Karen Beilharz with
* Mike Barry * Greg Lamrock * Belinda Stead * Nathan Seabolt * Peter Fairfax * EmmJ * Jemima Trappel * Kathleen Jennings * Jordan Taia * René Pfitzner
Each of us has a fear. It doesn’t matter your age, deep down there is something we are all afraid of.
Author Karen Beilharz understands this in a special way. As a child she had her own irrational fears (some of them I can relate to) like kids cartoons or movies with strange creatures, that not everyone it seems, finds so cute or funny. Now with children of her own Karen can relate to those feelings, but as a parent. And with that in mind she set out on a mission:
“I wanted to open up a conversation between children and adults about fear. Often adults are mystified by the things that scare children. I think it’s important for parents to be able to grasp and see things from a child’s point of view, because it helps your child deal with their fears and strengthens the relationship between you.”
Karen’s anthology, Monsters, is a collaborative work of short comic stories penned by herself with some of Australia’s best independent creators providing the art: Mike Barry, EmmJ, Peter Fairfax (Valentine’s Dei), Kathleen Jennings (Ditmar award-winner and World Fantasy Award nominee), Greg Lamrock, René Pfitzner (former animator at Walt Disney), Nathan Seabolt, Belinda Stead, Jordan Taia and Jemima Trappel (Wonderfully Madison, Fearfully Madison, Same), and Karen’s long-time collaborator on Eternal Life, Paul Wong-Pan, provided cover art.
The book offers many ways for parents to discuss their child’s fears without embarrassment or condescension. Helping kids to open up on their terms and guiding them to an understanding of what fear can be and how to overcome it.
With a wide variety of talent contributing different art styles, they vary from child like, cute cartoony and even to more mature which will canvas a larger audience of children. So if your home has kids of a few different ages, it will cater to everyone. Monsters can even be read throughout a child’s life as they grow up and relate to each story differently.
Consisting of 11 short comics told over 76 pages, Monsters is being self-published through the power of crowdfunding. At time of writing, the project has raised over $4000—virtually half of its goal of $9,900. Rewards for supporting the campaign include: the book in digital and paper format, colouring books featuring original art by the creators, a one-of-a-kind poster featuring art from the book, knitted monster softies, and custom sketches. The campaign ends on Friday 29 April 2016. Find out more at http://pozible.com/monsterscomic
Q&A with Karen Beilharz
How long have you been writing and have you always written for children and young adults?
I started writing when I was a child: I've got stuff I wrote when I was at least 10 years old. I was very fortunate in that my father gave me my very own laptop when I was young (this is back in the days before Windows when everything ran off DOS). I would use it to do stuff like write fictional newspaper articles that featured my stuffed toys, or poorly concealed imitations of Enid Blyton stories.
Most of my early stuff was for young adults because I was a young adult myself and read (and loved) a lot of young adult literature. That changed when I studied creative writing at Uni and became more interested in poetry and non-fiction. It's only recently that I've, in a sense, returned to my “roots” in writing for young adults.
I've never written for children before—mostly because I wasn't that familiar with that demographic and had no idea how to write for them. My children were the ones who opened up that world for me—not just in getting me to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar over and over and over again until I pretty much memorised it, but also in helping me understand how children think and see the world.
What inspired you to create stories about depression and now fear?
My husband and I are both depression sufferers, and while we were going through those early years of understanding that mental illness and its impact on every facet of our lives, I had to work through a lot of things. I found I had a lot of material I wanted to talk about—stuff that was personal, yes, but also, in a way, universal. Hence Kinds of Blue. The thing about depression (which may be less the case now, but it was certainly the case back then) is the silence surrounding it: people don't talk about it because of fear or shame or stigma. But we've found that it actually helps to talk about it with people: it tears down walls and helps people to feel like they're not alone in their own private hell. Comics—the medium of words and pictures— is actually the perfect vehicle for talking about depression because it can express the inexpressible. One in four people will experience depression at some point in their lives, so it makes sense that we as a society should be more knowledgeable about it.
Fear is a new topic for me: I started writing about it because my eldest daughter said to me when she was three, “Mummy, I'm really scared of monsters!” She really meant it, even though, objectively speaking, she couldn't see, hear or touch any actual monsters. Her words reminded me of what it was like to be a child and scared of something that adults don't necessarily understand. I wanted to write about that and I thought that monsters would be a good vehicle for doing that.
You work with a lot of talented illustrators, are there particular styles of art you look for to help you convey your messages?
Not really. I tend to look for artists whose work I like. But with long-time collaborators, I try to write according to their strengths. “Here be dragons”, for example, was written with Kathleen Jennings in mind because I knew she'd be great at maps and that she'd get what I was trying to do with that story.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to become a writer or perhaps draw attention to an issue they want to address?
My advice would be to paraphrase Neil Gaiman's advice for writers, which is very useful, and I often find myself thinking about it:
1. Start, because many people will talk about starting but never start.
2. Finish, because many people will start and work on it for a while, but then never finish.
3. Show someone else.
As for highlighting issues, the best way to draw attention to something is to write about it, talk about it and show people why it matters. It's best to start from the heart, though: why is this important to you? What's the story there? The story is what people will connect with first.
You are still working on crowdfunding the Monsters anthology, but are there any plans for future projects?
With comics, Paul Wong-Pan and I are still working on Eternal Life, our ongoing science fiction graphic novel that I like to describe as being like Lost in Translation in space: it's about kinship, relationships and the way people influence each other. We have published three chapters (out of six) so far, and Paul is currently colouring the fourth.
Eternal Life is just one story out of five about the Jacobson family, so one day I am hoping I can write the other four.
I would also like to write more anthologies of short comics because I enjoy the process of collaborating with a bunch of people at the same time and exploring a particular theme. But I think I need time for the next one to brew.
Outside of comics, I've also got two short stories on the back burner. And then there's this children's picture book that hopefully will see the light of print one day …