Random House Graphic is introducing American readers to Aster and the Accidental Magic, a story by writer Thom Pico and artist Karensac that explores themes of family and relationships while taking young Aster on an adventure through a mysterious new land.
Based on an idea first conceived by architect-turned-comic-book-artist Karensac, the story of Aster and the Accidental Magic was first published as Aubépine in France. Random House Graphic is adapting it into English, making some modifications for young American audiences and collecting the multiple French stories into two volumes.
This first volume is being released this week, and Newsarama talked to Karensac and Pico to find out more about how they came together to create Aster’s world and what readers can expect from this new release of Aster and the Accidental Magic.
Newsarama: Thom and Karensac, what inspired the story? How did you come up with the idea for this world and the character of Aster?
Thom Pico: With the first part of the story and the creation of Aster's world, Karensac came to me and we worked on this together. She gave me most of the elements, and I put those together into a story. I just followed her instructions (except for the ending).
Then, for the second part of the story, we developed the plot and the lore of Aster's universe together equally.
Karensac: As Thom explains, I went to him with the idea for the first story. Since then, our roles have balanced each other out. We discuss the stories we want to make for a long time, and he puts them all together. I’ll send him characters and other visual elements so that he can integrate them into the story.
Nrama: How would you describe the world you and Thom created for Aster and the Accidental Magic?
Karensac: I’d say it's a world full of life and surprises. When we think about a story, we always try to integrate new elements so that readers are never bored. It also gives the impression that Aster’s mountain still has a lot of secrets to reveal.
When I draw the boards, I always try to integrate small elements in the background, like little stories. I want to give the impression that there’s a living world even outside the main story.
Nrama: What happens in Aster’s life to begin the story?
Pico: Before the graphic novel opens, Aster left her house in the city, her friends, and everything she knew to move to a house in the remote mountains. That's already a little traumatic. And then her brother, who she's very attached to, isn’t staying around. So it’s understandable that she’s not very inclined to consider the mountain as a welcoming place, and anyone in her situation would feel similarly. Fortunately, her father encourages her to explore her new home, which is the beginning of many adventures.
Nrama: How would you describe Aster herself?
Pico: Aster's impetuous and sometimes thoughtless, but she’s still generous, and she’ll learn to think before she acts through her adventures. She's a bit of a mixture of my personality and of my sister’s from back when we were children.
Nrama: Karensac, what are your artistic influences?
Karensac: I have a lot of them: Hayao Miyazaki’s Japanese animation and Franco-Belgian comics are big ones, but the one that impressed me the most is Adventure Time. It's really the thing that inspired me to write and draw for young people, and which opened the way to a plethora of amazing cartoons, each one more brilliant than the other, like Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, Gumball. Liking those brought Thom Pico and I together and pushed us to collaborate.
Nrama: Do you work exclusively on digital? What program do you use, and what hardware/equipment?
Karensac: I always start with a storyboard on paper to get an overview of the book, and then I quickly switch to the computer. I work on photoshop with a Cintiq. This allows me to be quick, and also to come back to my boards throughout the creative process.
In the first story, my way of drawing the mountain evolved a lot between the first and the last page, so it's very handy to be able to go back and redraw the mountain in the background from the beginning. It takes a lot of time and energy, but I think the result is worth it!
Nrama: What was the biggest challenge about portraying Aster’s world and how did you work through those challenges?
Karensac: There are several, but in terms of art the hardest for me was the buildings. Even though I'm an architect, I have a lot of trouble with perspective. So I modeled the whole village of Aster in 3D to help me draw.
There was also the decision to make one season per story: I was a bit afraid about having to completely rework the colors and atmospheres of the mountain each season, but in the end it was a pleasure to think about all these different color palettes. It also allows each story to have a strong visual identity, which gives life to the mountain.
Nrama: Thom, this story touches upon a lot of relatable elements of youth. How would you describe the themes you’re exploring via Aster’s story?
Pico: There are a lot of themes. Family is quite important: each story highlights a family member as a secondary character, allowing us to explore themes about lies, sibling relationships, and parenthood. We explore ways of showing and talking about affection a lot.
Buzz, Aster's dog, serves as a bit of a guide at the beginning to explore these themes, but Aster will gradually develop her own thoughts.
There’s also an underlying message about how to resolve conflicts by talking rather than fighting, and about judging by appearances.
Nrama: Any final thoughts you want to share?
Pico: When Karensac asked me to help her, I was overjoyed. I love her style and our common references allowed us to work in total symbiosis. I've always dreamed of making comics, and this was the perfect opportunity. I think I did the right thing, because I discovered I love doing this.