Thursday night was the launch party of the first issue of Fence, a new comic series by Australian author C.S. Pacat (Captive Prince series), and Mexican illustrator Johanna the Mad. The party was held at All Stars Comics in Melbourne and it was an absolutely amazing night! We had cake, cupcakes with all the characters faces on them, champagne, and a chance to ask C.S. Pacat questions about her new series. There was also an actual fencer there (in uniform), and Jay Kristoff, author of the Nevernight Chronicles, was there supporting C.S. (I was too shy to approach him though ☺️).
Before I get into the information from the Q&A, here’s a bunch of pictures I took during the night (and those keen fans will notice that C.S. is dressed up in an Exton uniform!!)
Info from the Q&A:
C.S. talked about the writing and creative process of comic books, gave little hints about characters and the plot, and spoke candidly about her own experiences with fencing and high school and how it shaped the comic series.
C.S. fenced in high school – foil for a year, and then she moved onto epee.
C.S. received a scholarship for a really elite school in high school, so Nicholas’ backstory in Fence is written from her own personal history and experience.
Love of sports comics in general
She is a huge fan of sports manga, ever since Slam Dunk. She watched the genre evolve from ‘big ugly guys to beautiful guys’, and she wanted to try the competitive drama of a sports series.
She spoke about how the hallmark of sports manga is the decompression of action. However, there is a problem with fencing: it’s a difficult spectator sport because of how fast it is – you can’t even see the blade sometimes. That’s the good thing about sports comics – it slows the action down so the reader can see everything.
As she has been a fan of sports comics since the 90s, C.S. said that the comics reiterated what was true in that world: high testosterone/hyper masculine sports which was reflected in comics. There was no room for queerness, and sports, and sports comics, were not inclusive. Then, we saw an evolution in Japanese manga through an interaction with fan communities. She explained that if something is repressed in a space, a fan community will take what has been repressed and celebrate it. The market slowly caught on and now we see an inclusion of queer and gender non-conforming people in comics. However, the Western versions still haven’t quite caught on – Yuri on Ice!!! was the first breakthrough series. She said it means a lot to her that people can see themselves in a space they’ve never seen themselves before. She wants to take male-dominated spaces and open it up as much as she can, so different types of people can have a hero’s arc.
C.S. says she’s caught the comics bug.
Working with Boom! comics
Her editor, Dafna, reached out to her first, originally asking after the comic rights to Captive Prince (although they’re not available). So Dafna instead asked her if she had any original ideas for a comic. CS said she’d had an idea that she’d been thinking about for ages, and could put a pitch together in a week. Then she immediately called her friends (‘Avengers Assemble’, she said) and told them, ‘I have to come up with an idea for a comic in a week!’ Once she had an idea, by combining a bunch of things she loved, the pitch came together very quickly.
When Dafna received the pitch, she sent an email back that only said ‘I AM SCREAMING!’ Eventually, they skyped and Dafna talked about her excitement, saying, “Fencing, those white uniforms, they’re so buttoned up, and when they come undone it will be so intense, and also someone should have a thin line of blood trickling down their cheek.’ And C.S. responded with, ‘Dafna, you understand everything.’ 😂
Working with Johanna
C.S. said that she has always known Johanna as an online fan artist; in fact the first artwork by Johanna that she had seen was the modern day Mulan one. She has followed Johanna ever since, and when Dafna asked for names for an artist, Johanna was the first one who came to mind.
Johanna hasn’t done comics before, or any sequential art. She’s only done fan art. C.S. said she was very grateful for Dafna reaching out to her – into a fan space and a queer book space – to create this comic, and bring someone up. CS wanted to do that too – to make this comic series an experience of opening doors to people.
Johanna was sent the pitch information C.S. wrote up for Boom! (including character profiles) so she could create character designs. For some characters, C.S. had a really specific look in mind, and with others she just left it up to Johanna. For Seiji, C.S. wrote that he has a three-quarter hair part like Steve Rogers, and a mole under his eye like someone (I don’t remember who!) from Free! anime. But for Aiden she wrote ‘just draw a really handsome guy’.
C.S. writes the script panel by panel, including how many panels have to be on a page, and what will happen in each, but leaves the placement of the panels up to Johanna.
Creating Fence comic
C.S. explained that she comes from the world of novels, so it was a very different experience creating a comic. Usually a book takes her 18 months to two years to write, and then 18 months of publishing process; but for comics, the longest part of the process was finding the artist. As soon as Johanna joined, three months later the comic was out.
C.S. did a lot of research for Fence, and even interviewed fencers and coaches. She asked one coach what type of person is drawn to fencing, and he said the ‘person who flunks out of all other sports but still wants to compete in something.’ 😂
She spoke about how she is interested in class elements – of which there are many in fencing – and what it’s like to be an outsider in that world. She explained how being a poor kid in the US is very different from being a poor kid in Australia, so she contacted friends in the US to ensure she wrote about Nicholas’ experience accurately.
She said that if she could go back in time and redo Issue #1, she wouldn’t make any changes – everything would be the same.
Info on the Fence series (characters, story arcs, etc.)
The interviewer said that he believes the two main characters, Nicholas and Seiji, will get together (C.S. just smiled here). He asked if she is more Team Nicholas or Team Seiji. C.S. says all of her characters are extension of herself: like Seiji, she is competitive and a perfectionist, but she feels how Nick feels on the inside – like a scruff. 😢
She said that the first line in Issue #1, ‘They say the tip of a fencer’s blade is the fastest thing at the Olympics, other than a marksmen’s bullet’, is a common saying, but apparently in online forums, badminton players get angry about this and complain that shuttlecocks are faster than blades.
Coste is pronounced ‘COST’. (Not ‘COST-IE like I thought it was 😂)
C.S. says that you can always tell who Johanna’s favourite character is because it’s usually whoever is most handsome on the page. (In Issue #1, I think her favourite is Harvard, because look how handsome he is compared to Nick in this panel ->)
C.S. is really excited for everyone to meet Aiden because he stirs the pot. He’s the school playboy, and he’s not a good person to get involved with, but he causes interesting things to happen. 👀
C.S. said that Dafna’s (her editor) favourite character is Joe, Nicholas’ coach.
The interviewer, who had read half of Issue #2, says he really likes Eugene. He called Eugene a bully, but that he is also a very charming bully. Apparently, there’s one panel in Issue #2 where you can’t not like him.
But the interviewer’s favourite character is also Joe, because he’s so broken. C.S. was confused as to why everyone likes Joe, because he’s only in the comic for three panels.
The interviewer also pointed out that the first time we meet Joe there’s a sign on the gym that says ‘Joe’s Fencing Fridays’ and then ‘Salsa Thursdays’ – he wondered if Joe teaches salsa too. C.S. says no, he doesn’t, he shares the space with a salsa dancing school. But there was apparently a plot line for Nicholas to be subbed-in to partner the old ladies learning salsa and then developing an unlikely friendship with them. But that had to go because comics have no space to play around.
C.S. said that Fence is optioned for five issues, but the story won’t officially end there – it’s more like a holding space so, if the series does really well, she can pick up there again and continue the storyline. If the series gets more issues, she will explore more characters’ storylines and see how far the King’s Row fencing team can go – maybe even to state championships.
In the physical copies of the comics, there will be an extra page featuring a ‘Coach’s Profile’. It’s basically little post-it-notes written by Coach Lewis to Coach Williams. C.S. said that Coach Lewis has a lot of feelings and needs to jot them down. C.S. also said that if she were working with Coach Williams, she’d have a lot of feelings too. (F/F storyline maybe??)
The character Bon is a member of Aiden’s fan club! Apparently Aiden has three fans and Bon is the second member of the fan club 😂. We will see the fan club in Issue #2, but Bon won’t be named – C.S. said you can guess which one he is. He will eventually come back in a later issue, and will be named.
On the behest of the interviewer, C.S. gave us a CRYPTIC HINT FOR WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEAR THE END OF THE SERIES: she said the two hottest characters will have a fencing match!! (My guess? Jesse and Nick.)