|ADAM P. KNAVE
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DF Interview: Adam P. Knave weaves a story of self-discovery and empowerment in ‘The Airless Year OGN’
By Byron Brewer
For Kacee, a queer Black girl in middle school, everything feels like a struggle. When she fails a class as a result of her stress and ends up in summer school, she starts to wonder why she even bothers trying – and ultimately begins to discover her own power to improve the things in her life she can control, and try to let go of what she can’t.
From Eisner and Harvey Award-winning editor and writer Adam P. Knave (Amelia Cole, The Once and Future Queen), Portland-based artist Valentine Barker (Wartechs, Shelby Stone and the Temple of Ta'aora), and letterer Frank Cvetkovic comes an all-new LGBTQ+ graphic novel for young adults, The Airless Year! I had the honor of sitting down with scribe Knave to discuss this timely tome.
Byron Brewer: Adam, The Airless Year is an LGBTQ+ story aimed at young adults. Tell readers, if you will, the genesis of this Dark Horse Comics graphic novel and why it is the right time for such a story.
Adam P. Knave: Honestly, the story started because Valentine and I kept meaning to work together. Some days it really is that simple. We've been really good friends for years and kept poking at the idea of doing a comic together. So one day we sat on my patio and talked about what kind of story we both felt like telling, together. We decided, fairly quickly, if I remember correctly, on a coming of age story, modern, in a city, and queer. That last part is because until we reach a point where people don't feel a need to ask why it is a good time to tell a queer story – it will be a good time. And then after that time? It will still be a good time to.
Byron: I love the title of this OGN because it seems very apropos for that period in one’s life just before high school. And I think it is like that, in one way or another, for everyone. Talk about why this became the focus of this story, and was that true from your own experience?
Adam P. Knave: Yeah, a lot of this story was born from personal bits of all of our lives, but not in a direct one to one sort of way. Once we decided we wanted to tell a story about complicated families, we quickly pinned the time frame down to that space just before high school. Not many stories live there, since both high school itself, and college later, look like they would give you more freedom, I suppose. But that precipice you hang off of, just before high school, can be terrifying, and when your own family isn't the best, where do you find support, and do so while still being a good friend yourself?
Byron: Introduce readers please to Kacee. Who is she and what challenges is she facing at this time in her young life?
Adam P. Knave: Kacee isn't sure how she would introduce herself, really. She is just this person, living in Manhattan, trying to cope with a family life that isn't even close to the best, and with friends and drama and school and everything else that gets thrown at you at that age. And of course, it's also the wobbly age where people start treating you like a bit more of a possible adult, without warning. It's a rough time, trying to cope with that, and school work, and a looming future.
Byron: Are there any other protagonists we should know about? If there are, could you please spotlight a few of them here?
Adam P. Knave: I'm not sure how much I can say at this point so forgive me if I'm a tiny bit vague, but the book does feature Kacee's friends as well. One of them, Lucas, was a special delight to me to work with. He's a goof, and Valentine's art for him brought him alive so well, along with Frank's lettering, that he pops in every scene he shows up in. Also it's just fun to write someone who can be a bit lighter, while still having the ability to get mad, to express a full human range of emotion like all the characters get to. There's at least one scene with a group of friends where Lucas, through body language and word choice, just made me laugh at every stage of the creation process.
Byron: Can you give us a vision of the storyline of the graphic novel? An extended elevator pitch, if you will.
Adam P. Knave: Kacee is at a crossroad in her life. She's struggling with everything, and as far as she feels, she can't make up ground. Running to stand still would be, in her mind, an improvement. School is a problem, her home life isn't great, and she is too young to be really emotionally adept at handling the weight. So she makes it a habit to retreat into herself, picturing herself in space, externalizing her own loneliness without realizing how part of that is her own fault. She's going to have to learn how to deal with her friends honestly, how to lean on them fairly, as well as how to cope with her life, and everything it can throw at her so she can move forward and start to blossom into the woman she knows she can become. None of that is easy, and all of it takes time and the ability to listen, to internalize, and to be self-aware.
Byron: From what I have heard, your collaboration with artist Valentine Barker and letterer Frank Cvetkovic was a very special one for you all. Tell readers what it meant to you and why during the creative process.
Adam P. Knave: I have mentioned the idea started with me and Valentine sitting on my patio. Well, the first thing we really decided, before we had a story, was that Frank would letter it, if he wanted in. We talked it all out, as we started to work on the pitch and flesh things out more and more, all three of us, and decided to try a new way of making comics. I've been doing this for over a decade, and it's easy to get used to a way of creating. But it is also good to shake things up. What we did was we had meetings. Endless creative meetings. Every bit of outline, I would work off the plot we decided, and then show them and we would each change things. Then during the script, same thing. We each had a hand in making suggestions, adding, changing, or removing dialogue. We discussed every inch of things. When layouts began, we would meet to go over them as well, and so on through each part of the process. We all felt empowered to suggest things and adjust things, and to discuss it all. Which meant that Valentine could look at a scene and ask for more or less space, or a change in location, then when art began, Frank could make sure from the layouts on up that lettering would fit or suggest ways in art or script to adjust it so it could. We all touched each other's work and enhanced it. We worked as a truly united front, with no ego involved, everyone working toward making a great book. It was thrilling, honestly. This story is 100% all three of us. I don't like to say "I wrote this, Valentine drew it, Frank lettered it" though that's true, I suppose, on some technical level. It's more "A Story By" the three of us. We're each great storytellers in our own right, so for this we Voltron'd our brains. Probably the most rewarding, freeing, and thrilling collaboration of my life to date.
Byron: Why was Valentine the right artist for this special project? Talk a little about his art.
Adam P. Knave: I met Valentine the same year I moved to Portland and we became friends really fast. He's an incredible artist, I have some of his oil paintings hanging in my house, as well as some of his print work. That's the thing about Valentine, he can work in any medium I've seen him think of, and is a process junkie (as are Frank and I) so he gets deep into the why and how of it all. I've wanted to make comics with him since I met him, because I knew anything I wrote would end up twenty times better for him drawing it. And I was right. But also, I'm gonna go on about Frank some here, because the three of us, for this book, are inseparable. Frank is my favorite letterer. Has been for years. We've worked on a ton of projects together both with me writing, and with me editing, and I've edited some of the stuff he's written. His placements, the way he thinks about story and lettering, are just so good.
Byron: Adam, are there any other projects, inside or outside comics, in which you are involved that you can tell readers about?
Adam P. Knave: That I can talk about? Oof. There's some stuff I can't talk about! Pitches going out soon, another novel in progress, some other things in various mediums… oh, but in April, Errand Boys comes out in trade. It's a mini-series written by D.J. Kirkbride, who I often write with, drawn by Nikos Koutsis and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic. I edited the original mini, with my co-editor El Anderson. We're all thrilled to see it come to trade from Dark Horse this spring.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Adam P. Knave for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Airless Year OGN from Dark Horse Comics is slated to be on sale June 8th!
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