Kat Gemmill is a stay at home mom and former baker. Currently in Seattle, formerly from McKinleyville California, she is the creator of Magnetic North.
Magnetic North is a slice of life story that follows Steve, Jugsy, and Roy from their small town high school graduation through the first year of college, losing high school sweethearts, full time jobs, and just figuring out how to be the adult in the room. Some weather it better. Expect anxiety, angst, awkward encounters, and an extremely easy-to-enrage set of redheaded twins to make things more amusing.
Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I technically majored in creative writing, but ended up failing out due to immense burnout and a lackluster program. The best creative writing education I’ve received actually came from the single workshop class offered at my junior college (College of the Redwoods in Eureka, CA). As for art, no, no I am entirely self taught and I feel like it shows.
Why is the title “Magnetic North”?
The totem pole in the comic is based on a real totem pole in my hometown. It was pretty centrally located and so my friends and I would joke about how it was the magnetic center of the universe. And there’s a Less Than Jake song by the same name that has always resonated with me as what growing up in that small town felt like. So I let myself be a giant ska nerd.
You’ve been working on Magnetic North since 2013! What’s it like having worked on a project for that long? What have you learned over the years in terms of art and/or writing?
I’ve actually been working on MagNorth (as a comic) since 2004! The original 100ish pages were super meander-y and while I feel the writing holds up, I was constantly writing myself into corners and nothing was happening and I wasn’t proud of where it was going. So I mercy killed it with a shovel and tried to scrub it from the internet. But I love my 3 idiot children so I started over again in 2013 (that’s the version on the site). It’s both strange and perfectly natural to me that I’ve been writing these kids for as long as I have, they’re basically a part of me.
Sometimes I look back at old art and go “I had no idea how to draw them, I’m glad I figured it out” and sometimes I look back and just fall apart because I used to know how to draw hands and I don’t anymore. I’ve learned that when it comes to writing, writing a page at a time can kill a thing you love very quickly. So write out the first chapter, maybe the first arc, write a loose outline for it with a distant idea of an end point as a goal post. You can foreshadow that way, and the story will be stronger. For art, it’s a version of “done is better than perfect”, but it’s something a teacher once said to me. “You just gotta make it LOOK like a hand. So long as we know what it is, unless it’s the focus of the panel, just move on. We all know what a hand looks like, we can fill in the blanks for you.” (This might be why I can’t draw hands anymore.)
How long do you intend to keep Magnetic North running? Do you have an ending in mind or are you going to keep going on for as long as you possibly can?
MagNorth is only intended to follow Steve, Roy, and JJ through the first year out of highs chool, so it will end when I get the kids back to June (right now I’ve gotten them to early September, so it’ll take me a while to get there!). I have a vague idea of the ending, but I’m sure it’ll shift at least a little before I get there.
Are there any characters who are inspired by people you know in real life?
Absolutely. Loitering at the small town totem pole and drinking yoohoo was absolutely a thing I used to do with some friends as a kid, so when I was creating characters I pulled traits from us–Roy played trumpet in high school because one of those friends played trumpet. JJ’s easy to anger and gets picked up and carried like a house cat because that was me. Steve is only good at old school nintendo games because the other friend wasn’t allowed to have new game systems.
The only character at this point though that I can pinpoint as “this is a real person” is Tony. Tony is absolutely based on my buddy Tim. Tim knows this. Tim is very happy and proud about this.
How long does it take you to complete one page?
Anywhere from 2 days to a full week. I’m currently a stay at home mom and so my 4 year old always has to come first. And I’ve recently started drawing actual backgrounds and environments, so that’s not helping me work quickly.
Do you have any favorite artists who influenced your style?
None consciously. I don’t see myself having a style so much as just “I drew the thing and i was happy with it”, which sounds a bit pretentious maybe. But it’s less stressful for me to draw that way. There are artists who inspire me to do better though–Ian Salsbery (@ on twitter/creates Pacifica) makes me want to push my background game, and Meg Evans (@grumperpants) makes me want to draw all the ruffles. In general, Boum (Boumeries), Lindsay Ishihiro (How Baby/Motherlover), and Lucy Knisley are artists I admire for how effortless they make it look.
What is your process like for creating comic pages? What tools do you use? How long does it take you to complete one page?
I tend to work on paper as long as I can, partly because I can’t be at a computer all the time, but also because it’s easier for me to see how much I’ve done so I get discouraged less. I script/thumb a handful of pages at once on the same page, it helps me work out pacing and emotional beats and not having too many words at once. I pencil on printer paper, then scan and ink and color it digitally. I’ve got a wacom intuos and clip studio and it serves me just fine. Pencils can take 30 minutes to 2 hours. Inking to done can take a day and a half to a full week, depending on number of panels, backgrounds, and if I make myself draw something dumb like a motorcycle.
How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
The first go around, I think it took 3 days. The second time around, I took a good 4-6 months of world building and character designing and scripting. I didn’t let myself draw a single page until I had at least a chapter and a half written. I didn’t want to worry about forgetting a plot point before I even got to it and then being stuck in a corner with nowhere to go. That always leads to bad writing and more corners for me.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making Magnetic North? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
The biggest hurdle I’ve had is life itself. Work/life balance, mental health, being a social creature, spawning a small child that refuses to nap. It’s not a bad hurdle to have. If I could go back though, I’d tell myself that drawing slow is better than not at all, and will actually help with a lot of the rough stuff. And then I’d go back father and tell myself not to let the original domain lapse because russian viagra bots will never let it go.
What was your favorite part about working on Magnetic North?
I like the writing part a lot. I like setting up pins to knock down later. And I genuinely love writing dialogue. It’s my happy place.
What was your LEAST favorite part about working on Magnetic North?
I keep writing all these scenes that make me need to draw cars and motorcycles and I then I have to draw them and I genuinely hate drawing cars and motorcycles. I put a whole scene in a half full parking lot. I don’t know why i did that. It was the worst.
Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Roy. Roy’s anxious and nerdy and makes horrible jokes but he’s also a mom-friend and so not only is it really easy for me to get into his headspace, when I’m writing dialogue with him it feels more natural. It’s fun to write him trying not to panic as other characters run circles around him.
Do you have a LEAST favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us about them!
Rissa. Rissa is only shown through flashbacks in other’s people’s memories. So it’s not flattering at all and I’m constantly trying to walk that line of “is she really a bad person or just heavily disliked?”. She’ll eventually show up outside of a flashback, and I’ll need her to not be so jarringly different that she’s unrecognizable.
Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Jugsy. Hands down. JJ’s this curvy little murdercat and I love her because her face only knows pure joy or pure rage and her hair is alive and reacts to her mood like ghibli hair/a cat’s ears.
Do you have a LEAST favorite character to draw?
Judith. I love the way I designed her, but her face. Her face hurts me. And which I try to draw her traditionally I have to draw a million freckles. Any page with Judith takes an extra 45 minutes because of her face.
Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
MagNorth is rated PG13, but it’s almost entirely for swears.
Have you read Magnetic North yet? Let us know what you think in the comments! Or, hey, go to the creator’s site and show some love 😀
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