Written by Neil Greenaway
After DINK 2016 I had the chance to sit down and talk with Larissa Zageris & Kitty Curran of Taylor Swift:Girl Detective about their take on publishing mystery novels. This interview originally ran on Bleeding Cool on 04/23/2016, and you can read their version of it here.
Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran have written an illustrated novel about a parallel world inhabited by Taylor Swift: Girl Detective, and now they have a Kickstarter campaign in place to fund a printing of the book. I jumped at the chance to interview the two creators, if only to see how the celebrity/young adult/detective/parody mash-up came to be. They were also kind enough to provide us with a special sneak peek of the first five chapters of the book.
Neil Greenaway: Where did the idea for this story originate?
Larissa Zageris: The idea for Taylor Swift: Girl Detective originally came about when I was on a road trip with my sister. I always liked Ms. Swift’s retro-y dress sense, and realized while looking at a fashion blog that she really had an uncanny resemblance to Nancy Drew. It wasn’t just the clothes, but also the attitude – this can-do, well-put-together, unflappable energy of achievement and arched-eyebrow sass. So for about a year, I’ve been posting pictures of her looking (what I consider) detective-y and writing little captions under them. Basically, creating this alternative world very much like our own, except in it Taylor Swift is a modern-day Nancy Drew.
We wanted to create something that feels like it could be an endless mystery series, just like the actual Nancy Drew books. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, and so did my Mom, and I think it’s great (and hilarious) that this go-get-em female lead has stood the test of time. So this is our spin on that.
I’m also a mystery junkie in general. Kitty shares my lust for twisty narratives, jokes, and wordplay. We broke the outline together, I wrote the text of the book, and then we worked together to punch it up and shape things. We jam-packed the story with more feminism, puns, and feminist puns than the original.
It was also really important to us for the mystery to track, and draw the reader in. We want to give people a kick, make them laugh, and maybe make them feel like the pop star detective we all could be, if we tried.
NG: Have either of you ever published any other novels or comics separately? Have you two worked together before?
LZ: I haven’t published anything in book form, on my own or in a partnership. I do a lot of writing on my blog/s and always have, but my background is in video and theatre. I have more collaborative video stuff like that out in the world than I do my own writing, because so much of screenwriting only gets “published” if you actually make it into, you know. A thing on a screen. I’ve been working on a comic with my other writing partner, Joe Tracz, but he’s been a bit busy since he’s actually writing for the Netflix Lemony Snicket series! Kitty and I work together on many projects, but the one that got us together is actually another comics project…
Kitty Curran: We got to be friends when working on a planned webcomic that fell by the wayside after the other contributors moved away/had a baby. We still hope to get back to that at some point, but for right now we’ve got a few too many other things on our plate. We also were finalists for an educational graphic novel pitch, and have a few other upcoming joint projects planned out. We also have made some zines together, including a disinspirational quotes zine – basically a parody of those motivational quotes you see on Pinterest. As far as personal work goes, I’ve had stuff published as part of a few comics anthologies based in Chicago, and done artwork for Upworthy and CNN amongst others.
NG: Have either of you ever run a kickstarter before?
KC: I’ve been part of comics anthologies that were Kickstarted, but this is my first time actually organizing one. It is as intense as the bards spoke of.
NG: How long have you been working on this project already? Is it done?
LZ: I started the photo blog about right at the start of 2015, and by October of 2015, Kitty and I decided to join forces and make it an actual book. And by “join forces” I mostly mean, I said “it would be fun to make this an actual book one day,” and Kitty looked me dead in the eye, opened her computer, and said “let’s block it out, then.” And she made me start outlining it with her, that very moment. This is apparently the best way to ever achieve anything: have Kitty Curran tell you that you can, and demand you start, and also lend you her brain when yours stops working.
KC: I would have been a fan of the blog even if I hadn’t known the creator because it is a work of ludicrous hilarity. I also had a suspicion that we could make a decent go of it after I made a parody Taylor Swift: Girl Detective book cover for the blog, and people responded really well. We even got a cosplayer! So when Larissa talked about doing a book for real, I was obviously like “YES. WE ARE MAKING THIS NOW.” We blocked out the basic plot together, then Larissa worked on the prose while I did a few test illustrations and worked out how stylized vs. realistic the artwork would be. Then once she finished the first draft I got down to doing the rest of the illustrations. The book is now done and laid out in inDesign. We wanted to get that done before launching the Kickstarter, in order to avoid a “it’s been two years and people are still waiting” situation.
NG: As of this writing, your project already has almost all of its funding. Are there any plans in place for stretch goals?
KC: We looked into making the book hardback, but the options were either too expensive, or would take far too long to print for our liking. Instead we are now thinking about a potential mini adventure or booklet for all backers receiving a physical copy of the book, or new stickers and other goodies. We basically didn’t expect this to take off so fast, so we’re still working out potential stretch goals if we were to do them.
NG: I met you guys at the Denver Comic & Art Expo. Have you gone to any other conventions with this project? What has the reaction from the public been?
LZ: The best part of DINK was seeing people react to the work. Pick up the book, read a joke or let a scene register, and laugh. Or when they would double-take as they were walking past the images at the art. We’ve mostly been making things in one or other of our apartments, and though we have supportive friend-fans, we never got to see a reaction like that in real time before.
KC: DINK was the first time we tabled with this project, so after showing it only to friends and family (who are of course going to be encouraging), it was a big relief to see strangers react to it so well. We ended up having to do an emergency reprint of the teaser booklet of the first 5 chapters after the first day, which was a big surprise. It’s just been really exciting seeing the reactions of people who don’t have to like the project responding so well to it. As far as other cons, we will also be promoting it at Chicago Zine Fest at the end of the month. And should we get funded, we might have a signing/event potentially lined up at a Chicago comic store around June.
NG: What are some of your favorite mysteries?
LZ: I am a mystery junkie. I prefer the fun and arch stuff to the heartbreaking or gross stuff (no Dragon Tattoo for me.) So much genre fiction is just the strongest, most engaging fiction out there, to me. I love John Le Carre, PD James, and Tana French. I have a Nancy Drew tattoo on my neck, and I think my love of her adventures is obvious. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is divine. Hot Fuzz is the best. Broadchurch, the first season of the British one, is beautiful and tragic. I get too into following True Crime and am afraid of everything and get rageful and cry, so I try to avoid that. Often I can’t because it’s just too engrossing. I can’t tear my eyes away from the ID Channel if it’s on. But my absolute favorite mysteries are ones when a ragtag team assembles out of necessity to Get Shit Done. Veronica Mars, rest in peace.
KC: All of Larissa’s suggestions, plus I do have a soft spot for certain police procedurals too – especially Cold Case. Also the cozy British something-terrible-has-happened-in-the-vicarage type mysteries like Midsomer Murders and pretty much any Agatha Christie adaptation. I grew up on the Famous Five so I do have a lingering fondness for scrappy-kids-solve-the-case stories. The earlier Harry Potter books fall under this category, and recently I’ve got really into Gotham Academy.
NG: The art in this book is heavily reminiscent of other child detective novels (Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, or even Encyclopedia Brown). Was it difficult to adapt your own style into these retro-feeling illustrations?
KC: I really enjoyed it overall! Once I figured out the basic look of the art and how to make a celebrity caricature work in that style, it just became endlessly entertaining. Larissa wrote in some hilariously ridiculous scenarios, so I was doing a lot of chuckling to myself when working. There is no way Lorde taking down a suspect John Cena style will not be fun to draw.
NG: Taylor spends a lot of time in Starbucks in the preview chapters. Is it a place that you often find yourself when you are looking for inspiration?
LZ: I work at Starbucks. I spend a latte time in Starbucks. A latte. But even before I worked there, I ended up there quite a bit. Starbucks is this place that embodies the idea of “the third place,” meaning it isn’t home or work but is some place in between where people can hang out or get their own work done. In that way, it’s like a universal study hall with locations all over the world.
NG: The Nancy Drew series (which you quoted as an influence) was incredibly long running, with 175 novels in the original series. Are there any plans to turn Taylor Swift: Girl Detective into a series?
LZ: We definitely have two solid stories sketched out, should we do more books. They are very much in the vein of Nancy’s “field trip” sort of adventures. Nancy Drew solves a mystery on a farm! Nancy Drew goes skiing, and what do you know, there is a mystery in the snow! We’ve had a lot of fun working out how the real-life “characters” from Taylor Swift’s life would show up in the mystery-world narrative of her life, and what their roles would be.
We’ve also been confronted with concern for the legality of the parody we’re doing. We’ve been told by lawyer friends and our extensive research into the Right of Publicity and parody that we should be okay, since the work is transformative and has such clear art value independent of Taylor Swift, Starbucks, and Nancy Drew, but you know. We also live in fear of their wrath and love them all and hope it’s all taken in good fun.
KC: We did consider doing it MAD style – ie. “Saylor Twift and Starvucks Lovers”. But that way was just not as funny – a large part of the humour is how straight Larissa’s prose plays it. It actually really works as a YA mystery of a certain era, albeit a very weird one with multiple Taylor Swift gags. But I would really love to make at least a couple more Taylor Swift: Girl Detective books if we can. And hey, if an erotic novel starring Donald Trump can become an Amazon bestseller, I hope we should be ok!
NG: Lorde seems to be the sidekick on this mystery. Will she always be solving mysteries with Taylor, or will there be a rotating cast of superstar singers helping her save the day?
KC: Lorde fulfills the role George did in the Nancy Drew series – the tough tomboyish sidekick. However, without giving too much away, some other members of Taylor’s squad do make an appearance. I also think Selena Gomez would make an excellent Bess equivalent were we to do future mysteries.
If you would like to see this alternate world of mystery become a reality, you can help fund this project here.