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College Kid With A Dream

How did I, a college kid, create something like MUP? I dedicated my four years at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television to building my story. What started as a wild idea from my freshman dorm to an animated senior thesis trailer and polishing the book's final artwork before graduation at the start of the covid-19 pandemic.

There is only one word to describe the process: determination.

I just had this feeling from the first time I pitched the idea to my mom that this story has power. Despite my mom's first response, putting it point-blank by saying that "little girls don't like stories about dinosaurs and time travel and disease." I couldn't shake my gut reaction to the idea: this story has power. So I pocketed the idea of MUP to store for later, and the opportunity to re-pitch MUP came when I needed some story ideas for a class assignment in my sophomore year screenwriting class. In that class, the students and professor encouraged me to develop MUP further. That was the affirmation I needed to sanctify my initial reaction to the idea: this story does have power. From that point onward, I dove deep into the story, my characters, the world, the conflict. Believing in the story to my absolute core was what kept me going. I knew I had to do it. What mattered was the story, the characters, the message that it is ok to be yourself. MUP's success or failure was never a real consideration. It simply didn't matter what the net result of the project would be. I could not shake that first feeling: this story has power; that's what fueled my determination despite the odds and obstacles that stood in my way in the years to come.

Logistically speaking, MUP was a feat. I had never heard of an artist creating that much art in that short of time. This 278-page graphic novel is illustrated with 1200 original panels of artwork and rendered in the detail and style that I chose. Usually a graphic novel is created by a team of writer, storyboard artist, inking artist, colorist, letterist, etc. I had never heard of an artist doing that before all on their own, much less doing in a while being a full-time undergrad. My summers were spent working on MUP, my weekends, my holiday breaks, after class, before class; I lived and breathed MUP.

In my sophomore year, the opportunity came up to develop MUP into a screenplay (then titled MEETING ME) as an animated feature for my class assignment. (Which my mom submitted, unbeknownst to me, to the 2018 Final Draft Big Break screenwriting competition where it then became a quarter-finalist despite being a rough draft, came as a massive surprise to me.) I was so excited I took that first draft and decided to ambitiously storyboard the entire thing.

Having grown up with profound love and respect for comics and graphic novels, I then made the executive decision to turn MUP into a graphic novel.

But I had no idea how to do that, and had no idea where to start and knew of no one who had created a graphic novel before. But none of that stopped me from diving right in.

Two years later and 200 pages into final art, I realized to my dismay that the story wasn't working. It was too long. Too expensive to print, I was told. So I started again from scratch. I cut out huge scenes, characters, and plot. I took a 907-page, three-book trilogy and widdled it down to the 278-page book that I have today. It was a gruesome year of editing my junior year of college. The breakthrough came when I realized where I had gone wrong: Mup was my lead character, but the Arianna character needed to change. I had focused on Mup since she was more relatable and made Arianna my unlikable antagonist. It was investigating her character and her desires and fears where I realized Arianna wasn't the bad guy but was the hero, somebody to look up to; somebody Mup would want to become.

Other challenges stood in my path. One of them was going from traditional painting to learning photoshop. The other? Over 100+ rejections from industry professionals and agents. And the one that probably hurt the most? Being ghosted by a professional literary agent with whom I had worked for over a year. I'm not going to lie: it was hard. MUP has proven to be by far, to date, the most thrilling, challenging, and monumental project of my life as a visual storyteller.

I've come leaps and bounds from an 18-year-old with a big idea. I've made enormous mistakes that cost me many hours. But at the end of this four-year adventure? I did it: I created MUP.

So, you want to create a graphic novel? Worried you don't have enough time? Don't know what you're doing—never done one before? I understand, but the truth? The story is in you, and it's up to you to bring it to life.

And the only way you can do it is because you believe in the story, the characters are meaningful, and the message is powerful, and you must disregard all the odds that stand in your way.

All you need is determination. (A frickin ton of it.)


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Raea Gragg is an author, illustrator, and animator specializing in graphic novels and children's books
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