Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - S2 Ep. 2 with illustrator Sara Alfageeh

April 26, 2023 Sara Alfageeh Season 2 Episode 2
Comic Boom - S2 Ep. 2 with illustrator Sara Alfageeh
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - S2 Ep. 2 with illustrator Sara Alfageeh
Apr 26, 2023 Season 2 Episode 2
Sara Alfageeh

Lucy chats with Sara Alfageeh, co-creator of the fantastic YA graphic novel Squire. They discuss her creative process, her collaborative process with co-creator Nadia Shammas and the impact and importance of representation.

Sara Alfageeh is a Jordanian-American illustrator and creative director in San Francisco. She is passionate about history, teaching, girls with swords, and the spaces where art and identity intersect. Her award-winning debut graphic novel SQUIRE is on shelves everywhere, and upcoming picture book NOT YET: THE STORY OF AN UNLIKELY SKATER is in the works. Sara is currently co-founder of One More Multiverse

Links to everything  discussed, including Sara's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Sara on Twitter at  @SaraAlfageeh and on Instagram  
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

Lucy chats with Sara Alfageeh, co-creator of the fantastic YA graphic novel Squire. They discuss her creative process, her collaborative process with co-creator Nadia Shammas and the impact and importance of representation.

Sara Alfageeh is a Jordanian-American illustrator and creative director in San Francisco. She is passionate about history, teaching, girls with swords, and the spaces where art and identity intersect. Her award-winning debut graphic novel SQUIRE is on shelves everywhere, and upcoming picture book NOT YET: THE STORY OF AN UNLIKELY SKATER is in the works. Sara is currently co-founder of One More Multiverse

Links to everything  discussed, including Sara's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Sara on Twitter at  @SaraAlfageeh and on Instagram  
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Lucy Sb:

Hello, Sara, welcome to comic.

Sara Alfageeh:

So happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Lucy Sb:

Can you start by telling us a little bit about your journey as a comics reader? The first time that you picked a comic up? Do you have a clear memory of that or how did it all begin?

Sara Alfageeh:

I. I do have a clear memory of this. Yeah. Uh, Calvin and Hobbs, I think, is a book that a lot of people remember, first having in their hands or perhaps as you know, the newspaper clippings as they were initially published. I really, really fell in love with that series. It was a very cheeky kind of book. It felt older, than my age when I started reading it and. One of those books where everybody in my household, you know, wanted to join in and read the strips together, whether it was my parents, whether it was my older brother, me and my sister, even if we didn't fully understand some of the jokes just yet. Calvin and Hobbs has been on a shelf in my home, throughout my whole life. I have it here and now, uh, in San Francisco. I had it back in Boston where I grew up. yeah, it all began with that kid.

Lucy Sb:

Oh, I absolutely love Calvin and Hoves as well. I've talked about that before with previous guests on the podcast. It's just just a great mix of humor and kind of profound real, the, just the meaning of life embedded

Sara Alfageeh:

and, and that really stuck with me, right? Comics could be very emotional and sincere and hilarious, and oftentimes the only kind of story that you can tell in a comics format, Calvin and Hobbs never got adapted, and I think that is absolutely a good thing.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah. Yeah. I watched a documentary, just the other day about, Calvin and Hobbs, and I didn't realize all that, that it was never, you know, there's no merchandise, there's no, I didn't realize that whole element of it. And that does. Yeah, even more sort of special that it's just there. It's just in the story.

Sara Alfageeh:

And it's all it needs to be.

Lucy Sb:

and where did you go from there? How did your taste develop, over your time at school for example, were you encouraged to read comics at school or was it very much something separate?

Sara Alfageeh:

I, I never read comics at school. I was very lucky that I grew up next to a very robust and active library where I was sure that there was some librarian in there who, uh, was personally very invested in having a strong comics collection. And then later on as we got older, would take recommendations from us, be like, Hey, we want one more volume of this manga. We need one more issue of this comic. I'm sure he took it out of his own budget at that point to do it. Of course, you don't think of it as a kid, but yeah, I was very lucky to have, a library with a very strong comics collection, which was pretty unusual, during that, you know, early two thousands period. And I started reading, you know, Marvel in DC again, kind of. Stuff that was a little too old for me and I phased out of it. And then I very quickly discovered, manga, which was, I think I was about 11 years old, and I read the first volume of death note, which my older brother had in his room, which of course made it all the more enticing when he said, you're not allowed to read this. So of course I read it and. Fell in love with, anime manga forward. And I didn't return to Western Comics until I was in high school where I picked up Brian K Vaughan's. Y: The Last Man In the Saga Series? And they kind of clicked in my head like, oh, American comics can be more than just superheroes and tights.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah. And what do you think was it that was pulling you in? Was it, did you come at it from more of an artistic perspective? Was it the story or, or are they completely intertwined to view those two elements?

Sara Alfageeh:

Uh, it's just something about the kinds of stories we allow ourselves to tell in comics that for some reason people don't really broach them in traditional novels. I was a very avid hungry reader. As a kid. I was devouring, you know, hundreds of pages of fantasy novels. Uh, Day, sometimes a week depending on, you know, if, if school was in or not. But there were these stories of adventure and heroism and, you know, just larger than life characters that they just didn't translate when all you had were words on a page. They required pictures. Taking over everything, and I, didn't really look at it as an artist. I didn't start drawing until I was maybe 17, 18 years old. So even though I devoured comics my whole life, it didn't actually click in my head that I could be a comic creator until I was, 19 or 20 years old in college, in my first year University

Lucy Sb:

Can you tell us a little bit more about how your journey from reader to creator developed? So you are, you are at college, you start to realize, or maybe that this is something that I could be, how'd you end up where you are?

Sara Alfageeh:

So I was very, um, active online and I was in, you know, Tumblr at the time. A place where people were sharing, you know, all these different creations they were doing usually around, you know, a shared love of a TV show or an anime or a book, that kind of thing. So I was really active in fan spaces and I didn't start getting interested in art until I was coming across artwork by other 15, 16 year olds. And they made. You know, making art seem extremely approachable and I am an obsessive person. So the minute I climbed onto a new hobby, I would not, you know, let go of it. Uh, so I taught myself how to draw in my last year of high school just for fun, uh, cuz I wanted to make fan art. too, I wanted to draw the avatar, the last airbender characters. I wanted to draw my favorite anime charact. And share them with people online. And that's how I met, you know, friends and made community. and I was always, you know, very actively going to conventions and things like that. I've always been around people who were in the arts, but it never clicked for me that I could be someone who does it myself. Until Ms. Marvel volume one dropped. I was in my first semester in my university and I picked up this, comic series cuz I was like, you. It's all we're gonna get as Muslim American people. We gotta buy it anyways. Even if it sucks, I wanna support it just to tell them we want more. You know, I went in with the lowest of expectations and I read it and it was fabulous and it was. So unlike anything else I've read from Marvel or dc, you know, the traditional big, superhero publishers. And there was this moment in the comic series where this character who is, you know, Pakistani American, Muslim, girl who, uh, you know, stumbles on powers one day and she's struggling to deal with how to use them. And she goes to her local mosque for advice and when she's talking to her, to her imam at the local mosque, her religious community leader. the carpets in that scene are accurate and it was such a small, insignificant detail where I was like, who cared enough to make this accurate? No one is gonna notice except for me and what, like five other readers, like who is out here caring to that level. And this was the top selling comic at Marvel at the time. So I was like, okay, this is someone who, identifies like me. It's written by people who identify like me. It's being so widely loved by people, it's commercially viable. And all of that together, something clicked in my forehead, and I was like, oh, I could do this. And so I kicked down my counselor's door, two weeks later and I switched into art school. And then I told my parents that I did that like a month later, and that was a different conversation.

Lucy Sb:

And how did that conversation go?

Sara Alfageeh:

Uh, so it was interesting. My parents, you know, they are, immigrants and have always made it very clear to us like financial stability is the only way forward. Uh, and so they just, you know, they were concerned, but they saw how, how many hours I was. Throwing at art, you know, they saw me, you know, holding myself up in a room and bringing my sketchbook everywhere and, you know, loving this new hobby that I was picking up. And so when I told them like, I think I can make this a career, my dad sat me down and it was, you know, a very courtroom like, and he was like, you have one year. You have one year to prove to me that you know what you're doing. You got three siblings, I gotta pay for college for all of them. You know, you gotta, you gotta prove to me this isn't, you know, a passing, passing interest. And so immediately, like I was out of this student mentality and I was forcing myself to be like, okay, I want to be like these creators. I gotta think like these creators. I gotta put myself in spaces with these creators. I have to present myself as if I'm already one of them. You know, it's just blind confidence all the way through.

Lucy Sb:

It's so great to hear that having. Increase in representation. Having something like Ms. Marvel, it is a snowball effect that it does inspire more people to see the themselves in that way. two guests on the podcast have recommended your book

Sara Alfageeh:

Really? Oh, that's so cool.

Lucy Sb:

The, the first guest. you can listen back to the episodes, you can hear it. The first guest, was in, in episode one, of season one. And then, in episode three, I talked to, Meher Shiblee, who is, doing PhD research into the representation of Muslim women in comics. And she did, she came on and did an episode and, and talked really extensively about Ms. Marvel, and talked about Squire as well.

Sara Alfageeh:

G Willow Wilson, the creator of, Ms Marvel and the, author on the original series run, ended up being a close friend and a mentor, but I. Started very much as her fan, you know, and then I came full circle where two years ago I ended up creating a character for the Ms. Marvel series. I ended up contributing amulet. A new character who is like, has defensive powers, he's Lebanese, and they, they plucked me out to create this character, because of. My experience, you know, just drawing from my own culture, which is not at all a path that I thought I would go down. Even when I started doing comics, it may have convinced me people like me can have this career, but I was still a few years away from being like, and I'm gonna also, you know, create comics and books about, people who identify like,

Lucy Sb:

And what was that like, was that a real moment for you when you were working on Ms. Marvel yourself, did you feel like this is, like, this is a crazy trajectory? Or did, did you feel like, yeah, this is my, this is my place.

Sara Alfageeh:

I mean, I, I. The, the comics world is so small, so I was like, I know I was gonna get tapped by the Avengers office eventually, but that's, you know, I'm, I'm just that good. But, but it to, to actually be asked to contribute to Ms. Marvel directly, was pretty incredible. That was very much a full circle moment. And I had, specifically been asked by the second author, on that run, Saladin Ahmed. He is, you know, a genuine mentor, an uncle figure to me. He, sat me and my co-author of Squire Down after New York Comic-Con when we were all there, and basically like laid it all out, like, how can I help you? Let's work together, all of this stuff. And he is like, I have something that I only trust you to pull off, because at the end of the day, like there's still only like five Arabs in comics. There's only a maybe a dozen Muslims So it's still a small world, but even then, like now, I'm the person who, I get the emails and I get the, the Twitter tags being like, I just pitched my first book, or I just sold my first book. And I, uh, said I, I like pointed to Squire and I said, you know, My book's gonna be successful because of Squire, and that's already out there, so it's kind of crazy. Like I pointed to Ms. Marvel when I showed my parents like, Hey, there's room for me right now. I wanna try this. I wanna take the plunge. And now there are kids holding squire in front of their parents saying, you know, I wanna try doing this. And that's incredible.

Lucy Sb:

That is amazing. It makes me feel a bit emotional over here. It's so,

Sara Alfageeh:

The only reason I'm not emotional is cuz I've, I've gone through this story a few times, but it's, yeah, and I was a teacher at that time as well and I worked in, the art and design library at my university. So I was always in charge of, I guess recommending books and comics to others and you know, there's always a little craze in my eyes when someone dares to, to ask me, what should I read next? And I'm like,

Lucy Sb:

Well, that's coming at the end of the episode, so we, we'll wait to hear about that. I just wanted to look back to something you said earlier on around in your teenage years, copying creating fan art maybe. Um, is that, is that a really important part do you think? Of developing artistic skills. I mean, I, it, I'll tell you why it stuck out to me was because I was told I need to work on my facial expressions this week. And I've actually been going through and copying, so I've been copying pictures from Squire, literally this week.

Sara Alfageeh:

yeah.

Lucy Sb:

Had to try and get better at facial expressions. So I'm really interested in, in if you think that's an important part of

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, absolutely. Uh, no. I think the, uh, best way to learn is through study, and the best way to study is through copying. And, you know, you won't really know how an arm moves or a face moves, like if there's a. Style you're really interested in? Like it's worthwhile to sit there and, and do you know these, we call them master studies, right. But, uh, it can really be of anything. You know, it doesn't have to be from a dead guy from a millennia ago. It couldn't be from someone, you know, a couple years ago. Yeah, so I did a fair amount of copying myself and you know, if I'm trying to. Tackle like a new way of inking, a new way of coloring. I will go through imitation first, and then as an artist, you lean back and you start stealing, you know, oh, I like the way this person shades. I like the way that person colors. I like the way this person draws expressions. I like the way that person lays out a page. And then of course, you have your own brand of laziness, so you will stop once it stops being interesting to you, and that's how you kind of end up with an art style.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah.

Sara Alfageeh:

What you consume and pay attention to, it's what you enjoy. And then finally, where you personally decide to stop.

Lucy Sb:

And so what do you think your ingredients are for your art style? If you were gonna unpick that a little bit, what, what are your, what influences do you draw on and, and what do you enjoy doing?

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, so I would say that, Squire is a pretty classic, you know, fantasy adventure book, right? But my page layouts were heavily inspired by romance because in romance manga, they're not afraid of really sitting with a moment with an emotion. That is always the goal of any. Kind of storytelling is how can I make my reader feel what my character is feeling? And you just have to let him have a little space. It's okay to have no dialogue on a page. It's okay to have nothing but a single person's face in a panel. And it taught me how to crop very intentionally because I, like, I've proven, I can draw, you know, I've shown you beautiful landscapes, I've shown you characters on horses and battles and all this stuff. And right now it's time to hit pause. And sit with this character as she cries alone in the dark. You know, that kind of thing.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah, I love that. I love the little moments where there's just pieces of what's going on around, they kind of elongate the moment and yeah, it's

Sara Alfageeh:

I, I definitely, and, and those kind of moments that we were talking about where I cut away from a character interaction and instead in a panel, all I do is show you a blade of grass or a candle, you know? And a lot of people have told me, they're like, it's so poetic, it's so slow. I feel like I'm there and I'm like, I just didn't wanna draw the character again. You know what's easier than drawing a character, A blade of grass?

Lucy Sb:

I love that. But that's, uh, that's, um, where, you know, we do say that once it goes to the reader, that's, it's up to them to read, to interpret, they dunno those secrets.

Sara Alfageeh:

I, it's like you put me in the setting and I was like, sure. Yeah, whatever you think. So, um, and I took that, that kind of style, from filmmaking, right? Where you're not always pointing the camera at the character, sometimes you're pointing them at the environment and, Sometimes it's just B roll, you know, it's just extra footage that's lying around to fill in the space if you don't get the cut that you want. Yeah. So I, I wanted it to feel very cinematic. I was thinking as if I had a camera and I was sitting in the room with my characters and I'm thinking to myself, where do I wanna cut and edit and point the camera to next? And however big the panel size. Was how long I was pointing the camera at them is kind of how I thought about it. So a lot of my, inspiration, I would say, isn't from other comics. obviously I grew up on a very healthy diet of comics, specifically Manga and Western, all of that together. But, um, I tried to look at inspiration from other visual mediums. Like filmmaking. I also paid attention to, poetry and, you know, short form writing because that's a lot closer to comics than traditional book writing. so you're always thinking of how can I, how can I condense and how can I let this word lead us to the next word? How can I make sure that every page flip is a new reveal? You know, that kind of.

Lucy Sb:

So you worked with Nadia Shamas. On this book, but then the original idea came from, from some work that you did as a student, and it, it feels like, I watched a, a, an interview with both of you and it feels like the, the project as a whole kind of grew out of both of you. And I'm just really interested in how that collaboration worked

Sara Alfageeh:

yeah. Uh, Squire was at its very gestation, a homework assignment that I took overly seriously. It, I was in my third year of college, so at this. Point, you know, I've started posting my artwork online. I'm growing a pretty serious audience. I'm starting to present myself as a professional. I'm getting some client work. A lot of things are happening very quickly for me. And I had an instructor who, you know, took notice of this and was like, Hey, I wanna push you a bit. I know you can draw. And I, now I wanna know like what you're trying to say when you're drawing. You know, like, what are you actually interested in exploring, uh, career. Not just, you know, in the context of trying to get a viral tweet, you know, like, what could you turn into a longer form project? And he pushed me to, uh, focus on my interests outside of, you know, the art studios. So I was very, avid. History reader. I, took history classes, in my university that weren't required for my major. And it was always been like a lifelong interest. So I started with my interest of history. I started with, my own kind of background of like, what is my take on the classic Knight in Armor trope, what's my take on, you know, Orcs and elves and things like that, how can I make it more interesting specifically to me? Cuz I'm stuck with this project for a whole semester, so God forbid I get bored. Uh, which is always my, that is also my ethos for any project I take up. But boredom is entirely my problem and I am very quick to get bored. So,

Lucy Sb:

I am too. It fills me with fear. Actually. I do. Well when I hear people that I've worked on this book for eight years, I think what?

Sara Alfageeh:

Wouldn't you get just utterly. Oh, Bo, it's what, that's the thing, right? It's like boredom's your problem. You gotta make it work. So for me, I am master at entertaining myself. And all of my, all of my projects are me entertaining myself primarily. It is, it is a core belief in my, Professional pursuits. Uh, so for me, I started delving into, you know, middle Eastern history and armor and I had all this fun researching the details and I was coming up with, you know, my favorite stories around my favorite tropes. and I was having a lot of fun with the characters design. There was this, Big guy with no arm and a small girl. It was scrappy and I really related to that. And so I, I wrapped up that project. I threw it on my portfolio online, and I kept, you know, knocking out illustrations that I was posting on Twitter. And one day, one of those illustrations got, a lot of attention, including the attention of an editor from Harper Collins who emailed me and he said, hello, I'd like to hop on a call. And I said, sure. And he said, do you wanna do a book? And I said, that sounds like a lot of work. Uh, and he was like, it is. And I was like, do I have to finish college? And. Yes, please do. I said, I guess, um, and that was, yeah, the start of Squire. So I, I got reached out to by an editor. Then two weeks later, another piece of mine went viral and I got an agent who also asked me, uh, do you wanna do a book? And I was like, all right, that's twice in a month. That's a sign. But I was so intimidated by the process cuz like you said, write years. You want me to work years on a book. Misery. I was like, all right, I'm gonna need a buddy, because I'll go insane by myself. And I started poking around and I stumbled on Nadia, who, is my co-author. And she was in a very similar position as me. We were similar in age. We both had a crowdfunded project under our belts. We both had, you know, a few minor credits and we were hungry. So I hit her up. I said, you wanna do a book? What do you wanna talk about? What are you, what are you interested in? And that first call, uh, lasted three.

Lucy Sb:

you clicked straight away.

Sara Alfageeh:

We clicked straight away cuz we realized there was a lot of, touchstones that we bonded over, you know, a love of, manga and anime. A love of ye, a love of fan fiction, a love of like all these things. We didn't have to explain it to each other. Book work and comics are so hard, and so the last thing you need is to also have communication that's very hard. So having that, creative trust, like I Nadia trusted me to, to handle all the fight scenes by myself. She was like, this is gonna happen. This is gonna happen, and this person wins. How that happens, I don't care. Just make it fit in five pages and. I would tell her all my favorite jokes and she very smartly, very intellectually, said no to 85% of them. Cause Squire would've not been as, um, I would say emotionally compelling if I was the only person in charge of it. And we pulled Aiza from each other, we pulled all these characters from our own experiences and the story from our shared, childhood weird space that we inhabited as, Arab Americans growing up in the shadow of nine 11 and having to prove, uh, hey, I'm literally seven years old. Like, why am I treated being treated by default? Like I'm guilty for, uh, you know, being guilty for, for like, I had to prove patriotism as a child. Like that messes you up. You know, it's a little, it's a little wild. So, yeah, we, we both saw this happen to the adults around us. It shaped kind of our outlook on media. It shaped, what stories we were interested in. And the more and more we talked to each other, we started with this high fantasy concept and we realized to tell an honest story of, you know, being an immigrant kid, we had to set it in, a fantasy world that, you know, we loved. And also so that people would question, you know, that experience less. Because they were invested in this other world and other story and not getting caught up in these, accurate details. You need fantasy to be honest.

Lucy Sb:

And the world building I want to go, I wanna be there. I want like, I just love it. I f and I've,

Sara Alfageeh:

You

Lucy Sb:

I, I, yeah, I know. Well, I know that, but I love it. It's kind of a, it is that blend of the real, and the unreal, isn't it?

Sara Alfageeh:

I mean, it's like saying, oh, I wanna go to Middle Earth. New Zealand is a thing, you know? No one questions it, right? They're like, oh, I wanna be in Game of Thrones. Go to Spain. You'll be fine.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah. Okay. I'll, I'll pick my flights. I'll pick my flights.

Sara Alfageeh:

but that's the thing, right? It's like our world is fantastical. Other cultures have such an insane magic to them already, and it's so cool when you're allowed to hone in on it.

Lucy Sb:

And it's really cool that a book can take you places that you've never been or never thought of going to before as well. you touched on a little bit earlier about your interest in history and research and things. I'm just wondering if you can unpack that a little bit more in terms of the amount of development that went into it.

Sara Alfageeh:

So, after I had my agent, I had this interest from this first editor at Harper Collins, and I had Nadia. the next step was to develop a pitch. Now a pitch is what you bring to a publisher and you say, money, please. This is gonna sell a lot of copies. You say in a sentence what your book is, you say in a paragraph, a little bit more about like who you are as well and you know, what books this would sit on a shelf next to. Right. And then from there you, start. You know, explaining all like the outline of the plot. You share who your characters are gonna be and you share six or 10 Comic pages. So this is what the book will look like when it is done. And here you start to, you know, emphasize your technical skills, right? You're like, I'm the best artist for this story. So you show a little environment, you show a little bit of character acting, you show, you know, a hint of the script that's enticing, and you, you kind of present to these publishers, I have a really good book. I'm the best person to write this book, and you're the best person to publish it because you've done these books as. So that's how you, pitch a book. So in the process of that, I hijacked the family vacation to Jordan, which is where my family is from. Uh, so we went to Jordan in Turkey, as we always do, uh, for a summer. And while everybody was taking selfies in front of the Iya Sophia, I was taking pictures of rocks in a corner with little inscriptions on them. I would stop my uncle every time we passed by a beautiful sunset over the mountain. Because I'm like, I'm gonna need this later. And I did. And I would take photos of everything that I thought would help me build out this world. So when I sat down at my desk, I can open up this, you know, hypothetical trunk of colors and textures and ideas. And this is actually a process that. Is not uncommon in art history as well. Many people would travel to other places and lands and they would sketch out all the details from there, and then they would come back to their studios back home in Europe and start to fabricate these scenes. The only difference is, is I tell you, yeah, this is in fact fiction, but in art history in France, they would be like, yep, that's the orient. Look at'em. Go, you know, oh, of this is real.

Lucy Sb:

you were making parallels to films and almost thinking of a bit like a film. Uh, can I just commend you first of all or not? I absolutely love when there's process bits at the back of a, graphic novel and this is A really hefty good chunk of the back, at the back of the book, which is just dedicated to like the process and so much of, Nadia's voice and your voice in there just explaining what you went. It is just really, it really adds to the, to the whole thing.

Sara Alfageeh:

I mean, all I could think about was when I was a kid, I wanted to know like, how do you do this? You

Lucy Sb:

Yeah. Hi, I'm an adult and I wanna know.

Sara Alfageeh:

I, it's, it's kind of funny, uh, cause I get so many comments about the back matter of the book where, you know, we show the process and I'm like, well I dunno, I thought the story was cool too, but Sure. Yeah. Like, I guess it shoulda made a drawing tutorial that would've been shorter. Um, but, Partially, partially part of the reason all of that stuff is there is cause books are published in sections of like 16 pages at a time. So they staple them together. So if you're a little over 16 now all of a sudden you have a bunch of

Lucy Sb:

You got pages to fill. Yeah. I did wonder if it was a filler or if it was something that you are like, I

Sara Alfageeh:

well it was both. I wanted, I wanted to include back matter and they're like, well you got like 10 pages to kill. And I was like, hell yeah. So I'm gonna really get.

Lucy Sb:

And it, there's, there's parts in there talking about the costume and things like that. And that it all feels, I mean, very much like, creating a film, you know, you'd have really thinking about props and costumes and sets and all of those different elements.

Sara Alfageeh:

When you are a, comic creator, you are the casting director. You are wardrobe, you are the director of photography. You are, the only thing you're not is maybe the, the guy with the boom, you know, I don't have to collect audio, but I bet someone's gonna figure out a way to add that to my job. And, uh, yeah. So you're going through it all right. And I have to think, if I put, so for example, one of the, the. Fun but challenging, creative problems I had to solve was I have this cast of characters who are all very different body types and are gonna be in a wide variety of environments, and I needed to find a uniform that would work on all of them. While also allowing some room for their, individual style to come out. And at the same time, they have to be able to swing a sword in it. They're gonna have to ride a horse in it, they're gonna need to, have quiet moments in the dark in it. Um, and so I had to, to come up with, you know, that wardrobe design, that worked for all of them. I have a lot of fun with character design in general. So that was very indulgent for me. And I would say the only parts. That I, I less enjoyed. I don't like lettering as much. So the word balloons and all that, and again, boredom is my own problem. So I had to find a way to make it fun for

Lucy Sb:

I actually was gonna ask you about the speech balloons because I love them

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, I was like, I hate doing graphic design. I like drawing. And I was like, well, what if my word balloons were part of the drawing? And so that's kind of where it came from and I wanted people to feel like they could hear the characters. So the way that I, I treated the balloons, hopefully translated to the character's voice.

Lucy Sb:

Yeah, I feel like it definitely added to the story, you know? It had, it felt like it was purposeful and I, I really, really loved it.

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, it that, cuz that was one of my, my pet peeves in reading other comics, right? Where it's like, I have this gorgeous art, but it feels like someone slapped down the word balloons at the end, kind of in a, a last minute sort of gesture, right? Where I was like, it's all part of the page. You know? You can't just ignore it and it's the part of the page people are gonna read and look at. First it's the words. Um, so I wanted it to feel all very considered.

Lucy Sb:

No, I think it's brilliant. Yeah, I, whenever I make a comic, I'll always ruin it with the words and like, oh, I wish it was silent. Now, sometimes I do just delete the words. Oh, I can just

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, and, and I learned that from other, comic creators who are mentors of mine. They're like, start putting in your word balloons from the first sketch. Know where they're gonna sit, know where they're gonna fit in. Uh, so that way you're never surprised when you have to, you know, put it in and all of a sudden your art's ugly because it's a lot easier to change a word balloon. It's a lot harder to change artwork.

Lucy Sb:

Mm, yeah, that is a good tip. I will, I'll do that. Thank you. I was doing some research on your website and you are also involved in computer games as well?

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah.

Lucy Sb:

you tell us a bit about that? Cause I'm interested in how those two things intersect and

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, for sure. So I would say that, the reason I create comics is the same reason why I do almost any of my projects. I want to challenge people's perspective on what a protagonist can be and, uh, one of the ways. That I do that with my company. So my company is one more multiverse. I am co-founder of a video game startup where, we make it as easy as possible to play, share, and make, role playing games. So this came from me and my friends reading a fantastic novel series called The City of Brass. And we were all so obsessed with it. And again, it was, you know, a group of Muslim American friends of mine. And we come across this book series that is like Game of Thrones level politics and Islamic mythology altogether with a fantastic magical world. And, We were like, oh my God, we love this book. We want it to be a show in a movie and a video game, but we can't sit around and wait for someone else to do it for us. So we were like, let's do a d and d campaign. Let's make our own home brew world. And um, turns out, That's extremely difficult and we were very bad at it. So my friend, who is a very talented programmer in his own right, he hit us up and was like, I wanna try this one more time. I have an idea. Let's meet back at my house next week and give this one more go before we quit. And we show up to his house and he texts us all a link on our phones. And when we click on the link, it's all the characters that we made up last week. And it was all of the, the things that we had like decided we wanna do. And so he starts telling us this story, and as he says, you know, I hand you a scroll, can you read it for me? And I click on the scrolling on my phone and all of a sudden, I, I can see like the things that we're making up together is now on the screen. And that was so compelling to us, like having that visual confirmation of what we were up to in this shared imagination together. Uh, and that day we played for seven hours and. I was like, oh my gosh, we have a campaign. We can, we have a game we can play together. And my friend said, Nope, we have a company. And I said, dammit. And that was three years ago. So I was actually working on Squire at the same time that I was building up the company. And both of them were kind of driven by that. Same thing of, you know, you want something done right? You do it yourself. Be self-indulgent. Make something that is fun for you first, and other people will most certainly follow. And both of you know, Squires on the shelves. Now one more multiverse is out of beta next month with, uh, you know, couple hundred thousand. Pretty good. So yeah, it's video games in the day and, comics and illustration at night and every other waking moment.

Lucy Sb:

Wow, you are a busy person. I'd love to hear what your plans are next. Is there gonna be another installment of Aiza's story or is that, are we leaving her where she is?

Sara Alfageeh:

so we did not answer all the questions we posed in Squire for a reason, because maybe someday we wanna come back. I will say this. We do have another graphic novel book, deal Nadia and I with Harper Collins. It is called Untitled, Nadia Shamas and Sara Alfageeh project, it might be, might

Lucy Sb:

might end up being

Sara Alfageeh:

years.

Lucy Sb:

different.

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, I'm just, I mean, you can trust us that it's gonna be something fantastical. Again, I am hungry to go back to fantasy. What is immediately next for me is I'm publishing my first picture book, called Not Yet, story of an Unlikely Skater. And it is, a lovely, much shorter 32 page picture book about the. The childhood of the first, figure skater to compete internationally in hijab, in a headscarf. So I'm working alongside that athlete and another writer, and we are finishing that up soon. That's coming up with Scholastic in 2024. If you follow me along on my site or social media, you will see when it's out. But yeah, that is taken up

Lucy Sb:

cool.

Sara Alfageeh:

months of my

Lucy Sb:

And was that a very different discipline doing a picture book compared to something, a longer form, graphic novel? What was that experience like? Was it tricky, your

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah. It was a bit tricky because I'm thinking in these, instead of thinking in a page, full of lots of different, you know, panels, I am kind of thinking in spread. So I'm not just thinking in one page. I'm thinking in how the two pages look next to each other because picture books are designed with a very different interaction. You are often holding them out to read for another person. So you're kind of thinking in like wide format, you know, wide. And, um, but, uh, you'll see a lot of the things that, uh, I clearly very much enjoy as an artist, which is, backgrounds and very expressive characters. All of that is still translated, into picture book creation. I was wrong though. Picture books are not that much easier. There's no such thing as easy book making.

Lucy Sb:

Uh,

Sara Alfageeh:

but that's fine. Yeah. Shame, hate to. I, it's, I, that's what's deeply frustrating for me is I will be in the 10th hour of working on a page and I'll be sitting there and being like, God damn it, I love this and I hate that cause I'm never gonna be free. I really do. I get such a deep satisfaction from solving a page, but I'm waytoo extroverted for this. I really am. I always need a buddy or else I'm like, I can't sit in my room by myself for too long. Which is why I'm keen for collaborators. Video games is very collaborative, comics are very collaborative. Picture books. It was fun to have a co-author maybe one day. I'm, I am pushing myself to challenge myself to, create a book, start to finish by myself. I don't know if I have it in me yet, cuz it's such a, such a lonely endeavor.

Lucy Sb:

Do you, do you find you draw confidence from having collaborators as well?

Sara Alfageeh:

I like knowing I have another pair of eyes on my project and someone I can ramble to and someone I can share. My dumb. 2:00 AM midnight thoughts too. You know, like I will randomly text Nadia, uh, you know, page 27, I'm adding another panel. It's gonna show this face. It's cool. And she will always say, cool. You know, it's,

Lucy Sb:

Yeah.

Sara Alfageeh:

um, and I, I like knowing that I. Have the freedom to push things around. So I've, I've done a stint in more traditional comics publishing where I'm not like the primary owner. I did an avatar, the last Airbender short story again, big bucket, list item. That's the, I wanted to draw fan art, for avatar. Last Airbender ended up doing an avatar, last Airbender comic. Very fun, very full circle. But, Very difficult experience because there is very clear guidelines on what I can and can't do with certain characters what I can and can't make them say what, how I can and can't make them make faces. And that was a little frustrating cuz I'm like, man, I just, just let me do my thing. I feel like I know what I'm talking about. You know, I think I'm a little good at this. But it's not up to you. It's up to the people who own the license, right? So it's very binding. While it is very gratifying to create, license for like very well-known properties like Marvel, like X-Men, like all these major, you know, projects, they're often the most restricting. And also, and also the worst paying just for

Lucy Sb:

That's very revealing.

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah, listen, I'm not, I'm, I'm perfectly fine to be hit up by the Avengers office again, but never been paid lower in my life. Um, but part of that is that I knew I could turn that into press and attention and future gigs

Lucy Sb:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that's probably, and they know that.

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah. They sure do. They sure do. Yeah. Whatever it it is what it's,

Lucy Sb:

at the end of the podcast, I like to ask people to think of maybe a couple of takeouts that they could just leave educators or librarians that are listening, just things that maybe they could ponder on. Have you got a couple of takeouts for us

Sara Alfageeh:

Yeah. I feel like anybody already listened to this podcast Doesn't need to be sold on comics in education. I feel like y'all are on board. I will say this, if you have like a kid who is interested in comics, is a very avid reader and things like that, it's always worthwhile to be like brushed up on, what current art school, like, what the process of going to art school is like? It's, uh, always helpful to have guest speakers come in and, you know, working artists to come in. I didn't know a single living artist, my entirety of like elementary and middle school, you know. I didn't know a single person who worked in the arts. It never occurred to me. It's so weird cuz I was reading and devouring all these books and stuff and it never occurred to me someone's job is to do this. And I hear that from kids all the times of like, you can get paid to make video games, you can get paid to, you know, make comics. Like I can just draw all day. And the answer is like, yeah, isn't that so cool? So yeah, having guests and. It's always worthwhile. You never know what's gonna click for people, right? It doesn't just have to happen in the context of an art class. It can happen in the context of an English or a history class or a math class, right? I know plenty of folks who, you know, they, they were math majors, right? And they got off an, and went into filmmaking and, and video games and cuz it's all so tied together with the advancements of technology and just the, the dichotomy. The, or I should say the myth that art is on one side and everything else is on the other. It's just, we gotta, we gotta crack it down. We gotta break it. so, yeah.

Lucy Sb:

That's brilliant. Thank you. And the final thing which I sort of hinted to earlier on, if we add one comic or book to our to be read piles tomorrow, what, what would you recommend that we read?

Sara Alfageeh:

Check out the many deaths of Laila Starr by Filipe Andrade and Ram V. both of whom are incredible, you know, artisan writers in their own right. Laila Starr is a brilliant single volume, graphic novel about the God of death being fired from her job and her trying to hunt down the, Who was responsible for inventing immortality and therefore kicking her out of her job. It's a very sensitive, very, surprising, like for a summary like that very emotionally intelligent book. And the art is stunning. Just look at that cover. It's gorgeous. So that is the many deaths of Leila Starr, s t a r r, two Rs.

Lucy Sb:

Brilliant. Thank you very much. I will definitely be checking that out. And thank you so much for coming onto the podcast. I know you, you are fasting at the moment. You've had a really busy day. You've got like three jobs from the sound of it. So thank you so much for, for coming on and I know all the listeners are gonna really appreciate it. It's been a brilliant conversation, so thank you

Sara Alfageeh:

yeah. Thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure.

Lucy Sb:

There you have it. I absolutely loved that conversation. I was clearly very much enjoying myself, found Sara really inspirational, and yeah, I'm definitely going to be a keen follower of everything that she goes on to do in the future. She's a brilliant role model and just a fantastic creator. Completely agree with her about the impact that visits from creatives, from illustrators, authors and artists can have on children and young people. They can be so hugely powerful. Very challenging in these times, where school budgets are really being stretched to be able to, to do those very often, but they are definitely well worth it if you can find the budget. She mentioned the many deaths of Leila Star there now that was mentioned by Richard Ruddick in the previous episode, but it was not his final to be red pile choice. So it's great to have that two recommendations now. Book. I've had a look and the artwork looks absolutely incredible. I definitely want to check that one out. Now what am I reading at the moment? At the moment, I'm rereading, actually an autobiographical comic by Taki Soma, sleeping While Standing. I really love autobiography, in comics form. I find it really interesting, really powerful, and I highly recommend this one. It's published by Avery Hill, who are an absolutely b. Publisher of comics and graphic novels. Everything I've had from them that I have bought. I've really enjoyed. They do bulk packages of all of their releases, from time to time. And I, I get sort of little groups of graphic novels and comics together. Um, I really recommend them. I, I love all of their stuff very much for adult readers, but if you are interested in developing your own reading for pleasure in graphic novels and comics, then. Yeah. Very good place to start. That's it from me today. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Don't forget to link me in on social media. I would love to hear if you've listened or you've enjoyed it. Share the podcast with anyone and everyone, Next week we've got a really interesting, a bit of a unique episode of Comic Boom, something that we haven't done before on the podcast, so stay tuned for that. I'm really excited to share that one with you.