The kidnapping of a middle school mascot leads two young detectives into a world of school rivalries and occult rituals. That’s the basic plot of Cash & Carrie, a new all-ages graphic novel that’s hitting stores this month. Conceived by Shawn Pryor and written by Giulie Speziani and Pryor, with art by Penny Candy Studios, Cash & Carrie started life as a Kickstarter campaign for a single issue, and expanded into a full graphic novel after the incredible success of the campaign. Reading the book it’s easy to see why it was such a success, as Dallas Cash and Inez Carrie are kid sleuths unlike any other before them. I had the opportunity to talk to Pryor and Speziani about the genesis of the characters, the tradition of kid detective stories, and just what sets Cash & Carrie apart.
Let’s start with a little bit of background about Cash & Carrie. Who are they? Where did they come from?
Shawn Pryor: Cash & Carrie are two middle-school detectives. They’re best friends, and together they solve all types of mysteries. It was a project that myself, along with Giulie and Penny Candy Studios, put together originally as a pilot type thing a few years ago.
Dallas Cash is kind of like Fox Mulder for kids. He loves technology, but he also loves the mystery, the supernatural, he believes in this stuff. So not only does he have the acumen to solve cases, he still believes in all the fantasy stuff that comes with it, whereas with Inez Carrie, she’s more rooted in realism and sometimes rolls her eyes at some of the stuff that Dallas comes up with in his head regarding some of these mysteries. They’re best friends, they look out for each other, they solve mysteries, and they have fun while doing it.
Giulie Speziani: Exactly. They both have their qualities and what they bring to solving the case, so it’s not like one’s right and one’s wrong, it’s just different perspectives, and that’s why I really like writing those characters. It’s another angle, having another friend to bounce ideas off of, that way it’s more interesting than just a single detective solving a case.
Giulie, you wrote most of the book, with Shawn writing a story towards the end. What was your writing process like? Did you guys plot together, or work independently?
GS: Shawn brought the idea to me and he told me about this world, and I thought ‘Okay, I could totally write within that.’ I drafted a few outlines and sent them to him and he gave me notes, and then I wrote from there and sent him a first draft, and he gave more notes. It was always an exchange of ideas. Even with the art, when we finally got pages from Penny Candy Studios, we both gave our input, and that really put it all together.
SP: Definitely. With the very first book, which was originally a Kickstarter that we did last year, it was 16 pages worth of story and a bunch of pin-ups and other bonus material. Cash & Carrie had been an idea that had been sitting in my head for years and that I was never able to get to. At the time I was carrying a full-time job and I was still working with Action Lab Entertainment, the company that’s now publishing Cash & Carrie. I was a co-founder, served as president for a couple of years, and then I moved over to the digital division, so I was doing all this work helping to get a comics publisher going, and I didn’t have enough time for me to create.
As I was on my way out from Action Lab, I wanted to get back into creating books. I also write, but I felt rusty, and at the same time I wanted to work with people who were extremely talented, people who inspire me.I had seen Giulie’s work and thought, ‘I gotta work with Giulie,’ so I reached out to her and that’s how all that started. With this book, once again writing-wise, I wanted to increment myself into it slowly, but at the same time, Giulie brought so much life to these characters, their personalities and all of their quirks, she brought so much to that that I wanted to make sure she gets the platform to tell these stories. So if I come in and write a story at the end, or there’s another story called “Fetch Quest” that I plotted and Chris Ludden and Ginger Dee wrote and drew, but I wanted to make sure that Giulie got her fair share of space in the book because she does such a great job with the characters.
Cash & Carrie are, as you mentioned, middle-school kids, and in the course of their investigation, they encounter some supernatural forces. Was it important to you to include some magical elements in the story? I know you mentioned the X-Files influence before.
GS: Yeah, in the first one it was sort of a practical thing where someone steals the school’s mascot, a goat, for a voodoo ritual, and as we went along we thought we would expand it to more supernatural forces. It was a gradual process as we expanded the world.
SP: I think also that the need for the supernatural came from my love of Scooby Doo cartoons and of other mystery cartoons, stuff like Clue Club, Funky Phantom, and Captain Caveman. Hanna-Barbera had the market down for mystery cartoons, like “Take Template x, change Character y, boom, new mystery series.” And that way the cartoons weren’t violent, nobody was punching anyone, and they were just able to tell stories. I’ve always liked that, plus I am a big fan of The X-Files, and having an ‘X-Files for Kids’ is cool. I enjoy having a little bit of the supernatural as well as a little bit of, ‘Yeah, this isn’t really supernatural, it’s just somebody trying to pull some strings.’
GS: Along with Shawn, I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark comes to mind when I’m writing these, and the same thing with Unsolved Mysteries, that used to freak me out a lot, too. And then by the time The X-Files came out, my best friend and I would watch it every week, and it was great watching that and thinking about ‘who’s done it,’ ‘is this possible.’ ‘Do you believe’ was always kind of the question of the week the following Monday when we would go back to school.
Yeah, I still don’t know if there were actual aliens on The X-Files.
SP: But that was the cool thing about The X-Files, the whole mystery. A lot of times you’re just left thinking, ‘Okay, is this actually real or is this just an amalgamation of different things.’ The whole point of that show was to have you question everything – well, that and the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, and I always liked that.
That dynamic is definitely present between Cash & Carrie in the book, and I really enjoyed that part of their relationship.
There’s sort of a tradition of kid detectives in popular culture – you mentioned the Scooby Doo gang, but there’s also Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys. Do you think Cash & Carrie are influenced by that tradition, and what sets them apart from it?
GS: I read some Nancy Drew when I was younger, but it’s more about them working as a team to solve these mysteries. It’s about how they come up with these genius ways to figure it out, but it’s more of a modern take than back in the day. Especially with Dallas Cash, he’s using technology and more of the modern ways that kids use the internet to their advantage.
SP: And not only that, I grew up reading the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown, but I think the big difference between Cash & Carrie as opposed to the many versions of those characters in the past, is that Cash & Carrie is very inclusive. Not just Cash & Carrie themselves, because Cash is black and Carrie is Latina, but also when you look in the book there are a lot of diverse characters, period, of all colors, shapes, and sizes. That was something that was very important for me when we were putting this book together, because there are a lot of people of all nationalities and ethnicities that read comics, and it’s great when they can see themselves. I think the thing that we can present in Cash & Carrie is an inclusivitiy and a diversity, and also still have fun, because you can have all of those things and still have a good time, and that’s what we tried to do with this book.
I was going to mention the diversity because I figured that it was done on purpose, but also it’s a reflection of the world, so it was nice to see.
If there was one thing that you could say, sort of an elevator pitch to get people to check out the book, what would you say?
SP: Hmm. Ladies first.
Shawn’s stalling for time.
GS: laughs I guess the elevator pitch would be, it’s The X-Files with middle school kids. They’re two protagonists, they both solve mysteries in their own way, but they do it together.
SP: I would say that it’s Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew for a whole new generation of readers, and it’s a ton of fun. You can’t go wrong if you get a copy.
Do you have plans for more Cash & Carrie beyond this book?
SP: If the book sells, yes. laughs Another reason that the book is this way, in a 72-page squarebound format, is that we can play a long game with it. The book is forever evergreen, single issues are not. So by automatically having it this way, we can have it out there for a year, a year and a half, for people to see and people to buy while we plan Book 2, which is something that we definitely want to do. No matter what happens, there will be a Book 2. This book saved my life in so many ways. There will be a Book 2.
Thank you guys again, I appreciate you taking the time to talk.
Published by Action Lab Entertainment, Cash & Carrie, Book One: Sleuth 101 hits stores in mid-November. It is available in print from your local comic shop using item code SEP161171, digitally through Comixology, and in print or digitally via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.