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Sacred Heart is set in a small town where all the adults have mysteriously disappeared and the teenagers rule. The situation is not total anarchy, and that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting — order has broken down in some ways but not in others. It’s been running online for a number of years, but Suburbia is completely redrawing the comic and Fantagraphics will publish it in a single volume— although the cartoonist says there will be more to come.
ROBOT 6 spoke with Suburbia about Sacred Heart and how it has evolved so far.
Brigid Alverson: Sacred Heart is about a town that seems to be full of high-school kids but no adults or younger children. Can you give us an idea about what’s going on?
In the first draft (the one that’s online) it’s kind of a secret, but in the final print version it’s more clear that their parents left almost four years ago and promised to return in about four years’ time.
The world of this story is somewhere between high school and total anarchy. How did you come up with that, and how did you refine it?
I didn’t know where their parents were when I started, but I knew they’d been without them for a while. The little makeshift society they have is how I imagined this particular group of people would be living after a few years, after all the psychos has killed each other off, the weakest had failed to survive, and those with the least faith had skipped town. The kids left are either there because they believe, at least in part, that their parents will come back, or because they’re really apathetic and can’t think of anywhere else to go.
Definitely the characters. I just kind of started drawing the comic without knowing where it was going, thinking it was just gonna be a bunch of vignettes that take place in the same setting. It didn’t turn into something with structure until I’d been doing it a while, which is why I’m redrawing it and editing it so heavily now.
How long have you been publishing Sacred Heart online?
A few years now. If I think too hard about how long it’s taken me to finish this project it makes me kind of anxious, but maybe it’ll be encouraging for someone going through the same thing to see.
Do you have any idea how your readers found you? Have you built a community with them?
Brandon Graham talked about Sacred Heart on his blog, which got me a lot of attention. I’ve done a few interviews and podcasts. Some people got the web address from my zines. I’m not sure how many people read my comic — especially considering it hasn’t updated online in a long time — but I get emails regularly, and I try to be good about responding. Sometimes I meet people who like it at SPX. I don’t know if I’d call it a “community,” but I do make comics with the hope that people will see my work and think “Well, if she can do it I can do it.” So, there’s that.
Reading Sacred Heart online is an unusual experience, because you scroll down through each chapter. How will breaking the book up into pages affect the reading experience?
Not too much, I hope. I know the scrolling format is more convenient for electronic devices but I don’t do my layouts with that in mind. It will be different to see the comic without all that black space around it, but that was a change I was ready to make.
Will you be modifying it for the print edition — changing the story or redrawing any of the art?
I’ve actually been redrawing the whole thing from scratch. As I mentioned, I didn’t really know where I was going when I started, so the draft online was in serious need of editing and polishing up. It’s also pretty hard for me to look at some of that old artwork. Everything in the print edition will be new stuff.
There are a lot of characters in this story, and I really enjoy your panels full of people, but that must be a lot of work to draw. What attracts you about that complexity?
The complexity of crowd scenes is actually really daunting, but that’s the hazard of putting a lot of punk shows and parties in your story. I’ve learned a lot of cheats between the first draft and the final version I’m working on now, which is good.
How long will this book be, and will the story be complete in one volume?
This book is going to top off at about 300 pages, and is meant to stand on its own pretty well, but I do have three sequels planned eventually. The next book will pick up ten years after this one, the third will be about 15 years after that, and in the last book the main character is going to be an octogenarian. I’m really excited at the prospect of making a comic whose hero is a little old lady.
I want to end by talking a little bit about you. How did you come to comics — were you always a comics reader? If so, what did you like when you were younger?
I was big into newspaper strips as a kid — Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Garfield, The Far Side. In my early teens I’d walk to the PX and read X-Force without buying it whenever a new one came out. I stayed away from comics in high school because I thought it wasn’t cute and attractive for girls to read comics, which is HORRIBLE and makes me so sad to think of now, but I had some friends with a webcomic I liked, and I made my own and read a lot of webcomics, and eventually came back to the fold by around mid-college. Hellboy and Love and Rockets were my gateway to the world of comics I know and love now.
PSA for young girls everywhere: COMICS BELONG TO YOU. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
Did you choose comics first or were you working in other media?
I think it was always gonna be comics. In the eighth grade I tried to write a prose novel, but I just kept getting distracted by all the maps and illustrations that went with it — writing words was so much more interesting to me when I could make pictures to go with them. I think that’s my only attempt at non-comics storytelling, unless you count all the terrible poetry I wrote in high school.
What is your goal for the next few years, comics-wise?
Right now I’m just really focused on finishing Sacred Heart. I’d like to keep Cyanide Milkshake (my zine) going. I’ve got the aforementioned Sacred Heart sequels in the pipeline, and an idea for a whole other series pretty well fleshed out, but I don’t see myself quitting my day job anytime soon. We’ll see where it goes.
And finally, what comics are you reading right now?
I’ve been so out of touch with what’s coming out since I quit my comic shop job to move across the country last year! I got Alison Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For for Christmas last year and have been repeatedly cycling through it ever since. A lot of smaller stuff that I get when I go to SPX or when my friends send me what they’re working on — Kevin Czapiewski, Cathy G. Johnson, Janelle Hessig, O. Horvath, L. Nichols, Mitch Clem … there’s too many to list and I’m leaving off so many greats. My friends are self-publishing some of the best comics out there.