Interview With Melanie Gillman of As the Crow Flies

As the Crow Flies panel by Melanie Gillman

Melanie Gillman’s comic work, done in colored pencils, has a unique look I really like. Gillman also picks unique premises that allow the strong characters they create to shine through.

Their long-running webcomic, As the Crow Flies, is going to be published by Iron Circus Comics later this year. It’s the story of Charlie, the only black camper in a Christian camp for girls, and her discomfort with the backpacking trip.

As the Crow Flies

As is standard with that publisher, the first volume is currently being Kickstarted. They’re about 80% of the way there with 19 days to go, but I want them to make their stretch goal, because I want to read the background story of Charlie’s friend Sydney.

Gillman kindly agreed to answer some questions about their work.

What inspired the unusual setting and premise, that of two queer students on a camping trip for Christian girls? I’m guessing, based on your comic “Witch Camp” that you know the background well? 

A lot of it was inspired by personal experience, for sure! I’m a queer, nonbinary person, I was raised Christian, and I was packed off to Christian youth camps (backpacking and otherwise) all throughout my childhood.

The characters and events themselves in As the Crow Flies are pretty much all fictional, though — I’m not retelling a particular camp memory of my own, so much as revisiting an environment I’m very familiar with and crafting a new story around it.

As the Crow Flies panel by Melanie Gillman

What determined the timing of the release of Volume 1?

A combination of factors! As the Crow Flies in total will end up being around 500 pages by the time it’s completely done. But my colored pencil process is so slow, it might be years before we get there! So we decided to divide it into two volumes, rather than make everyone wait a long time for one gigantic brick of a book. The story reaches a natural halfway point where we decided to break up the two volumes, so each volume will still be a good, solid read on its own!

I suppose it’s too early (and presumptuous) to ask when Volume 2 will be available, but as a long-time web reader, I want to see more of the story! How often do you update and what are your plans? 

Haha, good question! We haven’t set a definite date for Volume 2 yet. It’ll be another 200-some page book, and colored pencils take so much time, it might be a few more years before it’s done!

The webcomic will keep updating until the story’s complete, though, so everyone can keep reading along online. Right now I’m trying to post a new page once a week. Each page takes about 2-3 days to draw, so at least for now, that’s the fastest I can go and still meet all my other deadlines, too!

As the Crow Flies panel by Melanie Gillman

You achieve amazing results with colored pencils — why that medium? What are its strengths? 

Colored pencil is the medium that makes the most intuitive sense to me! It’s good for detail-oriented people, and as a layering medium, there’s a lot you can do with them to create atmosphere and depth.

It’s fun, too! There’s something I find relaxing about coloring these pages, even if it takes forever. It feels meditative, and I get to burn through a lot of podcasts and audiobooks while I work :)

How did you connect with Iron Circus, and why did you decide to publish with them? 

I became a fan of Iron Circus after the release of the very first Smut Peddler anthology back in 2012, and then I got to draw a food-horror comic for their anthology The Sleep of Reason in 2013. That was my first real, non-self-published gig in comics!

I’ve always loved working with Spike, and I’m a huge fan of what she’s doing in comics right now. She really changed the game for indie creators — especially when it comes to comic anthologies, erotic comics, and the overall comic market for stories by and about women. (Even The Other Side, the queer paranormal romance anthology I published with Kori Michele Handwerker last year, would never have existed if it weren’t for the precedent set by Iron Circus’s books!) All that to say: I love Iron Circus, and I was totally floored when Spike approached me about publishing As the Crow Flies.

As the Crow Flies panel by Melanie Gillman

Are there any differences between the webcomic version and the print/PDF release? 

There are some art edits, definitely! I’ve been drawing the webcomic since 2012, so there’s a very noticeable difference between the skills I had as an artist in the early pages, compared to the later ones. I went back to the first couple chapters and spent about 3 months just drawing revisions: mostly to characters’ faces and hands, plus the occasional wonky-looking car or tree.

There’ll still be a noticeable evolution over the course of the book — that was always going to be inevitable unless I redrew the whole thing! But on the whole, the print edition should look and feel much more polished.

As the Crow Flies panel by Melanie Gillman

Sometimes there is pushback over white creators writing characters of different backgrounds. Did you feel concern over making your protagonist black, and how did you prepare to write Charlie? 

I approached Charlie pretty much the same way I approach any character who has a background different from mine — research, talking to people, listening to interviews, buying and reading other peoples’ books, etc. (And being prepared to listen, take criticism, fix mistakes, and adjust my approach when I need to.)

That pushback comes from a very valid place — not just because white creators are more likely to get things wrong when they write characters of color, but also because American publishing is still not doing nearly enough to support writers of color, and especially black women. This is a complex issue, and one where it’s not my place to try giving a definitive answer — but I think for any creator who’s ‘made it’ in publishing, our responsibility is not just to listen and research our characters, but also to actively support the work of writers and artists who weren’t offered a seat at the table as readily as we were.

Here’s the Kickstarter link again, and my thanks to Melanie for their time.


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