Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Interview with Mat Heagerty, author of Lumberjackula

What's it about:

Jack is in a pickle. His lumberjack mom wants him to go to Mighty Log Lumberjack Prep to learn how to chop wood and wear flannel. His vampire dad wants him to go to Sorrow’s Gloom Vampire School to learn how to turn into a bat and drink blood-orange juice. And Jack has a secret: what he really wants to do is dance.

When he finds out about Tip Tap Twinkle Toes Dance Academy from new friend Plenty, Jack feels he’s finally found the place where he can be his true self. But he’s too afraid of disappointing his family to tell them. What’s a half-lumberjack, half-vampire boy to do?

To summon the confidence to pursue his dreams, Jack will have to embrace every part of himself—his lumberjack toughness, his vampire eeriness, and most especially his awesome dance moves.

The Interview:


1.     First of all, congrats about Lumberjackula! I loved this book so much!  But before we get into specifics about the book, would love to know your path to becoming an author!  How did you break into writing comics and graphic novels?


Thank you so much, Wendy! Sam and I are so proud of how it turned out!


I’m dyslexic, and like many dyslexics, comics were a huge part of how I learned to read. The smaller text blocks and images to help with context clues where huge for me. After reading my first Calvin and Hobbesstrips, I started making my own comics and never really stopped. There were some years where making comics took a backseat to being in punk bands, but it’s never not been a part of my life. 


A big moment early on for me was when Andrew Clements (author of Frindle and a ton of other great middle grade books) visited my second-grade class that his twin sons were in. Seeing a real person who was telling stories for a living was massively impactful. 


For almost a decade, while bartending, I self-published, crowd-funded, and unsuccessfully pitched a ton of books to every publisher in comics with open submissions. I eventually got a miniseries published by this now defuncted and loathed small comics press-- it was a huge learning experience. Biggest lesson of all was that, as corny as it sounds, I found my voice. In that, the miniseries I made was not my voice at all. I realized that I really enjoyed writing for younger readers and that most of the stories I loved were lighthearted and goofy. 


So, I made a light-hearted and goofy pitch for a middle grade graphic novel and submitted it to just one published, Oni Press (a publisher who put out some of my favorite books) and they took it! From there, the doorway inched open a bit and I’ve been trying to force it all the way open since, now luckily with the help of my amazing agent Maria Vicente.  


2.     Is one genre easier than another, both to write and break into?


I feel like breaking in as a writer for either floppy monthly comics or graphic novels can both be equally soul-crushingly hard, hehe. As for me personally writing them, graphic novels are much, much easier. I like telling stories in big chunks with a beginning middle and end. The lack of pages and serialized structure of monthlies would be really hard for me, I think.


3.     How long does it usually take you to write a graphic novel? How much input do you get re: the illustrations?


It really depends on the project and how full my plate is with taking care of my young kids, but generally, I can have a book finished in about three months with my schedule. 


As for art input-- I’ve only made original books so far and not done any work-for-hire, so I’ve been lucky enough to have a say in picking everyone I’ve collaborated with. I’ll certainly write my ideas in a script and have some thoughts throughout the process of the book being illustrated, but I don’t get too involved because that’s not my job. I choose collaborators because I love what they do, so I try not to get in their way too much, hopefully!


4.     Team Marvel or Team DC (or maybe just Team Mat?)


Mat’s great for sure. He’s a nice dude. So, I’m Team Mat definitely, but I have lots of love for all comics! No one team for me! Marvel was a huge part of my childhood, specifically X-Men and Spider-Man, but DC was really big too with Legion of SuperheroesYoung Justice, and Batman: The Animated Series.


5.     Where did the idea of Lumberjackula come from?


It started with an idea I had for just a vampire in middle school called Backpackula. Then I just really liked the way that mash-up sounded, but the idea seemed too simple. So, I tried out others like Quarterbackula, Jetpackula, and Quackula, but they were either taken already or not fun enough for me. I landed on Lumberjackula and the visual just really made me laugh. The character for sure came before the story.


6.     One of my favourite things about this book is that even though Jack’s parents are trying not to pressure him into favouring their choices over the other parent’s, he still feels pressure to please them both. That’s a thing that every kid goes through. Why was that important to you to show that to your readers?


When I was just starting Lumberjackula, I found a picture I had drawn when my wife was pregnant with our first kid. It was of what I thought my daughter would look like as an adult. Even though both my wife and I have always made it a priority to encourage our kids to be whoever they are, I realized I was still putting pressure on my daughter unknowingly. In the drawing, she dressed and looked like my wife pretty much and had a Star Wars shirt on and was holding a guitar. Even as well-meaning and innocent as that was, I realize if she saw the sketch, she would internalize that and think that’s what I want her to be. When the truth is, I want both my kids, or any kid, to be whoever they want to be. 


After that, I thought about how my big excitement when my kids express interest in drawing or music puts a pressure on them too. So, I really wanted to work out my thoughts on all that in the story, for young readers, but also hopefully for some parents reading along too. I hope a parent or two realizes, even if they aren’t forcing their kid to be on the football team, they can still be unknowingly pressuring them down a path they aren’t comfortable with.


7.     Jack’s mom is a lumberjack, his dad a vampire, so clearly he is a product of a mixed marriage, an issue you handle with sensitivity and creativity in the story. Can you talk about whether that was a conscious decision from the get-go?


First of, I’m so glad to hear you feel it was handled sensitively. It was for sure a major concern for me. Even though it’s a fantasy story, I see that the correlation is very easy to draw.


When I started, everything was simply, I think Lumberjackula is fun to say and I wasn’t giving the idea of that he was the child of a mixed marriage much thought at all. But as the story shaped it became a very clearly part of everything. As I’m not a member of a mixed family, I made sure to share my work along the way with my friends and extended family that are to make sure I was handling everything with the proper respect and authenticity. My editors were also massively helpful with this too. 


Also, I really tried more than anything to focus on Jack’s parent’s interests being different. Something I can relate to in my own family. While I have lots of crossover with my wife of course, there are some things we are both very passionate about that the other doesn’t have much interest in. So, I viewed Jack’s conflict a lot through that lens instead, if that makes sense? 

Totally does!


8.     Jack has a special calling all of his own, one he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with people, even though it fills him with joy. We all want to feel seen, even as we all want to belong. How hard was that to write? You did such a great job!


Thank you so much! It wasn’t too hard to tap into at all. While there isn’t much that I’ve ever really felt I needed to hide, I certainly can relate to Jack’s anxiety and fear of disappointing people. I’ve struggled with confidence most of my life and have a pretty unhealthy need to be liked. Well, at least by folks I think highly of. So writing an nervous, insecure kid was all too easy for me!


9.     Just as his family makes mistakes, so does Jack. Can you tell our readers about how you decided what and where to include those mistakes in the story?


The mistakes Jack and his folks, and his grandparents all make just all seemed so natural for the plot to me. I think pretty much everyone has lied at one point or another to avoid difficult talks. Jack’s biggest mistakes—lying and his treatment of his new buddy Plenty—both just felt needed for conflict in the story. There’s one particular mistake in the third act, where Jack keeps up his lie even though it’s really obviously time to come clean. My editors suggested that in the last round of edits, and I’m so happy they did. I think it just felt there needed to be one last hurdle, the flow was off.


10.  Finally, I am in LOVE with Jack’s world! Any chance of more books? 


Oh man, I really, really, really hope so! I have ideas for so many more books. I have a pitch for a sequel that should be going out any day now that I’m very proud of. Fingers and toes majorly crossed that our publisher is interested!


11.  What’s next?


I think the next book to come out will be, a middle grade sports fantasy graphic novel I’m making with Lisa DuBois called Indoor Kid. It’s being published by Oni Press. The dates are moving still on a few books, so maybe something else might be out first. But besides that, I’m pitching and hoping folks let me make more books!


Thanks Mat! 


Thank you so much, Wendy! This was a lot of fun!

Want to learn more about Mat? Go here!