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PODCAST: Starting a Comic Book Empire at Age 10

By Emily Frost | June 25, 2015 3:08pm
 Sasha Harmon Matthews is excited that her comic books are on sale at Book Culture. 
10-Year-Old Comic Book Author
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Sasha Harmon Matthews, 10, had a very exciting spring.

On a whim, her dad, Scott Matthews, emailed the comic book she designed for extra credit at school, "Sitting Bull: A Life Story," to the popular site Boing Boing. To their astonishment, the site decided to publish it in its entirety. 

The duo wondered whether others closer to home might also be interested, so they approached local independent bookstore Book Culture

Not only is the shop carrying the comic at two of its stores, it will soon carry Matthews' second comic, "Pompei: Lost and Found." 

DNAinfo sat down with Sasha to talk about her experience gaining local fame, her work ethic and process, and her favorite local haunts. 

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Emily: Sasha, I like to start by asking people what they love about the neighborhood. What has it been like growing up on the Upper West Side?

Sasha: There's mostly just stores we go to that are like, ‘the food store’ or ‘the clothing store’ and stuff. It's all really nice architecture. A lot of the buildings are old. This building, it has decorations. There's actually a picture of it in the bank when it was just being built, and it was a really long time ago.

Emily: You have a long walk to school, right?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: What do you see along your walk?

Sasha: Well, a lot of times I walk though the park, Central Park, with my mom. We have these dogs that we know, people who we usually see. There's this one huge, shaggy, giant dog. We know it because we see it every day.

Emily: You are a big comic book fan. When did you first get interested in comic books, and why?

Sasha: For my eighth birthday I got the X-Men comic number one. That was what got me interested in reading comics, and I also liked drawing anyway, so just this year I started drawing comics.

Emily: You sat down with a blank piece of paper, and then what did you do next? Take us from the beginning.

Sasha: The first stage of making a page is when I just do a draft with globs with hair. The second stage is a pencil page where I do what's on the real page but I haven't colored it in yet, and then the third stage is when I make a copy of that page. The fourth stage is when I color and ink that copy. The final stage is when it's all made into a book.

Oh, you know, I forgot a step. When I'm finished with the coloring and inking, I scan it onto the computer, and if there's any spots that came on because of dirt on the scanner, I just erase those in Photoshop.

Emily: How long do you think one page takes you?

Sasha: It takes about a day to make the actual page, not counting the draft.

Emily: This is a very long process?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: This is very involved?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: When do you find time to do it?

Sasha: You know, after school and on the weekend. You have to be really devoted to it to actually make one. Basically every day when I get home from school, I came home and worked on it.

Emily: You just brought out a box full of a bunch of copies, dozens of copies of the finished comic book. How do you feel when you open that box?

Sasha: I feel excited when I get it for the first time because I'm going to be able to sell them and all that stuff.

Emily: When you first made your comic, the “Sitting Bull” comic, you did it for a class project. Did you ever think that would become something that you sold in a bookstore?

Sasha: No way, not at all.

Emily: How did that happen?

Sasha: First it gets on Boing Boing.

Emily: First it went up on Boing Boing, the website?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: Did you send it to them? You're pointing to your dad.

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: First it got on Boing Boing, and then what happened?

Sasha: Then we like Book Culture. Dad asked the register person if she wanted to sell the comics, yeah. But anyway, we explained about it to her, and then she said that she would like to sell them if she could see them. That's how we ended up selling them at the 114th one, but they were like, they sell way better in the 81st Street one since it's more, it's near the school and it's more kidsy.

Emily: The school that you go to, P.S. 9, is near there and there's other schools around there?

Sasha: Yeah. Yeah. Then she suggested, I think, that we sell it at 81st Street as well, and then when it was selling at 81st Street, it had much better sales.

Emily: Do you know how many of “Sitting Bull” copies have sold so far?

Sasha: He would know. I don't know.

Scott: She sold I think altogether about 150 copies of the Sitting Bull, not all through Book Culture. Some were friends on Facebook, in the lobby and that kind of thing.

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: You're not only selling it at Book Culture.

Sasha: Sometimes I get a table and I put it in the lobby and sell them there. I have a sales record of people who bought some.

Emily: It sounds like 150 copies so far? Is that more than you expected?

Sasha: I didn't expect any copies. When I was making it I didn't expect any copies to sell anywhere.

Emily: Do you think that the comic book's popularity is going to keep growing?

Sasha: Maybe.

Emily: Are you going to try and sell it in other places in the city?

Sasha: I suppose.

Emily: You could be?

Sasha: He's the agent.

Emily: Your dad's your agent?

Sasha: Yeah.

Scott: I think camp is the next thing on the ...

Sasha: Yeah, it is like an arts camp. It's for creative and performing arts, so I might make a comic there, but I don't think I'll make one that's going to be in a bookstore.

Emily: You’ll take a little hiatus. Getting into the actual layout, I was really impressed. You made a lot of different choices about perspective. Where did you come up with those ideas and why did you lay it out like that?

Sasha: Well, so that's the other stuff that would be in the panel is just irrelevant. It doesn’t add meaning. It's a little more interesting to have it just as speech bubbles. When you switch the perspective it's interesting.

Emily: Where did you learn about this camera view and how each panel could have a different camera view?

Sasha: Pretty much in my art class.

Emily: Where do you take that?

Sasha: 96th Street. It's this little apartment in the basement and they turn the rooms into art classes. They taught me that perspective views can make it more interesting and more dramatic.

Emily: It definitely adds drama. I read that you're inspired by Calvin and Hobbes.

Sasha: Yeah. You see in this panel, very Calvin and Hobbes-esque.

Emily: Tell me how.

Sasha: Well, you know how in Calvin and Hobbes they always have those, Calvin and Hobbes are fighting scenes where they're big "Pow" and they have fists and paws and a tail sticking out.

Emily: It's a big scramble and there's just a couple ...

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: ... paws or hands sticking out, and so you did something like that here?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: When did you get interested in Calvin and Hobbes?

Sasha: I don't remember. I've always been reading it. Basically, X-Men and Calvin and Hobbes, those are my two main favorites.

Emily: What do you like about the two different ones?

Sasha: Well, Calvin and Hobbes, I like comics and I like funniness. X-Men is a comic but it's not funny, but Calvin and Hobbes is funny, so I think I would like Calvin and Hobbes and not the X-Men, but I'm a very unique person, so that's why I like X-Men.

Emily: Even though they're very different, you like them both?

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: You've learned a lot about storytelling through this too. What are some of the things that you learned?

Sasha: If you want it to be a story, like a fiction-ish story, you have to care about the characters. In my research that I did, it was just facts about something. There's nothing to really keep you reading or to make you care about, but that's the difference between the comic and the research is that you care about the people and you care about them escaping, and that's why you want to read it.

Emily: Why did you choose Pompeii as the topic?

Sasha: I decided I liked this topic, because it was like what would happen in a comic but from history. The daring escapade of the Pompeians from the erupting Mount Vesuvius. That's very comic-y.

Emily: Tell us about the comic. What happens in it?

Sasha: I added characters who you like. They're the three bratty-without-food kids, because I need my food or else I get bratty. I based them off myself. There's this mom and the dad who's not really a very main character. It's mostly the mom and the kids who are featured, but also there's another character. It's kind of like it has two plots. There's the family running away from Mount Vesuvius part, which is the main plot, but there's also a few pages have this break for this philosopher-scientist guy to come in and talk a little bit about the technical aspect of it, but this guy just helps you learn the scientific parts, the history of Mount Vesuvius, what archaeologists found from the ruins of Pompeii and that kind of thing.

Emily: Because people can't see the comic because they're listening, can you describe it for us and do you think you have a certain style?

Sasha: Well, I’d say it’s kind of happy. I like happy endings, so why would I choose Pompeii as a comic topic, you might ask. One of the things for people to take away from the comic is that many people don't even know that Pompeii is a thing, like Pompeii, who heard of it? What is it? For people who do know that Pompeii is a thing, often they don't know that, as our scientist guy says in this page, many people escaped. They're like, I can't just have you like this family and then, "Oh, they're dead." You see their skeletons a million years later dug up by some weird archaeology guy with a mustache. No, they have to live. I'm not going to do that. I have them survive because that's one of the main lessons.

Emily: One of the main lessons is that people did escape.

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: Artistically and visually what is your style like?

Sasha: It's sort of like a cartoony style. It's a little realistic, more realistic than Calvin and Hobbes. The actual shapes are realistic, but it still has a little cartoony aspect to it. The style in “Sitting Bull” and the style in “Pompeii” has sort of actually changed considerably. I think “Pompeii” is just simply better drawn than “Sitting Bull,” because I had art class. When I had “Sitting Bull,” when I started it, I didn't have art class, but art class taught me these techniques to make it look better.

Emily: What are some of the techniques that you learned in art class?

Sasha: Well, one of the things was actually very helpful. Before you draw a character, draw a stick figure with circles for joints. As you can see, it makes your people look a little less like a paper bag and more realistic and like an actual person would look like. After you've drawn the stick figure with circles for joints, you go over it with skin and clothing and then you erase the joints and circles and you add all the little details.

Emily: Then you have a more realistic person.

Sasha: Yeah.

Emily: Yeah. Not only have you published these two comics, but you started a comic book company called Rumble Comics. Tell me about why you decided to do that.

Sasha: Well, it's not really a comic book company. It's just my website where I put comics on it and I try to get people to buy it from Book Culture. The name that I made up is Rumble Comics. One of the reasons I made up Rumble is because rumble is something that you hear in Pompeii.

Emily: You and your dad built the website together?

Sasha: Yeah. He mostly did mostly the coding and then he showed me a little how to do it, and I told him where to put stuff.

Emily: Rumble Comics, what's next for Rumble Comics? It seems like you're going with a history theme.

Sasha: Yeah. It's almost definitely going to be something from history.

Emily: Do you see kids at your school reading the comics?

Sasha: Yeah, it is very nice. After I did my Sitting Bull presentation in school, there were people taking it out and reading it after I was done, because I made copies to give out to the class.

Emily: What's your advice for kids in the neighborhood who might want to do their own creative project?

Sasha: Well, if you want to do your own creative project, you just have to try a lot of things, see what you really like, like, what you are drawn to, and then do more and more of that, because the more you do, the more you like it.

Emily: And then go from there?

Sasha: Yeah, go with it.

Emily: Keep at it. You mentioned hard work earlier.

Sasha: Yeah. I mean, to do something really good with it, you have to be really devoted to it.

Emily: Do you have a favorite neighborhood institution or place?

Sasha: Okay, so there's this little park in the middle of Broadway, like in the middle of the street, it's two blocks away from Riverside Park, so when we moved here, Dad was always telling me, "Oh, when we moved here, I thought that was stupid. Why would they have a park two blocks away from Riverside Park," but it's a really nice park and it's a monument to Mr. and Mrs. Strauss with a statue of Mrs. Straus, who died, who was on the Titanic and Mrs. Straus gave up her life so she could be with her husband, and there's a statue of her and a nice podium. Then below that there's sort of a fountain and these flowers, and then all around there's some benches and it goes out a little bit. It's sort of oval-shaped. It's just really nice.

Emily: That is nice.

Sasha: One time we sat there and I got this little blanket thing and we sat there and we were waiting for something, and a bird pooped on my blanket, but it was nice. It's very nice there.

Emily: Are there secret places that you love on the Upper West Side, maybe special corners that you think maybe people don't know about?

Sasha: In Riverside Park there's this big rock that juts out on the Hudson River. There's a lot of rocks sort of piled up there. Well, we found this big rock that sort of juts out I would say four feet, maybe five feet apart from all the other rocks, and it's like over the river. Sometimes we'll go there and have a picnic if it's low tide. When the Hurricane Sandy was happening, after that, then it left and the rock was all seaweed-covered because it was so close to the river. We've seen one person doing yoga on it before, but yeah.

Emily: What street is that at, like Riverside and 106?

Scott: It's just basically north of the Cherry Walk, which is about 100th Street.

Emily: That's a good tip. I hope I don't ruin your secret.

Do you have a favorite thing about P.S. 9? I know this is your last year there.

Sasha: It's very well run. There are a few bullies, but not anyone who's seriously mean or anything, nothing serious. It's like all the teachers are really nice. At lunch the assistant principal puts on pop songs, and she taught us to do “the wave.”

Emily: It sounds really fun. Well, thank you for talking with me, Sasha.

Sasha: You're welcome.