|friends try to cope with this sudden event, they discover that the Artifact has vanished, leaving them alone under an alien sky. Their exploration of this new world and struggle to discover a way to get home is the basis of the story."
Stargazer is a classic all-ages adventure in the same way that Huckleberry Finn is an-all ages adventure--that is, it deals with sophisticated themes in a story that's accessible to all. How tough is it to find a creative balance for a project this ambitious? "One of the things I believe very strongly is that children are inexperienced but they aren't dumb," Von said. "With that in mind, I wanted to tell a story that clearly shows that Marni and her two best friends Sophie and Elora, have unique personalities, worries, and dreams; they're just very young.
"The real challenge was making sure the girls were believable, and the script went through a number of revisions as I tried very hard to make sure that they acted like kids and weren't 'wise beyond their years.' I didn't want them to be too self-aware or too cynical.
"One thing I kept in mind while writing and drawing the book was something fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay said (though I'll paraphrase for brevity): Do interesting things happen to characters we care about? In a nutshell, it's exactly what I was trying to do; I want my readers to care about what happens to the three main characters and, if I've done my job right, that's what I've accomplished."
That friendship between Marni, Sophie, and Elora that is an integral part of the
| storyand in fact, the enduring power of friendship is a central theme of Stargazer. What led Von to make this a sort of "team adventure" rather than a solo tale of a girl lost in a strange world? "I think friendship is, at its heart, about equalssomething that is especially true for children," Von said. "Being able to talk openly, share secrets and private thoughts, and just be yourself is something that's difficult for a kid to do with an adult.
"When I wrote the Stargazer script, I drew on my own memories a lot; when I was young, adults often scared me and I didn't
| feel all that comfortable with many of them. I did, however, feel very comfortable with my friendsand that's a feeling I wanted to capture with Marni, Elora and Sophie. Love, compassion, patience and understanding; those, to me, define friendship and help get us through the difficult times, as children and as adults. I wanted the power of friendship to be a central theme of Stargazer and I'm really glad that comes through!"
Stargazer's trio of friends are young girls who find themselves far, far away from homeand it's clear from the very beginning that Von Allan is writing about young girls, not just genderless literary cyphers who happen to have female names. What led to the decision to make the book's stars young girls rather than young boys? "Mainly because I don't see stories that focused on young girls done enough in comics," Von replied. "To be fair, there aren't really all that many stories about younger boys either, but when I was looking around at the various comics on the stands, girls just don't seem to be properly represented and I think that's a mistake. I believe very strongly that the medium needs a diverse range of materials covering a wide variety in subject matter and I think this is especially true for younger readers; if we can get kids to connect with comics early, they'll love the medium for life. And that's good for everyone.
"While I was brainstorming the story, I happened across some early concept art by Marc Swayze, the co-creator of Mary Marvel back in the early 1940s. His version depicted a younger character, something that unfortunately changed fairly rapidly. That
|initial concept art, though, combined with a truly lovely cover he drew for Captain Marvel Adventures #19 (cover dated January 1, 1943) became a key influence in the feel that I wanted for Stargazer.
"At around the same time, I finally saw the anime of Kiki's Delivery Service. So Swayze's work, along with Miyazaki's work on Kiki's, were the biggest emotional influences for me. Not from a story point of view, since I think Stargazer is quite differentbut rather from a conceptual point of view. Those stories proved
|to me that a book about girls can work if the girls are believable enough. And it can be read and enjoyed by people of all ages."
While readers might find moments in Stargazer evocative of such childhood favorites as The Boxcar Children or Peter Pan, Von doesn't use those stories as literary models. "I don't really think of any stories that I loved from my own childhood as a direct influence on Stargazer, but there are probably subconscious influences there that I may not be aware of!
"More broadly, though, I feel that in many ways friendship and helping one another is what life is all about. I had a rough childhood: I was an only child, a welfare kid, and I was pretty introverted. What helped me cope more than anything else were my friends and the ability to escape into the world of comics, fantasy and science fiction. I mean, we were kids so we weren't having gigantic 'heart to heart' talks or anything, but we were there for each other on the good and bad days, even if that was as simple as hanging out or wandering over to the comic shop. As I said earlier, and as you took away from the book too, I think the importance of friendship, more than anything else, is probably the key influence on Stargazer."
While some creators prefer to serialize their tales, Stargazer is the second original graphic novel Von has produced. What led him to take the graphic novel approach rather than publishing the story in installments that are subsequently collected in graphic novel form? "There are a few explanations for my decision. First, as a relatively new writer/artist, I was nervous
|about whether I could deliver on a monthly schedule on only my second project. I love monthly comics, but I believe that the creators producing them have a very strong obligation to deliver comics to their fans and retail partners in a timely fashion. If you look into the mirror and question your ability to do that at all, then I think you have an obligation to both your fans and to retailers to find another way to deliver the work. It's only fair.
"And on a personal level, I knew I still needed to grow as an artist. Comics are a challenging medium and there a number of disparate elements that you need to master (figure drawing, perspective, light and shadow, etc...) to make a book work. Not to mention basic storytelling! You can have a beautifully illustrated page, but if it doesn't tell the story and immerse the reader, then it's a failure.
"That said, I'm highly driven and motivated and, now that I have two books under my belt (with the third in the works), I am interested in pursuing a monthly book down the road; I think I have the skills, experience, and credibility to do it. There's a risk of course, and I would want to have copies in the bag months ahead to avoid any disasters but... I guess we'll see!"
How long did it take to complete Stargazer??"Art-wise, it took a little less than a year, though the script was written before that. If Stargazer had been a periodical, that would have meant it would have been a bi-monthly book. Interestingly, I'm now faster, completing a fully inked pagein about a day. There's a growth curve and a learning curve and I'm very pleased
with where I'm at now, especially considering where I used to be."
There's plenty of room for further tales of Marni, Sophie, and Elora; are sequels to Stargazer in the works? "There will be at least one more for sure,"?Von said. "The script is done and I'm already hard at work on the pages for Volume 2. I'm aiming for a late spring/early summer 2011 release and things are right on schedule.
" There is a way to do a third volume and continue the story, but it'll partially depend on the market. If the numbers are there, then I'd love to continue it. If not, then I'm pretty pragmatic and I'll work on something else instead. That said, Volume 2 will be coming out no matter what."
Readers can join Marni and her friends in January 2011, when Stargazer, a $14.95 graphic novel written and illustrated by Von Allen, is scheduled for release. To find a comic shop near you, try the Comic Book Locator Service.
by Cliff Biggers
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When You Wish Upon a Star
| Move over, Wendy and Dorothy and Akiko and Alicethere's another adventurous young girl joining your ranks this winter, courtesy of creator Von Allan.
Stargazer is Von's second graphic novel, following up on 2009's The road to god knows... Once again, the writer/artist focuses on a female protagonistbut where his first novel's central character was a teenage girl, "Stargazer is the story of a young girl named Marni, a mysterious Artifact, friendship, and adventure," Von said. "The book starts with the death of Marni's grandmother, someone who was a big part of her life and instrumental in the development of Marni's vivid sense of imagination and love of adventure. Granny and granddaughter were very close, and the opening pages of the book show Marni's attempts to deal with her loss.
"In the aftermath of the funeral, Marni discovers that her grandmother has left her a treasure, an Artifact that was initially found when the grandmother herself was a child. This Artifact was a big part of Marni's childhood as her granny shared it with her and the two spent long hours together coming up with stories to explain the Artifact's origins.
"Inheriting the Artifact is a bittersweet thing for Marni since it reinforces the loss of her grandmother. While Marni and her two friends are examining the Artifact one night while on a backyard camping trip, the object suddenly takes on a life of its own, transporting the three girls to a strange and distant world. As the