When you begin a project, what inspires you to move in one direction over another?
DW: I like to follow the thread of the project to wherever it leads. Set to Sea was an old-fashioned nautical tale, so the pen-and-ink drawings really brought that to life. When I was writing Flop to the Top with my wife, we imagined something like a classic children’s tale brought forward into the Internet era, so we tried to marry digital painting with a classic, Little Golden Books look — and since it was a joint project, we each injected some of our art style. And with Margo Maloo, I was looking at a lot of spare, cross-hatched, evocative book illustrations that haunted me as a kid — like Joseph Schindelman’s illustrations for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or E. L. Konigsburg’s illustrations for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I like the idea of Margo Maloo being an updated version of one of those classic middle-grade books, but the illustrations have taken over.
GD: What advice would you give to parents whose kids tell them they want to be an artist or make comics when they grow up?
DW: There’s never been a better time! The comics field is so much healthier than when I stumbled into it, and I think the Internet has been a huge part of bringing that about. Online comics have such a low barrier to entry, and they’ve fostered a huge, diverse community of creators and readers. I’d encourage anyone with something to say to pick up a pen (or stylus) and share it.