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After a lengthy hiatus, the creative team behind Image Comics’ EGOs is back in action and ready to serve up more interplanetary crime drama with their upcoming fifth issue. Writer Stuart Moore and artist Gus Storms were kind enough to take some time to chat with the Beat about their series, in addition to humoring some ill-fated Beyoncé puns.
Comics Beat: So let’s start with the basics. Give us the gist of what’s going on in EGOs for new readers.
Stuart Moore: EGOs is basically about a superhero team in the far future, but what’s it’s really about is a marriage between two of the founding members. They’ve been together a long time, and they’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and it’s kind of a show business marriage because they’re both stars in a way. Deuce, the leader, is a former pretty boy who now uses a thing called an “imager” to make his face look younger than it is whenever he’s on camera. Pixel was very young when she joined the team, and she’s become her own brand and has sponsors and products and stuff like that. So they both basically have their own lives. In the course of the first storyline which is collected in the first trade, Quintessence, Deuce decides to re-form the team. Mostly because of a huge threat to galactic peace, but also because he wants to be relevant again and he kind of feels Pixel slipping away from him, and thinks this could be a way to bring them together again.
CB: And what will be going on in the forthcoming issues?
SM: So having set all that up, in this arc we’re setting up a big galactic conspiracy – a sort of invisible threat to the entire galactic economy. And in the course of investigating that, what happens is we meet a lot of new characters, and it becomes a bit of a mystery. Some combination of these characters are behind this gigantic plot, and it’s up to the two EGOs teams on two different planets to unravel and solve this mystery. So what we’re doing with the two main characters, Deuce and Pixel, they were together in the first story, but now they are completely apart. Deuce is involved in the core of the conspiracy on Earth, while Pixel is leading a stealth team on the remote, lawless planet of Tortuga with a subset of the team. So they’re off in two different places. It’s kind of weird because their relationship is still the heart of the story, it runs through every page of the book, but we’re really seeing them do their jobs here, and we’re seeing them do it separately. So it’s this weird mix of superhero and science fiction and in this story, crime drama.
CB: There’s quite a time gap between the release of the last issue and the date for the upcoming fifth issue. What caused the extended break?
SM: Well, I needed time to rethink the thing. Gus isn’t quite a monthly comics artist, he needs more than a month to do a book. And it ended up being a little longer than we planned because the two of us are doing a two part story for DC as part of their Convergence storyline. So that wound up delaying our return a little bit. But it should work out nicely since Convergence will come out during the middle of this EGOs run, so hopefully people will notice the two things together.
CB: Is there anything different about how you’re approaching the making of the book this time around?
SM: The biggest difference for me is that it’s a much longer, more extended storyline. I had to plot it out in great detail. The first part is sort of a teaser, issue six is almost a little self-contained story within the story, and then it’s full-barrel to the end with a lot of twists and turns for the next three issues.
Gus Storms: I had fun with the art – it’s totally more terrestrial. It’s more location based and there’s nothing I love more than drawing location, as in the people in it and world-building. So I didn’t approach it differently, I just think that art-wise it’s more in my bailiwick and my natural inclinations.
SM: I actually had Gus in mind for Tortuga, which is a former prison planet that’s now sort of a lawless trading world. A lot of the long-time inhabitants are missing limbs and have artificial limbs and I thought that was just right for Gus. “Shankers” are a mass produced sort of artificial limb, and they’re a very important element to the story, as in who has them and what they’re used for.
CB: So does a lot of research go into the writing for this, science and space-wise?
SM: Well, I try and make it a little more plausible than a lot of comics! I have sort of a background in science fiction, and my father was a nuclear physicist, so I don’t come from that side of the family at all. I don’t understand any of that stuff, but I like bashing my head against it every once in awhile. So I try to keep current, but at the same time I’ve written stuff much more hardcore sci-fi than this. This is at core a superhero story with a science background, and when you get down to people’s powers… there is only so plausible it gets. In terms of the story-telling approach, I want to work as drama first, and then make it as plausible as possible, rather than the other way around.
GS: And this one is more cyber-punk than space opera. The first one is really sort of a more space opera, and this one is dystopia noir.
SM: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about it as cyber-punk, but it probably seems that way because of the noir influence. There’s a pretty hard edge to issue six when you meet some of the suriviors of the Crunch War. One of the new characters, the Commander, fought it in. What that war did to these people, and these planets, is a crucial part in where the story is going. I’m very fond of an old subset of noir that focuses on damaged WWII veterans and the crimes they committed, and it was something people were writing a lot about in the 1950’s and that influenced this story as well, but in a more futuristic context.
CB: So in to your first collected trade, you had an essay on why you took on the mantle of writer/editor and how Gus is also sort of an artist/editor. Are you sticking to those titles this time around?
SM: So what I said, for those who haven’t read it, is that I very purposefully gave myself the title of writer/editor on this book, which I got some criticism for, and I expected. But I did it for a couple of reasons. One was there are projects I do where I need an outside editor, I could absolutely not do without one, and then there’s EGOs where I pretty much know where I’m going. Gus backstops me, he’s absolutely invaluable in story matters, and so does Marie Javins who has been our co-publisher and co-editor all along. But I don’t really need a traditional editor on this book. I’ve been a comics editor myself, I’ve edited a lot of books, so I pretty much know what I’m doing. More than that, it was almost a little tribute to the fact that in the 1970’s and 80’s when I start really reading comics, a lot of people had that title, and a lot of the best comics published were under that title. Howard the Duck, Firestorm, Conan, even things like Spider-Man and the FantasticFour were done that way for awhile. It fell out of favor partly because most of the major companies don’t work that way anymore, but it’s kind of my way of showing that this can still be a valid way to work on the right project.
GS: We don’t have a lot of continuity stuff to manage, which is a big part of the Big Two editorship. I think [Moore] needs an enforcer, you need someone to hassle the artist more.
CB: So let’s talk about the art. It’s been great seeing it develop across issues and tighten up to where it’s at now. It seems like you draw a lot of inspiration from French comics and the like, so did you have anything in mind when you started creating these designs?
GS: The process of the artist is just trying to shore up your deficiencies. So I’m just trying to occlude my poor drawing as much as possible. As far as inspiration… definitely a lot of the European guys. I like static shots. Not a huge fan of the forced perspective, sort of fish-eye lens type comics bombast you see in American mainstream. Lifetime Moebius devotee, and Darrow and Quitely. I always have trouble with people – with drawing handsome and attractive people. I find them way less interesting than the weird, grotesque side characters. Part of the evolution of EGOs art wise is that EGOs started as my first all-digital thing, working on the Cintiq, and there’s a big learning curve there. The most recent book has a lot of zipitone, and you can just sort of throw it on willy-nilly, so that’s sort of a different look. I like in particular the bar scenes. I would just draw weird back-water bars all day if I could.
SM: When I plotted out the first storyline, Gus wasn’t onboard yet, but I had him much more in mind on this arc.
GS: I found a lot of difficulties in the first one, there was just so much “people floating in space.” I had a hard time making that interesting. And some people can do it so well, like aerial fights. I had to figure out how to do it.
CB: Tell me a little about what it’s like to design such unique characters. Masse, for example, seems like he would have been very difficult to take from concept to execution.
GS: Yeah, that was maybe the most design discussion we had. I had originally wanted to make him more ambulatory – give him sort of malformed arms or something. But I think Stuart guided us in the right direction with that. He was a lot of fun. The other one I really enjoyed was Quark, which is the pink, constantly-shifting, energy dude. And the most high concept design guys come a little later in the story, and they’re an interesting… firm-type thing.
SM: Oh yeah, the Quantum Trust. This story is a little more grounded, as we said, and most of the characters are human or humanoid. But there are some pretty strange looking people coming.
CB: Is there anything you hate drawing that you found yourself having to improve on this series? Maybe something that you’re now good at drawing?
GS: I meannnn, I don’t think I got GOOD at drawing any of the stuff. This is my first job pretty much save for one little comic project I did out of school. And in school, when I was drawing, everyone was just really ugly and monstrous, so I guess I just had to draw allegedly attractive people. You know, Deuce and Pixel are supposed to be good-looking – they’re celebrities. I did have to focus on trying to make people look comely.
SM: I’ll add one other thing – these are not easy scripts. One of the games with EGOs for me was to pack as much into each story as I could without seeming crowded. That was one of the things I really wanted to do. Partly because I think if you’re going to do an original indie comic where people aren’t buying it for Batman, you need to really give people their money’s worth. If people are going to pay three dollars for an issue of this comic, I want them to walk away thinking they really got an experience. And that means there’s a lot of scene-changes, there’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot going on. These scripts are not easy to draw, and Gus has done a beautiful job at every stage.
GS: The best part is design, and it’s just been an option to constantly design little pieces, like Shara’s home world that you see just for a second. That kind of thing is all over the comic, which is a real treat.
CB: Anything else you’d like readers to know about what’s to come?
SM: Well, there are a lot of twists and turns. Not all the characters will necessarily survive… Basically what I had wanted to do with this story is do a large-scale epic where the villain is hidden. The villain is not out in plain sight, you don’t know who it is. And kind of bring some of the ways a good police procedural story work into this and see what happens. Hopefully that’ll work, hopefully people will like it…
I’ll just say one more thing. When it came time to decide whether or not to continue this book, and how long to continue it for, I plotted out the story and I sat down and wrote issue five. I know I’m too close to really know, but I think it’s the best script I’ve ever written for comic books. And then issue six is good, but I think issue seven is even better. So if people have read my stuff this is the one I would recommend, because out of all the comics I’ve written, I’m as happy with this one as anything I’ve ever done.
GS: I second that. I love it. It’s been a lot of fun to work on. It’s a great story, it’s exactly the type of thing that I like to read.
EGOs #5 is due out February 4th from Image Comics. Item Code: DEC140641
I suspect that I’m not alone in thinking any day that brings new work from Dr Bryan Talbot is a very good day indeed. The fourth of his Grandville books, featuring the adventures of Detective Inspector LeBrock (who is, as the name might suggest to the scholarly, a badger) in an anthropomorphic steampunk Paris, is at least as good as the three previous volumes, if not considerably better. Wherever LeBrock goes, mayhem and a high body-count ensues, and this book is no different. We also have a messianic unicorn, evil criminals, and a Lucky Luke look-a-like, called Lucas Chance. Briefly, if you’re not reading Grandville, you’re missing some of the best fun there is to be had between two covers. I’d interviewed Bryan pretty comprehensively before (here & here), so I got in touch to ask him just a few more questions about Grandville, and his future plans for the character.
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: I had been meaning to ask you, before I started reading this one, if there were going to be any further Grandville books after this, but by the end of it you’ve several trailing story threads that I imagine might take a few more books to sort out. What can you tell me?
Bryan Talbot: Although the books are stand-alone stories and can be read individually, you will have noticed that each takes place a month after he previous one, and there has been a story arc gradually building that comes to fruition in volume five. I scripted it over two years ago now, though have been polishing it since. It’s much longer that the other stories, about 160 pages, and will probably be the final one. If I write any more stories set in the world of Grandville, they’ll be drawn in a different style. The fifth, although still containing some of the humour of the other books, is definitely the darkest story and features one of the vilest villains in the history of crime fiction. Characters from earlier volumes have cameo roles and we finally meet the execrable Chief Inspector Stoatson, mentioned in all the books since the second one but never seen. We also discover, for the first time, [Detective Inspector] LeBrock‘s backstory and are introduced to his mentor, the great detective who trained him up. I’m currently drawing Mary*’s 3rd graphic novel, but will start work on the 5th Grandville when I finish that, in summer.
[*That’s Dr Mary M Talbot, Bryan Talbot’s wife, with whom he collaborated on Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, and co-collaborated with on Sally Heathcote: Suffragette, along with Kate Charlesworth, both of which are recommended.]
PÓM: I notice that the human characters – the ‘doughfaces’ in the story – seem to be getting restless, and coming more to the fore, in the 3rd and 4th volumes. Will we be seeing more of them in the last volume, too?
BT: They’ll be reverting to background characters, as in the 1st book. It’s in Grandville Noël where they come centre stage and, by the end, there is some kind of resolution.
PÓM: As I was rereading my way through the Grandville books, I was wondering how many different animals you had included in them. Have you any idea what sort of number you’ve done?
A Stuffed Badger in Dublin’s Natural History Museum
BT: No idea, but quite a lot! As well as common animals, there are several many people won’t have heard of, such as an aye aye, an echidna and a star-nosed mole. As well as a computer file containing hundreds of animal photographs that I’ve accumulated on line, I’ve visited the natural history museums of Milan, Helsinki and Dublin, all of which have large collections of stuffed animals that I’ve snapped from different angles. It’s always hard to find pics online of exactly the right angle you need. I also have a collection of plastic animal models to draw from.
PÓM: How do the Grandville books do on the European market, particularly in France, where they’re up against work which they’re sometimes drawn from?
BT: I’m very disappointed with the French Publisher of Grandville, Bragelonne. They are primarily a publisher of horror, SF and fantasy prose and I don’t think they really pushed the books. They don’t even have a booth at Angouleme. The books went into profit (I know as I regularly receive royalty payments from them) but obviously they didn’t make as big a profit as they’d like, as they only published the first two volumes. This, despite Grandville Mon Amour winning the prize given by French railway industry, the Prix SNCF, for best graphic novel, voted for by the rail-traveling public and all the many French reviews of both books, which were universally positive. In Spain and Germany, though, they seem to be quite popular, Noël coming out both places next year. I think a Finnish edition of the first book is forthcoming too. It’s also been published in Serbia, Greece, the Czech Republic and Italy.
PÓM: You mention a third book by your wife, Dr Mary Talbot. Can you tell me anything about this, or is it still under wraps?
BT: As it’s only going to be published in 2016, we’re keeping quiet about it at the moment. Primarily because we think someone else might pinch the idea, research the subject, and produce a graphic novel of their own before then! Suffice to say that it’s another historical story about a strong female protagonist, one that most UK readers will never have heard of.
PÓM: There’s a very brief mention of a cataclysmic event that helped shaped how things are in the Grandville world, in the fourth book. This seems to me to throw you into the same general Wold-Newton Universe concept that Philip José Farmer initiated, and which also informs Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books. That, plus the fact that the aircraft that we’re constantly seeing in the air over Paris look very like the ones we see in your Luther Arkwright stories, makes we wonder if there’s a larger ‘Bryan Talbot Universe’ setting behind all your work. Or is this just something I’m over-thinking?
BT: I never actually got around to reading the Farmer books but, yes, the cataclysmic event is basically a reference to Firefrost. In the Arkwright story, where it’s made clear that its arrival on earth sent ripples affecting reality through all the alternative time streams. I did have the intention on doing a story based on it sometime but, as I said earlier, the 5th is now probably going to be the last of the series. The iron flying machines are common to Arkwight and Grandville, though in the former, there is only one type, a military vessel, and only made by one of the countries involved. In Grandville, they are public and private skyships of various designs. Vaguely inspired by Jules Verne and Albert Robida, I use them because every other steampunk story uses airships.
PÓM: Do you have any idea when we can expect to see that fifth and final Grandville volume?
BT: I’m hoping 2017.
PÓM: That’s a long wait! You already mentioned the book with Mary, but is there anything else we need to know about, to fill up the lonely days while we wait – more Luther Arkwright, maybe?
BT: ‘Fraid not. Not many people realise what a long slog it is, producing a graphic novel. These books take a long time, especially in the sort of style I use for Grandville, which takes up to 4 days per page. The fifth volume is going to be 160 pages. That’s nearly two years’ work, more if I’m away a lot. Plus, big publishers like Cape ideally want the finished books up to a year before they publish them, so they sit around for months before being released. One reason for this is so that they meet the scheduled publication dates. Another is so their reps can show the books around to retailers several months in advance to create interest. So it may be an even longer wait than that! I do actually have a folder full of notes for a possible Arkwright story, and have done for several years, but it’s simply not gelled. Perhaps after I finish Grandville.
“He’s definitely the largest robber baron in the history of the human species,”
said author Joshua Dysart of Toyo Harada, the main character in his newest ongoing series Imperium.
Valiant Entertainment could have just published another volume of their fan-favorite Harbinger title which Dysart also wrote and called it a day; but instead the company is striving for something different with their upcoming Imperium title. Toyo Harada, one of the most heinous villains of the Valiant Universe is the star of the upcoming series. Dysart shared some new information on the new project, spilling the secrets on the new Vine soldier joining the team, giving more insight into Toyo Harada’s motivations, and checking on the brand new status quo of Peter Stanchek. Witness how Dysart and artist Doug Braithwaite are taking advantage of Harbinger creators Jim Shooter and David Lapham’s groundwork to spin something wholly original:
Comics Beat: Let’s start with the obvious: why Imperium? After Harbinger was such a rousing creative success, why take this insane risk?
Joshua Dysart: It’s for exactly that reason. I’m not super interested in going right back into the same thing. I feel like we pulled something off with Harbinger completely by accident. The last thing you wanna do is go in and keep meddling with it. Obviously we will eventually get back to that story. It’s just more interesting to do something new and different. The whole point of being a creative person is to not constantly repeat yourself.
CB: Is there a trend coming now with Valiant’s renewed interest in melding brand new characters and additions to the lore that were not present during the initial run of the company?
JD: Absolutely, I think that it’s in their best interest, and I think that’s what I am trying to do in Imperium, which is a book about almost all new characters. That’s a big part of what Valiant is looking to do next.
CB: While Imperium begins, are Peter’s stories going to be pushed to the side?
JD: Yeah, I think what’s happening with the Renegades and what’s happening with Toyo are on two divergent paths for the time being. I mean basically what’s happened here is Peter and his crew won, but in winning they sort of destroyed themselves. In Harada’s losing it sort of entrenched him and reinforced his ideals to himself so we have a situation where the winners have really lost and the loser has ultimately won, which I think says something interesting about the nature of conflict. That’s what I think where we are at. The Renegades are not even capable of fighting Harada, and is that even interesting to that even more. One of them lost their life and the rest of them gave all their efforts to this conflict for so long, and to what end? They just reinforced him and entrenched him. I don’t even know if that’s something they are interested in anymore.
CB: How large is the scope of Imperium? Will Imperium affect the greater Valiant publishing line?
JD: It’s being designed to interact with the larger Valiant Universe in a way that Harbinger wasn’t. You know Harbinger was a sort of insular thing that was about these young people, and I sorta moaned and groaned every time the larger Valiant Universe came crashing into my little bubble. This is a much bigger conflict. This is ultimately a conflict for the world so we would have to imagine the whole Valiant U will come up against Harada and his plans. The whole thing is built to embrace that absolutely.
CB: Now that you are opening up the Valiant Universe more with your upcoming project, is there any correlation between penciller Doug Braithwaite’s art and what you are trying to do to sort of open this book up wider?
JD: I think thematically yeah, absolutely. You know I really love Doug’s work. I love that he can handle density and that he can handle these big moments but then I started talking about the series, but then I wanted him to do work that was really human and very concerned with the minutia of the moment, so Doug automatically became the perfect person for this book. He can go big, but instead he’s going small. He can have an epic moment, based around human drama that will lead to a better comic. I think he’s an incredible asset to the book.
CB: With an interest in HBO shows where we’re exploring a lot of anti-heroes, how do you walk that line between following some people who are sort of making some questionable decisions, but still making it so we can identify with them in the book?
JD: That’s hard to talk about, because it’s the kind of thing you do when you’re writing. It’s just really important to make sure they feel complicated and human. Once a person feels as complicated as you can make them as a character, then that person can actually become really interesting. Apart from that there’s no real secret trick or anything you just try to humanize them as much as possible.
CB: After reading Robert Venditti’s work with X-O Manowar, I saw that the Vine was painted as these dehumanized killers that entrapped Aric’s group of Visigoth. Whereas during the Planet Death Arc, we see a different side of the Vine. With the new Vine character integrated into the Imperium team are you going to explore that side that Robert opened up in Planet Death?
JD: Yeah absolutely, I think the complexity of the Vine is going to be revealed eventually, maybe not in the first arc, but eventually. Lord Vine 99 is less of a product of conscious free-will vine, and more of a clone that the Vine has created. He doesn’t represent exactly the Vine mindset. I don’t think we can share a story about Toyo trying to take over the planet and not have the Vine be intimately involved in this. The fact is that the Vine took over the planet and won a long time ago. Now we are going to share Harada’s history with the Vine that goes back to the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. It’s all going to be woven in pretty tightly into the narrative.
CB: What will the antagonists look like in the title? I heard something about robots, aliens, and poets?
JD: Harada has his basic psiot that survived the collapse of his first post civilization in first crew. He basically has a fully functional robot which is a version of his med-bots that he kind of amped up. The A.I. was a total accident, and now he has an A.I. shackle. He is incapable of entering any network. He is extremely limited in how his intelligence can grow and what he can affect. This is Harada’s basic check to not having a singularity happen overnight. It’s only a matter of time before artificial intelligence is affected all across the internet. He’s a really interesting tragic character for me. He’s capable of so much, yet he can’t intellectually grow but he knows that. We also have mad scientists!
CB: While the Harbinger Foundation was in control of an incredible amount of corruption, Harada surely cannot employ telekinesis on the entire planet. With limited power, does Toyo Harada have any chance of clearing his name?
JD: The current situation with Harbinger foundation that was sort of the secret organization buried within Harada Conglomerates, but Harada’s conglomerate has dissolved. However, Harada still has thousands of secret accounts located all over the world. These things are actively being tracked down all over the planet. That exists, so there is money and revenue. It’s difficult for him to track all of them down, but they exist. The Harbinger Foundation itself is now whatever technologies he has found and pilfered. And it’s now predominantly found within the U.S.S. Bush – Harada has stolen one of the largest nuclear aircraft carriers in the United States, and they are also taking the Somalia itself. But that’s all that’s left of Harada’s empire. He has money, but it’s tricky for him to use the money without being seen and he has a lot of his old tech, but he doesn’t have it all. For instance, he can’t activate psiots right now. It’s like if he were a musician, at one time he was in the biggest stadium band in history, but now he’s back to playing garages.
CB: Is Harada interested in clearing his name?
JD: He has done everything he is accused of doing; he’s definitely the largest robber baron in the history of the human species.
I don’t think that Harada believes that he has done anything wrong. I think he believes that the narrow shortsightedness of the species and their inability to see all that he gave them in return for the few things that he had to only reinforces him to see what others can’t see. It would have been easier if he keeps his global institution in place it would be easier for him to operate things within the shadows. Instead of having every government and every corporation pitted against him. He has no desire to clear his name.
CB: Was Unity Toyo’s failed attempt at building a team like the one featured in this comic?
JD: What’s really interesting about Unity is that their initial inception was to keep Aric [X-O Manowar] from taking over Romania. Harada has done exactly the thing that Aric did, in that he put together this team to fight him which is a real vine of hubris and hypocrisy.
CB: What has Peter learned from the first volume of Harbinger to now?
JD: For a while, we’re not gonna know what’s going on with them. The last time we saw Peter he was contemplating that the only true heroism is doing nothing at all. I don’t know that they were ever ready to play at the level they played Harada at all. They are just kids, they are kids with a lot of power and they took on a really big task, and I don’t think they knew what it entailed. I think they are pretty heartbroken and beaten down from the battle.
Gary Spencer Millidge‘s Strangehaven may well be the best comic you’ve never read. Originally self-published in eighteen issues over the course of ten years, between 1995 and 2005 (with three collected editions, Arcadia, Brotherhood, and Conspiracies), it has been on what seemed like a permanent hiatus since then, despite the plaintiff pleas of tear-drenched fans like myself. Now, though, Strangehaven has returned in the pages of Soaring Penguin Press‘s anthology magazine Meanwhile…, whose first issue has just been published, which very nicely suimmarises the story to date, for all you new readers.
Briefly, Strangehaven is the story of a man who crashes his car in deepest rural England, and wakes up to find himself in a small village called Strangehaven. From there on, strange things happen. Very strange things. Not only does Strangehaven have a compelling and nicely convoluted storyline, with all sorts of odd and interesting characters, but Gary Spencer Millidge’s art is beautiful too, being a gorgeous photo-realistic depiction of the people, their lives, and the village they live in. If you’re wondering where you heard Gary’s name before, you probably heard it as the author of 2011’s Alan Moore: Storyteller, or of 2009’s Comic Book Design: The Essential Guide to Creating Great Comics and Graphic Novels, both of which come recommended. Since I started reading Strangehaven myself, I’m corresponded with, met, and got to know Gary, the creator of the book, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: for those arriving late to the party, gave you give us a brief, bullet-point synopsis of what Strangehaven is about?
Gary Spencer Millidge: Not really. This is the one question every interviewer used to start with when I first started self-publishing Strangehaven in 1995, and I used to hate it with a passion. Partly because I didn’t know how to answer it. I didn’t know what Strangehaven was about for a couple of years, and giving a brief synopsis of the plot would, I felt, reveal too much about it. I also hated repeating myself in every interview, and I used to churn out the same, “Strangehaven is a village on the edge of Dartmoor in the rural south-west of England, blah, blah, blah” until I realised I could actually answer the question any way I damn pleased.
So what I’d want to say about Strangehaven today is that it’s a number of storylines that weave in and out of each other concerning the lives of the inhabitants of an improbably isolated village, very much in the vein of British ‘60s television like The Avengers and The Prisoner, but was also inspired by Twin Peaks. At the time, I was reading the new vein of naturalistic comics like Heartbreak Soup, Big Numbers, Dave McKean’s Cages, Strangers in Paradise, and I think you can probably spot various influences from those in my work as well. [Not to mention on this noticeboard, from the first volume, Arcadia – PÓM]
I originally called it a surreal soap opera, but I think that turned out to be off-base, and it might be better to describe it as a magical reality mystery, or something. I wanted to reflect real life rather than clichéd and predictable soap opera plotting even if many of my characters were tongue-in-cheek archetypes.
As for what it’s actually about, I’d say it’s about the perception of reality, but that sounds terribly pompous and dull.
PÓM: There are three previous volumes of Strangehaven – is this storyline going to be the fourth and final one?
GSM: The short answer is yes. There is a twinge of regret and uncertainty when I say that, but that probably is the case, if only for the sake of my long-suffering readers.
I was very much inspired by Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus, which for those that don’t know, was self-published monthly for 300 issues. I always loved the ongoing serial aspect of the comic book, but even by the late 1990s, this was changing. Trade paperback collections were beginning to emerge as a viable business model, and it was hard to convince new readers to join the party at issue 11 or whatever. Paperback collections were the answer to a degree, but the difficulty then was keeping all the books in print. There was no print-on-demand, and for a self-publisher to have to print at least 1000 copies at a time pretty much absorbed any profit the endeavour was making.
Not only that, but new readers invariably had to be pointed towards the first book, which for obvious reasons contained some of the weakest material (certainly art-wise). So at what became the halfway point, I decided a four volume series would be symmetrically and structurally pleasing.
PÓM: Have you known from the start how it’s all going to end?
GSM: There wasn’t ever meant to be an end. I wasn’t sure how the first issue was going to end when I started, to be honest. The first issue alone was more comics pages than I had ever drawn in my life before, put together. As I say, it was intended to be an ongoing, open-ended series. I figured that there could be collected editions by character arc – e.g. a Megaron and Chippy one, and Alex and Janey one and so on. I had imagined Strangehaven as a sort of anthology of different stories set in the same village, at the same time.
But pretty soon, the characters had increasingly become such large parts of each other’s story arcs that I abandoned this idea. Strangehaven was never meant to be built around a single plot. What I ended up with was numerous plotlines and characters that entangled themselves so intricately that I couldn’t pick them apart; which satisfied my perverse desire to be unconventional, but made Strangehaven a hard sell to foreign publishers and film producers and the like.
So, way back in 1999, after I had completed volume two, I decided that Strangehaven really needed to be a finite series and sat down and plotted out the next two books there and then. That’s pretty much the template I’ve been following ever since, and that’s when the ending (such as it is) was cast in stone.
PÓM: Is it rude of me to ask how long it’s going to take to get to the end of volume four, if you’re doing sixteen pages every two months? Call me cynical, but I’m just wondering how long it’ll be before I can sit down and read the entire things through, in actual book form…
GSM: Most episodes will be a tad shorter than that, about 13-14 pages. Essentially, it’s about half an old Strangehaven issue’s worth per Meanwhile… issue. Twelve episodes in all. Assuming that Meanwhile… maintains its intended bimonthly basis, it’ll take two years before the last episode’s published.
How soon after that any collection is published is dependent on a couple of factors; there are contractual considerations and so on, and of course, that’s all dependent on everything going smoothly, which, looking back over the previous twenty years, isn’t a given.
PÓM: Have you given any thought to re-releasing the first three volumes of Strangehaven, or are they still readily available?
GSM: They are, and have always been, in print, and theoretically available to order from comic stores, book shops and the usual Internet retail outlets, as well as directly from my own website, or from Top Shelf in the USA.
I say theoretically because there have been various distribution hiccups, one in particular that led to Amazon claiming volume three was out of print and only ‘available from these sellers’ for a couple of years, one of which was testing the waters by offering copies at £150 each. And it’s an incredibly difficult task to get Amazon to change factual errors, especially when going through a third party distributor.
I do believe all those wrinkles have now been ironed out (at least for the time being), so you should be able to order a copy in any of those places. Or if you’re lucky enough to live in Nottingham, Page 45 always stocks them.
PÓM: Do you have any misgivings about this new work being in colour, seeing as the work up to now was in good old black & white?
GSM: Well no, I wouldn’t say ‘misgivings’ exactly. Certainly when I originally signed up to producing new episodes for Meanwhile… I was expecting to do them in monochrome. John the publisher had floated the idea of colour in the early stages of negotiation, but I had dismissed it out of hand. I thought it would add an unnecessary additional stage to production and cause a potential conundrum for any future collected editions. And I am possibly correct about both those things.
But as plans for the anthology developed, it became apparent that John would be very keen to see these new episodes in colour, and after thinking about it, I thought it may be worth adding that string to my bow, especially as the cost of the colour printing wouldn’t be coming out of my pocket. I thought it might also possibly broaden the appeal of the series.
But it has been difficult to settle upon a technique that I could implement fairly quickly and yet keep the familiar look and feel of Strangehaven. I’m still finishing the art in grey wash tones, the same method with which the previous volume was produced, and adding colour digitally at a later stage. I’m fairly happy with the way it looks on the SEQUENTIAL digital edition, but the printed version of the first issue has turned out a little dark and desaturated. That’s something I’m looking to correct for future episodes. Not that anyone’s commented upon it anyway.
PÓM: Seeing as you were saying that you originally intended this to be ongoing, are there any plans for further Strangehaven stories, after you’ve finished up this initial storyline. Hope springs eternal, etc!
GSM: I’m not sure if anyone will be hoping for more Strangehaven once I finish this fourth volume; it may be the last thing anyone wants. From a personal point of view, after working on this behemoth for twenty years, and trying to get the damn thing resurrected for so long, it would certainly be refreshing to work on something different. I have enough ideas for comics already to keep me busy for the rest of my days, and I’m starting to feel a little restricted by the format I initially devised all that time ago.
You can never say never of course, and I suppose, there’s always the possibility of a ‘twenty-eight years later’ story emerging at some point, but let me finish this damn volume four first, okay?
PÓM: What sort of ideas for comics, do tell?
GSM: Maybe it would be advisable for me to attempt something a little less ambitious than an open-ended ongoing series with a cast of thousands, maybe a self-contained graphic novel to start off with. Obviously I don’t want to say too much about any potential ideas as it’ll be a while before I’d be able to start any serious work on anything new; plans are always shifting and morphing, and I don’t want to get anyone excited about something that may or may not happen.
But I will say I have a couple of well-developed projects that I’ve been fiddling around with for as long as I’ve been doing Strangehaven. In fact one pre-dates Strangehaven; after my Dad unexpectedly died in the late 1980s I wanted to do a memoir in comic book form celebrating his life and I even started work on it, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the chops at that time. So that’s always been on the back burner.
There’s also a globe-spanning Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and a time travel/moral paradox story that I’d like to get done, although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to draw either of those. I have come to the conclusion over recent years that I’m not likely to live long enough to draw all the comics I want to draw and working with a high quality artist would be a good compromise. That would probably mean that I’d need to get a publisher involved, so those projects are a few steps away from happening.
I’ve also become intrigued with the atheist/deist/theist debate and how that relates to current scientific theories about the creation of the universe and quantum mechanics and so on and I think I have a pretty strong idea for a vehicle that could explore that a little bit. That’s not all by any means, but you get the idea.
PÓM: One of my brothers lives on a small island off the south-west coast of Ireland, which has a population of 124, more than half of whom are non-natives, originally not only from various parts of Ireland, but from Germany, Scotland, Canada and elsewhere, so it seems to have that same sort of geographic gravity as Strangehaven does, although possibly not as inescapable. Are we ever going to get any sort of explanation for that?
GSM: That sounds like an interesting island to live, or even visit. Does your brother have any explanation for the diverse nature of the immigrants to his island? Is there one or sixty different explanations? As far as Strangehaven’s concerned, I think it’s pretty well established that it does have an apparent ‘geographic gravity’ as you’ve characterised it, or at least some of the inhabitants seem to think so. Whether it’s relevant to the central themes of the series (if there are any) may or may not be explored in future episodes.
But it is essentially the backbone of the series; it enables me to have a disparate cast with substantially different back stories to explore. At the highest of high altitude maps, Strangehaven is a simply a place full of weird people with their own views on the world.
PÓM: Does it not do your head in having to wrote Adam Douglas’s dialogue? [A character who claims that he’s from another planet – PÓM]
GSM: I’d say no, not really. It’s hardly Hob’s Hog*. You come up with the character, and his speech patterns, and if it’s difficult to write, then that’s part of the challenge of being a writer. It’s probably easier for me than it is for the reader as I know what he is supposed to sound like. Adam’s character is defined well enough in my head to let him ramble on while I merely transcribe what he’s saying.
I have to admit that I introduced Adam as a bit of a novelty, but I immediately became aware that he was a hugely popular character and as a result has become an increasingly important cast member.
Ronnie did say in one issue that she thought he was from Düsseldorf which suggests a Teutonic accent. But some astute readers may wonder why his distinctive use of grammar isn’t entirely consistent – is it because of the writer’s lack of skill, or is Adam not being entirely honest about his origins?
PÓM: I believe that the publication date for Meanwhile… #1 is a bit complicated. What can you tell me?
GSM: For a definitive answer, you would have to ask my publisher, Soaring Penguin Press. They’re essentially a book and graphic novel publisher, and they tend to have different publication dates for the UK and the US. Obviously the direct comics market is a bit different in that periodicals tend to get published simultaneously worldwide. There are some contractual concerns regarding dates which may have complicated things as well, and two British comics festivals – The Lakes and Thought Bubble – were close enough together in the calendar this autumn to make it an irresistible time to launch the anthology in the UK. So it’s been available in the UK at selected outlets since October, but will be getting its full international direct market distribution as from February. (Meanwhile… #1 is listed in the December issue of Diamond Comics’ Previews and can be ordered from your favourite comics retailer from that point. It’s also available on the SEQUENTIAL digital platform as well.)
PÓM: Thanks for taking the time to answer all these, Gary. And I’ll just mention here that we’re part of the way through a longer interview, which might even get finished before Volume 4 of Strangehaven runs its course!
GSM: Well thank you for wading through all that drivel that I’ve supplied in lieu of proper answers to your respectful and pertinent questions. Let’s hope it entertains someone somewhere who’s lost their internet connection and only has this one page to read. And as far as the ‘other’ interview is going, well let’s resolve to have a race to see who finishes first.
I love the fact that a haiku is designed to capture a moment in time. It allows the reader, and the writer, to savor that moment.
These days, we are bombarded with so much information that sometimes we forget to stop and appreciate the little things.
I also love the challenge of presenting these small moments in just seventeen syllables, with a little twist to make them memorable.”
* * *
Today over at Kirkus, I chat with children’s book author and poet Bob Raczka, pictured above, about writing poetry for children; Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole, his beautiful new picture book, illustrated by Chuck Groenink; and what’s next on his plate.
That link will be here soon, and next week I’ll have some art from the book here at 7-Imp.
It’s that time of year when we’re all buying books as gifts for the ones we love (at least I assume you guys all do that too), so today I want to introduce you to a book I read in one sitting! It’s a delicious behind-the-scenes peek onto the set of a Race Around The World style reality TV show — if you’re looking for a holiday gift for the reader or reality TV fan in your life, this is it! And today, I’ve dragged in author Alison Cherry to answer some questions for all you lovely readers! But first, let’s hear a little about For Real!
No parents. No limits. No clue what they’re in for.
Shy, cautious Claire has always been in her confident older sister’s shadow. While Miranda’s life is jam-packed with exciting people and whirlwind adventures, Claire gets her thrills vicariously by watching people live large on reality TV.
When Miranda discovers her boyfriend, Samir, cheating on her just before her college graduation, it’s Claire who comes up with the perfect plan. They’ll outshine Miranda’s fame-obsessed ex while having an amazing summer by competing on Around the World, a race around the globe for a million bucks. Revenge + sisterly bonding = awesome.
But the show has a twist, and Claire is stunned to find herself in the middle of a reality-show romance that may or may not be just for the cameras. This summer could end up being the highlight of her life… or an epic fail forever captured on film. In a world where drama is currency and manipulation is standard, how can you tell what’s for real?
Alison, I looooooved For Real! Spill! How on earth did you get hold of so many fantastic details?
I did so much research for this book! It was pretty easy to get hold of details about how to audition for reality TV effectively—I read several entire books about that. But once someone actually makes it onto a show, the network makes them sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements, so it’s significantly harder to find behind-the-scenes information about the filming process. Fortunately, reality shows have a lot of rabid fans, and they’re pretty good at scrounging up secrets—in fact, there’s a nearly-500-page, fan-written tome about the first few seasons ofThe Amazing Race. Since the show in my book is pretty similar, I found all kinds of information I could use in there.
Of course, I also needed lots of little details that were far too specific or mundane to address in that kind of book. What’s the sign-in process like at an audition? What does the producer’s side of the conversation sound like in a daily recap interview? Are the contestants allowed to snack on camera? How do you attach a microphone to someone when he’s not wearing a shirt? Fortunately, I was able to find one reality show contestant, one casting director, and one field producer who were willing to do interviews with me. I probably drove them crazy with all my super-specific questions, but they were incredibly good sports about it, and they did an excellent job of demystifying things!
And what about the exotic locations? I’m guessing an all-expenses-paid world tour wasn’t on the cards, so how did you so convincingly convey that local flavour?
Sadly, you’re right: a world tour was not included in my advance. I actually did a lot of my local flavor research by watching The Amazing Race; there have been something like twenty-five seasons at this point, so I was able to find at least one episode that took place in each of the cities I’d chosen. I never stole a challenge from the show, but I paid a lot of attention to what was going on behind the contestants so I could accurately describe the road signs, the taxis, the locals’ clothing, etc. It often took me ninety minutes to get through a forty-five-minute episode because I had to keep pausing it to write down descriptions of cows and rooftops and bridges. The “street view” function on Google Maps was also an incredibly big help—I spent one entire afternoon virtually driving down highways in Scotland. Honestly, I can’t imagine how people did book research before the internet…
I know I looooove Race Around The World for my vicarious travel fix, and For Real felt like being allowed behind the scenes. Are you a big reality TV fan?
I used to watch a number of the competition shows pretty religiously: Amazing Race, Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance, Work of Art, and Project Runway were my favorites. I loved watching people showcase their talents, and I used to get really into it. Unfortunately, writing this book kind of ruined reality TV for me. Maybe I just know too much about the strings behind the puppets now, but it just doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore. Scripted dramas only from now on, I think…
To leave reality TV for a moment, For Real also explores the relationship between sisters. Was that something you set out to do when you began writing the book?
Absolutely. The sister story came first, and the show came later; in fact, Claire and Miranda never even made it past the final round of auditions in my first draft! The sisters have been apart during Miranda’s four years at college, and I was most interested in exploring the way their relationship shifted and strained and morphed as they struggled to get to know each other again as adults. I sent them on this trip around the world together because it was the best way to raise the stakes and the tension; it turns out emotions bubble to the surface much faster if you surround your characters with manipulative strangers, deprive them of sleep and personal space, and stick a camera in their faces!
And finally, what’s the one book you’d pack if you were setting off around the world?
I’d bring a big, thick, plot-twisty novel full of scandal and scheming and intrigue, like Gone with the Wind or The Count of Monte Cristo. Those books are so long that they’d last me through a bunch of transcontinental flights, and if I did manage to make it to the end, I love them enough that I’d be perfectly happy starting over again right away.
Thanks Alison! Readers, I’m sure you can see now why I’m so into this book–there’s nothing like being kept up late by an amazing read, and this one kept me laughing, guessing, turning pages, and kept me from sleeping!
Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is out now in Australia, and coming on December 23rd in the US! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.
This morning I have an interview with Monica Murphy, as well as a copy of Owning Violet to give away!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in five words or less.
[Monica Murphy] Wife, mom, workaholic, dedicated
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Owning Violet?
[Monica Murphy] Absolutely! OWNING VIOLET is the first in The Fowler Sisters series and is about the middle Fowler sister, Violet. She works for her family’s cosmetics company (Fleur) and when the book starts out, she believes her life is set and is going to follow a specific pattern. But it doesn’t. She gets thrown for a loop and then Ryder McKay enters her life…and really starts messing with her head. He works for Fleur as well and wants to use Violet to get ahead. But of course, he ends up falling madly in love with her…
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share your favorite scene?
[Monica Murphy] It’s fairly late in the book and I don’t want to reveal too much because of spoilers but there’s a moment where Violet rushes back to her place to meet up with Ryder and he’s waiting for her. And he’s jealous but doesn’t know how to deal with it. Here’s a glimpse:
The moment I enter the lobby of my building I see him.
Pacing near the bank of elevators, the expression on his face fierce. He doesn’t even notice me at first, what with the way he’s scowling and staring at the ground, and I watch him for one unguarded moment, loving the way he checks his cell. In the hopes he has a message from me, perhaps?
I clear my throat and he whirls around, his expression softening in an instant. But he remains coolly impassive, keeping his distance as I approach him and reach out, pressing the button for the penthouse floor.
“Hi,” I murmur, stepping back.
“Hello,” he greets in return, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his dark-rinse jeans. He looks amazing. The spring night has turned cool and he’s wearing a black Henley shirt that hugs his torso, his biceps straining against the sleeves. I always see him in suits—or naked—and I savor these moments when I get to admire him in such casual clothing.
He looks good no matter what he wears.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
[Monica Murphy] I loved Violet’s journey. She really changed and grew in this book. So did Ryder. But I loved how strong Violet became. She surprised everyone, including me.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Monica Murphy] My cell phone! Oh God, I am so dependent on that thing it’s pitiful.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.
[Monica Murphy] My iPhone (see? LOL), a now empty can of diet Coke and a pile of receipts I need to file.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?
[Monica Murphy] Lately it’s been Sour Patch Kids watermelon flavor. They’re so good! I blame my daughter for turning me on to them.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?
[Monica Murphy] Umm, that’s a tough question! I’m going to say Jennifer Lawrence because I like her attitude and she knows Liam Hemsworth so win/win. I’d go visit Liam and ask him to invite his brother Chris over. Heh heh.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
[Monica Murphy] Teletransport! So I can go wherever I want whenever I want. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’d be doing a lot of heavy traveling that week.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?
[Monica Murphy] I read a YA book entitled The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel and OMG so so good. Another book I read was Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick – loved! I went on a YA binge.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?
[Monica Murphy] Thank you for taking the time to answer my question!
New York Times bestselling author Monica Murphy begins a sexy new contemporary romance series—perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Emma Chase—that introduces three sisters born to wealth, raised to succeed, ready to love, destined to make waves.
I’ve moved through life doing what’s expected of me. I’m the middle daughter, the dutiful daughter. The one who braved a vicious attack and survived. The one who devoted herself to her family’s business empire. The one who met an ambitious man and fell in love. We were going to run Fleur Cosmetics together, Zachary and I.
Until he got a promotion and left me in the dust. Maybe it’s for the best, between his disloyalty and his wandering eye. But another man was waiting for me. Wanting me. He too has an overwhelming thirst for success, just like Zachary—perhaps even more so. He’s also ruthless. And mysterious. I know nothing about Ryder McKay beyond that he makes me feel things I’ve never felt before.
One stolen moment, a kiss, a touch . . . and I’m hooked. Ryder’s like a powerful drug, and I’m an addict who doesn’t want to be cured. He tells me his intentions aren’t pure, and I believe him. For once, I don’t care. I’m willing to risk everything just to be with him. Including my heart. My soul.
In the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano asked Argentinian cartoonist Liniers about the inspiration for his “deeply unsettling” but “bravely existential” new picture book, What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story. Read the full review here.
Martha V. Parravano: What made you decide to make such a realistic — and thus dark — picture book on this topic for children?
Liniers: I don’t like children’s books that treat them as tiny ignorant human beings. They are smart, and as Mr. Sendak used to say, you can “tell them anything you want.” I remember enjoying being scared by movies and books when I was a child. Witches and vampires! Also, the story I decided to tell actually used to happen to me. I must have been three or four because I have a very vague memory of this. When my parents would turn out the lights I thought the ceiling disappeared, and I recall imagining — almost seeing — a tiger coming down in a spiral downfall. A very weird kid I was. Or not.
Mike Mignola chats with Douglas Wolk at Playboy about Hellboy and reveals a fundamental truth about artists—they write what they like to draw.
There’s a fairly radical change in style for Hellboy in Hell.
Well, there’s two things there. I hadn’t been drawing the book for a long time, and I changed the location radically. So I don’t know that I specifically changed the way I drew, but I changed everything else. My decision to go back to the book was attached to my decision to kill him off. I wanted to move him someplace that was made entirely of stuff I wanted to draw. When I draw the real world, there’s always something that’s gotta look right. I stylize stuff, but I’ve always felt I had my hands a little bit tied by having to obey the laws of gravity. But Hellboy in Hell is just this fluid dream world. Everything bends and stretches, so there’s a much more organic and intuitive way to draw everything. Perspective goes completely out the window. It’s just a matter of trusting your gut to make shapes. There’s a liberation to a lot of the artwork.
Kickstarter maestros Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray of Paperfilms are at it again, this time with a Western, Abbadon, a tale of murder and mayhem set in a town full of just about every vice you can imagine. As with previous projects, the book is being funded on Kickstarter, and as of this writing is a few thousand dollars from making its goal, with two weeks to go.
It’s only the latest in a series of successful crowdfunding ventures for the Paperfilms team—we spoke with Palmiotti previously aboutSex and Violence Vol 2here and Denverhere. This one has a new wrinkle: A partnership with Adaptive Studios, a new company that rescues abandoned IP. Palmiotti graciously answered a few questions about the project and Adaptive for The Beat.
THE BEAT: Unlike some of your other Kickstarters this is an adaptation of an unproduced screenplay? Can you explain the origin of this tale?
JIMMY PALMIOTTI: Justin and I were introduced to the crew from Adaptive Studios by a mutual friend and I flew out to California to meet and talk to them about what our company, Paperfilms does, show them the books we have done and think about how we can work on some projects together. Since Paperfilms is just a couple of people, on our end, we can put books together, but we really don’t have time to do much else and we thought this partnership would be an interesting one since the crew at Adaptive specialize in a lot of multi media including publishing and have connections that we either don’t or don’t have the time to pursue since comics are a very labor intensive medium.
We spoke about a few projects while there, and one special one in particular; Abbadon. We read the screenplay a few times and after some back and forth, thought this would make a great graphic novel with us adding our take on it. Even more attractive to us was we felt it would be a great world building project since the bigger picture outside the graphic novel is the town itself and its place in history. So bottom line is we fell in love with the screenplay, did our take of it, built on it and then went out and put a team together to do the art on the graphic novel. What backers of the Kickstarter will get is a complete story, cover to cover, that has a bigger picture built into it that we hope to continue building on.
THE BEAT: Adaptive Studios’ business plan involving rescuing abandoned IP. What does that mean and how does your partnership work?
PALMIOTTI: Adaptive studios is rescuing some IP as well as working with us to create new properties and exciting graphic novels. With anything I do in this business, it’s all about relationships and partnering with like minds that share similar goals. We do it on every single project when working with artists and designers, creating what we think are the perfect representation of the story we are working on. When I met and spent some time with the crew at Adaptive, I found that we had a lot of the same goals in common which was really exciting. Adaptive studios totally respected with Justin and I did, and since they didn’t do graphic novels themselves, this partnership made sense to us. The best part of working with them is that they really love graphic storytelling and like us, have a love of all genres, so partnering with them has been a no brainer. On Abbadon, they brought the project to us and we fell in love with the idea and built on it. Our next project together will be an original idea we had that they liked, and we are going to see how we can make it all come together. Partnering with anyone doesn’t make sense unless the other person can bring something to the table and we think by working together, we can do some pretty amazing things. Abbadon is our first project and right now, the focus is on us to put together a stunning graphic novel and hopefully a successful Kickstarter campaign.
THE BEAT: You’ve returned to the Western genre, where you told so many great stories with Jonah Hex—did you feel you had more Western stories to tell?
PALMIOTTI: For me, it’s a genre that will never get old because the classic storytelling elements are always at play. A successful genre always has certain elements to it that have universal appeal, and with Abbadon, it’s no different. With Jonah Hex, we based all of our stories around a main character and it was a fun ride, but with something like Abbadon, we can tell a ton of stories based on the set up in this graphic novel we couldn’t tell in a book like Jonah because we were always dealing with content specific guidelines. The book was basically an all ages one and with Abbadon, we are telling a more adult story with elements that we would never get away with in a million years in Hex. So, yes, we have more stories to tell, but we want to tell them as we see them.
THE BEAT: I assume Abbadon refers to the town this is set in—some people may remember it as the name of an enigmatic character from Lost, but it’s also a Biblical term for a bottomless pit. How does the story reflect that?
PALMIOTTI: The town name is based on the biblical name and what it represents. The story and main character is the lawless town itself, and how the people in it are tempting fate on a daily basis. It’s a town where lust, greed, pride, and madness are right at home. It’s the most fun place you can go and it may also be the last place you visit as well, depending on your deepest desires. We took the worst of the classic old west and created a lawless sin city that the reader will find fascinating on many levels. The main story about a killer on the loose has everything to do with the story itself and the characters involved with the hunting of the madman. There is a lot of character development within the 64 pages and its something we have a lot of experience with .
THE BEAT: Reading the description on the Kickstarter page, this sounds like a western detective story. What else should readers know about what this story is about?
PALMIOTTI: The graphic novel Abbadon is set in the late 1880’s American West and features some of the most intriguing characters we have ever had the pleasure to work on. This is the story of an expanding wealthy city steeped in sin, where anything is possible if you have the money, influence and power to obtain it. Poised to become the next boomtown, Abbadon is plagued by a series of grisly murders heralding the arrival of U.S. Marshall Wes Garrett.
A legendary lawman, Garrett’s claim to fame is that he killed a notorious murderer, who cut a bloody swath across the country and left scores of mutilated men, women and children in his wake. Garrett’s arrival exposes the secret that Abbadon’s sheriff Colt Dixon has desperately been trying to conceal – the victims have all been mutilated the same way they were by the killer Garret stopped – a man some called a monster, but the papers called him Bloody Bill.
Garrett and Dixon reluctantly join forces and have opposing ways of dealing with the situation at hand as they try to uncover the killer’s identity in a town so full of corruption that everyone is a suspect. It really is a great story because the characters themselves are really interesting.
THE BEAT: You worked with Fabrizio Fiorentino on All Star Western—what does his art style bring to a Western comic?
PALMIOTTI: Fabrizio knows his stuff and his illustrations and character drawings add a real world quality to the story and his storytelling and figure work breath life into our script in a way that is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time because of the subject matter. When we worked with him on All Star it was towards the end of the run and we wanted to find another project to work on together and this one was the perfect fit. The really cool thing about the book is each page is better than the last.
THE BEAT: The Western genre is considered kind of passe now, but western movies were once as popular as superhero movies are now. Do you think there could ever be a comeback for Westerns or has the time passed?
PALMIOTTI: I think there is always room for a quality story to be told no matter what the genre. Westerns are no different. I find it funny that the American western is a lot more fascinating to people living outside the U.S. and still has strong appeal.
THE BEAT: Any new features of your Kickstarter model with this project? It’s already more than half funded after a few days with minimal promotion (Editors note: , so you must be doing something right!
PALMIOTTI: We tried something different with this Kickstarter and focused on our usual backers first, and now we are spending the next few weeks going out and promoting the book to everyone. Only the people that have done Kickstarters realize just how much work it is to not only create the book, but getting a campaign together and especially promotion is a full time job. With our past Kickstarters, they always start out strong out of the gate and it’s the last few weeks we have to really focus on. The fun part of this process is that if we hit the number we are asking for, we can get really creative with the stretch goals and offer some really cool things to everyone backing Abbadon. At the end of the day, the art and story are the real sellers for this project and its up to us to deliver the goods. I am happiest to see that a lot of people are buying the digital version, which is only $5. I can see that these pledges are coming in from all over the world and I find this all to be really exciting. A big thanks for all of you that have supported this and past projects and to those new to Kickstarter, go have fun and explore the site. There are so many amazing comics and graphic novels to choose from.
Illustrator Jen Corace is visiting 7-Imp this morning. Turns out that she takes breakfast pretty seriously, because when I asked about her breakfast-of-choice, she said: “Oh, man. I love breakfast so much. Pretty much all of it’s ‘of-choice.’ At home, what I like most is something called a taco sundae. It’s a crisped-up corn tortilla, refried beans, sautéed kale, and a split, soft-boiled egg on top with hot sauce. Not-at-home I like having someone to go split-sies with — half-savory, half-sweet. I never want a full stack of pancakes or a whole waffle. I want just a bit, and I want that just-a-bit to mix and match with some polenta or over-medium eggs or just-right home fries. So yeah. I love breakfast.”
I actually really love breakfast, too, so let’s do this.
Jen, as you’ll see below, has illustrated a handful of picture books since 2005. (It occurred to me while working on this interview that her children’s book illustration has been around about just as long as I’ve been blogging, yet I had thought her career had started sooner.) I always like to see what Jen will do next. She’s capable of over-the-top fun (see her illustrations for Mac Barnett’sTelephone, which came out this Fall) and dark (Cynthia Rylant’sHansel and Gretel from 2008), and she has a style all her own. It has an inherent quirkiness I like, though “quirky” is so overused in children’s literature. I may be able to find a better word after we have our coffee.
Here is our taco sundae for breakfast:
Yum. I wish these interviews were real and in-person. Why can’t I do like Seinfeld and drive around and pick up picture-book creators for coffee?
Anyway. Enjoy the chat! Jen sent lots and lots of art.
* * * * * * *
Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?
Jen: I’m an Illustrator with Author aspirations. I still love working on manuscripts written by other people. I hope to keep doing that well into the future. But I have a few ideas of my own. They’ve been sitting patiently in the back of my brain, waiting for me to finish work on two solo shows. Once I’m past the solo show work, I can start figuring out how I write.
Jen: I use a mix of ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil, either on Saunders Waterford paper or Rives BFK.
Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?
Jen: Providence, RI! I love it here. Love it. You can’t swing a dead quahog around these parts and not hit the ocean. It also has an amazing community. I’ve found my family here, and they’re the smartest, funniest, most caring bunch of sass mouths I’ve ever known. They’re my people. Also, Rhode Island does fall right. It’s my season.
Pictured below: Early sketches and watercolors for Mac Barnett’s Telephone
(Chronicle, September 2014):
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Final art (without text) from Telephone
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“Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” (Click to enlarge)
“Tell Peter: Something smells like fire!” (Click to enlarge)
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Final endpapers (Click to enlarge)
Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?
Jen: It wasn’t until I was 27 that I decided to become serious about illustration as a career. I had done work here and there for friends, band work, an odd magazine piece here and there, side jobs for Anthropologie, but it was landing the cover for The Portland Mercury that made it all click for me.
I moved back to Providence. The cost of living is lower, my people were here, and Providence has an amazing artists’ community that I thought would be more supportive of my new-found focus. I did all the things — set up an online portfolio, regularly updated my online portflio with new work, sent out promotional postcards and packets, and waited. And waited. And waited. Annnnnnd waited — maybe two or three years.
By the time I was contacted by Chronicle to work on [Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s] Little Pea, I had already established myself in the DIY/illustrator-as-gallery-artist world. [See some gallery work pictured below.] It was an interesting exercise pulling back from the more fine art style I had established to retool it a bit to make it more flexible for children’s work.
And then the whole, organic snowball took off. I was offered Little Hoot[pictured below]; Steven Malk, who mostly knew my gallery work, stepped on board as my agent; and my whole world has opened up.
Pictured above: Color test and illustration from Little Pea (Chronicle, 2005) (Click all but the cover to enlarge)
Pictured above: Sketches and art from Little Hoot(Chronicle, 2007) (you can click on most to enlarge)
Pictured above: Sketches and art from Little Oink(Chronicle, 2009) (Click all but the cover to enlarge)
Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?
Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.
Jen: The school visits I do fall into two age groups — young, elementary school-type kids and art school, college-aged kids.
Elementary school visits for me involve reading books and then a drawing activity related to the book I’ve read in class. I’m not very performative, so it’s a real casual affair. I like hanging and drawing with kids.
For art school visits, it’s usually more career-oriented. I present my work and talk about my history, the hows and whys and what-fors. I try to have my lecture be more question/answer-based, because I want to know what they want to know, and I also want to provide an opportunity for the students to ask any questions they want. I let them know ahead of time that I’m an open book. Usually, these visits also involve me critiquing their class work at the end. I love critique sessions. It involves a specific language about how to talk about work being successful or not, according to specific parameters.
Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?
Jen: Currently, I don’t have any titles or manuscripts that I am working on now, but I’ve got projects-a-plenty right now.
For the past year, I have been pulling together work for two solo shows that are running back to back. Without opened on September 11th at Land Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Within opened on October 11th at Art Star Gallery in Philadelphia. One month apart, very much back to back.
Ultimately, the two shows work together as one large body of work. I wanted to explore the ideas of community and how one relates to nature as an indoor creature vs. an outdoor creature. There’s also good doses of girl gangs, occult activities, and lite witchery mixed in.
(Disney-Hyperion, 2010) (Click all but cover to enlarge)
This past year I worked on a card game with my brother, Jason, called Lords & Ladies[pictured below]. The object is to create the greatest family legacy according to Edwardian society standards, while avoiding the backstabbing and gossip from other familes seeking the same status. Once both solo shows are put to bed, Jason and I will start working on a second game. I don’t want to talk too much about it at its infant planning state, but I will say that I am looking forward to all of the research and reference material-mining ahead of me.
Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jen again for visiting 7-Imp.
1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?
: When I get a new manuscript. I print it out immediately. I tend to skim reading material on a computer screen and need a hard copy to stare at, bring around with me, make notes, make doodles, that sort of thing. I sometimes use a pagination grid to break up text and images in a way that fits in the book and makes for proper pacing. But mostly, I just make page notes on the printed-out manuscript and write little bits of notes about what I’m thinking about doing for each spread.
I’ll push those ideas around for awhile, and then it’s time for the most important phase in anything that I do — staring and thinking. Sometimes I stare and think while sitting. Most of the time I lie on the floor to do my staring and thinking. No music on, just the ambient sound of my house in this neighborhood. I hold the project loosely in my head and let my brain work around it. Nine times out of ten it gives me a good foothold of where to start and to see how the overall book is going to play out.
A basic sketch (Click to enlarge)
Color sketch (Click to enlarge)
And then I just jump in. In about three rounds of sketches, involving back and forth with my art director and editor, I’m ready to start final art. Generally, I know everything that is supposed to happen—the color, the composition, the flow—which is great. It feels solid and makes for steadfast confidence in producing the final art. But there’s always a little wiggle room for invention or spontaneity, and those are the secret sweet spots of working on a book — or any piece of art for that matter.
Examples of initial sketches (Click each to enlarge)
2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.
: My studio is a sunny, oddly-proportioned room on the second floor of my house. It has pine board floors, sadly inoffensive wallpaper, and when I look out the windows, I get to stare at a house that’s painted the best shade of pink. It looks great as the sun starts to go down.
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I have a lot of surfaces in my studio. I love horizontal surfaces — for paper, for paint, for bottles of ink, for sketchbooks and reference books and scrap paper, pencils, lists, cutting mats, containers full of paintbrushes, random craft projects, cups of coffee, a late night Manhattan, and on and on an on. My desk is a split top. Two thirds of the work surface bevels, which is useful when I am working with watercolors. To the left is a taboret, where I keep on top reference books relevant to the project at hand. The drawers of the taboret are essentially art supply casseroles. Some might call them junk drawers. To the right of my desk is a large, vintage card table, where I try to keep an organized selection of inks and paint. My growing collection of ceramic mixing pallets lives there as well.
On the wall directly in front of my desk and on the ceiling that juts out above, I keep a changing menagerie of reference and inspirational images that speak to the work at hand. It’s helpful for me to casually absorb these images as I work.
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Outside of the desk hub, there is a ’60s-ish-style bookshelf I found in the park one day. It houses reference books, old sketchbooks, and my copies of books that I work on. I have a double stacked flat file system. The top half, for the most part, houses blank paper and wood panels for woodprinting. The bottom half contains finished artwork. None of it is particularly well-organized.
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3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?
: As my youngest reading self, I Know An Old Lady[pictured below], illustrated by Abner Graboff, ate up my brain. I loved it. All of it. The colors are amazing; the shapes are bonkers; and the “I guess she’ll die” spread was a wallpaper for my laptop for a long, long time.
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[Ed. Note: This cover of the book, you may have noticed, has Lane Smith’s name on it. That’s because I got the image from the wonderful blog about subversive books that he once ran with Bob Shea.]
After that, I was obsessed with the Ramona Quimby series. Whatta scamp. As a pre-teen/teen reader, I loved the Hitchhiker series, anything Vonnegut, and I was definitely part of the dark circle circulating all of the V.C. Andrews novels.
4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)
Jen: Ohhh … let’s see. Maira Kalman, because … c’mon. How is that not going to rule?
Hori Narumi. I know little to nothing about her, but she is capable of creating beautiful, minimal illustrations, as well as edge-to-edge-chock-full-of-girls-and-botanicals paintings.
The third would be Tomi Ungerer, because he’d keep it dialed in with his insight and way of speaking about things. Also, we’d skip the coffee and the wine. I’d be making everyone a Manhattan.
5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?
Jen: My media schedule while working is currently this:
I listen to music when I am trying to figure something out, trying to find my path in a book. So, that includes pacing, character design, composition, and color palette — anything that requires quiet concentration. Music gets me into that space. I listen to Antony and the Johnsons, Angel Olsen, Sam Cooke, and Future Islands a lot right now.
I listen to podcasts or audio books when I’m working on repeat patterns or any repetitive work. Because it’s more of an automatic movement for me, it frees up my brain to be able to listen to stories. Right now my favorite podcast is The Hearty White Miracle Nutrition. I don’t have an audio book that I am listening to right now, but the last one I listened to was Stealing God’s Thunder by Philip Dray. It’s about Benjamin Franklin, who is my favorite get-yer-freak-on smarty pants.
And then when everything is sort of set—the major bones and structure of a piece is down, and the more nebulous aspects of the composition or color have been solved—I can go on autopilot, and I binge listen to bad TV. Right now I have five and a half seasons of Millionaire Matchmaker under my belt. I might be experiencing some Stockholm Syndrome with Millionaire Matchmaker at this point, because when it works out for the far-and-few-between sweet couples, I tear up a bit.
(HarperCollins, 2011) (you can click most to enlarge)
7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.
Jen: What’s your favorite nickname?
“Wildfire.” I gave it to myself, after the song “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey. It was a song that I listened to a lot while falling asleep when I was a wee me. It gave me a dark anxiety that I loved.
* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *
Jules: What is your favorite word?
Jules: What is your least favorite word?
Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Jen: Gardening, ocean-swimming, soaking in a bathtub, paying attention to atmospheric light.
Jules: What turns you off?
Jen: Adam Levine.
Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
Jen: Any variation of “fuck.” “Fucker,” “fuck face,” “fuckity fuck fuck,” pronouncing “fuck” like faaaaaahhhhhhck.
Jules: What sound or noise do you love?
Jen: The click/clack sound of rocks getting pulled back by the tide.
Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?
Jen: Providence’s new, clanky garbage trucks.
Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Jen: Something in marine biology. Years ago, I looked into going back to school for it. That or bartending. Something with liquids. I guess that’s what that all comes down to.
Jules: What profession would you not like to do?
Jen: Astronaut. Horizonless spaces make me nauseous.
Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Please welcome Hope Ramsay to the virtual offices this morning!
Good morning, Hope! Describe yourself in five words or less.
[Hope Ramsay] Author and yarn fanatic.
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Hope Ramsay] My reading glasses. (And I carry my Nook with me everywhere too. The glasses and e-reader kind of go together.)
Name three things on your desk right now.
[Hope Ramsay] Photos of my cats (and also the kids and hubby), hand cream, a dry-cleaning claim check for stuff I dropped off almost a month ago.
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
[Hope Ramsay] This is a tricky one, superpowers come with significant down-side risks. I guess if it were in my power, I’d like to see peace in the Middle-east where everyone is free to practice whatever faith moves them and holy war is a thing of the past. I don’t know what superpower that might be.
What are some books that you enjoyed recently?
[Hope Ramsay] I just read Juliet Marillier’s latest books, Assassin’s Quest and Dreamer’s Pool: A Blackthorn & Grim Novel. I’m a huge Juliet Marillier fan. She’s on my must buy list. I recently re-read her entire Sevenwater’s series. Her heroines are such strong, smart, tough women. I just love everything she writes.
About LAST CHANCE FAMILY
Mike Taggart has always been willing to take a gamble. But these stakes are just way too high – there’s no way he’s prepared to become a legal guardian to his five-year-old niece. His only option is to head from Las Vegas to Last Chance to sort things out as quickly as possible. Problem is, he arrives to find an inconsolable little girl, her sick cat, and a gorgeous veterinarian he can’t get out of his mind. Charlene Polk has two talents: healing sick critters and falling in love with the wrong men. Mike has trouble written all over him, but she can’t leave him in the lurch. And the more time she spends with the sexy high roller, the more she sees that this ready-made family is the best stroke of luck they’ve ever had . . .
About Hope Ramsay
Hope Ramsay grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina. Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you’ll find in Last Chance, South Carolina. She’s a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart and is married to a good ol’ Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.
Charlene stood in the kitchen doorway, her hair wet, her stomach empty, and her heart suddenly racing. Mike leaned against the counter, his head hung low. He seemed to be struggling to draw breath.
She crossed the room and put her hand on the middle of his back. His T-shirt was soft, the body beneath it hard and warm.
He straightened and let out a big breath. “Sorry.”
“Killer heartburn,” he said, then immediately changed the subject. He moved toward the coffee maker, shaking off her touch. “You want some coffee?”
He turned and gave her a quick glance. That’s all it took.
Her heart wrenched, and she responded the way she always did when confronted with unspoken pain. She encountered it often, usually in the eyes of animals. But it was there, beyond that mild-mannered expression he tried to wear. He was hurting. She reached up to stroke his cheek. Her fingers encountered his warm skin and rough stubble. That touch flipped her switch. Electricity flowed inside her.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as her fingers moved over his face to his ear and up into his bright red hair.
“Don’t,” he whispered, but he made no attempt to move away. He reminded her of an abused animal that growls when all he wants is a little kindness. She cupped the nape of his neck and pulled him down as she rose up on tip-toes.
She gave him a soft, gentle kiss. Nothing deep or sexy, just a little kiss, intended to comfort. But it didn’t stay that way. Mike grabbed her by the cheeks and pulled her up into it like a man starving for love. His tongue stroked hers. His right hand dropped to her hip, and he yanked her forward and into his chest.
Her knees almost buckled. But she didn’t fall, because Mike had her. His hand found the small of her back as he sagged against the counter. They leaned together, thigh to thigh, chest to chest. The kiss turned utterly carnal. His hand wandered up over her spine to her breast. He palmed it. Her nipples came alive. He groaned.
And her whole body throbbed.
She broke the kiss and looked up into his face. His eyes had dilated with desire. His breath sounded ragged. His skin flushed red.
“I want you,” he said in a hoarse voice. “I want to strip you naked and do it right here in the kitchen.”
His words ignited a bad-girl fire that pretty much torched her reservations about him. “Okay.”
His gaze widened. “I’m not a reliable bet,” he said.
She laughed. “You think I don’t know that?”
She could almost feel him having second thoughts. And she had no intention of allowing that. She’d have the rest of her life to regret this choice. Or not.
Which would she regret more? Letting her reservations about him put the kibosh on this? Or spending the rest of her life wondering if maybe she should have bet on Mike Taggart?
Heartbreak was her middle name. “I’m a gambler,” she whispered. “And sometimes the long shots pay off.”
It's a holiday weekend, hooray! I hope everyone has had a most excellent Thanksgiving. I thought for a holiday weekend treat, we'd do something fun here today, so I asked a couple of authors to participate in an interview just for ALSC and YALSA blog readers!
The two authors I asked to participate have something in common: they write both middle grade and young adult books. As a librarian who works with all ages, and especially with the "tween" ages (where ALSC and YALSA's services overlap!), I find myself needing to be familiar with both types of books.
The exact definitions of Middle Grade and Young Adult are subjective and amorphous. For the purposes of this post, we'll just say that the intended audience for middle grade is slightly younger than the intended audience of YA, but both can be enjoyed by all ages.
ALLY: Are you in a different mindset when writing MG and YA? How do you think differently about your audience?
Claire: Regardless of genre or age category, I approach writing all my books the same way: How do I write the best story I can, in a way that shows I respect my audience and their intelligence? Beyond that, any differences between writing YA and MG are primarily stylistic. For me, it's all about voice and language. YA is generally more introspective than MG. YA characters process experiences internally and think a lot about their emotions, whereas MG characters are still externally focused, looking outward for examples and understanding. MG characters are distilled, pure--not innocent, but rather mutable and unfinished. There's a rawness to MG characters, a lack of sophistication, that lends itself to a certain straightforward, unfettered voice. It's not that MG characters don't feel a complexity of emotion; they simply aren't as adept at understanding and expressing it as their YA counterparts. So, with this in mind, I strive to craft my MG voice using careful language that feels true to the spirit of this emotional purity and inexperience.
Alison: This might sound callous, but once I've chosen the subject matter for my books, I rarely think about my readers at all! As I see it, my job as a writer is to tell the truth through the medium of an engaging, well crafted story, and that's the case whether I'm writing for twelve-year-olds or eighty-year-olds. I think readers of all ages want basically the same thing: a plot that hooks them right away and continues to surprise them throughout the story, and characters who feel three-dimensional, relatable, and flawed. I certainly consider whether or not a sixth grader would know a certain word or a specific cultural reference, but those are minor details, and the important parts of storytelling are way more universal. I'm not writing for kids and teens, specifically. I'm writing for anyone who wants to read stories about kids and teens.
ALLY: Do you think you will continue to write both YA and MG? What's next up?
Claire: I hope to continue writing both, yes. I certainly have ideas for more of each! Currently I'm ensconced in three different MG projects, so those will probably surface first. Unfortunately I can't talk about any of them yet!
Alison: Absolutely! I love the variety that comes from switching back and forth between them. Right now I'm working on a new MG that involves a prank war at a sleepaway camp. My YA work-in-progress, which comes out in 2016, is about musical theater and the fine line between obsessive, platonic female friendship and romantic love.
ALLY: Claire, you started in publishing with MG. What was it like to make the transition to YA, both in your writing, and in terms of the way your book was received by the kidlit community? Did it feel very different?
Claire: From a craft perspective, making the transition was a bit challenging. The MG voice comes more naturally to me, so refining my YA voice required a lot of work (especially since my YA debut, Winterspell, is high fantasy-esque, and that's a tricky voice to get just right). However, since joining Twitter back in 2009, I've made many friends with bloggers, authors, and readers in both the YA and MG communities. There's a lot of overlap between the two. So in that way, I felt like I already had many supporters in the YA world before my YA debut even released, for which I'm incredibly grateful!
ALLY: Alison, your MG hasn't been published yet. Do you anticipate major differences in the entire experience?
Alison: I do! First of all, I anticipate having a lot more contact with actual young people this time around! Although I do get to chat with my teen readers sometimes, tons of adults read YA, and nearly everyone who has contacted me about my books so far has been a grownup. I'm excited for this experience to be a little more kid-centric! Relatedly, I'll have to change my publicity strategy; for YA books, most promotion can be done online through Twitter and blog tours and such, but those tactics won't get my books into the hands of the fifth graders I want to reach this time around. Honestly, the thing I'm most excited about is that the cover for Grandma Jo's Guide to Prim and Proper Pilfering will feature an illustration instead of a stock photo. My editor has already asked me for character descriptions so she can start looking for the right artist, and I'm bouncing in my chair just thinking about it!
Y'alllll, aren't they great?!
Claire's latest book, a YA fantasy retelling of the Nutcracker (perfect for Christmas!) is out now, And Alison's latest, a fun YA sister story about a reality show trip around the world will be out December 9:
This morning Marina Adair dropped by the virtual offices for a chat. Check out what she has to say, and then enter her awesome giveaway!
Good morning, Marina! Describe yourself in five words or less.
Hot mess with a sunny disposition. Okay, I know, that’s 6 words, but I’m also an over achiever.
What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
Name three things on your desk right now.
Since my bed is essentially my desk, as I spend all day there writing, I will say, my cat Suki, my other cat Awesome Bob, and my reading glasses, because they are so helpful being placed near my laptop instead of on my face J
You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
Super metabolism, so I can eat all the mini-doughnuts in the Hostess bag and not get a belly ache.
What are some books that you enjoyed recently?
CHASING TROUBLE by Joya Ryan—super sexy small town with heroes who have so much charm and swagger I melt.
SAVING GRACE by Julie Garwood—this is the fifth time I have read this book and I love it more every time. There is something about a bit of a woman who bring a hulking warrior to his knees.
SUGAR’S TWICE AS SWEET by Marina Adair (November 25, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $6.00)
He’s trouble she doesn’t need . . . Thanks to a cheating fiancé, Josephina Harrington’s perfect life just crashed and burned. Moving in with her overbearing parents is definitely not an option. No, she needs to prove she can make it on her own. And she will-by turning her great-aunt’s old plantation house into a destination getaway. She’s just not expecting her contractor to be so hands-on-and so totally irresistible. . . . but everything she wants Bad-boy golf champion Brett McGraw figured his hometown of Sugar, Georgia was the perfect place to lay low and get his life back up to par. The leggy blonde with a pint-sized pup is the kind of sweet ‘n sassy trouble he never saw coming. She doesn’t know a nut from a bolt and before long, he’s renovating her house . . . as she steals his heart. Can he convince Josephina that his womanizing ways are in the past and he’s ready for forever?
Marina Adair is a lifelong fan of romance novels. Along with the Sugar series, she is also the author of the St. Helena Vineyard series. She currently lives in a hundred-year-old log cabin, nestled in the majestic redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with her husband and daughter. As a writer, Marina is devoted to giving her readers contemporary romance where the towns are small, the personalities large, and the romance explosive. She also loves to interact with readers and you can catch her on Twitter at @MarinaEAdair or visit her at www.MarinaAdair.com.
Three days later, Josephina shoved the last scrap of wallpaper into the trash bag and knew it was quitting time. Her arms were sore from scraping off glue, which was littering the wood floor, she had a big bruise on her forehead from running into Brett’s elbow—and sharing breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a man who made her motor hum only added to her aches.
True to his word, he had asked her out every day. And every day it became harder to say no.
Today had been the worst, she thought as she watched the play of Brett’s muscles while he supported a plank of rotted wood over his head. He was all rippled and gorgeous and flashing that orgasm-inducing smile. The one that curled up slightly at the corners, saying he’d caught her drooling. Again.
“A simple yes is all it would take,” he said in that southern-boy way that made her heart warm. Along with some other, more pertinent, parts.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She stepped sideways, right into a bowl of nails, knocking them over. Then, blaming Brett for taking up too much damn space, she picked up the handsaw off the floor and reached into her back pocket for a pair of gloves—coming up empty.
“I’ve got an extra pair in my tool belt,” he said with humor in his voice as he jerked his chin toward his goodie bag, um, tool belt. “Right there in the center pocket. You see them?”
Oh, she saw them all right. She also saw how incredibly amused he was.
“Don’t move.” Eyeing him, she cautiously reached into the pocket, careful not to touch any of his tools. She grabbed the leather gloves and jerked her hand back.
Doing her best to ignore his laughing, she crawled up to the fifth rung of the ladder and sawed away the remaining few inches of beam. Between the sexy smiles and “accidental” brushing of bodies, Brett kept her in a constant state of unbalance.
“So to clarify, you’re saying you don’t want to go out with me,” he mused.
She sighed, sawing through the end of the beam and wondering why she kept repeating herself. “Dating wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Why is that?” he asked, lowering the beam to the floor.
This time she was certain he was flexing his arms on purpose.
“Because we’d go out, have a good time, come home, and have sex. Only instead of just amazing no-strings sex it would be complicated by all this other stuff, which would make things weird. Eventually I’d be short one contractor, miss my opening date, and wonder what happened.”
Not wanting to look at him, she set the saw on the top of the ladder, ready to move to the next spot.
“First off, I’m in this for the long haul, I gave you my word on that.”
Josephina turned around to ask him if he was talking about the inn, but then she forgot how to speak. Brett blocked her descent, climbing up behind her to the second rung, which brought him eye level. He gripped her hips and backed her up against the ladder. “And, sugar, sex between us wouldn’t be amazing, it would be earth-shattering.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
He sculpted his hands down her sides to her thighs, paying extra attention to her bottom on the trip back. She rested her hands on those biceps she’d been watching all week so she wouldn’t fall over as the air whooshed out of her lungs.
Hell, she’d suffered from severe oxygen deprivation since the minute she found him this morning, standing on the front porch, latte in one hand, a cheese Danish in the other, and the sun cresting behind him.
The man redefined “sexy contractor.” The faded college T-shirt clung to his impressive chest. And the hotter it got, the clingier the material became. Which was why four o’clock was Josephina’s new favorite time of day. It was when Brett shucked his shirt. And the tool belt he wore weighed down his jeans, giving her a prime view of chiseled abs and lean hips, and highlighting his yummy parts.
And that wasn’t even the most tempting part. Nope. The more she saw Brett as a normal hot guy, the more the never-going-to-date-him rule seemed to blur, and the harder he became to resist.
“I suck at relationships,” she rushed out, more for her than him. “I get so lost in the other person that Josephina goes MIA. I can’t do that again. Not now when people are counting on me. When I’m counting on me.”
“It’s just a date, Joie. I’m not down on one knee.” He sounded so sincere her heart pounded as if he were.
“Date implies the start of something, and you’re leaving.” And if I let you, you might take my heart with you whenyou go. “And I’m staying here, in Sugar.”
With a single nod, Brett let her slide past him on the ladder.
He wasn’t giving up, not by a long shot, she could see that in his eyes. But he was letting it go—for now.
Carl Sagan was prolific. He used to walk around with one of those tape recorders that had a strap and a microphone on a cord and record ideas when they came to him. Ideas just poured out of the guy. I love that image of him wandering around with this, recording his thoughts about this and that. I had many of [his] books to draw on, as well as television, radio, and print interviews. Mostly, I was looking for material that would capture the feeling that he left his audience with — that feeling of wonder and wanting to explore and find out more. ”
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Today over at Kirkus, I chat with author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson, pictured above, about Star Stuff, her new picture book biography of Carl Sagan.
That link will be here soon, and next week I’ll have some art from the book here at 7-Imp.
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Photo of Stephanie Roth Sisson used by her permission.
Top of the morning to you, folks! I’m happy to release my second Fuse #8 TV episode. This time around I thought it would be a bit of fun to take a trip to the Eric Carle Museum. Not everyone has ever had a chance to visit and it’s just the loveliest place. After that, I sit down with the truly delightful Lisa Graff to talk a bit about the slow burn of her career and her latest book Absolutely Almost. Enjoy!
Please welcome Jennifer Delamere to the virtual offices this morning!
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in five words or less.
[Jennifer Delamere] Travel-loving history geek
[Manga Maniac Café] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Jennifer Delamere] My CamelBak water bottle. I’m a big believer in the benefits of drinking lots of water.
[Manga Maniac Café] Name three things on your desk right now.
[Jennifer Delamere] My RITA® finalist pin (taped to my computer);
a coffee cup filled with bookmarks from my favorite authors;
an engraved silver bookmark with the George Eliot quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
[Manga Maniac Café] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week. Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?
[Jennifer Delamere] I’d stop time long enough to catch up on my writing and all my home projects!
[Manga Maniac Café] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?
[Jennifer Delamere] “The Anatomist’s Wife” by Anna Lee Huber; “The Girl Who Came Home,” by Hazel Gaynor; “Sailing Out of Darkness,” by Normandie Fischer
About A BRIDE FOR THE SEASON
London’s most scandalous bachelor has finally gone too far. Caught in a situation that was innocent but too compromising, James Simpson is forced to admit that he must do the honorable thing and marry the lady. Unfortunately, marriage alone will not be enough to appease her father. He won’t agree to a dowry unless James can find a suitable husband for the lady’s elder sister-the shy and awkward Lucinda Cardington. Lucinda doesn’t care that she is close to being “on the shelf”; she has more serious pursuits in mind. She enjoys the friendship she and James share over their love of photography, but she leaves dreams of romance to silly young ladies like her sister. James does manage to find a match for Lucinda, and his efforts to get them together are about to succeed…until James comes to the distressing realization that he doesn’t want Lucinda in anyone’s arms but his own.
The youngest child of a Navy pilot and a journalist, Jennifer acquired a love of adventure and an excitement for learning that continues to this day. She’s lived in three countries and traveled throughout theU.S. An avid reader of classics and historical fiction, she also enjoys biographies and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the characters and places in her books. She resides with her husband in North Carolina–where, when not writing or dreaming up romantic adventures for her characters, she can be found fantasizing about her next ski trip or European vacation.
GIVEAWAY: Lizis excited to give away a free copy of the second edition of her just released book, Food Lover’s Guide to Portland, to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in the US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
The summers that I was 6 and 7 years old in early ’80s, I went to a day camp in the woods maybe 30 minutes or so from the suburbs of Cincinnati where I grew up. There were a lot of memorable things about that camp, as there tend to be, but without a doubt the most memorable was Mr. Brady—the camp nature guide whose office was the old barn across the way from the open-air dining hall—and his resident alligators. The seven or eight alligators ranging in age from a couple years to several years lived in a large, maybe 10-foot diameter, round metal trough topped with a piece of plywood.
One day, every summer, Mr. Brady would take the youngest, or maybe just the most docile, alligator out of the trough, put it in the bed of his old beat-up blue pick-up truck and drive it down the hill behind the barn to the creek, where 15 or so of us would be waiting with our counselor. What happened next is not a dream. I am still friends with one of the campers and can verify that Mr. Brady—longish white beard, rubber pants and suspenders, boots—would then spend the next 40 minutes or so of our nature session wrestling with the alligator in the murky creek. Our task: watch. And in the process scream, laugh and hug each other tightly.
I’m sure there were some teachable moments that I’m missing that occurred during the alligator wrestling. There might have been words about habitat and behavior in the wild and maybe even a little bit about how humans are not typically a part of the alligator diet. Of course, all I remember, and all I am sure that most campers remember, is an old man wrestling an alligator in the creek. By choice. He seemed to have no fear, and he seemed to genuinely love doing it.
Although I have changed the names and some identifying details of the alligators what follows is my own story of wrestling with alligators, except that the alligators are humans and the wrestling is being done with writing.
When I first started freelance food writing shortly after moving to Portland, Oregon, in my mid-20s, I said yes to just about anything work-wise that came my way, including waiting tables, nannying and working in a Montessori after-school program. I also covered a lot of writing territory. I wrote a corporate fitness manual without ever having worked in an office, smoking cigarettes and drinking most nights of the week and never setting foot in a gym. Clearly I was an expert. I also wrote website copy for a few hotel and hospitality companies, health and fitness articles for a smaller circulation magazine in Arizona and movie reviews for an online art and culture startup in New York.
I tried my hand at a lot of different types of writing and, in doing so, did the opposite of what most writing manuals tell you to do—write what you know. Instead, apropos of an ambitious 20-something-year-old, I wrote more often what I did not know.
I always brought my limited life experience and subjectivity to the page, of course, and I researched and dug as deep as my usually too-fast-approaching deadline would allow, but let’s just say I was in all of these writing endeavors far from an expert. And that lack of expertise led directly to lack of confidence. That first year of freelancing I spent a lot of time researching and educating myself, but my primary motivator was a little off. I wanted to know the right things that, in my 20-something year old mind, translated to all of the things that would make me not sound stupid.
Nobody likes a snoop and that’s exactly what I was that first year of freelancing. My regular gig was ghostwriting food and drink pieces for AOL Online. For that, I’d visit restaurants, bars, clubs and markets in and around Portland and then write short profiles of each. I took copious amounts of notes about menus, inventory, décor and service in my tiny black refillable notebook, and if I ever caught whiff that someone was on to me I’d commit the remaining visit to memory as best I could sacrificing any more documentation to save face.
I would only ask one or two questions per visit, and then only if I thought I could get away with it without revealing anything personal. I’d avoid eye contact. My heart would race and my palms would sweat as I took ridiculous notes under the table about things such as the microgreens topping my scallops (“What are the little purpley-green spade-like micros? Mustard?”). If you kicked all that fear-built subterfuge down, I wasn’t being Ruth Reichl-like, in disguise in order to maintain journalistic integrity. I just didn’t want to have a real conversation with anyone that might reveal all that I did not know. Instead, I would go home after dinner and suffer through mind-numbing Google searches of microgreens until I settled on the variety that looked the most similar before ultimately deciding not to use it in the profile anyway. No time wasted at all!
On those rare occasions when I did find myself face-to-face and engaged with folks who I was interviewing or meeting with for some sort of professional reason, I showcased what I knew as best I could and tried to hide what I didn’t know. In other words, I was a bit like 20-year-old Ira Glass in his early interviews with members of the cast of MASH, which he talks about on the “Cringe” episode of This American Life. The worst is when Glass asks Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Potter, a series of needling questions about why he’s never been the lead on any show. So painful.
This sort of bravado is inherently juvenile, but we’ve all done it. Here’s how I got rid of being scared of not knowing: I stopped using my tiny black notebook to take notes in in public and I got a big notebook. I stopped sneaking away to the bathroom to take notes—I’m sure that a few waiters had me pegged as incontinent—and started writing them openly. I stopped muzzling my curiosity and ended more sentences with question marks. I had more and more face-to-face interviews that I needed to conduct for seasonal food stories with weekly deadlines that I was writing—more projects in general. I no longer had time to digest the latest study just enough so that I’d sound smart, to make obscure references that were only tenuously related to the subject at hand (references I’d secretly hope no one would actually try to turn into a real conversation). All of these things that we do from time to time to puff our feathers when we feel intimidated or unconfident, and as a result, hide our truer selves.
After a year of freelancing, I was too busy with assignments to keep up appearances anymore. The real, vulnerable, curious and often ignorant me stepped out into plain view. It turns out that first year of freelancing I’d wasted a whole lot of time getting in my own way. I simply got out of my way and the decade since I’ve been more than willing to often be the fool or even, from time to time, when it seems helpful to the interview and subject at hand, play the fool.
In general, people love to be asked questions—personally and professionally. Ask away. Be brazenly curious. Be proud of not knowing. The less you know means the more you have to learn and that’s a big part of what’s most fulfilling, fun and interesting about writing—the learning. Don’t be a bore and always try to prove yourself and outwit others. No one is impressed and it’s tiresome. Show how ignorant you are—we all are!—and you’ll have a lot more fun and be a much better writer as a result. The best writers are the most curious risk-takers who want to burn and learn and live
life to the fullest. Stop being scared and be one of them. In other words, wrestle those alligators in the creek. By choice. See, I knew I could bring it back to the alligators.
*No alligators were harmed in the writing of this essay.
Guess what? Those two things in my subject line are one and the same thing! We have a new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up, which also happens to be a recording of a panel I mentioned many moons ago: me, fellow editor and publisher Stacy Whitman, and our authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac, respectively, discussing their books If I Ever Get Out of Here and Killer of Enemies, respectively. It was a really great, meaty, interesting conversation (IMO) about how Stacy and I came to edit these books, editor-author relationships in general, writing YA, privilege, and cross-cultural publishing. And now you can see a writeup of it from Publishers Weeklyat this link, and listen to the full recording here. Thanks for checking it out!
Artist/musician/bartender/comics brew-master Leslie Stein has been making comics since the early 2000’s. She started making her comics by cutting & pasting construction paper into colorful silhouettes. Her work has continued to morph, and evolve over the years. Today, you can see how she’s broken down her characters, and stories into minimal line work, expressive colors, and animated typography!
Leslie Stein began self-publishing her personal anthology Eye of the Majestic Creature in 2004. The series stars her cartoon alter ego Larrybear(along with a colorful cast of characters based off of real life friends), and has transformed over the years from mostly fictional stories to semi-autobiographical stories, today.
Fantagraphics Books has published two collections of Stein’s comics, and is publishing a collection of her Diary Comics in 2015.
You can read new, regularly updated Diary Comics on Leslie’s tumblr site here, and VICE features a weekly comic by her, as well.
For more comics related art, you can follow me on my websitecomicstavern.com- Andy Yates
This morning at 7-Imp, I’m doing something a little bit different. Matthew Winner, who founded and runs the Let’s Get Busy podcast, is celebrating his 100th episode. He’s been visiting a few blogs to talk about his work, and today he has a cup of cyber-coffee with me to answer some questions about the wonderful resource that his podcast has become.
Matthew is an elementary school librarian and also runs a blog called The Busy Librarian. Today we’re going to focus, though, on his informative podcast. (Lucky me, I even got to visit in August.) Those of you who read my May interview this year with author-illustrator Dan Santat may remember this moment:
I’ve recently become addicted to Matthew Winner’s Let’s Get Busy podcast, where he interviews authors and illustrators in children’s publishing. Everyone should check that podcast out. … I think in about a year, when everyone catches on, it will be one of the most important media sites in the children’s publishing field.
So, here’s Matthew. I thank him for visiting today and congratulate him on 100 episodes!
Jules: What have been some of your LGB highlights and greatest joys this year?
Matthew (pictured right): Seymour Simon told me he feels like a father figure to me and that he’s proud of me. Brian Won called me “The Ira Glass of Kidlit, only cooler.” A bunch of #KidLitArt pals invited me into their weekly Mario Kart 8 online tournaments. I’d say it’s been a pretty spectacular year for me.
I feel like I could tell you something special about every single interview I’ve shared on the podcast thus far, but maybe the best way I can sum it up is to say that each interview brings with it something new. And there’s always at least one special moment in each of the conversations that makes a memory with me and that I end up sharing with others. I’ll give you an example: I recently interviewed Scott Campell (Episode 98) on his new picture book, Hug Machine. After a moment of gushing over his heartwarming story about a kid who is a champion for (and of) hugging, I told Scott that there was such a powerful sense of truth in his book’s text, and I asked if he himself was a hug machine. Shortly after I received my first and only virtual hug. It’s a moment that makes me smile so much and still it brings me back to his book. Near the end of the story there’s this great spread where the boy, in essence, gives the reader a hug. And on that page, in no uncertain way, Scott is hugging every single one of his readers. It’s awesome. And it’s a moment of the podcast that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.
Jules: Did talking to any of the many illustrators and author-illustrators you interviewed this year change your view of picture books in any remarkable ways?
Matthew: The work of authors and illustrators varies so much from person to person. We all know that. And yet I do find myself intrigued in hearing artists describe their process and how it’s changed over time. Lauren Castillo (Episode 100) published two books this year as an author-illustrator and both show such master of craft in the way she balances well-tempered words with these beautiful watercolors. I’m talking, of course, about The Troublemaker and Nana in the City. Her process includes writing a much more text-heavy manuscript, then editing it down as she creates dummies and considers her illustrations. It’s as if she’s split herself in two to work out the perfect balance of text and art. That just kind of blows my mind.
I had a similar experience when I spoke with Nathan Hale (Episode 61), known most notably for his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales graphic novel series. Nathan writes a full manuscript for every graphic novel before ever drawing a single sketch for the work. I mean, that’s amazing! He’s creating hundreds of drawings for his story with limited text, being that he tells much of his story through the art. And yet all of that is playing around up in his head and is captured, to oversimply his process, in what comes down to stage directions and art notes. Had you asked me prior to starting Let’s Get Busy about the way in which graphic novelists work, I never in a million years would have guessed that so many begin with a manuscript.
Then there’s the way that Dan Santat (Episode 41) envisioned our imaginary friends as extensions of ourselves, taking various forms that mirror our own interests. I mean, REALLY! Would you have guessed that Beekle resembles a blank sheet of paper onto which brilliant ideas can be captured?
Or that Bob Shea (Episode 23) designs each of his characters from a basic jellybean shape so that his readers can recreate his characters more easily?! My students and I spent an entire week drawing characters out of jellybean shapes when I learned that. First we started with Bob’s characters, and then we created ones of our own!
Or that Raina Telgemeier (Episode 39) tries to build a hook into the last panel of each of her pages in order to get the reader to turn the page and stay engaged in the story? No wonder none of us can put her books down!
Or that Chris Haughton has actually moved from creating his illustrations using a digital collage technique to working with cut and torn paper to create actual collage art for his newest picture book, Shh! We Have a Plan!
If anything, I would say that hosting Let’s Get Busy has made me an even bigger fan of picture books. I marvel at the process and the technique that goes into creating these works of art, and I think about how very lucky I am to get to peek into these artists studios and learn more about the inspiration and journey that brought them to the finished product.
Wait … did I answer your question? I hope I did.
It’s all remarkable to me.
Jules: If the sky were the limit, what’s one thing you wish you could do at your podcast, if anything?
Matthew: I would love for a whole bunch of us kidlit fans and advocates and creators to build a network together of podcasts and YouTube channels and blogs and news outlets. I know that would be a huge undertaking, but I think having one large collective with a single entry site to access all of this truly awesome content would be incredible. I listen to this great podcast called The Nerdist (see my response to the next question for more back story). But The Nerdist has grown over the past several years into a network of podcasts, YouTube shows, articles and more really cool stuff, and the idea grew from connecting fans of the podcast with other content they might enjoy. That’s where I’d love to see Let’s Get Busy connect and grow. I’d love to find a more efficient way of connecting my listening audience with other podcasts and resources they might love and also to get Let’s Get Busy to the ears of people who might not know about it yet.
I love being a part of Nerdy Book Club and all of the amazing connections I’ve made through that awesome collective, but it just wants me to help connect others in this kidlit community even more.
Jules: Can you talk a bit about why you started the podcast?
Matthew: I blame Travis Jonker, author of the 100 Scope Notes blog, for actually getting Let’s Get Busy started.
One of my favorite things about attending library and reading conferences is getting to meet authors and illustrators and cartoonists. But something special happens when you get to hang out with those same people beyond the exhibition halls or artists alleys. Chances are that, if you sit down with anyone you find remotely interesting and have an earnest conversation with them for ten or more minutes, you’ve found yourself. And when you speak with authors and illustrators and cartoonists, the stories you start to hear often inform the stories these creative types create. It’s not always so direct, but it’s always something I find really fascinating.
So when I was telling Travis Jonker this, as we were hanging out with other kidlit pals at a hotel bar in Chicago at a recent ALA conference, I related these conversations to one of my favorite podcasts, The Nerdist, in which the conversations with guests from all over the comedy, music, and movie scenes are informal and are given the time to breathe and get really interesting. Why not create something similar for the kidlit world where we’d get to hear these sincere interviews with authors and illustrators and then get to know and love their work even more so in the process?
Travis said in so many words, “Sounds great! I would listen to that! When are you going to start?”
Those words were the permission I needed to start Let’s Get Busy, a friend’s encouragement and validation of an idea. The rest is sort of history. I started interviewing my friends in the library and publishing worlds. After each interview I would ask my guest to make a recommendation of whom I should talk to next. From there, the connections have grown far and wide but have always maintained a sense of family and closeness. That’s a quality I hope the podcast never loses.
Jules: What’s your favorite thing about podcasting? What drives you to keep doing it?
Matthew: I learn something new with each person that I talk to. And I get to talk to people I never expected this small town school librarian to brush elbows with. And I get to be a fan of my guests’ works without having to filter or hide it. And it’s maybe the most fun thing I’ve ever been involved with. Okay… that’s an awful lot of sentences ending with articles, but it’s all to say that the thing that drives me to keep podcasting is that every conversation is like a gift that I’ve been given that I get to love and cherish and then share with someone new. Each guest, whether it’s someone whose work I know well or if it’s a person who just happens to be best mates with a recent guest, every single guest has been a pure joy to chat with. I’m glad I get to be the guy behind the mic on this one. And I’m grateful for the couple of people who are listening.
Jules: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Matthew: I’m a super slow reader. That’s probably why I don’t have more middle grade or YA authors on the podcast. It’s so hard for me to read through their books in time for the interview and it makes me feel really, really bad. I’ll talk to anyone and I’m really, really good at starting books. Ha!
Oh! And for a non-booky thing, I’m teaching myself to play banjo. I inherited a banjo from my wife’s grandfather, and I try to play a little bit every day. It’s been almost a year now, and I’m still struggling with my finger-picking, but I figure by the time I have a picture book contract of my own, I maybe—just maybe—will be able to write some sort of awesome song for the book trailer.
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Photo of Matthew and images from the podcast are used by permission of Matthew Winner.