Talia Dutton is the author of M is for Monster. M is for Monster is a Frankenstein-inspired graphic novel about ghosts, identity, and family. The novel follows a scientist who attempts to bring her younger sister back to life with unexpected results. YEM was able to speak with Talia about the writing process, advice she has for writers, and if any of her characters were inspired by anyone she knew in her own life.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first realize you wanted to become an author?
Talia Dutton: Honestly? I don’t know that it ever really hit me all at once. I knew that I wanted to be an artist, and at some point in college I realized that my favorite way of making art involved using words and pictures to tell stories. Even then, I was always worried that I didn’t have any stories in me to tell. I feel like It didn’t really occur to me that maybe I could be an author until I was about halfway done with the book!
YEM: What was it like for you to have your debut graphic novel M is for Monster come out?
Talia: It was really weird- I had spent so much time poring over all the details of this story- only looking at it one page at a time, completely zoomed in on my screen. And then I handed it off to my editors and waited. By the time it was back in my arms I could barely believe I had made it. Luckily I had a lot of friends there to remind me that, yes I did make it, and they had months worth of texts from me— worrying that I couldn’t finish— to prove it.
YEM: Why is it important for you to tell stories that showcase gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual creators and stories?
Talia: I mean the trite answer is that representation matters. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but at it’s core I really believe in it. when I was younger and questioning myself and my identity I clung to any stories I could find- but there were so few that I felt really spoke to me. Not one story can perfectly represent the queer experience, so the more we put out there, the closer we get to the queer canon as a whole representing it. There are millions of straight, cis, white, stories in the world. At this point, we’re just making up the numbers.
YEM: What inspired this novel?
Talia: When I first started doodling M in my notebook – it was my first week of grad school, and I was thinking about monsters. Not any particular monster- just the idea of a monster being an outsider in a world of humans, and how that translates to stories of queerness and identity. I wanted a story about a warm safe space for monsters to find each other and celebrate their monstrosity. I called it the Gorgon Club. The story I wanted to tell about this place was of this little Frankenstinian monster who was made monstrous from pieces of humans, and her finding her own space at the club and reckoning with her place there and whether she fit in or not- all while evading her creator. After meeting with my advisor I was informed that maybe that was a bit much. So I cut it in half, the Gorgon club fell to the wayside and I started working on M’s story.
YEM: What was the process of creating M is for Monster like?
Talia: It was pretty messy! This was the first long form story that I’d ever written, and I was just trying to tie everything together with bits of string and duct tape. I wrote so many basic descriptions of the plot, over and over and over again. If you look back at early drafts and character designs there’s a ton of pieces that were central to the story and then throw out the window; at varying points Frances was a robot, a cursed skull, and a time traveller- sometimes these even overlapped. Even when I presented some pages as my thesis I already knew I wasn’t going to be using them in the book. I was so relieved when I got to the point where knew that what I was drawing was final! Once I got to the art I only went through a few drafts- I’d spent so long on the story It was practically a movie I could play in my head- I just had to get it on paper.
YEM: What is something you learned about yourself during the creation of the novel?
Talia: The biggest thing I learned, and the thing I was most scared to test, was whether or not I could actually make a book! I was really terrified that even if I could draw, and even if I had some ideas for stories- I would never be able to follow through and finish it. But I could and I did. It didn’t make all of the self doubt go away (after all, what if it was a fluke!) but now I have a physical book that I can hold in my hands to remind myself that- yes I can.
YEM: How long did it take for you to create M is for Monster?
Talia: Making M was an incredibly lengthy process. I started writing it as my thesis for grad school and just hammering out the basic plot took several years, and a bunch of different teachers advising me. After I started working with Mariko and Charlotte, my editors at Abrams, we spent another year or so perfecting the script. So comparatively the artistic process was a breeze! But at this point it might have been because we were running out of time… I thumbnailed, penciled, and inked everything over about 10 months, before handing the inks over to my colorist, Avery. So all in all a little under three years- which- now that I look at it written down, is not as long as I thought…
YEM: What is some advice you have for some people who want to become writers one day?
Talia: I would say to start with small projects and FINISH them. I’ve had so many ideas for epic stories- and I would write the first chapter, and then I would re-write the first chapter- and then I would rework everything, then maybe peter off or lose interest. Start with a small bite that you can actually chew and swallow before you choke. Having a small story that’s actually finished gives so much helpful experience as you figure out your process and how to craft a full plot. Plus it’s a great jumping-off point for your next project!
YEM: Is there something specific that you want your readers to take away from M is for Monster?
Talia: I want to encourage everyone to find ways to be yourself, even when others don’t want you to be. Even when you don’t know who exactly you are- find the little details that make up who you want to be. Even if it’s something as small as how you like your tea, or as big as what you want your name to be. I know it’s not always that simple, but I hope everyone can find friends and family that love whoever you are, and support you no matter what.
YEM: What is a book that made you fall in love with literature?
Talia: Oh gosh, the hardest question. According to my parents, I’ve loved reading and stories since before I can remember, certainly since before I could read. And I’ve loved so so many books at so many different points in my life! Uhhhh I keep thinking back to my deep love for Tamora Pierce’s novels starting with Alanna: The First Adventure and just moving on from there. I could certainly go back farther and cite Maurice Sendak or Sandra Boynton, but that’s a rabbit hole that I’m afraid I might get stuck in.
YEM: Are any of the characters inspired by anyone you know in your own life?
Talia: Every character is made of a lot of different people I know, plus, I think, a generous handful of my own traits. both Maura and M have a little bit of me and a little bit of my younger sister. The dynamic between Frances and Maura is also informed by the two of us- the blend between older sister and secondary mom that happens when siblings are ten years apart. Dottie and Asha aren’t necessarily based on anyone in particular but their house and welcoming vibe are based off of Ron and Fran at the Brown University Costume shop where I worked in college. Frances is probably made up of the most people: myself, my mom, my friend from college- Everyone I’ve ever met who was so incredibly smart but almost didn’t need someone else to put the pressure on them because they put so much pressure on themselves.
YEM: Do you see yourself creating more graphic novels in your future?
Talia: I sure hope so! I’m messing around with a couple very different story ideas at the moment, even the remains of the Gorgon Club that I took out of M, but one book doesn’t miraculously make the second book a breeze, unfortunately, so all I can do is keep working at it- which I certainly plan to do!