Phantom Twin Cover Reveal and an Interview with the Incomparable Lisa Brown
I don’t truck with YA. Not my bag, baby. But, of course, it’s so difficult to determine where a book falls on the Middle Grade/Young Adult spectrum. That’s why, when I hear that Lisa Brown, one of my favorite people, is doing a graphic novel, I drop everything and pepper her with questions. I’d hold back but darned if her answers aren’t so good . . .
Betsy Bird: Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). As far as I can ascertain you are publishing your first GN with First Second (also, a very good place to start). And while your previous books for kids have had comic elements to them, you’ve never gone whole hog before. Was there a particular impetus now? Or was this just something you’d been meaning to do for a while?
Lisa Brown: You ascertained correctly. It’s my first graphic novel, and my first time working with the incredible Calista Brill and team at First Second. I’m not new to comics, though. I started my illustration “career” drawing a bi-weekly (or is that semi-weekly? I can never remember. Anyways, twice a week) comic strip for my college newspaper. It was about some students hanging out on campus and nothing really ever happening to them. On purpose. Nothing happened, on purpose.
Since then I’ve drawn a number of shorter comics for web and anthologies, including for the, ahem, hilarious Funny Girl edited by one Betsy Bird. I also drew a regular strip for the San Francisco Chronicle where I summed up classic and popular novels in a three-panel format.
However I’ve never done something quite this long. Ever. I did create some comics for The Rumpus literary website years ago that explored similar characters and setting as in The Phantom Twin, but 200 pages is a really big change for someone used to a 40-page picture book. Who is someone like me.
BB: Can you give us a rough idea of the plot?
LB: Our hero, Isabel Peabody, is one half of a conjoined twin and a performer in a carnival sideshow. Her other half, Jane, is eager to separate. So when a doctor says it can be done, Jane convinces Isabel to undergo surgery. The operation fails, Jane dies, and Isabel is alone for the first time in her life.
Except that she isn’t—Jane is now a ghost, haunting her twin sister.
Isabel, distraught and disoriented, returns to the carnival, the only place she has ever known, and to the performers of the sideshow, the only family she has ever known. But now she needs to figure out how to fit herself back into her former life. And if not into the life of the sideshow, then where? And will Jane ever let Isabel get close to anyone else but her?
I did so much fascinating research into the culture of sideshows of the early 20th century and the incredible performers who worked there in order to create this book. The characters in The Phantom Twin are the heart of story, from the conjoined twins to the tattooed lady to the alligator-skinned man. Every one of them is based, at least in part, on a real historical figure. And these real people were tragic, beautiful, brave, successful, and horrible, occasionally all at the same time.
BB: So what age range would you aim this towards?
LB: It started out for no age whatsoever. I assumed it would be for morbid gothy teens and the adults they would become. We tilted it a little more towards older MG, because my characters and colors seemed to call for a little younger point of view. A book like this would have spoken to my preteen self, absolutely.
BB: This will strike some folks as completely out of the left field, but does the book have any connection, however tangentially, with Amanda Palmer’s Evelyn Evelyn?
LB: I’ve been writing this story in my head and heart for years and years and so deliberately didn’t read Evelyn Evelyn so as not to be influenced. But EvEv’s artist, Cynthia Von Buhler, is a brilliant talent and we are sisters in the off-kilter and macabre. She once sent me a present of a cookie cutter in the shape of conjoined twins.
BB: Finally, what else do you have coming out, whether it be for adults, kids, or teens?
LB: Those comic strips about classic and popular novels I mentioned? Well, one hundred of them are being collected in a book to be published in the spring of 2020, titled Long Story Short. It’s for adults, ostensibly, but it’s really for anyone who might find themselves nodding off over a long classic tome or putting their head down on their desk during high school English class. I read the books so my readers don’t have to. All they have to handle is a three-panel comic.
Many thanks to Lisa and the good folks at First Second for entertaining my nosy questions. And now, of course, the reveal . . .
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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