The Art of Storytelling, Part 2
Reaching for an un-ending stream of books, Megan Lavey-Heaton hands me a publication about Alexander Hamilton and several about Doctor Who.
She continues, showing me a work of My Little Pony fan-fiction, she wrote at age 6.
“I’ve been in fandom ever since I was little,” Lavey-Heaton exclaims.
Only a page long and in large print, devoid of grammar, the piece shows promise and the gateway to Lavey-Heaton’s creative mind.
At 15 years old, Lavey-Heaton began to take her work in “fan-fic” seriously. She created alternate stories drawn from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Now, Lavey-Heaton is the co-creator and writer behind Namesake, a graphic novel she shares with Isabelle Melançon, the novel’s artist. The duo met in 2005 over Melançon’s fan-fiction parody of The Wizard of Oz with characters from Slayers.
After a year of discussion, Lavey-Heaton, a resident of Mechanicsburg, persuaded Melançon to work on her own original series, but it was a conditional “yes.” Melançon agreed with the understanding that Lavey-Heaton would be her partner on the project since English is not her first language.
Since then, the pair have collaborated on a number of projects from the Namesake series to short stories like Silver Button, Knot and Valor. For Valor, Lavey-Heaton and Melançon partnered with a plethora of word-smiths and talented artists to re-imagine their favorite folk lore and fairy tales from around the world.
Lavey-Heaton says of her partner of eight years, “She comes up with so many ideas, and so many thoughts that sometimes I feel like I am playing catch up.”
The team started out publishing their work on a Wordpress blog with the help of a plug-in called Comicpress (now Comiceasel). Cementing Namesake’s online presence took Joseph Stillwell’s Hiveworks, a publisher of online comic books.
Lavey-Heaton says she was initially nervous about the feedback to their online comic books because she had heard about the negative responses that other online publishers experienced. In addition to attending conventions and being a member of Hiveworks, old-school methods also worked their charm. “A lot of Namesake, too, has come from word-of-mouth,” Lavey-Heaton states.
Tumblr has also been a powerful tool for start-ups. Knot, a short comic created by Lavey-Heaton and Melançon, is posted in its entirety on Tumblr.
“That thing has over 100,000 notes, and it drove a lot of people back to Namesake,” says Lavey-Heaton.
The pair loves their fandom following but acknowledges there are some “pitfalls to fandom.”
The Internet’s ability to provide immeasurable anonymity all-too-often creates hostile environments where users serve up harsh criticism with little or no regard for the lives on the other side of the screen. With that in mind, Lavey-Heaton says, “I think that’s another pitfall – making sure you have a safe place for your fans.”
There’s also a movement in the comic-book industry to make content more inclusive.
“There’s been a huge push to make sure that there are more voices heard among minority creators,” Lavey-Heaton says. “And not just white people trying to portray the point of view of minority creators, but that works are featured front-and-center and that they’re hiring creators to publish stories.”
Namesake tries be as inclusive as possible by introducing characters from different backgrounds to promote diversity. On one occasion, Lavey-Heaton and Melançon had a reader lash out after reading a page of the newest story released online. The reader felt that the story was unbecoming to people coping with mental illness.
Immediately, the co-creators responded, offering the reader the next few pages of the story early, so that she could read it in full context. At which point, the reader realized she had jumped to conclusions. Such accessibility and their open approach has led to a devoted readership.
“We’ve made ourselves accessible to our readers,” she says. “That’s something that has drawn reader’s back.”