Magical Girls Who Are Jerks: Interview with Kel McDonald of Misfits of Avalon

Kel McDonald's Misfits of Avalon

Misfits of Avalon, Vol 1 cover by Kel McDonald, Dark Horse, 2014Last year, we received a preview for a comic by Kel McDonald (Dark Horse Presents, Angel & Faith, Adventure Time) about a group of magical girls “who are jerks” called Misfits of Avalon. Having grown up on a good dose of Sailor Moon (and loving the fun play on The Mists of Avalon), I couldn’t help, but be intrigued by a pitch like that: “magical girls who are jerks.” It sounds fun, potentially feminist, and cheeky. I wanted to know more.

In preparation for the release of the second volume via Dark Horse in March 2016, the first volume was available via Kel’s website. While originally the premise had me thinking something a bit more irreverent, I found myself quickly pulled in by something heartfelt. The girls are jerks, yet sympathetic, and I particularly enjoyed the first person perspective that gave me insight into the inner workings of each individual character. With Misfits, I ended up finding something less Sailor Moon and more character study set in a fantastical environment. That, of course, piqued my interest, so I had to talk to Kel a little bit more about it. We chatted over email about her comic, representing different types of female jerks, and what makes her art distinct.

Why a team of magical girls who are jerks?

Well, the jerk part came up before the magical girl bit. Basically all my favorite characters in television shows can frequently be described as the worst, but they are also usually men. Men and boys get to be terrible, sullen, angry, loud, rude, and messed up. When women and girls are terrible in fiction, it is usually in a catty mean girl way like Cordelia on Buffy. And while I like Cordelia, there’s a lot of her in fiction. There is less of girls being other types of jerks. The magical girl part came to be contrast to the jerk part. Since all the girls flaws are usually things we see in male characters why not put them in one of the most girly genres of all.

Oh, I like that idea of putting them in “one the most girly genres of all.” I like how each chapter is told from the one of the team member’s perspective. I think it highlights how character-driven the story is. Why did you decide to frame each chapter in this way?

Since the girls are jerks, they are the type of people that would get dismissed or written off after looking at them or having one interaction. The keeping to one point of view at a time I thought helped show there is more to them, or at least explain some of their behaviors. I played with that styles of captioning in one of my self-published books Fame and Misfortune and liked the results. It seemed like going back to it would help this book. And that’s especially true of the character Rae. I knew going in that I wanted her to seem nice on the outside to contrast the other girls. Basically trying to have different kinds of jerks. As I developed her, I knew she was going to get to the bottom of a lot of things but not share the info. So without her inner monologue, people might wonder why she isn’t being a team player, have more hope then anxiety when she starts hanging out with Kimber, and finally find her big fight in Book 2 jarring.

Why do you think it is important to show girls acting like jerks?

Mostly for variety. It’s great that we have all these comics with role models like Batgirl and Spider Gwen. They’re nice, smart, confident, and super competent. But without the other side of the coin, then it seems like that girls need to be those things. Girls need to be allowed to be mean, stupid, unsure, and able to mess up. I mean, we get so many deeply flawed male characters, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t have more women and girls like that,too.

I am curious since you have this clear goal in mind of writing a magic girl comic about “girls who are jerks,” what is your process like for developing the comic?

Well, first I made the characters. Then I tried to come up with a theme for the team, because I figured I could use that to build the story. There I played with a few ideas. Like I have designs that were music based. However, music’s not a passion of mine, so I abandoned that idea because I decided anything I’d write would be fairly shallow and disingenuous. I eventually got to the King Arthur mixed with Celtic myths one, and everything clicked much smoother. I am super interested in myths and folklore. So the parts that didn’t instantly click weren’t a chore to research. Then I reread Sailor Moon, The Once and Future King, and Mists of Avalon for inspiration.

Sailor Moon meets Celtic mythology? That is awesome. Since you are also the artist on the comic, can you talk about the process for the artwork? I think your art is distinct, and I greatly appreciate how the girls look and move in ways that take up space and aren’t “pretty” in the sense of Sailor Moon.

In each stage of the process, I try to add some more detail. So my scripts when I write for myself are fairly simple like “The girls walk down the street” and that leaves a lot of room to try different things. Then I rough everything out in terms of shapes, so that the body language is clear even without the facial expression. That is important for loud characters like Elsie. Then the pencil layer is most of the details except for texture and patterns. Those I don’t add until the inks.
As for my art being distinct, I’m always a little surprised when people say that. But I guess that probably comes from mostly learning to figure out drawing from animation (particularly Disney stuff) but then as an adult getting exposed to comics with heavier blacks and digging that. But I guess I can just see more of my roots than other people.

I think the distinctness really comes from just how conditioned we are to seeing thin, pretty girls in comics and/or girls with same face. Each of the Misfits are visually distinct from one another. Since you have self-published in the past, how did Misfits of Avalon end up at Dark Horse?

Ah, same face. I hate same face. I definitely try to stay away from that.
Well, because I self publish it’s important for me to put on my salesman hat and bring my self published stuff to as many shows as possible. After doing that for roughly 10 years, it proved I could reliably produce work and a few of the editors there ended up familiar with my work. So I was asked to pitch something.

So, then, let’s put on your saleslady hat and tell me—what is something I didn’t ask, but people should know about Misfits of Avalon?

Misfits of Avalon is about magical girls who are jerks and don’t know they are fighting a modern day King Arthur. Volume 2 of this 3 volume series comes out this March and late this year pages of volume 3 will start getting posted online as a count down to it’s release.

You can find the first volume of Misfits of Avalon here. The second volume will be available on March 2, 2016.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik