Smash Pages Q&A: Monica Gallagher

The writer and artist discusses her webcomic ‘Assassin Roommate,’ collaborating on ‘The Black Ghost’ and much more.

Monica Gallagher has been writing and drawing print and web comics for years. People might know her for work like Gods and Undergrads, Bonnie N. Collide, Lipstick & Malice, Part-Time Princesses, Glitter Kissor many other projects. The past year thought has been a particularly busy and productive one for Gallagher, who has been writing and drawing multiple projects.

She’s been making the weekly webcomic Assassin Roommate; drew the weekly webcomic Boo! It’s Sex, which was written by Danielle Corsetto (Girls with Slingshots); co-wrote the podcast Lethal Lit; and has co-written the new comics miniseries The Black Ghost with Alex Segura, which is being released by comiXology Originals. The first issue is out now and the second issue comes out Oct. 16.

Additionally Gallagher is running a Kickstarter campaign to collect the first year’s work of Assassin Roommate. We spoke recently about her many projects.

How did you come to comics?

I’ve been obsessed with comics since I was a little kid and first encountered Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield, but it wasn’t until I found Ranma ½ and Elfquest as a pre-teen that I decided to try to write and draw them. Since then it’s become less of an obsession and more of a default mode for me – I’m always going to be working on comics, now and forever, even if no one reads them!

You have a number of projects you’re working on, so let’s start with Assassin Roommate, which you’re kickstarting now. For people who haven’t been reading it on Line Webtoon, what is Assassin Roommate?

Assassin Roommate is at its core, a story about assassins who try to navigate love with what they do for a living. Specifically though, it’s a story about an introverted, shy girl who people would constantly underestimate – never realizing she’s an assassin. Because those are the best kind! And the people and relationships she develops as a result, or in contrast to, her hella peculiar line of work.

Readers know that the comic combines the drama of roommates with the fun of assassinations. Or is that the other way around? But you also made Lipstick & Malice, which is also about an assassin. What makes assassination fun to write about? Or draw? Or a good metaphor? 

I know, it’s a trend! I swear it’s not based on personal experience. I SWEAR! When I wrote Lipstick & Malice, that was more of a commentary on the modeling industry that I’d briefly been part of when I was a teenager. When you were sent out on modeling jobs, you were given a time, place, outfit requirement, and zero information beyond that. Models are meant to be chameleons, both sticking out and blending in and the same time. Plus they usually don’t have much agency, so I bet they’ve got a LOT of rage pent up. So I thought – what better breeding ground could you have for an assassin? I think the appeal of assassin stories in general is it gives an opportunity to examine our tendency to ignore and compartmentalize some things in this life that we REALLY shouldn’t be ignoring, but through the lens of something as extreme as killing people as employment.

For a while you were also drawing another webcomic, which wrapped up this year. Do you want to say a little about Boo! It’s Sex and working with Danielle on the project?

Danielle and I have been friends for many years but this was our first comics collaboration and it was SO much fun and I knew I would learn a lot. We wanted to create a comic that discussed sex education in a way that was fun and engaging, and not super clinical. And also, one that was intended to spark our reader’s curiosity and encourage them to research and learn more on their own. Danielle knows about my love of all things paranormal, so the ghost of a dead sorority girl who teaches sex-ed to a group of freshmen women was the perfect combination of our interests, haha! And the responses we got from readers really reiterated how much we still need good, comprehensive sex education in this country, and I’m extremely proud I got to contribute to it.

How did you and Alex Segura come to start writing together? Was Lethal Lit the first project that you two worked on?

It was! We were introduced via Adam Staffaroni, who I’d worked with on comics projects in the past. Alex had already been working on Lethal Lit when I came on the scene, barging in like the wacky next-door neighbor. But we quickly developed a great working rhythm with each other, which in a high pressure environment of quick turnarounds, was nothing short of remarkable.

So now the two of you, both comics people, have made a comic together. How did the idea behind The Black Ghost start?

Alex and I had talked about wanting to work on a comic together at some point – because it was always funny to us that two comics people had been brought in to write a podcast together first – and he had an idea for a noir vigilante heroine who was Jessica Jones-esque, so I immediately said, “Yes, please.” And like with Lethal Lit, we took ideas and batted them back and forth until it resembled the book it is today.

What is it about your collaboration that you think works well? How did the two of you work on The Black Ghost?

Every collaboration is going to be different, and you’re always going to learn new things, which is part of the fun of it. The nice thing about Alex’s and my writing style is that we constantly pass things back and forth – so that both people own everything, rather than each person being given their allotted space in the story. I think it helps a lot that Alex is one of the most genuine, hard-working people you’ll ever meet, and he’s incredibly considerate in his creative process – in that environment, nothing is off the table and everything is a fun discussion.

Before this, have you made a comic where you’ve been writing for another artist? What was that experience like?

My first experience writing for another artist was with my good friend Mike DiMotta on the short story Sharks vs. Mermaids, from Vertigo’s Strange Sports Stories Anthology. That was incredibly fun, and of course Mike’s art blew me away – he puts such expression and humor in everything he does. I’d started out sketching layouts for him, and then realized it was best to just let him go nuts. That’s one of the best parts about any collaboration – seeing what you come up with as a team and how it differs from what you’re capable of alone. It’s not about trying to force a vision on someone else, but working with them to create something entirely new. My other experience writing on a comic was with Kata Kane – also a good friend of mine – who illustrated the series G.F.F.’s (Ghost Friends Forever) for Papercutz. Working with Kata was great, and since as a comics writer herself, she had tons of ideas to bounce off and challenge me. Those books became so much better just because of the questions she’d ask me about plot and storyline. Comics can be such an individual experience where you’re not exactly sure if what you’re doing is worth reading at all, [laughs] so it was really wonderful having someone to talk things over with as we created the books.

I joked earlier about making comics about assassins, but while you haven’t made superhero comics you have written action stories and stories about people with double lives or Gods and Undergrads. The Black Ghost is a pulpy superhero story that comes at it from an odd angle, and it feels like that’s very natural to how you work and how you approach story

I think most of my stories are slice-of-life meets what-the-heck-is-that, so superhero comics are a natural fit for me. [laughs] I’m always interested in writing stories about characters who are forced to make choices before they’re ready, and how those choices shape who they become. With the Black Ghost, I’ve been given an opportunity to explore that within the noir/detective/crime genre that Alex is so familiar with, and it’s been tons of fun to see what kookiness I can contribute within that environment.

So right now, The Black Ghost is coming out monthly, Assassin Roommate is out weekly on Webtoon. The Kickstarter for the print edition of Assassin Roommate has met its goal but people have until Oct. 9 to order a copy. And you have a minicomic, Death is a Mean Girl. Am I missing anything?

You can check out Assassin Roommate every week at Webtoons.com, and the Kickstarter is up until Oct. 9 – I’m SO excited to get a book of Assassin Roommate! I love that webcomics have become so popular, and the ability to read them easily on phones has really broadened the comics audience in general, which I’m very grateful for. BUT I’m also old school and love getting to hold a book in my hands. Comics are a huge part of how I process my experiences, and autobio comics especially, which is how Death is a Mean Girl came about. So hopefully it’s a conversation starter for people who’d like to read a story about envisioning Death as someone bitchy you have to figure out how to deal with. [laughs]

So what is happening with The Black Ghost? What can people look forward to in the series coming up? Anything you especially love and want to mention?

Lots of fun twists and turns are coming up in the story, and lots of fun, awkward moments between characters – which is my personal favorite. But I’m still just in awe of how George Kambadais, our artist on The Black Ghost, visualized Alex’s and my writing. He really took it way beyond our expectations and injected it with so much style. So I’m constantly excited about showing off his art!

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