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January 31, 2017 at 11:34 AM EST

Comics may be home to young detectives, but now they’re also home to newsgirls.

Ru Xu’s NewsPrints follows the story of Blue, a girl who disguises herself as a newsboy in order to sell The Bugle, her hometown newspaper — the only one that tells the truth — because only boys are allowed to be newspaper sellers. But things soon get complicated when the young newsgirl befriends Jack, a reclusive inventor, and a mysterious boy named Crow. Blue soon finds herself involved in the war going on between her country of Goswing and the neighboring country, Grimmaea.

“I wanted to encourage readers to keep seeking truth where they can,” explains Ru Xu, “and to help those who can’t protect themselves because their voices aren’t being covered or being magnified.”

With NewsPrints hitting bookstands today, EW caught up with Xu to discuss the dieselpunk world she brings to life in her first big comic.

What inspired this idea?
Anytime I learned something new, I just put it at the back of my brain to possibly use the information in a future story. So NewsPrints is a culmination of a lot of my childhood interests in historical fiction, girls who dress as boys, and birds. 

Was Blue always a girl pretending to be a newsboy or did that change as the story developed?
I came up with the character first. Blue’s always been this sort of androgynous character. The gender changed depending on the story I was working on. Because when I started working with these characters in my freshman year of college, Blue was a gender neutral character for viewers to interact with in a PC game for children. But then in the next version of the story, which was completely different, Blue became a boy. In the next version of the story, it just kept changing depending on what kind of story it was. I finally ended up with the story that I pitched Scholastic. In that case, Blue was a girl who was disguised as a newsboy. 

How did you make the jump from Blue being a PC game character to another medium, like comics?
Originally the idea, in terms of characters, is that even if they stay the same, I really wanted to play with different media in college. So it made a lot of sense for me to bounce around until I finally decided on what kind of story I wanted and what medium I felt would best serve this story. I’ve always loved stories. I went to [Savannah College of Art and Design] to study comics and sequential arts, so it made a lot of sense for me to just to do this in comic format. 

What do you think that format added to this story?
What I love about the comic format is that the readers can control their pace in reading and consume the story. As the author, I’ve laid it out in the way that I think it should be presented and paced. The readers can always put it down and reprocess it or just go back three panels and reread that page or something like that. I just love the amount of control it gives me and the audience. 

What does it mean for Blue to have to keep this secret from her friends and family?
All of us are trapped in this persona that we always feel we have to keep up in order to be accepted by the people we love. For Blue, it just happens to be this particular thing, because she was told, “Only boys can be newsies,” so Blue thought, “Okay. Quick fix, I’ll just be a boy for a little while.” But that never went away and now she has to deal with the consequences of it. It wouldn’t be a problem for her if she really identified that way, but as she goes further into this persona, she realises that this isn’t what she wanted and it’s getting harder and harder to untangle herself from it, especially when everyone around her is growing up, and will figure it out eventually. So for Blue, it’s a matter of deciding who she is and presenting herself and who she believes she is on her own terms.

One of the big themes in the comic is war and how people write and report on it. What made you want to explore that aspect of the story?
As a kid you would often hear adults withholding information from us when we asked questions. They’d respond with phrases like, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” As we grow older we start to complacently accept those kinds of messages as we just move on from our lives, especially from news sources we rely on. We’ll say, “Oh that’s none of my business. There’s nothing I can do.” So NewsPrints was a way for me to explore those feelings and the frustrations and helplessness I felt growing up when I was blocked by these kinds of phrases when I was curious about things. 

In terms of NewsPrints‘ art style, was this always how you saw the story?
How I draw is just kind of like that. Sailor Moon was my first influence on my art style. But I also watched a lot of anime and cartoons growing up. More than anything, I think it’s more of my influences on storytelling that I can actually trace back to sources. Like Studio Ghibli, Iron Giant, and Avatar the Last Airbender. In terms of art, it feels like I’ve been influenced by so many different things as I’ve grown up in media and kind of just came to this style. 

In the comic, there are certain types of technology and not others. Were you looking at periods in history for inspiration?
A lot of what this book is inspired by is what I learned in history classes in middle school and high school. There was a lot of focus on the early 20th century. So this is sort of what the world of NewsPrints is set in. And I was also influenced by quite a bit of dieselpunk work, at least in the aesthetics of it. The world of NewsPrints is sort of in a transitional period where they’re going from steam to diesel. And they focus on different technologies, so they didn’t even have flight at this period of time in their world. So it’s definitely an alternate world and the technology reflects on what their society thought was important to advance at the time. 

NewsPrints is currently available for purchase. You can see more exclusive pages below.

Graphix/Scholastic

Graphix/Scholastic

Graphix/Scholastic

Graphix/Scholastic

Graphix/Scholastic

Graphix/Scholastic

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