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Meredith Gran looks back on 15 years of Octopus Pie

Octopus Pie creator Meredith Gran reflects on the acclaimed webcomic series 15 years since its debut and looks ahead after launching her first video game Perfect Tides and its unique approach to immersive storytelling.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

One of the most popular webcomics of the past decade is Octopus Pie, created by Meredith Gran, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and the fifth anniversary since it released its final story. Written and illustrated by Gran (with colorist Valerie Halla joining the series in the middle of its 10-year run), the webcomic series followed roommates Eve Ning and Hanna Thompson as they navigated life and love from their Brooklyn neighborhood. Running in regularly posted strips online, the series has since been collected in its entirety by Image Comics.

Since concluding Octopus Pie, Gran has created the point-and-click computer game Perfect Tides in the tradition of Monkey Island and King’s Quest, available to purchase through Steam. The game has players steer protagonist Mara Whitefish as she follows her writing ambitions while dealing with the trials and tribulations of public school across four seasons. Set in the year 2000, the game leans into the aesthetics of the era, complete with a full soundtrack, as Mara undergoes her journey of self-discovery.

In an interview with Popverse, Gran looks back on the history and legacy of Octopus Pie, including the unexpected directions the series took since its launch in 2007. From the story’s ending in 2017 to the creative surprises Gran experienced along the way, Octopus Pie remains a funny and poignant ode to one’s twenties. Gran also shares how Perfect Tides changed up her approach to storytelling in a more immersive medium.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

Popverse: Meredith, you had been making comics on your own for some time but where did the idea for what would become Octopus Pie first come about?

Meredith Gran: It was pretty much borne out of a sketchbook. I had these characters and they developed their own personalities through my drawings of them. When I made the decision to create a webcomic, I really wanted to keep the level of commitment low so I figured I wouldn’t get too elaborate with the plot and mashed these two characters together and gave them a world to interact in and allowed the story to go wherever it would go.

It was not started ambitiously, it was a test to myself to see how seriously I could take something like that. I had started my own webcomics quite a few times at that point, I was 22, and anything before that was less serious than I was at 22 and I was trying to see if I was serious.

I always got the vibe that Hanna had a design and bubbly energy inspired by Dee Dee from Dexter’s Laboratory.

A lot of people have made that comparison and I don’t know if that’s what I was thinking or not, but that stuff definitely subconsciously ingrained itself.

Where did the idea of creating Eve and Hanna as this Brooklyn odd couple for the 21st century come from?

I don’t know that my idea was much bigger than these [protagonists] are two different facets of myself. I’m going to express the stoic, easily annoyed version of myself against the freewheeling artistic mind that’s hard to contain. I’m going to give them each their own stories and allow them to bump up against each other and reconcile with each other and work out my own stuff on the page. I don’t know if I knew that at the time but that’s sort of how it ended up going.

Do you remember when Octopus Pie really gathered a following online and started attracting publisher interest?

From jump, I had a lot of support because I had a lot of friends that were webcomic artists from starting and stopping other webcomic projects and having a presence at comic conventions and the online comics community which, in those days, was about a hundred people so you could really know everybody. The day it launched, quite a few people already knew about it, knew I had been working on it and talking about it on their websites. From the jump, there were at least a few hundred people fully interested in it, bookmarking it, and using whatever other antiquated ways people used to check your website back then. [laughs]

I used the experience I had from previous website-making to give people a variety of options for that. The launch was pretty put-together, the website was accessible and I had a navigation system that was, at the time, pretty state-of-the-art – now, it’s completely ancient. I knew what I was doing from the start because I had that experience already and I already had those connections. I didn’t really struggle with this comic to get that base audience and the audience only expands from there, it’s always been a comic that has grown from word-of-mouth. Growing the audience to a certain threshold was not a problem.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

While Octopus Pie started out as a loosely connected set of vignettes, did the longer plot threads and narrative shifts take place organically?

I feel like it took a few turns. I would get into relationships, have breakups, move, take up with a whole new group of friends and I just allowed myself to record those as they went and assigned each of those stories to the character I felt was the most relevant to be telling them. In the first couple of years, I wasn’t doing it as much, the first few years are [like] a sitcom with crazy situations. If those [comics] told a story about my life, it was that I had just left school and was using all the tools to try and present something with clarity and professionalism behind it, there’s a story behind the story.

As I got more confident communicating what I was saying, I started to speak more through the comic rather than around the edges of it. From the beginning, it was Monday, Wednesday, Friday [new comics would come out] because I knew that was how you get your audience to stick around, that was the wisdom around webcomics at that point. I felt pretty secure in my audience after it had been some years and, in 2010, I decided to draw an entire story at once and just publish it. I only did that for a few stories but I felt like that time I had to reflect on what I should tell a story about and focus on really allowed me to tell the real story about it, not just setting a situation in motion and trying to resolve it, that had a big impact.

The older I got, the more weight I was carrying with me in my life, the more things I had to say about myself and life in general. I felt like I had more to say later on in the series.

To use terminology from the youths, were Eve and Will always endgame?

I don’t know, I don’t know if I always believed in them. Even towards the end when I was trying to resolve things, I kind of hemmed and hawed about how I wanted to approach that. I don’t think I saw any of it as inevitable, even continuing the story later. I didn’t see anything as inevitable because I hadn’t really lived that point in my life yet. As I saw the comic was kind of changing as I got older, I also realized that I didn’t know what they were going to do next, I had to live a little more to know that about them.

What surprised you the most over the course of that journey?

A lot of people point out that Hanna and Eve’s roles kind of switched and I don’t know that they totally did. Their roles may have switched but their personalities didn’t necessarily change. Hanna was seen as the easygoing one and Eve was the cynic and, as the series progresses, Eve opens up a little bit and becomes the more fun-loving one while things go bad in Hanna’s life and she becomes the more cynical one who has a harder time improving her situation.

I did not expect to write it that way but, as circumstances unfolded in my own life, I saw that those personality traits are not locked into place, they can vary depending on the circumstances of the characters. A character who is easygoing may not have endured anything genuinely challenging. A person who has been through a lot perhaps is better suited to find pleasure in things.

Did the switch to color during the series’ run change things in regards to storytelling and layouts?

It added another dimension to everything, where it was what am I communicating with this through the line art, the layouts, the word balloons and, now, what do the colors say about this story? In my color notes to Valerie Halla, I was always giving her the tone of the scene, if the sun was doing something, or if a particular light source was doing something important. The color really went a long distance in conveying things than when I previously didn’t have that tool to convey, it was very powerful.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

How far out did you start planning what would become the conclusion to the series?

I feel like I was landing that plane for three years. I wasn’t necessarily trying to plot out the conclusion in advance but I was trying to wrap up as many individual threads as possible. It was a really slow-motion thing and, by the time it ended, the outcome, to me, wasn’t even as important as the idea that I brought them to this place.

After wrapping Octopus Pie, you launched the point-and-click computer game Perfect Tides which has its own deceptive depth in storytelling. How was it shifting from writing and drawing a webcomic to creating a whole game?

I don’t think I quite understood the depth of it until I tried it but I knew the impact that those games had on me. I still return to them and play them because I get something out of them that other video games have not given me. I always felt, in the back of my mind, that one of these days I was going to make a game like this.

In actually doing it in practice, if color added a dimension to comics that I hadn’t thought about, the ability to create experiences for players rather than stories they read on the page was an all-new way to reach out and touch somebody in a way that I had never experienced before. It is, without a doubt, the most intimate way I’ve communicated with an audience before.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

While the art style in Perfect Tides is consistent with Octopus Pie, the rounded character design does remind me of games like Harvest Moon.

I didn’t play Harvest Moon until much later, I was a big fan of the Final Fantasy games on Super Nintendo, specifically Final Fantasy VI, that was a huge one for me. JRPGs, in general, with the smallness of the characters, I feel like there’s some visual influence there.

Was the seasonal aspect of the game meant to show the passage of time and provide a variety in the visual environment?

Yeah! In general, I’m not so interested in writing a story that maybe takes a turn and has a rising action until the grand finale. [The game] does have that, in a sense, but I really like stories where there’s a sense that life goes on beyond the confines of the story and you’re just getting a window in their lives.

Music also plays a major role in Perfect Tides, with a deluxe soundtrack available for the game. What was it about incorporating music so prominently in the gameplay experience?

Music has always been important to me and my art, I listen to music while I’m writing and it always creates images in my head. That was true of me as a teenager, when music was really important to me, I can never hold music that close again. The songs that I heard back then and the feeling that I got from them were so novel that I really felt that I had to make that an integral part in any way that I could.

Octopus Pie
Image credit: Meredith Gran (Image Comics)

Between Octopus Pie and Perfect Tides, how is it looking back at that time in your life all these years later?

I opened up passageways in my brain that had not previously existed and then they closed up again because I moved on to something else. It’s like this ever-changing thing where I become this period of my life in however long it takes to get it out on the page. It honestly ruins my life sometimes, when I embody the spirit of this different time from my past for a certain amount of time when I have to get it out of me and then I move on to the next thing.

I wrote a lot of things in the game four years ago and, a lot of those things, I don’t even remember writing even though I was in the throes of a creative burst at the time. Even though what I was writing was really important to me, I had to distance myself from it so I could start writing the next thing.

In terms of the next thing, what are you working on now, Meredith?

I’m trying to learn how to code, I didn’t know how to code for this game. I picked up a game engine and was able to cobble it together from my very basic understanding of how the syntax worked. I would like to arm myself with the knowledge, I would definitely like to continue making games. The passion for comics is still there, I don’t want to hint too hard in either direction, but I am keeping busy on something.

Created by Meredith Gran, Octopus PieOctopus Pie is available to read in its entirety online, with collected editions published by Image Comics. Developed and published by Three Bees Inc., Perfect Tides is available to purchase and play through Steam.

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Sam Stone: Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.
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