Evangeline Lilly Comic Con Interview Part 2: Debuting And Developing 'The Squickerwonkers'

This year, Evangeline Lilly is the de facto queen of San Diego Comic-Con. Not only will the actress be on hand to promote the final Hobbit film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, she may be there for Marvel Studio's Ant-Man, plus she's finally fulfilling a lifelong dream. Lilly has always wanted to be a writer and she will debut her brand new book, The Squickerwonkers, at the Con with a panel and signing.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Lilly about all three of these things. You can read about the movie stuff: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Ant-Man, Edgar Wright and Real Steel in Part 1 of our interview here.

In part two, Lilly talks about her new book The Squickerwonkers. We discussed about the inspirations behind her dark children's book (which has a foreword by Peter Jackson, Philipea Boyens and Fran Walsh), her collaborations with Weta illustrator Johnny Fraser-Allen, children's perception of dark events, and more.

It's all below. Check it out.

Lilly will be at the following event at San Diego Comic Con:

Friday July 25:

  • Presenting her new book Squickerwonkers, Moderated by Tara Bennett 10:30am room 6A
  • San Diego Comic-Con official Signing - 12:00-1:30 pm  AA20
  • Saturday July 26

  • Warner Bros – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Hall H, 10am-noon
  • Marvel Studios (rumored appearance for Ant-Man), Hall H, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • And the book, The Squickerwonkers, hits stores November 18.

    Squickerwonkers Cover/Film: How different is the experience being there with a book as opposed to Hall H for The Hobbit or something like that? Is it radically different or is it because people know you from all these things similar?Evangeline Lilly: It's kind of radically different, but not necessarily because of everybody else's reactions, but because of me and how I feel inside. So one of the things that happens with being there for the book is there's a lot more intimacy in the things that I do, because I've put my heart and soul into this book. It's been my personal journey to be a writer for a very long time. And so right now when I'm there with my book, everybody that comes to support me I feel like they're helping me build my dream. And there's an immense amount of gratitude that I feel towards those people and towards those moments in time where I get to share my book with them.

    When I'm there promoting a massive event like the third installment of The Hobbit, that just feels less intimate. It feels like it is more of an event. There is a big machine that's been placed to roll out that show. Whereas my book is just essentially me and a couple people trying to just put out a piece of art that we're really proud of and get people's attention to be drawn to it. So that's probably the biggest difference is the sense of intimacy.

    And the book is something that's obviously intimate and personal to you. I mean, the book is dedicated to your Mom and it says something about "this is a story that you've been telling for decades." When did this idea for the story first come to you? Tell me sort of about the earliest origins of Squickerwonkers.

    Yeah, the genesis of The Squickerwonkers was in 1994. I was this bored high school student who couldn't focus on my homework and generally that was one of my outlets when I couldn't focus. I would just write or draw pictures, do something artistic. And so one night, and that was around the time when I think I was really, really into Dr. Seuss and really into children's poetry even though I was 14. And I loved the way Dr. Seuss deliberately stepped away from the confines of the English language and just used any fun, quirky, bizarre words that he could think of to rhyme with "cat" or with "maybe" and so I wanted, just as an exercise as a kid, I was like "I just wanna make up a fun word." And so I was making up fun words and writing them down. And one of them really jumped which was the word "Squickerwonkers." I just loved it. I love the way it sounded. I loved the way it felt on my tongue. I loved the bizarrity of that word. And so that word was where I started and then I carried on to challenge myself to see if I can actually write a story using that word.

    And I didn't know how it would fit into the story. I didn't know if it would be an adjective or a verb or a noun. I didn't know what Squickerwonker word was. And in the end it evolved into this poem about a family of sort of motley outcasts who have an eccentric sense of humor and pop a little girl's balloon. But in the end, is this dark twist of fate. So that all was there in that first write, that first pass I should say when I was 14. But then as it incubated over 20 years, it morphed and evolved into a whole series as all of the different Squickerwonker characters came to life in my mind. And then when it came time to actually write it for publication, I had an incredible amount of rewriting to do to get it to the place where it would be a publishable piece of literature.

    Absolutely. And as beautiful as the language is that's only half of it. The look of the book is also beautiful and evocative. Talk about the collaboration between you and the illustrator Johnny Fraser-Allen. Because that seems like something, as an author or as a writer, that doesn't regularly comes into play. I guess more so in children's books, but talk about how you sort of how much of the look was yours, how much was his, how much you guys spoke about it, et cetera.

    Well the entire book, the look and the story was a real collaboration between Johnny and myself. So I was very hands on in creating the look of the illustrations. And Johnny was very hands on in influencing the direction and the structure of the story because he brought to the table the notion of a traveling wagon of marionette puppets. That wasn't my idea. That was Johnny's idea. And that was what actually inspired me to choose to publish this story because we were actually working on another story, but Johnny was so passionate about the Squickerwonkers and he loved it so much and he had such clear ideas about what he wanted to do with the illustrations for that story that I immediately switched gears when I saw that his vision was the completion of my story. It was like I had created half of it and he brought the other half.

    And then when it came to his illustrations, I was really the one who pushed the notion of a kind of circus or carny feel to this clan. And was instrumental in some of the choices about, you know, color and creating essentially what we would think of because we both come from the film world as our shots. And so it was incredibly collaborative. It was very mutual. And we both felt that one another were improving our side of the work, which you couldn't really ask for more when working with a partner on a creative project.

    Squickerwonkers 1Okay. Excellent. Yeah, it definitely shows. It just all works really well. And it works really well to prepare you for the dark ending that you get here. I mean, you know, obviously like you said this is the first of a series and you have more stories planned. But I was surprised, when you're reading what's essentially a picture book, to have such a dark ending. Depending on how you interpret it of course. Was that something that you or the publisher was worried about? Was that something you guys struggled with or was it always going to go down that path?

    Well it was, I mean, I was hard pressed to find a publisher that would go ahead with the ending of the story. It's very sophisticated for a young audience. It is very dark for a young audience. But Johnny and I are very firm believers that children are much, much more intelligent than we give them credit for. That this level of sophistication is something children crave and thrive in when you challenge their mind and you expand their intellectual horizons to books.

    And we also, we remember as children, you know, loving dark stories. Each one of us in different ways. Johnny loved dark, spooky stories. I loved dark, almost tribal stories. And we both loved the first strange and serious worlds that Jim Henson would create in films like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. So we as children had pretty specific tastes and were pretty picky about what books we liked to read and we both liked books that challenged us intellectually that were perhaps driven towards a slightly older audience and that were dark.

    So we created a book that we would have wanted to read as children. And I have a three year old son. Technically this book is classified as a 5 to 8 year old audience but I have a three year old son who I've been reading books since he was two years old, 'cause I want his feedback. And he loves it. He loves it. And there isn't an ounce of this book that he finds scary or disturbing. It doesn't occur to him that this book is scary and I think a lot of the times we infuse our own adult mentality into our choices about what our children are exposed to. But children have a completely different perspective on things than we do. And my three year old boy when she turns into a puppet at the end and then the curtain closes, every time in the book he says, "Mama, what happens?" And I say, "I don't know, what happens"? And he says, "Aw, she got lost. She was locked in her room 'cause she had a tantrum." And I think it's such a beautiful example of how children project their own self involved perception of the world into everything and everything or anything and everything they see and do. So he sees what happens to Selma as a reflection of what happens to him. 'Cause he's a boy who throws tantrums and has pouts and tattletales and then he has to go to his room. And he just understands it. He relates to it completely.

    The Squickerwonkers hits stores November 18. You can next see Lilly in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, out December 17.