While studying art history and photography in college may not sound like a background that would lead to writing comics, Ivy Noelle Weir found the best creative outlet to let her take advantage of all her interests. While we could have spent another entire chat related to her job as a librarian, our focus here was on her journey to becoming an award-winning comics author.
First, the particulars…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer
Your home base: Philadelphia
Any other sites where you’re active: I just joined tiktok and I have no idea what I’m doing, but folks can find me at @ivyohwell.
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I start with the big question: Why comics? What attracts you as a creator specifically to making comics?
Ivy Noelle Weir: I grew up reading comics, and making them, as well. I used to fill entire sketchbooks in a matter of days with my own comics. I always wanted to be a writer, but then I went to college for art history and photography. I thought I wanted to be an art critic, and I sort of abandoned fiction writing for a while. When I returned to reading comics after college and eventually making them, I felt like it was this perfect blend of my lifelong passion for writing and my interest in visual art and visual storytelling.
KS: What did your comics reading diet look like in your younger years? Were you a regular collector?
INW: I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to reading comics. My mom was a pretty avid reader; she took my brother and I to the comic book store basically weekly. I was reading her comics — Love & Rockets, Swamp Thing — and also getting into my own favorites, especially Claremont’s X-Men stuff. I also read a lot of manga.
KS: Fanbase Press launched the #StoriesMatter initiative in 2020 to highlight the impact that stories can have on their audience. What was a particular comic story that really hit you in your younger days?
INW: I think the moment I really felt inspired, like, gut-punch inspired and amazed, was when I read Hellboy: The Chained Coffin & Others in high school.
KS: Why was that the right story for you at the right time?
INW: I think because I was such a big mythology nerd as a kid, and it was actually reading "The Corpse" in particular, within that anthology of vignettes — I was like, wow, comics can be mythology and mythology can be comics. It felt like such a perfect continuation of the human urge to tell stories, revisit them and reimagine them. I mean, this is me looking back on it with adult eyes — as a teenager, I think I was mostly just blown away by Mignola’s art and his ability to do so much often with a really minimal amount of dialogue. He’s really a master at creating a mood, in tandem with the colorists who work with him.
KS: I’m always interested in where, when, and how the notion of an artistic career first arises for a person. In your case, was there a specific “a-ha” moment of inspiration?
INW: I think I was probably doomed to be an artist; I was raised by an artist mom and my brother is also a writer. Add to that a penchant for being an indoor kid who preferred books to people and I think the stars were pretty much aligned for me. I did sort of meander about what I wanted to do in the arts — writing, visual media, film, etc etc — it wasn’t until I got involved in comic book retail that I actually thought about comics as a real career.
KS: Is there a work you’d point to as your first serious piece of writing? Either in how you felt about it at the time or looking back now…
INW: [I] feel like there was a time as a teenager when I felt really deeply connected to everything that I wrote, and then a long time as an adult where I didn’t think anything I wrote was a big deal at all. I guess the easy answer is Archival Quality, because that was the first time something I wrote made it into the hands of people outside of friends or academia.
KS: How did you first make the leap into writing for comics? Did you have a story that specifically worked for that format, or was a desire to work in the format primary and then you found a story?
INW: I had been working on Archival Quality as a novel for a couple years. At the time, I was working in a comic book store, and I joined an online group for people who worked in comic shops — that’s where I met Steenz. I saw their art and immediately was so charmed by it, and I was like… well, can this novel work as a comic? Would this person want to maybe make that comic with me even if I sort of have no idea what I’m doing? And I asked them out on like, a…”Will you make a comic with me?” date. Thankfully, they agreed and we made Archival Quality together!
KS: As a fellow veteran of the comic store cash register, I need to follow this tangent… What store did you work at?
INW: I was working part time at a public library, about to go into grad school for my MLIS, and knew the owners of the shop: The Comic Book Shop! in Wilmington, DE. When they heard I was looking for work to make up some more income, they gave me some shifts at the shop because they knew I liked comics. It was a great job — I loved the community I got to build among the regulars, and we did some really fun clubs, programming, etc. I'm still friends with some of the regular customers.
KS: In between reading your mom’s comics when younger and working there, were you keeping up with the industry at all?
INW: I was to an extent. I read comics all through high school, and then I left for college and I sort of stopped. I'd pick up a graphic novel here and there, but I was also really broke — stereotypical starving art student — and living in NYC, so it wasn't easy for me to keep up with weekly books or anything. I used to wander around Forbidden Planet since it was really close to my college, and I think I even tried to convince them to give me a job, haha. But there was probably a gap from like 2008 to 2012 where I wasn't keeping up as much.
KS: Getting back to your partnership with Steenz, what’s the “secret sauce” that makes you work so well together as collaborators?
INW: I think Steenz and I work together so well because we both have really strong visions for what we want, and we’re both really into the idea of communicating a lot. Maybe too much, haha. We talk every day because Steenz is also my best friend, but when we’re working on a project together, we’re both constantly talking to each other when we’re working, running things by each other, sending each other snippets, giving each other feedback in real time. It’s an intensely collaborative relationship, and every finished book we make really feels totally co-owned by both of us, which I love.
KS: Who are some of your trusted sources to give you feedback on writing before it leaves the nest?
INW: I always trust Steenz's opinion, and they get a lot of my early, half-baked ideas rambled at them via discord, or occasionally via a weird voice message while I'm walking to the train or something. I also am lucky to have an amazing agent who is a fantastic sounding board.
KS: Are there certain types of feedback you find valuable as a writer?
INW: I tend to be sort of a solitary, private person, and so the biggest thing I want from an editor or a first read is like feedback on if the idea has a place in the world at large. Will this resonate with folks? What's working in terms of accessibility, what needs to be opened up more and expanded on to make sense to people who aren't me?
KS: Tell us a little about how your work gets done these days. Do you have a steady writing routine?
INW: I work a pretty demanding 9-5 job, so I write early. When I was on deadline for Archival Quality, I actually was also working full-time and in grad school (and somehow am still alive!). So, I got into the habit of going to bed at what I call “grandpa hours” and getting up around 5 a.m. to write. I found that being up early was actually really conducive to getting writing done, as opposed to trying to squeeze in time after work when I’m already tired, so I’ve just kept doing that. If you’ve ever read something I wrote, chances are it was written before the sun was up, haha.
KS: Are you generally more of a word count, page count, or time-in-the-seat writer?
INW: Oh boy, I am surely not a quota person. I sit down and I write and kind of just go until I feel my concentration or quality eroding. I will say one thing I pride myself on is my ability to hit deadlines; I just work in the way that best serves meeting that. I think I am sort of a disaster person when it comes to being a writer — I hear about other writers who have these formulas or routines for writing and I'm kind of like... just winging it, haha.
KS: Having now written graphic novels for different reader groups, at what point does awareness of a potential audience enter into your story planning? Do you work with a certain group in mind, or tell the story you want to tell independent of who it might appeal to?
INW: I mean, obviously if I am working on something like The Secret Garden on 81st Street for middle grade readers, I’m not going to fill it with violence and cursing, or whatever. But I think people underestimate juvenile audiences and the sophistication they can handle — that they want! — in their stories. So, I think I still do tell the story that I want to tell, ultimately, I just also make it approachable.
KS: What’s a hobby of yours that gets you away from the writing desk? Something you practice, collect, study…
INW: I'm a very avid baker! I got into baking in my early 20s and I'd say I'm a fairly advanced hobbyist at this point. I'm actually taking an online course in January with Christina Tosi from Milk Bar, and I'm so stoked. I think if I could do it all again I might've pursued being a pastry chef.
KS: As we wrap up, please give us a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
INW: I’m constantly in awe of my peers. Like, for example, just recently I read Tidesong by Wendy Xu, The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor, and The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, and after every single one of them, I put them down and basically just was like emotionally choked up by how good the work folks are making is. Beyond our collaborative relationship, I admire Steenz so much for their work on Heart of the City which is one of the very most accessible forms of comics: a syndicated strip that can be read by basically anyone, anywhere. And people are making independent and crowdfunded work that’s also pushing things in really cool directions.
KS: Finally, talk about your most recent projects, what you’re working on now, and anything we should be on the lookout for in 2022.
INW: The Secret Garden on 81st Street with Amber Padilla came out in October from Little Brown for Young Readers, and my first-ever single issue series, Bountiful Garden, from Mad Cave Studios — with Kelly Williams, Giorgio Spalletta, Justin Birch, and edited by Steenz! — wraps up over the next two months. It’s been so cool to see it come out, and I hope folks will pick up the trade if they weren’t able to follow the issues. And in March of 2022, my next middle grade comes out with Little Brown for Young Readers, Anne of West Philly, with the amazing Myisha Haynes, a modern re-telling of Anne of Green Gables set in my hometown of Philly.