Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 5, 2015

Celebrating Baba Yaga’s Assistant

It was a happy night at the Odyssey Bookshop, with Marika McCoola, who not so long ago directed the children’s department, back to talk about her first book, the graphic novel Baby Yaga’s Assistant. Former colleagues praised Marika’s wit and intelligence and former Simmons classmates and critique group members were excited to see what had come from early drafts. Marika used slides to show us her early notes, some comments from first readers, and how some of these found their way into the final book, which was illustrated by Emily Carroll. We followed the evolution of a sample two-page spread, from thumbnail sketches, then the inks, the black line work and final version. Marika showed places where the illustrator deviated, tweaked, or moved things around for design issues or to give more emotional weight, often expressed with color.


Someone asked why, being an artist, Marika hadn’t illustrated the book herself. She explained that the style she had in mind for the story wasn’t her own, and that as an illustrator she’d also trained as an art director, knowing how to give some directions then be open to what came. Will she illustrate another graphic novel down the line? Possibly. She noted that often her art is three dimensional and multi media, which would mean a lot of sewing and sculpting to make characters for the many scenes a graphic novel requires. She said also that with some emotionally demanding works she wouldn’t want to spend another two years beyond the writing. And she’s simply interested in collaboration and to see what another does with the text. She observed that sometimes Emily Carroll found things in the script she didn’t know were there. At other times the spreads were just what she visualized.


She spoke of liking the graphic novel form, just as she loved picture books since as a child being enchanted with Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen with its dialogue bubbles. As a teen she adored The Sandman and found everyone reading graphic novels in art school, where she was particularly moved by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Graphic novels, like picture books, bring together Marika’s passion for both words and pictures, often with pictures telling more of the story.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant has been lauded, including a starred review from Kirkus calling it “a magnificent and must read for all fairy tale fans” and an NEIBA book award. I’ve just started reading, but so far love the tests and adventures, the combination of humor, depth, spookiness, realism, and magic.




  1. Thank you for this, Jeannine!

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