UPDATE!: You CAN indeed read Secondary Cast over at DailyINK without signing up! Read all the great posts there now by Tea Fougner!
King Features comic website DailyINK has started a new column called Supporting Characters in which they ask cartoonists to talk about a favorite secondary or tertiary cast member of their comic strip. Today that column turns its attention to Sally Forth character Nona, Hilary and Faye’s somewhat whimsical-minded friend and the member of the still unsigned New Delhi Monkey Gang to know how to play an instrument.
I happily ask that you go read article right here. Please head on over and check all the posts in the Supporting Cast section. I think you’ll have a blast learning about other cartoonists’ creative process. Mine involves copious sobbing.
In preparing the article, King Features sent me a list of questions about our dear Nona. Questions that I did indeed answer. Answers that in turn almost certainly left the good people of the site mumbling “The f**k?” as they valiantly edited down my morass of words into a coherent presentation.
So for those who do not currently have access to the site (join today!) or prefer to get their information in a raw mental feed manner, here is the clearly unedited version of The Nona Chronicles. Enjoy.
Q. To start off, tell us a little bit about who Nona is and what her role in the strip is.
A. Nona started as an answer to my own question, “What if Luna Lovegood lived in the suburbs…and wasn’t a wizard…and didn’t have an English accent even though, let’s face it, English accents make everything sound brilliant or diabolical…except maybe the poor English characters in Mike Leigh films…Seriously, just watching those doomed characters try to scrape enough shillings to purchase a pen to sign over their house to creditors is absolute torture…Who am I talking to?” (You see, cartoonists often ask themselves questions, usually out loud, in public, and usually directed at an inanimate object due to social skills that can best be described as “Raised by neglectful wolves.”) I wanted a character who was confident in her worldview without arrogance, an outsider who never cared to define herself as such. Whereas Hilary is a mix of her dad’s dreaming and her mom’s take-charge attitude, and Faye is the voice of skepticism, Nona speaks her mind without fear or agenda, even when she says something like “If toasters were to achieve awareness would they clean their own crumb tray?”
Q. What do you like best about writing for Nona?
A. Having been a painfully shy child I know how awful it is to always be hesitant. Of course, now after years of hard work I’ve matured into a self-doubting adult, which is a kind way of saying that sometimes I have my head so far up my ass I’m looking out my own mouth. Need proof of that? Just read the first few sentences in this paragraph again.. But the great thing about writing for Nona is that there is no such hesitancy, no such self-doubt. She observes the world and says what is precisely on her mind. Of course, Nona is also a good person so she never openly criticizes someone for the sake of diminishing their self-esteem. She’ll just take note of Hilary’s controlling nature and comment, “One day you’re going to plunge a tiny island nation into chaos.” Then Nona will look at a field of daisies and openly wonder if all their individual names are gender neutral.
Q. Nona is part of a trio along with Hilary and Faye– what part does she play in the trio dynamics? How does Nona feel about her friends?
A. While Faye was initially brought in to comment on the strip (basically so I could co-opt Internet criticism of the comic), Nona was introduced to comment on Faye and Hilary. In other words, my plan is to make the comic one meta-observation on top of another until it’s the MC Escher equivalent of Russian nesting dolls, so that every time you open one doll you find a larger on inside, again and again, greater and greater in size, until the readers find themselves are enclosed within…okay, I really should eat a good breakfast before I answer these questions. Anyway, it’s more fun to bounce off dialogue between three characters instead of two, since you get to play with different personalities. Plus, it let’s me focus on a small group of social outsiders in a strip where, quite honestly, the popular clique is never seen or may not even exist. That way I can avoid such tired story lines as “I’m wearing the wrong clothes,” “What if I don’t get invited to the big dance?” and “Isn’t the captain of our school’s land-based Quidditch team dreamy?”
Q. Can you tell us something about Nona’s personal background and family life?
A. Hilary comes from a traditional comic strip middle-class family and Faye and her mom have more pronounced financial concerns. So I wanted a character who hailed from a wealthier household, which allows her simply to wonder about the world without thinking about the money problems most of us have. The problem with rich characters in comic strips, though, is that they always seem to be obscenely wealthy, like all it will take is one phone call and a phalanx of jet-packed butlers will arrive with trays of unicorn sushi. It’s never “Their parents have good careers and invested wisely” but rather “Guess who just bought Canada!” So to avoid that I’ve downplayed Nona’s financial background, which I think in the long run helps define her by her actions rather than by any broad stroke characterizations. Though, now that I think of it, such wealth could make Ted Forth’s dream of an all cyborg monkey version of Mr. Belvedere a reality.
Q. What does Nona like to do when she’s not at school or with her friends? What are some of her hobbies?
A. Nona’s main hobby is probably quietly pursuing a line of thought until it’s nine hours later and she wishes she had jotted down her ideas in a notebook instead of ruining a perfectly good kitchen wall and two light sconces. She’s exceedingly musically gifted, which makes her band rehearsals with the less talented Hilary and Faye a bit of a personal ordeal. She is a very avid reader. She may even be reading this very article, shaking her head and thinking, “He really doesn’t know me at all. And besides, Mike Leigh doesn’t just do working class movies. What about ‘Topsy Turvy’?” She may also be cloning something. I’m not sure. I try to give my characters some space in the strip’s off hours.
Q. What is Nona’s favorite subject in school? What’s her least favorite subject?
A. For a seemingly flighty individual Nona is very adept at almost every academic pursuit. That’s because she really isn’t so much easily distracted as fascinated by everything all the time. (Which is why one day she’ll graduate college with five degrees and two MacArthur Fellowships.) As for what’s her least favorite class I guess the cliché answer would be that she doesn’t like gym class. But while she may not be particularly athletic I would think she’d still be fascinated by the whole gym process of ropes to nowhere, balls hurled at fellow students with the primitive ferocity of a William Golding character and a middle-aged teacher screaming non-stop for 40 minutes until they have a mini-stroke or finally pass their real estate agent exam.
Q. Is Nona really psychic?
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