Disclosure: The author of this article is a member of the Discord server Ink Drop Café along with Becca Hillburn, who is the founder and administrator of the server. Participants in the Webcomic of the Week column are selected mainly on a first come first serve/volunteer basis, plus occasional direct contact with creators. Professional favoritism, quid-pro-quo transactions, and bias—political or otherwise—are not involved in selecting the creators featured in and interviewed in this column.
7″ Kara tells the charming and adventurous story of a tiny girl who dares to dream big.
Kara is just like any other girl, on the cusp of her eleventh birthday. Like a good deal of kids her age, she is inquisitive—sometimes borderline insatiably so—and idealistic, if not a bit rash and reckless. She lives a cozy and good life with her mother and father, who dote on her while sheltering her just a bit from the outside world. On her head she wears a little bow, and her face and limbs are speckled with freckles. She is absolutely determined to explore her surroundings and learn as much as she can, even if it means not always obeying the rules her parents set out for her.
There’s just one thing that makes her stand out: from head to toe, she’s only seven inches tall.
Of course, one might have gleaned this from the very title of the comic. Written and illustrated by Becca Hillburn (a.k.a. Nattosoup) a comics and children’s media artist who specializes in traditional media and whose credits include Bravest Warriors, 7″ Kara tells the story of the eponymous character and her clever and captivating adventures in a world many times her size. Kara lives happily with her parents in a homely little hideaway beside a “big house,” a mysterious place to which her father routinely embarks on supply runs.
Kara spends much of the first two chapters under the belief that the mysterious beings known as humans, looking similar to her but many times larger, are nothing but a myth.
But one day, Kara’s father Rowan comes home from fishing with an injured ankle, and Kara’s idyllic world is uprooted as he insists that the girl and her mother—his wife, Meldina—move away with him, away from the little hideaway next to the big house. That night, while Rowan is sleeping fitfully, Meldina confides in a distressed Kara that she doesn’t wish to leave either, that she spent her childhood in this very house… and that humans, the mysterious creatures many times larger than Lilliputians, who are said to have built the world, are real.
Later that night, Kara makes up her mind. Just like she had seen her father do so many times, she gathers a few necessities in a little knapsack, steadies herself for the trip… and when the morning dew still glints upon the fresh green grass, she ventures into the real world, determined to meet one of these legendary humans.
The insatiable curiosity and determination of protagonist Kara drives the story forward, and provides an easy charm point for readers of all ages.
Kara doesn’t manage to make it far before she is literally dropped—by an overly inquisitive little kitten, no less!—in front of one of the humans who just moved into the big house: a girl named Naomi. If this was a different comic, if Hillburn was an author with a more grotesque and vicious sense of humor, Kara could easily have served as a horrible example of what happens to children who don’t listen to their parents… but fortunately for Kara, Naomi is very kind and good-hearted; just like Kara in many ways, she is inquisitive, a little tomboyish, and endearing. Naomi ends up letting Kara go after letting the Lilliputian rest for a bit… but this is just the start of their shared story.
The titular Kara may be only seven inches tall, but she is otherwise a totally normal kid, given to curiosity and distraction. Sometimes she gets into trouble, but more often, her inquisitiveness paves the way for an adventure.
7″ Kara sports an extremely interesting and dynamic visual style, thanks in no small part to Hillburn’s seamless traditional/digital hybrid drawing process (outlined below in the interview!) and sense of color. Every panel is lovingly painted and detailed, right down to each little freckle on Kara’s cheeks. And every page is lush and filled to the brim with a childlike wonder and rustic charm; even the most jaded, crabby adults may have trouble keeping their smiles in check as Kara hoists a sugar cube the size of her head or scurries around holding a crayon practically as large as her body.
Kara herself proves to be a quite endearing and relatable protagonist, a character that younger readers will identify with and older readers will sympathize with. Her sheer inquisitiveness and playful, meandering nature drive the story, and sometimes result in her getting into no end of trouble. And parents, have no fear at that last sentence. There are almost no serious, scary moments of danger and peril in 7″ Kara: the most alarming scene the comic has is in the second chapter when little Kara appears to be pounced on by a hungry kitten, but this is resolved very quickly and without verging into upsetting territory.
Kara may be small, but she certainly thinks big. And while it may be aimed to please young readers, 7″ Kara is a thoroughly enjoyable, fantastical read for all, no matter how big or small.
How would you pitch 7″ Kara‘s plot and characters to a completely new reader? If you could give advice to first-time readers, what would it be?
- Becca: I usually gauge the reader/buyer by sight (since a lot of my pitching happens at conventions), so it really varies on the person! For parents, I push that it’s a comic designed for kids that triumphs friendship and peaceful conflict resolution, for my teenage customers, I usually talk about it being full watercolor and Ghibli-esque. Tiny people, cat riding, friendship are usually pretty strong draws, and I have my portfolio of original pages out to prove that it’s watercolor. As for advice, I’d probably point out that it’s more of a slow burn comic—something to enjoy if you’re looking to relax, rather than a comic that will fire a reader up.
One of the main draws of 7″ Kara is its use of watercolor. Can you give us a step by step of your working process from initial idea to completed page?
- Becca: Most of the drawing/painting portion of my comic work is traditional, but I do utilize digital techniques at every step to help make the process quicker. Thumbnails are sketched out onto a printed thumbnail template, scanned, corrected digitally, and printed out as bluelines on printer paper. These are drawn over again as roughs, which are again scanned and corrected, then printed out as bluelines on watercolor paper. These are pencilled, and then painting begins. I work in batches of 2-4 pages (sometimes as many as six) and try to complete a scene in a batch, so I don’t have to constantly remix and match colors across a single scene. Once the entire chapter is painted, I scan the chapter, color correct and do some digital corrections, use a custom Photoshop brush for my borders, and letter using a custom font.
The Lilliputians originally come from the Jonathan Swift novel Gulliver’s Travels and were decidedly less kid-friendly. What made you decide to include Lilliputians as protagonists and adapt them in a kidlit story?
- Becca: There’s a long history of tiny people in fiction and in folklore; from gnomes to wee folk, it seems like every tall tale tradition has one or two stories about tiny people. I read Gulliver’s Travels after I read stories such as The Indian in the Cupboard, Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books of Many Colors, Grimms’ Fairy Tales etc., so I’d already had fond feelings for tiny folk, with few of the negative connotations. I opted to use Lilliputian over Borrower as I find Borrower to be insulting, and can only assume someone who’s 7″ tall would find it insulting as well. Lilliputian and Lilliput are still used in modern media, so I figured the audience would have some inkling of what it meant, without the baggage.
Aside from the obvious (no foul language, no sexual content, no serious violence, etc.) how is writing kidlit different from writing a story for adults? Are there any elements specific to kidlit that other types of fiction do not have?
- Becca: Kids are smarter than most people give them credit, so while there are considerations to keep in mind, they aren’t as many as people would imagine. I try to keep the subject matter interesting to a younger demographic, and channel my past self frequently. I also keep my layouts fairly simple, but this isn’t because kids can’t read complicated layouts (they can!), but just to keep the page flow consistent. Occasionally (rarely) I’ll go for a complicated layout, but only if it suits the scene. When discussing web versus print, there are more considerations to keep in mind- kidlit is still mainly print, so it’s harder to build an audience online than it is in person. Kidlit can cover a variety of genres from horror to romance to humor and middlegrade readers enjoy a nuanced story as much as any adult!
Between initial concept to first page, how long was 7″ Kara in development? Would you say the story and characters resemble what you had when you first started writing, or have they changed a lot? Any early versions of characters or discarded plotlines you’d like to share?
- Becca: I began drawing 7″ Kara right after my first trip to Japan, in 2010, as part of my masters thesis. I spent a semester doing intense development, and another semester after that doing worldbuilding and fleshing out concepts. I believe longform works should always be a work in progress with room for growth, so it’s been in development since, although I’ve had a tight synopsis since late 2010. As the story grows and changes, I adapt the synopsis to reflect that, so I always have a road map of where the story is going. Originally, a friend almost strongarmed me into making the Kara/Tanner romance a major plot point, and I’m glad I didn’t pursue that avenue.
Let’s close off this interview with a fun question: if you woke up one day to find that you were seven inches tall, what would you do over the course of the day?
- Becca: Oh gosh! Is this a permanent situation, or a temporary vacation? If it’s just a vacation, I would probably climb into my snack drawer and feast on Twix and jerky, snuggle up with my cat Bowie, and just generally veg out because vacations are hard to come by. If it’s a permanent situation, I’d get to work becoming a the world’s first miniature YouTube star living an actual miniature life.
Becca Hillburn is a traditional and digital artist, kidlit author, and YouTuber. See more of her work by clicking through the links below: