Sam Concklin, creator of the short webcomic (now graphic novel) Now and Forever Nia, shares her creative process and advice to creators.
Stories of overprotective, strict parents are common in various forms of media (Finding Nemo, anyone?). Usually in those stories, the child (or children) finds their parent(s) irritating and ends up sneaking out or running away. Sam Concklin‘s premise for Now and Forever Nia is similar, but the story stands out for its heartwarming moments and clever plot twists. If you haven’t read my review, you can read it here. I’m excited to find out that the webcomic has been expanded to a graphic novel. Sam has taken the time to talk to me about her work and self-care while creating.
The Geekiary: Thank you for taking the time to be here! Let’s start by introducing yourself.
Sam: Hi there! I’m Sam, an animator and comic creator. I also have a background in composing music, but right now I’m mostly focused on comics, animations, and growing my career as an independent, digital artist.
I also generally identify as a cis bisexual girl (pronouns she/her), but honestly, since I cut my hair short for the first time last July, my gender is less “woman” and more “woman-with-an-asterisk.” Rebecca Sugar is one of my role models, and I didn’t understand what she meant with the phrase “non-binary woman” until I looked in the mirror one day and went “oh no, I don’t think I’m a girl.” If anything, I identify as cute and fun, haha, but for now, I’ll settle on the term genderqueer woman.
TG: I adore your short webcomic Now and Forever Nia and am delighted to find out that it’s been expanded into a graphic novel. I’m interested in hearing about your creative process. How have your ideas come about? And have you always imagined Now and Forever Nia as a graphic novel, or has it just started as a short webcomic?
Sam: I’m super glad you asked! Not gonna lie, I’m an overthinker, and proud of it because I get to share my experience with others. Here’s the story:
I’ve always loved animated media, and I graduated with a degree in animation from Bradley University in May 2019. Going into college, my dream job was to produce my own show with Cartoon Network. But then I realized that path takes a lot of work that I really don’t want to do. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I kept writing down ideas.
Then, one afternoon in Fall 2019, I was laying on my futon in my lonely apartment, and I thought “hey, when a baby is born as the chosen one, why don’t the bad guys kill them right then and there? Ya know, easy pickin’s before the kid can protect themselves.” Think Harry Potter. He was attacked, what, once? And then the bad guys gave up? I don’t buy that. So in my story, this kid is the special one, but an infant can’t survive on their own. Their parent, just a typical human, is thrust into this protector-against-the-fantastical position, and that’s what parenting is, right? You face challenges you never knew existed, and you’re exhausted, but it’s all worth it in the end because just look at that adorable, babbling face. Worth it.
But I mention my animation background because that’s what Now and Forever Nia (Nia for short) was supposed to be – an animated short. I was inspired by all of these great, animated concepts on YouTube, and I thought “I can do that too!…eventually. Probably.” I’ve since learned I have ADHD, so there are some things I can do easily, and some things I struggle with. Animating takes a long time, and even longer for someone with ADHD. So, knowing it would be a bigger project, I kept Nia on a shelf in the back of my mind. Eventually, however, in early 2020, Webtoon announced they were hosting a short story contest. I was familiar with Webtoon from my (currently on hiatus) webcomic Blue Witch Malazu, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to stretch my writing, drawing, and producing muscles and just go for it.
I worked on the bulk of Now and Forever Nia in a little over 2 month’s time. I wrote the script at a coffee shop and scribbled the pages in a 6″ by 9″ notebook. I took that notebook everywhere I went, even when I got my car fixed! However, soon the deadline loomed over my head. I did a very smart, totally not regrettable thing and pulled an all-nighter to finish the fourth chapter. Then, after drawing much of the fifth chapter in the wee hours the morning of the deadline, I did an actual smart thing: I stepped back and gave up. I sat in the grass on my parent’s front lawn and wrote an apology explaining how and why Nia wasn’t finished. I don’t know how I feel about what I wrote, but I’m very glad that I threw in the towel when I did.
It’s okay to do that sometimes, to take the space we need to breathe. Artist culture these days is so focused on working long hours, pulling all-nighters, sacrificing life, and for what? For popularity, for money? You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, find a way to be okay with who and what you are right now. Life is for living. There’s a balance to these things, and for every door that closes, a thousand open.
The problem was the original script for Nia would be around 40 pages long, but my darn theatre minor education kept nagging me to add more context, more expositional shots/panels. And oopsie-daisy, Nia exploded into 107 pages of full-color, heartstring-pulling narrative. At that point, I realized “What if I…published this…as a book?” A little research and a lot of planning later, I launched an Indiegogo campaign in early November 2020. I knew I could publish Nia independently if I had some financial and moral support. Over a month’s time, I had gathered support from friends, family, teachers, and one stranger to fund my goal and help bring Nia to life.
The key to my success was thrusting myself into this uncharted territory, promising to these people that, even if it took a while, I would pull through. For once, I made a commitment that I would not let myself back out of, no matter how afraid I was. The original goal was to publish and launch by early February, but editing took weeks. My job picked up again, so I worked on Nia at a slow, steady pace to avoid burnout. What helped (fellow ADHD folks, take note!) is I put a recurring reminder in my calendar to update my backers every 2 weeks on Indiegogo, which held me accountable.
I went the self-publish route. Without a publisher or distributor, it’s basically up to me to produce the whole thing and market it. Lucky for me, I love me a to-do list. Register for copyright, get the ISBN(s), order merch, etc. It was a lot of steps, but having dozens of people cheer me on helped me pull through. Any time I felt overwhelmed, I took a deep breath, prioritized my checklist, and got back to work.
Then, in May 2021, Nia was done! I printed my first set of copies, mailed them to my supporters, and I now sell them in person until my online shop is up (coming in July 2021). I could seriously go on and on forever about my process; heck, I didn’t even mention my storytelling approach. But here’s the thing: how you write stories, how you draw, that stuff doesn’t really matter as much as your approach to self-care, productivity, and spiritual needs. People are actually cool with it if it takes you a little longer to do something, so long as you’re steadily working on it. Remember to take breaks. Sleep well, eat fiber, have some tea, light a candle, meditate, do all that good stuff that helps you feel like your best self.
TG: In Now and Forever Nia, Eran tries to protect his daughter from the demonic creatures that hunt her. When Nia becomes a teen and gets closer to 18, his efforts are driving her away. There are plenty of stories about overprotective parents and how it can strain relationships with their children. However, you’ve done an excellent job with the execution. The webcomic tells a beautiful story about letting your loved ones grow on their own. Has the heart of the story been there from the start, or have there been changes along the way?
Sam: As much as I would like to claim it was there from the beginning, the heart of this story is one of those happy accidents. Every time I write a story, I start with a cool concept, like “spunky fairies” or “a sassy witch goes to college.” Then, the more I write, the more I dream and world-build, the more I realize that I’m putting myself and my experiences into the characters.
Eran, an anxiety-ridden care-giver, is me. Nia, a young person who feels overly-monitored, judged, and suppressed, is also me.
I think it stems from if you grew up with secret trauma, no matter how small, there’s a part of you aching to feel heard. For me, when I struggle to move on from something hurtful in my past, I create. In high school, I wrote songs (and I still do, occasionally). Now, I guess, I channel that pain into conflicts my characters face. My goal is to show audiences what it feels like to go through a specific kind of pain. It’s cathartic to let the pain out through art. However, as a writer, I also feel responsible to show audiences both healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with the pain.
The following 3 paragraphs contain SPOILERS
The story unfolds in two perspectives, one of a parent and one of a child. I didn’t initially plan this duality. However, as Nia grew up, I thought “How would I feel in that situation? What would I do?” At about the age of ten, kids start not taking everything their parents say or do for granted. Kids start to challenge their parents, push back. Nia starts doing this when her father’s actions jeopardize her social reputation.
At the same time, Eran has no idea he’s crushing his child’s emotional and social freedom. I want to show that even if you’re well-intentioned, as many parents are, your behavior, all of it, affects your child. It’s scary, but if you want a genuine relationship with your child, you have to get on the same page.
The end of Nia is a happy one, but take it with a grain of salt. It’s simply the first stepping stone in the right direction for Nia and Eran. Relationships aren’t an easy fix; they’re like a garden. If you want it to blossom, both parties must put in effort over a sustained period of time.
TG: What are your favorite TV shows, movies, books, etc.? Anything that inspired Now and Forever Nia?
Sam: A huge influence on my approach to world-building and exploration comes from Doctor Who, specifically the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant eras. I love the idea of existing in a gargantuan, mysterious, terrifying world, yet exploring the lighter day-to-day stuff. Big-picture stuff is important, but it goes over our heads. We as humans don’t live in the macro. We live in the everyday moments, shaping our relationships and just trying to get by.
My favorite book since childhood does the same thing. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde is a science fiction story with the oh-no-they’re-trapped-in-a-video-game-and-they-must-escape-in-time-or-they’ll-die trope, but what keeps it fresh is the teenage protagonist’s eye-rolling attitude and unique observations. I don’t care how interesting or breathtaking the fantasy world is. If the characters are blah, it’s not worth reading/watching. I’d never care about characters just because they’re pretty — good storytelling matters.
Also, I was inspired to bring Nia to life in a physical format because Stephen McCranie did the same with his sci-fi webcomic Space Boy. He also entered a Webtoon contest, a 100-page challenge back in 2015 — which he won!! Huge shout-out to McCranie for showing what’s possible!
Obviously, Nia isn’t sci-fi; it’s more young adult fantasy with horror elements. Even so, I pull from sci-fi because the genre often challenges what it is to be human, to be “good” people. I love that. Growing up with 2000’s and 2010’s media, I am sooo over the “we’ve got to save the world” plotline. It’s tired. My fantasy world isn’t one filled with dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. My fantasy world is filled with unforgettable adventures with good friends, and maybe a dash of romance. If there happen to be dragons or ghosts, that’s cool too.
Another subgenre that speaks to me is cosmic horror. There’s something terrifyingly beautiful about an entity that could apathetically rip you apart in an instant but doesn’t. It’s scary stuff. You could lose yourself by staring into the void, but holding a loved one’s hand will always keep you grounded. This balance between terrifying and heartwarming is what I aim for with my stories.
TG: Besides Now and Forever Nia, are you working or planning on anything else?
Sam: Yes! I’m always working on something new, haha. I couldn’t stop making things if I tried. Here are a few comic-related things on my mind right now:
First, I’m currently wrapping up the “first wave” of Nia. I have a few loose ends to tie up for the Indiegogo campaign. After that, it’s time for the “second wave,” where I am ordering more copies from the printing company, setting up an online store, and preparing to be a convention vendor/artist for the first time. I’m pumped!
Second, I’m reworking my webcomic Blue Witch Malazu. I’ve grown a lot as a writer, artist, and producer since I began drawing it in 2018. Right now I’m sketching the new prologue chapter, which will give more context and drive to the overarching plot. Malazu is more of a long-term project, with each chapter being about as long as the entirety of Now and Forever Nia. I even have a cardboard display with sticky notes to work out the timeline, which I lovingly call my “conspiracy board.”
Third, I have this idea for a sequel to Now and Forever Nia. It would be a sort of coming-out story told from the perspective of Nia’s best friend Janelle. I want to tell you what it’s like to be a young person questioning your sexuality. When you’re bisexual, it’s hard to tell what you are. Not straight, not “fully gay,” but something else. Being a closeted bisexual is like standing in the rain, staring longingly into the warm, dry house that all of your gay friends live in. It’s a weird emptiness that has left me with plenty of stories to share. I have no plans to work on this sequel in the near future, but I’d like to circle back to it eventually. Nia is the first of many, many projects I intend to create and unleash on the internet, and I’m always happy to share my process.
Thanks for having me! It’s a delight working with The Geekiary. Have a good one, everybody!
Sam’s advice to artists: I’ve been an anxious artist my whole life, always afraid to share what I make. Don’t make that mistake! To improve and grow, alternate between researching your craft, studying examples, and practicing what you learned. I have a small collection of graphic novels that I kept referencing while I was planning my book’s front cover, back cover, and inside pages.
There’s no one right way to do something, and remember that everything that exists was once new. Don’t worry about how your approach compares to others; if you’re doing something completely new, then it’s trailblazing, and that’s awesome. People want to see what you make, regardless of what you think of your own work. There are always more fans hungry for what you have to share with the world, you just haven’t met them yet.
The short story version of Now and Forever Nia is available to read on WebToon. The graphic novel adaptation, backed by supporters on Indiegogo, has been released earlier this month.
Webcomics and Graphic Novels that Sam Recommends:
For more great webcomic recommendations, check out our Wednesday Webcomics archives!
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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