Graphic novels, especially for young readers, are one of the fastest-growing markets in publishing. Powerhouses like Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi have proven that kids are as eager for new comics stories as “Wednesday Warriors” are for each week’s batch of new single issues—and those single-issue publishers are beginning to take notice.
Earlier this year, Vault Comics announced the launch of Myriad, a new publishing imprint that will focus on stories for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers, and just last month they announced a roster of talent on Myriad first announced works, including Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s all-ages adventure graphic novel Wrassle Castle.
Wrassle Castle follows aspiring young wrestler Lydia Riverthane as she trains in secret with her successful older brother, John Gator-Chomp. Unfortunately, Lydia’s problems soon escalate far beyond just trying to keep her training a secret from her parents: when one of the Legendary Wrasslin Folios goes missing, Lydia decides the only way to learn the truth about its disappearance, and her brother’s involvement, is to join the Grand Wrasslin tournament. In advance of Wrassle Castle’s 2019 release, Paste is excited to offer an exclusive first look at Lydia’s adventures in this interview with Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, featuring concept art from Coover herself.
Paste:This isn’t the first time you’ve collaborated on an all-ages work—what brought you back together for Wrassle Castle? And what made Myriad, and Vault, the right home for it?
Paul Tobin: Colleen and I have our ongoing Bandette series, which I write and she illustrates, but I wanted to expand the scope of our collaborations in a way that didn’t take her away from Bandette, and since she’s a far better writer than I am an illustrator, co-writing a project was the natural step.
Colleen Coover: As soon as Paul came to me with the title Wrassle Castle, I was pretty well hooked. Ideas just started popping out of my head! That’s not how I usually work, where I work out stories by drawing them, so this has been an interesting stretch for me.
Tobin: And what we liked about Vault/Myriad was the energy of the whole company, the feeling that anything was possible as long as it was entertaining and fun. There isn’t a “house” style beyond… do something you enjoy, and readers will enjoy it as well.
Paste:Writing specifically for young readers is an underappreciated art form. What’s different about working on a comic geared towards younger readers, like Wrassle Castle, versus working on a title like Bandette?
Tobin: Honestly, I don’t vary much between the two. Everything I write, I gear toward enjoying it myself, and then making it accessible toward certain groups. It sometimes feels like a self-centered approach (“This project is about ME!”) but as I look back in my life on the books/films/comics/movies that I’ve really enjoyed, it’s always the ones where the creators were the most personally invested. So, whatever project I’m on… whether it’s Wrassle Castle, or Bandette, or my weekly Messenger comic on Webtoons, or the Plants vs. Zombies comics, my middle-grade Genius Factor novels from Bloomsbury, or anything else… I feel as long as I’m having a blast, then I’m starting a ride that we’ll all enjoy.
Coover: Same. I think it’s a disservice to the readers to go into a story thinking, I’m going to try writing down to this group, or sideways to this group, because it always reads as totally fake. The way we approach Wrassle Castle or any other story is first to figure out what story we want to tell, and then how it would be appropriate to tell it. That’s how Paul is equally adept at all-ages adventure and, say, adult-oriented horror. We can have truly evil villains in Wrassle Castle the way Paul had truly scary villains in Colder. But in Wrassle Castle the villains are wrasslers whose wrasslin’ is so awesome they can slice through a stone wall with their hand, whereas in Colder you find nightmare finger monsters. It’s all a matter of what fits that story.
Paste:Wrassle Castle has the makings of not just a great middle-grade OGN but a great wrestling story—incredible names (Riverthane! Gator-Chomp!), intrigue, high-stakes tournaments. What inspired Wrassle Castle and the Grand Wrasslin Tournament?
Tobin: I was just babbling one day (I babble a lot: this is no joke) and then I babbled out “Wrassle Castle!” and I stopped, and the non-babble part of my brain thought, That’s actually a lot of fun to say, and it’s catchy, and you should build a story from this. From that point, I discussed it with Colleen, and how things should move forward, and all the particulars. The story fell into place really quickly. Sometimes writing just feels right.
Coover: It came together much the same way as Bandette, where we were like, “let’s make a Franco-Belgian style comic as authentically as we can without actually being French or Belgian or having the ability to speak French,” and we both just sort of know what that would be. Once the title Wrassle Castle was in existence we both just sort of knew how it would work, what the mechanics of the world and its wrasslin’ “magic” (for lack of a better descriptor) would be.
Paste: Lydia’s relationship with her brother/trainer John Gator-Chomp sounds like a major part of the book, especially since her parents don’t necessarily approve of her dreams to make it big in the ring. Can you tell us a little more about what their relationship as siblings is like when we first get introduced to them in Wrassle Castle?
Tobin: From Lydia’s side, her feelings are two-pronged. She absolutely reveres her older brother, and relishes in his every accomplishment, and adores his husband and their children, and acknowledges John as a superior wrassler in every way. BUT… one of her main goals in life is to surpass him, to prove herself a better wrassler, to overcome his strength advantages with her “born in the wild” wrasslin’ skills, and utterly defeat him. When the OGN opens, Lydia is largely measuring her own life against his.
Coover: And conversely, John loves Lydia and supports her in every way. He’s absolutely proud of her abilities as a wrassler and I think would like nothing more than to have her as a peer. But like any great athlete he’s not going to just allow her to do better than him in order to make her feel good. Think of, say, Venus and Serena Williams’ loving rivalry.
Paste:The Underground Alibi Society sounds exactly like the kind of back-up I needed as a kid, though I wasn’t doing anything half as cool as Lydia, but covering for your friend while they enter into a clandestine wrestling tournament is a big task. Can we expect to see Lydia’s friends Chelsea, Deandra and Nyle at ringside for her at some point or will they be working on cracking the mystery of the missing folio behind the scenes?
Tobin: Those three are HUGE parts of the OGN. When we began writing, I’d been kind of looking at the book as being about Lydia, co-starring Chelsea, Nyle and Deandra, but as the story took shape it became a book about the four of them, with Lydia in the lead. I love books that have more than one person of importance. The world feels more real to me when not every single character is pushing the main character forward, or trying to hold them back. Different people, including even close friends who are behind you 100%, have different agendas.
Coover: Oh yeah, they all have a big role to play as the story unfolds, and while none of the others are wrasslers, they all have their particular skill sets to contribute.
Paste: There hasn’t been an artist announced yet for the book—have you brought someone on board? If not, what kind of style are you looking to bring to the world of Wrassle Castle? Despite a long and storied history of wild characters, current wrestling can sometimes take itself a little too seriously, but it sounds like Wrassle Castle is going for something much more fun.
Tobin: Not an artist that we can announce at this point. And the style of Wrassle Castle is a mix between character moments and really over-the-top wrasslin’, so overall the look can be similar to slightly more grown-up Lumberjanes comics or Gravity Falls cartoons. Story-wise, one thing we want to do with Wrassle Castle is not make EVERYTHING about wrasslin’. I think it’s important that the wrasslers live in a world, almost like how the best of superhero comics are about superheroes in a world of normal humans. If EVERYONE is a kick-butt wrassler, then in a way… no one is.
Coover: Wrasslin’ takes on the role that magic would fill in another fantasy world, or that technology would in a steampunk world. So it gets pretty crazy and awesome!
Paste:One more: if you were going to enter into the Grand Wrasslin Tournament … what would your wrestling names be?
Tobin: I think I’d go with Deadline: The Wrasslin’ Writer. I’d fight with a pen in one hand and a sword in the other.
Coover: Mean Colleen The Wrasslin’ Queen.