Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with Barry Deutsch, author of HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA MET A METEORITE

We are pleased to welcome back to the Inkpot Barry Deutsch, who has the distinction of being the first graphic novelist ever featured on the Inkpot! The first book in his Hereville series, How Mirka Got Her Sword, was featured here in 2010. Today Barry is back to talk about the just-released sequel, How Mirka Met a Meteorite.

Hi, Barry, and welcome back! The second Hereville book was fantastic, both similar to and different to the first. One minor thing I noticed in this book that wasn’t in the first – cars! Back when I interviewed you about the first Hereville book, you told me you didn’t enjoy drawing cars; what changed?

You've got sharp eyes!

I still don't enjoy drawing cars, but I grit my teeth and drew a few this time (although only a few!), and I'm happy with how they came out. The panel on page 12 with the VW bug in the background probably took me longer to draw than any other panel in the book. (Not just because of the bug, but because of all the houses. I had originally laid out this sequence in the woods, but a cartoonist friend of mine, Mathew Bogart, pointed out that I was cheating the reader by not showing Mirka's neighborhood.)

I decided to include cars this time, even though I don't like drawing them, because I wanted to give readers another hint that Hereville takes place in the modern day. Even though there's some modern technology in book one, a lot of readers came away with the impression that Hereville was set in the 19th century or even earlier. I don't mind that for these early stories -- it's good if Hereville has sort of a timeless feeling -- but eventually the outside, modern world is going to intrude on Mirka's life, and I don't want readers to feel that I've yanked the rug out from under them.
Also new for this book, you’re collaborating with another cartoonist, Tina Kim, who is drawing some of the backgrounds. How did that come about and how has it changed your working process?

To be honest, I asked Tina to join in so I could meet the publication deadline. The cartoonist Steve Lieber, who is sort of the hub of Portland cartooning, recommended Tina to me, and as soon as I saw her work I could see why.

Most of the backgrounds I drew, but on about 35 pages Tina did the backgrounds. For the pages Tina and I worked on together, I would draw all the characters and word balloons to completion, and then send Tina the page along with some notes about what I imagined the scenery was like. Sometimes I'd also tell her about specifically Jewish elements to include (like mezuzahs).

Tina would then send me back the pages with backgrounds she made up roughly drawn in, I'd let her know if there was anything I thought needed changing (there usually wasn't), and then she'd finish the page.

Right at the start of our working together, Tina sent me a sample drawing of woods, and I spent an enjoyable hour figuring out a five-step plan for converting Tina backgrounds into Barry-like backgrounds. :-)

The nice thing about working with Tina, aside from her considerable drawing chops, is that she's a real cartoonist with a good storytelling sense. For instance, for a scene where Mirka walked into an alleyway, Tina went a page or two back and showed that the characters were approaching the mouth of the alley; she's thinking of making the story work, not just making individual drawings that look nice.

The funny thing about all this collaboration with Tina is that I still haven't met her! I'm not even sure what city she lives in! We just work and communicate across the internet.  

I also noticed that there were fewer footnotes this time around. Was that a deliberate decision?

No, not deliberate at all. I hadn't even noticed that before you asked me.

I guess it just turned out that way. For what it's worth, I had much better Yiddish advisers this time around, and so I think the Yiddish is of higher quality than it was in the first book. Although my favorite bit of Yiddish in this book is one I found myself -- the sound effect "zetz," which means "pow!" 

Did you do any additional research for this book (i.e. into Orthodox Jewish life, or the secret lives of meteors…?)

Oh, definitely. There's always new research to be done, new books to be read, and it's one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. (Is this a job?)

After the first Hereville book came out, I read a review which mentioned that I had obviously been influenced by Ayala Fader's book Mitzvah Girls. And I had never even heard of it! But because of that review, I bought a copy, and it was really excellent, full of useful information. 

But now let’s talk about some things that are the same: Yarn & knitting still play a large part in the plot, Shabbos plays a central role, Mirka has a very non-evil stepmother and visions of her mother help her out when all seems lost. Are those themes you see continuing throughout the series?

(In this case, it wasn't so much visions of her mother, as it was visions of her great-great-great grandmother.)

Goodness, that's a lot to cover!

Yarn and knitting aren't something that I see continuing throughout the series. To tell you the truth, I hadn't even intended to include yarn and knitting in this book - I worry that if yarn is always included in the plot, that will seem gimmicky. But then one day, lying in bed, the ending and opening of the book came n a flash, knitting and all, and I couldn't not do it.

I think of Shabbos in Hereville sort of like Quidditch in the Harry Potter novels - this pattern of taking a break from the main story so we can do something else for a bit. I don't know if every Hereville book will have a Shabbos sequence (although maybe), but I hope that every Hereville book will show living a Jewish life as integral to the main character, while still keeping things fun and non-preachy.

Mirka is a character who carries scars from the loss of her mother when she was terribly young. In the first Hereville book, I wanted to show those scars, but I also wanted to show how the memory of her mother could bring Mirka solace as well as pain. In the second book, I tried to show how Mirka's ancestry could be a source of strength, but in this case it was a more distant, conversational encounter, not the heart-wrenching encounter we saw in book one, because of course Mirka's great-great-great grandmother isn't as close to her heart as her mother is.

I don't specifically plan these things out -- "Oh, Mirka has to have a vision of a female ancestor on page 100," or anything like that. But these are things that fascinate me -- the way that who we are is mixed up with who our ancestors were, and how a girl like Mirka continues to define herself partly in relationship to a mother who passed away years ago. So I'm sure I'll be touching on those themes again, whether I intend to or not. I'll try not to repeat myself too much.

And as for Fruma, yes! Fruma is also Mirka's mother, and I really wanted to do a stepmother-daughter relationship that, for all that it gets rocky, is based in love. The relationship between Fruma and Mirka is, for me, an essential part of Hereville, and I'm sure I'll go there again and again.

In one of my favorite sequences, Mirka’s stepmother says, “Oh, good. Adolescence.” Does that signify what’s ahead for Mirka?  (You can basically read this question as: give us a hint of what’s to come, please!)

That's such a great line, and it's not even mine! My friend Rachel Swirsky (who is a great writer) suggested that Fruma say that.

Assuming I get to keep doing this for a living - and what a lucky boy that would make me! -- we will definitely see Mirka get older; we'll see Mirka as a teenager, and Mirka as a young adult. But we're first going to have one more book set when Mirka's 11 years old.

Thanks, Barry – I’m looking forward to it!

You can read more about Hereville at its website:


  1. Hooray! I hadn't realized there was a new Hereville on the way. I adored the first one and am looking forward to this one, especially now that I've heard these tidbits. Thank you Leah and Barry!

  2. This sounds terrific! Off to look for it - and the first Hereville, too, which I did not know about. Thanks, Barry and Leah!

  3. I loved the first HEREVILLE tale so very much--I can't wait to read this new story about Mirka! Thank you for this interview, Leah and Barry!

  4. I love these books and got them for a birthday present...but then agreed to share them with my daughter, who loved them! A large portion of my family is Orthodox and so I was delighted that I had an adventuress to share with my cousins who are also strong, loving girls! Thank you for writing these!


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