Sarah Winifred Searle says there’s no shortage of magic in Stars in Their Eyes
Cartoonist Sarah Winifred Searle helped launch Stars in Their Eyes by Jessica Walton and Aśka at Rabble Books in Maylands. Here’s what she had to say about this new graphic novel for ages 12+.
Aśka has been a familiar face since my early days living here in Perth. We met through the Comics Maker Network meet-ups hosted by Milktooth art school, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know her and her creative work over the years. I recommend following her on social media so you can read the very charming journal comics about her day-to-day adventures that she draws.
Stars in Their Eyes is the first long-form comic by Aśka that I’ve read, and it was a wonderful way to experience her work in-depth. The love she and Jessica Walton put into this book is so tangible while reading it. As a creator myself, one of my favourite things is when you can really feel how much fun someone had while making a piece of media, and there’s no shortage of that magic in this book. Something tricky about being a grown-up who makes stories for teenage readers is that it’s very easy to lose sight of what teens actually find relatable and enjoyable to read. It’s natural to lose touch as you age away from younger generations, and I’m sure I’ve had my fair share of Steve Buscemi in a-backwards-hat-and-sunglasses moments (I’m probably doing it right now). But there’s an emotional core to the coming-of-age experience that transcends time, and being able to distil some of that is key in solid young adult narratives.
But storytelling in general can be tricky, and we’ve come up with shortcuts over the centuries to more easily achieve our goals. One that I see a lot in order to give kids more agency and power over their own lives is the parents in a story being disposed of somehow. Maybe the main characters are orphans, or away at a boarding school, or the adults are just conveniently left out with a shrug and a hand wave. And I’m not dissing those stories, they fulfill a very real and normal fantasy of independence that is often best explored through fiction. However, in a funny way, the prevalence of this trope can make it sometimes feel more challenging to write a story where parents are meaningful, central, positive parts of a teenager’s life.
And Stars in Their Eyes nails it. I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my mum, in particular we were really tight when I was in high school. I didn’t think about it like that at the time, but I really respected her. She made sure our home was an especially welcoming place where my queer friends always felt comfortable, and I never had to worry about my own coming out. I always knew she would accept whatever I had to say when I was ready. We shared interests, such as taking long drives to visit witches’ houses in Salem and photograph seventeenth-century gravestones, or hitting up raucous rock shows that my friends’ parents never would’ve allowed. She supported my passion for comics even though almost no one took them seriously back then, and upon reflection, that was key. It wasn’t just that I respected her, but it felt like she respected me back.
In Stars in Their Eyes, Maisie and Jo have that kind of relationship. It’s so real to me, how they share so much and how easy their banter is. Jessica’s words and Aśka’s visuals flow so well in those moments; they feel real. And that goes for the snarky bits, too – my mum and I got along great, but we had our fair share of tension and tears. Having that kind of relationship with someone means you’re there for each other through both your best and your worst moments, and it’s nice to see Maisie and Jo have been through all that.
I really, truly love that Maisie and Ollie get to have their own little adventure even with both their parents present. That’s how it was for me, having a mum who filled my life with possibilities instead of holding me back or disappearing, and I just don’t see that in media very often. Well done to Jessica and Aśka for pulling that off.
Such is the power of stories that this sort of thing means even more to me now than ever before. I live on the opposite side of the planet from my mum and I miss her all the time. It’s so cosy and cathartic to read a book like this and get to think about her for a minute.
I moved to Perth from northeast United States in 2016, and I have to admit I was worried about how I’d cope with the isolation of a place like this. But I’ve only ever been pleasantly surprised and impressed by the vibrancy of our local comic scene, and the support our community offers. The folks at Rabble Books and Games, Milktooth, the Perth Comic Arts Festival, the City of Perth Library and many more have done so much to make Perth truly feel like home to me. I might not have my mum here, but I have comics. And comics are freaking great.
How lucky are we that we have not just one, but multiple local independent publishers who promote homegrown talent. Between more traditional operations like Gestalt Publishing and Fremantle Press, plus Neighborhood Press and all the individual creators who self-publish, there’s an incredibly rich and diverse spectrum of Perth-made comics available. It’s seriously amazing.
I’d like to specially thank Fremantle Press and editor Cate Sutherland for supporting locally grown graphic novels, including this one. It’s been a long road for comics to be taken seriously in literary circles, and it means the world that we have an established publisher right here in Perth to help bridge the gap further.
I’d end this by saying that I hope you’ll all enjoy this book, but that would be silly because I know you will. It’s breezy and sweet and so heartfelt, and I’m mostly just impatient for others to get swept up in it so I can finally talk about my favourite parts with someone.
Stars in Their Eyes is available in all good bookstores and online. Cartoonist Sarah Winifred Searle hails from New England but is now based in Perth. She is the author of an award-winning graphic novel for young readers called Sincerely, Harriet. Who Was the Girl Warrior of France? Joan of Arc will be published in Penguin Workshop’s WhoHQ series in late 2021 while her fictionalised YA memoir The Greatest Thing will be out from First Second in early 2022. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Instagram at @Swinsea, or via her website at swinsea.com.
Photos reproduced with permission from Nat Letter, Pippin Kenworthy and Kat Davy.