Growing up is difficult wherever and whenever you live. The teenage years are particularly trying, as you’re in that liminal space between childhood and adulthood and you’re desperately longing to know who you are and your place in the world. This is something that S.E. Case addresses and addresses nimbly and beautifully in her webcomic Rigsby WI. Set in the eponymous Upper Midwest town, Rigsby WI focuses on teens living in the area in the 2000s and wrestling with issues ranging from relationships to bullying to poverty and bigotry.

Case recently partnered with Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics to launch a BackerKit campaign to bring a print version of Rigsby WI: Volume 1 – Foothold to life. I spoke with S.E. Case recently about the conceit of Rigsby WI, drawing on growing up in the 1990s-2000s for the story, the BackerKit itself, and the universal experience of finding out who you are.

Rigsby WI is such a special look at becoming who you want to be and the detours and roadblocks that seem monumental—and sometimes are monumental—you encounter along the way, and anyone who’s ever experienced that will want to back this book.


RIGSBY WI: Volume 1 – FOOTHOLD cover


FreakSugar: For folks who might not be familiar with the comic, what can you tell us about Rigsby WI?

S.E. Case: Rigsby WI is a coming-of-age series about a group of outsider teens living in a small Northwoods town in the early 2000s. It’s very much a character-driven story, with the cast dealing with a lot of standard teen issues (bullying, relationships, struggles for independence) while also grappling with larger issues (bigotry, poverty, trauma). I wanted to create an authentic, unsanitized story with realistic characters, naturalistic dialogue and a good balance of drama and levity.

FS: We meet a robust cast in the series. What can you tell us about the characters populating the world of Rigsby WI?

SEC: It focuses mainly on a group of misfit teens and their friends, families and peers. There’s artistic Jeordie, who struggles to gel with the hyper-masculine culture of their rural town; musically-inclined Beth, Jeordie’s neighbor, who lives with her aunt and is homeschooled after being expelled from two schools; and Anna, a somewhat anti-social honor student who lives with her extremely hands-off mother in the home of a family friend. Living in a small conservative town, they view many of the adults in their lives as antagonists. It’s hard for them to find other people they can relate to, but when they find someone they can truly be themselves around, they hold on tight.

FS: There is a lot of exploration of how we choose to present ourselves to different groups—be they family or friends—and how that varies from group to group. Looking back at my teen years, that resonated hard with me. How did you approach how you wanted to tackle that?

SEC: I think it’s a pretty common experience when you’re young, figuring out who you are, and then figuring out who you want to share that information with — and it’s part of why I set the comic in a fairly conservative part of the Midwest. I lived in rural Northern WI for about six years and there was a lot I loved about it, but there were definitely parts of myself I needed to hide or tamp down for the sake of self-preservation. Teenagers, especially those in marginalized groups, have to do this a lot. I’ve lived my whole life in smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and they’re not as homogenous as you would think, but because deviance from the norm is often not encouraged, it can be extremely hard to find your peers. It seemed like a perfect setting to explore how teens develop identities, and what happens when those identities need to be repressed for the sake of survival.



FS: Did you grow up in the 1990s-2000s? If not, as someone who was a teen in the 1990s, you nailed the era.

SEC: I did! I’m pretty much the same age as the main cast, I was 15 years old in 2002. For the sake of authenticity and accuracy, I wanted to be able to draw from my own experiences and memories as much as possible, so I set it in the early 2000s. It still feels sort of weird to me that it’s considered a “period piece”, but I guess it was over 20 years ago.

FS: The look of the series is just gorgeous. How did you decide to mix the different styles present in the comic?

SEC: Webcomics are a great way to push yourself and develop your skills, and I knew Rigsby was going to be a long-ish series, so I decided to develop a different style for each volume. I wanted the style to reflect the feeling or season of each chapter — volume 1 is full of oranges and golds and chilly fall foliage; volume 2 is cold, isolating greyscale winter, volume 3 is bright and loud blocks of color and texture, and volume 4 is detailed, intimate and soft. It’s a great way to expand your skills and ensure you don’t get bored of the process (and I think it helps readers feel like they’re always getting something fresh, too).

FS: You spent part of your youth in the Upper Midwest. Have you drawn on your childhood when creating Rigsby WI? Do we see any of you in the individual characters?

SEC: I grew up in southeastern Minnesota — I didn’t move to Wisconsin until I was 21 and spent the entirety of my 20s there (although at this point I could probably consider my 20s a part of my “youth”). I did draw a lot on my own experiences and things I observed in my peer group/community as a teenager, although very few plot points or stories are direct retellings of things that happened in my youth. There are pieces of myself in all of the main characters, whether it’s in their personality, feelings or experiences. Sometimes the funnest parts of the comic to write are when certain characters embody some of my worst teenage traits. It’s easy to think about your younger self and cringe, but putting those cringy elements into a character imbues them with a sense of realness. Because I’m in my late 30s and a parent, I also find myself relating to some of the parents in the series; Jeordie’s mom in particular has a lot of my own anxieties about parenting. Some of the parents in this series are really crappy. While I very much hope I am a better parent than they are, having the base experience of being a parent really does help inform their characters. While I definitely have made different choices than a lot of the parent characters, knowing firsthand the struggles that come with having children (especially when you don’t have a lot of money or resources) has been very helpful in figuring out their motivations and actions.

FS: What has been your approach for adapting the webcomic for book form?

SEC: The comic is segmented into 100-200 page volumes/chapters, so that translates really nicely into a printed series. I knew I wanted it to be printed at some point, so I tried to write the story and create the pages and layouts to be conducive to that. Because webcomics traditionally update page by page, it’s natural to try to pace it so that audiences don’t get bored — but when translated into print, the pacing and transitions seem off. I really had to train myself to let the pages flow together more naturally, because my initial inclination when making webcomics is for each page/update to end on a joke or dramatic beat (so that each update is satisfying). So…getting the pacing right has been the trickiest part of the writing process, but so far I have only had to make minor adjustments to a few transitions to get it to read well in a printed format.



FS: What are you reading right now?

SEC: Probably the webcomic that I’m refreshing the most these days is What Happens Next by Max Graves. It’s about a terminally online dude who was an accomplice to a murder as a teen, and all the true crime YouTubers, gore bloggers and serial killer stans he encounters while trying to process the things he did as a teen. The story is told through short vignettes, Tumblr snippets/comments, and bits of YouTube videos. The characters feel very real, and the story is incredibly engaging in a horrifying way.

FS: On to the BackerKit, what can you tell us about the crowdfunding campaign?

SEC: The campaign will go live in April and run for a month. Through the crowdfund, you’ll have the opportunity to buy a pdf of the book, the physical book, or even commissioned artwork by me! There are also some stretch goals/rewards that we’re hoping to roll out about a week into the campaign, so keep an eye out for those.

FS: If you had a final pitch for Rigsby WI – Volume 1, what would it be?

SEC: If you’ve ever stolen sunglasses from the mall out of compulsive pettiness, regretfully lost your virginity in a car, or bought church lady clothes to wear to homecoming as a joke because you couldn’t find a dress that fit, then Rigsby WI Volume 1 is definitely the book for you.

The BackerKit campaign for Rigsby WI – Volume 1: Foothold is now live and has already met its funding goal with over three weeks left in the campaign. Check out this poignant, charming, heartfelt comic that will leave you laughing and crying and hungry for more.