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Jennifer Holm and Savanna Ganucheau on creating 'Turtle in Paradise'

Comic Books

Jennifer Holm and Savanna Ganucheau on creating ‘Turtle in Paradise’

For fans of family stories, plucky young heroes, and hurricanes.

Turtle in Paradise is Random House Graphic’s latest original OGN built for middle graders and adult readers alike. It’s a a compelling story set in 1935 Florida, where a young girl named Turtle moves after her mother finds work far from home. Once relocated, Turtle meets a group of ragtag babysitters, learns much about her mother from afar, and must survive the infamous Labor Day Hurricane. The book, which which was originally set for release in May after being announced back in September 2020, is an adaptation of writer Jennifer Holm’s 2010 novel,.

Inspired by Holm’s own family stories, this comic adaptation features a rustic adventure of young children, plenty of larger-than-life personalities, and a bit of Florida culture thrown in for good measure. This time around, Holm adapts her work alongside artist Savanna Ganucheau, whose distinctly charming visual style adds a lot to the overall storytelling experience.

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To better understand the book, I was lucky enough to ask both creators a few questions about the OGN.

Turtle in ParadiseAIPT: Having read Turtle in Paradise I have to say, you’ve done a splendid job creating these characters. They seem so real, which begs the question, are any of the characters based on real people in your lives, or did you do extensive biographies on them?

Jenni Holm: Thanks so much! I love writing flawed, human characters. Ironically, the one character that was inspired by a real someone was Termite the dog. (RIP Termite, best doggo).

Savanna Ganucheau: For the character designs I mainly pulled from other bits of media I like, some animated films and comics.

AIPT: I love that this book shies away from familiar expectations, for instance, a gang of boys that take care of babies. Were there themes you set out to tackle with this work obvious or not so obvious?

SG: I really love that about the novel! When I went to adapt it, I really thought about how I wanted the kids to interact with their faces/actions. I tried to make sure their personalities really showed through and how much they care for each other. I hoped to show some genuine interactions that shy away from any stereotypes or expectations.

AIPT: How important was it to set this story in 1935?

JH: Well, it was the height of the Great Depression in Key West. 1935 was also the year of the infamous Labor Day Hurricane. This hurricane was absolutely catastrophic in terms of human deaths and destruction in the Keys. It actually wiped out the Overseas Railroad which was the railroad that connected mainland Florida to the Keys.

SG: One of the main things that I was excited to tackle was the historical setting. It was definitely the most challenging part of the book. I did as much research as I could, with the help of Jenni, so that the book would be as accurate as I could make it. Photographs, Sanborn maps, catalogues; I looked at as much as I could. Ultimately, I ended up knowing way more about 1930s Key West than I thought I would. Haha.

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AIPT: Jennifer, I was curious if this work took any turns in development once Savanna started finishing art. Did the art inspire any changes in the story or in the characters?

JH: The original book was actually published in 2010. Savanna’s art took it to an entirely new level. It’s hard for modern readers to imagine the past, but Savanna brought Key West alive. Her eye for detail is amazing. But it’s the expressions on the characters’ faces that shine the most. You really feel Turtle’s emotions even when she’s not saying a word.

AIPT: Savanna, I adore your style. Could you talk about your process a little bit, some pages have a pop I didn’t expect where a character seemed to be drawn into a background that was drawn prior to the character being added. Is that the case, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?!

SG: Thank you! Yeah! So, I wanted to give the book an animated look. So, I worked with our colorist Lark Pien to give the backgrounds more texture and detail than the figures. Which ultimately makes the characters pop. We achieved that using different brushes and also using a color hold on the background inks to push them back even further. Lark did an amazing job!

AIPT: I adore the movie Paper Moon, and this work seems to have similar energy though it’s not a road movie! Were there any inspirations from other media that contributed to this work?

JH: Paper Moon was certainly an inspiration for the text. Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comics were as well. (The original comic strips were surprisingly dark and political.) And, of course, the early Our Gang short films (The Little Rascals) helped me to imagine that time period as they were actually filmed during the Great Depression.

SG: Visually, I was really inspired by souvenir cards of the time. I used them a lot for reference, and they ended up being a big visual inspiration for me. Media-wise, Studio Ghibli films like ‘Totoro’ and ‘When Marnie Was There’ were at the front of my mind while working on Turtle.

AIPT: This book has “The End” on its last page, but say it ain’t so, might we see a sequel?

JH: There is actually a prequel to this book title Full of Beans. It is about Beans and his life in Key West before Turtle shows up. He’s not exactly a Boy Scout.

AIPT: Are there any comics you’ve been reading lately or in the last year that you’d recommend to readers?

SG: I’ve been on a manga kick recently and am currently reading Blue Flag by Kaito and Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama which are both fantastic.

You can purchase Turtle in Paradise wherever comics are sold or in bookstores today.

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