Night and Dana: An Interview with Author Anya Davidson

Climate change, film, and coming-of-age: the new graphic novel Night and Dana pulls no punches. When special-effects obsessives Dana and Lily begin work on an eco-horror movie, tempers flare. But as everything starts going up in flames, Dana begins to forge her voice as a climate activist.

Author and artist Anya Davidson joins us today on the Lerner blog to discuss her process, Boca Boca, and her hopes for young readers. Keep reading to see some in progress sketches!

Dana, the book’s protagonist, and her best friend Lily, are mandated by their principal to take a community college film class, after staging a gory prank on school grounds.  Where did you get the idea for that inciting incident?

In Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, King describes being punished, as a high school sophomore, for  satirizing his teachers in the school newspaper. His principal gave him detention, but a guidance counselor, understanding he needed a creative outlet, helped him land a job as a sportswriter for the local paper, where he thrived. I found that anecdote really moving.  Before I started teaching college, I taught after-school art classes at a handful of public schools around Chicago. I saw how  strongly kids benefited from art classes, and how severely school arts programs had been cut due to lack of funds. Every kid deserves access to arts education.

Night and Dana is set in a fictional South Florida town called Boca Bella. Is Boca Bella based on a real place?

I was born in Sarasota, Florida, and lived for a few years on Boca Grande, a small community on nearby Gasparilla Island.   Although we moved away when I was little, my mother and I frequently returned to the area to visit family friends. There was a close-knit community of painters and ceramicists there who encouraged my creativity as a child, and really influenced my life’s trajectory. Gasparilla Island has since been heavily developed for tourism, and all of Southwest Florida has been negatively affected by red tide and rising sea levels. Boca Bella is a composite of Sarasota and Boca Grande as they are now, how I remember them from childhood, and a lot of creative license.

Does the activist group in Night and Dana, Anchorwatch, have any real-world analogues?

I live on the South Side of Chicago. Residents in my neighborhood, McKinley park, are very concerned that an asphalt plant, Mat Asphalt, which produces harmful emissions,  is situated directly across from a school and a park.   They formed a group, Neighbors for Environmental Justice,  to raise awareness about environmental racism in the area, and to put pressure on local government. 

Shortly before I conceived of Night and Dana, I attended a protest against Mat Asphalt. Some members of the Sunrise Movement spoke at that event, and I was excited to learn about that group, created by and for young activists. Often, in the media, protesters are portrayed as extremists, but the activists I know are concerned citizens. They’re teachers, students, librarians, nurses, parents.  Issues like global climate change are so big, they can seem intractable, which is why I think it it’s helpful to engage on a community level.

Extinction Rebellion was another model. They’d been getting attention in the press for staging really performative protests. The puppet troupe in the book is inspired by Bread and Puppet, the radical puppet troupe founded by Elka and Peter Schumann in 1963. 

Can you talk more about the role of film in the story?

In your teens, if you have any creative ambition, you’re starting to develop some media literacy, and you’re starting to understand the power of storytelling. As a final project in their film class, Dana and Lily must make a short film on the topic of their choice. I wanted to show them considering what stories to tell about the world around them.  I’m not a filmmaker but I’m a lifelong horror buff. I think horror and speculative fiction generally are really effective vehicles to talk about social issues-directors like Guillermo del Toro, Jordan Peele, and Bong Joon-ho have demonstrated that recently.

Ultimately, Dana and Lily choose to tell different stories, and that causes some conflict between them, but that diversion is a fundamental step in their personal growth.

If readers could take away one message from the book, what would it be?

When I’m teaching, I often tell my students that the real key to success is finding community. That holds true in art, activism and every other facet of life. At the beginning of the book, Dana feels  isolated, and it causes her a lot of pain. By the end, she has a ‘found family’ of likeminded people she can turn to for advice and encouragement. I really hope that young people, especially those who’ve had the experience of feeling alienated, come away from reading the book feeling that no matter what their personal strengths or interests, there’s a community waiting to embrace them.  I’m very shy, and I have a lot of social anxiety, so I understand how daunting it can seem, but sometimes finding that community involves stepping a little off the beaten path, or putting yourself out of your comfort zone.

Final sketches from Night and Dana

Take a look at the final sketches from the first chapter!

Praise for Night and Dana

“Davidson gives this relatable coming-of-age tale an alt vibe with a retro, high-contrast color palette similar to newspaper comics and a boldly provocative art style.” —Booklist

“With a color palette reminiscent of old comics and an artistic style that will evoke strong reactions from readers, Dana’s friendship drama is one that teens will easily relate to. . .”—Kirkus Reviews

“In a retro style reminiscent of Archie comics, Davidson. . . fashions characters who are convincingly relatable.” —Publishers Weekly

“[C]enters on an important, real-life issue, allowing readers to see their own concerns reflected back to them.” -The Mary Sue

Connect with Anya

Anya Davidson is freelance comic journalist and comic book author based in Chicago. She has worked with the Chicago Reader and the Newberry Library. Her graphic novels include School Spirits (2013), Band for Life (2016), and Lovers in the Garden (2016).

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