We all deal with heartbreak in our own ways. Some people eat, some write poetry, and some smash things they may or may not regret smashing later. In the case of writer and artist Lisa Maas, she turned hers into the new graphic novel Forward (paperback). Though in asking her questions about it for the following interview, she also noted that it was inspired by other people’s stories of love.
Photo Credit: Vanessa van de Mortel
What is Forward about?
Forward is a story about two women, Rayanne and Ali. Rayanne is a woman who has been through a bad breakup. It’s been a while, and she’s convinced herself that her life is full, and that having crushes — as opposed to an actual relationship — is enough for her. One of the crushes she develops is on Ali, someone she’s never met in person. When she realizes her crush is getting serious, it unsettles her and she has to decide if she will act upon those feelings in real life.
And then there’s Ali who’s lost her wife within the past year. She’s totally functioning on autopilot and just going through the motions of living. One day, out of the blue, she’s ambushed by a crush and her life is turned upside down. Her crush is on a younger woman and Ali feels like her wife is sending her a message to wake up and start living again.
When Ray and Ali’s paths finally do cross, it forces them to work through the things that are holding them back from forming a deeper connection.
Where did you get the idea for Forward and how different is the finished graphic novel from that original idea?
As I remember it, I got the idea for Forward when two things happened almost simultaneously in my life. The first thing that happened was I’d had a crush that had just ended and I was feeling totally devastated. The second thing was I was walking by a big office building and wondered if anybody was watching me. Like Ali, I had lost my wife. I used to walk for hours every day after she died. Victoria [British Columbia, in Canada] is a fairly small city, and people kept telling me “oh, I saw you out walking the other day…” I realized what a pitiful picture I presented. I mean, in retrospect, I’m sure nobody cared, but back then it felt like I was living in a fishbowl.
I don’t think it took me that long to plot out the story. I think it was a matter of weeks or maybe a month at the most. In the end, Forward turned out to be pretty close to the original storyline. What kept it interesting for me though, is how certain scenes took on a life of their own within the framework of the plotline.
In terms of the story, are there any writers or specific books that were a big influence on Forward?
Though Forward is fiction, it’s a very personal story. It reflects a lot of what I went through. When I started to have feelings for someone new after almost a decade of loving one person, it brought up all kinds of complicated feelings around grief.
I think the way the story is told is definitely influenced by lesbian romance novels. Maybe I should be embarrassed about saying that, but I’m not. Lesbian romance novels got me through some tough times. In some of my favorite books there is the device of changing perspectives from one character to the other, there are the misunderstandings, the well-intentioned friends, the obstacles — real and imagined — that get in the way of two people coming together. My very favorite author of that genre is Karin Kallmaker, in my opinion she does it better than anyone else. My favorite book of hers is Touchwood. When I started writing Forward, I was having a hard time coming up with a name for my main character. I used the name Rayanne from that book — because I loved that character so much — as a stopgap until I could come up with a better one. Of course, I never got around to changing it.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had an influence on Forward?
I’m having a hard time thinking of non-literary influences for my book. I mean, I’ve watched my fair share of lesbian movies and I love romantic comedies in general, but I’ve definitely been more influenced by books than other media.
And how about the art, what were the big influences on the art in Forward, both literary and not?
I am a huge fan of highly detailed, fully painted graphic novels. My biggest influence would be the work of Hannah Berry from the UK. I think when I saw her book Britten And Brulightly I was blown away and wanted to emulate that style. Of course, it turns out my style doesn’t look anything like hers. I also really like the artwork of Jill Thompson in the book Beasts Of Burden, Juanjo Guarnido’s artwork in Blacksad, and Julie Maroh is another favorite of mine with Blue Is The Warmest Color.
One thing I noticed about the art in Forward is that it seems like all of the people look alike. Was this intentional or just a function of your style?
I totally don’t see that, but I’ll take your word for it. I’ve lost all perspective on what my art looks like, having worked on it day in and day out for so long. That must just be a function of my style.
Now, as you probably know, movies, TV shows, and video games based on comic books are a big thing these days. Has there been any interest in adapting Forward into a movie, show, or game?
No, I haven’t heard anything about any interest in adapting Forwardinto something else. But this is my first graphic novel, so nobody knows me.
I suppose if it were to be adapted into something else, the best fit would be a movie. It kind of has that romantic comedy or dramedy storyline ark.
If Forward was adapted into a movie, who would you pick to star in it?
Oh my God…I have no idea. I am so out of the loop in regards to who is out there in the entertainment world these days. My hope would be that it would be women who are actually their 40s and that Ali was cast as a more boyish dyke. We are out there; we exist. In most of the movies I’ve seen, all the lesbians look like supermodels. I’m sure some lesbians look like that, but a little variety would be nice. Failing that, if I had to name a few names I would re-create my favorite duo of Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker à la Fried Green Tomatoes.
Finally, if someone enjoys Forward, what graphic novel would you suggest they read next and why that?
This is kind of embarrassing…I don’t read a lot of graphic novels. Again, I’m really out of the loop. I hope I’m wrong, and someone will point me in the direction of a few titles, but it feels like there’s not a lot of queer graphic novel fiction out there. The most similar book I can think of is Julie Maroh’s Blue Is The Warmest Color. I love that book, and I’ve given it to friends as a gift more times than I can count. While not similar content-wise, art-wise I would recommend checking out Hannah Berry. She seems to gravitate more towards a darker genre. Her style is awesome.