Graphic novel author and illustrator Seaerra Miller, a Casper native, walked into work at a Portland comic book store one morning to her own graphic novel on the new release stand.
“Mason Mooney: Paranormal Investigator,” from Flying Eye Books, hit shelves Sept. 1 at bookstores and major outlets through the U.S. and internationally.
Two more “Mason Mooney” graphic novels are on the way, and she’s working on the first graphic novel of a recent two-book deal with major publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
The same week “Mason Mooney” came out, she signed with Penguin Random House to illustrate a project she can’t talk about quite yet.
“But I’m really excited about it; it’s all I can say, that it’s really a big deal,” she said.
Miller this month worked her last day at the bookstore. She’ll miss the job and especially the people, she said. But book projects fill her schedule as her career takes off. It felt surreal when a coworker at Books with Pictures texted her a picture of the unpacking with all the copies, and it still does.
“I never really imagined that I would get the chance to make books,” she said. “So I’m so, so thankful and happy, and it’s just, it’s surreal that I get to do that.”
Miller was on the train to set up for the senior thesis show at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Design when she learned, to her shock, that the owner of Flying Eye Books was trying to contact her. Her thesis mentor on the phone told her he liked the Mason Mooney character from her thesis project and thought she thought he was interested in a book about him. The mentor, who’d had a book published with the London-based company, had unbeknownst to Miller shown him her thesis project, a collection of scary stories for kids with Mason as the narrator.
Miller stood on the train, sweaty on a hot day, trying to haul her portfolio and show supplies.
“And it was just like, ‘Oh, no stress about that thesis show anymore,’” she said. “‘Nothing matters; this is so huge.’”
She landed her first book deal just before she graduated in 2017. She illustrated companion graphic novels to the “Hilda” Netflix series for Flying Eye Books and then started the first Mason Mooney graphic novel. The “Hilda” graphic novels gave her first opportunity to illustrate others’ ideas and learn that process. At one point she had to redo all the illustrations for the look they wanted.
“It was good for me to kind of step out of my comfort zone and stuff, but yeah, it was definitely stressful in the moment,” she said.
Her first published book she wrote and illustrated introduces Mason Mooney, who wants to be a paranormal investigator but is too scared of everything. He finds a witch to remove his heart, “so that it isn’t always just pounding in his chest, getting in the way of everything,” Miller said. Spoiler alert: He learns he needs his heart in the funny and silly story geared to elementary-age children.
Miller hopes anyone can connect with her stories, though she writes them for herself.
“It has to be fun for me and something that I would love to read,” she said.
Barnes & Noble listed “Mason Mooney” on its Young Reader Spooky Reads, its Halloween bestseller list. The book is also a staff pick at Powell’s City of Books, according to the Portland landmark bookstore website.
Miller is currently illustrating and writing her first of two middle grade graphic novels for Little, Brown Books.
“With a six-figure preempt, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ Andrea Colvin bought Seaerra Miller’s ‘Out There,’” according to Publishers Weekly in April.
The plot follows a girl on a road trip with her dad to meet with aliens he think abducted him is also a story about that age when you begin to see your parents as regular people with problems and flaws but love them anyway, Miller said.
“Even if there is usually kind of supernatural elements to my stories and stuff, at the core, they’re really human stories, I hope,” she said. “And that way, you know, everybody can connect to those kind of like big, common, life things.”
Storytelling and visual art have always gone hand in hand for Miller. As a kid, she’d draw stories about mermaids at Alcova Reservoir, where her family had a cabin. Her background growing up in Wyoming imbued her with a love of nature and remains an inspiration and influence on her work.
“It’s just such a magical place, and there’s just so many stories there,” she said.
The Casper native attended Oregon Trail Elementary School, CY Middle School, Natrona County High School and Casper College, where teachers along the way inspired her. An early one was her third- and fourth-grade teacher, who helped fuel Miller’s love for creative writing and was the first outside her family to tell her she has talent she could do something with in her future.
She discovered comics in junior high.
“And then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this way I can tell stories and draw them?’” she said. “It was like a really big moment for me to like discover that.”
She read Archie comics and her stepdad’s superhero comics. Then, an aunt sent her alternative comics that weren’t about superheroes, but all kinds of other things.
“And I was like, ‘You could tell any kind of story with comics,’” she said.
Miller’s childhood and family life was filled with storytelling through books as well as movies, like the old Westerns she delved into at her grandmother’s, she said. Miller’s biggest hero is her mom, who worked then as a school librarian and taught her to love books as she encouraged her in art.
Melanie Dawson knew her daughter would be an artist from the time Miller was a toddler who drew constantly. Dawson picked up recycling and extra dot matrix printer paper from businesses around town to keep Miller on paper. Miller won a local illustration and story competition contest when she was 8 years old and read her story on the radio.
Dawson has watched the first “Mason Mooney” book climb on the amazon.co.uk Best Sellers Rank in children’s graphic novel categories — including as high as No. 3 — since a large book release in England and Europe, she said.
“She just loves what she’s doing and she works on it nonstop,” Dawson said. “I mean, I had no idea really how many hours go into making a graphic novel, but it’s really time intensive. I think you really have to love it.”
Miller’s stories draw from memories of childhood and junior high, which she describes as “forever burned in my brain.”
“It’s just such a pivotal time,” she said. “And I can definitely remember going through a lot of angst and stuff at that age and wishing that I could go back and tell myself these things, and, you know, ‘It’s OK.’ Maybe it’s a little bit of my way to do that for myself.”
Casper College drawing and painting instructor Justin Hayward recalled Miller’s strong motivation to learn and work among the top of the class. She often took assignments beyond the requirements, and he’s used images of her work as examples.
Miller focused on children’s book illustration at college in Portland until a class in comics. She fell in love with creating in the genre, and the teacher encouraged her to pursue a career. She’s still a fan of comics and graphic novels, especially those more about everyday life than superheroes. There’s an explosion now of comics for children and middle schoolers, which she believes can give an entry into reading for kids who might be intimidated by chapter books.
“I think the stories that have always stuck with me are the ones that I discovered as a kid,” Miller said. “I just think that time in your life when you’re discovering books is so impactful.”
Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner
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