Interview: Matthew Holm on Babymouse (“with sisterly input from Jenni Holm”)

All hail Babymouse! The ARC features the first two books, Babymouse: Queen of the World! (Random House, 2005) and Babymouse: Our Hero (Random House, 2005). This debut graphic novel series is funny, funy, heartfelt, funny, and true to young girls. Did I mention funny? It’s also a welcome outreach to a younger set of graphic book readers. Babymouse is a hero for the new generation. Enter the Babymouse bookseller and librarian contest!

cynsations spoke to Matthew Holm, co-creator (with his sister, Jennifer L. Holm) of Babymouse.

What was your inspiration for creating these books?

Jenni and I were at her house in Brooklyn one day, and she was lamenting the fact that there were no good comic books for girls. She grew up in a house full of boys, and her husband and most of our friends are pretty big geeks-we’re all into comic books, science fiction, computer games, etc.-so comic books were always around and she always read them. Just none of them girl-friendly. (Or at least, the comic books aimed at girls-Archie, Wonder Woman, Little Lulu-weren’t really up to snuff.)

She handed me a napkin with a little scribble of a mouse on it. It had all the essential elements of Babymouse–the dress with the heart on it, hands on the hips, slightly irritated expression. I took the sketch home and drew a proper Babymouse in a couple of poses. That was the inspiration for doing a graphic novel for girls about a mouse. The inspiration for the story is pure Jenni. Scenes from the life of a young Jennifer Holm.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

We came up with the idea and did the initial sketches late in the summer of 2001. But there was no real interest in Babymouse; the project went dormant until April 2003, when Jenni came back to me with a loose storyline. She had written a 50-page storyboard (with narration, dialogue, and a description of the action) that followed a day in the life of Babymouse. A lot of scenes from that storyboard wound up in Babymouse: Queen of the World and Babymouse: Our Hero. At that point, we still didn’t really know how receptive publishers would be to a comic book-traditional book publishers were NOT into graphic novels back then-so the format was still a bit like a storybook, with each page having only a single drawing. I drew illustrations for 10 of the pages to give publishers a feel for the book. Jenni gave the presentation to her agent, but still no one was biting, and, once again, the project went dormant.

In the meantime, Jenni had a baby and her husband got a job offer in Maryland. So in January 2004, she called everyone up and told them she was moving out of New York, and that this was their last chance to hear her pitch. She lined up a couple of appointments with publishers, and I came into NYC for her son’s christening. I spent that whole Sunday night drawing a cover image and additional scenes to flesh out the storyboard further. The next day, I flew to Vegas on a business trip and Jenni went to meet with everyone. And Random House loved Babymouse! They just totally got her. And more importantly, they were willing to take a risk on a new format. So we had found her a home.

Throughout the spring we worked on the manuscripts for Queen of the World and Our Hero simultaneously, turning the rough storyboard into two full-length narratives. In April I started sketching the two books, and we kept working on both of them at the same time. Due to the copyedit schedule, it turned out that Our Hero was ready for final work first, so we actually completed Book 2 before Book 1.

What were the challenges (literary, research, logistical,psychological) in bringing the series to life?

I suppose the biggest challenge was simply the fact that we hadn’t done a graphic novel before, so we had to figure out the best workflow and shake out the format issues-color usage, size, a standardized cover style, etc. We were incredibly fortunate to work with an amazing editor (Shana Corey) and a visionary art director (Cathy Goldsmith). They’ve been Babymouse’s biggest supporters all along.

Personally, I had to adjust to going from an office job to working at home as a full-time author/illustrator and get back into the swing of high-volume drawing (I hadn’t done a great deal of cartooning since 1997). Jenni, I think, mostly had to figure out how to fit together writing and being a new mom.

The one thing we’re asked about all the time-if it was difficult to work together-has never been a problem at all. We’re both very used to being edited and working collaboratively (Jenni from her years in advertising and me from my years in magazine editing), so we take criticism well and are able to recognize when someone has come up with an idea that makes the project better. We work long-distance almost exclusively, sending drafts and drawings back and forth via e-mail and FedEx, and have never found that to be a problem. (Actually, it’s kind of nice to be able to hand things off to the other person and not have to think about the work for a week or a couple of hours or whatever-it keeps you from going crazy and getting tunnel vision.)

And as for us being brother and sister, well, that’s never been a problem, either. It’s probably because there’s a six-year age difference between us, so we didn’t clash with each other that much growing up; our worlds didn’t really intersect until I got out of college.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m so sweet that she can’t help but get along with me.

Cynsational Note

You must all read and bow to Babymouse! I love her.

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Blogs I read include: Book Moot; Kids Lit.