Jessi Sharon’s dark fantasy graphic novel retelling of The Little Mermaid, The Sea in You, retains just enough of Hans Christian Andersen’s original framing, and at the same time, brings the story into the 21st century. Sharon’s YA graphic novel (currently available through Iron Circus Comics crowdfunding platform) will appeal to middle-school age readers, as they follow the unlikely friendship between 15-year-old human Corinth and the certainly more scary than you remember mermaid Skylla.
Sharon discussed her inspiration for her take on the classic fairy tale, as well as how she delivered a poignant, engaging story for tweens in this exclusive interview.
The Little Mermaid story and subsequent Disney adaptation are known around the world. What made you want to put your own spin on the story?
Jessi Sharon: Growing up reading a lot of the characters always felt so real to me in fictional stories. I would find myself thinking, “If I met the little mermaid, and I became her friend, how could I help her?” I still do this as an adult. I thought, “What if a girl taught a mermaid sign language?” And a story started spinning out from there.
How would you describe your protagonist Corinth?
Jessi Sharon: Corinth is a shy and sweet teenage girl. She loves wearing the color black and passionately cares about the sea. She’s having a hard time with an abusive boyfriend and has internalized her bad treatment, thinking she deserves it. Despite seeming meek and being in a low mental space she has a hidden streak of bravery and an open heart willing to befriend someone very different from her.
How did you go about designing the look and undersea world of the mermaid Skylla?
Jessi Sharon: I really let my imagination run wild with the mermaid city and palace. I wanted to show they had an entire life humans knew nothing about. I wanted the reader to get the idea that the mermaids are complicated sentient people. Visually I went with ocean themed pastels with some muted pinks and purples to hint at sea life, the gold filigree and overall design structure is inspired by Rococo and Art Nouveau.
The mermaids themselves were inspired by a lot of things, swordfish for coloring and fun design on Skylla in particular. There are details like her sharp teeth showing her carnivorous nature and her eyes are based on the eyes of deep sea fish. I wanted to make a mermaid you would be delighted and shocked by if you saw her in real life!
This is a graphic novel targeted towards Middle School readers and deals with many issues that pre-teens unfortunately have to deal with, particularly abusive relationships. How did you tailor this topic for the specific audience?
Jessi Sharon: I did research by reading books like Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. I wanted it to be realistic but also respectful to my young audience. I know a lot of girls have gone through things Corinth has, or are still going through it. I wanted them to read the story and think, “Corinth deserves better, I deserve better too.” And to know it’s okay to ask for help.
In the past, you illustrated both Monster High and Ever After High books. Why do you think those books and characters are still so popular with those who grew up reading them?
Jessi Sharon: The characters in Ever After High and Monster High are so well written! Ever After High is all about choosing your own path in life outside of what authority may think is what is best. And Monster High is all about how the things that make you different are the things that make you special and not being ashamed of who you are.
What are your thoughts on crowdfunding as an artist/writer and your experiences with Iron Circus?
Jessi Sharon: I love crowdfunding, it’s such a great way to directly reach your audience. And Iron Circus is literally my favorite publisher. They put out comics for the people who LOVE comics. You can feel how much every artist on every book believes in their stories. For a long time I dreamed about being good enough to be published by them. So it’s a real dream come true. Spike and everyone have been so kind and they really put my comic together into a beautiful book.
The Sea in You is available to back until June 28.