Hey there, fellow geeks and comic aficionados, Ryder here! Now, if you’ve been anywhere near the world of graphic novels recently, you’ve likely heard the buzz about “Dear Rosie”. Navigate real, heavy emotions with this graphic novel because it’s also based on a true story. I was lucky enough to snag a chat with its creators, Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner. So, buckle up, grab your favorite geeky snack (I’ve got my limited edition sci-fi popcorn right here), and get ready for a deep dive into the minds behind this emotional masterpiece. Let’s roll!
A heartwarming graphic novel about middle grade friendship, loss, and moving on in the spirit of Stargazing and Real Friends.
Seventh-grader Millie has the best friends in the whole world: Florence, Claire, Gabby, and Rosie, but when Rosie dies in a car accident everything changes. Rocked by grief, the remaining four girls struggle to move on. Millie barely understands her normal pre-teen feelings, let alone the messy ones left behind by Rosie, so she outruns her emotions by throwing herself into a mystery: a cryptic notebook abandoned at her family’s laundromat. Could the clues in the notebook be related to Rosie?
Together, Millie and her friends embark on a heartwarming journey to heal from the loss of Rosie and end up finding more than they ever could have even imagined.
Meghan and Rachael, can you talk about the inspiration behind “Dear Rosie” and how your personal experiences influenced the story?
Absolutely! We wanted to do something to celebrate our hometown of Frederick, MD for a long time, but an entirely fictional project never fit the bill so the idea was put on the back burner. Not long after, Meghan began working on a story to memorialize our friend Annalee who passed away unexpectedly in college. It quickly became clear that both stories were meant to be one, that Annalee and our closest friends we set out to honor were integral to our hometown experience.
How did you approach writing about such heavy themes like death, grief, and depression, especially for a young audience?
Whether it’s the death of a loved one or pet, a friend moving away, parents getting divorced, and so on, we all experience grief as children in some form or another. While there is a sadness to the story and the themes can be heavy, our characters are still full of love and laughter, doing their best to support each other and learning more about themselves along the way. We want to show that grief isn’t a simple, straightforward thing, that everyday life moves on and there are all kinds of ups and downs between attending school, playdates, and family dinners. It’s normal to feel happy, lost in the moment, only to find yourself down soon after, and by showing our characters at both their lowest and highest we hope to provide a safe environment for our readers to be themselves and find a variety of experiences to identify with. It was important that we have scenes where parents and other adults step in to support the girls, reminding them they don’t have to go it alone even though it can be scary to expose your raw emotions.
Can you discuss the decision to portray your characters as humanistic animals? How does it enhance the overall feel of the book?
We chose animals to help create a little emotional distance both for the reader and for us as we navigated our own feelings about the loss the book is based on. Adding the expressivity of ears and tails goes a long way in showing how a character is feeling, especially for younger readers who are still learning how to express their feelings and interpret others.
The book is described as being illustrated in a “warm cottagecore style.” Can you explain what that means and why you chose this style?
Both of us adore working with color and leaned into a warm palette to make the world feel lived and loved in. The friends are on a difficult journey, but their environment is vibrant and supportive, which we feel helps carry the reader along if they are experiencing their own loss. It may have been unintentional, but we are thrilled to hear people relate to our art and story through “cottagecore!”
How did your background in TV animation influence the creation of “Dear Rosie”? (Combined with: How have your experiences working in the animation industry informed your work on “Dear Rosie”?)
Animation requires working in a group and pipeline setting and we felt very prepared to deliver a high quality book at every deadline. Having clearly defined strengths and roles allowed us to pass the story around, from Meghan for color scripting and character concepts, to Rachael for layout and inking, and to Tom for dialogue and color, in a professional and timely manner. It’s much easier to avoid hurt feelings when everyone is used to divvying up tasks. Lastly, the least glamorous, but likely most important part: proper file management! All skills we learned via the animation pipeline.
Could you tell us a bit about Millie’s character and how she navigates her grief and emotions in the story?
At the outset, Millie is awash in grief, but unsure and afraid of how to share that with her friends and family. She’s at the point where everyday tasks are difficult and she doesn’t want to let anyone too close, so when she discovers the mysterious notebook at her family’s laundromat it provides the perfect opportunity for her to focus on something outside herself.
How do you think your real-life friendship impacted the way you depicted the friendships in “Dear Rosie”?
It was everything! Millie, Florence, Gabby, Claire, and Rosie are based on Meghan and our friends Beattie, Ingrid, Emily, and Annalee. Though the final result is fiction, most of the events happened in real life, just in a different order. With such a rich set of friendships to draw upon, it was easy to see how each character would react in each situation.
The book involves a mystery element with a cryptic notebook. Can you tell us more about this and its significance in the plot?
Without giving too much away, Millie’s discovery of the mysterious notebook gives her a project to focus on such that she can begin to move forward. Her desire to learn exactly what it means allows her to put her negative feelings aside and eventually come to a point of closure. Though her friends are initially skeptical, their part in this journey leads them to an unexpected and positive end.
Can you share some challenges you faced while co-creating “Dear Rosie” and how you overcame them?
Our biggest challenge: getting Florence the fox’s face right consistently! You wouldn’t believe the angles that ended up on the cutting room floor. As working artists, all of us know well the feeling of looking back at something you just drew and thinking “How did I get here?” We can credit our ability to laugh and persist to our animation careers where you can’t just abandon an assignment, you have to get it right whether on the first go or the seventh revision!
How did you balance the heavy themes in the book with lighter, heartwarming elements?
In the wake of tragedy, life keeps happening around you. Some of those moments can be overwhelming, and others are little opportunities to find lightness and mirth, reminders that life won’t always be so hard. The silly neighbor Mr. DeAlba, Gabby’s consistent pranks, younger siblings jumping on the bed or dancing around like nothing’s wrong, those are all unexpected parts of the real grieving process and it’s okay to take in the happy moments as they come.
What messages do you hope young readers will take away from “Dear Rosie”?
Grief is a unique and winding journey. We hope our readers come away knowing that they don’t have to have the perfect response, that their emotions will vary day to day in ways they may not always understand, and that it’s okay to lean on trusted friends and family for support along the way.
How does your previous work on a webcomic and animated shorts influence your approach to a graphic novel like “Dear Rosie”?
For four years, we made a weekly webcomic called “Pig and Pug”, a frivolous, pun-based comic intended just for fun. It allowed the two of us to stay in touch when we lived on opposite coasts and helped establish the sort of regular practice you need to tackle longer art projects.
Can you tell us about the process of co-writing and co-illustrating a graphic novel? What was your collaborative process like?
Our workflow was a bit chaotic due to the fact that we were all working other jobs throughout the entire process from pitch to publication. Meghan and Tom wrote the story together, with Meghan providing the overall arc and Tom honing in on specifics and handling dialogue. When it came time for art, Rachael made thumbnails of the entire comic layout while Meghan designed the characters. Rough art, inking and the color script (a small painting that informs the color progression through each page) was split evenly between Rachael and Meghan, and Tom colored about half the book with Meghan and Rachael jumping in once inking was complete. We were all firing on all cylinders and doing overlapping work at all times, weaving in between our day jobs and assigning things out according to our talents. Every project is unique! If you’re undertaking a long form collaborative project, we recommend staying open to the emergent strengths each individual displays as the process rolls along.
How did you handle the representation of pre-teen emotions in “Dear Rosie”, especially in light of the tragedy they’re dealing with?
It’s important to us that we meet our young readers where they are and not talk down to them. For that reason, we sought to show the friends experiencing their emotions in as raw of a state as necessary, even at inconvenient times, rather than pretending these things progress along a standardized script or sugar-coating the process. Cracking a joke at the wrong time, snapping at someone you love, or setting yourself apart from a group that only wants to bring you together are experiences we stumble through at all ages.
Could you explain how Millie and her friends’ journey to heal unfolds throughout the story?
Without spoiling individual plot points, they begin as disparate entities, each struggling and overcompensating using their own coping mechanisms. They clash, grow distant, and ultimately learn to lean on one another again by focusing on the shared past that brought them to this moment. Simply put, it’s about learning to open up and take a chance on your friends.
Can you share any specific anecdotes or instances from your own lives that directly inspired parts of “Dear Rosie”?
Most of the events in the story happened in real life, but our favorite is the flashback where the crew works on a large mural. In real life, we spent eight months on a hulking, wilted piece of cardboard, continuously applying new paint in an effort to save it to no avail, and the mural was ultimately rejected as nonsensical by the administration. It was shoved to the back of the classroom where it likely haunts students to this day!
Why did you choose a laundromat as the place where Millie finds the mysterious notebook?
Meghan: Growing up in Frederick, I would gaze at a busy laundromat from my parents’ car whenever we went downtown. Stealing glances when nobody was looking, I’d wonder about the lives of the patrons and make up stories about where they were coming and going to, all meeting at this laundromat in the interim. While the laundromat is long gone, I knew it was the perfect central setting for Dear Rosie.
What was your favorite part about creating “Dear Rosie”?
Meghan: Spending time with my friends every day as I drew them on the page. It was an honor to bring our stories to life, little by little!
Rachael: Working with a team to create something bigger and better than I could on my own! Animation is obviously collaborative, but television productions are so massive that your work can get lost amidst the whole. In creating Dear Rosie I had the perfect balance of working with other people while having a final product that feels like my own.
Are there any future projects or books that we can look forward to from the two of you?
We are knee-deep in the pitch process for a new graphic novel! Unfortunately we cannot mention specifics at this time, but it is similarly about a group of young people navigating a subject we feel isn’t discussed enough.
Well, wasn’t that a rollercoaster of insight and emotion? Thanks to Meghan and Rachael for taking the time to dish all the details with us. Now, if you haven’t picked up “Dear Rosie” yet… seriously, what are you waiting for? Anyway, this is Ryder signing off. Until our next geeky rendezvous, remember: always read between the panels because that’s where the real magic happens! Stay nerdy, my friends.