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Monday, February 08, 2016

3rd Interview with Barry Deutsch (author-illustrator of Hereville)

As part of the Association of Jewish Libraries'2016 Sydney Taylor Blog Awards Tour, The Jewish Comics Blog is proud to present Steven M. Bergson's 3rd Barry Deutsch interview. In 2011, Barry was interviewed after winning a Taylor award for his graphic novel Hereville : How Mirka Got Her Sword. In 2013, Barry was interviewed about its sequel - Hereville How Mirka Met a Meteorite - after it was recognized as a Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Barry's latest book in the series - Hereville : How Mirka Caught a Fish - recently earned Barry a second Sydney Taylor Award.


SMB : The style of Mirka's remarkable sketch on page 43 is so markedly different from the cartoonish style you usually seem to utilize. Was it difficult to switch styles like that?

BD : Mirka's sketch on page 43 was drawn by my wonderfully talented niece Jemma Andersen. And while I'm at it, the sketches on the side of the refrigerator are by two more nieces - one by Sydney Schlotte, the other by Maddox Schlotte. I'm glad you liked the effect.

SMB : Of the 3 books published thus far, How Mirka Caught a Fish stands out as the most colorful with the introduction of greens, purples and blues.How did such a change come about? Was it your idea? Jake Richmond's? A collaboration? Also, what did it mean for you to have a 3rd artist working on the book (Adrian Walllace, who did the backgrounds)?

BD : The color palettes are chosen by me, but always with input from Jake. In this case, I never said "I want there to be a lot more colors this book" - instead, I kept on making this or that storytelling choice which added new colors, and without intending it I wound up with a much more colorful book.

For example, I wanted the sequences set decades ago to be visually distinct from the rest of the book, and so gave them a completely different palette. Because the main sections of the book use autumn colors, it seemed natural to go for a spring palette for the past, hence all the greens.  Then I also needed the underwater confrontation to have a different feel, indicating that Mirka had traveled into the Fish's world, and so that ended up being all in blues. And, finally, I wanted the Fish to be a visual alien wherever she was, and to "pop" visually, and after quite a bit of trial and error she wound up being orange-colored in the green past and green-colored in the orange present. 

None of these decisions on their own would have made this book much more colorful than the first two books, but added together they made the book a lot more colorful. And I didn't even realize how many more colors there were, until the book came out and people began commenting on it.
Working with Adrian Wallace, who drew the environments, was wonderful - he does beautiful work, and lots of things came out better than they would have if I had been on my own. In theory, it was going to allow me to get pages done faster, but I'm not sure that worked. But I do think it allowed me to spend more time and care on the character drawings, and hopefully that shows. Adrian says he thinks my figures are better and looser this book.

SMB : While How Mirka Caught a Fish is visually more colorful than its predecessors, it is also the darkest book of the trilogy, in terms of content and story. The threat of death has been present ever since the knitting contest in the first Hereville book, but the 3rd book just seemed a lot darker and scarier than the other books you've written. What inspired you to explore the darker side of Hereville? Something in your personal life, maybe?

BD : I agree that book 3 was darker than the first two books (although you should have seen some of the scripts for book 2 that didn't end up being the final scripts - one of them in particular, about one of Mirka's older sisters getting married, was so intense and scary! I still hope to draw that one someday).
I can't say I had a deliberate strategy.  I just wrote the story, and this is where it went. I like to bring a different sibling of Mirka's to the forefront in each Hereville book, and I thought it would make a nice switch to put the focus on a much younger sibling. But once I had chosen a babysitting theme, it was inevitable that the story would be more intense, because making Mirka responsible for a child's well-being raises the stakes so much.

But darkness has always been part of the Hereville series - even in book one, we have not only Mirka's near-death with the troll, but she also nearly drowns, and the death of her mother is always looming over Mirka. And there's always friction and harshness mixed in with the love in Mirka's family. I just enjoy that mix of suffering and humor and happy endings. If the characters don't struggle and suffer, I feel as if I haven't done my job properly.

SMB : As a Whovian, I'm compelled to ask you about Mirka's unique skirt which is literally punctuated by exclamation marks and question marks. Is this a deliberate Doctor Who reference (different incarnations of The Doctor have worn question-mark-design outfits), especially since Mirka time travels in this story?

BD : I'm afraid there's no conscious significance to Mirka's skirt pattern; I just thought it would be cool-looking. (At the risk of plummeting nerd cred, the Doctor Who connection never occurred to me. Although I have drawn Mirka as a couple of different Doctors for fan sketches.)

SMB : Many stories have been written with characters being granted wishes, but the short story "The Monkey's Paw" (by W.W. Jacobs) stands out to me as the one which epitomized the concept of the wishes-with-a-dark-twist trope. Was that story a source of inspiration for How Mirka Caught a Fish?

BD : Embarrassingly, I've never actually read Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw", although of course I know the story from references and parodies, such as the Monkey's Paw story in the second "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons. (Maybe saying that regains a little lost nerd cred?) And obviously that trope - wishes that, due to being interpreted in a malicious way by the wish-granter, rebound and do great harm - was very much in my mind as I wrote this book. 

When I first started writing this story, the villain was originally a magic chicken. But then I was inspired to use a magical fish character by a 2003 news story in New York, in which some Hasidic Jews reported hearing a carp in a fish market yell in Hebrew. This eventually got mixed up with the old fairy tale "The Fisherman and His Wife," about a wish-granting Fish - the Brothers Grimm collected that fairy tale, among others. Plus at some point my mind latched onto an  image of a little girl whose head had been replaced by a giant fish body. So, as usual, I sort of started with this mix of elements and just kept on shaking them together until something story-shaped came out.

SMB : This is the 3rd Mirka book in which Mirka is an 11-year old (6 years after the publication of the first book). Are you going to start telling stories of Mirka as a teen or are you still working through the 11-year old stage?

BD : A lot of people - me included - have a childhood year which seems endless in hindsight. How did all of that happen in one year?  For Mirka, that's her eleventh year, and that's the story this trilogy of books is about. It's during this year that Mirka first encounters real, unambiguous magic, and it's also during this year that Mirka fully accepts Fruma as her new mother.
But now that the 11th-year trilogy is completed, any future Mirka books will show an older Mirka.

SMB : I noticed Menachem Luchins' (owner of Escape Pod Comics and a contributor at 13th Dimension) name in the acknowledgements. I'm curious how he helped out.

BD : Menachem was one of several people who very kindly read an advance copy of the book in progress to make sure that I didn't mess up the religious and cultural aspects too badly. I'm really grateful to have had his and other folks' help. Needless to say, the mistakes that remain are entirely on me. 


2 Additional Interviews

Words and Pictures (with S.W. Conser) {audio interview in MP3)

The Horn Book (with Shoshana Flax) {the full interview is in the print edition of the Nov./Dec. 2015 issue ; a single question-&-answer is reproduced online}