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Fanboy Comics Interviews Comic Creator Caitlin Like (‘Maiden of the Machine’)

The following is an interview with comic creator Caitlin Like (Maiden of the Machine, Children of Loki: Fenir). In this interview, Fanboy Comics Contributor Madeleine Holly-Rosing chats with Like about her creative process, her penchant for telling female-led stories, why death is a recurring theme in her projects, and where you can go to learn more about her work!

Like most of my interactions these days, I met Caitlin on Twitter after I had retweeted something about her webcomic, Maiden of the Machine. She was so honestly thrilled that I had retweeted her that I was a little embarrassed and took it upon myself to check out her comic. Much to my delight, I discovered a charming story with interesting characters and a Victorian setting. I was so enchanted that I asked if she would be willing to do some fan art of Caitlin O’Sullivan from my comic, and I was thrilled when she said yes. (I have a feeling she couldn’t stop herself from rendering her namesake.)

Fanboy Comics Contributor Madeleine Holly-Rosing: You have a degree in Fine Arts. Do you have a regular day job, or are you able to make a living as an artist? If yes to either of them, what do you do?

Caitlin Like: My degree in Fine Arts sort of happened on accident! I went to school intending to get into animation, but the program changed so much and so rapidly by the time I was a junior (They ended up axing the pre-production program that I was invested in.) that I decided to change to a Fine Art major at the very last possible second.

I have a regular day job; I’m a barista by day and artist by night. Barista-ing pays my bills, and I also earn a really comfortable side living on freelance work and conventions, mainly through flatting other people’s comics at this point. With the webcomic on top of that, it’s a very busy living!

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MHR: I love the relationship between Abhaya and her sister, Elizabeth, in Maiden of the Machine. Why a story about two sisters?

CL: Funny story about those two: The two of them didn’t become the protagonists of the story until the literal last moment! The story has been spinning in my head since about 2009 in some form or fashion, and while Abhaya was a sort of Malcolm Reynolds/Han Solo figure, another character that has sort of tangentially been introduced right now was the protagonist. Then, when that perspective felt stale, I switched gears to a character who hasn’t even been mentioned in the comic yet! And, while the story was interesting from his perspective, I knew this was a story I didn’t want to tell from a male point of view.

Then, the point of view shifted to Abhaya, then finally to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was originally an extremely minor and sort of inconsequential character, as the sort of ingenue little sister of her action story sister. But, when I turned the story to her perspective, it opened up a whole new world of character possibilities that I didn’t even see before or knew that I wanted to explore! In the end, it felt like such a natural choice that I don’t know why it took me so long to turn my focus to them. They’re a great personality study in contrast to each other, but they’re still two people who care deeply for each other. I really appreciate that in a character.

MHR: Unlike most comics, movies, and many TV shows, you seem to have an abundant supply of complex female characters. Was that a conscious act on your part to have parity between male and female characters or did it just happen?

CL: It was a very conscious decision! There were never enough women to begin with in Victorian novels that I grew up reading, unless they were drawing room stories or social issues stories like Austen books or books like Middlemarch. They’re very absent except for one or two stock characters like the wife/cousin (They always seem to be cousins!) or sister or mother, and they were so one-dimensional that they were hard to relate to unless they were the protagonist of the story. That’s probably why I love Jane Eyre so much!

Women are very absent from the gothic science horror novels that I love, so I wanted to make a story that revolved around them. They can’t all be Jane Eyre when I wanted a women-centric Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde growing up!

MHR: Since you do every aspect of the comic (writing, drawing, etc.) yourself, what was it like working with someone like Yuki Saeki on Children of Loki: Fenir and what inspired it? What brought you and Yuki together?

CL: Yuki’s wonderful! We were part of the same mentorship program at Periscope Studios and met there. A mutual friend commissioned her at Stumptown Comics Fest to draw a “beautiful viking,” and it sort of spiraled out of control from there! We both started drawing them, and we decided to do a two-story comic about them as our joint effort from our time at the studio. It was so fantastic working with her; she draws the way I wanted to draw when I first started reading comics!

MHR: In your other story, The Devil and the Little Sister, you also deal with death and sacrifice. This seems to be a common theme in your work. What draws you to it?

CL: It might be the Catholic in me, actually. The Devil and the Little Sister was inspired in equal parts by The Devil Went Down to Georgia and the much less well-known folk story of Kitty Jay/Jay’s Grave, about a young woman who committed suicide and haunts the crossroads where she is buried. People still leave flowers on her supposed gravesite to this very day! Growing up hearing bible stories and sainthood stories also ingrained this deep appreciation in stories when characters give up everything for the people and causes they love. There’s something deeply romantic and tragic about it.

I think the media that I grew up consuming and continue to pursue as an adult deals with those themes, especially death, as I watch way, way too many crime shows.

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MHR: Do you have plans for writing/creating other comics that you can tell us about?

CL: I do have a big project coming up that I caaaaaaan’t quite talk about yet, but I’m very excited about it! As far as stuff I can talk about, it’s all Maiden of the Machine-related short stories. There are a lot of small adventures I want to tell but don’t fit in with the plot as it’s running, so I have to get those stories out somewhere!

MHR: I see your Pinterest board is filled with photos from the Victorian era. Is that just for research or is there something you like in particular about that era?

CL: It’s both! I love Pinterest so, so much for research purposes. I started using it when I was in college for a character design class, and it just kind of stuck, back when it was an invite-only site. I love the Victorian era for the reasons so many others do; the way it’s stuck between progress and invention and the rigidness of social class. Incredible scientific progress but your social hierarchy is holding you back.

The Pinterest board is mainly so full of Victorian clothing for research, though. It saves me so much space on my hard drive, and it helps me to keep each character’s fashion sense in their own separate slots. Clothing is so important to me when it comes to character creation.

MHR: You mentioned you are a frequent traveler. What is the most unusual, out-of-the-way place you’ve gone? And, why did you go there?

CL: My travel has mainly been funded through vacations with my parents, who always wanted to get out of the state (I used to live in Texas.) and go somewhere else for a bit. Usually, that took us to Ohio to see relatives, but the most out-of-the-way place I’ve ever been to was Tulum! I have very vivid memories of the pyramids and the heat and most especially the other tourists who drank too much and then got on a hot bus throwing up once we hit the site. Kind of sticks with you. But, it was so beautiful! I want to go back someday.

MHR: Last question: Being a history and science fiction buff, what is your favorite comic and/or novel that embodies both?

CL: Right now, I am super into Shades of Milk and Honey and the rest of the Glamourist series by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s less science fiction and more historical science fantasy, taking place in a very Jane Austen-esque setting.

As far as comics go, that’s a little harder to place! I don’t actually read a lot of straight-up Steampunk comics. I mainly stick in the sort of Weird West category with stuff like Sixth Gun, Pretty Deadly, and Plume. I love a good western comic!

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