in BUNT! by Ngozi Ukazu & Mad Rupert, Molly discovers that her full-ride scholarship to the Peachtree Institute of Collegiate Arts has vanished. However, she soon discovers an exploitable loophole: there are massive athletic scholarships available for a team of any nine PICA students who win a single softball game!
BUNT! is available at your local bookstore and/or public library beginning today. To mark the occasion, The Beat caught up with Ngozi and Mad over email. We asked all about BUNT!‘s incredible cast of characters, about their collaborative process on the project, and about the specific inspirations for the graphic novel.
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of BUNT!?
When Check, Please! was coming to close, Boom Studios approached Ngozi to do a similar story, but with a queer, non-binary, female spin. Things didn’t work out with Boom, so we developed the pitch and took it to First Second.
Storywise, we had both finished graduate school, and wanted to collaborate on a fun, action-packed project. Ngozi had become frustrated with the predatory nature of student loans and how art schools marketed themselves to unknowing high school students. Mad had played travel softball for seven years and wanted to illustrate high stakes action. (She had also played something she calls “Baby Softball” for an additional five years prior—so she had TWELVE years of softball experience.) Art school plus softball… equalled BUNT!
KAPLAN: BUNT! you have an incredible cast of characters. What was the character creation and design process like?
We had staple archetypes in our mind based on the students we had encountered at art school. But, to be clear…the characters in BUNT aren’t one-to-one caricatures of our friends…let’s not get into any trouble here…
From there we collaborated on character designs. For example, a character like Virginia Slaughter was someone that we imagined as reedy and unsettling, but who was ultimately kind and loyal. Ngozi was inspired to make a “farm girl” after learning about the Mennonites that Mad grew up around in Pennsylvania.
KAPLAN: Do you each have a personal favorite character?
NGOZI: Ryan and Jazz
MAD: Slaughter and Jazz
NOTE: In the first draft of BUNT there was WAY too much of the character Jazz.. We had to significantly cut back on his appearances. Ella she’s just so fun!
KAPLAN: What was your collaborative process like for this project?
Ngozi wrote the script focusing on the overall themes, character arcs, and story beats.
Mad then gave feedback on the softball action and made story edits to improve the overall flow and pacing of the story.
In addition, we had a ton of brainstorming sessions in order to think up funny moments and punch up the script!
KAPLAN: Was it important to set BUNT! in Peachtree? What went into designing the location?
Peachtree is a vaguely redesignated Savannah, where we went to art school. It’s a fantasy world that exaggerates Ngozi’s interpretation of how SCAD interacts with the city.
KAPLAN: Do you have any creative routines or rituals?
MAD: I have recently learned that I have to have a few parameters in place before I actually sit down and work. I have to find my slippers or house shoes and put them on. I have to put my foot stool in the right place. If I’m cold, I have to put on another sweater. If I’m hungry, I have to get a snack. AND THEN….I can get to work.
NGOZI: I have to write and plot in a notebook before ever taking anything to Scrivener or a word document. When we hit important drafts, I print out the entire script and review it by hand with a pen.
KAPLAN: Can you tell us about any specific inspirations for BUNT!?
Our experience as graduate students in art school!
Also, there’s a moment in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks says “there’s no crying in baseball.” This directly inspired Ryan’s line “there are no furries in softball.”
KAPLAN: Are there any comics (or any other stories) that you’ve been especially enjoying lately?
MAD: Most recently, the program that has caused me the most emotions is Twin Peaks. I’ve also been reading Dungeon Meshi.
NGOZI: I’ve really been digging Batman/Superman: World’s Finest by Mark Waid and Dan Mora. I also saw American Fiction in theaters at the end of 2023 and loved that!
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?
Sometimes people say don’t work with your friends, but we had a great experience together! The key is communication, trust, and lots of silly drawings, and…compassion. 🙂 (please include the smiley face.)
BONUS QUESTION: Favorite episode of Star Trek (if applicable)?
So, we’re answering this interview questionnaire on the 29th of January, which astute Star Trek fans might recognize as Threshold Day. If you don’t know what Threshold Day is, it is a fan holiday that celebrates an episode of Star Trek: Voyager entitled “Threshold” where—long story incredibly short—the captain and chief helmsman mutate into lizards.
And they have lizard children whom they abandon on a planet.
Now, we both agree that this episode is a tad unsettling. But when I, Ngozi, explained this episode to Mad—positing that this had to be some sort of…transformation fetish—Mad agreed with me. Mad knows very little about Star Trek, but a whole lot about furries, and he claims that this is a well-documented furry kink. Uh huh? Yeah, I bet it is.
All that being said, this isn’t my favorite episode. Not even close. But God, I love Star Trek.
BUNT! is available at your local bookstore and/or public library now.