Haley Newsome on Unfamiliar | Interview
Little witch Planchette has just found a great deal on a new house in a magical town, but when she and her familiar move there, they find out why it was so cheap: It’s haunted! A kitchen witch whose magic revolves around food, Planchette is in over her head and needs help to exorcise her new home. She soon makes some new friends: Pinion, a witch from a venerable coven who doesn’t happen to share her powerful family’s abilities; Babs, a siren who hates the popularity she seems cursed with; and Sun, a young woman suffering from a literal curse who seems to work every job in town.
That’s the plot of Unfamiliar, cartoonist Haley Newsome’s popular webcomic that’s been running at a rate of a page a week on Tapas since 2016. This December, Andrews McMeel Publishing collected the first 140-ish pages and published them as Unfamiliar Vol. 1, bringing Newsome’s spooky but cozy world of witch friends to a whole new audience. We took the opportunity to speak to Newsome about her comic.
Unfamiliar has been out in the world before as a webcomic, but what does it feel like personally to have it in print now?
Newsome: It is literally a dream come true for me. I’ve been imagining what it would be like to wander into a bookstore and see something I wrote for so many years, it’s really surreal. When you’re uploading .png files onto a hosting website for years, you don’t realize the amount of work you’re actually doing, and when you’re holding a physical object, it feels real in a completely different way.
Are the audiences for webcomics and print comics completely different, or do you feel there’s a lot of overlap in terms of readership?
Newsome: I think that at this point there is somewhat of a divide between the two audiences. Initially when I started posting Unfamiliar my peers were posting content that is pretty similar to indie comics and zines that you could find in print; now there are certain trends, art styles and plotlines that feel really specific to webcomics. But I do think that as webcomics continue to grow in popularity that they’ll find themselves well represented in print as well, and the audiences will come together again.
Do you think Unfamiliar reads differently at all in print than it did as a webcomic?
Newsome: Maybe a little! Luckily I always drew it in page format, rather than the vertical scroll that is dominating now, so the layouts are the same. But I do think that because my update schedule was often pretty slow, I tried to keep the pages dense with little jokes to tide people over. So when you read it in book format, it feels a little faster paced, because you don’t have to wait a week to turn the page.
The sketchbook section of the book reveals that Planchette went through an evolution of sorts in terms of her character design. Was it the same for all of the characters in the book, or were there any that came out pretty close to their final version right off the bat?
Newsome: Actually yeah, Pinyon’s design was almost exactly the way she’s drawn in the final when I drew her for the very first time. The only difference is her hat stood straight up instead of flopping down. Everyone else was redesigned considerably before I was happy.
When designing a character, how do you decide that you’ve finally got it just right, and the character becomes themselves?
Newsome: I’d say this is half a gut-feeling thing, and half a practical thing. On the practical side, I’m looking at the characters standing together, imagining them in different lighting and backgrounds and different distances from the “camera”. That determines a lot about their build, their color palette, that sort of thing. But after that’s mostly sorted, it really does feel like I just have to draw them over and over until suddenly they feel real and specific to me.
Is there one that stands out as particularly fun for you to draw?
Newsome: I love drawing Planchette! Her expressive eyes, dramatic silhouette and big hat brim are fun to draw no matter how many times I do it. Though sometimes I do wish her hat was a little less huge, it can be a real problem when I’m drawing her close to other characters.
How did you decide on the various witches’ familiars, in terms of who gets what kind of animal and so on?
Newsome: That was almost all gut feeling. I drew Planchette with a bunny from the very first time I sketched her, and I never considered changing it. Babs’s design with the big bow is supposed to look a little like cat ears, because I always pictured her with a cat. I think the only character who’s familiar didn’t come to me instantly was Sun, which is appropriate I suppose since she’s the least fond of and connected to her familiar.
The cast expands steadily throughout the book, with one character who seems quite minor at first, Sun, taking on a larger role as the story progresses. Will the cast be expanding in the future, or is it pretty much set at this point?
Newsome: At this point it is pretty set. I feel like I could write stories about these four for a really long time. I always planned this ensemble as the main four, but I’m a big believer in introducing important characters one at a time so each one has a moment to leave an impression on the reader.
How solid is the storyline in your plans? That is, do you have Planchette and company’s stories all planned out until they end, or is it still open-ended?
Newsome: It’s pretty locked in at this point. At least until the stopping point I have planned.
When can readers expect to see the next volume?
Newsome: It’s looking like later this year! Fingers crossed!
Filed under: Interviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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