Kaylee Rowena on The Scent of May Rain

The Scent of May Rain is a new graphic novella from Weekend Warrior comics, written by Mark O. Stack and Rae Epstein and drawn by Kaylee Rowena. The story follows the existence of a golem woman for a hundred years, exploring her changing sense of identity and purpose in society through her relationships with the women around her and Jewish theater.

cover for the scent of may rain, depicting the protagonist against a background of stylized raindrops.
Cover for The Scent of May Rain, illustrated by Kaylee Rowena.

As a friend of Kaylee’s, I was thrilled to talk to her about this project. A senior at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Kaylee tells thoughtful, evocative short stories about the connections between women, and sometimes ghosts. We discussed comics, podcasts, and the creative process in her very first interview!

How did you get into comics?

My first real exposure to comics was probably in middle school. I spent a lot of time at libraries, and worked my way through my local library’s whole YA comics and manga shelf, though most of it was volumes from the middle of series I had no context for and didn’t really understand. I don’t remember many specific comics I read then, but Bone and a random Young Avengers issue from the Civil War event stick out as ones I read and reread.

I started drawing comics as a kid, though — I remember having a huge binder I carried around in elementary school with planning for a graphic novel about ghosts (apparently my tastes haven’t changed at all in the last decade-and-change), though I never got far beyond sketching out a billion ideas for a cover. I didn’t see it as a career option until high school (and got a lot of pushback from the teachers at my very “fine arts”-based magnet school for even considering it as an option), but once I settled on it around age 13, I stuck to it!

What are some of your major influences in comics or otherwise?

In terms of other comic creators, my biggest influences are Emily Carroll, Noelle Stevenson, and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. I’ve gotten very into horror as a genre lately, and Emily Carroll’s work was definitely my entrypoint into good horror content. Other things that influence me include poetry (big fan of Ocean Vuong, Emily Berry, Sophie Collins, and Richard Siken) and folklore (especially surrounding ghosts and haunted houses, which have fascinated me since I was a little kid)! 

I’ve noticed you’re posting a lot of fanart for the Magnus Archives lately. What about the podcast inspires you to create? 

It’s honestly a combination of so many things — the podcast itself has the perfect balance, for me, of really intriguing characters and great prose that makes me want to put visuals to it, and there’s the excitement that comes with being in a very active fan community for something currently putting out content. Podcasts are also so great to listen to while drawing, in my experience, so it’s really easy for me to get into them, since I can multitask while consuming that content.

For The Scent of May Rain, you’re doing the art while Mark O. Stack and Rae Epstein did the script. How did that collaboration come about?

A friend showed me a tweet Mark made searching for artists, and it all came together from there!

What was the process like? 

I got the script from Mark in November 2019, so I had about a month each for thumbnails/pencils/inks/colors. Since I was balancing working on this project with finishing up my senior year of college, I made sure all of my deadlines wouldn’t give me too much trouble working on schoolwork as well. Overall, it was pretty chill.

(While we’re on process talk — there’s going to be backmatter in the physical edition of May Rain with pictures of my process from start to finish for a couple of my favorite pages!)

the first page of the scent of may rain, showing an example of kaylee's art
The first page of The Scent of May Rain, with art by Rowena.

Did you have to do a lot of research? How was that?

I did about as much research as I usually do, honestly — meaning that I slapped together some reference pictures to start and did the rest of the research as I went, whenever I wasn’t quite sure how something should look. I use Pinterest for most of my reference material, and before I started thumbnailing May Rain I made Pinterest boards for each location and era and filled them with anything I thought would be interesting to include. I did a lot of looking at 1920s-1930s era dress patterns to base Esther and Judith’s clothes on in the early scenes, and I had a ton of fun with that.

What was it like to work on a longer comic project compared to the shorter comics you usually do?

It was wonderful, honestly! I expected it to be more difficult than it was — prior to this project, my longest comic was my thesis project from last year, which clocked in at 21 pages total, so I was a bit nervous taking on a 48-page comic. But once I finished up the thumbnails, it was pretty smooth sailing, and there were enough bits throughout the comic that I was really excited to draw that I didn’t have much trouble motivating myself to work on it.

the second page from the scent of may rain, showing how esther the golem comes to life.
Page from The Scent of May Rain, art by Rowena.

What was your favorite part about the project? 

Definitely drawing the scenes between Esther and Patricia, aka War Nurse. Esther’s relationships with women are really the heart of this comic, and those scenes in particular felt so real to me — the tenderness and intimacy between them was really fun to explore. (It’s probably not shocking to anyone who knows me that my favorite scenes to draw were the gay ones, haha.)

Do you prefer writing your own scripts or working with a writer?

This was my first experience working with a writer, and I did really like it. I don’t know that I have the skill or the patience to write longer projects like this at the moment (though I’d definitely like to develop my writing chops and get there some day!), and though I do really enjoy writing my own scripts for shorter projects, there’s something really nice about getting the story fully formed and just worrying about the art. So I guess my answer is: it depends on the length of the comic, and I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of both!

You can check out more of Kaylee’s work here, and pre-order The Scent of May Rain in digital or print here