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Interview: Alabaster Shadows‘ Matt Gardner and Rashad Doucet Talk the Importance of All-Ages Comics

Alabaster Shadows Cover

One of the best things about initiatives like Black Comics Month is that it allows us to get to know comics that might have flown under the radar. One such book is a title from Oni Press called Alabaster Shadows, an all-ages graphic novel created by writer Matt Gardner and artist Rashad Doucet. I got to chat with both creators about their Goonies-esque story and the importance of all-ages comics.

Doucet grew up in New Orleans, attended the University of New Orleans, and thanks to an early friendship with comics pro Jason Reeves, he decided to go to Wizard World and try to pursue freelance work as an artist. After Hurricane Katrina, Doucet got more serious about pursuing a career in the comics industry, and so he moved to Savannah to get his Master’s Degree in sequential art from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Small jobs for Oni Press (including contributing to an awesome anthology called Jam! Tales From the World of Roller Derby, which apparently involved time-traveling skates), and Zuda competitions eventually led him to….

Matt Gardner had less formal training than Doucet when coming into the industry. He created a web comic in high school “that’s frankly embarrassing to look at,” and maintained a focus on drawing and animation throughout school. A friend tricked him into auditioning for writing an improv show, and working on that show is how he realized he’d rather write than draw. Newgrounds comic book parodies became a minor hit. animation Pia Guerra did a voice through Jinxworld sparked 2007 trip to SDCC – his only one.

When Gardener was pitching the idea for Alabaster Shadows to Oni, he had several artists recommended to him, but thought that Doucet was perfect for this story. “What he said he liked about my work,” Doucet says. “Was that I took than what I was given, because Matt had a prompt at this point – the script wasn’t written – so I got a prompt of where Matt wanted to go. I read it, and it was a natural fit. I’m thinking Goonies in my head, and I was like Goonies! Yeah! I wanna go straight to Goonies!” Doucet not only did pencils on this book, but colors and inks as well.

Alabaster Shadows 1

Here’s the official description of Alabaster Shadows:

Carter Normandy knows there’s something weird about the neighborhood he and his family move into. Maybe it’s the physics-defying leak in the basement, or the way all the adults seem to look down on kids like they’re scum. With the help of his new friends, Carter discovers a whole other world alongside his seemingly normal community-a world filled with terrifying monsters. A world the adults of the community already know all about. Now it’s up to Carter and his friends to keep these monsters from crossing over into our world, or face the dire consequences!

Both Doucet and Gardner were thrilled to be working on an all-ages title. I asked Doucet why he enjoys working on all-ages comics so much, and he says,  “I love all-ages comics. My goal as an artist to always make something that’s universal for everyone to enjoy. And I don’t like dumbing things down for kids either, so I wanna make sure that this is always something I can do. It’s more entertaining when everyone feels that they have some kind of representation and they can enjoy it, whether they’re a parent, whether they’re a kid, everybody can have a chance to participate in the story. It’s more fun that way.”

Gardner agrees that children shouldn’t be talked down to, and cites one of his own childhood favorites as an example. “y favorite author to this day – and this has not changed since I was a kid – is Roald Dahl,” he explains. “I always loved that he doesn’t talk down to the audience just because the audience is supposed to be kids, and that always stuck with me. I think there is in a lot of children’s entertainment of all kinds the bad habit of underestimating them as an audience. The best all-ages stuff is stuff that doesn’t do that. Also, as a kid, I loved horror movies that I was allowed to watch, which were few and far between [laughs]. But in the eighties we had some stuff that falls into that categories. Goonies had horror elements. The first Gremlins, borderline kid-friendly but not something that you’d be scarred for life while watching it. Things like that. That’s what I wanted to do in a comic.”

Doucet actually loves the intelligent and positive response the book has gotten from kids. He talks about a Q&A event in which he and Gardner participated at Comix Experience in San Francicsco. It was an event with their Kids’ Club that invited 20-30 kids and their parents to have a chat with the creators of Alabaster Shadows, and Doucet retells a charming moment, “I remember one kid asked me Why is there so much purple? [laughs] And I was trying to explain color theory, like, Well, I wanted to use a color that was so bright, but also so dark. And it’s a horror story, but I didn’t wanna make it too scary…[laughs] It was a great experience.”

His love of working with children doesn’t stop there. While working on this book, as well as previously, Doucet has been involved in teaching kids between the ages of 6 and 12 how to create comics, and he says this has helped him with his own work, teaching him what kids respond to (or don’t) in their storytelling.

Alabaster Shadows 2

When I mentioned that the comics market seems to have shifted to mostly adult stories, with all-ages titles being harder to find, Gardener thinks there’s reason for hope. “[A] lot of the more mainstream stuff is leaning more toward the adult side. But in the past decade, indie press has gotten so healthy that you’re able to have those counter-movements,” he explains. “Just in the past few years, there’s been a huge explosion of more all-ages stuff that you never would’ve even seen a few years ago. And that’s exciting. We’re starting to see little inklings of that show up in the more mainstream books. The first one that comes to mind is Ms. Marvel. But the fact that we have the new Archie relaunch. Things like Lumberjanes, which would’ve completely gone under the radar ten years ago. Because of how much more coverage the industry gets because of the internet, that’s become a hit in its own right. That’s really exciting.”

Oni Press submit the title to be offered as a free title for #BlackComicsMonth, and Doucet was proud to be included, having designed the characters and created Carter Normandy as a black protagonist with an interracial family. Meanwhile, Gardener was also proud…even though he felt a little awkward about it. “It’s a bit of a surreal experience for me, because I’m just some white guy. [laughs] That’s more Rashad’s contribution to things that did it. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

One of the themes that’s clearest throughout Alabaster Shadows is that adults rarely listen to, or believe children. Gardener wanted to make this explicit, not only in relation to children, but in relation to how that lesson affects us as we grow into adults:

That is number one on the list of things that I really wanted to evoke in that. As a child, it’s hard to get taken seriously. And a lot of times, you are just fooling around. But sometimes you’re not. The biggest thing that frustrated me when I was a kid was not being taken seriously because I was a kid. And that expands well beyond childhood, but childhood is the thing that we all have in common. When you’re an adult and you have a job where you have one position versus another position, you might not be taken seriously. If you look a certain way, you might not be taken seriously. There are all these arbitrary reasons where you will just be dismissed. But everyone has the experience of being a kid.

One of the common themes in a lot of horror is, No one is going to believe you. Nobo’s going to believe you if you tell anyone about this. This is going to sound really weird as an inspiration for a children’s book, but Rosemary’s Baby. The one thing that movie consistently did right as far as horror is that they put the character in situations where if she tells people what’s happening, they won’t believe her. That is a horrifying prospect. So, the fact that the characters [in Alabaster Shadows] are kids, there’s no reason why anyone would believe them if they say There are monsters in the basement. They’d say Of course there aren’t. I get chills thinking about how frightening that feeling is!

He also mentions that making Carter a black protagonist in a mostly-white, creepy community adds another layer to the storytelling that he didn’t initially anticipate, but makes a lot of sense.

Gardner is currently working on a second graphic novel in the Alabaster Shadows series, and both creators are thrilled to continue the story of Carter and his friends!

If you’re looking for a fun, slightly frightening read that will make you nostalgic for the monster-filled, creepy childhood in a gated community that you never had (unless you did, in which case, I’m sorry!), I’d highly recommend picking up Alabaster Shadows from Oni Press.

(images via Oni Press)

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