INTERVIEW/REVIEW: Illegal Broom Racing, Ancestral Magic and Magical Girls – Brooms from Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall
Magic that is influenced by culture and heavily policed by a bigoted society, Brooms weaves a coming-of-age story set in an alternate reality where every-day people have magic. We sat down with the creative team behind the graphic novel and got in-depth about root magic, American racism, historical aesthetics and how powerful people of color are, especially under oppression. Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall pour so much time, research and love into this book and it shows.
Brooms surprised me with how much it grabs you and holds you close, building a world that almost feels like it actually existed. Each character has her own struggle, triumph and goal she’s managing. Rebellion is a common thread throughout the novel. Rebelling from the confines of gender norms, from laws infringing on bodily autonomy, from fear of losing your freedom, all which still rings true in our reality, in 2023.
The variety of magic displayed in the book is dazzling, thanks to DuVall’s beautiful art. Nods to magical girl transformations and deeply cool broomwork balance this book out. Despite some heavy topics and imagery, it’s actually a sweet, humorous book that is perfect for anyone over the age of 12.
Interview edited for clarity. Mild spoilers ahead.
It’s 1930s Mississippi. Magic is permitted only in certain circumstances, and by certain people. Unsanctioned broom racing is banned. But for those who need the money, or the thrills…it’s there to be found.
Jasmine Walls: Well, you know, if I was talking my family history, what would the people who are in those communities go through? If this was a world with magic in it? What would that look like? That was kind of the very first spark of what made me want to do it in that time period.
Vanessa: I loved seeing a wide variety of identities from Black to Choctaw to Chinese and even some Chicano representation. What was the decision behind showing that kind of representation?
Jasmine: When you have indigenous identities, they are so often ignored, especially if you’re doing a setting in [North] America, in a historical setting. Those communities were so heavily affected that you can’t just gloss over it. If I’m trying to tell a story specifically about people of color in this setting, in this time period, to ignore them would be kind of hypocritical. Because Black and indigenous history is so intertwined in the U.S., I really wanted to honor that by showing just how intertwined they were throughout the time period. It was important to me to have a lot of mixed families as well.
Teo: It makes a difference when creators are mixed. Jasmine and I are both biracial. Very early on, she had originally talked about Luella being mixed, but we hadn’t really tapped it down. Then, since I’m Chicanx, Jasmine was like, would you like Luella’s dad to be Mexican or Mexican-American? We can incorporate some food scenes with that. I was like, oh hell yes. It was really thoughtful of Jasmine to say, we haven’t represented Chicano culture in this book. I was able to tell Jasmine about some cooking stuff, like the scene with the masa. I said, we can draw molcajete, a really nice touch.
Teo: It’s something that I’ve never really experienced with a writer before. Incorporating your culture into the script of this book, it’s like so cool, but also felt so normal that we would have a bunch of mixed people, because like a lot of mixed people exist.
Vanessa: Because of the different cultures represented, their magic looks a lot different than the more white or Latin-centered focus of magical media in the past. How did you guys come up with the different spell casting styles? The diversity of magic is really cool.
Jasmine: When it comes to the magic, it was another thing that was very intentional as I wanted there to be a huge variety, I did not want to build a world where everybody uses the same kind of magic. I wanted a world where people had magic heavily influenced by their own cultures, their own religions, their own process of using it. We definitely have root magic in there. At this big pagan convention in California, I learned a ton about all these different, smaller religions and spiritualities. So I took some of that. I’m pulling from the very obvious, big-name, medical school-type stuff where it’s always in Latin. Always very European.
Jasmine: One of my big influences was The Color Purple, at the very end when she throws the curse, the hex. Pulling things from everywhere. We were really careful not to go into detail with indigenous magic, because that is a very real, spiritual sense. That’s not something we wanted to intrude on.
Teo: Jasmine is the one who sketched the runes at the Witch’s Cackle and the symbol for hiding them and actually I just used those, because I really liked that. Definitely a touch of Nordic paganism.
“From the start, I was like every girl needed to have a happy ending.”
Teo: You mentioned magical girls because my spouse’s hyperfixation of a few months was Sailor Moon. We watched a little bit of the original anime, then we watched all of Sailor Moon Crystal. We’ve watched a few others. I liked the aesthetic. I loved the transformation scenes. I definitely felt that influence when I was drawing the pages and my spouse would come over and say, ‘this is like Sailor Moon’ and I was like yes because it’s all we’re watching. I close my eyes and always see magical transformations. I really wanted them to have fun. It’s just about the girls having fun and getting to be teenagers. Of course they would have something flashy to show their broom because they’re cute teens.
Jasmine: I think it’s the perfect meld of practicality and fun. Where they have to hide these things [brooms] when they’re not there. They can’t have their brooms out in the open, they can’t just carry them. So, how do we have them bring that up, but not be like a depressing topic? Let’s make it fun and flashy. Give them a little pizzazz. I think Teo did a fantastic job of that.
Vanessa: Each character has a great arc and their own journey to follow. But Cheng Kwan’s in particular stood out to me. The small scene with the younger girls, her moment meeting Billie Mae, Loretta, her coming out to her parents, and how her story overall unfolds was really well-done. How do you go about creating those authentic moments with delicacy?
Jasmine: From the start, I was like every girl needed to have a happy ending. In a lot of indigenous cultures, gender is not binary. So part of the reason Maddie and Emma are immediately accepting is because that makes sense, it’s not unusual. They can understand why it’s dangerous, outside of their own home. But at the same time, this is not in any way a bad thing for us to think about. She’s our teammate. That’s all we need to know. That’s why they’re very quick to accept.
Jasmine: There was a lot of worry for Cheng Kwan, when to tell her parents, which is why she’s in the races. She had this dual conflict where she didn’t want to abandon her family, but also might not be given the choice. She was trying to prepare for the worst possible scenario, then got a nice surprise, because she didn’t have to do that. There’s still that danger in the new world they’re in. So her parents recognize that they’re going to move somewhere where she can be who she is, without drawing unwanted attention. I wanted her to have just as happy an ending as the other girls in a way that it feels authentic. I didn’t want her to have to struggle more than they were already struggling.
Teo: For me, as a trans person of color… with trans stories, it’s so easy to just write the parents as being not accepting, when that’s not the case for everyone. People contain multitudes, everyone’s different. Even with the timeframe, trans people have always existed. It’s not like it’s been a secret until recently, we’ve always been around in the world and different cultures. I really appreciated that Jasmine wrote Cheng Kwan’s story the way she did, because there could’ve been parents who would’ve been accepting.
Teo: My mom is indigenous Mexican. When I came out to her as trans, she was accepting, she was confused and had questions. That could be the case for any parent in any time period in any cultural background. So it meant a lot to me. When I read the script, I thought this is a fantastic trans representation. Also, a really good representation of a person of color coming out. I think it was a really accurate portrayal of the many different ways of coming out and accepting someone coming out. You don’t really get to see that with people of color and in historical settings.
Vanessa: Because of the time period, is it hard to write stories that are in like these deeply racial, bigoted environments? Is that triggering for you to write stories like that? Especially when times haven’t changed all that much.
Jasmine: It can be, it’s definitely a fine line. For me, usually, it’s not the writing, it’s the research, because sometimes you can stumble across things you were not intending to stumble across. There’s a lot of photos that are not pleasant to stumble upon, especially when looking at Black history in the U.S. For me, making sure that I mentally prepare myself as I do my research. When I’m writing, I know things are going to be okay. With that in mind, that helps a lot, because I have full control of what’s gonna happen, I know the characters are going to be okay.
Brooms is a heartwarming, fast-paced, magical story that a lot of people will be able to relate to. The graphic novel is available October 10, 2023.