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The Mary Sue Interview: Marisa Acocella Marchetto Talks Ann Tenna

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At Comic-Con last week, The Mary Sue’s Sam Maggs had a chance to chat with New Yorker cartoonist and author of the critically-acclaimed graphic memoir Cancer Vixen, Marisa Acocella Marchetto. Marchetto’s new graphic memoir, Ann Tenna, comes out in hardcover on September 1st.

The Mary Sue: So what can you tell us about Ann Tenna?

Marisa Acocella Marchetto: Honestly this is an idea I’ve had for, no kidding, twenty years.

TMS: No way.

Marchetto: Twenty years.  And she was a tween, she was a teen, at one point we were going to do an animated series on the web, but that was a while ago. I kind of always needed to figure the exact right way to do it, to do her justice. She always had the Ann Tenna hair, she was always a gossip columnist, at one point, twenty years ago when I did the scripts for the web series, I nicknamed her Gossip Girl, isn’t that crazy?

TMS: Oh my gosh, no! Alas.

Marchetto: Alas, yeah. After Cancer Vixen came out I started writing Ann Tenna because I knew I just had to do this book. I had to get her out of me and I thought about where I wanted to take her story. Honestly, the whole thing was formed by having a life-threatening diagnosis because it made me think about where I’m going, what kind of legacy or what kind of life do I want, and what do I want to leave behind? I thought about karma, I thought about energy, I thought about where you go afterwards, and of course, I created my own kind of science fashion heaven.

TMS: Right, and she’s in a car accident right? And that’s her kind of transformative experience?

Marchetto: She’s in a car accident. I wanted her to actually die and meet her higher self cause I thought about potential, about my potential and was I living up to it? And that’s something everyone thinks about, you know? The super you versus who you really are, so that’s the actual content, that’s where the book came from.

TMS: That’s cool so you said she was originally a teen, and then a pre-teen, and now she’s sort of in mid-life, but so often we see these mid-life change stories about dudes, and they buy a motorcycle and that how they get over it or whatever. This is obviously a sort of transformative life experience for a woman. Did you feel like that was an important story to tell?

Marchetto: I thought it was a really important story because having that diagnosis was a transformative experience, and I also thought this isn’t something people really think about, you know? Where are you going in your life, what are you connected to? Are you going to be connected to your cell phone 24/7 like I am now? Instagramming, tweeting, or do you want to have a conversation one-on-one about how you relate to the person you love, how you relate to your friends, all that.

TMS: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. She’s a gossip columnist, obviously and she sort of decides to be a columnist for good. Do you think there’s something inherently bad about being the kind of person that reports on those things, or does she kind of struggle with how to be that kind of reporter?

Marchetto: I think it’s about intention, her intentions weren’t necessarily benevolent, let’s just say that. I mean I know gossip columnists who are amazing people who only want to put the truth out there. I don’t think gossip is bad, actually. I don’t think gossip columns are bad because when they’re written with the right intention they can be by good people.

TMS: This is your graphic novel debut, you illustrate often but this is your first?

Marchetto: Actually, this is my third graphic novel. I mean, you now what? Not a lot of people realize that, but this is my third graphic novel, I wrote my first one twenty years ago at a time when nobody even knew what they were, so the landscape has really changed.

TMS: So how is writing a graphic novel different for you than cartooning or illustrating or straight writing?

Marchetto: This is so much more rewarding and so much harder.

TMS: I find those things usually go hand in hand.

Marchetto: They do. I love the whole craft of graphic novels, I love writing them, I love immersing myself in them. It’s like, it’s weird. When you do it, sometimes the real world just drifts away, and I can’t even have a conversation. I love the immersion, I love the process. It’s cool because when you’re a graphic novelist, you’re the writer, you’re the artist, you’re the set decorator, you’re the script girl, you’re the makeup artist, you know, you do wardrobe…

TMS: It’s your vision.

Marchetto: It’s your vision. And I can’t tell you how many times the director in me wanted to fire the script girl because she got the hair wrong.

TMS: That’s amazing.

Marchetto: Kind of driving me crazy, like “oh my god the script girl needs to be fired then but I need to hire her back because she’s me. It’s me all the time!

TMS: That’s so funny. Do you have any favorite graphic novels of your own?

Marchetto: I love Epileptic, have you seen that one?

TMS: Yeah.

Marchetto: I love that, it’s one of my favorites.

TMS: My last question is, can we expect to be able to see more of Ann?

Marchetto: I hope so, I’m like, obsessed with Ann. I can’t let her go, you know, I’ll go to sleep and be like, “Ann is going to do this.”

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