Dave Baker and Nicole Goux can usually be found trying to do approximately every convention and zinefest in the state of California. These cartoonists’ collaboration goes back several years to Goux illustrating a chapter of Baker’s webcomic Action Hospital, but they have since embraced the culture and ennui of SoCal skate punks for their Fuck Off Squad series. However, Baker and Goux are preparing to debut something very different from the low-key nature of their recent collaborations. Their latest collaboration, Murders, is a chilling tale of teenagers using magic to commit a school shooting. Baker and Goux reached out to Comics Bulletin to discuss their latest creation ahead of its debut this weekend at WonderCon.
Mark Stack for Comics Bulletin: This is an incredibly difficult subject. Since 2012, there have been more than 180 shootings on school campuses in America. For people around our ages and younger, it’s difficult to remember a time when school shootings weren’t both a topic in the news and a legitimate fear for students/parents. But it’s still a topic that other media seems to hideaway from with the exception of the occasional controversial works like Elephant and We Need to Talk About Kevin. For the both of you, where does a book like this come from? Is the use of the school shooting set-up meant to be confrontational, provocative, or…?
Nicole Goux: To me this book is a couple of things. Most obviously, it’s a chance to acknowledge what’s going on in our country and talk about gun rights. I firmly believe the regulations on guns are way too lax, which is evident by the number of mass shootings we’ve been having. So it’s an homage to the victims, but also a way to say “Hey, things are not ok, maybe we should be looking at ways to make this better.”
The other main theme of the book for me is the cruelty of children. Most people have a rough high school experience, maybe not as rough as these girls, but I think there are always friend issues, bullies, and misunderstandings that make that time of life really difficult for the majority of us. Most people I talk to felt very alone, even if they had a solid friend group. This is in part due to the fact that kids are still developing their thoughts on morality and trying out what they can get away with. I think girls in particular can be mean in a very different way than boys. It’s subtle, deceptive, and decidedly cruel, and sometimes not even apparent to the person they’re being mean to. I wanted to highlight the pain that high school girls inflict upon each other, and show the extreme result of that cruelty. Many of the kids who commit high school shootings do it because they feel wronged, or alone, and it is very difficult to gauge who is going to react in the extremest way to common bullying.
Dave Baker: I think Nicole just summed it up perfectly. Murders, as a book, is about both of our high school experiences. The good and the bad. It’s filtered through genre, of course. There’s magic and other worldly entities, obviously. But at the core of it, hopefully, is a human story about someone who just wasn’t loved and that caused them to grow and evolve into a mangled and damaged person. Hopefully, everyone can relate to an experience like that on some level.
Nicole, it’s interesting that you mention the choice to highlight the pain that high school girls inflict on each other instead of merely depicting it. The cruelty in Murders manifests early on in pranks, fights, and name-calling but there was a choice that stood out to me in particular. The word “bitch” in particular is used a lot by both male and female characters, but there were no instances in this book of a character using an ethnic or sexuality/identity-specific slur. Some creators have argued for the inclusion of those kinds of words when spoken by unsympathetic characters for the sake of authenticity while others have argued that these words are best not be wielded by people who do not directly feel their impact. Was drawing a line between the types of language used by these characters something you had talked about?
Baker: I don’t think Nicole and I talked about it specifically. But it did cross my mind. In fact there was an earlier draft of the script that included a other epithets and ultimately, I decided to remove them. Not because of any real reason, but just because they stood out to me. Every time we were in a scene where a character said something like that it became the focal point of the scene, and I didn’t want it to be that way.
I guess I would phrase it this way: we wanted to show how the word ‘bitch’ is completely overused in every area of life. Especially in high schools. And how girls often refer to each other with it. And every time we had other ‘bigger’ words they stole the thunder. If we had more pages, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But since our story is relatively short, due to the fact that making riso books is expensive as all get out, some of the ideas needed a little more space than others. But that’s just the reality of comics. Space=time, and on occasion you have to make storytelling calls in order to get your point across.
Goux: Like Dave said, we didn’t really discuss it per se, but I would say that putting racial epithets in would make the book more culture specific and I would like to see the book reach a broad audience. It’s not one particular group that receives abuse in high school, no matter what your culture or ethnicity, all kids seem to be subject to abuse from other high schoolers (that’s not to say that minority groups don’t receive it more), but the more people who can identify with the characters the better.
It speaks to your creative relationship that this would be something you’d both agree on without having to talk about it. This would probably be an even more difficult book to make if you weren’t on the same page like that. What has enabled you both to get to the point in your partnership where one of you can just say “hey, let’s do a book about a magical school shooter” and get the ball rolling?
Baker: My friends have a term called ‘Air Guitaring’. It comes from when a group of us were all attending the North American Air Guitar finals here in Los Angeles. One of the guys brought his new girl friend, we were all having a blast except this girl. I mean, I get it. Going to an Air Guitar competition is dumb and probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but this girl was just NOT having it. That spiraled out into a saying that we all still use. It’s whenever someone inherently is just down to have fun and look stupid. That’s ‘Air Guitaring’. Nicole is absolutely someone who knows how to air guitar. So, when I said ‘hey, lets do a book about witches who commit a school shooting.’ She was down from the word go. I think it’s less about our creative partnership having developed and more about us as people just both being really excited to take risks and try new things. Let’s be real, there’s probably safer and more commercial bets to place our time and money on than an anti-gun magic teen bullying comic. But here we are!
I don’t know if either of you would call Murders “horror,” but you have previously collaborated on a horror book. Suicide Forest played with a very familiar fear that the genre often exploits, the violation of the safety of the home. You accomplished that with a really effective fixed perspective that manipulates the reader’s pacing of the experience. With Murders, this is the first collaboration between you two that I’ve seen utilize color. Nicole, you use a striking monochrome coloring that is occasionally overtaken by this really vivid and sticky purple to illustrate the magic/violence. When violence occurs, that coloring makes it look horrifically disgusting. How early did you know that color was something you wanted to utilize in that way? And since the colors aren’t necessarily final at the time of this interview, what are you considering when making those choices?
Goux: The decision to work in color has to do with the printing process we are using. This book is going to be printed in risograph and the way the images are color separated in a sort of faux screen printing manner seemed like a good opportunity to work in color. I normally refrain from color because it slows down my process a lot and I actually really enjoy black and white work. I think the color worked out really well with this particular book because I was able to denote the presence of magic with the neon pink and used the color purposefully as opposed to a sort of de facto element.
The limitations of printing are something you learn to work with pretty quickly in self-publishing. The distribution can be a bit harder, but I imagine it’s probably old hat for the both of you at this point. What’s the plan for the release of Murders?
Goux: At the moment all of our work is completely self published and self distributed. It’s available on our websites, at conventions, and at the few shops we’re able to hand deliver books to or who purchase books directly from us at shows. The plan is to release Murders at Wondercon barring any printer complications. We’re doing a print run of 100 risograph copies, and then after that will be considering digital printing for future runs.