All-Ages or Small-Ages #29 (Mossy #1 by Kieran Shiach and Traci Shepard)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

This resurrected feature will resume its original format in the coming weeks, but this introductory soft-reboot will have a different approach. It features an interview with one of the creators as well as a chance to help with the creation of a very unique piece of work.

Kieran Shiach made a name for himself online by serving as an assistant editor for the much-missed Comics Alliance,  but following its closure has set up home at the well-known Polygon and The Guardian. Not content to stop there, Shiach has now struck out as a content creator of his very own, teaming up with talented newcomer Traci Shepard, and created a Kickstarter for his all-ages book, Mossy. I was fortunate enough to sit down him and discuss his new project, which has just gone live on Kickstarter, and find out about his influences and exactly what makes Mossy stand out from the crowd.

Mark Dickson: For those who haven't read the Kickstarter yet, what is the basic premise of Mossy?

Kieran Shiach: The elevator pitch that I've been using for Mossy is "Calvin and Hobbes if Hobbes was Man-Thing". 

Mossy is about a little girl name Sam who loves all kinds of cryptids, monsters, fairies and myths and after her family moves home, she goes exploring in the nearby swamp where she discovers that all of those things are true! There she meets an eight-foot tall swamp monster, who protects the land and makes sure none of the bad monsters try to make a break for it to the outside world. Together they team-up to stop a particularly troubling group of terrible trolls.

What makes Mossy stand out from the normal all-ages crowd?

Kieran Shiach: Mossy is a horror comic, which I don't think you see a whole lot of in all-ages comics. We tried to walk the line to make sure it's not too scary, but it still has all the same thrills and exciting stuff that comes with the horror genre. A lot of it is about standing up to monsters and showing them who's boss, so hopefully it has more of a message aside from the fun story we're telling. It'd be nice if this could be an introduction for horror as a genre to kids, but I still think parents should read it first and judge if it's right for their children.

You've made a name for yourself as someone who provides commentary on mainstream publications. What made you want to make the jump to creator?

Kieran Shiach: I've actually been working on comics, or attempting work on comics, for a couple of years now, back before anyone knew me for my work as a comics critic. I've written since I was young, and I've always wanted to write comics, but none of the projects I worked on ever really panned out before. Comics have always been my favorite medium, but I can't draw to save my life, so it's been a case of waiting for the right collaborators to work with and bring these ideas to life.

Are there any mainstream comic properties that influence your writing on this series?

Kieran Shiach: The most inspiring stuff for me might not be the most mainstream, but I'm really inspired by my friends that make comics and I'm in awe of their storytelling abilities. My bud James Lawrence has an amazing superhero/luchador series called The Legend of La Mariposa that's been a huge inspiration and something that people should check out. Jon Morris edits a yearly Halloween anthology called Boo! that's always fantastic and a big inspiration when it comes to how to approach horror from a number of different angles. 

In terms of more mainstream work, Calvin and Hobbes, obviously. Bone is another big one; it's kinda the king of all-ages comics. I really like world-building so, while it's not all-ages, I'll always have the work of Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman in the back of my head too. Oh, and Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca! That's my favorite comic right now and it does a phenomenal job of building up this huge alternate world that feels so lived in and real.

How did you find artist Traci Shephard and what was it about their art that made you want to work with them?

Kieran Shiach: Traci, I believe, was a fan of my podcast Journey Into Misery and did some fan-art for a couple of different dumb things we talked about on the show, which is where I first encountered her art. I loved what I saw, so I followed her on Twitter and Tumblr and saw that she did an amazing series called Critter Compendium where she'd draw different obscure cryptids from around the world and talk about their story and their place in whatever culture they came from. Traci also did the first Journey Into Misery art-print for our Patreon, and after that I asked her if she wanted to work on a comic together. 

I didn't actually have anything in mind, but I wanted to build something from the ground up with her as a full-on co-creator. Traci also used to do Man-Thing Mondays, where she'd draw Man-Thing once a week, and I think my ideas sparked off that. I really wanted to pitch her something that she'd be interested in drawing and something she was exceptionally talented at drawing, so I knew right away that it would be about monsters of some sort. I don't remember exactly where the idea for Mossy came from but it started life in that initial discussion.

Are you drawing from any particular influences for your protagonist, Samantha Byrne?

Kieran Shiach: I remember that I wanted to do an all-ages story for my first comic because I wanted something I could give to my cousin, who is my favorite person. She was eleven at the time and she's thirteen now, so she's a completely different person but she's still my favorite and I hope she likes it. 

Sam is inspired by her to very small degree, but she's not really interested in any of the same stuff that Sam is. Sam's personality came more from what the story needed and her enthusiasm for all things monster-related was a great way to team her up with this giant eight-foot monster.

Who created Samantha's design?

Kieran Shiach: We didn't actually do many takes on Sam's design; I think Traci pretty much nailed it straight away. We spent a lot longer on Mossy and how she looks and carries herself. We wanted someone that could look imposing yet caring, depending on how she was approaching you. There's some stuff in her design that we spent a long time on, but I can't talk about it because it's going to be important later!

Do you see Mossy as an ongoing series or a miniseries?

Kieran Shiach: Mossy is a six issue miniseries, hopefully. I have all six issues plotted out and there's a definite end to the story. Things will get slightly more grown-up as it goes on, and the hope is that it can be read as kids grow up along with it. We're going to learn more about Sam, Mossy, the swamp, the monsters in it and the reason why Mossy is in charge of keeping the outside word safe from threats. 

You'll see that we have an overarching story planned with the epilogue to #1, and that's something that'll be building up in the background until things get to the point where the stakes are high enough to tie everything together and reveal that we had a plan all along.

Do you have any plans to flesh out the supporting cast?

Kieran Shiach: I don't actually have any supporting cast planned for the book. I don't really have any intention for Sam's parents to show up again or feature any recurring characters other than Sam or Mossy, but Traci is amazing at putting in background characters that make you want to know more about them, so there's a few designs that I need to bring back one way or the other. 

There's a little pink orb with tiny feet in the background of one of the pages in the middle that I need to know more about, so we're definitely going to explore the good monsters that live in the swamp and what sort of community they have and that's all because Traci is so amazing at monster design.

Everyone has a memory of the first comic that got them hooked on the medium. What's yours?

Kieran Shiach: It was more the X-Men cartoon than any comic, but that got me into X-Men comics. Specifically, it was a series called Essential X-Men which were Panini reprints of Scott Lobdell's Uncanny X-Men and Generation X from the start, and there'd be activities, puzzles, competitions, stuff like that. It was printed at full magazine size and available from the newsagents in England. 

I really owe my grandad for getting me into comics; he read them as a kid and I was the first of his kids and grandkids that showed any interest in picking up the hobby. We'd go to see all the superhero films together as a kid, and then once I was an adult I was able to take him to see how far the superhero genre had come since he was a kid. 

It's a bit of a maudlin way to end the interview, but the last time I saw him before he passed, I took him to see Avengers: Age of Ultron for his birthday and, while I didn't care for it too much, it was worth it, getting to be with him as he saw all those characters on screen at one time in a billion dollar movie.

Mossy is available on Kickstarter right now and will be for the next 30 days. Head on over there and grab a copy before it's too late!

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.