Young People Living Their Best Lives In Dodge City – Talking With Josh Trujillo And Cara McGee

by Hannah Means Shannon

A new series from Boom! Box, an imprint of Boom! Studios, arrived last week introducing us to a group of young people of widely varying degrees of athletic ability, temperament, and social skills, but they have all been brought together by a desire to…well, lose while playing dodgeball. That’s what the Jazz Pandas team seems all about–weathering those losses–but there’s going to be more at stake when they really start to dig deep.
New player Tomás has joined the team in Dodge City, for reasons he’s not totally sure of himself, and we’re thrown into getting to know a lot about his vibrant teammates, all amid a flurry of face-impacting projectiles. Written by Josh Trujillo (Adventure Time) and drawn by Cara McGee (Over the Garden Wall), with colors by Brittany Peer, and letters by Aubrey Aeise, the series is centered on young people living unfettered lives–at least while playing–and being somewhere they actually want to be.
Josh Trujillo and Cara McGee join us today to talk about their new series.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Do you think there is extra potential, when creating a comic with a sports element prominently displayed, that is might reach out to readers who might have never read comics before, or not consistently?
Josh Trujillo: I’d say there are potential readers who (mistakenly) think comics only tell stories in the superhero genre. What I love about BOOM! is that they’re willing to take risks in terms of what stories they tell, and what kinds of people those stories are about. Books like Smile, by Raina Telgemeier, do so much to introduce new readers to the medium. I’m hoping we can do that, too.
Cara McGee: I think it’s very exciting that American comics (and BOOM in particular) are exploring so many genres outside of superhero books. Sports comics are already a hugely popular niche in Japan, and I think we’ll be able to appeal to many readers who have been looking for more books like ours.

HMS: Ok—full disclosure, and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone—but most people who I know who talk about dodgeball memories from school are recalling getting hit in the face, yelled at by coaches, and the like. Is this book going to rehabilitate the image of dodgeball?
CMcG: Those are TOTALLY my memories too, but it was also always my favorite gym activity. After all, you ALSO get to nail other people. There’s really no talent curve for it–it’s a rare sport that I think anyone can have fun playing, regardless of skill level, and hopefully Dodge City will be able to highlight the fun and action of the games.
JT: When I joined a dodgeball league in my 20’s what surprised me was how inclusive, fun, and theatrical the game could be! It’s not a traditional sport, because people with all body types can find success playing it. Because of that there are leagues in every major city in the country, and more popping up every season.
I think people who were traumatized in grade school should give it a second chance. Today, dodgeball is something totally unique and positive for everyone who plays it.

HMS: In all seriousness, there’s a particular appeal, and a lot of potential in telling “team” stories, whether in superhero comics or beyond, because it gives us the chance to get to know many diverse types of characters. Can you tell us a little about the characters in Dodge City and why they have a place in your heart?
JT: Tomás, our protagonist, encompasses all of my insecurities and stresses. Well-meaning but excitable, he’s the newest member of Jazz Pandas, the worst team in the history of Dodge City dodgeball. He’s our point of view, and he’s learning this hectic game alongside the reader.
Beyond that, I wanted to surround him with fresh, unique voices that don’t pop up enough in pop-culture. Huck has a special place in my heart, not just because he’s adorable but because of how he handles his disability. Drew is the coolest, most confident character I’ve ever written for. It’s been a thrill to explore how she balances all of her responsibilities alongside her romance with Elsie.
If we did it right, everyone will see a little part of themselves on Jazz Pandas, and want to follow along for the ride!
CMcG: I fell in love with all of the Jazz Pandas as soon as Josh introduced me to them. The fact that they all deal with realistic hang ups and insecurities, but are still so fun and vibrant really appealed to me. None of them are background or side characters, they each bring something unique and important to the team and honestly, I want to give them all hugs (Even the Kettle Balls).

HMS: What about the aesthetic of the comic, whether in line art or color, helps convey its mood or attitude, in your opinion?
JT: Cara’s first round of character designs blew me away! It’s one thing to write for a diverse cast like this, but not every artist can pull that off. She has an energy, a touch, that makes each member of Jazz Pandas feel more real. The fashions the characters wear in particular do A LOT to tell you about who these kids are and what they’re all about. That’s the power of a visual medium, and I can’t imagine a better partner.
Brittany Peer and Aubrey Aiese also add so much personality and depth to each panel they touch. Brittany worked closely with Cara to find the right colors to make every panel pop. Aubrey’s letters add so much warmth and humanity to my dialogue. She was my first choice because of her work on Lumberjanes.
CMcG: It’s very important to me that the art looks very youthful and vibrant. I’m trying to keep the look a little loose and a little sketchy at times to really try to get the sense of action and stress you get while playing dodgeball. I also really wanted each character to be very distinct, with their personalities reflected in their appearance as much as possible, down to the way they wear their hair and the clothing/sneaker brands they might wear.
Brittney has also been amazing to work with and she seems to instinctively know the mood to color for in each panel and makes everything really pop. I’m half convinced she’s a witch.

HMS: We actually talk a lot about finding meaning and connection in comics, and I’m all about that as a reader and reviewer, but there’s a lot to be said for making a comic that’s fun  and upbeat too, and can bring positivity into our lives. Where do you think Dodge City fits in that spectrum?
JT: Dodge City is a lot of fun, but there’s more under the surface if you look at it closely. I wanted to tell a story about finding confidence in a chaotic world. And they do that, in this story, by looking outside of themselves. You can be an incredible athlete, but in dodgeball, your team will only ever win if you work  together.
There’s so much baggage that adults unload onto teenagers and kids every single day. Dodge City is a place where younger characters can have agency over their situations. Nobody is forced to play dodgeball in this story; our Jazz Pandas are only there because they want to be.
And hopefully you want to be there, too!
CMcG: I feel like, when I was growing up, I ended up reading more manga than American comics mostly because it was easier to find characters I could relate to in those stories. I’m so incredibly happy that Dodge City is giving me a chance to showcase young adult characters just, like, living and working through their issues and being cool and nerdy and getting comfortable in their bodies. That sounds very After School Special, but I think it’s so important to have more books about kids living their best lives and not like, saving the world with super powers each issue (okay, fine, I still love those too).

Huge thanks to Josh Trujillo and Cara McGee for sharing their love of Dodge City with us!
Dodge City #1 arrived in shops on March 7th, 2018, and is currently available. Dodge City #2 arrives on April 11th, 2018

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