Madeleines & Maledictions is more than a great title – it’s a promising graphic novel project by Lela Gwenn and Valentine Barker brimming with clever mischievousness and steeped in its Southern setting. It also reflects the world as it is in all its colorful glory with a woman of color protagonist, an assistant with a physical disability, and another assistant who’s a handyhuman-slash-makeup artist. It looks just as amazing as it sounds.
Plus, there might be evil cupcakes.
Lela and Valentine – along with Frank Cvetkovic (letterer) and El Anderson (editor) – are running a Kickstarter right now to fund 4 issues of Madeleines & Maledictions. Here’s the official description of the story:
Madeleine Wright is your prototypical debutante-next-door…except the part where she lied to her parents about going to the fancy private college and instead went to pastry school and now she’s on her way to New Orleans to open a bakery. OOPS. But Madeleine isn’t the only one with secrets. Momma Wright never told her about her grandmother, a powerful curse breaker with a supernatural ability that skips a generation. Can Madeleine juggle a brand new business, keep her mother at bay and find and destroy objects of pure evil? Not without help.
Sound good? I know! That’s why I reached out to Lela and asked to interview the whole team. Happily for us, they agreed! Check out the group interview below.
Geek Dame: First off, where (or with who) did Madeleines & Maledictions originate? Did the story come first or the characters?
Lela: I had a kind of vague idea that I wanted to do a “fish out of water” type story where a kind of prissy, debutante type got thrown into a grittier, more supernatural world. There was a lot of back and forth with Valentine– bouncing ideas off of him and then it all just came together. It couldn’t be the story it is without his feedback.
Valentine: Lela approached me with a pretty fleshed out idea, truth be told. There was quite a bit of back and forth as I asked questions to get a better sense of who the characters are, but it seems to help her shape the story.
Geek Dame: We’ve got the elevator pitch for who Madeleine is to start – what about Scoot and Janus? As an aside, I love Janus’ name here – and is there a conversation to be had about the names we choose and the names we’re given? (Riffing here on the idea that Scoot and Janus aren’t necessarily going by their birth/”legal” names.)
Lela: Scoot was named “Shantideva” by her spiritual tourist parents. When they moved on from their “Indian guru” phase they tried out Earth magic and that’s how Scoot ended up with Madeleine’s grandmother. Her parents got bored and moved on, she chose to stay with Valdetta. I grew up in a (very white) Tibetan Buddhist household and spent a chunk of my life as Metok Nyima, so I totally relate to the struggle of inherited appropriation.
Janus probably picked their own name. They’ll never tell. But sharing a name with the god of transition, time and duality seems appropriate for a Handyhuman/makeup artist, no?
Geek Dame: Do you extensively storyboard for your scripts, Lela, or is it a more equitable division of labor between you and Valentine on how the script is broken down into panels?
Lela: I script in panels using the Dark Horse method because that was the first thing I found when I googled it, lo those many years ago when I started this journey. As far as art goes, I mostly leave it to Valentine. Why wouldn’t I? He’s a super-genius! I basically like for the whole team to have their own say in their respective areas. If there is confusion, El ( the editor) can hash it out. Every once in a while Valentine claims that he doesn’t understand something I wrote. I think this is mainly to force me to draw sad little stick figures to explain myself.
Valentine: I do full layouts based on the script that Lela delivers — they’re terrible small scribbles that can’t make sense to anyone but me. Sometimes I decide to add panels, sometimes I take them out. It just depends on what I think will serve the story and my sense of humor. And yeah, sometimes I ask Lela for clarification. Her drawings make me smile.
Geek Dame: How do you try to capture the flow of movement from panel to panel, Valentine? (I love that Hat & Knife guy’s flailing results in his torso breaking free of the panel and extending into the framing below.)
Valentine: There’s no real rhyme or reason to it ahead of time… it’s more of an art than a science. Sometimes something sticks out to me as an important piece of story in the script so I’ll try to call it out with a different treatment, but really I kinda feel I’m making it up as I go along. There’s still a lot of back and forth between me and Lela at this point before I even show anything final to the editor. I try to get as many eyes on the pages in progress as I can — if I can get an excited response from Lela I know I’m on the right track.
Geek Dame: What are your guiding principles on speech bubble shape and font choice in lettering on Madeleines & Maledictions, Frank?
Frank: First and foremost, my job as letterer is to marry the script and the art, to make sure that the reading order is clear, and lead the eye through the page without being intrusive or getting in the way of the art. Since Valentine’s characters have a unique curviness to them, I wanted to match that essence in the lettering with big round beautiful balloons. And I chose Blambot’s Mighty Zeo 2.0 to letter the comic with because it has these wonderful little flourishes to the Js and Gs and Ys that almost make you feel like you’re reading Lela’s dialogue with a Creole accent.
Geek Dame: Are there any specific pop culture inspirations or major influences you can point to for Madeleines & Maledictions?
Lela: [The Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt and Friday the 13th: the Series. Valentine says I should say Supernatural, because that sounds cooler…but I’m a nerd y’all.
Valentine: Heh. I’m a nerd, too, but I pitched the story to a few friends as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt meets Friday the 13th: The Series and most people seemed to get lost with that reference. I just think Supernatural is a little more hip and with it — not that I have any idea what’s hip or with it.
Geek Dame: Will there be a complete story told in the four issues you’re funding? How many pages do you expect each issue to be?
Lela: The four issue series is a complete arc. There’s a lot more to tell, but isn’t there always in comics? Each issue should be 23 pages.
Geek Dame: Valentine, can you talk a bit about how you developed the palette and shapes for these characters?
Valentine: That’s a big question! I started drawing cute curvy girls a number of years ago and it’s kind of evolved into my whole schtick. I believe that representation matters and a lot of the women that I know were… disappointed… by the representation of women — especially in comics, so it seemed a natural fit. The other characters such as Janus and The Man (hat & knife guy) were a little more difficult to pin down. Where the women were a little more short and stout I decided to go the other way with the more masculine characters. It helped quite a bit that Lela included her fancast for some of the characters in her initial pitch.
As for the palette? Lela said she wanted the story to take place in New Orleans, and more specifically the Marigny neighborhood in New Orleans, which is bright and colorful. I looked at a lot of reference and had Lela’s voice in my head to make everything bolder and brighter, like Dorothy entering OZ, so it became just a matter of getting the characters to feel they belonged in that world. It became a fun use of color and saturation to distinguish locales and general character development.
Geek Dame: What’s your playlist like for working on Madeleines & Maledictions?
Lela: That’s a Valentine question. I work in quiet (as quiet as my dogs let my house be) or to the sounds of the cheesiest horror film I can find on Netflix.
Valentine: This is kind of embarrassing, but I tend to listen to one playlist that I put together almost ten years ago. It ranges from Cake and the Wallflowers to Rage Against the Machine and Outkast. The playlist is almost exactly three hours long so I know when I’ve heard a song twice it’s probably a good time to take a break. Most importantly it’s familiar background noise that I can mostly tune out.
Geek Dame: And – this is of utmost importance – will there actually BE cursed cupcakes?
Lela: Trust no baked good.
Valentine: Knowing Lela she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve. And, when we reach goal, I plan on getting the cursed cupcake tattooed on my arm, so, yes?
The Madeleines & Malediction Kickstarter runs through Saturday, November 4th. Click through to explore their great backer levels – you could become a character in the graphic novel! – and back this project.