Interview: Kat Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen, authors of Pass Me By

We talk to Kat Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen, co-creators of Pass Me By (Renegade Arts Entertainment), an award-winning coming-of-age graphic novel series about queer identity, self-discovery, and the power of connection. Kat and Ryan tell us about their very collaborative creative process and how their own personal growth and self-discovery took shape alongside the characters in their series.


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All Lit Up: For our readers who aren’t familiar with your work, can you talk a little about your five-book series? What can they expect from the Pass Me By books?

Kat Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen: Pass Me By is a four-book series with a moving and thought-provoking exploration of family, memory, love, regret, and redemption. Set in a small Canadian town, the story follows Ed, a reclusive older man haunted by memories of his past, and Lily, Ed’s estranged granddaughter grappling with her own struggles. Through a unique colour palette of teal and pink to visually represent memory, our series explores a journey of self-discovery, coming to terms with yourself and finding solace through the challenges of life. Through stunning artwork and poignant storytelling, Pass Me By, offers a powerful meditation on the human experience and the transformative power of connection.

Our first book Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ follows Ed: a reserved man dealing with dementia in a small northern Canadian town. Inspired by Kat’s maternal grandmother’s dementia diagnosis and Ryan’s mother’s battle with cancer, Ed’s story allowed us to explore our relationships with disease, mental health, life, and inherited trauma. With Gone Fishin’ we wanted to portray the real hardship of Ed’s circumstance but also depict the wonderful community that supports him.

Set in 1973, our follow-up – Pass Me By: Electric Vice – is a queer love story that surfaces from Ed’s memories of touring across western Canada with a glam rock band called Electric Vice. Removed from his usual context, Ed begins to explore his sexuality and gender through open-hearted sequences inspired by our struggles and triumphs as queer individuals coming into our own. Where Gone Fishin’ was a slow-burn exploration of rural masculinity Electric Vice picks up the pace and injects lipstick, leather, and neon light to subvert your expectations and have you howling with delight.

The upcoming third book, Pass Me By: Lily, shifts focus to Ed’s dynamic with his granddaughter, Lily, who is sent to live with him following her father’s passing. As Lily confronts her grief and navigates her fractured relationship with her mother, she discovers unexpected depths within her family’s history, forging a newfound bond with Ed in the process.

From Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’

ALU: What was the process like of crafting three graphic novels about the same characters over the span of years? Did Ed evolve over the years in ways you didn’t expect when you first set out writing him?

KS: It’s been a wonderful experience getting to know Ed more over the course of the seven years we’ve invested in this series so far. Back in 2022, in an interview with Calgary Pride, I spoke about how Ed emerged from the future I felt destined to and terrified of. This lonely, closeted man was a reflection of the life she imagined I would have to live in order to conform to societal expectations and suppress my true identity. As the series progressed, Ed’s growth became intertwined with both of our paths of self-determination and acceptance.

Ed’s journey of queer discovery in Electric Vice is a close parallel to our experience connecting with the queer community in Calgary. Following the release of the first book, both of us were stepping into the world of drag performance and challenging gender norms in our everyday lives. While Ed was off touring with a glam rock band in our story, we were discovering what gender identity meant to us. It was a time of exploration, self-expression, and finding our place within the vibrant 2SLGBTQIA+ community. It’s been an exciting experience to allow these characters and this series to grow alongside us as we come into our own as proud trans creators.

RDO: I believe in a lot of ways that when you create strong characters they begin to write themselves. I think much like ourselves, characters do shift and form across time and the best thing you can do as a writer is trust that you’ve given them everything they need to jump off the page and lead you through their story. In particular, I think Rory, Ed’s best friend, has become so very much the heart of the story and I’m often surprised how many people connect with him. Ed himself is a fairly closed-off person at first but as the series reveals more and more you discover the complexities of why he is the way he is.

We’re constantly learning about ourselves as people and expanding our perspective in new and unique ways. I love that since this series started development back in 2018, Kat and I have transformed so much as people and I think our books show what an incredibly powerful thing it is to tell your own story.

From Pass Me By: Electric Vice

ALU: What’s it like collaborating together on this series? Tell us about your process as co-authors. What sorts of challenges come up when you’re working to create a single narrative?

KS & RDO: With many graphic novels, the writing and illustrating are done separately and there is limited creative collaboration between the writer and the illustrator. We have developed a method in which the evolution of the story is intensely synergetic. We work on a shared Google doc where we create something that reads very much like a screenplay, describing the setting, characters, and the way we envision the scenes to play out.

Inspiration for scenes can originate from either author, after which we engage in discussions about our intentions and how each piece contributes to the overarching narrative of our story. During in-person meetings, we lay the groundwork for our collaboration, establishing the thematic direction and character arcs. From there, we each gravitate toward segments that resonate with us, infusing them with our own characterizations and nuance. Scenes are passed back and forth between us, evolving with each iteration, until we reconvene in person to refine and harmonize the narrative elements. This collaborative process allows us to blend our individual perspectives and creative energies, resulting in a cohesive and engaging story.

We’ve had more than a few fights, often over tiny details but the value of having another author just as invested in this story as you are can’t be emphasized enough. We both care deeply about our characters and our reciprocating process helps us craft a story far more thoughtfully than either of us could achieve on our own. There is a lot of harmony in the writing and illustration that can only occur through collaboration. We both push each other to create work that challenges us and provides the solace we need to tell an impactful story that feels truthful to our characters.

ALU: When did your love for comics and graphic novels begin? Was there a book or artist that sparked your interest in telling your own stories?

KS: I spent a lot of my teenage years reading classic DC and Marvel comics like X-men, Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight Returns. While those stories laid the foundation for my fascination with comics, it was in college where I discovered works by indie publishers like Drawn and Quarterly, Oni Press and Top Cow that I fell in love with the medium. Down-to-earth and heartfelt stories like It’s a good life if you don’t weaken and Blanket’s opened my eyes to the possibility of telling a story rooted in relatability and the beauty of the mundane. It was these stories that inspired me to embark on creating a series set in the world I grew up in and felt such fondness for.

RDO: When I was a kid I struggled to start reading books due to dyslexia and one day I found a used copy of Watchman and I was hooked. A pretty dark first read but I remember from then on graphic novels, zines, and comics became something I sought out. The medium of comics and graphic novels can tell stories in such a uniquely compelling way that slows down time and allows a reader to take in the whole scene and is one of the most accessible forms of storytelling. Some of my favourite comics/ graphic novels are the Sandman and Enigma series by Neil Gaiman, Horror Hospital Unplugged by Dennis Cooper, Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel were all huge inspirations when we started developing the series. I think one thing I love about working in comics is how many contemporary creators are creating work that challenges and pushes the medium into more unique and diverse areas. Creators such as Jillian Fleck, Sami Alwanni, Brigitte Archambault, and Seth, all create dynamic and unique work that inspires me so much.

ALU: Do you have any unlikely sources of inspiration that work itself into your creative output? If not, unlikely, what sorts of art are you inspired by?

KS: Outside of comics both film and music have been major influences on the series. Back when we were writing books one and two we made a regular habit of watching engrossing films together and taking note of the techniques that were used to develop the narrative. Directors like Sofia Coppola, David Lynch, and Tom Ford have had a major impact on both our writing and Kat’s cinematic approach to the illustrations. For Electric Vice we were heavily inspired by glam rock bands from the early 1970s. A lot of my illustrations of the band are direct references to photographs by Neal Preston, Mick Rock, and Barrie Wentzell among others, who toured with iconic figures of the era. The costumes, poses, and characterizations depicted in the illustrations are influenced by legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Suzi Quatro, and David Bowie.

RDO: I think with PMB we both utilize our whole collection of references from art history, punk music, to cheap pop songs. I’m very inspired by people like Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain, Nico, Kim Gordon, Ocean Vuong, and Kathy Acker to form the poetry and songs throughout the series. I’m also pretty inspired by my fair share of music from Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, Feist, Mitski, David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens, and of course, Carly Rae Jepson. The writing and style of the series are very inspired by work from writers such as Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Miranda July, and Zadie Smith.

Since both Kat and I came from an art college background, we were very inspired by many artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and George Tooker. I think the reality of the work of those artists captures a lot of my approaches to emotions in the series.

ALU: Here’s a fun question for you. Your graphic novel is optioned for a film. Who’s your dream director? What would the treatment of the film look like?

KS: If I’m letting myself dream big, I would love to see an adaptation directed by Greta Gerwig. Both Greta and her partner Noah Baumbach have an exceptional ability to tell stories with wit and charm while capturing the complexities of human relationships. Early in our writing for the first book, Ryan introduced me to Francis Ha and I fell in love with her work. That movie along with Ladybird are still two of my all-time favourite films.

While we have often heard the suggestion of adapting this work through animation, I think it would be best served by a live-action adaptation. I like to imagine a cinematic interpretation where the colour palette is maintained through the use of costume, set design and digital editing.

RDO: I think If I wanted an adaption to be made I would work most effectively as a four-part series! Which is asking a lot I know! To tell this narrative in a proper way it needs four hour-long episodes, one for each book! If I had a choice, I would want Charlie Kaufman to adapt and direct the series. His films such as I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Anomalisa, and Synecdoche, New York were deeply influential to how I approach storytelling. If It was animation I think the studio Saru who did the Scott Pilgrim takes off series would absolutely nail the music sequences and quiet scenes of PMB. Other directors such as Charlotte Wells (Aftersun), Celine Song (Past Lives), or Sarah Polley (Women Talking) would all adapt the films in meaningful ways. Silas Howard ( framing Agnes) would understand the material deeply and I feel Michaela Coel (I may destroy you) or Chandler Levack (I like movies) would create a compelling human examination of this work. That’s a lot of people. Heck, give it to Ari Aster (Beau is Afraid, Hereditary) and see what he does with it!

ALU: You’ve just finished up work on the third graphic novel in the series, Lily. Can you tell us anything about it? What can we look forward to in Ed’s story?

KS & RDO: In book three, Pass Me By: Lily, we introduce Ed’s granddaughter Lily to the world we’ve created. As a teenage trans girl on the cusp of adulthood, Lily’s journey serves as a poignant counterpoint to the gradual loss of agency experienced by Ed. Despite their initial estrangement, their paths converge, leading to a profound understanding as old truths come to light.

You can expect beauty, awkwardness and plenty of small-town charm as Lily works to connect with her grandfather while navigating rural existence as a trans person. Through Kat’s vivid illustrations, the landscapes come alive, imbuing the narrative with a distinctly Canadian charm that transports readers into the heart of these captivating environments.

PMB: Lily acts as a reflection of our experience with queer identity in an environment that is simultaneously supportive and hostile. Lily’s journey resonates with authenticity, offering readers a glimpse into the complexities of self-discovery, and processing grief and acceptance within the context of familial bonds and community dynamics.

ALU: Is there anything you wish someone would ask you about Pass Me By but haven’t yet?

KS: I would love for someone familiar with risograph printing to ask me how we created a risograph book with over 170 pages (the special edition of Electric Vice). The answer lies in a meticulously organized system I use for categorizing my colour layers and our sensational printer at Pindot Press. With Risograph printing I am limited to just two colours. In our case florescent pink and rich teal are combined to create a unique colour palette that gives our series striking recognizability. I’m able to create the range of hue and values I achieve through carefully labelling all of my layers with a letter and number code that reflects the ratios of pink and teal I want overlaid in the final printing process. Each page typically starts with 20+layers which need to be condensed down into two flat layers, one pink and one teal. If I get it right the final output produces the stark contrast we use in the present and a myriad of purples and magentas you’ll find in our flashbacks to the past.

As for the process of actually printing and compiling those pages into a book, credit goes to Olivia at Pindot Press. For the 250+ copies we produced of Electric Vice, Olivia had to hand manipulate over 4000 pages 11” x 17” pages. Those pages are precisely collated so they can be cut, trimmed, stacked and bound into the 5.5” x 8.5” books our lucky collectors have stashed on their shelves.

For anyone curious, you can find a video Olivia produced detailing the process on youtube at:

RDO: Honestly, getting to talk about where inspirations come from and other creators who led us to create this story feels amazing and is a fairly rare question so thank you! I think I always want to talk about how I’ve been blown away by the people who come to talk to us about their experiences and what they connected with throughout the series. It’s incredible to have the opportunity to make work that exists past us and I’m always overjoyed to see people who have been a part of our journey whether that’s Olivia wrestling with our risograph edition, fans coming to our tables to share, the fantastic lyric typography from Derek Simmers, or the endless support and feedback from Alexander, Emily, Shea, Jillian. It’s scary to show your heart to people and to have so much love returned means the world to me. I’m constantly learning about my own work and what it says to people and that’s such an exciting opportunity to have in my creative life.

Kat Simmers is a trans woman, artist, author, and muralist working in comic media and street art to create community connections through visual media. Born and raised in a special kind of nowhere –  Bashaw, Alberta (pop. 830) – Simmers experienced firsthand the intersection of queer and rural life. Co-Author & illustrator of the graphic novel series Pass Me By, her work connects communities to unseen parts of their histories and challenges the public to see beyond the everyday. Her murals and graphic novels engage the public in conversations about queer identity, mental health and what happens to the stories you never tell.

As a queer/trans artist living with Bi-polar disorder (type 1) it’s Simmers’ mission to create powerful, knowledgeable interpretations of these and other experiences, which so many go through without representation.

Her public works populate the Treaty 6 & 7 region in Mohkinstsis (the city of Calgary), the city of Red Deer, the town of Bashaw, and the walls of the international mural festival BUMP in 2019 & 2020.

Ryan Danny Owen (they/him/her) is a visual artist, author, and queer historian based in Mohkinstsis, Treaty 7/ Calgary, Alberta. Their work explores intergenerational queer identity, gender, loss, and sexuality through objects, the archive, automatic writing, and performance. Questioning the body through liminality, queer nostalgia, and the disassembling and recontextualizing of loaded material to explore fantasy, memory, and queer absence. They received their BFA in Drawing from The Alberta College Of Art and Design (Presently, AUARTS). They are also the co-creator of an ongoing graphic novel series, Pass Me By, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment. Book two, Pass Me By: Electric Vice, was awarded Graphic Novel of the Year in 2022 by the Alberta Book Publishers Association. They were also nominated for the Doug Wright Literary Award for Emerging Talent in 2022 and received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and The Alberta Foundation for the Arts to support the development of new work.

Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ and Electric Vice are available here and here on All Lit Up. Thanks to Kat Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen for taking time to answer our questions.