BLOG The Monkeybrain Interviews: The October Girl

Monkeybrain Comics has had a very good couple of weeks. Its initial launch announcement was so well received that it launched through comiXology, the digital comics site, two days early. I talked to the creative teams behind all five books, starting with Matthew Dow Smith, writer and artist on The October Girl, the story of Autumn Ackerman, a young woman who begins to realize how strange her world truly is.

What are the origins of the book?

The October Girl is something I came up with back before I even broke into comics in the mid-’90s. Back then, there was a dark, cynical tone that had taken over nearly everything on the comic shop shelves and as someone who grew up on Doctor Who and Ray Bradbury stories, it really bothered me. Some of those ‘darker’, more ‘sophisticated’ comics were absolutely great, but when I started developing my own story ideas, I really wanted them to have the kind of hope and optimism that I got out of Bradbury and Who.

“The October Girl was one of those ideas. But as I began working more as an artist, as opposed to a writer/artist or writer, at DC and Marvel, all those stories had to go on the back burner. I pitched them constantly to anyone willing to listen, but they just didn’t seem to fit in with what was going on in the industry and I couldn’t get a publisher interested. Years later, when I was starting to experiment with the idea of writing a novel, I dusted off all those old ideas and found that they still really resonated with me.

“One I turned into my upcoming novel, Night Folk; one turned into a series of short comic book stories and yet another novel I’ve been working on, called Fade; and the third is The October Girl. I could never quite decide whether it should be a novel or a comic book, and then Chris and Allison approached me about doing something for their new MonkeyBrain Comics. The first thing I thought was, ‘I should do October Girl,’ so I went for it as a comic book. I don’t always trust my first impulses, but I’m glad I followed this one.”

Why The October Girl?

“I really like to have titles that set the mood for a book right off the bat, without the reader even knowing what it’s about. And I love the associations the word ‘October’ brings out in me – Halloween, autumn leaves, skeletons, pumpkins, and all those Bradbury stories I grew up with. I’d like to think a reader can see a title like October Girl and know what kind of a story they’d in for, and if they like things like Halloween and autumn leaves, they might be willing to give it a try.

“I actually came up with the title long before I even knew the main character’s name. One day I was just sitting at the art table working on a completely unrelated project when I suddenly realised what the October Girl’s name was – Autumn. I felt like a complete idiot. It’s called the October Girl, of course her name should be ‘Autumn’.  Can’t believe it took me so long to figure out.”

What influences your art style?

“Everyone picks up on Mike Mignola’s influence on my work right away, and I was thrilled to get a chance to work with him on a few short Hellboy projects a while back, but I’m also a huge fan of artists like Teddy Kristiansen and Michael Gaydos. I’ve actually spent a lot of my career as an artist trying to suppress the influence of people like Teddy, Michael, and Dave McKean on my work, and draw more like the other artists working in mainstream comics, but over the last few years, I’ve finally learned to accept the odd, idiosyncratic way I draw and come to re-embrace those influences.

“I’m also incredibly influenced by directors like Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, as much for their single-minded dedication to their creative voices as for their quirky aesthetics and storytelling.”

There’s a real sense of unease to the book that I really liked. How would you describe it as a story, horror or dark fantasy?

“Whenever I have to fill in the description for Comixology, I describe the book as dark fantasy, but that’s just a convenient label. There are scary elements to the first issue, and scarier elements on the way, but it never launches into all out ‘horror’. In my mind, it’s just a Matt Smith story, whatever category that makes it. I like horror novels, but I dislike anything too violent and gory; I like dark fantasy, but that’s come to mean certain things to the reading public that aren’t quite what I do… so, I don’t know… I need to come up with a new category.”

Does the book have an end point?

“Most definitely. There’s a very specific beginning, middle, and an end. I planned the entire series as a 120-page graphic novel that I could serialise in 10-page, monthly chapters. It’s not necessarily the last time we’ll be seeing Autumn. She has a part to play in a much wider story that includes the Night Folk novel, the Fade stories, and a few other things I have on my plate over the course of the next couple of years.”

The October Girl #1 is out now on comiXology, priced $0.99

Read the other Monkeybrain interviews