- Posted by Johanna on June 17, 2010 at 8:12 am
- Category: Graphic Novel News
Sarah Becan, author of The Complete Ouija Interviews, and I were talking after my recent review of her book, and I thought you might be interested in knowing more about the history behind the work. So we conducted a short interview.
Q: When did you start creating the Ouija Interviews?
The first one, Theo Wallis, I made that minicomic in 2003.
Q: What brought them about? Can you tell me more about the circumstances behind them?
For three years, my older brother Jeff was the manager of the hostel on Nantucket Island. It’s called the Star of the Sea, and it’s in this gorgeous 200-year-old building that used to be a lifesaving station for ships that crashed on the rocks. I went out to visit him a few times; the hostel’s on a quiet little corner of the island, far from town. At night, he’d have some friends over, the fog would roll in, we’d open a bottle of wine and bring out this cheap glow-in-the-dark Ouija board.
For most of the interviews, I wasn’t even on the board, I was the one transcribing everything. Jeff knew a lot of the seasonal workers on the island, kids from all over the world who came to work in the hotels or restaurants for the summer. There were in particular some girls from Australia and Ireland who seemed to be really great on the Ouija board — if they had the planchette, it would just fly, you’d get conversation and jokes and all sorts of stories. It turned into these hilariously fun and magical evenings, and when I got home and was unpacking, I found the notes I had made, the transcriptions. And I thought to myself, this would make a great little comic book.
Q: Some people seem to suspect that these sessions weren’t “real” — can you address their concerns?
I do encounter a lot of wide-eyed disbelief when I tell people that. I won’t tell you they’re “real” in the sense it was really spirits we were talking with. I never got any verification beyond a reasonable doubt that it was anything beyond the ideomotor effect. My brother will tell you that in at least one instance he’s convinced something real happened, but I unfortunately wasn’t present for that one, so I’m still pretty skeptical. However, in the sense that the interviews really happened, and were transcribed from actual sessions with the Ouija board, they are 100% real. I made a few small edits here and there for brevity, but for the most part, the comics are made verbatim from the notes. But it’s also not like it was golden every time we picked up the planchette; there were plenty of interviews that didn’t make it into the book because they were banal, or seemed malevolent, or didn’t make any sense at all.
Q: What other comics have you done? How do the Ouija Interviews compare in popularity to them?
I have a series of short story comics called Shuteye, they’re longer and more involved than the Ouija Interviews. I’ve done a few little educational minis, one about the writer Karel Capek and where the word “robot” came from, one about the primates used in the early days of the space program. And I have a daily autobio comic on the web at www.sauceome.com. It’s a food diary, but it’s as much about my own neuroses and issues of self-image as it is about my love for really great food. Each of these projects probably has a slightly different audience, but the Ouija Interviews have always been the most popular. I think the characters are eye-catching and cute, they tend to draw people in, a lot of people have told me that they’re a great conversation piece.
It’s funny, because I don’t feel like I really did all that much work for them; I didn’t really write them, and the characters and page design are pretty simple. The Shuteye comics, on the other hand, I’ve spent months on the writing and crafting of the stories, they take me much longer to illustrate and put together, and they don’t seem to attract nearly as much attention. I get a little secretly giddy every time someone picks up one of the Shuteye issues, just because I put so much more time and energy into them, but I’m also delighted that people like the Ouija Interviews so much.
Q: Why collect them in a book?
They were originally four minis, and each mini was one person’s story, a little snapshot into what that person’s life was like, and how they felt about their death. I still think they worked really well like that, but when you have them all in one place you get a fuller picture of what we’re like, of what it’s like to be alive. Some life stories are short and tragic, some are long and happy, some are a little shallow and frivolous, some are quietly profound. I also had a bunch of little snippets, shorter interviews that weren’t long enough for a minicomic, but were still kind of beautiful and moving, and I was looking for a way to share them too.
Q: How did you win a Xeric Grant for them, and how has that benefited you?
The Xeric Grant was great! It was a little intense, applying for it. They want a lot of information; you have to really have your act together. I think one of the best parts of the application process was that they wanted a statement of purpose. They want you to really think about WHY you are making this book, why it needs to be a comic book, what’s the point of it. It makes you really examine what you’re doing and think very consciously about it. Anyway, I had the book pretty much complete, I got together all the paperwork they want to see, packaged it all up and sent it off, and six months later, I got the letter letting me know my application was accepted.
Of course, the money part of it is wonderful. I blew my entire grant on the printing, but I was really particular about the paper I wanted, the ink colors, the felted debossed cover; my printing costs actually went over my grant amount, so some of it came out of my own pocket. If you’re not like me, though, you can use the grant money on advertising, on shipping, on promotional costs, all sorts of things, so it’s a great resource for self-publishers.
But maybe more important than the money, I feel like the grant gave me some validation, too. The Xeric Grant garners a bit of attention and respect, and it’s great for marketing. I’m in some fantastic company, too — all sorts of amazing artists have won the Xeric. It can be a really effective launch pad for a comics artist’s career.
Q: What are you working on next?
I have one more story that I want to do for my Shuteye series; it’s in the writing stage right now. This will be the sixth story in the series, and I think it’ll cap it off nicely. When I’m done with it, I’m planning on collecting the whole series into a single volume. I might try pitching it to publishers, although I’m pretty comfortable with self-publishing at this stage as well, so we’ll see what happens.
My thanks to Sarah for sharing more of the background behind this fascinating little book. You can find out more about her work at www.jakze.com.