Marika McCoola is an artist by nature — drawn to pursuits like ceramics, illustration, and literature. The former owner of Porter Square Books in Cambridge and a New York Times bestselling author, McCoola analyzes interactions with others through creative pursuits.
“In every relationship you enter into, you could lose it … but you’re doing it because in that moment, it is wonderful and good and you want to try and build it as much as you can. The same is true of the artwork that you create,” McCoola said.
McCoola’s second graphic novel, “Slip” tackles themes of art, loss, and relationships as main character Jade pours her emotions into ceramic sculptures at a prestigious art camp. But when Jade’s art comes to life, forcing her to confront the feelings that formed them, she must undergo a journey of self-discovery. Jade’s experience reflects McCoola’s, a ceramicist and artist herself.
The Book Club hosted a discussion Wednesday evening with McCoola about her graphic novel. Moderated by Katherine Nazzaro, the manager of Porter Square Books: Boston Edition, the conversation covered McCoola’s creative process, self-expression, advice for other graphic novelists, and more.
Here are seven things we learned from the Boston.com Book Club discussion with Marika McCoola.
McCoola set out to write a realistic young adult story about relationships.
“When I started it I had just gotten out of a relationship that was emotionally dynamic, and I was finding that a lot of my relationships were growing and changing. I found that the young adult books I was reading weren’t quite reflecting that,” McCoola said. She explained that many young adult books tend to frame their central relationships as stagnant: “As we grow and change as people, so too do our relationships.”
Graphic novels require a visually compelling story — and a lot of planning.
To resonate with readers, McCoola said, graphic novels need a visual element within the narrative. In the case of “Slip,” it’s the art of ceramics. “Part of how Jade, our main character, expresses herself is through artwork. And that, to me, needed to be visually seen,” the author said. “Because I am such a visual person, I see in my head and understand what needs to be the visual and what needs to be the text.”
Her collaboration with illustrator Aatmaja Pandya was hands-off.
Once McCoola finished the script for the graphic novel, she felt it was complete enough that others would recognize her vision. In passing it off to her illustrator and friend, Aatmaja Pandya, McCoola didn’t want her opinions as the author to get in the way. “There wasn’t much involvement and part of that was also respect,” she said, describing that Pandya’s artwork was crucial to the story. “She was able to heighten my text in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do as an illustrator and that was just an utter delight,” the author said.
Aspiring graphic novelists shouldn’t be afraid to reach out.
When asked to advise young graphic novelists and illustrators, McCoola said that they should share their work with as many people currently working in the field as possible. She said that artists “love to pay it forward,” as they were once in the same position. She also said that aspiring illustrators shouldn’t get swept up in other people’s opinions. “I know my book is not for everybody and that’s okay. It just has to be found by the people it is for.”
Self-expression through art is a “lifelong process.“
“‘Slip’ is about finding yourself through art and that’s a lifelong process. It’s always changing,” the author said. McCoola’s personal artistic experience mirrors the theme of the book. “When I work with ceramics, part of the fun is that unknown quality,” she said. “Every time you put something in a kiln and fire it, it might never come out. Accepting that loss is at the very heart of making ceramics, which is also the very heart of this book.”
McCoola was inspired by other graphic novels through her writing process.
“Slip” took nine years to execute and two years to write, and over that time the landscape of graphic novels drastically changed. McCoola took inspiration from books like “Chasing Shadows,” a 2013 hybrid novel that combines cartoons and prose, as well as more modern examples like webcomic “Heartstopper.”
“Slip” was an emotionally difficult book to write.
McCoola explained that while grief is a central theme of the novel, she was going through her own grieving process while writing it. She elected not to illustrate the book herself, as finishing the manuscript gave her closure. “I think it again speaks to the way art can help you as a processing mechanism,” she said.