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Hannah Klein and Lisa Sterle open up about DYING INSIDE

Andrew Irvin, Interviews Editor, sits down to the forthcoming graphic novel from Vault Comics,  Dying Inside, with Hannah Klein and Lisa Sterle, who have brought this fantastic story to life.

Trigger warning: The discussion of Dying Inside deals with themes of self-harm and suicide.


COMIC BOOK YETI: Hannah, welcome to the Yeti Cave, and Lisa, it’s good to have you back to chat about your new comic, Dying Inside! Summer is now upon us, so as a counterpoint, any plans for doing some living outside while the weather is nice in the coming months?


HANNAH KLEIN: I hope to be working on my tan as much as possible but we’ll see if that ends up happening for me. 

LISA STERLE: I’ve got a toddler, I’m constantly outside. General summer plans of lots of pool time, walking in the woods and blowing bubbles.

CBY: That sounds like a blast! I should mention we’re missing contributions to this conversation from your co-creator on this project, Pete Wentz, who is best known for his work in the band Fall Out Boy. Can you both share how you all met and got involved in putting this comic together from its inception? How did the idea for this story arise initially?


HK: I’ve been collaborating with Pete for a few years now and it’s always a true dream. I met him when we worked on a short series called, “Everything’s Fine” and for this project, I originally pitched it like, “what if this was the next tv thing we worked on,” and he brought up the idea to bring it to Vault! 


LS: I’d been working with Vault Comics for a long time now, and Adrian Wassel popped up in my inbox with a killer pitch co-created by Hannah and Pete, and I could not say no. It was tailor-made for my obsessions and aesthetics.

CBY: So as you all got into the production of this graphic novel, what did the workflow look like? Hannah, how did the writing duties get split up between you and Pete, and how did you both develop the visual style with Lisa? 

HK: I typically would run storylines by Pete and then have him do passes and ask for his input after a draft was on the page. He also contributed some original lyrics/ poetry which I simply don’t have the ability to write (I wish I did.) 

LS: It started with character designs for Ash and Liv, our two main characters! There was a bit of back and forth on their style and general vibe, and that inevitably led to the Dying Inside moodboard where we all shared visual references and inspiration. I think it helps the collaboration process both to have a place for the written ideas as well as the visual ideas to co-mingle before they are translated to the final page. 

CBY: Yes, sharing a space to find an agreeable approach before wedding yourself to ideas seems very sensible. Graphic novels are also not a trivial undertaking, so what did the time-frame look like from start to finish for putting together Dying Inside? I know you’ve both got a number of other projects you’re engaged in, so what methods did you both employ to focus on getting this across the line while juggling the rest of your creative endeavors?


HK: I feel like I blacked out and now it’s done? Sorry, not the most helpful answer, but I basically just found as much time as I could when I could. Luckily, everyone on this team is super understanding of busy schedules, etc. 


LS: Everyone at Vault, and Hannah and Pete were all super accommodating whenever I needed a bit of time off, or a deadline shifted slightly. I literally had a baby in the middle of making this comic! The fact that I managed to finish this book AND not get burnt out in the process is a real testament to how amazing this team and the script was. A job that truly did not feel like work. 

CBY: Childbirth is certainly a non-trivial interruption to any work schedule! Dying Inside takes place in a magical world full of references to reality – in building out the setting, a lot of real musicians – Elliot Smith, the band Tancred, etc. – are mentioned over the course of the graphic novel. What did you know you wanted to pull from real life, and what did you know needed to be created from scratch?


HK: I think this story is largely set in reality first and foremost, but the magic comes in to soften the blows of said reality for the reader. By adding magical elements, the parts of the book that are a bit darker come off a little less scary when there’s a layer of, “don’t worry there’s literal magic involved - everything is going to turn out okay.” 


LS: I just like sneaking in my favorite things into my books. Hence Ash’s various posters and albums and such. I think drawing from my own experiences and objects as an angsty teen helps ground the story in reality, and relatability even while magical things are happening constantly.

CBY: Concerning the visual approach, I loved the understated treatment of color throughout. What conversations took place about the decision to reel back on a full-color treatment, and what tools and techniques were employed to achieve the finished appearance of Dying Inside?


HK: I mean, this is mostly all Lisa’s genius at work. I sent her a moodboard reference that included a lot of manga / anime which maybe helped spark that idea for her? But she is the mastermind behind the coloring/ aesthetic. She’s INCREDIBLE. 


LS: I believe in one of my first phone calls to discuss the project with Hannah and Pete and Adrian, I’d mentioned wanting to do a limited color palette with some manga-inspired screentone work. It was one of the few elements I had in mind before even officially starting work, as I’d been wanting to illustrate a comic this way for a few years but had yet to find the project that it would fit. And then came Dying Inside!

CBY: I think the look came together beautifully, and ended up giving the story a very distinct character. I’ve also recently had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian & Damian Wassel, the dynamic duo behind Vault, regarding the ethos behind the company.  Was there any discussion with other publishers over the course of producing Dying Inside? How did this comic find its home with Vault Comics, and when in the creative process did they come into the picture?


HK: Due to the creation of Headshell at Vault, Pete had already been familiarized with them so we went to Vault directly! And I wouldn’t have it any other way because they are truly the most artist-first, collaborative, supportive publishers I could ever ask for. 


LS: It was already with Vault when I joined the team!

CBY:  Dying Inside is forthcoming with its trigger warning on content that discusses self-harm and suicide, with a crisis hotline listed. I remember when Elliot Smith killed himself, and having worked with some other artists from Kill Rock Stars and Suicide Squeeze Records in the wake of his passing, his absence loomed large, and amongst the broader emo/indie rock community, depression and substance abuse certainly weren’t rarities. Can you speak a bit about how his loss resonated with both of you, and how his loss over twenty years ago served as an inciting incident for the plot of this graphic novel?   


HK: Love this question and clearly you know your Elliott lore! I think for me, the main inciting incident was how I changed over the years in how I thought about Elliott’s passing. I was too little to remember it happening at the time, so I learned of it many years later. When I was a teenager, it had this romantic tortured poet vibe and I thought in order to be a great artist you had to suffer. However, as I got older (and with tons of therapy - shout out to my therapist, Allison) I started seeing his death for what it actually was, which was an awful tragedy, not something to dream of emulating or romanticizing. So I guess it was my own personal growth regarding Elliott that stoked this storyline, but I do think it’s relatable to a lot of young artists. 


LS: Honestly, my experience with Elliott Smith is not too far off from Hannah’s, which I think is a big reason why this story clicked so much with me. But whether you feel connected to Elliott Smith specifically, or you just relate to a creative soul that struggles with aspects of reality, I think it’s a familiar for a reason. I’m so glad that the tortured artist trope is being challenged more as not something to be romanticized and I am glad that we are more open now about mental health than we were twenty years ago.

CBY: I certainly relate -- I was a bit too young when Kurt Cobain or Jeff Buckley died for it to register fully, but there is nothing that makes a unique voice stand out more than its sudden absence. The graphic novel ends with a few furtive hints at a continuation of the story, and there are a number of plot points that remain open-ended. Can you outline any plans for broader exploration of this narrative world in future installments?


HK: Not sure I’m allowed to go into detail, but I will say, if there is a sequel I know exactly where it’s going. ;)


LS: I really hope we get to see more of Ash and Liv, for sure. Can’t speak specifics yet though!

CBY:  I'll enjoy the vague sense of anticipation you've left for me and our readers! As mentioned earlier, you both have various other projects in the works - can you tell us about some of the other projects our readers can look forward to? Hannah, I know real-life band Daisy Grenade garners a lot of your attention, and Lisa, your awesome comic with Tina Horn from Dead Sky, Deprog, has just wrapped up a four issue run. What’s next for both of you?  


HK: N/A (can’t speak on!) 


LS: I’m working on the sequel to my young adult graphic novel, Squad, with my co-creator Maggie Tokuda-Hall! Hopefully I’ll have more details to share soon. And Deprog will be available as a trade paperback very soon if you missed the single issues!

CBY: Fantastic to hear! So Dying Inside provides a lot of great opportunities for readers to learn about other creative material - Elliot Smith is chief amongst them. What other creative work has been catching your attention lately, in terms of other comics, music, movies, art, etc.?


HK: Oh man! Well, speaking of Elliott, I did just discover Brennan Wedl on the Kill Rockstars label - she is so cool. I’ve gotten really into her (Scorpio and I Wanna Be Your TV are great tracks.) During the summer months I tend to hide out at Metrograph on the lower east side for the AC, Japanese snacks, and phenomenal movie lineup - so I’ve seen a bunch of seminal classic films in theaters as of late (can you believe I hadn’t seen The Departed before!) I’m waiting with baited breath for the new Oz Perkins horror joint to come out…oh and it’s a BRAT summer of course! 

LS: Oh gosh I’ve had very little time to enjoy media lately as I’m literally either working or running around after my toddler but I’ve had some time for a few games –hooked on Vampire Survivors and Loop Hero. Books, Night Bitch by Rachel Yoder, Instructions for Traveling West by Joy Sullivan…comics, Loving, Ohio by Matthew Erman and Sam Beck…not much else I’ve had time to sample sadly.


CBY: Oh, that ought to provide plenty of material to keep our audience busy! Thanks for stopping by today, both of you. Hannah and Lisa, if you’ve got further links to include social media, portfolio, and publication material, please let us know below!

HK: you can always catch me on insta! @hannahhklein 


LS: insta @lisasterle


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