Earlier this year, Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond was released, marking the second of three graphic novels released from Random House Graphic. The second volume is a truly delightful and hugely funny graphic novel, especially for the kiddos, centered around two protagonists, Stag-B and Rhino-B. The pair have left their home to interact with a larger world which has them contemplating their role in the grand scheme of it all.
Broken up into several smaller adventures, the series has a surreal children’s program feel all the while adventuring to new locations or handling other wacky magical items. I was lucky enough to ask Knetzger a few questions about her narrative approach, how the creative process has changed with one volume under her belt, and much, much more.
AIPT: Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! With Bug Boys, what did you set out to do with the first volume, but now that the second is out and a third on the way, has your vision of the series changed?
Laura Knetzger: When I started making Bug Boys, one of the core principles of the comic was that if I wanted to make big changes to it, I could. I think the core concepts of Bug Boys are still pretty consistent with when I started, but maybe I’ve changed enough over the years that the vision has changed as well.
AIPT: With two Bug Boys graphic novels under your belt, do you approach working on this series differently than when you started the first volume?
LK: It’s definitely a lot more thought out now. When I was just making zines for myself, I would typically just make the comic as soon as I got an idea. Working with Random House Graphic, I need to think of a lot of different story ideas and then pitch them to my editor. After incorporating the editor’s feedback, I start drawing the comic. Having an editor’s input helps me feel like the quality of the comic is assured. The increased timeline also gives me lots of time to second-guess all my ideas though.
AIPT: Your background is in publishing zines, were there any challenges to overcome with a longer format such as this at a bigger publisher?
LK: There were some issues with compiling comics that I had created a slightly different size into one book, but the book designer Patrick Crotty and I worked together to get all the pages looking good. Publishing Bug Boys as a 250-plus page graphic novel rather than a 20-60 page zine gives me the opportunity to think of longer stories, and I’m still playing with ideas for overarching plots. Right now I’m still finding it fun to think of Bug Boys as short self-contained episodes though.
AIPT: Your stories are so inventive and fun, rich with ideas. Could you walk us through the process of creating a story, and do you start by outlining?
LK: I start with trying to think of what kind of mood I want the story to be, and then fill it with scenes and locations that take the reader to that kind of emotion. When I have enough of an idea of what’s going to happen in the story, I write an outline in bullet points, then thumbnail the comic.
AIPT: Your character design is fantastic, it’s subtle but just right, how do you know when a character is ready for publishing?
LK: They’re ready when they’re cute enough. When I design a new Bug Boys character I usually do a bunch of studies of the animal they’re based on, then try to cartoon-ify it while keeping its essential elements. It’s also fun to try to include more grotesque elements in an otherwise cute design. When I was designing Wave, the bat character, I decided to emphasize his nose because I love when bats have huge, weird noses. I ended up smoothing out all the wrinkly parts of bat noses and ears because I wanted that character to be a little babyish and silly, but I would love to have more characters that are a little creepy or nasty. I love cuteness but I’m craving some balance.
AIPT: Let’s say a major streaming service wants to produce Bug Boys for an animated series. Which streaming service would you want to produce and why?
LK: I have no idea…whichever one will let me be extremely heavy-handed with environmentalist messaging. I don’t really dream of Bug Boys being in any format except for comics.
AIPT: When crafting a bug dining room as you have in Outside and Beyond, how do you decide on which bugs to sit at each table?
LK: For crowd scenes like the restaurant, I usually just design a bunch of background characters and assign them random places. I try to keep character placement consistent in big scenes, but I usually mess it up somehow. I think inconsistency can be part of the charm…
AIPT: Having now proven you can make bugs cute and cool, are there any other challenges you’d like to undertake in a future story?
LK: There’s a longer Bug Boys story I want to make that deals with some more serious themes. I’ve been self-publishing a series of short fantasy comics for adults that I want to keep making. There are a lot of comics I want to make, Bug Boys and otherwise.
AIPT: How do you approach staying creative while quarantined?
LK: I work until I’m tired and then I stop. Reading books and comics I like helps a lot. But when I start to get tired, I have to go rest. I don’t think people should push themselves right now. There are some days where I can’t work at all, and I’m choosing to just forgive myself for that. Punishment isn’t going to make me less stressed or worried.
Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond is now available wherever books are sold.
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