Moonstruck, a charming new comic series that mixes the magical and the mundane, debuted this past July. With three issues now on shelves, the story follows two new lovebirds, Julie and Selena (who both also happen to be werewolves), and their centaur friend Chet. Against the backdrop of the cozy coffeeshop where Julie and Chet work, the reader gets to explore the nuances of their daily lives, their excitement, their insecurities and how they stick together as friends when times get tough.
I was so lucky to be able to catch up with writer Grace Ellis and artist Shae Beagle recently via email.
Rogues Portal (RP): I really love the hybrid fantasy/modern world you’re building and setting it in a coffee shop gives it a really cozy feel. Where did the inspiration for the series and the setting come from?
Grace Ellis (GE): Moonstruck started out as a five-page story for a comics anthology published by the Columbus College of Art and Design (that story is available for pay-what-you-want on Gumroad now, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the Hispanic Foundation). CCAD has a program where they have professional writers write five-page scripts, and then they have a student illustrate them. So that’s how I met Shae and Laurenn McCubbin, who teaches that class and is now our editor on the series.
All of this to say that when I was conceiving Moonstruck, I wasn’t imagining that it would go beyond five pages. I was trying to come up with a story that would have a twist and then a second twist that built off of the first twist, and in that story, the twist was that what appeared to be a normal setting was actually filled with magical creatures. So it was important that the story take place somewhere that was immediately recognizable and familiar, and I mostly write at coffee shops, so it seemed like a natural setting.
Shae Beagle (SB): The whole world of Moonstruck is all from Grace’s wonderful mind! My job was just to match that level of warmth and comfort with the artwork.
RP: How did you decide which of the main characters would be which kinds of magical creatures and what significance does that have about them?
GE: Well, initially, the types of creatures were based on their reveals in the five-page story because each character’s magicalness had to be revealed differently.
This is gonna get real nerdy, bear with me.
When we expanded Moonstruck out to a full series, it was something I had to think about in like, women’s/gender studies terms. Who we are in terms of traits like gender, race, sexuality, etc. all impact how we see the world and how the world treats us. Even though Moonstruck isn’t a story that directly deals with those issues, it does deal with what it would be like to exist in a world built for humans as a magic creature, so that framework was useful in developing their personalities. For example, Julie is a werewolf who grew up absorbing a lot of toxic messages about being a magical creature, and since she’s a werewolf, she’s able to pass for human, and that has a big impact on her personality. Meanwhile, Chet is a centaur, and there isn’t really any way of concealing that. They take up a lot of space physically, and their personality is kind of an extension of that. Ah, we have fun.
SB: Grace explains this PERFECTLY. The type of creature each character is greatly informs their personalities, but doesn’t entirely define them.
RP: If you could be a magical or fantasy creature, what would you be and why?
GE: A WITCH because that’s like a cheating answer because witches can do so many cool things. Ultimately, I would like the power to stop time, so maybe my answer is “a witch who can stop time.”
SB: Definitely a shapeshifter! Gimme a new form for every occasion!
RP: Even though the characters are literally magic, they seem very skeptical when it comes to stage magic. Can you illuminate at all what magic is real and what magic is not real in your universe?
GE: First of all, I decided I wanted to include stage magic because I think when you’re building a world, it’s important to tell a story that could only be told within that world. So I was interested in exploring what role illusion-style magic would have in a world with real magic.
The answer I basically settled on was that stage magic was generally just illusions and that the audience would go in with the understanding that no real magic would be used onstage. The entertaining element comes more from the stagecraft and the skills than from the like, the feeling that actual magic could be happening.
SB: Magic in this universe is pretty commonplace, so the stage magic show is more of an entertaining, non-magic, illusionist show that plenty of magical creatures can enjoy!
RP: I really love the representation in Moonstruck. As a nonbinary person, Chet is particularly special to me – so thank you for them! 🙂 How do you think representation in comics has changed recently? Are there any other comics that were inspirations to you?
GE: I’ll leave this one to Shae, who is nonbinary, since I imagine their answer will be more interesting than mine.
SB: Chet is so super special to me, and I’m so excited to be a part of a comic with a nonbinary main character! How cool is that! Representation in comics and all media is so important, when you’re looking to relate to someone, when you need a reference point to explain your gender identity, or when you just feel like your experience is important enough to tell stories about.
I think we’re generally seeing more solid and meaningful representation in comics, which is exciting! But there’s always room for more, especially in the mainstream. Recently, I’m very inspired by Melanie Gillman’s work; check them out for another great nonbinary creator!
RP: Speaking of representation, I like that none of the characters seem to feel ashamed at all about being queer, but it is interesting to me that some of them do struggle with their identities because of their magic. What was the reason for that decision?
GE: As a lesbian, I feel like I’ve read enough stories about the struggle of queerness and am ready for something new. That’s not to say there isn’t room for those types of stories – there definitely is – but it’s not what I’m interested in exploring at the moment. But I AM interested in character, and identity is a big part of character, so that’s how we landed on Julie struggling with her werewolf identity, since the emotional core of the book had to be something related to the main conceit of the book.
SB: A huge amount of queer media focuses around struggle and shame, and while there’s every reason to have those stories, I feel it’s important to have a happy one, where the characters are queer without question and comfortable with it!
Struggle with identity is sometimes just a fact of life, and while it may not be one “other” a character takes issue with, it can be another “other”, like Julie being a werewolf.
RP: To each of you individually, who’s your favorite character or which character do you think you’re most like?
GE: It’s hard to not love Chet! They’re so fun to write! I think a lot of my instincts are similar to Julie’s, like Julie probably has a lot in common with who I was six years ago, but I aspire to be a Selena, aka a smart and confident dreamboat.
SB: Again, I absolutely love Chet! I think I can be a lot like them in some regards, groan-worthy jokes and all.
RP: Even all the background characters are really cute and fun to look at. Can you give us any hint of who we can expect to see more of in the future?
GE: Definitely keep an eye on those frat bro fairies in the background. They’ll be around a lot in the future. Also the witches from Little Dog 2 will be featured more prominently in coming issues. Anything that has to do with worldbuilding – Blitheton State University, for example – is probably something to keep an eye on.
SB: A lot of the fun of drawing the comic is putting all these fun characters in the background (and I probably spend a little too much time reading up on magical creatures that just show up in a panel or two), but definitely keep a look out for the fairies!