Skip to main content

Magic, mermaids, and misunderstood characters: Kat Leyh chats about her graphic novels

The cartoonist behind Snapdragon and Thirsty Memaids chats about her stories, style, and more

Cropped cover of Thirsty Mermaids featuring a striped purple mermaid tail in the ocean and a cocktail glass
Image credit: Kat Leyh

Kat Leyh tells stories about outsiders and weirdos. And in her charming, bold, colorful style, she puts these weirdos through fun and heartfelt adventures. Through her original breakthrough work writing on and doing covers for Lumberjanes, to her all-ages graphic novel Snapdragon (about a young girl who befriends the local witch) and her most recent graphic novel Thirsty Mermaids, Leyh celebrates the weird and imbues it with fun and friends.

At a recent convention, Popverse had a chance to stop by Kat Leyh's table to chat with Leyh about the stories she likes to tell, how she developed her style, and why she’s drawn to stories that feature magic.

Popverse: Kat, tell me about your most recent book Thirsty Mermaids.

Kat Leyh: Thirsty Mermaids is for a slightly older audience. It's about these three mermaids who get drunk on shipwreck wine. They sneak onto land disguised as humans to get more, and they wake up hungover in the morning and realize that they don't know how to break the spell-- they’re stuck as humans on land. They have to figure out how to survive. They have to figure out how to get jobs, why they have to wear clothes. They have to figure all this stuff out while they're also trying to break the spell and still have a good time while they're doing it.

One of the things that really stands out about your art is how bright and bold it is. How did you develop your style over the years?

I mean, it took a long time. I went to college for illustration, and that's when I got really interested in children's books. I've always liked a kind of simple style. I like to try to contain the most amount of information in the fewest amount of lines as possible. So I just went from there, drawing until I liked it enough to show it to other people. I'm still always learning and growing.

Do you work digitally?

Yeah, yeah. I work 100% digitally.

Your commissions are in watercolor, how do you transfer those skills between the mediums?

Well, I've always really liked doing watercolors. At conventions, a lot of people like to sell original art. Since I'm a digital artist, I don't have original art. So I started doing these small watercolors so that people could buy original art from me when they came by.

Because that's what I really like to get from artists—one of a kind stuff. So I just started doing those so that people had that option.

Your work features these really relatable characters with magical setting around them. What draws you these types of stories?

I guess originally it was just the stories that I liked to read. I like soft magic systems, where it kind of feels like the magic is part of the world, and it's kind of low key, not like a huge deal, just kind of a force that characters live with. And so that's the kind of magic that I really like to read about and also draw and create myself.

I think a recurring theme in both of your books is going beyond first impressions to learn what people are really like. Can you tell me why that's an important theme for you?

A lot of the characters are strange. They're outsiders. They look either scary or weird or alien, and I think, again, like those are characters that I really enjoy-- the characters that you need to get to know in order to realize that they're full, interesting, complete people. Getting past first impressions can be really important to making friends and meeting interesting people.


Follow Kat Leyh on Twitter and Instagram. Pick up Snapdragons from Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, or Amazon. Pick up Thirsty Mermaids from Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, or Amazon.


Gene Luen Yang's The Books of Clash flips the concept of the game on its head.

Featured events