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Beth Fantaskey and ONeillJones set the story straight on WIRES CROSSED

A slice-of-life young adult graphic novel with a decidedly grounded depiction of adolescent growing pains is the subject of the latest feature from Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin. Beth Fantaskey and ONeillJones have just had Harper Collins drop Wires Crossed on the world!


 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Beth and ONeillJones, thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave to chat about your latest graphic novel, Wires Crossed. Congratulations on the recent release at the end of April - how has the response been thus far?



BETH FANTASKEY: Thanks for having us! Early reviews have been very positive, so we’re off to a good start!


ONEILLJONES: Thank you! All of the kids and librarians in my life were pretty excited to find out I'd worked on a Beth Fantaskey book, so it's been great so far.


CBY: I'm glad to hear the response has been good! I really enjoy digging into these youth-focused coming-of-age stories, since I’m in the midst of raising three kids (now in the 10-14 range), and it provides good perspective and fodder for conversations. As subject matter, what initially drew both of you towards young adult literature, and when did your paths first cross as creatives? 



BF: I was probably the most naive person to ever write a novel. I didn’t even know the categories “YA” or “middle grade” existed. I just had a story in my head about a teenage girl that I wanted to tell (JESSICA’S GUIDE TO DATING ON THE DARK SIDE). I do gravitate toward writing for that age group because it’s so rich with possibilities for self-exploration and growth. I was recruited to write WIRES CROSSED, and it was unexpected. I’d never even considered writing a graphic novel. But I loved the form, and when I saw ONeillJones’ fantastic first sketches for the project, I was so happily amazed to see how she brought everything to life. 


OJ: Most of my work up to this point has been for older audiences, so I was surprised when I was approached by the publisher about this project. I do tend to gravitate towards character driven stories, which Beth is exceptionally good at writing, so I was pretty instantly won over by the sample script I was sent.


Still, graphic novels are a pretty big time commitment for artists, so I wasn't sure if I should take on a middle grade book. In the end my kids were the deciding factor. I knew by the time I finished drawing Wires Crossed they'd be old enough to actually appreciate it (they're currently 9, 10, and 13). 



CBY: Seeing that sort of personal payoff in sight has to be a good incentive. Wires Crossed is being published through Clarion Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. Beth, I know you’ve released prior work with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and ONeillJones, you’ve published work across the majors of both comics and prose publishing. I see Phil Caminiti has a credit for the jacket design, so perhaps you can both share a bit about the broader editorial and publishing team that helped bring this book to market. How did Wires Crossed find its home with Clarion?



BF: ONeillJones, below, explains the team in detail. Honestly, I only really collaborated with Alessandra Preziosi. It was totally smooth sailing. We had the same vision for this project, so, while it was a long process, unfolding over the course of several years, it was always fun.


OJ: Phil was my primary contact throughout the production of the book. He fielded all my questions, was the go between for me and the larger editorial group, and I believe he was involved with the lettering. Alessandra Preziosi guided the storytelling as the executive editor. Dana Fritts was the art director and Alice Wang the designer behind the book jacket (they came up with the idea for the illustrated creator portraits). And Jon Corby came in towards the end of the project to help us get the book across the finish line and off to print. I know there were even more people behind the scenes I didn't get to meet, but their support was very much felt throughout the process.



CBY: I loved the line Mia’s grandma shares, “I think some of the luckiest - and smartest - people never grow up.” As I read the end of the chapter, the first two things that occurred to me are curiosity and play - a willingness to continue to explore and find joy in not knowing something, then coming to know it. Does that connect to the intent you had in mind? 



BF: You nailed it!


OJ: [answered in question 7]



CBY: I’ve had a fair bit of exposure to the work of Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks, and Wires Crossed definitely fits into the same mold of examining the sort of real conflicts adolescents face in a grounded, slice-of-life setting (my son is also in the middle of reading Jerry Craft’s New Kid). Given the models available across the genre landscape, what should readers look forward to in Wires Crossed that helps set this story apart, infused with your unique creative perspectives? 



BF: Okay, I’m going to confess to more ignorance here. I’ve only ever read one similar graphic novel—which I think is to my advantage. I don’t know exactly what sets WIRES CROSSED apart, but I did set certain goals for the book. First, I wanted it to model a world where girls, especially, don’t have to have a physical “glow up” to be seen at their best. Mia still looks like Mia at the end of the book. Her renewed confidence comes from how she uses her imagination and intellect, not snagging some guy for a school dance. Second, I wanted Mia to have a lineage of strong female characters. And third, I wanted her to have a realistic, loving—if sometimes embarrassing—relationship with her quirky family. Those complicated but ultimately positive family relationships are a theme throughout my books.



CBY: I think all of those benchmarks you set for yourself kept the story unfolding on-target, and gave it a clear identity, for sure. On a clear nod to another piece of Young Adult fiction, I caught a brief nod to Tuxedo Mask, and I know there are likely many little visual and voicing references to other works that fed into your shared process. What influences on Wires Crossed loomed largest as you both built the narrative voice and the visual identity of this comic?



BF: Oh, gosh, I didn’t plant any references in there purposefully! My main influences were in my own long-ago childhood, which was filled with pets and tree houses and trick-or-treating and all that good stuff. I wanted the book to have a nostalgic childhood vibe, so while there are necessarily cell phone conversations in there, you’ll also find an outdoor sleepover, fortune telling with a friend and activities like that. ONeillJones captured it perfectly!


OJ: Lol nice catch! There are lots of references to my kids' special interests tucked into the backgrounds of panels, but I tried to keep them on theme. With an entire story about everyone you know transforming on you overnight, I thought the Sailor Moon reference was apt. 



CBY: I agree! Also, my son keeps asking me for a treehouse, so I think the appeal is timeless. I also think there are a lot of really important lessons around communication that readers can take away from Wires Crossed. I thought a bit about my struggles as a kid that arose from not having the communication skills to handle feelings in mature ways, and how Mia’s challenges ring true to the experience many kids face, losing their bearings when confronted with change. In both the voicing and visual pacing, the tone is clear. What sort of experiences or circumstances did you draw upon in crafting the confusion and moments of uncertainty that arise between characters throughout the story?



BF: I vividly remember being that age and how it felt to suddenly see a lot of my peers change dramatically in what felt like no time at all. I was more like Mia. I enjoyed being a kid and didn’t want to rush to leave that part of life behind. But there was something exciting about the prospect of change, too. I gave Mia two level-headed people, old and young—her grandmother and best friend Kinsey Popple—to help her navigate.  


OJ: There are certain lessons we learn and re-learn throughout our lives, and this story taps into one that's pretty universal. With every milestone you hit, change is there waiting on you, and sometimes you stumble a bit as you learn to adjust. 


Part of this book was created during lockdown, and there was lots of uncertainty and plenty of examples of people doing their best despite not feeling equipped to handle it all.



CBY: That definitely resonates. As a robotics project is central to the social interaction of Mia with her friends throughout the comic, clearly some background research went into the schematics and components required to accurately describe the project. My current doctoral research is unpacking the intersection between science communications and the role of arts & cultural management in policy, so seeing a bit of STEM education injected into the plot made me smile. What motivated the decision to build a robot the right choice for these characters to embark on their journey, and how do you otherwise incorporate scientific practice into your lives and perspectives as creative professionals?



BF: I had to do a lot of research into the technical side of things. Robotics is not an area of expertise for me. My exposure to the sciences throughout life has revolved largely around just exploring the natural world, starting when I was a kid catching crayfish and tadpoles in local streams. My friends and I were always in the woods or local waterways. It’s amazing how much you observe when you’re young and just wandering with what feels like endless time to observe. We used to take blankets out to a field and watch meteor showers and even dissected a dead snake we found one time. These days, I like messing around with plant propagation and growing things.  


OJ: My dad and uncle were both engineers, so I grew up devouring Popular Mechanics and playing in messy garages with soldering irons and electronic components. We were also all huge fans of Robot Wars, so you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on this script.


Curiosity and wonder were part of my upbringing, and those traits are what link my love for science and engineering to my love of art. STEM and art disciplines both require having good observation skills, and it's hard to develop those skills if you don't find the world around you fascinating.



CBY: The enduring value of curiosity was one of my favorite elements of this comic, for sure. Now, Wires Crossed just hit the market, and it seems to neatly encapsulate Mia’s journey. What projects do both of you have on-deck or in-process now that you’ve completed this project? Is there anything you’re excited to share or discuss from your forthcoming work?



BF: I also write for adults under a different name, and my focus has swung back in that direction—for now. But I take time now and then to dabble in a YA fantasy/romance that intrigues me. 


OJ: I'm currently working on two YA graphic novels: REVENGE ARC (Penguin Workshop) a contemporary about friendship and revenge, and REJECT SQUAD (Balzer + Bray) a Sleeping Beauty-inspired fantasy romance. But the next comic being published will be in this year's DC Pride anthology (DC Comics) on May 28th.



CBY: Plenty for our readers to get the chance to read before too long, from the sound of things. I mentioned the tidily delivered story in Wires Crossed, which doesn’t leave dangling threads or hints at a sequel - it explores an issue and its resolution in a fully considered manner. Since both of you have experience working beyond the graphic novel, can you both share what you like about the format, and what challenges it might pose compared to shorter form work or other types or creative output?



BF: There is one hint at a potential sequel/companion book in WIRES CROSSED! I’ve pitched it—we’ll see. The biggest challenge, for me, was uncertainty about how much “stage direction” to put in there. I didn’t know if ONeillJones would want to see how the story unfolded in my head, or prefer to mainly just read dialogue and go from there. I didn’t want to intrude on her process or act like I knew the slightest thing about illustration or design. In the end, I just wrote it like a screenplay—and apologized in advance if I’d overstepped bounds.


OJ: I love comics in all of its forms – from newspaper strips to photocopied zines-- but I love graphic novels specifically because they have enough space for a full story to unfold and breathe. When you're used to only having 10 to 22 pages to work with, 200+ pages feels positively luxurious, and Beth's script took full advantage of the space we were given. Inserting montages throughout the book – entire "silent" pages, just so the reader can pause and soak up the story so far-- that's something you can't always afford to do in a shorter format.


As for challenges, not being able to talk about it for literal years was the hardest part. 



CBY: It sounds like a good example of delayed gratification paying off, at least. So unrelated to Wires Crossed, can you both tell our readers a bit about other comics, art, films, music, etc., you’ve been enjoying lately? What work from fellow creators should everyone make sure they don’t miss out on seeing? 



BF: My interests hop around so dramatically that it’s almost hard to say. For example, right now, I’m reading this book called WINTERS IN THE WORLD, about how Anglo-Saxon poetry was influenced by conceptualizations of the seasons. (I have a whole collection of books about winter.) I’m also reading about herbalism and “magical” gardening. But I’m just as happy thumbing through magazines I pick up at the grocery store. And I’m watching the old America Ferrara series UGLY BETTY from start to finish. I didn’t watch it way back when, and I’m loving the way it kind of mirrors WIRES CROSSED. Betty, who wears blue braces on her teeth and colorful ponchos with mismatched tights, never changes to fit in at the fashion magazine where she works with a bunch of conniving, shallow people. She wins everyone over with her huge heart and impressive intellect. It’s wonderful!


OJ: So my kids and I have been loving Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur -- me because I can explain all of the comic references and them because they can teach me about the science. There's a tie-in comic through Scholastic by Stephanie Williams and Asia Simone that was really good. It actually kicked off an informal book club. We'll be reading Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright next.



CBY: We always appreciate the recommendations, and Beth & ONeillJones, thank you for stopping by the Yeti Cave! Please let us know what links to portfolio material, publications, and social media you’d like to include below, and we look forward to having you back to discuss your work in the future!



BF: Thanks so much—it’s always fun to talk about books and creativity! My website is bethfantaskey-author.com and you can find me on Facebook, too, under bethfantaskeywriter. 










OJ: Thank you for having us! You can find all my work at oneilljones.com, and I occasionally post updates to X and Instagram (@oneilljones for both).


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