Actress Emily Hampshire has graced TV screens in shows like 12 Monkeys, Schitt’s Creek, Chapelwaite, and The Rig, and now, she’s coming to bookstores, too: Her first graphic novel, Amelia Aierwood - Basic Witch, is out on April 11.
The graphic novel centers on the Aierwoods, a super-famous family of witches who are about to star in a reality show all about their lives. Amelia is her parents’ only biological child, but unlike her adopted siblings, she messes up any magic she attempts and can’t figure out where she fits in with the rest of her glamorous family.
Creating a graphic novel wasn’t something Hampshire knew she wanted to do until John Domingos, her one-time agent who now works as an A&R Liaison for Z2 Comics, approached her with the idea. “He was like, ‘You know who I think might have a comic in her brain is Emily,’” Hampshire recalls. “It wasn’t always a dream for me. I had never even thought about it. But the minute I did, I was like, ‘Oof, he knows me.’ This is the ultimate medium for everything I could ever want.”
Not having to worry about things she’d have to think about in a real world shoot, like budgeting, was nice—but most importantly, she could have something she’d always dreamed about but hadn’t experienced (yet): “I could have a Jello-O pool.”
How Reality TV—and Real Life—Influenced Amelia Aierwood
Story was key for Hampshire, who says she didn’t want to come out with a graphic novel unless she had a good story to tell: “If it was going to be my comic book,” she says, “it had to be authentic to me.”
She drew on two very different things when building the world of Amelia Aierwood - Basic Witch. One was the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. What if, she wondered, there was another sister, one cut out of the show because she was a terrible influencer? Making the Aierwoods a family of witches opened up a whole world of magical hijinks. “You can do anything,” she says. “I think it all kind of boils down to Jell-O pool. I wanted to make that possible.”
The other thing she drew on was her real life. Hampshire’s older brother is adopted, and she says he’s more like her parents than she is. “I’m like the black sheep. So I found it interesting to make all of the non-biological sisters the ones who are so in line with their family, and Amelia is the black sheep.”
Stumbs, Hampshire’s stuffed Yeti, inspired a character (“people say he’s stuffed—he’s just playing stuffed”), as did her best friend Neila, who is trans. “There’s a panel in the book where Amelia [tells Neila] ‘You have such cool shoes,’ and that’s what I always say to Neila. And she's like, ‘Thanks, it’s really hard to find shoes in my size because I’m trans and they don’t make them like that,’” Hampshire says. “It's a simple thing, it’s not trying to send any message. It’s just normal. That kind of stuff that I experienced in my real life can maybe be read by someone who doesn’t have any friends who are trans or nonbinary. That visibility I think is always important.”
Bringing Amelia Aierwood to Life
Hampshire brought Amelia Aierwood to life on the page with the help of a crew of talented collaborators. Co-writer Eliot Rahal was the first writer she met with, but it took time to find lead artist Kristen Gudsnuk. “I saw a lot of artists,” she says, all of them very talented. “But I wanted someone a little scrappy—a little not perfect, but I could feel it off the page. And that's what I feel like Kristen does. She draws through character and through story. Even a stick drawing of something is emotional and [connects].” Artist Ames Liu drew the cover and the reality show panels; artists Jarrett Williams, Fred Stresing, Caitlin Rose Boyle, Cara McGee, and Dominique Roses contributed as well.
There was plenty about the process of creating a graphic novel that surprised Hampshire. “The thing that blew my mind was in comic books, there’s like a letterer—a person who does just lettering,” she says. “A colorist—a person who does just coloring. I’m the type of person who could get really into a font, so I was like, ‘Maybe I should be a letterer, just focus on that one thing.’”
But what she loved most about the process, she says, is that “it’s such a collaborative medium of true artists. I don't think anyone goes into comic books to become rich and famous. You go into it because you love it.”
Easter Eggs and Inside Jokes
The illustrations of Amelia Aierwood - Basic Witch are jam-packed with details and puns, giving Hampshire’s fans plenty of Easter eggs to hunt for. “That is all Kristen,” Hampshire says. “I still feel like when I go through the book I’m finding new things.”
References to Hampshire’s work on 12 Monkeys and Schitt’s Creek are hidden throughout the panels. Stumbs the Yeti makes an appearance, as does a pun involving Justin Bieber (Hampshire is a fan). There’s even a nod to an episode of Humpday with Hampshire, her pandemic talk show, featuring her Schitt’s co-star Annie Murphy.
There are also inside jokes, like a boxed set of CDs with the title Every Musical Except Phantom. “I don’t like when people sing high, I like when they sing raw,” Hampshire says. “It’s the opera part of the Phantom that is bothersome to me.”
Hampshire has a hard time choosing a favorite panel of the book. She thinks one panel, where Amelia does magic and levitates, is particularly beautiful, and she also loves the ones that feature baby Spaghetti the Yeti, who was of course, inspired by Stumbs. In response to Hampshire’s passionate explanation that Yetis are real, Gudsnuk made Spaghetti a shirt that says “I’m Real.”
After two years in the making, Hampshire is excited for Amelia Aierwood - Basic Witch to finally be out in the world—and she hopes it inspires others the way it inspired her. “I felt like I got to go back and tell my younger self, ‘The thing that you think is wrong with you is your magic,’” she says. “If some young kid could read this and feel inspired to be more themselves, that is the greatest thing.”
You can buy Amelia Aierwood - Basic Witch wherever books are sold.