Eleven Year Old Sasha Matthews Could Teach You A Thing Or Two About Making Comics

Sitting Bull: A Life Story by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.com

Want to make and publish your own comic? Eleven year old Sasha Matthews has all the answers. Well, maybe not all the answers, but this young lady certainly has a plan and, with the support of her parents, has already published two comics of her own and has her own publishing company, Rumble Comics. Her full colour comics, Sitting Bull: A Life Story and Pompeii: Lost and Found are both available online through Book Culture, a book store in Matthews’ home town of New York City that prides itself on diversity “in the representation of books and ideas,” particularly in respect to “scholarly books, academic disciplines and all the subtle and rare variety of published thought and expression that exists.” Matthews’ historical fiction works fit right in on their bookshelves.

Matthews’ work has been featured in various publications since her appearance on the comic book scene last year, including Boing Boing, Bleeding Cool, DNAinfo, The Spirit, Techtimes, and West Side Rag. Listen to the DNAinfo podcast or watch the TechTimes interview, and you’ll immediately be charmed by a girl who not only knows her stuff, but is also very disciplined and takes her work very seriously (even as she has lots of fun with it). She is bright, passionate, animated, and full of great ideas. Though her father jokes that he’s had to hire a bodyguard to deal with her new found level of fame, Matthews takes it all in stride with grace, modesty, and a great smile. I recently had the pleasure of witnessing all of this first hand, along with my daughters, Ivy (10) and Isabel (7), who took the lead in this interview with a few questions to get us started.

Sasha chats with my daughters and I. Photo by Scott Matthews.
Chatting with Sasha. Photo by Scott Matthews.

“How did you start writing comics?”

Sitting Bull: A Life Story by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.comMatthews’ comic book career began as part of a fifth grade extra credit project. Her project ended up being a four-page comic about a team of superheroes. This work was not published beyond the classroom, but Matthews’ learned an important lesson from it: writing and drawing fiction is hard! This is why she plans to stick to non-fiction for now, as it is much easier to work within the guidelines of historical events. Her first published comic coincided with class study of the American Civil War. It documents the life of Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Lakota chief who resisted United States government policies and was ultimately killed by the Indian agency police when they attempted to arrest him.

Matthews’ translation of this historical figure’s legacy into a comic book format is impressive, not only in its artistry, but in the information it provides in such a pithy, yet powerful way. Matthews captures all the important details of the events of Sitting Bull’s life, balancing word and image with a skill well beyond her years. Her vivid colours choices, expressive faces, use of texture, action panels, dialogue, and concise narration all combine to create a story that is inspirational in both its subject matter and its composition. Her work gives credence to the notion of “less is more” and “show don’t tell” when it comes to storytelling, yet it is clear that her work and research behind the scenes is quite thorough.

Sitting Bull: A Life Story by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.com
Sitting Bull: A Life Story by Sasha Matthews

“Who is your favourite character in the story?”

Matthews’ favourite character in the Sitting Bull story is the teenaged Sitting Bull, who, she says, “seems cool because he’s always off gallivanting and saving people.” In Pompeii, her favourite character is the professor, who originally came to life in a children’s story about evolution that her mother was writing. Matthews designed the professor for her mother’s story and decided to use him again in Pompeii  because she “wanted to explain a few things […] without messing up the storyline.” The dreaded “info dump” is a struggle for any writer, but, through the professor (who is our favourite character too), Matthews handles it well, introducing details about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a way that is both informative and fun, and far more interesting than what I learned from Kit Harrington.

Pompeii: Lost and FOund by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.com
Pompeii: Lost and Found by Sasha Matthews

She credits “The Power of the Google” as the source of much of her knowledge, but you’ll often see her referring to several other websites and books as well. I’m not the only one impressed by her diligence and attention to detail [sic]:

Dear Sasha,

Pompeii: Lost and FOund by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.comI just finished to read your comic and I found it very interesting because in a short story you concentrated the history of an ancient roman city with some of its most common habits (the baths, the games at the amphitheater, the daily life at the cafes, the golden objects), the tragedy of the eruption and the rediscovering of the city in modern times. I was very surprised by your ability in presenting the story through flash backs to the past and connections to real time.

But above all what I consider most surprising is the interest of young people in the history of an ancient civilization, which is our “past”. And the contribution that you give to spread this knowledge through a kind of communication enable to reach even the most young people.

Thank you so much and my warmest congratulations. I look forward to meeting you in Pompeii at the first good occasion to discover and breathe the real atmosphere of the site.”

Massimo Osanna
Head of Archaeology for Pompeii , Herculaneum and Stabia
Soprintendenza speciale per Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia

Sasha hasn’t actually visited the site of her subject matter but that may be part of her future plans and it seems like she’d be more than welcome!

“Who is the main character in your story about Pompeii?”

Pompeii: Lost and Found by Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.comPompeii tells the story of a young family whose ancient, every day life in the city turns into terror when the mountain above them explodes. Matthews explains that the whole family is the focus, but the twins, one of whom owns an artifact—a bracelet—that features prominently in the story, could be considered the main characters. The object itself is a focal point as it is an actual artifact recovered from the Pompeii archaeological site and is yet another example of Matthews’ dedication to historical accuracy, not to mention the meticulous detail applied to the image itself.

The events of the past are dramatically reflected in the conclusion of the story—an artistic choice that I recently found myself praising in the conclusion of the television series, Lost, therefore I am extremely impressed to see the same narrative and artistic tool used by someone so young. Matthews has a very solid understanding of sequential storytelling and was able to offer a lot of advice for my daughters in their plans to create their own comics.

“Don’t make it up as you go. Have an idea of the story. You can change if you get ideas along the way.”

Sasha Matthews | www.rumblecomics.comShe described her use of thumbnails to plot out her panels, and stressed the need to use a ruler, one of the many tips she learned from the process of creating Sitting Bull. If it isn’t obvious by now, research is at the heart of all of Matthews’ projects.

“Who is your favourite X-Man?”

Okay, this was my question, since Matthews and I both share a love of comics that stemmed from receiving a copy of X-Men at an early age. For the record, Matthews’ favourite is Nightcrawler.

While she doesn’t quite know what she’ll be working on next, Matthews’ is open to suggestions—as long as they are non-fictional, because fiction is just too hard to do. Still, anthropomorphised bacteria are not out of the picture, as we can see by this wanted poster Matthews has created for a science class project. In the future, with a few more comics of her own under her belt, who knows, maybe Matthews will return to the challenge of fictional sequential storytelling. Read: I’d love to see Sasha Matthews writing and drawing an X-Men comic in the future!

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.