There is a long tradition of bringing bugs to life in children's literature. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Charlotte's Web to James and the Giant Peach, it is only natural that this interest in the mysterious and complicated inner life of bugs would stretch to graphic novels.
Laura Knetzger's Bug Boys follows two bugs, Stag-B and Rhino-B on their daily adventures in the wide and wonderful world of bugs. The titular Bug Boys, as well as their adventures, and the style in which Knetzger brings them to life, is sweet and innocent. The now three-volume series is a quiet joy and celebration of the exploring and learning of early childhood.
In this interview, Popverse chats with Laura Knetzger about her favorite bugs, how she orgiinally developed Bug Boys as a zine, and what games she's been playing recently. Bug Boys is published by Random Graphic and is available wherever books are sold.
Popverse: What’s your favorite bug?
Laura Knetzger: I'm really partial to luna moths. They're very elaborate and pretty, but all bugs are so cool.
What draws you to bugs?
Their form is their function in a very apparent way. I just think it's so interesting that they're so unlike humans, but they're so like life. We rely on them for many things in our ecosystem, but they're almost invisible to us because they're so unlike people.
Tell me about your zine origin story.
I went to art school and I learned how to make zines in a comics class there. It was hard at first, but I quickly kind of got addicted to it because it's so within grasp to be able to finish an entire book by yourself. Even if it's really dinky and small looking and you made it on a copier.
It's still something that someone can make by themselves, and that was really empowering to me. So I just kept doing it and gradually, making them more elaborate and longer stories. And that kind of snowballed into stuff like Bug Boys today.
So you did Bug Boys originally as a zine. How did you transition from zine to book publishing?
After I'd been self-publishing Bug Boys for a few years, a small press called Chapbooks contacted me and wanted to collect and republish Bug Boys as a graphic novel format. So we did that and it was a really good experience and then a few years after that, Random House Graphic contacted me and wanted to do that again with a slightly different format of splitting the stories up into smaller books and also coloring them. So that was a huge step in changing the format of Bug Boys from being black and white to color.
I think not everyone thinks of zines necessarily as a children's literature. How did you choose zines to publish this kind of content?
It was just what I wanted to make and zines were what I knew how to make. Yeah, it was funny cause immediately my work kind of stood out at the small press fair because I was making stuff for kids and there's so little of that in small press, but people were really open to it. Like no one was like, 'What's this kiddie shit?' They were like, 'Oh, this is really funny. This is cute. Oh, you made so many of them!'
One of the things that really stands out to me in Bug Boys is that they're kids books about kids about being kids. They're not trying to grow up. They're not trying to break out they're not striving for anything. There's this kind of joy in just being who they are. I was wondering why it was important for you to tell this type of story?
I was interested in capturing that summer vacation feeling of, 'I don't have to do my book report,' you know, 'My goal for today is to go meet my friend by the creek and throw rocks in the creek.' I wanted there to be big questions in it, but I wanted them to still be kind of too young to have ambitions. They're not really that concerned about their future. They're concerned about like learning the lesson that's in front of them today.
What other voices do you find exciting in kids comics right now?
There's a lot of really cool stuff happening right now. One book I really enjoyed that I read last year was Yummy by Victoria Grace Elliott which was a history of desserts around the world. I thought it was going to be just like someone's book report, but as a comic but then it was just so much more. It was about all the different threads of history and how people feel about food-- just so interesting. Yeah, we're in a weird boom of kids comics exploding. There's so much of it. It's really easy to just be overwhelmed. I also really enjoyed Freestyle by Gail Galligan. That was something I just got from the library. That was really good.
I know you're a big video game person, what have you been playing that's been exciting lately?
So lately I've been playing Tactics Ogre Reborn which is a bajillion hour JRPG where you have little units that are your little toy soldiers on the battlefields with magic. I'm enjoying that. I had this big realization last year that what I was getting out of video games was feeling like I was entering the flow state that I usually get from creating, but I had been having some pain in my wrists, so I had to take more breaks from drawing. And so I kind of had this emotional hole of. 'I'm not going in the flow state anymore, something's wrong.' So, I was turning to video games for it. Anyway, yeah, I played a lot of games last year.Learn more about Laura Knetzger and her work on her website. Follow her on twitter and instagram, and pick up the most recent Bug Boys book, Bug Boys: Adventures and Daydreams here.