The first volume of Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle’s cozy, queer comic series Moonstruck was a delight: the story of werewolf barista Julie and her pals, who live in a world in which magical creatures are commonplace—which is not to say a world without problems: Julie’s got a crush on Selena, which is entirely requited, but her insecurities about her wolfish nature still get in the way, and she still has to deal with her attention-seeking best pal/co-worker Chet, a lovably overbearing centaur.
The stars of the all-ages rom-com are, not least, wonderfully diverse, and not just in mythical terms. They are representative of a wide array of body shapes and sizes, skin colors, and gender and sexual identities. In a world in which a were-gorgon might flip out on you at a coffee shop, what’s going on in your pants (or in your bed) isn’t a huge hang-up for anyone.
Volume 2, Some Enchanted Evening—which arrives in bookstores March 19—is similarly small-scale and relatable in its concerns: the gang attends a fairy bro frat party that quickly goes awry. An enchantment traps a few members of the group in the house, while on the outside, Julie continues to tentatively open herself to a real relationship with Selena while also trying to rescue her pals. How do you break a fairy circle with the winter solstice on the way?
Writer Grace Ellis and artist Shae Beagle were kind enough to chat with us about the series, and the challenge of continuing it into this second volume (since the release of Vol. 1, the series has switched from a monthly issues to an “original graphic novel” format). In the process, we learned a great deal about the making of a series that werewolves everywhere are calling “a very realistic portrayal of lycanthropic life”—and about how there can never be too many comics by and for queer people. (Also about how Cher might be a werewolf. Which is totally a compliment.)
]Julie’s growing in self-confidence, and her relationship with Selena seems to help, but it seems like she has a long way to go. How do you see her journey?
Grace Ellis: Oh man, Julie’s journey is a complicated one. She’s on a journey of self-confidence, but it’s not a straight line. It’s about gaining the confidence to realize that she doesn’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations of what she should do or who she should be, which is tough for everyone but especially for someone so full of contradictions. Everyone in the book has an idea of who Julie is, but it’s just an idea. Julie’s gotta learn to worry less about what she thinks she’s supposed to be doing and just go her own way, even if it’s not what people expect of her. The confidence she gains throughout their adventures is a big part of that.
Shae Beagle: Julie’s so similar to my younger self it’s a little scary. She’s struggling with identity, relationships, confidence… and while she’s making a lot of progress through the story so far, she does still have a long way to go. I think her journey is realistic in that way. She learns and reverts, pushes her comfort zone as well as stays inside it. I’m rooting for her every step of the way, because I know that struggle, and a lot of people do, and I think we all want to see her grow.
Is she tough to write? In this very diverse and welcoming world, she’s still got all these hang-ups.
GE: I had some trouble with her in the beginning, and then Laurenn [McCubbin, series editor] had an amazing idea that really clarified who she was for me: the idea to have her apologize a lot. The thing about Julie is that she feels like she’s taking up too much space, physically and emotionally. I think she would like to disappear, if she could. So she’s constantly apologizing for literally nothing, because she feels like she’s in the way somehow. It’s kind of fun to write, actually, because it’s an impulse I completely understand, as a woman.
Julie’s able to hide her dual nature, whereas, say, Chet can’t hide theirs. Is that significant in terms of their very different levels of self-confidence?
GE: Oh, completely, that’s one of the fundamentals of who those two characters are, specifically. When Chet walks into the room, there’s no mistaking who they are, whereas Julie at least has the option of pretending to be someone she isn’t. That difference is part of what makes them such good friends, I think. They challenge each other in that way.
Where do the characters come from, both visually and in terms of voice and personality? Inspired by your own werewolf friends, I’d assume.
GE: Oh man, can I just tell you: I met someone literally last night who believes that all lesbians are werewolves. I am not making that up. He genuinely believes that, and I didn’t even say anything about this book. And he’s gay! So he’s got a lot going on. But yeah, we’re all werewolves and Moonstruck is based on a true story, I want that on the official record.
So the characters of Moonstruck were created in what I would consider the ideal comics way, which is that the art and the writing informed each other. We started as a five-page mini comic, so I wrote out these characters and only had a vague sense of who they would be, and then Shae the Genius came along and turned them into real people. Once I could see how they looked and moved, it was easy for me to go back and fill out their personalities even more.
SB: Like Grace says, the art and the writing inform each other! So Grace is amazing at giving a character so much life and personality in writing, and I just try to match that visually! How would this character move, how would they dress, how emotive are they? As each keeps informing the other, it feels a lot like you’re growing with that character and getting to know them better in this really natural way. Also all my werewolf friends love the story and find it to be a very realistic portrayal of lycanthropic life, can we get that as a pull quote?
Part of the fun is that the book takes place in this very lived-in, believable world that, in reality, has much different rules than our own. Can you talk a bit about creating the look and feel of the world that Julie and co. inhabit?
GE: Well, it’s definitely one of my mains goals: to make the world of this book a friendly, cozy [one]. I wanted it to feel like Stars Hollow or the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name and your friends are there and you can always stop by and feel like you’re home. I should say, too, that I think those goals are especially well-served by the art, because it all looks like it could be made out of cotton candy, with Shae’s art and Caitlin Quirk’s colors.
On the writing side of things, there are a couple different strategies working all at once. A big part of it is imagining what day to day life in Blitheton would be like and then populating it accordingly. And being specific! Specific things, like the idea that it’s a college town, so of course there are two coffee shops within blocks of each other. The secondary characters have to be specific too, with rich inner lives: Mark working at the mall or Chet playing Newpals or Manuel being an English major, all of which make them feel more like people you know. And then there’s the coffee shop itself, which is meant to feel like it could be in your neighborhood, if only you took a different route home. It’s about making the world [feel like it has] a lot going on beyond what we immediately see.
That being said, the rules of this world are pretty different from the real one, and I think that comes back to specificity as well. You’ve gotta fulfill the promise of the premise as much as you can, which is to say that if there were a storyline without a single magical thing happening, it would feel like a waste. If you picked up a volume of a book about werewolves and they spent the entire thing just drinking coffee like a lesbian My Dinner with Andre, you’d probable feel cheated. Probably. Making magic an everyday part of the world and integrating it into an emotional story that’s grounded in real life is an important part of what makes Moonstruck Moonstruck.
SB: Ever since our five-page mini comic, the feel of the world has been light-hearted, warm, and fun. I wanted to make sure to live up to that in the art. Hard black inks didn’t seem to fit the feeling, so I settled on a softer, sketchy, penciled look. Most of the character designs feature lots of round shapes and curved lines, and the color palette leans toward the pastel. This happens to be my exact aesthetic, but shhh it’s all intentional.
Also along with Grace’s points on specificity, I try to keep each character’s space as specific to them as possible. This could be as broad as Julie’s room being tidy and filled with books that reflect her interests, to as small a detail as Chet’s cellphone charms. All these things flesh out the world and make it more familiar and lived-in, despite all the magic.
Now that the book’s firmly established and popular, are you thinking any differently about how to tell the story over a potentially longer term?
GE: I don’t really know. At the beginning, I was just happy to get one volume out, but once we knew Image would let us go on for a while, I started thinking of it as four volumes, one for each season, so we could watch the characters and the town change over the course of a year. Honestly, I think I’d like to cap it at four. I love comics, but I do think infinite stories are a weakness of the medium. Sometimes things are better with an ending. That’s one of the later themes of the book, actually, so maybe that’s appropriate.
Moonstruck has been a part of the discussion about queer representation in media over the past year or so. How are you all feeling about where we are now? It seems like we’ve seen some huge progress…and then some ugly pushback.
GE: That’s a complicated question. The comics community is having some real growing pains right now, [specifically] reckoning with the fact that the comics community has never been just straight white men ages 18 to 35. My general feeling is that I’m going to keep making comics, and those comics are going to have LGBTQ characters, and I don’t really care if people don’t like that about them.
I do think the real answer is to just make more comics and tell more stories about (and told by) LGBTQ people. There isn’t one single narrative that’s going to capture everyone’s experience—nothing can be everything to everyone—so the solution is to seize and create opportunities for more stories that more people could potentially connect with. Even the goals of Moonstruck and Lumberjanes are very different; they’re meant to connect with different audiences. In media as a whole, all the big LGBTQ stories tend to be about suffering—even still—and in that way, I’m happy that Moonstruck and Lumberjanes can contribute some queer joy. We have come an unbelievably long way, though, so I’m grateful to be making comics in the current moment.
SB: There’s a bit of tension within the comic’s community about marginalized creators finding success in telling our stories. I’m not going to let that stop me from creating and contributing to queer stories as a queer creator, stories that I needed to see in my childhood.
Comics have come far [in terms of] queer representation, but we can keep going and keep proving that these stories are important to tell. I never thought I’d be making comics until I could finally relate to what I was reading. I’d like to keep seeing a variety of queer stories from every unique perspective—happy queer stories, queer stories for kids, and more queer talent to make them!
When will the crossover with the Cher film Moonstruck happen, and where can I send the money to ensure it does?
GE: I wonder if we can get Cher to do a signing at a convention with us. Honestly, if anyone in the real world is a werewolf, it’s probably Cher. She’s pretty magical, I’d believe anything you told me about her.
SB: I keep wanting to sneak Cher into a crowd scene or something, but she deserves better than that… Can we get Cher? Cher are you reading this?
CHER IS TOTALLY READING THIS. HI CHER.