On a bright and windy Friday at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, Vera Brosgol stepped out onto the back deck of the San Diego Convention Center to talk with me. We discussed Anya’s Ghost, her amazing new graphic novel from First Second Books. Looking out over the water, we did a lot of squinting while we talked.
Nathaniel MacDonald: Anya’s Ghost was pretty awesome. It seemed very personal, like something built on your own history. Where’d you get the idea for it?
Vera Brosgol: I just wanted to work through the way I felt about my cultural background. I was born in Russia like the main character. I wanted to reflect back on my childhood and teenage experiences and cram that all into a book. It’s not even remotely biographical, but it’s got little things that are true, where it’s based on people that I’ve met. So hopefully it doesn’t seem too fabricated.
MacDonald: It seemed grounded in reality, but not like an autobiography… So, when was the first time you met your own ghost?
Brosgol: [laughs] Aw, I hate the ghost-related questions because I don’t really know much about ghosts, or haven’t done a lot of ghost research. That’s where I lapsed. I looked up buses in upstate New York, but I didn’t look up ghosts. Go figure.
MacDonald: I don’t think there’s a lot of reliable research on ghosts out there anyway.
Brosgol: I read that book Spook by Mary Roach, but it was completely inconclusive. She agreed that there was no such thing as ghosts, and you can’t really float a book on that. That’s about all the research I was capable of. There’s also a really cool ectoplasm exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t work in any ectoplasm. Maybe in the next book. That stuff’s the best.
MacDonald: I think the ectoplasm was implied. Are you working on anything else right now?
Brosgol: I’m trying to get the ball rolling on some stuff. I didn’t feel like this book was over until it was out, even though I wasn’t actually working on it anymore, which is maybe a bad idea. But, yeah. I’ve got a graphic novel idea that I’m toying with, and also a children’s book proposal. Hopefully one of the two will get the go-ahead at some point.
MacDonald: You’ve also worked on Flight. How’s that been?
Brosgol: I think the last time I was in San Diego was when the first Flight came out. It was a really big deal. I remember getting the very first box, and everyone running across the hall, holding it over their heads. They all stood around, cut it open and smelled it. Good times.
Flight is awesome. I think I wouldn’t have a career in comics without it. It’s how I got in touch with my agent and made a ton of my friends. It’s like your training wheels for your own graphic novel. A ton of people who were in the first book have their own books now. It gets you a little more comfortable with the exposure.
MacDonald: Anya’s Ghost was your first graphic novel. Is that what you want to be doing next? Would you ever consider doing a monthly comic?
Brosgol: I don’t know. Do people still do those? I guess… I keep hearing that the floppy is dead. A series is kind of appealing, but I like having the whole thing done and in front of me. You can jump around and make sure it all works as a whole instead of releasing it in chunks. That was the problem with webcomics for me. There were things I wished I’d done, and I couldn’t go back and fix them because it was already out there. I think the graphic novel is a good size. It’s kind of like a film. It feels like the same amount of time, as well as the same size of story. I really like film, so it feels good.
MacDonald: How’s Anya been received?
Brosgol: Oh, it’s been great. I hear it from the publisher and my agent. They’ve been very happy with how it’s been doing. It got into the Scholastic Book Club, which is awesome. It’s reaching a lot of impressionable minds. It got a bunch of starred reviews, which is a thing for publishing people, I guess? It got five of those, which is neat. Yeah, it’s just been really well-received. A lot of librarians really like it, which makes me so happy, because they’re the coolest. Those are the gatekeepers.
MacDonald: I didn’t realize it was aimed at young adults when I first picked it up. Was that a conscious choice?
Brosgol: Not at all. I’m glad you didn’t really get that vibe. I just wrote it and they said, “Hey, this fits young adults. We need more young adult books. This is perfect.” They just slotted it in there. The only thing I had to do was take out some swear workds. I think they were tasteful, but we took out some stuff that wasn’t really contributing to the story, anyway.
MacDonald: You had teen smoking. That’s something.
Brosgol: They let me keep the smoking. I thought that was gonna be a problem.
MacDonald: She gives it up in the end.
Brosgol: Exactly! I put that in on purpose! That was my one concession to “young adult,” so it’d have a good moral. “Don’t smoke. It’s not cool. Murderers smoke.”