Interview with Caroline Palmer, Author of Camp Prodigy

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jun 14, 2024

Caroline Palmer (they/them) is a nonbinary comic creator. Their work has been published in the comics anthology, A Taste of Home (2020) by Level Ground Comics, and they’ve been consistently updating their Webtoon Talent de Lune since 2016.

I had the opportunity to interview Caroline, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Glad to be here! (In text form, that is.) I’m nonbinary and mixed-race, and I’ve been drawing comics for forever. I played a lot of viola in middle and high school, and I still like to play now, though I’m not in an orchestra.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Camp Prodigy? What was the inspiration for this story?

Camp Prodigy is the result of me throwing lots of my personal life experiences together. The main character–Tate–is nonbinary and mixed, and they have a lot of myself in them. (There are still a few notable differences, of course.)

I wanted to create a story that could only be told exactly how it is by me. I wanted to write a coming-out story that wasn’t just a coming-out story, to depict a competition where winning wasn’t truly winning. It turned out well, despite how haphazard that seems!

As a creator, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the graphic novel/comics medium?

I’ve always loved stories and I’ve always loved art, for as long as I can remember. Around 4th grade or so, I started getting into manga, and it was like the perfect combination of both! Ever since then, I’ve wanted to make comics as a career. There’s no storytelling medium that can beat it. Comics are the pinnacle of text and art! At least, they are for me.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ content featured in your book?

Sure! Both of the main characters in Camp Prodigy are nonbinary. Eli has been out publicly for a while, and Tate has only recently dug into their gender identity. In many ways, Eli acts as their mentor, though both of them are still kids.

The story is in-part about Tate building up the courage to come out to their family, who are supportive and loving but don’t know much about queer people. I wanted to write about a coming-out journey that wasn’t dire–we know Tate’s family will love them no matter what, but the process is so personal and emotionally charged that it’s impossible not to be scared. That was my experience, and it’s one I haven’t seen too often in mainstream media.

How would you describe your creative process?

My brain generates story ideas often. Sometimes they’re inspired by other things I’ve read or watched, where I thought, “what if this happened instead?” Some concepts are trickier to develop than others–Camp Prodigy took a lot of work to pull together, in fact. But generally, I’m never at a loss for new ideas, and I spend quite a lot of time expanding on them in my own head before I feel the urge to put pen to paper.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

There were many, at least at first. I never took to the romance genre, but I loved action. That was, until romantic subplots poked their heads in. I was always ridiculously disappointed to see my favorite characters paired up with a love interest.

In terms of gender representation, however, I suppose a sense of kinship was less common. But I definitely latched onto any androgynous character I could find, though I didn’t know why at the time. Considering the manga phase, that was usually where I found them. Some were bad stereotypes, but all were interesting, so I always loved them. Even today, I have a strange fondness for poorly written manga queers!

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

I get inspired by comics most of all, as you may have guessed. Typically fiction–sci-fi, action, and fantasy stories. Right now I’m rereading Scott Pilgrim, thanks to the new show that came out recently, and that was a comic I took a lot of inspiration from as a teenager. But animation definitely also influences me. I like 2D animation more than 3D because I feel it tends to be more expressive and creative. (When the first Spiderverse movie came out, it blew my mind.) The art in comics is stationary, but I want mine to have a sense of movement when possible.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?

I like drawing fight scenes a lot, though there are none in Camp Prodigy. (Spoilers! Wait, that’s just obvious.) I also like to draw strong expressions. Both things are quite a challenge, and I’m eternally trying to get better and better. Writing character interactions is very fun as well.

I’m not all that into drawing environments, mostly because I struggle to design them in an interesting way. The ideal environment should be a character in its own right, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do that consistently, and to my satisfaction. Still, when I get it right, it’s a blast!

Many creators would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

The middle of the book tends to be more difficult for me to flesh out. But the ending is no walk in the park! The stakes must be high enough, and the rewards or consequences must be satisfying. My strategy is to come up with the ending I’d like to happen and evaluate from there. If it feels too bland or boring, add or change something. Does it need to be a bigger artistic spectacle? Do the stakes need to be higher? Friends and editors are a big help at this point.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’m nonbinary! No, that’s a joke answer. (Or is it?)

This is a tricky one. I don’t think I’m a very complicated person. But here’s something I do genuinely hope others pick up on–I’m not very good at small talk, but I enjoy listening to other people. So if by some chance we cross paths, know that I’m not trying to be standoffish, I just can’t think of anything to say! Oh, and feel free to ramble if neither of us are in a hurry.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I guess I’ll use this opportunity to get specific! “What strategies would you recommend for making flawed characters likeable?” I’d answer like so.

Poke fun at them. Even the coolest characters will grow tiresome if their creators take them too seriously. A bit of levity goes a long way for a reader. If a character does something weird, their friends can give them the side-eye. If they’re uppity and untouchable, those around them can point it out. If the creator is free to pick on the creations, I think readers will be more at ease.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

You should be writing self-indulgent stories as much as possible. If some plot point isn’t compelling to you, there’s no need to include it. You might have to draw or write something difficult or boring from time to time, but the story itself should be something you enjoy.

It’s one thing to be aware of trends in the publishing world and another thing to base your whole story off what is already popular. If you aren’t a fan of your own work, it’ll be that much harder to create it, and making a book is already plenty of work!

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

At the moment, I’ve got a pitch for another middle grade book circulating around. The genre is quite different from Camp Prodigy, however. Perhaps by the time this interview is published, that pitch will have been picked up!

Aside from that, I’ve got an ongoing webcomic called Talent de Lune. It’s a personal project that’s been updating since 2016, so the art is inconsistent, but it’s a lot of fun regardless.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors (comics included) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

A couple of my recent reads are The Locked Tomb series and Nimona, the graphic novel. I enjoyed both a lot–they have great characters, worldbuilding, and humor. They can get a bit dark, to say the least, so be prepared if you decide to read them. I’d say they’re well-worth the feels!

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