Q&A: Brenna Thummler Discusses Bringing the SHEETS Trilogy to a “Perfectly Imperfect Conclusion” in Her New Graphic Novel LIGHTS

Looking to help their phantasmal friend learn more about his life before his premature death, Marjorie and Eliza join the friendly ghost Wendell for one more eerie adventure in the new graphic novel Lights, the third and final entry in Brenna Thummler’s Sheets trilogy. With Lights now available from Oni Press, we caught up with Brenna Thummler to discuss bringing the stories of Marjorie, Eliza, and Wendell to a “perfectly imperfect conclusion” in Lights and she reflects on the nine-year journey of creating the Sheets trilogy (which also includes 2018’s Sheets and 2021’s Delicates).

You can read our full Q&A with Brenna below, and we also have preview pages from Lights and the official press release with additional details. To learn more about Lights and the entire Sheets trilogy, visit Oni Press’ website!

Thank you for taking the time to answer questions for us, Brenna, and congratulations on your new graphic novel Lights, the third and last installment of your Sheets trilogy. When you initially started writing this trilogy, did you already have the story in mind for Lights, or did it come together while you were writing Sheets and Delicates?

Brenna Thummler: I wrote Sheets with no intention of writing more, though I always felt there was more to be said. Each book has been its own—it was never about splitting one story into three. Lights is Wendell’s story, and while the friendship of Marjorie and Eliza is deeply present, our ghostly hero is at the forefront.

Lights puts Wendell the ghost front and center as he teams up with his friends Marjorie and Eliza to find out what really happened to him when he was still alive. How important was it for you to explore Wendell’s backstory and really bring some type of closure to both his character and to readers?

Brenna Thummler: The first two books focus almost entirely on Marjorie’s and Eliza’s problems. Their healing took up a lot of space, and it still does in Lights. But Wendell, cheerful and lovable friend that he is, has spent all his energy helping these two, and he deserved the space to work through his own issues and get more much-needed attention from fans.

How have these characters grown over the course of this trilogy, and has your approach to writing and illustrating them changed at all over the past several years?

Brenna Thummler: Emotional growth is messy and takes time. The trilogy has allowed for a gradual, realistic progress as our three main characters have learned, above all, to be better friends. They’ve had to accept flaws, and I’ve really leaned into this. Over time, I’ve dug deeper into what makes each hero problematic, which has made them not only more human, but more admirable as they overcome their personal obstacles.

Was it more difficult writing Lights compared to Sheets and Delicates because you knew that you were saying goodbye to these characters?

Brenna Thummler: Surprisingly no! By book three, I knew the characters so well. They were writing themselves. Marj, Eliza and Wendell now tell me what they need to say and how they’ll respond to situations. That has made Lights the easiest to write, I think. It was difficult, though, to ensure I was giving everyone proper closure.

As you look back over the past six years that you’ve worked on the Sheets trilogy, what do these books and these characters mean to you, and how has this artistic journey impacted your life?

Brenna Thummler: The story of Sheets actually began to form in 2014, so I’ve had nine years with these characters. It was a time in which I was struggling mentally and needed to heal, and they began their healing process along with me. Marjorie, especially, has been my ride or die, and we’ve helped each other grow more confident. Through the trio, I have learned more about friendship, compassion, forgiveness, and fortitude. And the way readers have been able to connect with my stories has made me feel like I’m making some kind of positive impact on the world.

Have you been influenced or inspired by any other writers or artists in particular while creating the Sheets trilogy?

Brenna Thummler: Jillian and Mariko Tamaki have inspired my entire career. That’s a story for another time. I think more-so, I’ve been influenced by my favorite books growing up, which were sad and scary ones. I loved to be heartbroken by the likes of Bridge to Terabithia and Charlotte’s Web. (I’ve always loved imperfect endings.) And then I just read a lot of ghost stories. No one is surprised.

Even though Lights is being described as the final graphic novel featuring Marjorie, Eliza, and Wendell, would you ever consider revisiting these characters in the future if the right story idea or opportunity presented itself?

Brenna Thummler: I would consider doing side projects—perhaps a regular comic strip with continued adventures— but the trilogy stands. I think this book feels like the perfectly imperfect conclusion to each of their stories.

Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from Lights and the Sheets trilogy as a whole?

Brenna Thummler: Overcoming is a messy process. It’s okay to struggle if your intentions are right. You have to step outside yourself and consider how others are feeling. Lights, above all, is about friendship. It’s about the relationship between characters—the healing that comes from the care you give to one another, not just to yourself.

What has it been like to team up with Oni Press to release the Sheets trilogy over the past several years?

Brenna Thummler: I’ve been fortunate to have an editor in Grace Scheipeter, that’s for sure. We met in 2015 when we started interning at a publishing company in Kansas City, and had no clue that years later, we’d be working on my books together. She has put so much heart into my stories, and that has meant a great deal.

What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers and artists who are just getting started?

Brenna Thummler: Don’t ever try to be like another comic creator. I really only knew of the Tamakis’ work when I got started, and though they are incredible, I still wanted to be my own storyteller. I chose what I liked to write about: ghosts, mental health, nostalgia, and friendship. I directed the illustrations they way I felt was right, the best way I knew how. My advice is to do it your way and not anyone else’s!

With Lights now available, do you have any other projects coming up that you can tease? Also, where can our readers go online to keep up to date on your work?

Brenna Thummler: Yes! I’m writing and illustrating a new graphic novel with HarperAlley. It’s called Gumshoe, which follows an eleven-year-old named Willa who dreams of being a mailwoman, then finds herself on the road with a girl gang, attempting to catch an outlaw. I’m calling it a “post office western.” And you can find me on Instagram @brennathummler, Twitter (occasionally, with the same handle) and on my website at brennathummler.com

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Press Release: PORTLAND, OR – Oni Press, the multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning comic book and graphic novel independent publisher, has announced the much-anticipated release date for graphic novel Lights, on September 6, 2023. Lights follow the events of Sheets and Delicates, bringing Brenna Thummler’s characters, artwork, and ghostly charm back to life in the third and final installment of the Sheets trilogy. In Lights, Wendell will finally uncover the truth of his human life. Marjorie and Eliza will learn that some people really can change. Most of all, they start to see that everything can cast shadows, but if you look hard enough, you can find the light. For more information on the Sheets trilogy visitOni Press.

“Lights takes a small step outside of where the first two books have been, into a space that’s more snowy, sad, and suspenseful,” says creator Brenna Thummler. “With Wendell at the forefront, this book examines the complexities of relationships as all three protagonists grow more self-aware. These characters have lived in my headspace for the past six years, and in Lights especially, have made me record some of their most hard-hitting experiences. While there is always a sense of relief that comes from saying farewell to long-term house guests, there is also a heavy sort of emptiness, and it was important that I send them off the right way. Marjorie, Eliza, and Wendell have shaped me just as I have shaped them, and I hope readers will find a new kind of comfort in their final story.”

“Brenna has created a unique world you can’t help but want to live in with characters that feel like your own friends you’ve grown up with,” says editor Grace Scheipeter. “In Lights, readers will relate to Marjorie’s experiences looking ahead to high school, and all the nerve-racking and scary parts that go along with the dynamics of friendships during that big life change. And readers will also get a glimpse into Wendell’s human life as a young child, something that adds a whole new level of imagination and whimsy – but also a true touch of melancholy – to this beloved character. Lots of fans have been eager to get Wendell’s full story before his life as a sheet ghost, and they’ll finally get to dive into that now when they read Lights.”

Thummler’s work has been celebrated both by critics and community including Sheets was selected as one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2018 followed by Delicates accolades including an American Library Association 2021 nominee for Best Graphic Novels for Children and a 2021 Cybil Award nomination.

The critics on Sheets:

“This heartfelt, lingering tale of friendship, family, and forgiveness will captivate children and adults alike, especially those who have experienced loss.” – School Library Journal

“…a subtle, gentle work that expresses empathy and warmth even while depicting life’s more painful experiences.” —Shelf Awareness

“Thummler’s debut graphic novel tempers references to Marjorie’s adult-size responsibilities with a lighter splash of the supernatural to create a smart story about friendship and grit.” – Publishers Weekly

“Sheets is one of those magical books that kids and adults can enjoy. The art is lovely; the story poignant.” – Time

Critical acclaim for Delicates:

“An original exploration of what it means to be seen and accepted.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Delicates tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those left on the outside. It shows what it’s like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing help and light to those who need it most.” – Multiversity

“It’s Freaks and Geeks with talking sheets; and although the characters sometimes speak with a wisdom that seems beyond their years (the 13-year-olds can feel like therapists for the adults) the book makes some important observations about paying attention to what those around us say and do, rather than what we imagine their story might be.” – The Stranger

“Delicates is a sophisticated, beautiful graphic novel that gets to the heart of being a teenager.”

– Foreword Reviews, starred review

Book Description

Marjorie Glatt’s life was forever changed the day she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. One of those ghosts was Wendell: a lonely phantom turned Marjorie’s best friend. When he and Marjorie are joined by ghost enthusiast Eliza Duncan, the three friends band together in friendship, bravery, and all things paranormal.

Wendell died far too young and now must wander the Land of Humans with nothing more than a sheet for a body. He knows how he died—a tragic drowning accident—but lately he’s grown curious about his past life. He wants to know more about why he died, not just how he died. It’s not easy, though, since Wendell’s memory of his human life has grown increasingly blurry. With Marjorie and Eliza’s help, they set out on a journey to find out more. When they hear a rumor about Wendell’s death, they wonder if it might not have been an accident after all. Meanwhile, Marjorie and Eliza’s friendship is tested when Marjorie starts to befriend the very people who used to bully Eliza.

Lights will be available in paperback (ISBN: 978-1-63715-231-7), at both digital and physical retailers everywhere on September 6, 2023.

About the Creator

Brenna Thummler has always known her life is haunted. Much like Marjorie Glatt, she grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, where piano practice and ghost stories were part of her daily routine. It wasn’t until she attended Ringling College of Art and Design, however, that she realized her passion for storytelling (as well as her hatred of laundry). Now back in her hometown, she spends her days drawing, writing, and suspicious of her sheets.

About the Publisher

The Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group is a premier comic book and graphic novel publisher located in Portland, Oregon. Merged with Lion Forge Comics in 2019 but established in 1997, Oni Press publishes a thoughtfully curated line of award-winning original and licensed graphic novels and comic books for readers of all ages. Notable titles from the Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group include: The Tea Dragon Society, Sheets, Gender Queer, A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, Scott Pilgrim, and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty™.

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