Between the Panels: Writer Molly Muldoon on Second-Guessing, Werewolf Boyfriends, and Not Waiting to Start Writing

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

To borrow from Molly Muldoon’s bio, she’s been “a preschool teacher, a master's student, an independent bookseller, a librarian in training, and an editor and comics writer. It’s the latter two career stops that bring her here, to talk about the journey from reader to fanfic writer to “name above the title” creator.

First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer
Your home base: Portland, OR
Social Media
Instagram: @passingfair
Twitter: @passingfair

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: For starters, what attracts you specifically to working in the comics format?

Molly Muldoon: One thing I love about comics is that it always mystifies me. I am a horrible artist and working with someone incredibly talented to tell a story in a way I never could on my own always kind of blows my mind. I love that teamwork in comics.
KS: How did this medium first find you, or vice versa?

MM: When I was younger, my father would take me to comic book shops, and I’d search out my two favorite topics: Scooby-Doo and Star Trek (the original series). I was super cool in fifth grade, obviously. I also got into anime and manga when I was in middle and high school, and that was most of my comic reading until my early twenties.

KS: What did those shopping trips look like? Can you recall any specifics of the days?

MM: They were usually part of a larger day that involved visiting humane shelters and playgrounds and such. We’d go to a comic shop and I’d flip through the long boxes for Star Trek and Scooby comics I didn’t have yet, and usually come out with maybe five floppies? I still have most of them hanging around somewhere at my parents’ house.

KS: How about a particular comic story you encountered in your younger years that had a real impact on you?

MM: The first comic I read that I was like “Oh, this is really cool” was Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler.

KS: And why was that the right story for you at the right time?

MM: I’d read floppies as a kid and manga in my teens, but, in my early twenties, I had a friend in comics give me some of her favorites so I could get a better idea of what was out there and this was my favorite of the bunch. It showed me that comics could tell any kind of story, not just superheroes or TV show tie-ins. I think that’s when I was officially all-in for comics.

KS: Did you have the idea anywhere during this time period about being a professional writer? You were consuming different types of material, but I’m wondering when the thought process jumped from being a fan to “This is something I want to pursue ‘for real’.”

MM: I honestly don’t think so! People have told me all my life that I was a good writer, but I didn’t feel particularly confident myself. I actually thought that I wanted to be an editor, as I spent a lot of high school and college helping friends polish up their own works. The thought of being the writer myself didn’t strike me until much, much later.

KS: Was there a realistic Molly career trajectory that didn’t involve writing at all?

MM: Probably not a realistic one, but there is a part of me that always wanted to be a detective. My friends tease me that I make everything into a mystery I can solve. I did look into it when I was in college but when I realized you had to be a beat cop before you could be a detective, I was out because I would be a frankly horrendous beat cop.

KS: Let’s talk about your writing life before you became a professional. Can you remember roughly when you first started practicing the craft?

MM: I started writing fan fiction in maybe sixth grade? Fell out of it for a while in high school and then went a bit mad for it in college. I was a big fan fiction writer in a tiny fandom around 2008-2010, and I think that was when I really got a feeling for my style. It wasn’t until 2015 when I started brainstorming a book with my pal Terry that I really thought I could start writing books for real, though.

KS: What types of fanfic were you writing? Were there certain properties that became your go-to favorites?

MM: In high school, it was a lot of anime with some painful self-insert characters, mostly Cardcaptor Sakura and Digimon. In college, I wrote about the Japanese boyband Arashi. I guess I was on the Asian pop train slightly too early there.

KS: Was your work posted or published anywhere back then?

MM: Oh god, unfortunately. Hopefully, most of that early high school stuff is lost to the sands of time — but are probably on still. As for the college work, I had my own website and everything! I’ve been considering for a while taking it down to potentially plagiarize myself in future comics, but it’s still up for now.

KS: Then, to make a jump to the other side: When was the first time you ever got paid for a piece of writing?

MM: The first time was when I put together an anthology with my pal Kel McDonald. Kel’s done a million of them and had the idea for an anthology of cute, funny werewolf stories called Can I Pet Your Werewolf. We did a short story together, me writing and Kel drawing, and it’s my first published story, as well as the first piece of writing I ever got paid for. I am incredibly proud of it as it’s both my first truly published work and I got to make it with one of my best friends.

KS: I have to ask the premise of your werewolf story…

MM: Of course! So, the whole anthology is great, but our story was about two boyfriends, one who was already a werewolf and one who had just been turned — against his will — and how they adjust to their new lifestyle. I have a big soft spot for it.

KS: There’s a difference between the kind of creative writing that fills notebooks with stories and writing in the comics format. Who or what put the idea of writing for comics in your head?

MM: I’ve been friends with people in comics for a very long time but because they were mostly artists, I always heard horror stories about bad writers. I did not want to be the kind of person my friends complained about so even when friends would prod, I always said I wasn’t going to write comics. Then, my friend Terry Blas called me up and said he had an idea for a murder mystery, he’d got it all set up until the murder … but he didn’t know who did it. I’m a huge murder mystery person, so we sat down at a Starbucks and plotted the whole book out in four hours. After that, I was writing the book with him and that’s where my first book, Dead Weight, came from.

KS: How did you learn to write in the comics format? Or was Terry already knowledgeable when it came to that? 

MM: That was one of the big advantages of writing with a friend who’d already made lots of comics. Thanks to him, I got a feel for how to write in the format. I still love to look at how other people write their scripts because everyone is so different! I try to tailor mine to whoever I’m working with and what they like in their scripts: how much panel description, how much layout, etc. Having pals in the biz is very helpful in that regard!

KS: In addition to your writing work, you’re also an editor. Do your two sides co-exist peacefully?

MM: Being an editor for quite a while before being a writer does kind of mess with your head a bit. I’ve a bad habit of second-guessing everything and always having to go back and redo things rather than plunging forward and fixing later (as I tend to recommend to people I’m working with.) I also tend to overthink things to the point where I have trouble just getting started. When that starts happening, I think back to the advice my advisor gave me in grad school: If you’re waiting until you’re ready to start writing, you’ll never write anything. I always try to start projects with that in the back of my mind.

KS: Was/is there a typical way you’d find editorial work?

MM: Back in the day I used to have a profile on the Editorial Freelancers Association website and also just get work through friends. Nowadays, it’s more word of mouth through friends and or through my pal Katrina’s company, Refine Editing. I’ve also just started doing some freelancing for Seven Seas manga, which I’m loving.

KS: Can you guesstimate the balance between returning clients and new ones?

MM: My priority has been more on writing than editing in the past few years, so I’ve really only been doing a few one-off projects and books with some returning clients. In a few months, I’ll be moving and don’t currently have a new job lined up, so I might be looking to add some more editing to my schedule!

KS: Please tell us a hobby of yours totally unrelated to writing or comics. Something you collect, study, practice, etc.

MM: Most of my hobbies are story-related. I’m a huge reader — I’m also a librarian and book reviewer — so if I’m not writing, I’m probably reading. I’ve already read something like 60 books this year; it’s kind of a problem. I’m also really into podcasts and would love to make a book podcast of my own someday, if I could ever figure out how to edit one.

KS: I’ve spoken to some writers who make a point to only read non-fiction, biographies, things of that ilk while writing stories of their own. Do you have to keep things compartmentalized at all?

MM: Oh, not at all! I’m reading whatever sounds interesting to me at any time as it comes into my hands. Working at a library, I almost constantly have something like 50 books checked out, because I also tend to think everything sounds interesting. I don’t think I could limit myself if I tried.

KS: Give us a comic or graphic novel from any era that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest form.

MM: I love horror and I’m in awe of pretty much anything Emily Carroll does. His Face All Red completely changed my idea of what a comic could be. Through The Woods is such a beautiful nightmare of a book.

KS: And to wrap up, tell readers what you’re working on now and what we should be on the lookout for in 2022.

MM: A Quick and Easy Guide to Asexuality just came out at the end of March, and I’m incredibly proud of it, if people want to get their hands on something right now. Everything else I’m currently working on is still veiled behind a screen of secrecy, I’m afraid, but I’m always on Twitter, and I’m dipping my toes into Tumblr, which will have updates about any projects in the future — and a lot of cat pictures as I’m adopting a kitten in June!

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