Molly Brooks was working all day digitizing comics, freelancing all night drawing comics, and struggling to find the time and creative energy to do what she really wanted to do—make her own comic. So she teamed up with her friend and fellow creator Andrea Tsurumi to create a minicomic together. “We decided to do a collaborative project, so I wouldn’t let her down by not doing my part of the deal and she wouldn’t let me down,” Brooks says. That minicomic became the starting point for her first original graphic novel, Sanity & Tallulah (Disney-Hyperion).

Tsurumi and Brooks decided the two comics should share a common theme. “We were both really into detective stories and Star Trek, and we were both trying to introduce more female protagonists into our work, so I think it was Andrea who came up with the idea of science fiction teen girl detectives,” Brooks says. “We each took that phrase and went off into our little art corner and made our stories.”

Brooks started out with the idea of two friends who are traveling through space and exploring areas they aren’t supposed to get into. They became rule-bending science prodigy Sanity Jones and her strong-willed friend Tallulah Vega. “Seeing how they would react to the plot I had in mind helped me figure out who the characters were, so by the time I finished the story for the first mini, they were basically the same characters that are in the graphic novel,” she says. “I liked them a lot, and I had a lot of other ideas for ridiculous situations that I could drop them into.”

The story grew out of Brooks’s love of a particular type of science fiction. “The part I like best is where the science is goofy and unhinged enough that the problems are extremely bizarre, but it’s anchored in reality enough that the answers to those problems are somewhat logical,” she says. “I really like the MacGyver aspect of intelligent people coming up with solutions and kludges and patches on the fly, in the middle of a trying situation.”

The Sanity and Tallulah minicomic, paired with Tsurumi’s story, debuted at the Small Press Expo comics festival in 2014. For some artists, the next step would have been to create more self-published comics, perhaps funded by Kickstarter, and grow the audience from there. Brooks wasn’t interested. “I like traditional publishers,” she says. “My goal with self-publishing and doing minicomics was to try to get the attention of a publisher that would be able to do marketing and stuff for me. I’m very uncomfortable selling myself.”

The freelance illustration project that was keeping Brooks up nights was Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared (First Second). Heather Alexander, then an agent at Pippin Properties, saw a mention of the book in Publishers Weekly, noticed that Brooks was unagented, and reached out to her. As Brooks’s agent, Alexander helped her develop a pitch and sell a three-book Sanity and Tallulah series to Disney-Hyperion.

Once Sanity & Tallulah landed at Disney, Brooks found a new collaborator in her editor, Rotem Moscovich. Brooks admits she was nervous about working with an editor for the first time: “I was having flashbacks to art school critiques,” she says. “I was bracing to have my ego crushed.” Instead, when she sat down with Moscovich and the book’s designer, she says, “It was like we were on the same page, but they were looking at it from just a different enough angle that they could find the issues. We were working toward the same goal and they were helping me to get there, and that’s really exciting.”