When spunky, romance novel-loving Penny's notoriously bad luck strikes again, she finds herself living in a storage unit with a middle school-aged boss - but that won't stop her from finding romance (and danger) in Lucky Penny ($19.99, 978-1-62010-287-9), the graphic novel collection of their web comic, published by Oni Press.
If Penny Brighton didn't have bad luck, she'd have no luck at all. She lost her job. And her apartment. In the same day. But it's okay, her friend has a cozy storage unit she can crash in. And there's bound to be career opportunities at the neighborhood laundromat—just look how fast that 12-year-old who runs the place made it to management! Plus, there's this sweet guy at the community center, and maybe Penny can even have a conversation with him without being a total dork. Surely Penny is a capable of becoming an actual responsible adult, and if she can do that her luck's bound to change! Right?
Lucky Penny debuted on creators Anath Hirsh and Yuko Ota's webcomic Johnny Wander, blending humor and slice-of-life situations with comic and manga tropes in a comic that's in turns humorous, action packed, and romantic. The new print collection features the entire run of the comic, with more shading and detail in the art.
Writer Hirsh and artist Ota discussed Lucky Penny with us via email, ofering insight into the comic, writing for the web, and where to find good romance fiction.
Lucky Penny is scheduled for March release and is suggested for Young Adult (13+) readers who enjoy slice-of-life, humor, and romance. (Click on the cover art for a preview of the graphic novel)
Could you introduce readers to Lucky Penny?
Ananth Hirsh: Sure! Lucky Penny is about Penny Brighton, a young twenty-something with extremely bad luck. She loses her job and apartment in the same day and decides it's a great idea to move into her friend's storage unit.
Yuko Ota: The story follows her exploits as she tries to piece her life back together in a myriad of ill-advised ways. There's a cute boy and a cat and adventure and romance!
Along with Lucky Penny, you've also done autobiographical comics on your site. Were there any real life inspirations/references in Lucky Penny?
Yuko: Haha there's definitely a few cameos in there. I think they'll be fun for people who are already familiar with our work! Keep an eye out for incidental and background characters.
Ananth: I don't want to point out anything specific because it's like… giving someone a Waldo book and they open it and you circled every Waldo. It's like that. Can I say Waldo? But yeah, a couple of things should pop out to longtime readers!
Romance novels play a large part in Penny's life. Were you familiar with those novels before, or did you have to "research" them for this story?
Yuko: I started reading romance novels as a part of doing research for Penny. It was really important to us that even though Lucky Penny is a comedy, the romance novel angle wasn't from a place of mockery. I listen to audiobooks while I work anyway and I got, uh, super hooked. I listen to a lot of romance novels these days. Like, a lot.
Ananth: Same– I read them for the first time as research for Lucky Penny (although at this point I haven't read as many as Yuko!). I had friends who read romance novels in high school and college, but I never picked one up. I think back then I probably thought they weren't for boys. And the vibe I got was that romance novels were kind of a secret shame (ESPECIALLY in high school). I guess it felt like a sacred space and I didn't want to encroach?? It was complicated! My experience seeing friends hide their books probably influenced Penny's brashness about it. She has no shame and I have infinite shame.
Did creating this as a web comic affect how you approached making it? Did you have a set script/breakdown in place, or was it a looser process?
Ananth: I wrote the original script with no breakdowns, which I never ever do anymore. It's crazy. It's insane. Why did I ever do that! Later changes got turned over to Yuko with pages and panels blocked out.
Yuko: Yeah, Ananth basically gave me a movie script and I wound up having complete control over the pacing. Which was trouble in the beginning because Lucky Penny was my first long-form story, so I had to figure it out as I went along. Despite the process, I'm really proud of the final book!
Without giving too much away, it seems that Lucky Penny references a few genres/styles in the story. Was this something you set out to do at the beginning, or did the comic just develop that way?
Yuko: It's probably all based off of whatever we were consuming at the time. A lot of it leaned into different kinds of romantic subgenres. There are panels that were based off fine artists I was really into at the time, specifically Ivan Bilibin and James Jean.
Ananth: I think it just developed that way… the shojo stuff is vocabulary at this point. I think the rule is, don't do a thing as a reference: use a convention because it effectively communicates something (so shojo bubbles=the feeling of lightness when your crush finally talks to you). The script said "Penny's crush on Walter is fully realized– shojo bubbles maybe?"– it was optional because the important thing was to get the right feeling across.
Yuko: I think the only reference that we leaned into really hard was Shakespeare. It's my favorite gag in the book.
Do you have a favorite romance novel?
Yuko: This is a tough question for me! I've read a lot of romance novels in the past couple of years and I can't say any single one sticks out as a favorite. I'm notoriously un-picky about the romance audiobooks I listen to; I actually choose based on the narrator. There are some narrators on Audible who I just find comforting to hear for 8-10 hours straight. If Rosalyn Landor has read an audiobook I will buy it sight unseen. I've listened to a lot of regency romances as a result, haha.
Ananth: One of the romance novels I read was called Dragon Heat, which ended up being a big influence on Penny's favorite novel. It's, like, super horny.
Anyway, everyone knows all the best romance is on AO3.
Yuko: Wait, can I change my answer to what Ananth said?