Kel McDonald Talks ‘Misfits Of Avalon': ‘They’re Magical Girls Who Are All Jerks’ [Interview]
I’ve been a fan of the Magical Girl genre ever since I first saw Sailor Moon make a monster explode with the power of love and justice, so I’m pretty sure I’m right in the target market for what Kel McDonald is doing with her new series, Misfits of Avalon. Inspired by the legends of King Arthur and Irish Mythology, Misfits finds four teenage delinquents who are recruited into a life of battling monsters with magic words and super-powers in the classic style. There’s just one problem: They don’t know that they’re actually the bad guys.
To find out more, I spoke with McDonald about publishing her graphic novel through Dark Horse while also putting it online, the appeal of terrible teenagers, and just what it was that inspired her to take on a group of jerks.
ComicsAlliance: Let’s talk about magical girls, because that is a genre of which I am a pretty big fan.
Kel McDonald: Have you been watching the new Sailor Moons?
CA: I have.
KM: I have not, because they’re subtitled and I like drawing while I watch TV, so I haven’t had time. I will probably watch the new dub.
CA: Was that your entry point into Magical Girls as a genre?
KM: Yes, it is. I think it’s everyone’s entry point to Magical Girls, because it was the first one that came over here, as far as I know.
CA: I don’t know, you could’ve gotten in with Magic Knight Rayearth or Cardcaptor Sakura.
KM: I was too old for those!
CA: Well, I was and continue to be too old for Sailor Moon.
KM: Have you actually read Cardcaptor Sakura? There’s some f**ked up s**t in that. If you read the manga, that it’s based on, there’s a 30 year-old who’s engaged to an 8 year-old. The same people who made Cardcaptor Sakura made a manga that I really liked in middle school called X/1999, which is a terrible movie but an okay anime. The comic got canceled halfway through, and I checked out Cardcaptor Sakura, and found out that the way I think these ladies who wrote it write romance is that they have a dartboard that they write everyone’s name on, and they have darts that they write everyone’s name on, and then they blindfold themselves and then they throw them at the dartboard.
CA: Is that different from your process?
KM: It is. I usually try to see what characters have a good chemistry in scenes together, whereas they seem to pair people up randomly, which is how you get an 8 year-old engaged to a 30 year-old.
CA: I have a lot of questions about that, but I feel like it’s a discussion that’s going to overshadow talking about Misfits of Avalon. The way I’d describe Misfits, just as someone who’s reading it online, is that it’s a Magical Girl story where the entire cast is made up of horrible teens.
KM: They are! That is the premise: They’re magical girls who are jerks.
CA: Was that how you pitched it?
KM: Yeah. That’s how I pitch it to people when I give them the card and tell them to keep an eye on it, and that was a key part of the pitch.
I was watching the anime YuYu Hakusho, which is my favorite shonen anime, and I thought “I like how much of an asshole all of these teen boys are, but I wish there were stories about girls that were like this.” That was kind of the beginning steps in the process of making Misfits of Avalon, and the guy who made YuYu Hakusho happens to be married to the creator of Sailor Moon. It all connects.
CA: Was it a difficult pitch? It seems like a comic about these really awful teens would be hard to sell someone on.
KM: I was originally going to do a short story, and I was going to pitch it to Dark Horse Presents as a one-shot short, and then it quickly ballooned into being too large for an eight-pager or 20-pager. I think what also helped was that the overall plot is that they’re trying to stop King Arthur and are unaware that they’re the bad guys, and that gives the story some focus, rather than just being s**tty for being s**tty. I don’t keep that close to the chest. It’s pretty clear at the halfway point in the first book.
That was a key part of the pitch, that it was a twist on Mists of Avalon, which is where the title comes from, which was the King Arthur legend told from women’s point of view. So having them be fighting King Arthur and being unaware of the fact that they’re the villains of the piece also helps justify their asshole-ness.
CA: They certainly don’t seem like the type of characters who are usually selected by magical animals, which is what actually happens to them.
KM: Well, Elsie’s the one who just grabs the ring. The rest of them are all chosen by magical animals, but Elsie grabs the ring to save her girl gang.
CA: Right now, as it’s running on the website, you’ve got Morgan and Elsie, and you just introduced Kimber, and Morgan and Elsie hate each other. Or at least, Morgan hates Elsie, and Elsie seems like she wants to make Morgan her friend by punching her.
KM: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s basically their relationship! This goes back to YuYu Hakusho, that’s basically the relationship that Yusuke and Kuwabara have, and as I said, I wanted to transplant that for girls. That’s how I came up with the basis of those two. I feel like on Elsie’s side, it’s more frustration than hatred, like “why aren’t we friends?!” But Morgan wants to be left alone, so she tells Elsie to f**k off.
CA: They’re weirdly violent, as well.
KM: I don’t know, all the girls that I saw in high school were the ones getting into fights. I didn’t take part in it, I just witnessed it from afar.
CA: When the story picks up, it seems like there’s a lot of history between them. Do you have that in your head as you write, or is it just enough to know that they start off hating each other and fight every day?
KM: It’s just enough to establish it. I feel like it all just comes down to Elsie wanted to be friends and Morgan said f**k off, and they repeat that every day.
CA: Let’s talk about the King Arthur elements.
KM: It’s basically a mashup of King Arthur and Irish mythology, so Cu, the magical dog, when he says his name, it’s not actually a name, even though they use it to refer to him. Cu Sidhe basically just means “dog fairy,” so when he says that, it’s not a name, he’s just telling them exactly what he is. They just don’t know what those words mean, so they have not put that together. There’s a fourth member of the team that you haven’t met yet who’s significantly smarter than the rest of the group, who is the one who informs them of that.
CA: I don’t think you can really hold a lack of knowledge of ancient languages against a couple of teens.
KM: No, it’s basically that the girl who’s smarter than them is specifically awful in the way that she might be a sociopath. The rest of them aren’t, they’re just impulsive and rash, but the smart one might actually be a manipulative sociopath, so she holds it against them for not knowing the intricacies, but you shouldn’t.
Then, the place that Cu says he’s from, is paradise from Irish mythology, which translates roughly to “the Island of Apples,” and another name for “Avalon” is “the Apple Isle,” which was how I connected the dots of the Irish mythology to the King Arthur mythology.
CA: Was that something you were interested in beforehand, or did you have to go do research for Misfits?
KM: I’d heard bits and pieces of Irish mythology, because my family’s all Boston Irish Catholic. My cousin had looked it up before when we were in high school, but I had to read up on it, and it really comes through in how they’re dressed.
If you look at their outfits, there are a lot of little details. Like Morgan has wings on hers, and Elsie’s shoes are designed to look like hooves and she has horns on her headband, and Kimber, who’s just been introduced, has paws on her boots and little dog ears on her headband. Basically each of their outfits was designed to look like an animal that is accompanying the Irish goddess Morrigan in one legend or another, and that was something I came up with because I was trying to fit them into the Knights of the Round Table, and it was coming out too forced. So when I had them fighting King Arthur rather than being female analogues to the Round Table, that fit better.
It was kind of playing with themes until a story presented itself, and once I determined that they’d be on the opposite side from King Arthur, it all really clicked together.
CA: It was the boots that I really noticed. Morgan has these very superheroic high-heeled boots with the wings, and then Elsie’s just clomping around in hooves.
KM: She has a heel! It’s like those heels that are designed to mimic hooves!
CA: Do those exist in real life?
KM: Oh, yeah, you can look them up. They look super uncomfortable.
CA: [Laughs] So you didn’t want your characters to be comfortable at all? Just exacerbating their natural annoyance with each other?
KM: There is the part where Elsie tries to climb a tree and she’s like “these are not good for climbing.” Or anything.
CA: As an artist, how quickly did you regret the choice of having everyone dress in plaid?
KM: Oh, plaid’s pretty easy to do, at least the way I do it. I’ve seen other ways that people render plaid, which looks like a pain. What I do is line, double line, line, double line, over and over again, and that is not that hard to do. It’s no harder than the webbing on Spider-Man’s costume.
CA: So the story is set to run on your website until October, and then it’s going to be collected in print by Dark Horse. I’m curious about the process of doing the webcomic on your site, because it’s obviously a creator-owned comic, but then having the book on the way already. It was announced as a Dark Horse comic when it started.
KM: Basically, the deal with that is that I can put it on my website, but it has to all come down when the book comes out.
CA: Was that something you pushed for?
KM: I made the argument that since I’d done Sorcery 101 for almost ten years now, that’s where my fans look for my work. They might not notice an announcement on a comic site, or even in comic book stores, since not all webcomic fans read traditional comic books.
CA: Has there been a reaction? You’ve got a lot of stuff online.
KM: Everything I’ve done is online, except for backup stories in Adventure Time. I’ve noticed that the website stats go up on the days that Misfits updates but Sorcery 101 does not, and I have also gotten fanart already for Misfits of Avalon. It seems like Tumblr’s super into it.
CA: Have you ever done something like this before, where something was only online for a limited amount of time, then was taken down to drive sales of a print book? I know you do a lot of business at cons with your print collections.
KM: I have not taken anything offline, but I have a short story, Fame and Misfortune, that was a business experiment that’s still in process. I Kickstarted it, and told people that it would go up online eventually, but was going to be print only for quite a while, and that seems to have driven up sales of Fame and Misfortune, because people want to read it but they’re impatient. Misfits of Avalon seems to be the other way around, so I’m interested to see how both work.
CA: Is there a plan for a further story at this point?
KM: There are three books in the story, and all three are going to run online before they’re collected in print. In each chapter, the captions are the thoughts of a different girl on the team. Chapter 1 is all Morgan’s thoughts, Chapter 2 is all Elsie’s, Chapter 3, you get to see Kimber’s, and in Chapter 4, you get to see Rae’s, the last one of the team. I want to continue that process of each section being from a different girl’s point of view, so you get to see their reactions, and since you get their inner thoughts, you see just how good or bad those people really are.
Recently, there was a scene where Elsie was making fun of Morgan, and then she finally realized how much she is actually, legitimately hurting Morgan and pissing her off, and she backs off.
They’re both quiet for a bit, to show that Elsie isn’t a complete and utter asshole.
CA: And then they go pick on a child.
KM: [Laughs] And then they go pick on a child! Kimber’s thoughts are more about her trying to psych herself up and reassure herself that she can take care of things on her own, but she does it so much that it’s to try to reinforce that she doesn’t believe what she’s telling herself. Rae’s inner thoughts are that she’s putting on a nice front, so on the surface, she’s the least terrible, but when you see what she’s thinking, you realize she’s manipulative and worse than all of them.
Misfits of Avalon updates daily at Sorcery101.net.