Comic creator returns to Sunnyside

Photo of Brian Gioiele

Kristen Gudsnuk’s memories of her days at Sunnyside School remain as vivid today as when she walked the school’s halls two decades ago.

It was at the elementary school that Gudsnuk — in between school work and hanging with friends — began to combine her love for drawing and storytelling to create her own comic strips. The Shelton native has since taken that hobby and turned it into a thriving career.

Now an accomplished comics writer and illustrator known for her popular Making Friends and Henchgirl series, Gudsnuk returned to Sunnyside School Wednesday, Nov. 27, for the first time — to relive some fantastic memories and pass on her love of comic book creation to a younger generation of readers.

“It is mind-blowing,” said Gudsnuk as she stood in the school’s library media center. “On the one hand, everything is smaller, because I was smaller when I was here. But everything is kind of in the same place, which is strange since I have not been back here since the 1990s.”

As she surveyed the library room, Gudsnuk laughed as she pointed to an area near the entranceway.

“I had so many memories at this school … all my friends and me hanging out. I remember kids playing Magic Cards over in that corner by that window,” added Gudsnuk. “All my childhood memories, a lot of great ones, happened right here.”

Gudsnuk opened the visit by autographing several copies of her newest book, Making Friends 2: Back to the Drawing Board, before entering the gymnasium to speak to the students about her career as well as how to create comic books on their own.

After the assembly, she visited third and fourth grade classrooms to speak more in depth on how to create comic books and graphic novels.

“I have always liked to write and draw,” said Gudsnuk. “My problem was I never knew what to draw, but when I would write, I decided to draw what I was writing about, and the two things just came together for me.”

Gudsnuk, now living in New York City, has become a staple at ComicCon for creating the popular comic series Henchgirl (published by Dark Horse Comics), illustrating both the Modern Fantasy and VIP series, and, most recently, writing and illustrating the Making Friends series.

“I like working with other people, but my favorite thing is working by myself … cranking out ideas in the void. For me, making comics is fun, like making a movie, but no one touches it. When you are done, it is 100 percent yours,” said Gudsnuk.

Gudsnuk majored in English in college, and she worked in publishing at Random House after graduation. But she started living her dream after winning a voucher for a comic book making class.

“I really got into it,” said Gudsnuk, adding that this was when she started creating the Henchgirl character - Mary Posa, a well-intentioned but morally complicated henchgirl to The Butterfly Gang, who navigates her 20s in a superhero world.

She self-published Henchgirl, then she said it started gaining traction and was then picked up by Dark Horse Comics.

"I went from being self-published to actually published,” said Gudsnuk. “It was an incredible feeling.”

Then came the Making Friends series — middle-grade graphic novels about a girl who tries to use magic to help adjust to seventh grade.

Now her workload continues to grow with four books in the pipeline to be released in the coming year. And Gudsnuk says what better way to celebrate her success than sharing it with this next generation of Sunnysiders.

“I remember when I was here, the author of Lyle the Crocodile came in,” said Gudsnuk. “It was the most mind-blowing part of my childhood. Now, I get to be that person. I went to school here, and it is a special place for me.”