‘Runaways’ Meets ‘Coraline’ in Cait May and Trevor Bream’s ‘Irregular’ [Webcomic Q&A]
It's tough being a kid. It's also tough being a kid who's considered "different." It's exceptionally tough being a kid who's being chased by a secret organization because you're considered "different" by virtue of your mythological heritage.
In Cait May and Trevor Bream's Irregular, themes of isolation and alienation bloom big as six children deemed "monsters" run away from adults who more closely fit that description. ComicsAlliance spoke with May and Bream about their webcomic, cryptozoology, and growing into one's power.
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Irregular? And what genres and inspirations does it build from?
Cait May: Irregular was this bunch of characters in my head for a long time. I knew who they were and how I wanted them to interact with one another and what their struggles should be, but I had no true ideas for plot or a cohesive, flowing story. Then one day, I sat down with Trevor (mostly to complain about my lack of ideas) and he just produced these incredible plot points and thoughts for where I could really take these characters. And we decided it would be best to co-write, which has worked out beautifully.
Trevor Bream: Irregular is highly inspired by the science of cryptozoology and the myths and legends of strange creatures. We have creatures like the selkies of Scotland, reptilian aliens of political conspiracy fame, and even Lovecraftian monstrosities. It also takes a lot of cues from fantasy and sci-fi, and we tie it all together into this slice-of-life family experience. We also drew inspiration from works like Marvel's Runaways and Neil Gaiman's Coraline.
CA: What’s it about?
CM: Irregular is the story of six children who happen to be not-quite-human. They originally live in a government facility called "The Playroom," where they are encouraged to grow and learn, but are also monitored and studied every moment of the day. When a strange message appears on one of The Playroom's computers, the kids realize that they are also being monitored from outside the facility --- by someone who threatens to expose their existence to the world!
TB: And from there the adventure truly begins: the six of them have to escape pursuit and capture, experience life in the real world, encounter creatures stranger than they are, and learn that family is not what you're born to, but who you choose to be a part of it.
CA: Who is the intended audience, and do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
TB: The intended audience is anyone who enjoys a good mystery and silly child antics, but the readership should probably be restricted to those 13 and older. There are definitely some PG-13 moments when it comes to violence and content, and we have assigned a few warnings such as "assault mention" and "gun violence" to the comic.
CA: How did you decide which mythologies to include in Irregular? And what’s gone into building a universe in which they can co-exist?
CM: We really wanted to have a cast that incorporated myths and legends from all over the world. The myth of the Yeti comes from Nepal and Tibet, the Nandi Bear is from the Rift Valley Province of Kenya , and wisps and selkies hail from Scotland and Ireland. It was relatively easy to create their world --- because people already think these creatures exist! Now we're just having fun imagining the sorts of things that these critters would have to deal with - how do you think a Sasquatch would get a cellphone? Does the Momo have wifi? That sort of thing.
CA: The leads in Irregular range from young kids to older teens, and feature a wide spectrum of emotional, physical, and mental development — never mind their various abilities. And I think it’s fair to suggest we’ve all read our fair share of fiction that fails to treat younger folks with the complexity they deserve. So, with that in mind, what’s your approach to writing and developing these kids?
CM: One of the major elements we focus on when writing Irregular is the way that children experience the world. I think a lot of adults tend to write off the emotions of kids and teenagers --- "Oh you're too young, you don't understand," or "I'll explain it when you're older." But kids really get it a lot more than we give them credit for --- they understand grief and loss and love, sometimes even more intensely than adults do. So dismissing a child's point of view is really not giving them the credit they deserve.
TB: We also take a lot of time working on the personalities that we've developed for the characters --- so when we're scripting we tend to act from the perspective of what they would be thinking at the time. A lot of our process is playacting --- talking back and forth like we are the characters, and then one of us being like, "Oh no, Omar wouldn't say that," or, "What if Maggie said this?" It really helps to get inside the mind of the character before ever writing anything.
CA: How do you plan to explore themes of power and powerlessness in the series? On one hand, these kids are young and have largely been isolated from the world around them. On the other hand, they have literal powers, enhanced abilities, etc. that can both aid them and put them at further risk, especially the kids who visibility look different from their store-brand human counterparts.
TB: Without revealing too much of the plot --- the kids are going to be presented with situations where they have to make the choice whether or not to use their powers. While their powers are superhuman and could give them the advantage, it could also jeopardize their safety and draw attention to the fact that they exist in the first place. It's all about the balance --- while they have these powers, it's their human sides that make them relatable to our audience.
CM: And I think what you've outlined here is actually one of the major points we're trying to make in the series --- that no matter your situation, you have the power to overcome those that would limit you. It's one of the reasons that most of the characters are children --- today's kids need to know that they have inside them the ability to make changes, be it their personal lives or the world around them. Sometimes all they need to do is be a friend to someone who needs it, even to that weird green girl with the tentacle hair.
CA: How has both your creative approach and the webcomic itself changed since inception?
CM: I think one of the most important things about creating a long-form project like a webcomic is staying constantly informed and well-read in the comics world. My drawing style and panel layouts have changed dramatically since we started publishing Irregular, and that's mostly thanks to me learning and growing and reading more and more.
One of the things I've had to fight through is not making every single page perfect. One, because this would take a million years, and two, because making the page 100% perfect doesn't show any growth or personality in my drawing style! I'm always striving to get better, and have been really pleased with the comic in its more recent pages.
TB: When we write the script, we keep it very open to the possibilities of changing interactions within the world, depending on how far we are within a certain chapter. This fluidity allows us to integrate new ideas when they come to us, but has enough structure that the story line is clear to the readers. I would say that Irregular has changed a lot since we sat down to write the original outline! We're always coming up with new thoughts or directions, and sometimes they just fit like puzzle pieces.
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
CM: Oh I've been reading webcomics since I was a kid. My brother turned me on to Jennie Breeden's The Devil's Panties, and it was all over from there. I always knew that one day I wanted to have my own, and had several failed attempts along the way, but now Irregular is the longest-running comic I have ever worked on, and I couldn't be prouder.
TB: I didn't start with webcomics, actually. I was very much a manga and graphic novel reader, but when I finally got a laptop I was able to see that the internet offered a lot more variety in terms of webcomics. I started to latch on to and read a variety of comics, and working with Cait has given me the opportunity to really work on my writing and actually have a long-form project to contribute to.
CA: What’s your process like?
CM: Scripting always comes first. We work on the scripts a couple months in advance from the publish dates, and keep these written out on our computers. From there, I work on thumbnails traditionally, so using pencil in my sketchbook. My thumbs are pretty large and detailed, and when it comes time to work on a particular page, I actually just scan the thumb and do ink work directly on top in Photoshop. All of the lineart, color, and lettering are done digitally, and we self-publish on our independent website.
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
CM: I definitely think that self-publishing gives creators the most freedom. It's really amazing doing everything yourself and when you hold an issue in your hands, there's a great moment of, "Wow, I made this!" Of course, a publisher is ideal because then you actually get paid (haha) but I imagine there are some things we wouldn't have been able to include or would have been encouraged against if we had gone with a publisher, and Irregular wouldn't be the same story without those elements.
CA: Between you, me, and everyone reading this piece: do you believe in cryptozoology and that supposed mythical persons like those in Irregular exist?
CM & TB: Absolutely!
CM: Personally, I've had more than enough paranormal experiences to think that there's something out there, be it ghosts or bigfoot or vampires or what have you. I love the idea that strange creatures can exist right under the nose of humanity.
TB: I've always been a big nature nerd, and humans are constantly discovering new species. So to say that a 'squatch or a selkie doesn't exist doesn't give eyewitnesses enough credit!
CM: We've also met [prolific cryptozoological author] Loren Coleman, so that helps a lot, haha!
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
CM & TB: Broadside by Noella Whitney --- Noella is one of our best friends and her comic is amazing! Queer lady pirates sail the high seas and get tangled up in the magic and drama of ancient Caribbean Gods. We love the mythology of her story, and everyone should definitely check it out.
Monsterkind by Taylor C. is an amazing story dealing with human to non-human interactions, and how humankind is not always the kindest to their counterparts. It's a story about oppression, community, and resistance, and I can't wait to see where it goes.
Blindsprings by Kadi Fedoruk also deals with magic and strange beings, and is about growing up and making your own way in the world. It follows Tamaura, a princess who has been serving the spirits of her realm and essentially trapped in limbo for 300 years. When she has her contract with the spirits forcibly broken, she has to deal with a kingdom that has completely changed, and the social stigmas now associated with magic users. A compelling adventure, and absolutely stunningly beautiful.
Skin Deep by Kory Bing is another comic all about cryptids and mythological creatures, and was actually a huge inspiration for Irregular. The main character Michelle grew up believing she was human and her father had just disappeared one day, but soon learned that he, and she, were sphinxes, and were involved in a secret war between members of the magical community. It's a fantastic read!