Under the Surface with Kat Verhoeven

Mar 14, 2019 by

KatVerhoevenheadshotIf you follow Conundrum on social media, you’re probably already aware that in May, we’re publishing Kat Verhoeven’s much-anticipated new graphic novel, Meat and Bone. A recent review in Publisher’s Weekly summed the book up nicely, saying, “In her diverse artistic depictions of disordered thinking and eating, Verhoeven captures the silent wars of modern women, in all their pain and glory.”

In this instalment of Under the Surface, we talk with Kat about her process, her favourite characters, the importance of endings, and much, much more. Read on!

Meat and Bone is, of course, much longer than Towerkind. When you first decided to create Meat and Bone, were you intimidated by the scope of the project?

I had worked on long-form hobby comics before, including a 350+ page comic I did in my teens. Long projects don’t scare me! Towerkind feels short when I re-read it. Sometimes I wish I’d padded it more.

Having written a few longer comics, and a few very short comics, I just feel more rewarded by the long haul. Yes, it’s way more work, but I love being able to dig in deep with a story. I’m always left wanting when I write a short one. Maybe what I really need is an editor.

Your comics are full of interesting characters bound together in complicated ways. Why do you incorporate this theme in your work?

All my favourite media is about the ensemble cast, from Shakespeare and LOST to Scott Pilgrim and Octopus Pie. I can better reflect the diversity of life, opinions, situations, and relationships when I have more characters to mix together. It’s not just about making the writing easier for me; I find there’s more opportunity to look at feelings and stories from a different perspective this way.

I have also been something of a self-imposed loner most of my life, but I don’t think that’s my natural state. Creating these groups of people who are tied to one another, both in Towerkind and in Meat and Bone, is my own way of writing an ideal world. I like to see people accepting that they need one another.

What’s your favourite part of the cartooning process?

I love writing when I get into a good streak; it’s very relaxing. This is the most therapeutic part of making a story, to me. I write in prose and then reverse-engineer it to work for comics. It’s very loose and gives me a lot of freedom on the page to draw how and what I like, and improvise as needed.

It’s inking that really gives me the deepest satisfaction. This was always the most intimidating step when I was learning, and it’s where the most mistakes used to happen – I still work on paper. I’m at a point where my work looks exactly how I want it to most of the time after the first pass. I have a rule against re-dos. No redrawing pages.

Drawing takes a lot of thinking, colouring feels like working an assembly line, but inking is just pure joy and play.

Towerkind and Meat and Bone are both serialized webcomics. Did you plot them out as you were creating them? Or did you just go with the flow?

My approach to Meat and Bone has been very start-and-stop and disorganized. I sketched an outline with a bulleted list and a few character arcs based many of my own experiences, and ideas I wanted to express about body image. Then I got to work.

Initially I was writing and drawing it serially, like a newsprint comic or ongoing floppy series with no end in sight. I was sometimes writing arcs in Meat and Bone as I was putting them online! It was incredibly stressful and I would write myself into corners.

It was after putting more than a year of Meat and Bone online that I started Towerkind, eventually putting the webcomic on hold so I could finish my mini graphic novel (initially offered as a mail order subscription). Towerkind was an exercise in keeping a deadline, 12 pages every month for a year (and one bonus issue). I planned Towerkind so each character had a book, then their stories jumbled, then the story ended. I wrote it as I went for a couple issues, then wrote it all. The structure helped me work more consistently.

I picked Meat and Bone back up and decided to make it a story with a set ending, having decided the indeterminate length of an ongoing series felt oppressive to me. I like endings. After Conundrum picked up Towerkind, I dove into writing Meat and Bone with a plan and a fever and pulled myself ahead, finishing the script in a few months. A lot of stuff got cut so that I could wrap it up (there’s a whole wedding that didn’t happen!). In the future, I don’t plan to work without at least a first draft script. It’s much easier to put in callbacks and easter eggs that way, too.

Despite my lack of planning in the early years, I’m really grateful to Kat of the past for jumping right in and getting to it. Maybe if I had stopped to think more seriously about what I was committing to, I would have thought twice.

Who is your favourite character and why?

Impossible to answer! All of them bring something to the table, and I don’t have a single standout. This goes back to my propensity for working with an ensemble cast. They’re all part of the whole.

I do think that Jane, Marshall, and Ryan are the most full of life, and I never struggled to write them. They speak for themselves. I know who they are and how they will act.

Some characters are more fun to draw, either having ample curves and angles, or wicked fashions to keep me entertained. Others have sharp wits, and are a challenge and thrill to write. Some characters exist just to serve a purpose or plot, but I try to give even them a strong spark of life.

What inspired you to create Meat and Bone?

I started Meat and Bone in 2014 after running a popular illustrated restaurant review blog, which I decided to end for a few reasons, including what felt like at the time, a relapse of my eating disorder. I was still fresh out of university, and itching for a project. I had never read a comic that tried to look directly at women’s feelings about their bodies outside of tumblr autobio’s. I thought it was a story worth telling.

Where do you do your best drawing?

I spent most of the last few years moving around a lot, so I don’t have anything like that. I worked up a pretty good portable setup so I could work anywhere. I did spend a LOT of time at cafes, and in Toronto my favourites were The Holy Oak and Scout & Cash.

What’s next for you?

Man, I’m going on vacation.

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