Chris Samnee and Laura Samnee are very comfortable around monsters and felt right at home in the Yeti Cave to discuss all things Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters, with volume 2 set to be published April 26th.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Chris Samnee and Laura Samnee, I am so excited to have you here in the Yeti Cave to talk about Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters! I have two daughters myself and it’s a comic series I love. How have the two of you been doing and how have you navigated the past 2 years?
LAURA SAMNEE: It's been a challenging two years, but we are doing ok! Our kids have been either homeschooled or in virtual school for the last two years so we've definitely had to adjust to our home being where both school and work take place. It's been tough finding space and time for all of those things to occur and it's been a lot of work but we are thankful it was an option for us. Our oldest two just returned for their first day of in-person school last week, so now we are adjusting to a whole new routine. We had gotten pretty good at school and work from home, but it's exciting to see them back in their school with their friends and teachers.
CHRIS SAMNEE: At the beginning of the pandemic, I also made the switch from working at an office outside the house during the day to working exclusively from home. It took a bit of getting used to, but I'm glad I get to work on a good chunk of our family book right here alongside my family.
CBY: The dedication in volume 1 is “For our 3 daughters.” How did your kids influence the creation of Jonna and Rainbow, and did they participate in the creation of the comic? Perhaps they weighed in on monster design?
CS: They've been here (well, 2/3rds have, at least) since the inception of Jonna and The Unpossible Monsters. Beyond being a huge inspiration for Rainbow and Jonna's relationship, they've listened to me tell them about who the characters are and what they'll do, looked at the earliest designs and they've even made some characters and monsters of their own that they want us to add into the book. They're our first audience while we're putting the book together and our biggest fans when the comps show up in the mail.
CBY: Speaking of the Unpossible Monsters, what else inspired their design, and perhaps here is where I ask if they were influenced by your fear/hatred of birds, Chris, which I read was because your father was a falconer? How did your father become involved in falconry?
CS: I've always doodled monsters and creatures, but never really had a chance to flex those muscles in my comics work. With Jonna, I get to tap into some of the excitement I had watching old monster movies as a kid. Kaiju films like Gamera and Godzilla and tokusatsu shows like Ultraman are where the monsters take their biggest inspiration. I always wanted to see a tiny, human-sized character take on a giant monster! But there's also a good deal of '60s-era Hanna-Barbera in there. I grew up on reruns of all the HB superhero shows like Space Ghost and Dino Boy, the Herculoids. Those Alex Toth designs specifically still really sing to me.
CBY: Did either of you think there was something specific missing in All-Ages comics that you wanted to address/write about with Jonna or was it more about having a great story from the two of you that your kids would enjoy?
CS: Well, I think in general that there's just not enough all-ages comics that really are meant to be consumed by a wide range of readers. I think because publishers need marketing plans there's been a tendency to make comics with a much narrower group of readers in mind so they know exactly who they're marketing to – so there's comics for little kids, middle-grade readers, teens, and then the adult market. But I think of a comic like Bone by Jeff Smith that I loved so much before I had kids and then I got to turn around and share it with my kids and that really inspired me.
LS: We were also really inspired by the Studio Ghibli and Pixar movies that we love watching as a family. Getting to share those movies that we love with our kids is a really wonderful experience and we wanted to create a comic that an adult reader could sit down and share with a child in their life and both readers are getting something out of it.
CBY: Laura, you have described yourself as the behind-the-scenes person of the business, but you do have a writing background, was it the story of Jonna that interested you or the timing of it or something else that you co-wrote this with Chris?
LS: I never intended to be part of the creative team on Jonna! I had seen Chris poke around at the idea for years and had a general idea of what he wanted to do. It was only after it was pitched to Oni and they asked to see a rough twelve-issue outline that I got involved. I was typing the outline with Chris when we realized that it wasn't quite as fleshed out as he had thought so I just kind of started throwing my ideas out there and suddenly we were co-writers! It honestly felt pretty easy to step into the co-writer role on Jonna because so much of it was inspired by our kids. We had always wanted to work on a project together where I was writing and Chris was drawing – in fact, we pitched a book to a few publishers right after we got married 19 years ago – and we had worked on a few other ideas over the years that never went very far because we were so busy with other things. But I loved the characters of Rainbow and Jonna and felt like I could bring something to the wonderful world that Chris was already creating.
CBY: What was the collaborative process like for Jonna and were there any moments of disagreement that you had to work to resolve or were you both mostly on the same page regarding the direction of the story?
LS: There have definitely been a few disagreements- typically not about the story though. Most of them have been regarding character design and we generally find a way to compromise if we're not on the same page. Or Chris just does what he wants and I don't see it until it's inked and it's too late to change it! Haha!
CS: As for our process, we have a detailed outline of all 12 issues and then we sit together and break out each issue page by page so we know what needs to happen, where we can have double-page spreads, important dialogue, and where we have reveals/page turns. From there, I do thumbnails with placeholder dialogue, which we go over together. Then I get to pencilling and inking. After the issue is inked, Laura and I go over it again and make changes if needed, then write a script with final dialogue. Of course, at every stage we get feedback from our awesome editor, Zack Soto, so we make edits and adjustments based on his notes too.
CBY: Jonna is colored by Matthew Wilson and lettered by Crank!, and both are tremendously talented, every issue is gorgeous. How did they become involved in this project and what is it about them that you think makes this collaboration so successful?
CS: I couldn't agree more about how talented these guys are. We're so incredibly lucky to have them on board. Once we decided that this book should be in color Matt was the first person Laura and I thought of. We've worked together frequently since 2009. He always makes my stuff look better than I could hope for-- and Jonna is no exception to that. Crank! was recommended to us, as he had a history of doing a great job on a number of other Oni books. I'd already known Chris from conventions back in the day, and had been following his work, and was sure he'd be a good fit. He's been really great to work with-- and has been really gracious in letting me do all the sound effects (arguably the most fun part of lettering) myself :)
CBY: My own children are 9 and 4 and Rainbow and Jonna reminded me of them a bit as I was reading. I love the relationship between the two once they are reconnected. Rainbow is at times frustrated by Jonna but undaunted in trying to fulfill the role of protective older sister, despite Jonna having seemingly survived just fine on her own for a year. What do you think is the key to writing younger characters, especially siblings, so that they feel authentic to readers, because you both do it exceptionally well?
LS: Well first, thank you for that - that's very nice of you to say! I'm not sure that we know the key - but we have been raising our kids while working from home for the last ten years so we've definitely witnessed a lot of sibling interaction! One of the blessings of the last two years is that we've all gotten to be together as a family far more than if our kids had been physically at school and as a result our kids are really tightly bonded together. I guess we've just internalized how they interact with each other – and that has showed up in how we write Rainbow and Jonna's relationship.
CBY: Without being too spoilery, can you tell us what is in store for Rainbow and Jonna after volume 2?
CS: Monsters, a glimpse at Gor and Nomi's backstory, more monsters and maybe loads of two-page spreads!
CBY: Do either of you have time to read any comics, and, if so, what have you read recently or what books/tv shows/movies, if any, have helped get you and the kids through the pandemic?
LS: I can say without a doubt that books and music have gotten me through the pandemic. Reading and listening to music is really how I spend any free time I have. One of our kids was recently diagnosed with ADHD, so most of my reading has been books about ADHD but I have a stack of comics next to the bed that I'm hoping to dig into soon. Runaways by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka, the second volume of Time Before Time by Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville and Joe Palmer and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden are a few on the stack. We don't watch a ton of tv (once kids are in bed we are both generally working) but Ted Lasso and Hacks were definitely pandemic favorites. I recently binged all of Sex Education on Netflix and loved it. We also have a family movie night on Saturdays which is always one of the highlights of our week. We spend all week talking about what movie we might watch, looking up reviews, and watching trailers until we make a decision. We all absolutely loved The Mitchell's vs the Machines. Encanto and Ron's Gone Wrong were great too. The kids were really into all the Despicable Me/Minions movies for quite some time, which I had never seen before and really loved. And as a family, we watch a lot of Studio Ghibli movies with Ponyo, Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro being favorites. Sorry, I could talk about books, movies and music all day!
CS: I'll echo Laura's comments about the shows we watched as a couple and the family movies we've all watched and enjoyed. Saturday Movie Night is literally one of my favorite things to do with the family. I'll also add that our 8-year-old (our #1 Jonna fan) has also taken to working alongside me on her own comics a couple of days a week. We play movies on my iPad at my desk and get to work like a couple of studio mates. Recently we've been working our way through the Showa era Godzilla movies together. The grosser the monsters the better for her, so Hedora was a big hit with her. I have a giant stack of comics to read as well, but near the top are the new editions of Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi, Milo's World by Marazano & Ferreira and the first few volumes of Drifting Dragons by Taku Kuwabara.
CBY: Thank you both so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave. I appreciate it and I cannot wait to read more Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters.
LS & CS: Thanks so much for having us!