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The Mouse Roars

Growing up in Pennsylvania, siblings Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm developed a love of comics early on. Years later, the two parlayed their reading habits into one of the most successful series for kids: Babymouse. With nearly a dozen books in the Babymouse series already published, the duo is now releasing Babymouse: Dragonslayer, a hilarious book that pits Babymouse against a might dragon.

The two talked to GNR about how they work together, how the series came about, and what’s next for their tiny protagonist.

How do you two work together, since you live in different cities?
Lots o’ emailing and Fed Ex-ing! We’re typically working on several different books at any one time, so we pass the projects back-and-forth. It’s sort of nice, because it’s not all on one person’s shoulders.
Who handles which responsibilities on the books?
We both come up with the general idea for the book (i.e., Dragonslayer). Jenni handles the writing and layout, and Matt handles all the art (which is a good thing because big sister has no artistic talent whatsoever!). We’re both pretty amenable if one or the other wants something specific in the story or the art.
Does any sibling rivalry ever rear its head?
Nah, because Jenni always gets her way (she’s older).
How did Babymouse come about?
Jenni was pretty unimpressed with most of the female characters that were in comics when she was a kid. So, we were both living in New York City and she had a bad day, and this image of an irritated little mouse popped into her head. She scribbled it onto a napkin and gave it to Matt. And—voila!—Babymouse was born. And then Matt promptly lost the napkin (way to go, dude).
You’re now on your eleventh Babymouse book. How long do you see the series continuing?
As long as Matt can keep drawing! When his hand falls off, it’ll be hard to keep up the same schedule.
What’s the audience for Babymouse and how do you see the series helping to educate them, get them to love reading, or introduce them to new concepts? Is that something you consciously work into the stories, or is your approach different?
We started out intending the audience to be elementary school girls, but the series has really found its own audience. Boys love it (they don’t care about the pink), and the age group skews higher than we thought. We also hear a lot from parents and educators that students with learning and physical disabilities really connect with Babymouse.
Our greatest hope is that Babymouse will teach the kids to love reading for pure pleasure. We read comics as kids, and we’re ravenous readers as adults.
Not too long ago, comics and graphic novels were frowned upon in any school or educational capacity. Now, more and more schools are using them. Has Babymouse benefited from that change or been a part of it?
The first two Babymouse books were published back in 2005, so it’s probably been part of the change. We're both been big advocates for comics in the classroom and do lots of school visits.
Did you read comics growing up?
Like crazy! We were more of a “strip” house, though. Major influences were Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon (our dad had the bound collected editions), Peanuts, B.C., Wizard of Id (courtesy of our eldest brother), and later Bloom County, and, of course, Calvin & Hobbes. Jenni had a brief Cathy phase, which she regrets, and Matt went through both a Ziggy and Garfield period.

Do you remember your first comic book?
In terms of actual comic books, we read everything. There were five Holm kids, four of which were male, so there were a lot of comics floating around. All the superhero comics, as well as a good showing of horror comics. And, of course, we never missed the Super Friends on Saturday morning.
Over the past few years, manga readership in the United States has grown drastically, especially among girls. But with comics, it’s a little different. As the creator of a series that attracts a lot of female readers, how do you make sure you’re reaching your audience?
Well, hopefully the pink cover helps. No, seriously, Jenni basically writes what she would enjoy reading as a kid (she’s still stuck at age 12 if you ask Matt!).
What’s next for Babymouse?
We hoped you would ask! Babymouse: Burns Rubber will be racing to a library or bookstore near you in spring 2010!

-- John Hogan