Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue are the creators of KATIE THE CATSITTER, available now from Random House Graphic! Hear more about this exciting new series below!
Katie the Catsitter is such an amazing book! Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind the story? Where did the idea originate?
Colleen: Like Katie, I was a latchkey kid. My parents both worked long hours at low paying jobs. We didn’t have much money to say the least—I often got made fun of for wearing the same clothes too often, which is one of the reasons Katie purposely has a limited wardrobe that rotates often in the story. I worked odd jobs for neighbors. I had friends who didn’t understand why I couldn’t do the things they did, like summer lake houses, expensive gymnastics classes, or pageants. (Ohmigosh, thank you a million times Mom and Dad for not letting me do pageants! In my defense I really just wanted to tap-dance wearing sequins. I still do!)
We didn’t have much, but we did have a TV. Every day after school, before my parents got home, I lived in front of that TV. They played reruns of the 60’s Batman show and I fell in love with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. She was so much cooler than Batman and as a kid I kept thinking “There are all these silly henchmen around! Why doesn’t she have like a million cats that work for her?” As I got older, I noticed how horribly any woman was represented in superhero comics—no more high heels! who can fight in high heels?!—and the lack of Black female heroes. I started to think: what defines a hero? And realized that line is not completely clear.
We absolutely love the art work and ALL OF THE CAT designs! Can you share a bit about your process not only creating the setting, but the variety of cats and their many cool super powers?
Stephanie: A lot of times I cheat and sneak friends’ cats onto the pages! I also just love that cats can look so different—fat and floofy, long and thin, short hair, long hair, folded ears, smooshed face, bendy tails—and they’re all evil-I MEAN LOVABLE. I wanted the cats to look as diverse as NYC but still grounded in reality, so they’re still cat-sized and have cat anatomy but doing human or superhero things. In looking for inspiration for cat fur patterns and eye colors I ended up learning a bit about cat genetics and color inheritance!
We know this book is fun-filled and bursting with cool cats- but the heart of the story really seems to be the story of friendships and how they evolve. Can you share why this is an important message for young readers, and your personal experience with evolving friendships?
Colleen: There’s nothing harder than a friend breakup. 12 is such a hard age because kids grow-up at different rates. Some 12-year-olds have crushes and start to worry what others think of them. Others are still very much kids. One of my best friends went to a lake house every summer so I never saw her, and when she came back it was like I had been in a time freeze and she had grown up. She had a boyfriend, she understood jokes I definitely didn’t get. She had a whole set of friends at the lake that replaced me. We grew apart slowly, and I could feel it happening but the more I tried to stop it, the more the distance seemed to change us. As a kid I remember thinking it was something I was doing: I was too hyper, I was annoying, I was a baby, I was too emotional, I was too poor. It took me years to realize it wasn’t any of those things. It was just life. And luckily, like Katie, there were so many other good friends right around the corner. Though unlike Katie I never figured out how to skateboard.
Stephanie: I think a lot of early friendships stand out in memory because they’re firsts. Becoming distanced from your very first best friend can feel like the end of the world, but when you’re Katie’s age everyone is beginning some form of transition. I especially loved how Colleen wrote Katie and Bethany’s interactions because although they’re growing up at different rates and learning to navigate different interests, it’s clear they still care about each other. Neither is painted as the villain in their friendship, their pain feels real because you can tell they want to stay in each others’ lives while navigating these new and uncharted changes. It makes me want to root for them and whatever shape their friendship takes, and I think that’s a great message for young readers who might be struggling with changes in their own first friendships.
There’s friendship, jealousy, dealing with summer jobs, mystery—so many things that middle-grade readers are experiencing and dealing with. Why was a graphic novel the best way to tell this story?
Colleen: Silent panels! Forget any words I write, the most powerful panels are always the ones without any text or dialog. Just looking at a sad expression you put your own thoughts and feelings onto that character. How would YOU feel if you were Katie? Rather than hearing exactly what she’s thinking, you have to use visual clues and empathy. I also love a good page turn reveal. And getting to visually see how Bethany’s (Beth! SOB!) letters get more and more plain. Not as long, not as many stickers. More and more talk about about boys… it’s something that strikes so much harder when you can see it on the page.
Stephanie: The graphic novel format is great for Katie because it’s so approachable, it’s easy to project yourself onto a cartoon character and immerse yourself in her world. Heartfelt moments can feel immediate without leaning on dialogue or description, and telling the story in a visual and prose medium leaves plenty of room for both wordplay and visual gags. I love that Katie the Catsitter can have these very grounded, slice-of-life moments sitting right next to pages with over the top humor!
Do you have a favorite super-cat? Who is it and why?
Colleen: How can I pick a favorite?! They are all my babies! I feel the need to also say that nearly 200 of these 217 cats exist in real-life and are my friend’s pets. In terms of powers, the one that makes me laugh the most are Tammy Faye, who is our ribbon dancing Floor Gymnastics expert. The scene where all the other cats are charging into battle and she’s leaping through the air fiercely dancing, will always make me laugh.
Stephanie: It’s hard not to love Jolie. I like to think she hasn’t taken over the world only because she prefers to nap (I suppose this applies to most cats…). Also, her laptop has some slightly modified hacker-themed stickers as easter eggs for any older readers in that industry.
Can you share some of your favorite graphic novel recs/graphic novels on your TBR pile?
Colleen: So many! I LOVED Snapdragon by Kat Leyh. Max Meow by John Gallagher is so pun-filled and charming. On my to-read shelf I’ve got Odessa by Jonathan Hill. I’m a huge fan of his work! And next up is a title for grown-ups: Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made by Josh Frank and Tim Heidecker. If you’ve ever seen a Marx brothers movie, it’s not surprising that I’m a huge fan. Moritz the “Counter Attacks” cat is definitely channeling his inner Harpo, and I feel like Madeline’s cats may be the only ones that could outsmart Groucho!
Stephanie: I just recently finished The Magic Fish, it’s a truly powerful read. As a traveler and autobiographical creator, I love Guy Delisle’s stories.
You can grab your copy of KATIE THE CATSITTER now!