Do you know a child who would love to get a pet but can’t because of allergies? I was one of those kids. It was great to read graphic novel about a girl just like me. I got to chat with Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter about their book Allergic.
About the Book
Hi Megan and Michelle! Thank you for sharing Allergic with me. Growing up with both a food and pet allergy, I really appreciated a book that addressed both. You did a wonderful job showing how environmental allergy shots work, how it feels to miss out on something because of an allergy, and how you feel when your allergy impacts others. I’m sure it will help those with allergies feel understood and help those without allergies empathize.
Can you give us a short summary of the book?
Megan: Allergic tells the story of an animal-obsessed girl named Maggie who’s about to get her first puppy…when she finds out she’s allergic to all animals with fur or feathers. Maggie’s still determined to do whatever it takes to find the perfect pet, but she has a lot to learn about her family, her friends, and herself along the way. (And thank you!)
When does the book come out?
Michelle : March 2nd!
There were so many different middle-grade concepts that you brought up in Allergic: friendship, feeling different, a new baby sibling, family relationships, hiding a secret…Tell us who would especially enjoy this book.
Michelle: I hope kids with and without allergies are able to see themselves in Maggie and can really relate to finding your own place with friends and family.
Megan: I think that kids with allergies will especially relate to Allergic. And because it also deals with so many challenges common to many childhoods, I think that most kids who love graphic novels will like it, too!
Michelle, the expressions you conveyed through your illustrations were amazing! I could really get a sense of emotion in each frame. If you had one tip for artists out there on illustrating graphic novels, what would it be?
Michelle: Thank you so much! I love acting out the emotions of the characters myself to feel them. If you caught me at my desk, you’d find me mimicking all the expressions as I draw them. It helps me understand the character and it’s a lot of fun. That and using reference photos, plenty of reference photos.
About the Author & Illustrator
Give us a sense of who you are in ten words or less.
Michelle: One artist trying her hardest to create happiness through books.
Megan: Dedicated bookworm and writer.
Can you explain to us the process of collaborating on a graphic novel? Megan, how did you convey what you wanted it to look like to Michelle? Were you able to communicate during the construction of the book?
Michelle: I loved working with Megan. She had such a strong grasp on the story and we just hit the ground running. It felt so organic to work together and I agreed with so much of the suggested pacing and stage direction but also had so much creative freedom to play around. We had a lot of conversations at the start and talked about ideas, concept art and where we wanted to take it. I feel so lucky to have teamed up with such a wonderful author.
Megan: It’s a little hard to describe because there were so many different stages to the project. Because we teamed up before pitching the project to publishers, we were able to collaborate on the initial vision for the book when I’d only written the first part of the script and a loose outline. After beginning officially working with Graphix, we would go through periods of working more individually (like when I was finishing writing the script and then when Michelle was doing the thumbnails, for example), but then would come together with our wonderful editor Cassandra Pelham Fulton at steps along the way. So it was this really great combination of working together and also giving each other creative space and trusting the vision the other person would bring to the project. As for the script itself, I planned the story beats and stage directions panel by panel, but then Michelle could adjust as she saw fit. Michelle really made so much of the emotion of the story work in ways beyond what I could have imagined. Working with her has been a dream come true!
Megan, can you tell us a short summary about your writing (and reading) journey. Did you enjoy writing as a child? Did you read comic books? What authors inspired you?
Megan: I have always been a bookworm. And I wrote in my diary when I was eight that I wanted to write books for children when I grew up! I wasn’t aware of comic books as a kid, but I did love Calvin and Hobbes collections. I also really loved books that had very detailed illustrations, like the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and Jan Brett’s work. As I started reading novels, I read mostly fantasy books and animal stories, but my favorite realistic fiction writer was probably Beverly Cleary, as I connected with her humor and her ability to show the world from her kid characters’ perspectives.
Michelle, did you always enjoy drawing? What artists inspired you?
Michelle: I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. It was a way for me to create stories and characters that I couldn’t find in the books I had as a kid. Animation was a huge inspiration for me growing up, especially any movie by Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service was on a permanent loop in my house as a kid.
In what ways are each of you similar to Maggie?
Michelle: I’m very determined like Maggie. When I set my mind to something, I’ll stop at nothing to try and make it happen.
Megan: I bring pieces of myself to each of my characters, and with Maggie I think I channeled both my anxiousness and determined optimism.
What gave you the idea to write about a pet allergy?
Megan: Like Maggie, I’m allergic to all animals with fur or feathers! I also have a lot of other allergies, but wanted to focus on animal allergies for this story.
Megan, how was the process of writing a graphic novel different from a traditional novel? And why did you choose that format? (Be sure to check out her blog post on writing resources for comics and graphic novels here.)
Megan: I had been wanting to write a graphic novel for several years, but just wasn’t sure where to start. When I had the idea for writing a book focused on a kid with animal allergies, I thought it could be a great fit for the format, and that really motivated me to figure out the whole process.
One big difference for me has been that graphic novels really force me to always consider the physical location and movements of characters. With novels, especially in first person, you can have scenes that are more about the character thinking or reacting to something, really in that space in their own head. But with comics, unless you want to fill panels and pages with just dialogue bubbles, then you really have to consider the location and movement of the characters and what you can do to keep it moving and make space for interesting visual beats.
Michelle, how was the process of illustrating a graphic novel different from a traditional picture book?
Michelle: This was my first project I signed on to as an Illustrator. I had only done portfolio pieces or smaller form comics before Allergic. It was a dream come true and I had so much to learn as I went. The biggest difference is how long graphic novels take. We’re talking months and months, sometimes years if you’re lucky. There were a lot of hard nights where I didn’t know if I could do it, but every page you get closer and can feel the excitement building.
What is your best time to work? Any special rituals that get you ready and inspired?
Michelle: On my best days, I’m most productive early in the morning. When the sun is just rising and the house is completely quiet. There’s a lot of peace in those moments and I feel really energized. But I have a very bad habit of staying up late and I’m mostly working around 9am or 10am.
Megan: I’m a work-at-home parent, so I just kind of go with the flow. Whenever I try to make a solid schedule, something goes wrong. I try to work when I can whether I feel inspired or not, though everything does go much faster when I feel inspired and/or have a upcoming deadline. Books, TV, and nature are all big sources of daily inspiration for me.
What research did each of you need to do for any of the topics in Allergic?
Michelle: I had to research a lot! I never lived with allergies like Maggie does, so I had to research almost every aspect. Megan really helped with that and had so many resources and descriptions to pass down to me. I feel very spoiled working with her!
Megan: For the animal allergies I didn’t have to do much research, as I was using my own experiences as inspiration. I also have a family member who has to carry an Epi-pen, so I had already had some life experience learning about that aspect of allergies, too. I did research allergies in general, and food allergies in particular, to make sure I was conveying factual information. We were also able to have an allergist review the script for accuracy, which was very helpful. In the script itself, I tried to include a lot of links (to things like photo references for what allergy skin testing looks like, for example), so that Michelle wouldn’t have to figure out everything from scratch (hah!).
What ended up taking more time than you anticipated?
Michelle: Inking took a lot longer than I anticipated. Working on smaller comics always made inking feel like such a breeze. But for Allergic, the page count was the biggest learning curve. I could really only get through 2-3 pages per day, 4 if I was really powering through.
Megan: It was a bit of a learning curve for me that after I “finished” the script and Michelle did the sketches, the sketches and text combined then became the new working document, and we would re-assess the dialogue, narration, and even sound effects—clarifying and refining—with each round of the art process. But I’m glad we did it that way because I think it helped make the storytelling throughout feel very natural and cohesive.
Are either of you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!
Michelle: We are! Of course sticking to virtual visits and staying as safe as possible. We’re making presentations for a lot of fun programs and reach kids in the elementary school-middle school range.
How can we learn more about each of you?
Michelle: You can find me on instagram @buttersketch and my website is michellemee.com.
Megan: And I’m on Instagram @meganwagnerlloyd and my website is meganwagnerlloyd.com.
I hear you have another book coming out together. Can you give a little teaser about it?
Michelle: It’s pretty much under wraps for now, but what you can expect is a lot of fun meeting new characters and following along the ups and downs of having a big family.
Megan: I think it’s fair to say that if you liked the humor and heart in Allergic, you’ll really enjoy our next book, too!
Thank you both for your time.
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter will be giving a signed copy of Allergic to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy.
*This giveaway is only available in the United States.
Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of several picture books, including Paper Mice, Building Books, Finding Wild, and A Fort-Building Time. She lives in the Washington DC area. Visit her online at meganwagnerlloyd.com.
Michelle Mee Nutter graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, 3×3 Illustration, Creative Quarterly, and more. Michelle lives in Boston, MA. Visit her online at michellemee.com.
Allergic is available here: