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Fanbase Press Interviews Alex Schumacher on the Release of the Graphic Novel, ‘The Effects of Pickled Herring,’ Through Mango Publishing

The following is an interview with Alex Schumacher regarding the recent release of his graphic novel, The Effects of Pickled Herring, through Mango Publishing. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Schumacher about his creative process in weaving his own experiences into the overall narrative, how he feels that the story may connect with readers, and more!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of The Effects of Pickled Herring! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the story’s premise?

Alex Schumacher: Thank you so much! This has been an incredibly special milestone for countless reasons. Not the least of which was having the opportunity to immortalize and pay tribute to the ones who encouraged me to live this unexpected life—my grandparents.

The story revolves around introverted 12-year-old Micah Gadsky and his spirited sister Alana as they prepare for their b’nai mitzvah (joint ceremony), all while grappling with a heartbreaking family secret that unravels their understanding of faith and identity. Micah’s introspective nature and Alana’s outgoing personality collide at the crossroads of tradition and transformation, leading them to a confrontation with the mystifying realities of growing up, and ultimately, the enduring power of familial bonds. Sounds heavy, I know, but I promise there’s plenty of laughs in there, too!

BD: What can you tell us about your creative process in bringing this story and characters to life on the page, and how much of your own experiences influenced your narrative?

AS: My process tends to change slightly from project to project. The Effects of Pickled Herring is probably the closest I’ve come to memoir without actually stumbling over that threshold. My initial gameplan was to rely solely on memory and string together a decent narrative using some artistic license. A lot of artistic license perhaps. While to some degree that did happen, I was quickly reminded that our brains are computing vast amounts of information at all times and chunks of details are often lost in the shuffle. To lend an added layer of authenticity, and maybe track down some missing tidbits, I recruited family members to pool our collective reserves. Grandma and grandpa were firm believers in the adage that no one accomplishes anything in this life alone. I’d like to think they’d be delighted by the joint effort. Luxuriating in the anecdotes and escapades of our dearly departed loved ones was moving in a way I hadn’t anticipated. In a way that made me consider the fact that too often I run from the parts of the past I don’t care for while neglecting to stop and appreciate the parts of the past that were great. Without the exceptional existing alongside the excruciating, how do we understand and value the difference?

From there, I made my best attempt to soak the pages in those remembrances and the accompanying emotions behind them. The houses full of warmth, the food full of love, the moments full of confusion or fear. All of it plucked straight from an upbringing that I figured could resonate with people rendered in non-photo blue pencil and ink. When you’ve gone on such a personal deep dive in preparation though, it can be tough to even take a crack at quantifying the breakdown of fiction to truth. The line between fragmented factoids and supplemental make-believe was essentially gone for me. In the good way though that gives me the freedom to further distance characters from actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and pickled products.

BD: What makes Mango Publishing the perfect home for this story?

AS: For starters, they rescued my book from the abyss. Had fate been cruel this time around, things could have been over for Micah and the Gadsky family (a surname borrowed from actual synagogue congregants) before they had a chance to begin. Without getting into too many details, my initial publisher was acquired by a larger independent publisher. Said larger independent publisher then unilaterally decided to cancel a number of works in progress—one of those being The Effects of Pickled Herring. As you can imagine, I was heartbroken. To make it that far only to have the proverbial rug yanked out from under me. Luckily, there was a positive ending in store. Following an uncertain five or six months, Mango’s Hugo Villabona found my story (with an assist from my agent) and miraculously offered to give the project a home. The entire team there has been nothing short of enthusiastic and obliging right from the get-go. I’ll always be grateful to them for adopting this orphaned tale as it almost certainly would have withered on the vine and potentially disappeared otherwise. The sage advice is you’re not supposed to get attached to concepts or characters as a self-preservation measure of sorts, but that would have been difficult when people who have dramatically impacted my life are between those covers.

BD: Graphic Medicine is an emerging genre that combines the field of medicine with the medium of comics. How do you feel that Graphic Medicine stories like this one can help to better depict not only the coming-of-age experience, but also the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on a family unit?

AS: There is a lot to be said for stories that combine text with illustrated elements. Sequential storytelling techniques have existed in some form or another since time immemorial to record history, preserve traditions, express opinions, etc. It’s a format that provides us with the ability to include a high concentration of information unlike any other medium. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that infographics are often used not only online in the form of memes but in professional workspaces to disseminate ideas or thoughts. Why? Because the result is subtle enough that participating parties are being presented with information without it feeling like a challenge. Reading shouldn’t elicit the same internal response as schoolwork. I think we all remember what a slog textbooks could be. While I don’t consider myself a teacher in any way—I hold them in far too high a regard to make such a comparison—part of what we do as creators is inform and provide perspective. In comics, there is then the added visual element containing varying amounts of minutiae. Fashion, surroundings, technology, time of day, time of year, these can all be gleaned from the artwork alone. Neither text nor art is valued above the other though. There’s a symbiosis that must exist between them. When those ingredients are mixed in the right proportions, they form a uniquely enchanting and immersive apparatus to spark discussion and understanding. If that’s not part of the core mission of Graphic Medicine, I don’t know what is.

BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that this story may connect with and impact readers?

AS: First off, what a beautiful initiative. Seriously. Storytelling in its many various forms possesses an innate quality of wanting to reach out to others, wanting to connect. We often don’t talk enough about what a privilege it is to be able to have this at our disposal, to impact others who need these stories, which is currently an even more crucial conversation to have. Fanbase Press deserves a “thank you” for bringing these topics to the forefront!

As for The Effects of Pickled Herring, I’m hoping it connects through the tribulations and the triumphs of being human. Some of the most impactful twists and turns tend to emerge around the age of the middle grade audience, and I consciously strove to make that a prominent theme. We all have anxiety. We all have self-doubts. We all use forms of escapism from time to time. We’ve all needed to adjust to a new normal. We’ve all needed reassurance. Some of us have bar and bat mitzvahs. Some of us have grandparents who are living with one ailment or another. Each of those in and of themselves can feel so overwhelming and isolating, which is precisely why stories, and access to stories that discuss difficult issues are so important. They ground us. They make us feel seen. They can help bolster someone who might not have much support in their life. They can make us laugh when we haven’t been able to for days or months. Stories are powerful entities unto themselves which is why they can often be met with opposition. There will always be groups who clutch their pearls when the cage of the status quo is rattled. If I could instill one thing it would be to embrace love and fight hate where we can. I acknowledge that’s not quite as easy for those who may not have come from loving places, but as long as we’re trying that’s all anyone can ask.

BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?

AS: I do have a couple of projects in the works, though unfortunately they’re in development so there isn’t much to share at the moment. As soon as I have some news, I will be sure to share it with Fanbase Press!

BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Effects of Pickled Herring?

AS: Though it’s in much need of some love, I always invite people to visit my website at,. If they prefer, there’s always my publisher’s landing page for the book, as well. For appearances, signings, and other such newsworthy tidbits folks can subscribe to my newsletter for free here.

Thank you so much again for talking to me about this book and these characters I love so dearly!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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