Webcomics: balderdash!, Magic, Baking, Elk, and Friendship
balderdash! or, the Baker’s Apprentice is a comic created by Victoria Grace Elliott, whose work you can also find at House of Orr and Goog Friday. balderdash! (little B) follows the young witch Georgie, who leaves her family home to study a human-style, non-magical bakery in a town far away. It’s a story of big, blousy emotions—the same colour as ennui, but kinder, more dangerous, and more hopeful. The art’s all shades of sherbert, and the characters are hard to reduce. If you’re looking for a brave new world, balderdash! may be it. There are even recipes at the end of each chapter!
I recall you mentioned not regarding your creations as people you want to see protected or steered towards a happy ending. Can you elaborate on that?
With my work, it’s largely about exploring my own emotions and experiences through a narrative lens—so while I’m interested in a lot of sadness and tragedy happening, I can’t shake the fact that deep, deep down, I always genuinely believe everything will work out okay in the end. I think that kind of optimism, however misguided, informs how I write. I’ve never been a stranger to dragging my characters through the dirt before (in some ways seeing how sad they can get is kind of amusing), but that’s usually in a comedic context. It’s a little harder for me to do that in a serious, long form context like balderdash!. When I first started writing b!, well before any of these pages went up, I was really protective of Georgie and Afia—I didn’t want to see any harm or sadness come to them. But now, I’ve moved on from being protective of b! to being protective of Löffel itself, since I’ve started writing more of the grand arc of b! and dealing with how the town grows and changes. I’ll eventually get to the point where I’m comfortable with burning things down and building them up again, but it’s sort of an emotional process for me to write that. Löffel, while far from ideal, has become a little haven for me, so it’s scary to think that I have to expose it to real sadness, but I think it’s necessary for it to become a better place for my characters. It’s funny!! I am so attached to these characters and places. Hopefully that kind of sentimentality for my own creations will help others identify and feel those emotions!
None of the relationships which Georgie left behind feel finished. That’s true to life, but unusual in fiction. Do you plan to return to them all?
In terms of her family, absolutely. Especially with her younger brother, Gregorio. I have a little bit planned between those two, and we’ll definitely see Georgie write home and eventually visit home as the story goes on. Her relationship with her mother is also very important to me.
A lot of people expect Moss, Georgie’s childhood friend, to return. While I’ll deal more with Georgie’s closure of that relationship, Moss really isn’t that important, haha. That is something I wanted to handle very true to life, where we see Georgie make her own closure without any grand confrontation. It’s just a relationship that will, in time, fade by the wayside. This mostly has to do with Georgie building her own life far away from home. While she may have felt like her relationship with Moss was a Really Big Deal, as she grows up on her own, it’ll eventually become something eclipsed by the friends she makes in Löffel.
Thus far, the prejudice Georgie’s encountered has seemed to me less like a determined indictment of social structuring, and more like a spotlight on Georgie’s tender, confused hurt. Is this a deliberate choice?
In some ways no, it’s definitely supposed to hint at the kind of strain Georgie will be facing inside the town walls of Löffel—how all of the humans in the town are uncomfortable with magic and witches. But, so far, it’s not really a problem that it comes across as an aspect of her confusion and emotional arc. Georgie is in a very sensitive spot when she first arrives in Löffel, where she’s out trying to find her way on her own and doesn’t really know how, and this moment is a major part of her messing up—her mom hints earlier that people in the River Valley and Löffel are anti-magic, and Georgie ignores it, only to be confronted with it as soon as she arrives. She messed up! She should have known better, and now she’s got to figure this out on her own.
You established a supporting and nutrient-rich family life for Georgie, and then firmly separated her from it. Why did you choose to have her leave comfort and find aloneness? A reader would not have been surprised to find a story about a girl whose family is killed, forcing her to find her own way in the world.
A lot of times in YA or manga/comics, when characters are orphans, their backstories are either extremely overdone tragedy (to the point of feeling entirely false/for spectacle), or they’re not handled with the emotional sensitivity necessary for real people who have this kind of history. I don’t think there are enough stories of characters who do have loving families and still feel a need to move on and leave. In a lot of ways, I think a supportive family is conducive to that kind of adventure, since they’ll have built up the love and courage in their children that lets them go out on their own to find their own way.
Her leaving is also a lot out of shame and pride—she’s spent years fawning over this bakery and perfecting her Non Magic Baking, and this all backfires on her. Her leaving allows her to avoid the shame she would feel going to Angie’s Bakery downtown and seeing Moss in his uniform while she’s still at home taking care of the elk. Georgie wants to win, so she decides to act like she’s been playing a different game the whole time. It’s not until she’s actually out in the world that she realizes how lonely it’ll be, but she’s a stubborn and prideful person, so there’s no way she would turn back and go home once she’s made up her mind to study with Fausto.
Does your writing push your art out of its comfort zone, or does your confidence in your art control where your story goes?
The writing definitely pushes me out of my comfort zone—usually just because I love scenery and magic and detail. When I started balderdash!, I hadn’t drawn a lot of this stuff before—the landscapes, gardens, kitchens—all with characters interacting in front of them. I had always practiced drawing rich scenery or talking heads, but never the two juxtaposed. I won’t be drawing too much action and dynamic poses and that kind of thing in b! since that’s really, really not the aesthetic; but, my love for fantastic settings and intricate detail have definitely pushed me in that respect. I also find that there are things I really want to practice drawing that I write into b!—the dawn scene with Afia in the latest chapter is a really good example, and I think it ended up being a very beautiful emotional moment for Afia, too. In the chapter after this, which will focus on Afia’s journey to Löffel, there will be a lot of magic effects you don’t get in Georgie’s intro. There are a lot of things I want to see in my own story, so I do my best to write them in. I don’t always know how to draw it before it happens, but hey!, I can learn as I go along.
How much more stressful do you think your story would be under another artist? Did you design the colour scheme (or any part) of your comic based on the amount of everyday bravery your characters find themselves requiring?
Anybody else working on b! would have to be as into fantastic illustration as they would be with intense shoujo effects. It feels weird to even consider b! being under another artist, because it would probably be something else entirely if I were the writer to another artist. So much of the writing and art influence each other that it’s almost impossible to separate the parts or even recruit help (like a flatter)! Almost everything— from the writing, to the shoujo effects like the recurring bubbles/sparkles, along with the motif thorns in Afia’s spreads, the colors, and the shots—are, at their core, focused on the characters’ emotions. While I’m interested in political drama and some action and all that, nothing is nearly as important as these girls growing up. So every aspect of their stories are informed by that, and as I write more, the more I learn how to use those effects with greater purpose and impact. It’s only gonna get more emotional from here!!