‘Be Prepared’ — a Q&A with graphic novelist Vera Brosgol

“Be Prepared” graphic novel by Vera Brosgol. Courtesy image.

“Be Prepared” graphic novel by Vera Brosgol. Courtesy image.

Mini-Con brings together many talented artists, and this year, Vera Brosgol comes with her latest graphic novel “Be Prepared,” which released on April 24.

It’s Brosgol’s third book, her others being the Eisner, Harvey and Cybils award winning graphic novel “Anya’s Ghost” and picture book “Leave Me Alone!” which won the 2017 Caldecott Honor Award. Born in Moscow in 1984, Brosgol came to the U.S. when she was five years old. She studied animation in college and storyboarded for Laika on films “Coralina,” “Paranorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” as well as for Cartoon Network and other projects. Currently she resides in Portland where she pursues drawing books full-time.

“Be Prepared” is a semi-autobiographical story centered on nine-year-old Vera who struggles to connect with children in her neighborhood due to social and economic differences, and so decides she wants to attend a Russian summer camp to meet kids like her. She imagines beautiful friendships and adventures, but what she gets is a possibly rabid chipmunk and loneliness.

Pat Race, co-owner of the Alaska Robotics Gallery and one of Mini-Con’s founders, described the book as a “great biography.”

“… I think it will help to encourage kids who are struggling in navigating their own social anxieties and bumps in the road. Growing up is tough and this is the kind of supportive book a lot of kids will gravitate towards. It’s just the right balance of authentic, funny, weird, and gross. Everything you want in a good friend,” he said.

The Capital City Weekly was able to catch Brosgol before she arrived in Juneau for the convention to ask about “Be Prepared.”

Clara Miller: What was your initial vision for “Be Prepared”? How did it compare to the final version?

Vera Brosgol: It’s pretty close to what I had in my pitch. A few structural things changed — in the original draft I capture the boys’ flag and THEN meet Kira. It made way more sense to reverse those things, so the flag victory is also a reward for making a friend. It’s also a good, more satisfying climax. Exciting I know, but it made a big difference.

CM: Did the process of creating the book make you consider your childhood camp experience in a new light?

VB: Nope. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it any more after reliving it! I’ve been complaining about this camp for 25 years and now I can just hand people a book.

CM: If you could go back and give your nine-year-old self advice before she went to camp, what would it be?

VB: Don’t even get in the car. Or, if you have to get in the car, keep your mitts off the chipmunks once you get there.

CM: The story deals a lot with being on the outside looking in, from Vera as a Russian-American at a sleepover with children of a different socioeconomic background, to her being surrounded by children of a similar background at camp and still feeling like an outsider for much of the book. Can you speak to the act of finding community and making meaningful connections?

VB: There’s a theme running through the book of circles — being outside of them and wanting in, being inside and wanting out, and making your own circle where you are. As a kid all I wanted was to get in. It took a while (embarrassingly long!) to work out that that is not the magical solution to loneliness — that the people in that circle need to be the RIGHT people, not just anyone that will have you.

CM: What was the thought process behind the title?

“Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts, which the Russian camp I attended is based on. My camp’s motto is just a straight translation of that. I thought it would be funny to slap that title on a book about a kid who has no idea what they’re doing. It also describes what my rough camp experience did to me — it helped me be stronger for the hardships to come, as all bad times do.

CM: The ending of the book leaves open the possibility for a sequel. Do you have a follow-up project in the works or do you have a different idea brewing?

VB: I have a different graphic novel idea that I’m pretty excited about, as well as another picture book. If “Be Prepared” ever gets a sequel it won’t be for a while, though I do know how I’d tackle it.

CM: To anyone hoping to create graphic novels as a career, would you have any advice to pass on?

VB: Make some webcomics and print minicomics, and bring them to comic conventions! That’s how I first got my work published, and everything since has been building on that foundation. And make some friends! A little ironic given this book, but my comics friends from when I was young have been so important to my career, as we’ve all grown together into working authors. It’s really nice to have people who understand what you’re excited about.

The book will be available through Indiebound, Amazon, Mini-Con, and local bookstores. Learn more about Brosgol at www.verabee.com.

• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly managing editor. She can be reached at cmiller@capweek.com.

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