Note: This interview is the first of a two-part series, and it contains mild spoilers for the first volume of Spectacle.
At Emerald City Comic Con I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Megan Rose Gedris about her ongoing series Spectacle. Spectacle is a webcomic and is also being released in collected volumes by Oni Press. WWAC contributor Kat Overland first interviewed Gedris about this project back in December of 2017, but now that the first collected volume is out (and the first nine issues on the webcomic website), it was the perfect time to get some more information about how the series is progressing.
Spectacle is a beautiful comic. The world, from the setting to the characters, is as richly saturated with complexities as the color palette. The lettering is also unique. “The rest of the art is fairly cartoony, lots of organic wavy lines. I didn’t want to have that swoopy art and a stark font,” Gedris shared. She also mentioned that it’s a font based on her handwriting—which was borne out of necessity rather than a desire to avoid hand-lettering. “I used to hand letter all of my stuff, but I injured my wrist, and lettering is the hardest part on an injured wrist, and I had to just make a handwriting font and call it good. I wanted to hand letter the whole thing but it just wasn’t physically possible.”
Gedris weaves different generic elements together in a way that makes the world feel fresh and yet also familiar. It’s a ghost story, a murder mystery, a historical story, a YA story, and a sister story, but with a hint of the carnivalesque and a few elements that I call soft steampunk. “I like ‘soft steampunk,’” Gedris laughed. “It was originally going to be a lot more steampunk and as I developed the story, a lot of the other steampunk elements sort of fell by the wayside.”
The main character of Spectacle is Anna, who Gedris describes as aro-ace. “There’s not as much representation for aro-ace people,” Gedris shares. “And I know that as a person who is not ace I’m never going to give her story the full depth that someone who is ace might, but at the same time I’ve been given the opportunity to write a story, so I want to create characters that other people might be looking for.” Gedris, like many up and coming writers, doesn’t view this kind of inclusion as pushing an agenda but writing stories that reflect reality. “I write about the kinds of people that I know. I know people that are ace. It’s just a thing. It seems weird that more stories don’t have them. Because I feel like they’re everywhere. I feel like I know so many ace people and I never see them in media. And the absence of them is far more remarkable to me than the presence of them in the rare stories that they get.”
To see an aro-ace protagonist in a YA comics series is still a rarity these days, and it’s wonderful to be able to recommend a series like this to younger readers who are longing for that representation. But Spectacle has more than its diverse cast to recommend it. Volume one, which collects the first five issues of the webcomic, was just released in March of 2019, and Gedris anticipates that Spectacle will be at least five volumes, or 25 issues. “I like to plan stories in their entirety,” Gedris said. “Or at least have an idea of where it’s going and how to pace things out. I don’t want be like, oh it turns out it’s only going to be three volumes and now I have to rush to finish this and try to cram lots of stuff in.”
The first volume contains hints of that depth of narrative from the very first pages, and the weaving of those generic elements mirrors the narrative elements that propel the story forward. It’s Anna’s story, but Anna’s story cannot be removed from the context of the setting. “All those sort of elements sort of happened at the same time when I first created the story,” Gedris confided. “The idea of this prediction machine being invented at the same time as this character is also discovering that the supernatural IS real and she could actually use tarot cards to do that instead.” Anna’s world shifting on its axis in many different way after her sister’s murder—physically, emotionally, socially, and supernaturally. “Her whole world view being shifted, like, dramatically turned on its head,” Gedris explained. “Like, from science is the only thing that’s real, to well, maybe magic is science? I guess?”
Anna’s story is, in many ways, also the story of Anna’s twin sister, Kat. “Kat has always been protective of Anna in ways she never realized until she was gone, and she’s definitely been—she’s tough on Anna but it’s what Anna has always needed.” That sister relationship is wonderfully developed and rich. “Sister relationships are very complicated, and it’s not always fun and games and loving happy times.” Gedris said. “I don’t have a twin sister, but I have a sister very close in age, and women are complicated. I mostly write about women. We don’t get space to really be so complicated a lot of times and have multiple layers to our relationships with other people and be complicated and have it not just be catty. I wanted to give them conflict without them being catty.”
A lot of the story is about Anna learning how to be around other people besides her sister. She’s very much like, as much as she and her sister fight, her sister is basically her only friend until her sister dies and she’s forced to suddenly develop relationships with other people and she’s not very good at it yet.
Of course, Anna’s relationship with Kat is even more complicated, since after her sister is murdered, her sister’s ghost appears, and the ghost is able to possess Anna’s body, causing her physical distress. “A lot of the body stuff that’s happening to her is less about the psychic powers and more about how Kat’s ghost is affecting her,” Gedris explained. “It is two people sharing one body. Two sisters who are not even the best at sharing the same room, suddenly in extremely close quarters.” And of course, Kat’s death affects their relationship in other ways. “She doesn’t know how long she’s going to be a ghost. She doesn’t know if she’s going to move on at some point. So she’s trying to help Anna as much as she can before she leaves.”
Anna is suddenly faced with learning how to interact with people after years of being in her sister’s shadow—voluntarily. Gedris pointed out that, “A lot of the story is about Anna learning how to be around other people besides her sister. She’s very much like, as much as she and her sister fight, her sister is basically her only friend until her sister dies and she’s forced to suddenly develop relationships with other people and she’s not very good at it yet.” Anna’s also forced to face the prospect that many people face after the loss of a loved one—especially a loved one you’ve been especially close to. Gedris related the realization to moving to a different town. “It’s like—if you move towns, you have one friend in that town when you move, and this isn’t enough, but how do I make other friends. It’s very isolating and on top of mourning her sister she’s got to realize that she is so very alone and having to fix that before she really is alone forever.”
And in Spectacle, Anna’s first friend is Flora, a bubbly snake charmer with the carnival. Gedris described Flora as “ not maybe the greatest with boundaries in the way that she’s constantly just like, picking Anna up physically and bringing her to places. I also just wanted her to be like this sweet, sexy character who is also extremely strong.” Flora plays an important role in Anna’s social development. “I essentially sent Flora to Anna like, she’s going to latch onto her and not let her be alone,” Gedris confessed. “Like, Anna needed someone to be like, I’m not going to let you be alone.”
Anna’s story is just beginning, but the depth of the world she’s built makes me excited to follow her along this journey. Gedris puts an incredible amount of detail into even the everyday and mundane aspects of life on the road, due to her experience as a burlesque performer who traveled with a troupe. “What’s funny is I came up with Spectacle before I started doing burlesque and started going on tour,” Gedris laughed. “Touring and being a regular performer has filled in a lot of the details of the story. Like I always had the bones of the story from the beginning. But like, actually having the experience filled so many little bits. Just like, unexpected things that you wouldn’t think about without having done it. On tour, your main concern suddenly just becomes, when is my next bathroom break, when is my lunch break, when do I get to sleep. Just very like primal needs on the road. You don’t have space to really think about a lot of other things sometimes. And living in close quarters with all of these big personalities—it makes for a lot of interesting interpersonal times.”
And while life sometimes imitates art, art can also imitate life, as Gedris explained. “The version that’s in print now is like the third or fourth version that I started working on. I’d get a little ways into it, and be like, this isn’t the right time yet and start over. The first chapter has always been the same with the train being broken down in the desert, everyone being very upset about it, and then the murder happening. So then I wrote all this, and then like, a year or two later I started touring with this burlesque show and we found ourselves–our bus broke down in the middle of the desert, and we were all very grumpy. Luckily no one got murdered, but it seemed pretty touch and go there for a minute.”
It’s all these details that make Spectacle such a fun and engaging story, and Gedris such a fun and engaging storyteller. And while the craft of Spectacle is evident in its depth, its rich world setting and cast of characters, it’s that construction that depth makes it such great escapism. “I like worldbuilding a lot,” Gedris said. “It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the process. I have pages and pages and pages and tomes of notes on this world that will never—no one will never see, but I know it’s there. I’ve always compared it to like, when you build a good house, no one ever sees the plumbing, but you know that there is plumbing because the sink works when you turn it on. Like if you show people the plumbing. if you have guests over and you open up the wall to show them the plumbing, that’s not actually the best way to show off your house. You want to show off the art on the walls and the nice tile in the bathroom, but you don’t need them to see every nail and stud in there. I try to construct a story like I construct a house.”