Interview with Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner, creators of Dear Rosie

Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner grew up together in Maryland where they attended the same elementary school and eventually became best friends. They live in Los Angeles where they work in TV animation designing and painting background art for Warner Bros Animation, Bento Box Entertainment and Starburns Industries. They have previously produced a 4-year long webcomic and several animated shorts. Dear Rosie draws from their experiences of losing a close friend while they were in high school.

I had the opportunity to interview Meghan and Rachael, which you can read below.

CW: Discussion of grief and friend passing.

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

Thanks for having us, we’re happy to be here! We both grew up in Frederick, MD and met in elementary school, though we weren’t fast friends at first. For years we engaged in silent competition and viewed each other as rivals, but over time we shared enough classes that we softened up, eventually becoming best friends in high school. After college where Meghan pursued Animation and Rachael pursued Sequential Art, we both moved to Los Angeles and found work as background artists in the animation industry. Outside of our art, Meghan loves to cook, Rachael loves to bake, and we both love animals! Rachael has a rescued cattle dog named Libby and Meghan and her husband (our co-writer/colorist!) Thomas volunteer at a cat rescue.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Dear Rosie? What was your inspiration for the book?

Dear Rosie is the story of four middle school girls navigating loss after one of their friends passes away unexpectedly, inspired by our own friends from that time period and our friend Annalee, who passed away during college. We wanted to create a world based on our hometown, filled with color, warmth, and using local wildlife to offer a vibrant, inviting tone despite the somber backdrop for the book.

What are you hoping readers will take away from Dear Rosie?

Grief is not a straightforward journey, one that we all must navigate in our own way. We hope that each girl’s personal path helps our readers come away with a better understanding of their own experiences of sadness, love, and friendship. If they are dealing with their own loss, we want them to feel camaraderie with the characters and know they aren’t alone, we have been there too and made it to the other side.

As creatives, how did you become drawn to the graphic novel/comics medium, especially those geared towards younger readers?

Meghan: I grew up both reading and drawing comics nearly every day. After college, Rachael and I made a few short films together and produced a webcomic in order to stay connected while living on opposite coasts. That project achieved its aims, but eventually we wanted to craft longer narratives. I was drawn to middle grade and young adult comics because a story you fall in love with as a child stays with you for your entire life. The characters and design sensibilities I find special to this day are rooted in my reading from that time and I want to do my best to resonate like that with the current generation of young readers!

Rachael: I fell in love with the diverse storytelling in the alternative/indie section of my local comic book store in high school. At that age, I was able to appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes into a single issue and knew that I wanted to make comics one day. Middle grade content didn’t come on my radar until we started pitching Dear Rosie and our editor recommended adjusting certain aspects for a younger demographic, but after working on the book and doing research into the field, I can now say it’s likely my favorite demographic to make art for. The stories are so sweet and genuine while still tackling complex emotions and there are many I’d recommend to people of all ages to read!

How would you describe your artistic/creative backgrounds?

Meghan: I studied 2D animation in college and initially wanted to move towards directing feature films, but after working in the industry for a while I discovered that I enjoyed designing backgrounds the most. Having found my niche in animation, but still wanting to tell stories of my own, I rekindled my interest in drawing comics.

Rachael: Before college I was interested in fine art and worked primarily in colored pencil and oil pants, but I gravitated back towards comics during my Sequential Art program. After school and thanks to Meghan, I was able to combine my comic knowledge and love of painting to the animation world, first in Background Paint and later Design.

How would you describe your illustration/writing/creative process?

Anyone who knows us would likely classify it as chaotic, but we’d more charitably like say we trade off to suit each other’s strengths! Meghan and her husband Thomas handled the writing of Dear Rosie. For illustration, Meghan designed the cast of main and supporting characters while Rachael began thumbnailing based off the script. The two of us split color script and sketching duties equally, then Rachael inked the characters while Meghan inked the backgrounds. All three of us worked on color to ensure we stayed on track! Like we said, a bit of chaos, but the division of labor works well and we beat every deadline.

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

Meghan: The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale are two childhood stories that I still think about and re-read often. Recent examples would be Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker, and Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama.

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

Meghan: My biggest inspiration is Hayao Miyazaki, specifically the film Princess Mononoke and film/manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Bone and Elfquest were also very important when I was young.

Rachael: Craig Thompson’s Blankets changed the way I thought about visual storytelling and what was possible in the medium. Other notable artists are Emily Carroll, Rob Guillory, Becky Cloonan, Gabriel Ba, and James Gurney.

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

Why choose animals for your comic?

Dear Rosie tackles some difficult subjects and the story is very personal, so we wanted to create a little distance for ourselves and the people it is based on. Using animal characters allows both us and our young readers that space. Additionally, we simply enjoy designing their looks and the range of emotions you can express via ear and tail positioning; it can help communicate what’s going on to our youngest readers who may not always be able to articulate exactly what they are feeling. As mentioned before, using local Maryland wildlife was an additional nod to our hometown.

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

We’re currently working through the pitch process with our editor so unfortunately we cannot speak in detail about our current project, but we can say that it focuses on a new group of friends and tackles an important topic we feel is under-discussed amongst young people.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those hoping to work on their own graphic novels one day?

Draw, draw, draw! Don’t focus too hard on whether or not it came out exactly as you wanted it to, just focus on practice, repetition, and forming the habit of working creatively on a regular schedule. The next one, or the fifth, or even the twentieth might be the one you wanted and you’ll never find out without that perseverance. Read often and don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries of what you consider to your kind of book.

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Meghan: I would recommend Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins! by Karina Evans, Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra, and The Accursed Vampire by Madeline McGrane.

Rachael: Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley is one of my favorites. It shows the complex family dynamics of divorce from a kid’s perspective. The emotional experience was familiar in a bittersweet way and I think it’s a book older readers would also enjoy.

Header Photo Credit Tom Pickwood

Extracting Beauty from the Darkest of Places

Seven years ago, I started working on a comic book with my good friend Reed Olsen. It would go on to become the series Dream Crasher, which we are now self-publishing through Kickstarter. Dream Crasher is a 12-chapter story about a group of children who survive a bizarre cataclysmic event and find themselves navigating a strange new world filled with angry ghosts, strange beasts made from human parts, and interdimensional parasites that feed on their dreams. At its core, Dream Crasher is also a story about overcoming trauma, the fight for autonomy, and creating a world where we all have a chance to define our own destiny.

One year into our new comic creating process, Reed and I were on fire. Kickstarter was just beginning to reveal itself as an vehicle for indie comics. Chapter one was drawn and painted, and the work on chapter two had already begun. I had found my voice in writing, and had found a brilliant creative partner in Reed. We had momentum. I was excited for what the future held.

Running parallel to all of this, I found myself very much in love for the first time in my life. Blair changed my jaded views on that four letter word. He challenged me to be a better person. He made me smile every time he laughed at his own jokes. He gave me confidence in the creative choices I was making. He was also a talented writer and musician in his own right, and he encouraged me on this project when it was still in its early stages. To say my life was perfect would be a lie, but I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

All of this changed when Blair died in the summer of 2011. My whole world fell to pieces. The unexpected trauma, the weight of the grief, and the subsequent depression and healing all took their toll in various ways. I’ve written extensively about the grief and the healing over the years since. This tragedy permeated every aspect of my life, and the still-unnamed Dream Crasher was no exception. Comics were put on hold. I scribbled ideas in notebooks and thought about the project from time to time, but in the end it took more than six months before I sat down to work again. And even then, the work was slow. It took another year after that before I finished the script for the third chapter. It felt like starting from scratch and learning how to write again. In hindsight, this was in no small part due to a fresh perspective I had on my main character, Amalie.

I had been following Kurt Vonnegut’s sixth rule to a T. I was being a sadist and making awful things happen to my main character, but I hadn’t given a second thought to how it was affecting her. I hadn’t thought about how she processed the world around her, or who she was because of it. Through my own grief, I suddenly understood her on a whole new level. In many ways, Amalie is a representation of how strong I wish I could be. She’s lost everything she once held dear but has never given in to despair. She’s not unshakeable–she’s persistent. She’s not fearless–she’s brave. She’s a survivor in every sense of the word.

In his own writing, Blair had a knack for extracting beauty from the darkest of places. His example inspired me to do the same. I began to think of this bleak new world as less of a graveyard and more like fertile soil. I realized that it’s not a story about the world that’s been destroyed, but rather the new one that is taking its place. It’s about the children who have an opportunity to shape it and truly make it their own. As dismal as the world can seem sometimes, there are still dreams worth fighting for. Beneath its dystopian exterior, Dream Crasher is a story about finding the last bit of light in a world that’s gone dark and protecting it with every fiber of our being. Even when the powers that be are stacked against us. Even when the cause seems hopeless.

As devastating as Blair’s death was, I didn’t let it stop me. That in and of itself is a cause worth celebrating. Reed and I both had numerous opportunities to put this project down and quietly walk away from it, and no one would have thought less of us for doing so. We didn’t. I’m grateful to say that, in the face obstacles we never could have anticipated, we persisted.

Today, we are on the cusp of completing the first arc of the series. That first arc, which parallels my own story of grief, captures the resilience of a character who has outgrown my original idea of her. A character who grew and inspired me in ways I never expected. I have never worked harder on any single piece of art, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. Like many up-and-coming creators, we have launched a Kickstarter Campaign. With it, we hope to raise funds to cover the cost of printing, lettering, and designing the book itself. We’re offering a variety of rewards to any backers, ranging from digital chapters for as little as $4, the physical book for $25, and several pieces of original artwork from the series for $100. We’re off to solid start. and we’ve already made it farther than seemed possible just a few years ago. The campaign runs until October 6, 2017.

Photo Credit: Blaise Allen.