Smash Pages Q&A: Megan Rose Gedris on ‘Spectacle’

The longtime webcomics creator discusses her latest collaboration with Oni Press.

Megan Rose Gedris has been making comics for years. From Yu+Me to I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space to The Lady Eudora Henley and Darlin’ It’s Betta Down Where It’s Wetta, Gedris has been producing thousands of comics pages nonstop and more than a dozen series online and in print in many genres.

Her current project is Spectacle, an ongoing series published by Oni Press about Anna, a fortune teller and an engineer working at a traveling circus. In the first issue her twin sister Kat is murdered, though she lingers as a ghost, which comes as a shock to the scientifically minded Anna. The series is about finding Kat’s murderer, but it’s also about exploring the people who made up the circus and examining their lives. It is not just a beautifully drawn book, but a strikingly insightful look at a community of outsiders and performers.

How did you come to comics?

I read somewhere once that all kids draw, and artists are just the people who didn’t stop when they reached a certain age. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories and drawing pictures to go with them. My first sequential art was inspired by a lot of newspaper comics like Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes when I was ten or so. I filled notebooks with comics I drew and my classmates passed them around. When I was in high school, I started writing queer stories, and I wasn’t ready to show those to people I knew, so I started making webcomics and sharing them with strangers.

How do you describe Spectacle?

Plot-wise, it’s a supernatural murder mystery set in an old-timey circus. But really, it’s a story about sisters, it’s a story about loss and not wanting to let go, it’s a story about outcasts who are far more interesting than the people who shunned them, it’s a story about chosen family, it’s a story about faith and science, and a story about trust.

How did you end up publishing Spectacle through Oni Press?

I’ve been making webcomics since 2002. Some of them caught the eye of Oni Press editor Ari Yarwood, who sent me an email asking if I had anything new I’d be interested in pitching. I’d just put the Spectacle pitch together to send to another publisher, so I already had it ready to go. I looked at my bookshelf and realized I had so many Oni titles on my shelf, and I make the kind of stuff I want to read, so it seemed like a good fit to have them do my next book.

After self-publishing, was there much adjustment as far as working with an editor and publisher?

It wasn’t much of an adjustment. It’s all been extremely positive. A good editor isn’t going to change the essence of what you’re making. They’re there to make it stronger and make it the best version it can be. Ari has caught plot holes and confusing wording. The biggest adjustment is just writing scripts that someone other than myself will read. For the most part, since I write and draw my self-published comics, my scripts only had to make sense to myself. But often, I’d write something and not draw it until a year or two later, and by that point I’d forget what I was intending with my vague script. So now my scripts are less confusing to other people and my future self.

I know you’re a burlesque performer, and do you think your experiences performing and touring helped shape aspects of the book?

Absolutely. I started writing Spectacle before I started performing, but Spectacle took me five years to develop, and in that time, I gained so much insight from going on tour and performing for weeks or months at a time. There were so many details about road life I never would’ve understood without experiencing it. I drew a lot of journal comics while I was touring hardcore, and one thing I noticed reading back on them was that 99% of the interesting parts of tour didn’t happen onstage. Likewise in Spectacle, we rarely see the actual performance the circus puts on. It’s all about how show business attracts larger than life people, interacting with other larger than life people. It’s this weird little bubble where you find yourself crammed in a vehicle with a stranger who is your best friend a week later. You find yourself unable to be idle. Days off aren’t relaxing. Staying in one place causes anxiety. Best friends become enemies a week later. You go back home and have so many stories that nobody even believes. So you have to write it into fiction.

You like to end your issues with cliffhangers. Do you feel that this style writing shapes the story?

I’m writing the comic like a show. Every act should leave the audience wanting more, cheering for the next performer, carrying that energy and building it up higher and higher. When you have to take an intermission, you want them ravenous for the next part of the show. You don’t want them to wander off and forget to come back. You want them to come back the next time you roll into town, and they bring their friends.

You’re always posting comics online and you’re making other art. Are you working on anything else?

I’ve joined two shows in Chicago, both as a performer and art director. I’m doing a bit less burlesque these days, and more weird performance art, just trying to keep it fresh for myself. I’ve done over two hundred burlesque shows, and I still love doing that, but I have other things to express as well. My comic creation process is a bit solitary, and audience feedback comes months or even years later, so I love collaborating onstage for a live audience. It gives me a lot of energy.

For those who pick up the collection and go, “Oh my god, I need to know what happens next!” What would you like to tell them?

We’re going to see a lot more of the freaks, and their subculture within a subculture. We get to see the situation from Kat’s point of view. And we get to see more ghosts and more monsters. I really like drawing monsters!

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