I am super excited about this matchup today, because rarely do novelists and comic artists cross in this space but today you’ll get to meet both! Julian Winters is the author of the upcoming YA sports romance Running With Lions, releasing from Interlude Press on June 7, and TJ Ryan is the creator of Quinn, Dreaming, a webcomic that, to quote their Tumblr, “follows Charles August Quinn, a dream witch trying to make it to graduation with minimal incident, and failing spectacularly.” Sound like a dream combo? Just wait until you read this interview…
First, let me express how excited I am about this. As a comic book geek, I have always wanted to pick the brain of my favorite artists—now I have the opportunity! Quinn, Dreaming is such an interesting take on magic, sexuality, friendships, crushes, and what things represent. Tell us about how Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” inspired the comic/story.
Thank you so much! I’m really excited too! I had been shuffling around a story of magic and witches in my mind for a while, but there wasn’t any sort of organization that I could create out of those thoughts. I was listening to Fleetwood Mac (as one does) and really focusing on the lyrics. The lines “It’s only me who wants to wrap around your dreams and, have you any dreams you’d like to sell?” were really what started it all. I knew I wanted it to center around a dream witch who sold dreams but also sort of lived in his own.
I’m a really musical person so I get inspired by it constantly.
Can you tell us anything about the companion novel, Citrus Witches?
Citrus Witches was actually the working name for Quinn, Dreaming. It followed Arthur as a main character rather than Quinn, and really strayed far and wide from the story I ended up using for the comic. That draft exists in all its rough glory on AO3 under the Citrus Witches title. Enjoy my old Merlin fanfic too if you decide to go snooping.
The companion novel to it that I’m currently writing takes place in their first year of college and involves a whole new set of adventures, that will set it apart enough from the webcomic so that people who didn’t read it can still enjoy it, and the folks who did follow the comic will get new shenanigans with the same characters.
How far do you plan to take the webcomic?
The plan is to follow Quinn and the crew until the end of senior year. They’ve only just made it to the end of October so still lots more to come!
While I absolutely love the wonderfully awkward romance between the main characters, Quinn and Sorrel, the diverse cast of supporting characters truly lends to creating a well-shaped story. Will there be more of them in the book?
Absolutely! The book actually follows Sorrel as the main character. There’s definitely tons of awkward romance with Quinn, Arthur to lend to his bad ideas, Statice to film it, and Daphne to talk them out of it.
I’m a big fan of epic platonic loves, and Arthur really is that for Sorrel. There’s a lot of him in the story, really existing as a solid part of Sorrel’s life. I spent a lot of time exploring Sorrel’s relationship with his twin sister, Statice, as well.
There’s some fun new people too!
There’s a subplot that looks at trying to “cure” people of magic. Is this a metaphor to anything in real life?
Creating a “cure” for magic in a world where magic exists in everyday life started from a very personal place and spread to something I think is really universal. Growing up bisexual and nonbinary, I always heard “Well have you tried not being this way?” or “You should see a therapist/doctor/psychiatrist, I bet they could fix it” because I grew up in a very small conservative town. But you see it on the news and online and on talk shows all the time. People questioning the validity or the sanity of other people based on something that’s just a part of them.
Magic is just simply a part of these witches. It’s as simple as Quinn having brown eyes or freckles. He’s a dream witch, but now there’s this entire organization that’s dedicated themselves to trying to ‘fix’ that and prove it’s something dangerous. I just felt like it was a storyline that a lot of readers could find themselves relating to.
Okay, I love all the magical components of the story and a few of the dark themes, but let’s talk about all the humor and adorableness—I’m looking at you, Sorrel Seong—that is featured. Also, Quinn has this shy, uncertainty about himself and his powers. It speaks so well to how sometimes people see this admirable quality about us that we often overlook because of self-doubt. Are those the kinds of elements you always try to incorporate into your artwork/writing?
Sorrel is literally and metaphorically the light of my story!
I always try to work self-doubt into at least one character in my story, because it’s such a human trait. I know with my art I’ve often looked at other artists’ work and been hung up on how amazing they all are and how I’ll never compare. Quinn’s sort of a low-level dream witch surrounded by all these powerful witches with ‘cool’ powers, and that leads to him really shrinking in on himself. He learns though that no one else is going to do magic like Quinn does magic, and that his powers can be really beautiful and unique. It’s something we all need to learn about ourselves.
You have a tremendous following, especially from authors. Is this intimidating? Inspiring?
Both! It’s incredible. I would’ve been happy if Quinn, Dreaming had gotten five followers, but it took off and people constantly interact with me about it on Twitter, Tumblr and now on my Patreon. Having so many authors in my corner has been a dream though. You all inspire me with your creativity and your story telling so much. Ultimately, it’s what pushed me to finally start a webcomic in the first place. I’m a librarian—my first big love will always be reading. Knowing that I have these incredible authors that I respect and have welcomed me to come live in their worlds for a while, really pushes me to create something worth hanging out in as well.
You’ve done a lot of amazing artwork for other books—S.J. Goslee’s Whatever, Tara Sim’s Timekeeper series, Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Are there any books or LGBTQ+ characters you’ve wanted to draw but haven’t yet?
I drew Aiden and Shannon once from Taylor Brooke’s Fortitude Smashed, but I’m itching to draw Daisy and Chelsea from the sequel Curved Horizon. I’m weak for the southern sorority girl and punk princess relationship. I need to do some serious art for the Wicker King by Kayla Ancrum as well, because that book was absolutely beautiful, and it stirred up my imagination from start to finish.
Your artwork is so loveable. The way you capture characters is fun but precise, too. Are there any current webcomics or artists that inspire you?
Check Please! Is always the first webcomic I tell people about. It’s so fun and sucks you right in. I binge read it in a Denny’s while I was in college. I couldn’t leave my booth until I was done. It’s just so good. I’m a huge fan of Noelle Stevenson and her comics Nimona and Lumberjanes. I’ve been reading Rainbow Rowell’s latest work on The Runaways. There’s a webcomic on Patreon called Constellation Grimm by Gibslythe that’s a really amazing fantasy with some of the best art as well.
Outside of Quinn, Dreaming, can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?
I am currently finishing up writing a book about a Canadian vampire named Steven Pancake. He decides he’s going to make the most of his afterlife and buys himself a canoe. His camping trip goes awry, he meets a broody handsome 17th century Romanian vampire named Nicolae, wacky woodland hijinks ensue! There’s werewolves, aliens, some rednecks, and kissing!
Want more TJ Ryan? Here’s where you can find them:
Weebly — https://tjryanart.weebly.com
Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.