Katy Farina’s cartooning career has soared in the last year. Her graphic adaptations of Ann Martin’s first two Baby-Sitters Little Sister novels, Karen’s Witch and Karen’s Roller Skates, have both been bestsellers, with the second one rivaling the sales of Dav Pilkey's Dog Man. Farina is following that with an original graphic novel, Song of the Court, which was just published by Sterling Children’s Books.
Farina faithfully adapted the Baby-Sitters Little Sister books, rendering the stories about family life in a curvy, manga-influenced drawing style. Song of the Court is very different. Pitched to readers aged 6 to 8, a relatively new category in the graphic novel world, the book features cute animals living in a fairy-tale kingdom, but the story gently touches on some difficult emotions.
Arietta, a cat who sells flowers at the local market, is asked by Princess Cassia to play the violin at her birthday party. Anxious to please the princess, Arietta agrees, despite the fact that she doesn’t know how to play. After her friend Emily gives her a few lessons, Arietta realizes she loves music, and she is torn between keeping up the garden her family has maintained for generations and spending all her time playing the violin. Her supportive friends help her resolve her dilemma.
PW talked with Farina about the experience of creating two very different worlds in these graphic novels, and how they influenced each other.
Which came first, Song of the Court or the Baby-Sitters Little Sister comics?
I was working on Song of the Court when I started the Little Sister comics! Song had been a story close to my heart for a little while now. Its very first iteration was as a short mini-comic for my Patreon supporters. Song has come quite a long way since then, I’d say!
How has making the Baby-Sitters comics influenced your original work, and vice versa?
Karen from Baby-Sitters Little Sister has such “big” emotions, and I love that about her. She has huge reactions to almost everything. Whether she’s sad or happy, I end up drawing Karen with really exaggerated expressions and gestures. That’s something I love to bring to my original work.
Song of the Court has these quiet emotional moments that I try to bring to Baby-Sitters Little Sister often. Even if it’s just a panel, letting a character process their feelings helps facilitate empathy. Creating these books in tandem has made me work hard for a good balance of peace and chaos in my storytelling.
Song of the Court deals with some complex emotions: wanting to please someone, feeling torn between family tradition and your own desires, and even stress and overwork. How did you come up with the dilemmas that Arietta faces?
I started by pulling from my own experiences, and then from those around me. But as my circle of reference widened, I noticed we all had similar anxieties and concerns that we were trying to navigate. I began this project with a creative young reader in mind, but now I think it applies to everyone! It’s never not hard to pick between two things that are equally important to you, no matter who you are. Sometimes being a person is just really hard.
At the same time, the story itself is simple enough for a child to follow. What experience do you have with children’s media?
I’ve done some work on comics for series like The Amazing World of Gumball and Steven Universe, but this is my first step into storytelling for an even younger audience. The conflict and emotions that Arietta and her friends experience are really significant, so I tried to be clear in my storytelling. I think we can relate to this story at any age, so I hope this is a book kids can grow with.
What inspired the characters and the setting?
Emily is inspired by my friends. In a way, she’s the ultimate friend—one who immediately understands how to care for others in any moment. Her character design is inspired by a Valais Blacknose sheep. Look them up, they’re so cute!
Princess Cassia is the friend you have that always seems so cool and confident. Arietta really wants to impress her and is a little intimidated by her—she’s a princess, after all! But Arietta also wants to be a good friend and help Cassia deal with her own anxiety. Princess Cassia is based on a Black Otter Rex rabbit; probably the most beautiful bunny ever, and why I thought they’d be the perfect inspiration for a princess. Pinpointing an inspiration for Arietta is a little more difficult. She's little pieces of lots of people I love. She’s the youngest version of me, who didn’t have the words to explain stress or anxiety. She’s a goal I’m working towards; loving what you do, living where you love, and spending time with your favorite people.
The world of Song of the Court is inspired by Sicily. I’m a third-generation American, so we have lost almost all of the history and language our great-grandparents would have brought with them. Working on this book gave me an outlet to explore our family history while also learning more about Sicily. I hope I’m able to visit Italy sometime in my life.
Will we see more stories about Arietta and her friends? What other projects do you have in the works?
I always have something going on, and right now I have tons on my plate! There’s action, adventure, smiles, tears, and of course, lots of friendship. I’m also working on a contemporary story inspired by my relationship with my sister that I think Baby-Sitters Little Sister fans will really like.