Spotlight

Trophallaxis – A Reminder to not Drink Weird Trash

Mitzi Medrano is an animation student from southern California, born and raised.  She is first gen, queer, and pays the bills as a line and prep cook. She loves birds.

Isa Petrera is a self-taught novelist from New York, learning and experimenting with script writing in order to write Trophallaxis. They’re queer, trans, and they work as a transcriptionist in podcasting. Also, they have a fat, old, whiny cat named Riley.

Mitzi and Isa are the creators of Trophallaxis.

Synopsis: Karaoke night with the girls takes a dire turn for Bepe, a homebody who has never ventured far from her shack, when she finds herself waking up with a bang on a whole new planet after one too many.

Lost, hungover, and unable to stop attracting danger, it falls on her unlikely allies and her own arcane power to help find her way home.

Remember kids, don’t drink weird trash.

Is your comic available in any other languages? If so, what language(s)?
Not at the moment. Mitzi wants to translate it into Spanish, one day.

Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
Mitzi goes to Laguna College of Art and Design, and is majoring in animation. Isa is self taught.

What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Fantasy. Freedom of aesthetic, not being constrained by realism either in our visuals or our storytelling. (Come on, we’ve all played Skyrim.) We make the rules, and it’s up to us to have them make sense for the story, which is great for centering the main action. Also, magic is pretty.

Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Sci-Fi and comedy. It mainly takes place in space, and that heavily informs the aesthetic. All the characters are aliens, and they’re mostly terrible people.

What was your inspiration for the story?
Isa: A lot of video games. I played a lot of Dishonored and the Thief trilogy, and also Psychonauts, Skyrim, and Borderlands while conceiving of the story of Trophallaxis. I also referenced Avatar: The Last Airbender a lot, as an example of a phenomenal story well executed.

These pieces of media are wildly contrasting in tone and aesthetic, but they’re all rich in storytelling and lore. I pulled elements from each that really appealed to me, thought about what made them appealing, and ran with it. Trophallaxis is a mishmash of all of these things and more.

Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
Mitzi: I’m a massive fan of Sarah Jolley, KC Green, Craig McCracken, and Jorge Gutierrez. Those are just off the top of my head, I can really go on and on; I love a lot of different things about all my favorite artists and writers. I’m a sucker for bouncy toons and clever character designs.

Isa: Growing up, my favorite authors were Neil Gaiman and Brian Jacques. In recent years I could pull more fiction podcast writers than authors, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Marc Sollinger, Jonny Sims, the McElroys.

It’s harder to cite writers for other media. Any TV show, game, or movie you like can ultimately be chalked up to a whole team of writers and it would be a disservice to credit just one. But I am very fond of a lot of animated shows such as Ducktales, Wander over Yonder, Gravity Falls, the list goes on.

How long does it take you to complete one page?
Mitzi: Anywhere between three and five hours, I believe. But I start counting from the sketch phase. Thumbnailing and panel layouts eat up a lot of time if I’m feeling picky, so I get those steps done for multiple pages in advance before I start to seriously work on whatever page needs doing.

What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
Mitzi: I have a template with a little border that I paste super quick thumbnails into. Usually I thumbnail on sticky notes, index cards, or whatever I have handy, and I take phone pictures of them and send them to myself. From there I work out the panel shapes and sizes, place down dialogue bubbles, then start sketching. Sometimes after the lines get done, I send them over to Isa to color in the flats, because they like coloring. I get the page with the flat colors back, then I start painting in the backgrounds. Character shading/rendering comes last, along with any effects or layer shenanigans. All the digital steps are done in Krita, start to finish.

Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
Definitely definitive ending, we know where it’s gonna go. It’ll be about 18-20 chapters, stretched across three acts.

How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Mitzi: About a year and a half, maybe two. It was a lot of brainstorming; Isa wanted to know every major story beat before we began, and I wanted to nail all the character designs down to full turnarounds. In the end, neither of us got as far as we wanted before we started posting. But we love what we have so far, and what’s left to come, and we agree just going for it was the right choice.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making of your comic? 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?
Mitzi: Knowing how much I still have left to learn was unbelievably daunting, and stopped me dead in my tracks several times. If I could, I’d tell myself, “You’re going to keep learning, and when you do, you’ll come to really love drawing these characters. But you’re still gonna screw up. Often. And that’s literally okay, you’re gonna be drawing a whole ass comic. That’s amazing either way. Watch more speedpaint videos.” And then, I’d punch myself for good measure.

Isa: Perfectionism, I think. I wanted to have all of my ducks in a row. I wanted to have the entire script completed and ready to go before Mitzi even started drawing, and it just didn’t work like that, because we kept having newer, bigger ideas constantly, and the story keeps growing. If I could go back in time I would tell myself not to worry about getting everything perfectly in order and focus in more on what was immediately in front of me. Also to learn more old timey slang.

What is the process like for creating comic pages between writer and artist? Is there any collaborative effort or is it strictly working from a script?
Isa: The planning is pretty collaborative. The writing is mine, but I want to ensure that we both are satisfied with it, and so I will run everything by Mitzi in the brainstorming and outlining stages, and if there’s something that she doesn’t like or is confusing I will revisit it. Sometimes this means changing a few words, sometimes it means dropping or reworking entire scenes. I’m always working from a point we are both happy with. Also, sometimes Mitzi will pitch me a scene or a joke and it’s just too good not to use.

Mitzi: Yep. Also Isa helps me with the flat colors. I’m grateful they enjoy that part of the process in my stead

Are there any advantages to working on a comic as part of a creative team? What about disadvantages?
Isa: Well, first of all, I can’t draw. ADHD is a big problem for me in creating. Having a partner on this project has been great for keeping me on task. My pursuits are not the only ones at stake. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to launch a project of this size, much less finish it. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, I can not draw. The only disadvantage I can think of is sometimes we don’t necessarily agree on a plot point or a character design or something, and it’s a lot of back and forth until we reach a point we can both agree on.

Mitzi: I think a lot of why sometimes people don’t get projects off the ground is the nagging sense of “Is this actually any good?” holding them back. It’s certainly the case for me. So having someone working on something that gets just as excited about it as I do, and being able to joke back and forth about characters and story elements really keeps me inspired to keep working. I’m constantly excited about this project.

The main disadvantage to our team is actually one of its advantages: Neither of us really possesses the other’s skill set. Isa is usually not able to pinpoint any issues I’m having with the artwork, and I often have trouble articulating how I feel about a story beat, or a piece of dialogue. But we still collaborate on our work anyway; fresh eyes are never a bad thing, and an outsider perspective can really keep one from getting stuck in their own head.

What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
Mitzi: Oh my god, drawing expressions. I cant wait to see just how far I can push some of these cute little faces and noodley bodies. Learning loads about layout and color theory through planning the comic is incredible, too.

Isa: Coloring! It’s very cathartic. Writing is satisfying, but it’s hard. Coloring the pages is like I’m five years old again, sitting down with some hi tech crayons. Additionally, a lot of my close friends read the comic and it’s very, very validating when one of them comments on a joke I wrote, or picks up on a hook or some foreshadowing. It’s really validating as a writer to watch people react to the story and grow attached to the characters in real time.

What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Mitzi: Time management. I’m a full time student and I work part time. We had a backlog of pages to keep us on track before I started this last semester, but that ran dry as soon as midterms rolled around. I structure my work, wherever possible, into palatable chunks so I don’t fall behind anywhere. I’ve even recently got a weekly planner, which would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

Isa: Mental illness has been a huge barrier. I have ADHD. It is very hard to self-motivate, to make time to do it and to sit down and make myself actually work. It’s also very hard to keep everything in order in my head. I have to write down thoughts immediately as they come, because if I wait, they will be lost, and I have to keep those ideas neat and tidy someplace, which means there are some days just dedicated to organizing and cleaning up my notes so that I can focus on the real task.

Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Isa: Oh my god, Bepe. Bepe by a country mile. She’s my favorite character I’ve ever conceived of and she’s so much fun to write. She has no filter, she does not care what’s going on around her, she does not care about anyone’s feelings, and most of the time she isn’t even sure what she’s doing. She lives every moment in that moment. She’s mean, she’s volatile, she’s violent, she’s impulsive and vulgar, and it’s so fun to write. Every line of Bepe dialogue is purely reactive. Her dialect is also something we’ve worked hard to keep weird and obscure. She’s part 1920s New York City Newsies, part Southern drawl, part sci-fi nonsense words.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
Isa: Of course, not counting any character that hasn’t yet been introduced. In order to write dialogue, I need to be able to hear that character’s ‘voice’. I need to be able to read their dialogue and hear their tone and their inflection. Otherwise it just looks like a jumble of words, and reads like a school essay instead of a comic book script.

Ultimately, I might choose Jasika. Her voice has changed so much since I started, because I struggled to find one that was fitting to her character and her story, but that also stood out and was interesting. I don’t normally reference real people in order to develop a character’s voice, but in Jasika’s case I have a real life inspiration, someone to use as a baseline, and I have to imagine that person speaking her dialogue before I commit to a line.

Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Mitzi: Bepe. Holy hell, I don’t think I could do this if the character that gets the most screen time WASN’T an absolute joy to draw. She’s kind of a simple and weird design, so it’s kind of embarrassing how proud of her I am. A close second is someone we haven’t met yet, and won’t for a while, so Isa gives me crap about how many of my sketchbook doodles are of this person. “We won’t be able to show anyone for like a year,” they tell me. This does not stop me.

Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Mitzi: I had to think about this for a while. I almost said Jasika or Anciet, because both of them have a few details about them that usually take longer to draw, but neither of them are any trouble beyond that. So I think I actually have to say Melody. She’s fun to draw, but I really struggle with keeping her proportions consistent.

Where can we find you?
Our site is http://trophallaxis.the-comic.org/ And we post updates to the comic’s Twitter and Tumblr. Our own personal Twitters are linked in the comic’s bio.
https://twitter.com/ClownVirus
https://trophallaxiscomic.tumblr.com/

Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Isa: We are queer content creators creating queer content. It was important to us to create a story where the characters could be LGBTQA+, but that the plot wouldn’t hinge on that. They simply are who they are, and the story is gonna be no less of an adventure through space and war and heartbreak for it. We’re setting out to write the kinds of stories that we all read and loved in childhood, but have them now represent us outright. I worry that maybe this isn’t apparent yet, since the comic is so new, and we’re just meeting these characters. I hope readers who are interested in that will accompany us on this journey.