JUST ROLL WITH IT from Random House Graphic hits your local book shop today. I wish this graphic novel was around when I went through sixth grade; it would have been a great comfort. Also, the universe that Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal created is one that we should all aspire to work towards. JUST ROLL WITH IT is fun, timely, and absolutely charming.
About the book:
JUST ROLL WITH IT is about Maggie, an anxious girl who turns to her twenty-sided die whenever she feels unsure. As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong… or so she thinks. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number? Perfect for fans of Guts and Real Friends, JUST ROLL WITH IT is the debut graphic novel from writer Lee Durfey-Lavoie and the second graphic novel from artist Veronica Agarwal.
After reading JUST ROLL WITH IT, I had to speak to the creators about their motivations and perspective. Enjoy the interview below.
MFR: Lee Durfey-Lavoie and Veronica Agarwal, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Did you need to publish JUST ROLL WITH IT, or did you want to publish the book?
Lee: JUST ROLL WITH IT was very much a need. For me, it was really an emotional fulfillment- of being able to say ‘I can write this story,’ of fulfilling my childhood dream of being an author, and a kind of lighthouse-like beacon when I was in a job I didn’t like—and meeting all those landmarks, with Maggie? A scared kid going through a lot of hard emotional days? It was just perfect.
MFR: What will your emotions be like when the book gets into the hands of readers?
Lee: I’m going to be very honest—I’m going to lose my mind. We’ve worked really hard, a LOT of people have worked really hard, to get this book here finally, and it means a lot. For people to connect to and relate to Maggie and her story is kind of mind-blowing that it’s finally here.
Veronica: It won’t feel real for a while, I don’t think. I think my mind will deflect a lot and be like, “well okay, it’s out, doesn’t mean anyone bought it,” or “they bought it, doesn’t mean they read it,” or “they read it, doesn’t mean they liked it”… but Lee will do what he does best and remind me that the question “what if everything goes wrong” can be easily changed to “what if everything goes right?” I plan to hold onto all the positivity coming our way and hug the Maggie doll that my best friend, Alex Graudins (@toonyballoony) made me a whole bunch.
MFR: Can you talk about your creative partnership? You’re dealing with several subjects that can get emotionally charged; how did you ensure that each others’ visions came to life on the page?
Lee: I think a lot of it just boils down to being honest and open. If something on the page—be it a line in the script, the direction of a thumbnail, etc.—didn’t sit right with us, then we would bring it up to the other. There was also a lot of ‘off the page’ conversation between each version (from the original mini, to the outline, etc., etc.) where we discussed what we thought was important and needed to be on the page. We also realized early on that it would basically be impossible to fit every variation and example of OCD and anxiety onto the page so we had to narrow it down to make narrative sense for Maggie.
Veronica: As Lee mentioned, it was a lot of communication! Sometimes I would be drawing a page out, and I would have to consult Lee about changing a line to fit the expression of a character or the flow of a panel better, or reordering something or adding a scene. I think our creative partnership is a little unique because we’re life partners as well, so I was constantly bugging him about changes I wanted to make, and if he thought they worked—more often than I might bug a professional partner, haha. But I think that worked in our favor because it let me finesse a lot… and let him keep me from finessing too much.
MFR: Veronica, why was it important to tell your audience you used a 1.5 Faber-castell pen?
Veronica: Okay, to be really honest, our editor told me to list the specific supplies that I used when making it, so I did. I also do just love that pen though! I’ve tried using other things for thumbnailing, and 1.5 Faber-castell pen is what I feel most comfortable with; it keeps me from getting too hung up on detail when it comes to the planning stage, and I just love how it feels when you draw with it!!
MFR: The “How We Made This Book” section at the back is brilliant. As a creative team, you went the extra mile. Do you realize how much of an impact you could have on a person with those four pages?
Lee: These are such kind words, thank you so much, and all that praise has to go squarely to Veronica because that was fully and totally her idea.
Veronica: Thank you so much! As an artist, this was my favorite type of bonus content that could be included in books. When I was growing up and reading manga, I loved seeing the mini sections about what the artist was doing in between drawing, getting to know them across multiple chapters, or meeting them briefly at the end of the book…it felt like such a special connection from artist to reader. It’s something I thought about, but to hear that you think my pages could make that same connection with a reader now means so much.
MFR: There are some great colors and textures in the book, do you, as a creative team, have a conversation about the color palette and what were you trying to accomplish?
Lee: Yes and no. A lot of this is up to Veronica; she is the expert. Occasionally there would be a page or a panel here, and there she asked if I liked better, but the vast majority is all her hard work and talent. Some of the stuff we DID collaborate on was the albino animals, Maggie’s die, the inky black swirls that crowd Maggie when she gets stressed, some of the stuff like that.
Veronica: Admittedly, I didn’t consult Lee on this very much!! I went with my gut for color selection, and I tried to reflect the mood with my use of texture. My secret was taking screenshots of the ink PDF in the books app on my iPad, putting those screenshots into Adobe Fresco, and coloring over them in batches at a time, so I could get a look at how things worked together as opposed to doing each page individually. That helped a lot in regards to setting a visual mood for certain pages and scenes!
MFR: Lee, what was the process like finding Maggie’s voice?
Lee: After brainstorming sessions way back in 2016, short stories and drabbles as we developed characters and plot, the 12-page mini, and an outline I revised probably like four times, I can say Maggie’s voice came kind of naturally, haha. But really, there were some dialogue revisions right up until the very end, making sure everything sounded right. I can say that the easiest time I had writing her is when she’s having fun—writing the moments where she’s surrounded by a semi-chaotic group of friends, and family members comes very naturally to me.
MFR: Veronica, can you talk about the visual techniques you used to bring Maggie’s OCD and frustration to life?
Veronica: When I was brainstorming on how to represent anxiety visually, I tried to think a lot about how it feels for me physically. Anxiety is different for everyone, but for me, panic feels like a bird fluttering desperately in my chest. For Maggie, I went for a kind of buzzing feeling, something that shuts everything else out with its own inescapable noise.
MFR: You have three albino animals in the book; what’s the hidden meaning?
Lee: Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t really remember. I know the monster outside the school was actually a product of our (amazing) agent Susan Graham (@Grahamophones) – which is an outside reflection of Maggie’s inner turmoil. As to specifically why it’s an albino, I believe it was because being albino, in the wild, is a unique marker—but one that can put you in danger. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but untreated, unadjusted for, it can put you in situations that are bad for your health.
MFR: After JUST ROLL WITH IT becomes a hit, what next for our brave, creative team?
Lee: Thank you so much for your confidence and enthusiasm! Currently, we have a sequel for JUST ROLL WITH IT, and while it doesn’t have a name just yet, you can follow us on Twitter at: @Anuanew and @Leedurfey for updates and events and the like! We have other stories we want to tell that we’re also developing right now, but at the moment, they’re top secret.
Veronica: I won’t repeat what Lee said, but I will just say thank you so much for your kind and insightful interview questions as well! We had such a wonderful time answering these, and they were so so kind.
MFR: Lee and Veronica, thank you again for your time, and best of luck with JUST ROLL WITH IT!
JUST ROLL WITH IT is available now from Random House Graphic.