Who … Is … Couri Vine?

Comic-book creators Leah Lovise & Vanessa Shealy know – and are telling

Who … Is … Couri Vine?

Girl. Nerd. Superhero.

That’s Couri Vine, the young protagonist of the new graphic novel series by Leah Lovise and Vanessa Shealy.

And that’s maybe, to some greater or lesser extent, Couri Vine artist Lovise and writer Shealy themselves.

It's certainly not too far off the mark on all three counts, we'd suggest, especially if we stretch the label “superhero” to mean a two-person team who creates and publishes and markets a made-for-young-readers sci-fi adventure series that’s brimming with colorful comic-book moxie and futuristic thrills.

They are a team, these two women who’ve been friends since their Oklahoma City childhood, and now they're about to 1) release the second issue of the vividly illustrated narrative and 2) present it in person at this weekend’s Pflugerville Library Comic Con, up there in that excellent bastion of books between here and Round Rock.

We caught up with the creators – Lovise lives here in the ATX; Shealy’s visiting from NYC – at a table outside Thunderbird Coffee on Manor recently and asked them, hey, what’s up?

Vanessa Shealy: We’ve been working all day on the third volume, working up the details. We’ve got the gladiatorial exercise coming up, which is action-packed.

Leah Lovise: We came up with the rules today, explored the new levels, just really got the details of that part of the world hammered out. We’re planning to have it out in time for the holidays. The third volume of Couri Vine should be out around Thanksgiving or somewhere in there. And the fourth book of this story arc, we’ll have that out in March, in time for next year's Staple! Independent Media Expo.

Austin Chronicle: Are these trade paperbacks? Or are they more like regular comic books? Although, actually, I've seen the first issue, and it's not perfectbound, but it seems much better produced than most comic books …

Shealy: They're still regular comic books at this point. We’re putting most of our energies toward getting the first story arc finished and out – it’s kind of a creation story for our heroine, she comes into her own at the very end of the fourth book – and then we can really push to get a trade-paperback compilation of the story. And start to work on the next story arc.

AC: So, for this thing at the Pflugerville Library on Saturday, you’re going to have the first two books there?

Lovise: Yes, and we’re both pretty excited. It’s my first time to be a panelist!

AC: Are y’all big comic fans in general? Is that what led you to this project?

Shealy: Not really. I mean, I might read a comic every now and then, there are some things I like, but I was never a regular fan. I studied to be an actor, and then came to playwriting, and then children’s writing – and now here I am doing Couri Vine. Which is kind of a combination of playwriting and writing for kids. And performing.

Lovise: I was always more into film, but when I moved to Austin I got a little bit involved in the theatre world.

Shealy: Leah was initially pitching this project as Doo Dad’s Moon Pad, an animated television show for a much younger audience.

Lovise: That was done with [Austin Chronicle Art Director] Jason Stout! We’d developed this concept, and a character bible, and got a grant from the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund to put a pilot together. But then Jason got real busy with the Chron and couldn’t work on it anymore.

Shealy: Which was good for me, because then Leah came and crashed on my couch when she was pitching the Doo Dad idea in New York, at the Kidscreen Summit. And we started talking about the idea, and the more we talked about it, especially after the Summit was over, Leah was like, “I’m rethinking this idea, and I think we should take it in a different direction.” So we kind of re-opened that world and talked about what stories go on there. And the protagonist was this young boy, and we were like, “Well, we’re both women, why do we have a young boy as a hero?” So we moved over to a peripheral character, a female character from the Doo Dad story.

Lovise: She was the Furrier Courier! And now we’ve shortened her name to Couri – Couri Vine – who lives on a colony on the moon. And she’s seen as kind of a freak of nature by her classmates, because she has artificial lungs, due to the air plague. So she has a breathing apparatus that her grandfather made for her. And she finds out that the moon leader, the guy in charge of the colony, he’s not who he claims to be and there are secrets that the leader’s been keeping from everyone.

Shealy: And after about a year of playing around with the idea, talking about the world, we realized that we were dealing with a comic-book story. That it wasn’t a TV show or an app or whatever.

Lovise: In my head, it was all kinds of things – originally, a live-action puppet show. But I’m happy with how it’s transformed, and with having Vanessa on board as writer. Each book just gets better and better.

Shealy: It’s a super action-packed, female-driven story – that takes place on the moon. We’re really jazzed about it.

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