Interview: ‘Moonstruck’ Writer Grace Ellis


Superstar writer Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes, Bravest Warriors) and mega-talented newcomer Shae Beagle join forces for a magical ongoing series, Moonstruck, which released its first issue in July.

In Moonstruck, fantasy creatures live typical, unremarkable lives alongside humans, and barista Julie strives to be the most unremarkable of all. Normal job, normal almost-girlfriend, normal…werewolf transformations that happen when she gets upset? Yikes!

But all bets are off when she and her centaur best friend Chet find themselves in the middle of a magical conspiracy. Will Julie and Chet be able to save their friends? Is Julie’s dogged determination to be normal a lost cause? Who’s going to watch the coffee shop while our heroes are out saving the world?

Heroic Girls spoke with writer Grace Ellis about fantasy, romance, and the importance of letting queer readers see themselves on the page.

The book is great as a relationship/romance story alone. How does the fantasy setting help tell the story?

In Moonstruck, the fantasy parts are vital parts of the characters’ world and identities, and I think that really gives it some extra dimension. For example, Julie, the protagonist, is a werewolf, but she’s hates wolfing out, partially because she sees it as losing control. So she has a lot of anxiety about a fundamental part of who she is. Take that next to Chet, who is a centaur and therefore literally can’t hide their magical side. Chet is really gregarious, partially because being a centaur and taking up a lot of physical space changes how they see the world.

Also, the non-romance parts of the plot is a story that could only happen within the urban/fantasy world of Moonstruck, so that’s fun.

Romance comics are an old idea made new again, how do you reconnect with girls (and boys) that may want this type of material, but are unaware that comics shops offer it?

Something I’ve been trying to emphasize is that comics are a medium and not a genre. I tell people it’s like saying that you don’t like movies because all movies are action movies. Maybe all the big budget blockbusters are action movies, but there’s an understanding that those aren’t the only types of movies out there. It’s the same thing with comics: There’s a wide variety of stories available because it’s a great story-telling medium, period. The fact that it’s widely accepted that comics are only superheroes is a really big fault of the current industry, but I think it’s something that Image, our publisher, is actually doing a really good job of confronting.

This is a little inside baseball, but for Moonstruck specifically, we’ve been doing as much as we can to reach the non-comics crowd, talking to general interest teen magazines, trying to get as creative as we can with marketing in general. At the end of the day, all we can do is make the best book we can and hope that people see that Moonstruck is a good book that’s worth reading, which I wholeheartedly believe it is.

When people think about the art in romance comics, I think they get a mental picture of Brenda Starr or Patsy Walker, how does a more modern, cartoony style help with the storytelling?

Shae’s art is so perfect for this story because of how cartoony it is, I think. It makes the book feel soft and warm and approachable, which is tonally exactly right for this type of story. Also, going back to the idea that not all comics are superhero comics, it’s a way of visually separating Moonstruck from typical action-adventure comics. It’s clear from just the cover that this isn’t what most people conceive of as a normal comic book. So hopefully the art can help like, flag down the type of person who would be interested in this type of book.

I love the colors in the book. They are absolutely gorgeous. I’m not sure I have a question here other than, “Are colorists underappreciated in comics?”

Oh, for sure. The coloring is an essential part of how the overall comic reads. Shae did the colors for the first issue, and then after that, Caitlin Quirk, who is another extremely talented newcomer, will take over. We had to do it this way because coloring a comic is such an intensive process that I’m worried we might kill Shae if they had to do it all alone! Besides, Caitlin is so talented and fun to work with!

How important is it for queer readers — especially kids — to see themselves on the page?

It’s vital that queer readers see themselves on the page. I’m a lesbian, and I know that if I had seen lesbians in any kind of media as a kid, it would’ve made an enormous difference for me because as far as I knew, I was the only person in the entire world who felt the way I did. So seeing a piece of yourself – like your sexuality or gender identity – reflected in a book can make you feel less alone and more understood, which I think is a big part of not just coming out but also of being a full, self-actualized human.

LGBTQ people spend our whole lives being bombarded with images of happy straight couples, but historically, queer couples are demonized or tragic or secondary. It’s hard not to internalize that. Thankfully, the tide is turning, because I gotta tell you: As an adult who is gay and has been out for a while, it’s still comforting to see three-dimensional depictions of LGBTQ people in media. We’re a part of the world, and seeing queer characters makes me feel like we’re not invisible and like our contributions to society matter.

There’s also an added element that’s kind of become almost a jokey trope at this point, which is that if a piece of media has queer women characters, then queer women are guaranteed to consume it. Through that lens, queer media becomes a conduit for bonding within the LGBTQ community. I mean, take the fandom for the TV show The 100: Even when their beloved show horrifically killed off one of the queer characters, the community came together and started an annual, real-life convention where they could meet up and discuss fandom. And that’s bonkers! Spaces for queer women are disappearing left and right, lesbian bars are closing across the country, but because of queer media, LGBTQ people find each other and are able to maintain a community! It’s really something to behold.

On the flip side, how important is it that we ask straight, cis folk to occasionally identify with queer protagonists?

The goal of most media is to get whoever is consuming it to empathize with the main character. When you empathize with someone, you have to see them as a full human, and that alone is a good reason to consume media about LGBTQ folks (as well as any media about someone whose life experience is very different from your own).  I mean, it’s harder to bully or legislate against someone when you can look them in the eye and see a piece of yourself.This is something that I think books do particularly well, because they’re often told directly from one character’s point of view. There have been a bunch of studies that show that knowing an LGBTQ person can stop someone from being homophobic, and I feel like seeing queer people in media falls along those same lines.

Also, I can say from experience that when you come out to someone, it’s not entirely unusual for them to bring up Modern Family or Ellen or Brokeback Mountain or Glee or whatever. People like to talk to me about Fun Home, which I love. What I’m saying is that when straight people consume media that features queer characters, it can become a touchstone and a way of directly relating. Now, obviously there are some problems with that (all of the examples I mentioned are mostly about white cis people, which directly makes it harder for people of color/trans people, for instance), but I think it’s a good place to start.

There is an amazing cast of characters you managed to introduce in just a few pages. How difficult is it to find room to tell all of their stories in a tight confines of 22-page comic?

It’s definitely tough, there’s so much story I want to tell! The only way we can do it is to have a detailed plan of where the story is going because we’re packing so many different character studies into relatively short issues. The secret to doing THAT is to think of a story that the characters could serve and characters that the story could serve, coming up with them both simultaneously. Sometimes it works to come up with random characters and throw them into a story, but if you want to do a lot with theme (which we do), it helps to conceive of characters and plot that all tie into that theme in different ways. It makes the story stronger, I think. Also finding ways to turn every moment into a character moment has been a rewarding challenge.

I could imagine this book existing ten years ago — but it would be a self-published zine. How has the industry changed to support titles like Moonstruck?

I think that broadly as a culture, we’ve experienced a pretty significant shift in the types of stories and characters that are allowed to exist in the mainstream in general. As someone who is still pretty young, I am very grateful to be coming into the industry when I am. Plus, publishers like Image and Boom are doing a lot to showcase books like Moonstruck, and that’s really putting pressure on other major publishers to consider taking a chance on different types of books. I am optimistic that the comics industry is starting to crack open and that soon, all types of wild ‘n crazy books are going to come pouring out.

Moonstruck #1 is on store shelves now.

Preview: Moonstruck #1