7” Kara is a watercolor comic created by Becca Hillburn about a friendship between a tiny girl and a human girl. Volume 2 focuses on Kara keeping secrets about befriending a human, Naomi, with her mother’s help, which is threatening to divide her family. Kara learns how to ride a cat and enjoys her first tea party, but Naomi is hiding something from her.
I had the opportunity to chat with creator Becca Hillburn about her work:
Tito W. James: What inspired you to write Kara?
Becca Hillburn: There’s a lot that’s gone into 7” Kara! I’ve been making comics for a long time, so 7” Kara is definitely not my first, but it’s the one I’ve worked on the longest, and the first I’ve shared publicly as a webcomic.
As a girl in the 80s, I was constantly frustrated with the female characters in most of the cartoons that aired at the time. We were limited to just one per show, and she was usually regulated to the back—the medic, the tech support, the reporter. So making sure female characters play a major role has been important to me. Ever since I picked up a pencil I wanted to see myself in the media I enjoyed! Growing up, I loved tales of tiny people like The Borrowers, Stuart Little, and Alice in Wonderland, but I also enjoyed stories about friendship like The Babysitters Club.
While I was in graduate school, I wrote a lot of autobio comics, but when preparing for my thesis, I wanted to focus on something that could carry a deep theme in a more lighthearted way. The main inspiration behind 7” Kara is power dynamics; the goal is to show when those in power don’t listen to or sympathize with the people in their care, the end result is suffering. Even if the one in power has the best of intentions.
TWJ: What are your artistic influences for this project?
BH: Long story short, manga-inspired my love of the comic art form from the very beginning. Some of my favorite inspiration still comes from manga and anime. I love expressive faces with large eyes and mouths, and try to capture when the hair reacts along with the character acting (the Ghibli floof). I’m inspired by watercolor art and illustration as well, from loose modern Western styles to concept art that’s just blocking in color to Chinese watercolor.
My art style owes a lot to:
- Studio Ghibli
- Disney Renaissance (particularly Glen Keane’s work and notes)
- Adachi Mitsuru
- Kiyohiko Azuma (particularly Yotsuba!)
- Studio Ponoc
- Rumiko Takahashi
TWJ: What makes Kara stand out from other middle-grade fantasy stories?
BH: 7” Kara isn’t really as fantastical as many other middle-grade fantasy stories. There’s a large fantasy element, but it’s set within a realistic world, so hopefully this invites readers to imagine Lilliputians and Lilliputian life in their day to day activities and play. While I loved high fantasy as a younger reader, I also really enjoyed urban fantasy and magical realism. There was something almost more magical about believing I could juuust spot a fairy, if I looked hard enough. And while there’s a lot of conflict in 7” Kara, I wanted to leave breathing space to relax and enjoy the world. So 7” Kara is a bit more relaxed than most middle-grade fantasy graphic novels.
TWJ: What advice would you give for someone writing for a middle-grade audience?
BH: Teach elementary and middle school kids. It doesn’t have to be really formal, but regularly interacting with kids that age, and getting their feedback is very helpful. I teach drawing classes online and off, and this provides the opportunity to observe their interactions and conversations and to sometimes solicit their feedback on my work.
I’d like to thank Becca Hillburn for taking the time to do this interview. You can read Volume 1 of 7″ Kara on her website.