Intro: We spoke with Kathleen Gros, writer and illustrator of Last Night at Wyrmwood High. We discuss high school pranks, thematic motifs in her work and the intricacies of lettering for print versus web.
Modular: So, tell us a little bit about how you got started in comics.
Kathleen Gros: Yeah, it was like a very do it yourself DIY sort of way that I got into comics. I was always reading them growing up. And then, when I was in high school, they had like a zine club. So I kind of dabbled in making zines and going to zine fairs and making comics for that. And then, I moved out to Vancouver to pursue post secondary education. I went to Emily Carr. I knew that illustration was kind of like adjacent to comics so I wanted to study that at school. While I was at school, I was always trying to make comics and make my assignments sort of work for my interests. And I was posting my work online and still going to zine fairs and stuff like that. And then I wound up meeting up with the folks at Cloudscape. Way back when they were a lot smaller than they are now. I met someone who was involved with them at a zine fair. And they were like “Oh, you should come. We just like, hang out at this coffee shop on Wednesdays.” And like, I didn't really have any friends in the city. Because I just moved. So I was like, “Okay, sure.” And they have sort of been stuck with me ever since. *laughs* But then, I was making my own comics and I wound up making this longer comic that I was putting online as a webcomic, which was Last Night at Wyrmwood High. When the comic concluded as a webcomic, they were looking into publishing sort of single creator works. Previously they had been only publishing anthologies. And they said “Hey, we know you finished this comic. Can we publish it?” And I was like “Yeah, sure. That works for me. I don't want to figure out all that printing stuff.” *laughs*
Modular: What was the difference in your experience when you were publishing it as a webcomic versus when Cloudscape was publishing it as a volume?
KG: I think the big change from like having it online to physical is that I re-lettered the whole book. Because when you're working online, you want to letter your comics like really big because, on a screen, the smaller something is, the harder it is to see. It can be the same size on the screen as in print. But fine detail just gets lost on the screen. So when I letter online, and because I came up through doing like web comics and stuff, my inclination was always just to letter like as big as possible. And then when I was working with Jonathan Dalton, who was my editor at Cloudscape, he was like “Would you be open to re-lettering this book? You lettered it really big, which works for online, but it just doesn't really work for print as well. It looks almost like comically large.” So yeah, I went through and like re-lettered the whole thing about like, half the size of the letters. And that was back when I was hand lettering my books.
Pictured: Pages from Last Night at Wyrmwood High
Modular: How did this story speak to you personally?
KG: I honestly made it because I wanted to have a good time. I had these sort of like monster characters and I just wanted to do something with them. And then, I don't know, I was thinking about this recently. I think a motif that comes up a lot in my work is apologies. And like working through either seeking or finding or giving forgiveness. So, I was thinking back and I was like “Oh, I feel like it maybe started with Wyrmwood High.” I feel like it's the first book where I really started like exploring this theme. Because I think it's very interesting, in life, where we do and don't get the forgiveness we want necessarily. Or, you know, aren't asked for forgiveness in the way that we want.
Modular: Was there anything about the pranks in the story that you connected to? Did you do a lot of pranks when you were in High School?
KG: Yeah, so, I don't like pranks in practice. I think they really only work as like a literary device. That being said, I live with a roommate and during the pandemic, we've had to sort of make our own fun. So, we hide drawings around our apartment of this character we made up that are just hidden in really weird spots. *laughs* The character's name is Sean. So like, daily, we’ll be like “Did you meet Sean today?” So that's like, you know, very stupid, just like silly drawings taped to the bottom of tables or like hidden in the back of the pantry. But yeah, there were definitely some pranks when I was in high school. But they're all like kind of stupid. I think it was the year before I got there. Somebody did actually do the classic high school prank where you release three animals, but you call them one, two and four. So, then they're always looking for like four animals but they were only three. I think someone did that with chickens. And that always kind of stuck in my head. It's just like a really silly thing to do. And I was like “Oh, it would be really funny if there was a high school where like, no matter what prank you tried to do, it always just ended up the same. That was just like a curse that was placed.”
“I think a motif that comes up a lot in my work is apologies. And like working through either seeking or finding or giving forgiveness.”
Modular: I love that you didn't spend too much time trying to like explain this world. As a reader, you kind of just accept it as this fantastical world. Was there any point where you started to think “Should I explain this more?”
KG: It was a very conscious decision not to do that because I don't really like a lot of exposition. And I generally find it more interesting to just like leave things be. The reader will accept them as they are. I mean, not everyone's like this, but when I'm reading something, I'm happy to have a bit of mystery. I don't need to like figure out all the details and everything behind something. But you know, I certainly had, in my own mind, a bunch of ideas about how the world worked. Where it was like, okay, this can inform me writing this story but the reader doesn't really need to know it to enjoy it. One of those things was with the coloring of the book. It's a limited palette. So, I use purple and brown. That's sort of the main colors. And then there's yellow and green as accent colors. And the way I decided to do that was yellow and green indicates something magic. Or like magic happening in the story. That's something that informed how the world was built.
Modular: Were there any key influences when you were starting to make this book?
KG: Yeah. Nothing like super strong. I'm trying to think cause I started working in a limited palette, but I can't remember who like influenced me to do that. Honestly, it's because I was really scared of working in full color. Because, with full color, you have too many choices. And if something's off, you can't always tell why it's wrong. It just looks wrong. But with a limited palette, you've chosen like four colors. And if the four colors work together, they work together. But one comic that I've always really enjoyed that I think Wyrmwood High is maybe a little bit of an homage to is this run of Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics. I think it was from the late 90s/early 2000s where style changes drastically and she has kind of like pointy hair and she goes and lives in like monster town or something for a while. So, she's no longer in Riverdale. She's in this like alternate dimension where everyone's a monster and her best friend is named Eye-da and she has a giant like eyeball forehead. And I always just thought that was like so charming and fun. I always loved Archie Comics. That sort of like playfulness. I guess it’s sort of a little bit tonally where Wyrmwood High came from.
“…I certainly had, in my own mind, a bunch of ideas about how the world worked. Where it was like, okay, this can inform me writing this story but the reader doesn't really need to know it to enjoy it.”
Modular: So is Is there anything that you're working on now or anything that you're about to put out?
KG: Yeah. So, I just had my first graphic novel with a like major publisher come out last year. So that was Jo, an adaptation of Little Women sort of, which is like a modern day reinterpretation of the classic American novel. And then I'm just finishing up part of the process for another graphic novel with HarperCollins. Which we don't have the title yet but it's been announced. It’s a modern adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. A very loose adaptation.
Modular: What are you reading right now?
KG: I just finished the Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine. I thought that was really good. And then I'm reading a couple novels right now. I just started the second book in the Trickster series by Eden Robinson. It’s sort of like Indigenous fantasy. Kind of supernatural. It's about this kid in high school and sort of like weird, magical things are happening around them. And it's set in British Columbia, which is really fun to read. And then I'm also reading—I’m always reading like three books at the same time—Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, which is sort of like a queer, young adulthood—as in early 20s—sort of novel. Really phenomenal. Also Canadian, it's sort of set in the Prairies and in Winnipeg.
Download Last Night at Wyrmwood High here.