DF Interview: Brenna Thummler wants to help young readers ‘see that it’s okay to make mistakes’ in her ‘Delicates’ OGN
By Byron Brewer
Marjorie Glatt's life hasn't been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family's laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander the earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie's only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she'll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie's insistence on keeping Wendell's ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.
Eliza Duncan feels invisible, too. She's an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as different by all the other kids in school. Constantly on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself.
Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?
Following the events of Sheets, Brenna Thummler's second original graphic novel, Delicates, tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those who are left on the outside. It shows what it's like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing light to those who need it most. DF sat down with Thummler to discuss Delicates,
Dynamic Forces: Brenna, even reading the solicit for your second graphic novel, Delicates, is just heart-wrenching. Was there some experience in your own life that made you feel “invisible,” from whence you draw your inspiration for this book?
Brenna Thummler: Everyone feels invisible at least once in their life, even if it’s unwarranted. Of course, it becomes a bigger issue when the invisibility is persistent. While my experience is different from Eliza’s, I certainly have felt unseen and unimportant. I often still feel this way. People wrongly assume that those with success or self-confidence don’t struggle. They also wrongly assume that people feel successful or confident. (I eagerly await the day I’ll feel either of these things.) The idea that people are more than they project influenced Delicates a great deal.
DF: Before we go more into the book proper, tell us how you came to be a writer and illustrator, and why you like the comic book (which, IMHO, includes graphic novels) format.
Brenna Thummler: I never expected to become a graphic novelist. Even in my senior year of college, it’s the very last thing I thought I’d be. I grew up loving and writing stories, accompanying them with illustrations, and assuming that, for a girl from small-town PA, being published was an absurd dream. People would suggest I look into comics, and I’d think they were nuts. So after graduating art school, I took a design internship at a publishing company and sought freelance editorial work on the side. When an editor at this publishing company approached me with an opportunity to illustrate the graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, however, I immediately said yes. Of course, ten minutes later I was horrified by what I had just done. It was a massive undertaking and I felt unprepared, but it ended up being the best experience of my life. I knew I wasn’t done with graphic novels, so I decided to take the second risk I’d ever taken in life and write my own: Sheets. I could write an entire graphic novel about why I love graphic novels, but mainly: (1) I love the possibilities, complexities, and emotions that they create. (2) They allow me to have so much power and decision-making, which scares me. And I need to be scared sometimes. (3) They demand all my effort and challenge me to constantly do better. I improve as an artist every day.
DF: Can you summarize your first OGN, Sheets? Does it have threads, plot or cotton (LOL), that continue on in Delicates? Are there common characters, and does a reader need to read Sheets in order to understand Delicates?
Brenna Thummler: I sure can! Sheets tells the story of Marjorie, a thirteen-year-old who has recently lost her mom. She is essentially running the family laundromat and dealing with rude customers, school bullies, a ridiculous local businessman, and mysterious happenings in the middle of the night. These happenings are caused by a sheet ghost named Wendell, who flees to the Land of Humans to find happiness in his afterlife. Because sheet ghosts look like mere sheets during the day, Marjorie can’t explain the messes that are quickly wrecking her family’s business. It’s a story about loss, perseverance, and forgiveness. The story of Marjorie and Wendell continues in Delicates, and there are a few other familiar faces, but Delicates could work as a standalone story. I’m a sucker for character development, though, and I think the struggles that both Marjorie and Wendell face in book one are critical components in understanding their growth in the sequel.
DF: Introduce us to Marjorie, Eliza and Wendell.
Brenna Thummler: Marjorie is a level-headed thirteen-year-old who is recovering from grief and searching for a sense of belonging. Without much parental guidance, she often gets trapped between a good decision and an easy decision, and chooses whatever makes her feel mentally stable. She is still learning what it means to be a good friend, as well as what it means for someone to be a good friend to her. Wendell is an ever-charming, comical ghost who died when he was eleven. In his attempts to cope with this tragedy and enjoy his ghosthood, he unintentionally causes stress in Marjorie’s life. Eliza is a new character in Delicates, who dreams of becoming a ghost photographer and spends much of her time developing photos in the darkroom. Through the eyes of others, she is weird and her ghost obsession is freaky, so she is an easy target for bullying. And though she is the character who is most determined and truest to herself, she is also the one who is hurt the most. She refuses to give up what makes her unique, but at the cost of exclusion.
DF: Give readers an expanded pitch for Delicates.
Brenna Thummler: There are multiple reasons that this book is called Delicates, but above all, it refers to the fragile situations that middle schoolers (and all people) face. It closely examines the complexities of both the bully and the bullied, and the “invisible” hurt that is felt by all. It is about the weight that our words and actions carry, and how we balance taking care of ourselves with taking care of others. We all know the horrors of middle school, but it’s common for critics to disapprove of middle grade books with heavy subject matter, as if teens don’t know what it’s like to be stressed. To the critics, I shall quote Madeline and say: “Pooh, pooh.” Delicates fully recognizes that young teens are human and face just as much adversity, but are not nearly as prepared to deal with it.
DF: What do you hope readers take away from Delicates?
Brenna Thummler: I hope that young readers see that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as they strive to do what’s right. It’s important they think about how their words and actions may be affecting others without even realizing. And of course, if they are dealing with bullies, I hope they find comfort in Eliza, and recognize that this character is speaking to so many who feel the same way. They should take away the knowledge that they aren’t weak or problematic and that it’s a wonderful thing to ask for help. As for adult readers, they should recognize that children are people, too, and that they’re dealing with a lot. Parents and educators: Be honest with them and be willing to have difficult conversations with them, so they learn to not be afraid to express, or even feel, the negative emotions. I think Delicates should be treated as the instigator of meaningful discussion, because it only examines the experiences of a few characters, and everyone’s experience is different. The more we shine some light on our mental darkness, the more we save ourselves.
DF: What are the advantages/disadvantages of being scribe and illustrator? Does artist Brenna ever get frustrated/mad at writer Brenna, or vice versa?
Brenna Thummler: The advantage is that I have total control. The disadvantage is that I have total control. I do believe I am the world’s worst decision maker. If there’s ever a contest for this, please let me know. The interaction between word and image is what holds a graphic novel together, and sets it apart from every other type of reading material. The power to fully mold the characters and their world is something to be cherished. I am God. Their world is my oyster, but it is a really scary oyster. It’s a lot of pressure: wondering if I’m making the right storytelling choices, both in the plot and lessons, and in the visual depictions of them. But like the saying goes, I must practice what I preach and realize that I’m human. I can only strive to do my best and hope that both sides get along. (Artist Brenna thinks Writer Brenna has it way too easy. Writer Brenna thinks Artist Brenna is a piece of work.)
DF: Haha! … Brenna, what other projects in which you are involved can you tell readers about?
Brenna Thummler: As I mentioned, I illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, probably my favorite children’s classic of all time. I also recently created an eight-page comic for COVID Chronicles, an anthology of COVID-related comics that was created to raise money for the BINC Foundation. Proceeds from COVID Chronicles will help independent booksellers that have been affected by the pandemic. In a pre-pandemic world, I was also tap dancing in musicals at our local theater and having Crafternoons with my dear friends. But as far as work you yourself can see, give me a follow on Instagram @brennathummler, where I will always post new projects, and information on my books!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Brenna Thummler for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. The Delicates OGN from Oni Press is slated to be on sale March 24th!
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