Lucy Knisley is probably a genius. In addition to being an author, comic book artist, illustrator, and total Harry Potter nerd, she’s also apparently a crowdsourced funding expert. In fact, Knisley and her friend and fellow artist Nora Renick-Rinehart just got back from a trip to Orlando, where they checked out the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter theme park for several days. The best part? The whole thing was paid for by strangers via Kickstarter.
Knisley’s just put out a comic book about the duo’s adventures, complete with Hogwarts house-colored covers for total fans. The A.V. Club talked to Knisley about her Florida adventure, from Harry Pottering around to swimming with manatees.
The A.V. Club: How did you come up with this whole project?
Lucy Knisley: My roommate [Nora Renick-Rinehart] and I got really into Harry Potter together. We moved in together after big breakups, and that was part of how we got through it, like just watching the movies, reading the books, and being disgusting breakup people in our pajamas for a month. We were in the midst of that, and we were talking about the Wizarding World and how it was just too bad that people like us, in their 20s, who are artists, single, and don’t have families just don’t really have the ability to go to Orlando. Like, go to a theme park? That’s not for us. We’d love to go, though. We’d love to have an excuse. Like, what kid can we commandeer?
Anyway, so we started joking around saying that most people’s jobs take them places to do those jobs. So, because we’re experiential artists, what if we raise the money to go and do this as an art experience. Like a grant-funded art trip. A business trip to Harry Potter land. It was a joke first, but then we thought that we could actually consider doing this, and there was so much interest in the park and in Harry Potter among our collective readers and people who know our work, so we thought if we could pre-sell the comic… well, that’s where we got the Kickstarter idea.
AVC: How did you come to be a Harry Potter fan, personally?
LK: I read the first book when I was 14. I was a freshman in High School, and it was interesting because I was around the same age as the kids in the book, and then I just grew up with it. It was there through my adolescence, my development, and has been there as long as I’ve been dating. And it’s something my roommate and I have associated with into adulthood. Like, we chose to be into it as adults, even though it might be meant for adolescents.
There’s no shame in being into Harry Potter for me, though. I don’t consider it to be for kids or to be immature. I have a new appreciation for the books as an adult and the fandom just expanded through art school, especially when I was learning about conceptual theory and societal theater, and just how we look at pop culture in general.
AVC: So you don’t think it’s for kids, but you think the theme park’s for kids?
LK: The barriers to the theme park, for me, were monetary, really. There’s no other reason to go to Orlando other than if you have a kid, and think, “Oh, he would really like it.”
My roommate and I are both artists and we don’t make a lot of money. We don’t even go on vacation. I go to comic conventions, but that’s most of the travel I do. The idea of going on any sort of vacation as tourism was foreign to us, and part of the whole experience was that foreign behavior. Just, like, extraneous spending and a consumer visit to this Mecca of consumerism.
AVC: Did you have a good time? You picked a good time to go—January—compared to being in Chicago.
LK: We were studying public school schedules and stuff to figure out when most kids would be back in session. We had a real scientific method to figure out when the fewest people would be there. There was apparently some holiday for Brazilian people during the time we were there, and there were lots of Brazilians in Orlando, but it was fine. We’d heard horror stories before of four-hour lines and not being able to move in the streets, and it was still pretty crowded on the weekends and crush-y in the stores, but the ride lines were totally reasonable. We picked a good time to go.
AVC: And you went swimming with manatees!
LK: Part of the incentive for supporters on Kickstarter was that we said we would do that and document it. It became a comparative thing between going to the parks—which is a simulated experience—versus an experience that’s not easy to replicate with a wild animal. It was mostly just because I really wanted to go and we were in a state where you could actually do it.
AVC: Speaking of supporters, you made well over your original Kickstarter goal…
LK: Thank God we made that much money, because we totally under-budgeted. We didn’t know how the money gets away from you. It was so much money to go there and be there and feed ourselves, and do things we wanted to do.
AVC: Did you get to do other stuff in Orlando? Like did you go to Disney?
LK: One of our readers down there is a really nice girl who works at Disney, and she got us in to the parks for a day. She was our guide there, too. She lives in Celebration, FL, which is the Disney town, and she told us all this inside information like about how the parks are run, and how Orlando’s economy revolves around them. That’s all in the comic.
AVC: Why do you think you raised so much money? Harry Potter fans seem pretty rabid.
LK: A lot of the donations came from people who follow my comic online, and I think, in general, I’m really nerdy about my fandoms, and so that comes out in my work. My readers feel similarly about a lot of the things I’m into.
Harry Potter’s such a global phenomenon. I totally capitalized, of course, with this comic.
I don’t want to step on J.K. Rowling’s toes of course, so this comic is about the park and our personal experiences. It’s a travelogue. A lot of people who read my comics are like me—young—and can’t afford to go. They’re really interested, but they don’t have the resources or time or motivation. A lot of people who donated were in that crowd.
AVC: What was the actual park like?
LK: It was totally overstimulating. I work from home, so being in a giant crowd of people is wild. We got there, and it was just amazing how every aspect of it was designed and controlled. My roommate and I have worked in theater making props and sets, so we were hyper-aware of what they’d done setting the scene. Like, they had snow on all the rooftops in Florida. They had pine trees growing around the castle. We were like, “These are totally not native. How did they get them to grow?” Our Disney friend told us that they’re actually other kinds of trees pruned to look coniferous.
There are a lot of secret jokes about the books and the movies in the park, things that people who know them really well will know. A background item from a movie, and so on.
AVC: What’s next for you now that this project is done?
LK: I’m working on a book about food and growing up with a mom who was a professional chef. That’s my main thing right now. My roommate and I are collaborating on T-shirt designs, too. She’s a printmaker.
You know, the park was right down the road from the Holy Land Experience, a biblical theme park, so I went there at one point during the trip. Nora refused to go. She was all, “I’m gay. Not going to happen,” so I went by myself, and it was really interesting. I mean, it’s right down the road from the Harry Potter park, which clearly has this huge gravitational pull. It’s made more money than anything Universal’s done in years. That park’s actually in Islands Of Adventure, and you have to walk through these other “islands” to get to the Wizarding World, and a lot of them are completely deserted, and then Harry Potter’s bustling.
Anyway, it was interesting to see the crowds comparatively at the Holy Land Experience. I wanted to talk to people about the parks and economical competition versus spiritual competition, and also about how a lot of people think Harry Potter’s about the devil and sorcery, and all that. I talk about that a bunch in the comic.
AVC: What are the other islands at Islands Of Adventure?
LK: I’ll tell you the ones we walked through, because those were a little more “adult.”
There’s a comic book themed island that’s like, “making comics come to life,” and “the funny pages were never this fun.” It was so weird, like, this is what people think about comics. It’s so disconnected to my connection to the medium and how I feel about it. It was mainly Spiderman, The Hulk, The Family Circus, Marmaduke. Nora turned to me at one point and said, “This is the pinnacle of your career. You can only hope to get to this point.” It was so weird.
There’s a Jurassic Park island. That should give you an idea of the last time Universal had a big hit on their hands at Islands Of Adventure. It’s super cheaply made, that island. There are something like three dinosaurs coming out of foliage and a log flume. It hasn’t been updated since 1996.
There’s another island called, like, “the lost world,” that’s like Indiana Jones with fake gypsy dancers and stuff. There’s a Dr. Seuss island…
AVC: Was the Wizarding World everything you expected it to be?
LK: It’s definitely a theme park of the movies, not the books. We talked to the Disney girl about licensing and what Universal’s limited by. Universal Studios owns the theme park rights to the movie, not the book. J.K. Rowling is consulted, of course, but it’s themed after the movies. There’s nothing there that the movies don’t have. Plus, it’s set in the fourth movie, Goblet Of Fire. There’s no future stuff, nothing from the seventh book. They had to pick a time to model after and develop, and the last movie hasn’t even come out yet, so they couldn’t do up through the whole series.
We talked to a park employee there, though, and she gave us secret information. She said they’re expanding the park to include Diagon Alley. They’re going to take over more of The Islands Of Adventure, which is rad. I don’t know if that means they’re going to develop it after the fourth movie or what, but I’m interested.