S.E. Case Is Headed Back To Rigsby WI, With Graphic Novel Crowdfunding Campaign

Rigsby WI book cover S.E. Case interview

S.E. Case’s webcomic Rigsby WI is a poignant, deeply realized dive into the world of a group of teens living in Northern Wisconsin in the early 2000s. But in case you missed it online — or if you’re a fan and always hoped it would find a slot on your shelf — it’s now heading to a crowdfunding campaign via Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics, which is live now on Backerkit.

As part of the campaign, fans new and old will be able to snag 120 pages of Rigsby WI in graphic novel form. Titled Rigsby WI: Foothold, the first volume puts its characters through their paces with family drama, friend drama, romance drama, and a whole lot more, you know, drama. And as a bonus, the volume also includes shorter, funnier pieces that previously appeared on Case’s Patreon.

To find out more about the inspiration behind the book, Comic Book Club talked to Case over email.

Comic Book Club: I’m sure you must get this a lot, but the characters and situations feel so lived in… How much are you drawing from your own life, versus creating whole cloth?

S.E. Case: Almost none of it is a 1:1 retelling of my life, but I did draw a lot from my own experiences, real-life observations, and things remembered from my teenage years. All of the main characters contain a little bit of myself, and they all have bits and pieces of people I have known over the years, but I can’t point to any one character and say “that’s (so-and-so)”. A lot of the setting is directly based on real places, though — the wooded trails, the gated hunter access, the deer blind, the picket signs and rural roads featured in the comic are all real places, near the house I lived in when I first started working on Rigsby.

A large majority of the book is conversations between two people. As an artist, how do you make sure those are visually stimulating, since comics are, you know, a visual medium and all?

You have to give your characters something to do or somewhere to move around — bonus if it contributes to the plot, helps develop the character or contrasts the conversation in an interesting or humorous way. Give them something to fidget with, or put them in an interesting environment so you can include wide shots or closeups of action to avoid talking heads. If talking heads are necessary, make sure the characters’ expressions are engaging and easy to read. If you must have a page of talking heads, you should be able to get the vibe of the conversation without having to read the dialogue.

I’ll admit I was jarred by the reference to 9/11 – but like a lot of the book, it gives it a flavor to set this a year later, and it only be part of the tapestry of the book. Why was it important to set it then?

I wanted to write an authentic story about teenagers, and I wanted to set it in a specific year, which always makes stories feel a little more real to me. But I was 31 when I started drawing Rigsby. I’m not confident I could write an authentic modern teen, so I set it in the early 2000s, which is when I was in high school. It’s almost impossible to have a story set in the early 2000s-era United States that focuses on social climate without acknowledging 9/11 in some way. I didn’t want to make it a central theme to the story, but 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror and Iraq War were big pain points and sources of disillusionment in the early 2000s, so I wanted it to be a bit of an undercurrent through the series.

Also: why Wisconsin? What drew you to that area in particular?

I was living in Northeastern Wisconsin when I started working on Rigsby and it felt like a really interesting setting. There was a lot about living in northern WI that I really liked — the communities are quirky and close-knit, and I drew a lot of creativity and energy from the natural environment. But it was also a very conservative and regressive place. The main industry was tourism and hospitality, so there was a lot of extreme wealth contrasted with extreme poverty. There was always a feeling of needing to hide parts of yourself for self-preservation if you fell outside of the conservative white majority. I wanted to explore a lot of those themes and how they related to growing up, so it seemed like a natural setting. That said, Rigsby is not meant to be a 1:1 representation of where I lived in Northern WI, it draws inspiration from places throughout the upper Midwest.

To that point, it’s a pretty diverse group you don’t necessarily see in a book or movie set in the Midwest. Was that part of the idea? Pushing against the assumption that the area is generically populated?

I don’t know that I was trying to push against any assumption, I was just trying to write to my own truth — I’ve lived in small cities and towns in the midwest my entire life, ranging from populations of 1,000 to 70,000, and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a friend/peer group that was 100% white. It is true that these are pretty homogenous places, but if someone tries to say that their cast of characters shouldn’t have any diversity because their story is set in a Midwest town, that’s probably a cop-out. There are definitely teeny tiny little towns in the midwest that are 100% white, but Rigsby isn’t meant to be one of those places. The City of Rigsby has a population of about 7,000 people, mostly white, but there is a sizable Native American population, and a small Hmong community.

You’re transferring this from webcomic to book. What were the challenges there? And why end the book where you did?

When I started Rigsby WI, I knew I wanted to probably have it printed at some point, so I tried to avoid “webcomic pacing” while still keeping the plot moving so that the page-by-page updates wouldn’t be too tedious. So luckily I didn’t have to make many changes to the pacing or transitions in order to get it to read correctly in book format. I did have to redo some pages to remove copyrighted material (don’t put song lyrics in your comics). I’ve designed print publications for over 15 years, so I knew that creating print-ready pages involved a lot more than just making sure your files are hi-resolution, but it’s hard to know what you need to do until you actually have to do it. I had to move around a lot of speech balloons and add bleeds to the first volume, and I spent a lot of time cursing my past self for not creating a better page template to begin with.

As for why I ended the book where I did… Originally I imagined printing all three completed volumes as a collection, but it was decided that printing them as separate books was a better idea. It makes sense, considering the serialized nature of the project, and allowed me to customize each book with their own print specifications, covers and bonus comics, rather than trying to shove everything into one big tome.

I love the bonus comics at the end, they seem so much lighter than the purposefully weighty conversations and plot points in the book. How do you use them as a creator? Are they brain scrubs between the meatier writing sessions?

A lot of these came from my Patreon, where readers could ask questions and I’d answer them in comic form. Others are scenes I wrote that weren’t important enough to include in the main storyline. They’re a great way to take a break between heavier writing, and to further develop the characters and expand on parts of their lives not covered in the main story. Sometimes I feel bad when the story is being rough on a certain character, so it’s nice to take a break and write a side comic for them where they get to do something fun or lighthearted.

What can you tease about a potential (or actual?) second volume?

I can say, with confidence, that the second volume is my favorite in the whole series. It’s about Anna and how she went from having a generally stable home life to being semi-transient. You get to meet a bunch of really great side characters, there are a lot of funny scenes, and it packs a pretty substantial emotional punch.

The Rigsby WI: Foothold campaign is now live on Backerkit.

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