Comics superstar Mark Waid is working hard to make comics better. He always has been. But when he started the digital platform Thrillbent comics, it was meant to increase readership across all genres of comic books. It’s a subscription based service that brings people the best in comics, curated by Mark Waid and his team.
His company has recently launched a book that seems more and more important to the genre as days go by. It’s called Everstar and it has as its protagonist an 11 year old girl who carouses about the galaxy in her very own spaceship. Comics geared at all ages and featuring females in the lead are few and far between, and this one is about as adventurous as they can get. But more than that, it’s an all female creative team behind the story. Writer Becky Tinker and artist Joie Brown work hard to bring a feminine realism to a story so fantastical.
As the father of an 11 year old daughter, I’m constantly on the lookout for books she’s going to like and this is one that grabbed her immediately.
To learn more about Thrillbent and Everstar, I spoke to Mark Waid (who has just been announced as one of the new writers of an ongoing Star Wars series for Marvel Comics starring Princess Leia.)
What made it important for Thrillbent to branch out in this way, with Everstar?
Mark Waid: Becky's pitch lured me in right away. I'd been wanting desperately to do more kid-friendly comics on Thrillbent, but you'd be stunned at how clumsy and transparent those efforts can be if they're calculated rather than spontaneous and sincere.
How does a book like Everstar fit in with your overall subscription model?
MW: It's an enormous plus. The wider our range of content--both in tone and in age-appropriateness--the more readers we'll have. The thinking behind Thrillbent from the first was always cross-pollination. It's hard to discover new comics on the web because there's so many of them. By creating a platform where we can bring in fans of all different story genres and let them see what else we're offering--that's how our subscriber base grows.
This isn't the only whimsical-kids oriented comic, my daughter's already a fan of Aw Yeah Comics, do you have plans to further expand offerings like this?
MW: Absolutely. Nothing would please me more. In a perfect world, I'd like to start running comics for kids BY kids. Give us time.
What attracted you to this series in the first place?
MW: The idea of a preteen girl who ends up being a starship captain hit exactly the right notes for me. I hate stories where the female characters are simply adjuncts to the male leads or they're just props, and I reject the idiot notion (especially in a post-HUNGER GAMES world) that girls can't star in adventure comics.
What makes you feel like this is the way we're going to get more girls reading comics?
MW: I don't know that this is "the" way, but it's "a" way. By coincidence and not design, Everstar is written and drawn by an all-female creative team, and it makes me smile to think that there may be young female readers out there, future writers and artists, who get to see that comics doesn't have to be a "boys' club."
And Becky Tinker, the writer of the series, spoke to me as well.
Tell me about Everstar, where did this series come from?
It came from a combination of wanting to write a story for kids and a passionate love for science-fiction. In order to come up with an idea that would appeal to kids, I decided to focus on an extreme case of wish fulfillment—that wish fulfillment being exploring outer space on your own spaceship. It seemed like such a fun idea to play around with that Ainslie and the rest of the characters came naturally out of the woodwork. The setup for how that comes to pass, with Ainslie and the lighthouse, came directly from my own childhood growing up in New England.
What's different, from your perspective, about the Thrillbent model?
Thrillbent has such a unique format, which opens so many doors in terms of what we can do with visual storytelling. By having certain panels change from one screen to the next, it gave me the opportunity to play with elements like physical humor or action sequences in a way I wouldn’t be able to anywhere else.
Tell me about Ainslie. What do you do to tap into your inner child to write her?
From the start, Ainslie has been incredibly fun to write. She’s adventurous, spunky, funny and has a great sense of leadership as well. I try to pull from memories of working with kids and being one myself, specifically looking at how they have endless amounts of energy and are much more fearless and curious about the world than adults are. I was the youngest child growing up so her more mischievous antics definitely come from personal experience.
Who is this book aimed at, specifically? Little girls? Children in general? All ages? Me? How do you approach that question at all?
Everstar is meant to appeal to all ages, from children to adults. In writing the series, I tried to create a story and characters that kids would relate to while providing a number of elements that would hopefully entertain adults as well. My main influences are people like Henson and Miyazaki who have been able to create art that speaks to both kids and adults equally, and that’s the type of work that I aspire to write.
Tell me about George?
George is a brilliant engineer and could easily be classified as a genius. However, he lacks Ainslie’s confidence and self-assuredness and he’s constantly second-guessing himself and his abilities. He’s the pragmatic one and is therefore constantly trying to rein Ainslie in when they find themselves in particularly precarious situations.
I'd like to know about the threats Ainslie and George will face across the stars? Which ones are you most looking forward to?
When Ainslie and George board the Everstar, they soon learn that the ship is on the run from space pirates. When those pirates catch up with them, Ainslie is faced with the decision of whether to try to get her and her friend back to Earth, or make a stand and defend the ship that she’s fallen in love with. I’m looking forward to seeing Ainslie step into the role of a leader in what will hopefully be a very fun turn of events.
What is your process with Joie like?
Joie couldn’t be a better artist to work with. For each chapter she sketches out the panels and we’ll go back and forth on the designs. We’re both involved in the art process from inks to coloring. From the start we had similar ideas about what the tone and style of the series should look like, and often she’ll come up with designs that are even better than what I had originally pictured.
When did you know this was going to happen with Thrillbent and how did this all come about?
Everstar came across the desk of John Rogers, the co-owner of Thrillbent, and he felt that it had potential as a digital comic for the site. I was asked to come in and pitch it as a comic series to him and Mark Waid, and soon after that I received the news that they felt that it would make a great addition to the Thrillbent lineup. They had been looking to reach other demographics, such as kids, so it turned out to be the perfect fit. It was definitely a dream come true for me as I have been a lifelong comics fan but had never been sure how to get my foot in the door of that area of writing.
What got you interested in comics in the first place?
I’ve been a passionate fan of comics since I was in high school. I loved the adventure, the larger than life characters, and how visual the storytelling was. It was such a different way to tell a story that I immediately became engrossed in comics as a medium.
Why is it important for there to be characters like Ainslie in comics?
Characters like Ainslie are important because, simply put, there aren’t enough female heroes out there for kid, and that was something that I certainly grappled with when I was younger. When girls are featured, it’s often only in a supporting role. When I came up with the initial “kid in a spaceship” idea, I immediately wanted it to feature a swashbuckling girl to help balance things out a little and hopefully provide young girls with a protagonist that they can relate to. Ainslie is courageous and confident, and throughout the series we’ll see her having to make very difficult choices as she faces various threats. I wanted to include that process not only to give kids a heroine close to their own age but to also show what comes with being a leader all through the eyes of this adventurous wild child.
Everstar comes out with new chapters regularly on the Thrillbent comics website.
Bryan Young is the author of "A Children's Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination," the editor-in-chief of the nerd news and review site Big Shiny Robot!, and is the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, "Full of Sith."