A Campfire Chat with the Boston Comic Arts Foundation

The Boston Comic Arts Foundation’s Picture + Panel series puts comic creators in conversation. The July 1 edition’s topic is a favorite of ours: Summer Camp, featuring Violet Chan Karim, author of Summer Vamp (Random House Graphic, 2024), and Marika McCoola, author of Slip (Algonquin, 2022). Thanks to Gina Gagliano for keeping us in the loop! For more, see “Good morning, campers!” in this issue of Notes, our 2024 Summer Reading Recommendations, and our chapter books, middle grade, and YA summer camp booklists in the Guide/Reviews Database.

The Horn Book: Tell us about the Picture + Panel conversation series and who it's intended for.

Shelli Paroline, Boston Comic Arts Foundation executive director: Picture + Panel is all about getting the conversation going about graphic novels. As the comics art form is taking off in our culture, readers are wondering: how do we talk about them? Do we focus on the story, the art, the process? We’re bringing together two graphic novelists in conversation to help explore the richness of the visual storytelling medium. We start with a pairing theme, such as obsession, travel, or queerness, and let them take it from there. The response has been tremendous, and the community coming together around the event is what the Boston Comic Arts Foundation is here for.

THB: What is it about summer camp that lends itself to the stories you’ve wanted to tell?

Violet Chan Karim: Summer camp seems like a magical place where anything can happen. You’re in the great outdoors surrounded by new friends…it’s the perfect start to a story!

Marika McCoola: A summer camp is a microcosm, a small step away from home and into another world. While it is supervised (to varying extents), there's a freedom to it; it’s generally being run by young adults, and/or parents are far away. Often, it’s also away from school friends or friends from home, meaning there’s space to be the self you possibly aren’t while at home. It can also be challenging in this sense; in the beginning, you have to step into a space where the rules and people are unknown. Then, you have to parse the systems and people to figure out where you fit. It can be daunting, but it can also be freeing, a hint of the fresh start many feel later when starting college.

Setting Slip at a summer camp gave me the opportunity to thrust my characters into a space where they could figure out who they wanted to be without their friends and family to define them. The characters needed this space in order to grow as quickly as they did.

THB: What was summer camp like for you…or what do you wish it had been like?

MM: Summer camp was the place I was accepted and loved for being myself. I worked at The Wayfinder Experience through high school and college, and it was the place I found a community. Weeks at summer camp were the only times during high school that my depression abated. I felt that I was valued and found the joy inherent in working to create a strong, supportive community. My desire to create classroom and workshop spaces where people feel comfortable to learn and explore is drawn in a large part from my time at Wayfinder.

However, Slip is based on shorter snippets of camp experiences. The first, a month at the New York State Summer School of the Arts (NYSSSA) which was a state-run pre-college program for the visual arts that required a portfolio review for entry. The second, which is what Slip most closely resembles, was a month spent doing a student residency at Salem Art Works (SAW) between my junior and senior years of college. This month was more work than anything else, as I did a self-directed study in ceramics. I’ve had a smattering of other summer camp experiences as well, any of which could be a book (putting on three musicals in a month; biking around Lake Champlain in a week). But for me, it’s not the setting that comes first, it's the characters’ emotional arcs, and if they happen to be at summer camp, so be it.

VCM: I never went to summer camp, but as a kid I was always mesmerized by what I saw of it on TV. Maybe that adds to why it feels so magical to me.

SP: Actually, summer camp was a true turning point in my life. I was a weird kid,  as much a jock as I was a geek, and middle school was not going so well for me. Camp, however, was a social shakeup where twelve tweens who never met before got thrown together for two weeks and bonded over homesickness and basketball. When school resumed, I still didn’t fit in, but I knew that acceptance for someone like me was out there — I just had to find my people.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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