Maggie Tokuda-Hall is joining us today to talk about her graphic novel, Squad. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Pretty Little Liars meets Teen Wolf in this sharply funny, and patriarchy-smashing graphic novel from author Maggie Tokuda-Hall and artist Lisa Sterle. When the new girl is invited to join her high school’s most popular clique, she can’t believe her luck—and she can’t believe their secret, either.
When Becca transfers to a high school in an elite San Francisco suburb, she’s worried she’s not going to fit in. To her surprise, she’s immediately adopted by the most popular girls in school. At first glance, Marley, Arianna, and Mandy are perfect. But at a party under a full moon, Becca learns that they also have a big secret.
Becca’s new friends are werewolves. Their prey? Slimy boys who take advantage of unsuspecting girls. Eager to be accepted, Becca allows her friends to turn her into a werewolf, and finally, for the first time in her life, she feels like she truly belongs.
But then things get complicated. As their pack begins to buckle under the pressure, their moral high ground gets muddier and muddier—and Becca realizes that she might have feelings for one of her new best friends.
Lisa Sterle’s stylish illustrations paired with Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s sharp writing make Squad a fierce, haunting, and fast-paced thriller that will resonate with fans of Riverdale, and with readers of This Savage Song, Lumberjanes, and Paper Girls.
What’s Maggie’s favorite bit?
Squad is a graphic novel that Lisa Sterle and I made together. It’s about teenage girl werewolves doing crimes, falling in love, and being messy and terrible and young. They also eat sex pests. There’s a lot I love about this book— it’s set where I grew up and so it feels like the middle finger I’ve been waiting decades to lift. The boys that get eaten remind me of the boys and guys and men I’ve met and dealt with in my life who treated girls like something disposable, something consumable. It is a revenge fantasy, and I felt a keen sense of pleasure indulging in it as I wrote.
The best part of working with an illustrator is that you write something, and then you hand it off to someone with shocking talent who takes what you started and shines it up into something deeper and more interesting than what you had imagined on your own. And so, while I was writing Squad, my favorite moment came when Becca— the main character— is watching in horror as the alpha girl she’s just become friends with shifts into a werewolf and messily devours a boy who had been pushing himself onto Becca only moments before.
Horror struck, Becca watches on. Lisa illustrates this perfectly. We feel the nausea and bewilderment that Becca feels in her tight-lipped grimace. She looks as though she might be sick. On either side of her stand Amanda and Marley, the two other girls in the Squad.
“You don’t have to watch,” Amanda says.
“But it’s more fun if you do,” Marley adds.
This was, as you can imagine, a fun bit of dialog to write. It hit the tone I wanted of gleeful, flippant violence befitting a revenge fantasy. I wanted to match the appalling massacre that was unfolding with a touch of mordant humor. I was proud of that bit, and I am still.
I did not imagine what Lisa might add with that moment, and so when I saw her final art for that panel, I was thrilled. Amanda, who has not been very interested in welcoming Becca into the Squad, offers words of what could be warning or comfort. But her face as Lisa has depicted it tells an entirely different story. She is delighted. Both at the murder but also, I think, at Becca’s discomfort. She’s giving her an excuse to look away, but her face belies a dare. There’s malice there, and challenge. And it makes the words as I wrote them into something more complex.
Marley, on the other hand, leans into Becca almost maternally. Her eyes are soft, the shape your face might make as you comforted a child. Her words, at face value, are more cruel. She thinks it’s fun to watch these boys die. (She’s not wrong.) But her relationship with Becca is fundamentally different than Amanda’s. Marley wants Becca to join, for reasons Marley doesn’t even understand yet. And so while her words, on their own, are pure malevolence, the body language Lisa has given her makes it clear that she means it as in invitation. She wants Becca to get it. To like what she likes.
Graphic novels are a visual medium. And so while I am very proud of the work I did as the person who wrote this story, many of my favorite moments come from Lisa’s work in the illustrations. It is, I imagine, how a screenwriter might feel watching a seasoned actor read their lines. Sure, they’re proud of their work. But the actor is the one who breathes life into those words. “Hold onto your butts,” is a pretty good line, but in Samuel L Jackson’s mouth it’s iconic.
So, I hope you read Squad. And as you do, I hope you take time to appreciate the incredible work Lisa has done injecting life into it. I’m so proud of this book we’ve made together, and I hope you enjoy it.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall is the author of the Parent’s Choice Gold Medal-winning Also an Octopus and the young adult novel The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea. She received her BA in Studio Art from Scripps College, an MFA in Writing from University of San Francisco, and has worked both for independent bookstores and for Apple Books. She is the host of several popular podcasts and lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and objectively perfect dog.
Lisa Sterle is an artist with work spanning from comic books to concept designs to pop-culture-fueled illustration. She is the co-creator of the monthly comics Long Lost and Submerged, as well as the creator of The Modern Witch Tarot Deck. She received her BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design and currently resides in Columbus, Ohio.