Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Tell me about the setting of Little Girls. Why did you and Nicholas set the book in Ethiopia?
Sarah deLaine: When I told Nicholas I wanted to draw a comic and he offered to write one for me, he made sure it would include a lot of what I was enjoying drawing at the time. So he came up with this awesome story that pits hyenas against lions, but also brings them together with a cyptid of their region — the nandi bear.
CB: Your main characters are an American girl, Sam, who’s dragged across the globe by her dad. Do you feel her travels help make her more open to new experiences than other girls her age?
SD: I think she’s definitely more open to new experiences — she would have to adjust to that nomadic lifestyle, and I think kids and young adults do tend to adjust more easily to change than older people, but she’s just never in one place long enough to really put down roots. She’s technically American, but she’s really a third culture kid.
CB: What about her causes Sam to get so excited about the mystery?
SD: I think that the thing Sam is most excited about is actually her new friendship with Lielet. Moving around a lot has probably presented a lot of mysteries since every new place has so many unknowns, be they social, cultural, historical, etc… But actually connecting with people her age and building a relationship is a whole new exciting prospect. We’re watching this creepy story unfold through Sam’s perspective, but Lielet’s really the catalyst. Sam’s willing to explore it because her new friend shows so much interest in debunking it. And of course it helps that they both seem to share a love of scary stories!
CB: The book has a kind of mythological feel to it. Is it based on Ethiopian legends?
SD: Yes and no. The nandi bear is actually a cryptozoological creature of Kenyan legend, and it’s often described as something like a giant hyena bear. The hyena man who feeds the hyenas at the edge of town is based on a continuing practice in Harar, Ethiopia.
CB: How did you get connected with Nicholas Aflleje and what does his background bring to the book?
SD: I’ve known Nicholas since we were both in high school, actually, even though we went to different schools. So yea, having known him for so long, I can tell you that he definitely brings an inspired and expansive view of what comics (and the arts overall) can be and what they can mean to people. His background has mainly been in music, and I’d say that he tends to be pretty fearless with making art, whether that’s performing on stage or writing comics.
CB: I love the site-specific details of the village and its surroundings. How did you reference the settings?
SD: Right from the beginning of this when Nick started telling me about the concept, I started looking through anything I could find online of Harar and the surrounding region. I did a deep dive into photos of landscapes, city scenes, and buildings from all these different eras in the city’s history. Some of the construction had been there so long and seems so permanent, and then right next to it or even built onto it there are very temporary additions. I wanted to make sure I could capture some of the beauty and depth of the place, and I just love getting down in the detail. And Ashley Lanni (our color artist) was great at depicting the bright bursts of color against the more natural and weathered backgrounds.
CB: This is a pretty different book than many that Image publishes. It has a bit of mystery but at its heart is the story of a friendship between two girls. What kind of audience are you hoping will find the book?
SD: It’s definitely a YA book, because I think it would appeal to adults, but a 13-year-old would also get what’s going on here just fine too. Nicholas did a great job of writing a story that has a wide appeal but doesn’t talk down to the reader (because most kids can look stuff up online just as easily as adults can, after all!)
As far as the two main characters, I think both Sam and Lielet will resonate with people who have felt like outsiders at some point in their life — Sam because she’s just not from there and quite obviously in the minority, and Lielet because she’s a know-it-all bookworm and a bit of a rebel.
There just really haven’t been that many books overall that focus on a friendship between two girls, but that’s been the case across the whole industry. They aren’t rivals or frienemies or part of a love triangle. They aren’t princesses and they aren’t perfect. There aren’t any cool older people that step in to save the day or any potential love interests either, so the girls just figure stuff out for themselves as best they can.
CB: What’s next for you?
SD: Honestly, right at this moment I’m thinking of getting some coffee. As for the next comics project, I’ve recently been doing some character designs for something that’s full of more weird creepy stuff, so we’ll see how that goes!