Writer: David Rodriguez
Illustrator: Sarah Ellerton
Letterer/Graphic Design: Michael DeVito
Publisher: Th3rd World Studios
COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O’Neal for Comic Book Yeti sitting down today with David Rodriguez to talk about his all-ages book Finding Gossamyr from Th3rd World Studios. Welcome and thanks for joining me today David.
DAVID RODRIGUEZ: Thank you so much for having me, Byron. It’s great to be here with you and all the Yetis!
CBY: This is a remastered and enhanced version of the story you and Sarah released in 2013 but, before we get into all that, what’s this story about for new readers who might not be familiar with it?
DR: Finding Gossamyr is, at its heart, a story about the relationship between a young boy (Denny Auramen) on the autism spectrum and his caretaker sister. Jenna is young in years but old in responsibility and agrees to take in her brother after her parents’ divorce. She finds the added work and responsibility more difficult to shoulder than she imagines. So, Jenna pushes Denny to get him into a prestigious math program that will pay for specialized care for Denny and also allow Jenna to pursue her own life and dreams.
Part of the exam to enter the program is to try and solve an ancient and “unsolvable” theorem. Denny doesn’t want to because he believes it is dangerous, but desperate to be freed of her burdens, Jenna pressures her little brother to solve it. But when he DOES solve it, it sends them both to Gossamyr, a place where math is magic and an ancient evil has now been unleashed.
Here, Denny’s gifts make him a powerful Arithmancer, which complicates the stranded siblings' already strained relationship. The fantasy world of Gossamyr is full of magic, fantastic creatures and allies and enemies, but that is just the backdrop for Jenna and Denny finding their way home and hopefully back to each other.
CBY: What really drew me in was the story’s focus on a boy with autism. As a person on the spectrum myself, it’s a rarity to see the disorder represented and even less so to see it done without victimizing the character. It was quite refreshing. I’ve seen references to this being personal. If I may, what inspired you?
DR: You totally may! First, let me thank you for the kind words about the book. It means so much to me that it resonated with you and that kind of answers a different question that we’ll get to in a second. But for me, it was a number of “whos" rather than what inspired me. Most directly, I was influenced by a few people close to me who also loved Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Skylanders! Growing up, I would watch as the things we take for granted and the things that came easy for so many other kids were a huge challenge or struggle for others. Going to the movies or birthday parties or the park, things we take for granted for our kids, were often a navigated tightrope.
Heroes have challenges, but nothing like that those on the spectrum, or their family members, have to face on a daily basis. There has never been a character or a story like that before where they could find a hero to relate to. I felt like they, more than anyone I knew, deserved a story where they could see themselves as the hero. I wanted to give that to them. That is especially why it means so much to me that the story resonated with you and others who have personal experience with autism.
"For young readers, I would like them to take away the idea that strength and empowerment come in many forms. It isn’t always physical or based on grades in school. The things that give you passion can also give you strength in ways you won’t always see and in ways you don’t expect."
CBY: Why create a fantasy realm to tell a story about autism?
DR: The world of Gossamyr existed before the story did. It was an RPG setting I created in college. And my personal favorite stories when I was growing up were about kids from the real world being transported to a fantasy world where they are empowered. Chronicles of Narnia, Dungeons & Dragons the animated series, A Wrinkle in Time, The Dark is Rising—those are the tales that resonated with me the most and I wanted to create that same sort of story. But it just sort of sat for a bit until I was presented with the moment I described earlier, in wanting to create a hero that kids on the spectrum could see themselves in. One who gets to go to a fantastic world and become empowered. For me, it was combining two things that I deeply cared about, with an emotional core that would carry a whole book. (Or books!)
CBY: I was surprised with how emotional I got reading it. Usually, us spectrum folks get labeled as being less emotional and distant, I always see it as we just feel in a different way. Was it challenging to write Denny as the main character in the book?
DR: Denny as a starting character is an amalgam of research and personal experience. His behaviors and particulars are all based in my reality. Most of my stories are character-based rather than plot-based. I focus on building as much of the character as possible, so that once I feel like I know who they are, I put them into the situations and let it play out. (I then edit and refine it down, but I am often surprised at what the characters show me.) A writer friend whom I admire once told me that stories already exist and we are just like archeologists trying to excavate the best version of it possible with our skillset.
Once I knew who Denny was, I felt like I could write him honestly. The challenge for him was making sure I put in the early work (research, interviews, sensitivity readers) to make him as honestly portrayed as possible.
CBY: With spectrum disorders, it is rare to ever talk about the struggles of loved ones. Denny’s sister, Jenna, was so on point. Talk to me about the genesis of her as a character.
DR: My brother came to live with me when I was 20 and he was 15. I was in college and working and trying to take care of a teenager and that was a challenging, but exceptionally fulfilling, part of my life. I had, and still have, a lot of feelings around that subject and Gossamyr for me was a form of working through those emotions. Jenna’s emotional core of responsibility, obligation to family, and trying to manage being an adult too young is based on that experience. I then layered in my later personal experiences and the feelings and struggles that can create. Jenna working through this relationship is and was me doing the same thing.
CBY: We’re focusing on autism but Denny’s struggle in Finding Gossamyr can be universal as kids deal with whatever obstacles pop up as a part of growing up. What message would you like to leave with a young reader?
DR: For young readers, I would like them to take away the idea that strength and empowerment come in many forms. It isn’t always physical or based on grades in school. The things that give you passion can also give you strength in ways you won’t always see and in ways you don’t expect. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t found your unique voice yet and know that when you do share that voice, you are making the world a better place.
CBY: What message would you like to leave with an older reader? Does it change?
DR: I would want older readers to remember to be kind to themselves and to give themselves permission to make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect. And that if you are in the position of being a caretaker that it is okay that it is hard for you sometimes. You can love someone to the moon and back and still not want to do it some days and both of those things can exist together. Compassion is a strength and not a weakness.
CBY: My dad was a career high school math teacher who taught me that math is the universal language. You’ve used math as a vehicle for magic in your world. Where did that idea come from?
DR: The idea came from the third law of Arthur C. Clarke who wrote that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And since, as your father said, math is the universal language, it stood to reason that there could be a world where a person could throw fireballs at people if they could do the math on the fly to figure out the combustion and trajectory.
In a traditional RPG setting, a lot of people can do a little magic and a few people can do world shaking magic. In our world, that lines up with how most of us can do math, but only a few can do the sort that changes the course of history. I wanted to make that world. (P.S. I suck at math and barely passed Algebra. So it always seemed like sorcery to me.)
CBY: I talk to a lot of people who seem to get into comics with a background in film. You work in the video game industry. How do those two things overlap and how has your experiences with one help translate to the other?
DR: Growing up, I wanted to draw comics. In my early 20’s I realized my skill set would never really advance to the professional level and I switched over to writing comics and plays in college. Those writing skills helped me get my first game job at High Voltage Software where I started writing for games. A few years later I delved into writing my own indy comics and getting into the industry that way.
What I have found though, is that writing comic dialogue has a lot of overlap with game VO. You want to be concise and effective and make sure it rings true. And working on games has led to me working directly on game-related comics like the Skylander series and Destiny 2.
CBY: Let’s focus on the other folks involved with the project for a minute. How did you and Sarah Ellerton meet and start working together?
DR: Sarah and I met for the first time at SDCC many years ago when she and I were both working on webcomics. Later on, a mutual friend, (also named Sarah) who knew I was looking for an artist for my new comic project did a more direct introduction for us. We talked a bit and started working together on the series soon after!
CBY: Brag on the rest of your creative team a little.
DR: Sarah Ellerton is just the best artist I have ever worked with. I cannot imagine anyone else making this book as beautiful and amazing as she has. I may have created and written the world, but she brought it life. She puts so much thought and emotion into the world, the characters and even their micro-expressions from panel to panel that it feels like you are reading an animated movie sometimes.
Mike DeVito, the Th3rd World Studios publisher, is also the graphic designer and letterer. He has been instrumental in not just believing in this book early on and pushing it out to every comic shop on the planet, but also making it beautiful to hold and look at it.
This new version is going to be the best one yet!
CBY: You also have something completely original in my experience on the creative team, a math consultant. How did John A. Day get involved with the project?
DR: John A. Day is an awesome engineer that I worked with at Vicarious Visions. When I was working on the book, I asked him how a person would theoretically do magic this way and he jumped right in and started making spells for us. We were very lucky to have him add this detailed layer to our story.
CBY: What was added additionally from the original 2013 release?
DR: As part of this new release, Sarah decided that she wanted to touch up some of the art and instead touched up EVERY page, enhancing panels and visuals to make the book that much more beautiful than before.
CBY: I saw on Th3rd World Studios website that we can expect a Volume 2 of the series coming out in May. Will the whole creative team be returning, and what can you tell us about the next chapter?
DR: Rest assured that Volume 2 is the same team and Sarah’s work on this volume is more amazing than ever. This volume expands the world of Gossamyr, showing parts we haven’t seen before, and also expands the threat to the world. This volume also centers on family, but this time the focus has shifted to Eloric and how he navigates his complicated feelings around Jenna and Denny and his father.
CBY: Why take so long a break between volumes one and two?
DR: The break between volumes was a combination of things, most of it having to do with life events. Gossamyr was too important to both of us to rush or do with anyone else, so we decided to take the time to make sure our lives were in a place that we could dedicate the proper time and attention to our new volume.
CBY: What else is stirring in the creative pot you’d like to shed a little light on that you are working on? I know you have a Skylanders project you are working on.
DR: I worked on the Skylanders games about 7 years ago (SWAP Force and Superchargers) and wrote the comic series for about two years. These days I am the Associate Creative Director on Diablo 4 at Blizzard where I am writing things that are decidedly not all-ages.
CBY: Last question, Denny loves his boats. Are you a boat/water person yourself? I ask because it has always been a lifelong goal of mine to build my own dingy. In the town we recently moved from is a working wooden boat shop. It’s utterly fascinating to watch wooden boat restoration.
DR: I love being on the water, going on cruises and going on fishing boats with my dad! But that is really the limit of my boat love.
CBY: I really appreciate you joining me today to talk about Finding Gossamyr.
DR: Thank you, Byron! It has been a real pleasure to talk with you and to hear about what Gossamyr meant to you. I appreciate this more than I can express. Take care!
CBY: I can’t recommend this project enough. As a general fantasy story for young readers, it’s excellent and a rare positive fictional literary window into the mind of a child with autism. It’s available now online through the publisher Th3rd World Studios or on Amazon.
On behalf of all of us at Comic Book Yeti, this is Byron O’Neal. Thanks for tuning in and see you next time.
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is
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All Finding Gossamyr characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright David Rodriquez and Sarah Ellerton or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED