An interview with Carrie Harris
1) What was the inspiration behind On the Wall?
Well, I started writing the book while I was on maternity leave with my twin daughters. I was on bed rest—honestly, I was so huge that you could have seen me from space. That red dot over Toledo? That was the only sweater that fit me toward the end of the pregnancy. So I was reading a lot and watching a bunch of superhero movies, because I quite literally couldn’t move.
I’d tried to write books before, but for some reason, I’d kept trying to write serious stories about serious things, usually while sitting in a coffee shop, wearing a serious beret, and listening to serious music. (I am embarrassed to admit that this is all true and not exaggerated in the least. Also, the beret was plaid, and if that isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is.) Those things didn’t work, possibly because I’m not a serious person, I don’t even like coffee, and I don’t know what on earth a plaid beret was supposed to do to make me a better writer anyway.
So, lying on that couch, I was thinking a lot about superhero stories, not to mention a lot about my girls—what kinds of people they’d be, and what superpowers they’d have if they were superheroes, and all kinds of ridiculous things like that, because hey, I was bored. And I was thinking about how superheroes almost always fight crazy megalomaniacs who build lasers out of volcanos and blow up the moon, and who does that?!? I wanted to read a book where the superheroes dealt with real life problems, and wouldn’t it be cool if they were girls, because then my daughters could read it when they were older. I started writing it shortly after they were born, during midnight feedings, and I’m quite shocked that any of it was coherent, because I sure didn’t feel very coherent at the time.
They’re ten now. The story’s gone through a lot of revisions, and I put it in a drawer for a while, and it’s pretty cool that they’ll eventually get to own their own copies. Especially since I no longer own either the red sweater or the beret to pass down to them as mementos.
2) On a superficial level, the story seems to be a lighthearted teen drama. However, it deals with serious issues as well. Can you share your thoughts on that, and what your intentions were?
Oh, I have many, many thoughts! You’ll probably be sorry that you asked. But since you did, I really wanted to deal with real world problems, like I said before. And I think that sometimes, we sugarcoat things for our youth in the hopes of protecting them from the bad things, whatever those may be. But I dealt with some pretty bad things myself, as a teenager. Seeing those things in books made me feel a little less alone and helped me get through the tough times. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t protect anybody; it just makes them harder to talk about.
But I also know that people who knew me back then probably shake their heads after reading that, because I didn’t seem like I was dealing with anything, let alone the kind of stuff that could get child services involved. Because even when things are bleak, you can still laugh and joke with friends and play practical jokes involving Kool Aid, and all of those things. And I wanted to show that balance. That maybe things might be pretty bad for Mira and her friends in the book, but that doesn’t mean that everything is dark. They have each other to hold onto, and more than anything, that’s a superpower worth having. My friends sure were my lifeline back then.
So I really tossed the genre out the window when I wrote the book, and that makes it tough to say what it is. There are some really serious themes in there—sexual harassment, terrible parents, threats of violence—it’s not graphic, but it’s there. And then there are the ridiculous moments with poo flinging and baby pools decorated with happy octopi. The world has space for both, and I think they can—and should—coexist. Because maybe there are crappy things out there, but there’s also hope.
3) You've written other books, novels, as well. What made you want to venture into graphic novel territory?
Actually, the story really goes the other way around. I started out wanting to write graphic novels, but I ran into a slight problem with the whole drawing thing. To put it frankly, I suck. I’ve tried taking lessons, but they only succeeded in making my stick figures look a little less malformed. Then, to make matters worse, I’m a leftie, so I drag the side of my hand across the malformed stick figures and make them smeary malformed stick figures. As much as I wanted it to happen, drawing my own graphic novels wasn’t going to happen.
So I started writing novels and roleplaying games instead, and I really love working on them. But I still harbored these ridiculous daydreams about signing up for this art class or that one, which would magically teach me the trick of non-malformed stick figures and other things necessary to make my own graphic novel. Eventually, I gave up on that fruitless dream and decided to write a graphic novel script instead. Honestly, I wrote it for fun, thinking it would never go anywhere except in my head (probably populated with stick figures, come to think of it). I was beyond surprised when it all worked out and we were able to find such a talented artist to help bring the book to life. Without stick figures, even.
4) Are there any particular novels, authors, or graphic novels that inspire you the most?
Gosh, how much time do you have? I’ve got a huge list of them, but I’ll try and restrain myself. I think anybody who looks at On the Wall can probably tell that I’m a huge fan of Ghost World. That was the moment that I knew we had the same vision for the book, when we started talking about how it riffs off of some of the things that Ghost World did. I like that Daniel Clowes doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to talking about being teenagers, and all the weird and horrible and delightful things that are part of that experience. I really wanted to do that in this book and hopefully didn’t do too bad at it.
If there’s a rival for my favorite all time graphic novel, it’s probably Midnight Nation. On one hand, it’s a quest book—guy walks across the country on a quest to save his soul. But despite the fantastic premise, everything feels so real. No insta-love, no mysterious benefactor who teaches the hero all the answers in the nick of time, no handy resolution. It hits that grey area where no choice is quite right, but you still have to choose anyway and be happy with that choice. But it doesn’t hit you over the head with it either.
Yeah, I’m totally going to go reread that book now. I’ve gotten myself excited about it all over again.