Available now from Fantagraphics, Tender is a compelling body horror graphic novel from Beth Hetland that you won't be able to put down. Drawing from her own personal experiences and inspired by a wide range of horror classics, Beth Hetland has crafted something really special in Tender and we have a preview you can read right now! Beth also took part in a Q&A, where we talk about the origins of the graphic novel, horror influences, and more!

What inspired the story of Tender and how did you end up teaming with Fantagraphic for your graphic novel debut?

The idea came from several places, not just one major inspiration. Some of it is pulled from my own anxieties and some of it is in response to events happening to people close to me. I get a lot of atmospheric inspiration from horror movies or eerie locations that creep me out. The sensation of being observed is one in particular that makes my skin crawl. Tender is an accumulation of little ideas that showed up in mini comics and self-published work I've been producing for the last ten or so years. It's funny to me that this book is a debut, which is true that this is my first book with a publisher but that the evolution of ideas, story, and visual inspiration come from making smaller experimental projects. As far as how working with Fantagraphics came about, it is a similarly long road of cultivating a relationship through smaller interactions. Since graduating from The Center for Cartoon Studies in 2011, I've been tabling at conventions regularly and putting out new work as often as possible. At least one new mini comic each year. I first met Gary at an Emerald City Comic Con around 2014 or 2015, and he complemented the design of some of my mini comics. Ever since, when I would see Gary or Eric at a show, I would make a point of saying hi and sharing my new work with them. Eventually, when I had Tender written, penciled, and ready to start sharing with people, I reached out and explained the book and why I thought it would be a good fit and asked if they wanted to see what I was up to. I'm condensing this timeline for the sake of clarity, but when I was about half way through inking the book, they had seen enough to make a decision and I am so grateful they did. Ultimately the answer to both parts of this question is through consistent, small, increments over time.

Can you talk about the development of this story and Carolanne? Did you have a definitive trajectory for Carolanne when you started developing this story? How did the story and characters evolve during the creative process?

When starting to work on this story there were very few things I knew for certain. One of them was that it was going to be a horror story, and the other was that I wanted a female protagonist. The various aspects of who Carolanne is slowly developed throughout writing and drawing. An important aspect of her character for me from very early on was that I wanted her emotional arc to be in direct contrast to the audience's. Without giving too much away, I wanted the disconnect between her, her reality, and ours to be very stark. The horror I love, both in prose and in film, has an element that is relatable. Keeping that in mind, I needed the reader to be able to follow Carolanne's logic, no matter how twisted, and to understand where she's coming from and why she does what she does. There were a lot of edits that I made about the final 15 pages or so to help hone in on that delicate balance. Some of my original ideas and approaches to the conclusion were a little too implausible and pushed the suspension of disbelief too far. In addition to the changes to the ending, there were pretty significant changes to Carolanne's friends. She has a core group of female friends and in early versions of the book, they were fairly generic and bland. I received some fantastic insight and advice from some very close friends and fellow cartoonists that helped shape them into the gal pals we see now. I think these changes to Carolanne and her friends ultimately aided in lending an empathetic read to this character.

I really love your use of colors and changes in panel composition to pull in the reader and unsettle them. I'd love to hear more about your approach.

Thanks so much! The color is strongly inspired by Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria. I love that movie and the way he approaches this candy-coated horror. There's something about the vibrancy of the color that makes things feel dream-like and unsettled. The visual dissonance paired with a soundtrack gives me goosebumps! I had been experimenting with color as a way to cause discomfort in a few mini comics and as Tender began to take shape, I knew this book should be in color. As for the panel compositions, I think a lot about pacing when making comics and the compositions of what is in the panels is just as important as the way they accumulate on the page. Comics has a unique aspect where the reader is actively participating in the experience of reading and that it can play with the simultinaity of the page. We get an overall view of what is on each page and page spread, but then we have to slow down to absorb what's happening in the story and each panel. I think the awareness of that push and pull of the reader's proximity to what's happening aids in the slow creep of the horror in my book. At least, that's what I hope happens.

What was your experience like working with Fantagraphics and how did that process impact the finished version of Tender?

If I'm being perfectly honest, having my book with Fantagraphics is a dream come true. I have admired the creators and books they've put out for so long that I am still pinching myself. My editor for Tender was Eric Reynolds and he was very supportive and trusted my vision with the book, he gave line edits and input on more logistical elements but I really appreciated that there was never a moment of trying to steer the story into a new direction. Kayla E. was the book designer I worked with and it was really fun to be able to pull books from both of our shelves to compare paper weights and nerd out about end tapes! Jacq and Lauren have been paramount to building the buzz and helping me book events, signings, readings, and conventions. There are so many more and having self-published for over a decade, I'm incredibly appreciative for every single person's hard work and attention on this book. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out!

I'd love to hear about some of your horror influences. Do you have a favorite body horror movie?

I have so many horror film favorites! The Brood, both Suspiria's (I would argue the 2018 one is more body horror than the 1977 one but I love them both for different reasons), Possession, RAW & Titane, The Thing (some may put this as more of a sci-fi), and all of Park Chan-Wook's films, though again I think there would be some debate over how they align (or don't) with body horror.


"Carolanne wanted a perfect wedding, a perfect husband, a perfect family. She carefully performs her own roles (gal pal, bestie, girlfriend, wife, and expectant mother) and in trying to enact agency over her life, sacrifices it completely. Her desire to control the uncontrollable ultimately becomes her undoing. When things don't go her way, she exerts dominance over the one thing she does have total control over: her body; until that "betrays" her. After suffering a horrible loss, Carolanne spirals into a literal, all-consuming delusion that will engross comics readers and horror aficionados alike.

Chicago cartoonist and educator Beth Hetland's graphic novel debut is a brilliant psychological thriller that tears down the wall of a genre — body horror — so often identified with male creators. Heady and visceral, Tender uses horrific tropes to confront women's societal expectations of self-sacrifice despite those traditional roles often coming at the expense of female sexuality and empowerment."

To learn more and purchase Tender, visit: https://www.fantagraphics.com/products/tender