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26. Interview: Jeff Lemire on the Stellar Future of Descender [Exclusive Art]

By: Lindsey Morris 

 

2015 is already a banner year for the creators of Descender, which has seen smashing success weeks before the release of its first issue. With the film rights recently acquired by Sony Pictures and amazing groundswell from the gorgeous preview pages, Descender is poised as an early contender for the best comic of the year.

Writer Jeff Lemire was kind enough to speak with Comics Beat about the incredible universe he has been crafting with co-creator and artist Dustin Nguyen in their new monthly ongoing series.


Comics Beat: Let’s start with a summary of Descender. What can readers expect from the series?

Jeff Lemire: So Descender is a science fiction comic in an ongoing series that I’m writing, and Dustin Nguyen is drawing and painting. The story sort of focuses on a young boy robot named Tim-21 who becomes, for various reasons, the most hunted robot in a universe where all robots, androids, and AI have been outlawed, hunted, and destroyed. There is something special about Tim and the secrets surrounding his origin that make him the most sought after robot in the universe.

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Jeff Lemire #1 Variant

CB: Tell me about the process for creating this story. You’re blending themes that you’ve worked with before in Sweet Tooth and Trillium like time, space, and being ostracized and hunted. Did this narrative come naturally to you?

JL: It certainly is an exploration of stuff that I’ve touched on in the past, but in a lot of ways … Like in Sweet Tooth, there’s the idea of the complete innocent, lost in a world full of fear and hatred and violence. Seeing it through his eyes is always something that has fascinated me and continues to.

I think as a parent myself, I kind of look at the world that my son will grow up in, and the fear and ignorance in everything going on – and it’s a scary place. I start to worry about what will happen when I can’t protect him from that anymore, so that’s always something that’s very much on my mind, and definitely something that went into Sweet Tooth, and again into Descender.

I think Descender has maybe something a bit new for me, in terms of exploring our relationship with technology. And again, I think that goes back to my son. He’s six now and I look at his relationship with technology compared to how it was for me when I was six. I’m 40 now, so you know, when I was a kid we didn’t even have computers in our houses or anything and here he is swiping an iPad when he’s five. It’s such a bizarre leap in technology and just the way he relates to technology. So that’s something that was on my mind as well. You look at Tim, and he epitomizes that, because he IS technology. He’s the ultimate interface between mankind and technology – he’s a robot so advanced that, in a lot of ways, he’s the most human character in the book.

So that was all swimming around in my head when I was developing the story, for sure.

CB: It’s funny you should say that, because when I was reading the first issue, I actually forgot for awhile that Tim was a robot.

JL: Yeah, I kind of wanted that. When I was first writing, I almost wrote it so that the first half of the book you think he’s just a normal boy, until he kind of reveals himself. And the way Dustin watercolors the book – the humanity he puts into the faces of the children and in general – I knew, hopefully, that Tim would be a very relatable character.

CB: Well Dustin is doing an amazing job, those pages are breath-taking.

JL: Yeah, it’s crazy he can do that on a monthly schedule. He’s a machine. Dustin was exclusive at DC for I think 14 years, and I think he was underused there. They sort of took him for granted just because he was so reliable. He’s one of those rare guys that can do the monthly deadline without much of a problem. So when they had something they needed to get done, they went to him, and as a result he didn’t get much opportunity to spread his wings. I’d see his sketchbooks and stuff at conventions, and I saw the drawings and paintings he’d do, and I knew that if he had a chance to do creator-owned, he’d really catch some people by surprise. He’s really embraced the opportunity on this book for sure. I’m pretty lucky to be working with him.

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A Nguyen sketch for Tim-21

CB: So how did you two end up on this project together?

JL: Well I was at DC as well for what, five years? So Dustin and I just got to know each other through circumstance of being at events together or whatever. I think we both really admired each others work and always talked about wanting to do something together. And then I knew his exclusive was finally coming up and mine was as well, and I was looking to do more creator-owned stuff so it just seemed like a great time for us to try something, and he was really into the idea. So it was just a combination of good timing, and us both being at a point in our careers where we were both anxious to do more creator-owned stuff.

It’s a very effortless collaboration to be sure, and he’s an easy-going guy, so it’s very easy. I’m very hands-off with him, and he’s the same with me, because we really like each others work and just let each other do our thing. It’s very relaxed – there’s very little communication outside of “Oh, this looks cool, thanks!”

CB: Well that was actually my next question, because it seems like you maybe don’t give him too much direction, and just let him go nuts. All that freedom could be a little overwhelming to some, but you both seem to be taking it in incredible stride.

JL: Yeah, I know his work, so I knew that we both come at visual story-telling from a similar place. I knew just inherently that he would tell a story just as good or better than I could if I was doing layouts or whatever, so I didn’t feel the need to control that element. I just let him do his thing and it’s been awesome working with him.

Comics Beat exclusive look at the Ray Fawkes variant cover.

Exclusive look at the Ray Fawkes #1 variant cover.

CB: Did you have the watercolor medium in mind already when crafting the story?

JL: No, I think I had a one-page sort of pitch of Descender that I showed him, and it was pretty undeveloped at that time, just the basic idea. The idea of him doing it in watercolor wasn’t part of it then, but as soon as he said he wanted to do that I got really excited about the possibilities.

Another thing Dustin does really well is he has a background in design. So when you’re building these cultures, worlds, technologies, architectures, and everything else, he can actually design that stuff. He has the robots figured out on a 3-dimensional level where he can actually take them apart and put them back together. So when you have that degree of design sensibility in the pages, but then executed it in watercolor, which is a very organic looking medium, it creates a very interesting visual tension on the page.

Sci-fi can be very cold and sterile, depending on the artist, so the use of watercolor gives it a certain sense of life, an organic look that I really like.

CB: So how long was the first issue in the making? It’s almost flawless, so a lot of careful work must have gone into creating this introduction.

JL: Just by the nature of the story there was a lot of ground work to be done before I could start writing scripts. The story itself revolves around a central mystery involving Tim, and these giant robots that appear in issue one – what they could be and what they might mean. So there was a lot of things I had to make sure I had figured out, and I had to know where I was going.

On top of that, just the world building. There’s I think 12 or 13 different planets at this point that we’ll be visiting throughout the story, and I wanted each one to feel like a real place. So you have to put a lot of work into designing and figuring out the technologies and cultures of these worlds, just to give them a different look and feel from one another. There was a few months of hardcore world-building and plotting before I wrote scripts. It’s been awhile – at least 8 months before I wrote any scripts.

CB: The first issue of Descender is already incredible cinematic. Was that on your mind while creating this universe?

JL: Oh, for sure. When Dustin and I started talking about Descender and conceiving it, our influences were a lot more cinematic than comic. Just by its nature the sci-fi we really loved tended to be films or television shows, and not so much comics. 2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite movie, so a lot of Kubrick’s pacing and the way he frames shots were really in my mind, and Dustin’s as well. Dustin brings his own set of influences, but I really feel like the pacing on this is a lot more cinematic than other work that I’ve done.

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CB: So Sony Pictures recently acquired the film rights to Descender. And super quickly!

JL: Haha, yeah it all happened very quick. I’ve had other properties or stuff I’ve created… there’s always talk of stuff happening, options and stuff, but it takes forever for anything to actually get done, or it falls through. But this one, for whatever reason, as soon as we announced the book at San Diego last year with Dustin’s promo image, there was just a ton of interest from Hollywood right away. I guess it just sparked something, and basically as soon as we had the first issue ready we started getting offers. It was a bit of a whirlwind.

At the end of the day it’s very exciting and everything, but Dustin and I mostly just care about telling the comic. I kind of write for him. I write stuff that hopefully he’ll think is really gonna be fun to draw, and when he reads the scripts and reacts, that’s sort of the satisfaction I have. That and seeing the art come in. If the movie stuff keeps happening and turns out to be good, that’s awesome, but again, I’m really focused on the comic. That’s what I control and that’s what I can get excited about.

CB: Is there anything else you can tell us about what we have to look forward to in the wake of Descender #1?

JL: Yeah, well every issue is going to be painted, which is fun. The cast is a little bigger than the first issue would have you believe. Tim-21, it’s his story, but there are a lot of other characters that bring different points of view to this universe that I’m excited to explore. Issue #2 kind of focuses a bit more on Tim’s past. We see how he came to the colony, and his first interactions with humanity and how they made him who he is. We learn that he’s very adaptable. You know, he’s a machine created in a laboratory, and he was sent to this colony and you kind of see how his first interactions with humankind evolved him into this character that you see in #1.

The final call for pre-orders is Monday, 2/9/15, so be sure to use Diamond Order Code JAN150567 to reserve your copy!

Descender #1 hits the shelves 3/4/15 from Image Comics.

3 Comments on Interview: Jeff Lemire on the Stellar Future of Descender [Exclusive Art], last added: 2/9/2015
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27. Carson Ellis on Home

The more I worked on this book, the closer I felt to it. It’s about homes: the ways they’re different and the ways they’re the same; the questions we ask about the residents of an evocative home and the stories we’re prompted to invent. It’s also, because I’m in the book myself, about being an artist and celebrating the things that artists are attracted to and inspired by — all the worlds that we can’t stop thinking about, reading about, conjuring up, visiting, and inhabiting.”

* * *

This morning over at Kirkus, I talk to author-illustrator Carson Ellis about her newest picture book, Home, out on shelves this month.

That link will be here soon.

(Also, given that the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this week, I just had to ask her about how Mac Barnett’s and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, now a 2015 Caldecott Honor book, is dedicated to her.)

* * * * * * *

Photo of Carson taken by Autumn de Wilde and used by her permission.

0 Comments on Carson Ellis on Home as of 1/1/1900
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28. Interview and Giveaway: Gwyn Cready, Author of Just in Time for a Highlander

 

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Good morning, Gwyn!   Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Gwyn Cready] Etsy-shopping, Scrabble-playing, hot-bath-loving kilt tipper.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Just in Time for a Highlander?

[Gwyn Cready] Just in Time for a Highlander, and the whole Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series, is a reversal of the usual time travel Highlander romances with the woman traveling back in time. In JITFAH, young, beautiful and fiercely independent Abby Kerr, the head of Clan Kerr, seeks the help of a fortune teller in order to find a strong arm who can help her maintain order over her men in the borderlands of 1705. But this is clearly a case of “Be careful what you wish for” because she ends up with Duncan MacHarg, a dashing Scot working on Wall Street in the twentieth century who knows little about clans and nothing about fighting battles—until she teaches him.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Gwyn Cready] In my favorite scene, Abby must teach Duncan to fight with a sword. Earlier, he has accidentally caught a glimpse of her bathing, which infuriates her, and to get even she tells him that the best way to teach a student to pay attention in a sword fight is to make him fight naked. Duncan complies and is forced to strip under Abby’s carefully scrutinizing gaze.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Gwyn Cready] All of it, really. The sex scenes, of course, but it was also fun being in the villain’s head in this one. He’s quite amusing.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Gwyn Cready] My phone and Pink Lemonade Lip Smackers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Gwyn Cready] I don’t have a desk. I curl up in the corner of comfortable leather couch to write, so a lap desk from IKEA, an ancho chile latte, and Socks, my silky terrier.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Gwyn Cready] A cheese plate made by my husband.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Gwyn Cready] Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Tina Fey.

[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?

[Gwyn Cready] The power to look good in a pair of jeans. Shop.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Gwyn Cready] I loved, loved, loved Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? If you’ve ever taken care of a loved one in their later years, you’ll love this touching and humorous graphic novel. I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood now, and it is, of course, wonderful.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Gwyn Cready] On Twitter, on Facebook, at cready.com, or at gwyn@cready.com.

Title: Just in Time for a Highlander

Series: Sirens of the Scottish

Author: Gwyn Cready

ISBN: 9781492601937

Pubdate: February 3rd, 2015

From RITA winner Gwyn Cready comes a Scottish borderlands time travel romance perfect for fans of Outlander

For Duncan MacHarg, things just got real…

Battle reenactor and financier Duncan MacHarg thinks he has it made—until he lands in the middle of a real Clan Kerr battle and comes face to face with their beautiful, spirited leader. Out of time and out of place, Duncan must use every skill he can muster to earn his position among the clansmen and in the heart of the devastatingly intriguing woman to whom he must pledge his oath.

Abby needs a hero and she needs him now

When Abigail Ailich Kerr sees a handsome, mysterious stranger materialize in the midst of her clan’s skirmish with the English, she’s stunned to discover he’s the strong arm she’s been praying for. Instead of a tested fighter, the fierce young chieftess has been given a man with no measurable battle skills and a damnably distracting smile. And the only way to get rid of him is to turn him into a Scots warrior herself—one demanding and intimate lesson at a time.

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The post Interview and Giveaway: Gwyn Cready, Author of Just in Time for a Highlander appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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29. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeff Mack



 

Author-illustrator Jeff Mack has been a busy guy the past couple of years. He has illustrated a handful of picture books and chapter books; in 2008 he published the first picture book he both wrote and illustrated; and he’s even written and illustrated his own graphic novel/fiction hybrid, the cartoon-illustrated Clueless McGee series, all about an enterprising fifth-grade private eye.

Jeff is visiting this morning to talk about his work, share lots of art, and talk about what’s on his plate this year. For breakfast, he’s opting for French toast with cream cheese, jelly, and fake maple syrup. It’s the breakfast of champions, he tells me, which he sometimes also has for dinner. I’m all for that, as long as we have some coffee too.

Let’s get the basics while we set the table for seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jeff for visiting.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jeff: I’m both.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Jeff: Books I wrote and illustrated:

Books I illustrated:

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Jeff: I illustrated my earliest books, like Hurry! Hurry! and Rub-a-Dub Sub, with acrylic paint on watercolor paper.

I would make lots of sketches first and then tape the paintings to the wall while I worked on them.


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When I started to illustrate my comic-style stories, like Hippo and Rabbit and Frog and Flys, I “auditioned” several different types of media for the job: acrylic paint, cut paper, pastel, etc. I knew they had to have a different appearance than my other books. The stories were meant to be read quickly, like old Sunday comic strips, so the pictures couldn’t have too much detail in them.


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In the end, I decided to draw the outlines with pen and ink on paper.

 



 

Then I scanned pieces of cardboard and changed their colors with my computer.

 



 

Using Photoshop, I cut the shapes of the characters out of the cardboard and put them together like a collage.

 



 

Finally, I combined them with scans of the line drawings to make the final images.

 



 

Working this way gave me the opportunity to draw several different versions of the characters and use the ones I liked the best without having to re-do the entire picture.

 




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When I created books like Good News Bad News and Ah Ha!, I wanted multi-colored outlines instead of just black. So I skipped the pen and ink, scanned my sketches, and drew in color directly on top of them with a drawing tablet and my computer.



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I also started to use the computer to develop my sketches and plan out the various values.




I always try to choose a medium that compliments or adds to the book’s theme. My favorite medium is collage. It’s a medium that offers lots of surprises and interesting accidents. I love writing stories that call for a collage style.

For example, The Things I Can Do is about a five-year-old kid who makes his own picture book. In fact, it’s the book that you are reading.

So, I made pictures the way a kid might, with anything I could find: crayons, shoelaces, popsicle sticks, a two-by-four, you name it.

This book had infinite possibilities, so I had to set up some rules for myself. For instance, I wanted it to look messy …

 



 

… but not too messy.

 



 

For all of the “kid’s drawings,” I drew with crayon, using my non-drawing hand. But anytime I included something that looked like a “store-bought” item, such as all the various stickers throughout the book, I had to switch styles.

 



 

The book looks sloppy, but it actually took a ton of careful planning. It was a fun challenge. I even got bubble gum stuck in my scanner when I was making this book.

 




 

I illustrated my latest book, Look!, in a similar way, using a combination of pencil, watercolor, and old book covers.

 


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First I painted the characters by hand.

 



 

Then I scanned some old book covers.

 



 

Then I used the computer to put them together like I did with The Things I Can Do Can Do.

 


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I created the type with crayons and also with letters that I cut out of magazines (like a ransom note).

 



 


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On one level, this book is about a boy and a gorilla. But on another, it’s about a battle between old and new technology. So I used both to illustrate it.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Jeff: Yes, I have illustrated my own picture books, early readers, and chapter books. The differences have more to do with the individual books and less to do with the age groups. I try to illustrate each one in a style that contributes to the book’s concept.

For instance, my Clueless McGee chapter books are collections of letters, written and illustrated by a bumbling ten-year-old private eye. Even though he claims to be a great artist, his illustrations are clunky, black-and-white pencil drawings that show you he’s not exactly a genius. Hopefully, his clumsy drawings tell readers as much about his personality as his words do.


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Meanwhile, my picture book, Hush Little Polar Bear, is a lullaby, so I made lush, softly-textured paintings to suggest a peaceful dream-like mood.



 

And Good News Bad News is a slapstick adventure, so I used a cartoonish style to exaggerate the silliness and keep any violence from looking too realistic.


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Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Jeff: I live in Western Massachusetts, near the city of Northampton. I love it here. The colleges bring in lots of cultural events, and the mountains provide hiking trails for wandering and daydreaming.

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Jeff: My first skilled job was to copy 19th-century oil portraits for a museum in upstate New York.



 

I learned some traditional painting techniques doing this, and I applied them to my early illustration style.

 





 

I also painted murals in homes and restaurants around the region while I worked on my own book in the evenings.

 


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Eventually, I rented an apartment in NYC, where I went door-to-door to publishers with my fully-illustrated book dummy. My paintings received lots of positive attention.

 


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I was hired to illustrate other authors’ books, including James Howe’s Bunnicula and Friends

… and Eve Bunting’s Hurry Hurry.

Eve’s minimalist text was especially helpful in teaching me to tell a story effectively with pictures.


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After a few years, in 2008, I published my first book, Hush Little Polar Bear, with Neal Porter at Roaring Brook.

 


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It was recently reissued as a board book.

 



 

In 2010, I published a pair of graphic novel-style early readers called Hippo and Rabbit with Scholastic.

 



 

By then, I had written so many different types of books for various ages that I had to reach out to more editors. So I hired my agent, Rubin Pfeffer, who has helped me place my work with a range of publishers ever since. These days, I average two or three published books per year.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Jeff: www.jeffmack.com.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Jeff: Yes, I do. I offer multimedia presentations, covering the A to Zs about how I make my books.

I show examples of my earliest elementary school artwork and how I progressed into a working author/illustrator.

 



 

I emphasize how artists must be patient with themselves as they practice, persist, and maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire creative process. All of my programs are interactive. I include lots of videos and demonstrations.

 



 

The video that shows me creating a painting from start to finish tends to be a hit with both students and their teachers. And my favorite part is doing live drawing demos.

The kids offer me suggestions as I draw. They get the chance to collaborate and let their imaginations run wild. Meanwhile, they also work on their own drawings. Working together like this, we always come up with something hilarious and unique by the end.

 



Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Jeff: Years ago, I taught painting to kids during summer and after-school art camps. I would encourage them to take chances and explore different ways to use their materials. Then I’d go home and ask myself, “Am I taking enough chances with my own work?”

Through teaching, I realized the kind of artist I wanted to be: one who experiments and finds new and interesting ways to make images and tell stories. Sometimes that means playing with materials and voice, like in The Things I Can Do.

 



 

Sometimes it means taking chances with language, such as telling a story with only three words as in Good News Bad News.

 


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Or with only two letters like I did with Ah Ha!

 



 

And sometimes it’s both, as in Look!

 


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I still teach a few writing and illustration workshops each year. Creating art with kids is fun for me, so I make time for it!

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jeff: I have two picture books planned for release in 2015 and three for 2016. One of them is called Who Wants a Hug?

 



 

It’s written almost entirely in dialogue between a bear and a very smelly skunk. Bear loves to hug. Skunk, not so much. Skunk has a whole briefcase full of stinky tricks that he hopes will stop Bear from hugging every single forest animal. They have a troubled relationship, to say the least. They eventually find a way to work things out — but not the way you might expect. It’s not your typical Valentine’s Day book.

 


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The other one for 2015 is Look! That’s the story about the boy, the gorilla, the TV, and the books that uses just two words. Kirkus just called it “an energetic invitation to the joys of books.”

Then, for 2016, I’ve created a second book with Bear and Skunk, called Who Needs A Bath? Guess which one needs the bath?

And right now, I’m working on the illustrations for a book by Leslie Staub about an alien named Dewey, who goes to kindergarten.

 



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I also spent some time this Fall painting a dozen new animal portraits based on the Chinese Zodiac. Many of them are combinations of plein air paintings that I made around Western MA and then combined with figments from my imagination. Every now and then, it’s nice to go low-tech and work outside with just my paints, brushes, and canvases.

 







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And lastly, I have a few new titles in the works with both Chronicle and Philomel, due to be released in 2016 and 2017. Each one is unlike anything I’ve tried before. So stay tuned!

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jeff 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?

Jeff

: When I work, I make lists and outlines to help me stay focused. So I’ll do that here too.



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1. Ideas

Many of my ideas spring from real-life conversations or things I see happen. I may substitute different characters and situations, but the heart of the story is often based on personal experience.

For example, I was having lunch with some kids, and one of them was eating clam chowder. Twenty minutes later, he was still chewing. His teacher thought he had gum in his mouth and told him to spit it out. He insisted it wasn’t gum, but the teacher was adamant. Finally, he opened his mouth to prove it. He was right. It wasn’t gum. It was just a very chewy clam. We all found the misunderstanding funny, so it became the basis for a calamitous scene in Clueless McGee Gets Famous!

 



 

2. Sketches

Other ideas for stories come from random sketches or doodles. I constantly scribble down notes and character studies when I’m in hotels, restaurants, trains, airplanes, etc. When I get home, I usually toss them into one pile or another and forget about them.

 


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Later, if I feel stuck on a project, I sift through my papers and randomly pull out a sketch. Sometimes the sketch helps me solve the problem by steering me in a new direction.

Having a messy room can be a little like the I Ching or Oblique Strategies; pick something up at random and see where the new idea takes you. It can be an excellent way to get unstuck.

 



 

3. Dummies

Usually, when I write a picture book I make a list of the plot points first. Then I divide a sheet of paper into 32 squares (3 vertical lines, 7 horizontal), one for each page in the book. I fill in the sections with the plot points.

Then I make tiny thumbnail sketches for each section.

 




 

At a certain point, I have to see how it looks when I turn the pages so I cut out the squares …

 



 

tape them together …

 



 

and fold them into a tiny book dummy.

 



 

The story almost never works the first time. With a physical dummy, I can swap sections around, take pages out, replace them with new pages, and so on.

 



 

In this way, I write and illustrate simultaneously. It’s a very visual process for me. Once the dummy looks right to me, I send my work to one of my editors to find out if they agree. They often make helpful suggestions that I try out as I continue to revise the story.

I write my chapter books in a very similar way, planning out each spread carefully. Except they have about 250 pages instead of 32!

4. Editing (Picture Books)

Much of my writing process involves getting rid of sections that don’t add enough overall value to the story. They may be some of my favorite parts, but if the whole book works better without them, I take them out.

 



 

For example, in an early draft of Good News Bad News, I included several pages where the mouse and rabbit follow a trail of crumbs into a cave as they search for their stolen picnic basket.

 




(Click each to enlarge)


 

I really liked this sequence. It added to the characters’ personalities, and it had some jokes that I thought were funny.

But it also slowed the pace of the story by adding an unnecessary plot about the bear being a thief.

At first, it was hard to imagine the story without it. But when I finally took this scene out, I discovered that I didn’t actually miss it. Overall, the book was more entertaining because it kept the focus on the central theme: the chain reaction of positive and negative events. Now, the bear was just the bad news part of the cave.

For me, editing takes the most time, and it’s the most difficult part. But it’s also the part where most of the discovery happens.

 



(Click second image to enlarge)


 

Plot aside, I still felt unsettled reading my early drafts of Good News Bad News. But why?

Then it dawned on me: most of my text simply repeated what I already showed in the pictures.

 


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So I decided to edit out every redundant word. When I did, the only words left were “good news” and “bad news”. But those were the only words that were necessary. They added meaning to the pictures and allowed the pictures themselves to tell the story. To me, it suddenly became a much more interesting book.

 



 

I tried to do the same thing for Ah Ha!, but it didn’t work the same way.

 




 

I ended up getting rid of all the words.

 



 

The book is too action-packed to be quiet and wordless. I wanted kids to have something to say outloud so they could express their emotions as they read. So I replaced the words with expressions made from the letters “a” and “h.” The pictures show the action, and the words let the readers know how the characters are feeling.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

It’s a nice way to teach inflection. Even though different words may be spelled the same way, kids figure out how to read them differently based on what they see in the pictures.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

Meanwhile, Look! uses just two words, “look” and “out” …

 



 

… but their meanings change when read together or separately.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

My earliest versions of this book were wordless …

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

but I decided it was funnier and more interesting to involve a word game.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

My favorite picture books are ones where words and pictures work together to create powerful emotions in surprising ways. So editing this book actually meant adding words rather than removing them.

 





 

As for chapter books …

When I write my Clueless McGee books, I start each one with a general outline. Next, I outline each chapter. Then I outline each individual scene. I make a list of the important changes that occur in each scene. And lastly, I write the individual jokes that make those changes happen. Since these are mysteries, it’s important that I plan out all of the clues and red herrings in advance.

 



 

In book #3, this moment sets PJ up to discover a critical clue about his missing father, lose valuable screen time, annoy his mom, and accidentally trash the library’s entire music collection all at the same time.

Creating outlines helps me manage a longer format, one cartoon at a time. The process is less overwhelming and much more enjoyable for me.

 




 

Clueless McGee actually began as a letter I wrote to a publisher in the voice of a nine-year-old boy. My original idea was to make a hand-written notebook with tiny scribbled drawings in the margins.

But I had so much fun making the drawings that they started to take over entire pages by the second draft.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

Each book ends with an eight-page comic, written and illustrated by the main character. I made the first one, because otherwise I would have had eight blank pages at the end of the book.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

After that, it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of making the books. I’m dying to write an entire book of just Clueless McGee’s comics.

5. Final Art

My illustration process varies from book to book, depending on the methods and materials I’m using. These days, if I work with paint on paper, I create one spread at a time, often lying or sitting on the floor. I hang them on the walls around me so that I can be sure the details stay consistent from page to page. Then at the end, I go back and re-work everything.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

Sometimes when it suits the story, I illustrate using a Wacom Cintiq. It’s like a computer monitor that I can draw on with an electronic pen.

 



 

Instead of printing and hanging up each image, I make a digital storyboard out of tiny finished images.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 

Most of my recent work combines digital and traditional materials, so I’m often hopping back and forth between my computer and my paints.

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Jeff

: My studio is usually a complete mess with papers and prints piled everywhere. I’ve found that don’t prefer a fancy studio — just a room where I can freely make a mess. Every now and then, I’m forced to clean up in order to make room for more projects.

 




 

I also find that I get a lot of writing done at coffee shops and restaurants. I wrote and illustrated three Clueless McGee books sitting in a bakery, drinking lots of coffee.

 

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Jeff

: When I was a kid, these were my favorite books:

Big Max. It’s about a detective who travels by flying umbrella.

 



 

Be Nice to Spiders. I’m still afraid of spiders.

 



 

Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. It’s a list of some bizarre animals whose names start with the letters that come after z. A few ’70s collections of Peanuts comics. And the Ed Emberley drawing books, because they showed me step-by-step how to create complex scenes using simple shapes. That gave me confidence to draw my own pictures. I now show kids a similar process during my school visits.

 

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.)

Jeff: Most of my favorite kids’ authors have passed away, and many of them seem like they were genuinely nice people, who would have been fun to talk with. William Steig and Arnold Lobel are heroes to me. As for living authors, I haven’t met Jon Agee, Calef Brown, or Maira Kalman yet. I love their clever ideas and their senses of humor. I also love Michael Sowa’s illustrations. And I’m a big fan of Sue Townsend’s Secret Diary of Adrian Mole books. Her first book was a huge inspiration to me. I would have loved to meet her too, but I just found out she passed away in April.

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?

Jeff: Lately, I’ve been listening to Karen Mantler and Bill Callahan. Karen sings about things like the flu, her cat, and her stove. Bill sings about his angst. I’m also fascinated by the incredible range of John Zorn’s music, everything from classical to jazz to surf-rock to metal. I love almost everything on the Daptone neo-soul label. And pretty much anything by the late pianist, Horace Silver, puts me in a good mood.

 



 

That said, I usually only listen to music when I walk my dog. I actually spend most of my day working in silence. Sometimes I forget to put music on, but more often I turn it off, because I can’t concentrate otherwise. When I was in college, I thought my teachers were crazy when they told me they loved to paint for hours in silence. But now … I guess I’m crazy too.

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jeff: I’m terrible at picking out my wardrobe. I find it a totally boring chore. If I could, I’d wear the same clothes every day. I dream of buying a mechanic’s jumper that I could hop into each morning without a second thought. Maybe I’d shave my head while I was at it. But I’m afraid someone would call the police if they saw me walking around like that. So I make an effort to look respectable in public.

 


7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Jeff: Yes. Here’s the question:

Why, as someone with adult interests, adult tastes, adult responsibilities, and an adult perspective of the world, would you want to spend so much time thinking and working so hard to make books that appeal mainly to children?

Only, I’m not sure what the answer is. Writing and illustrating are often difficult and even painful for me sometimes. But I’ve always loved obsessing over projects.

 



 

When I was a kid, I drove myself and everyone around me crazy trying to build pinball machines out of cardboard boxes.

 






 

Then, in second grade, I won a Halloween short story contest by making my own elaborate monster comic book.

Today, I feel like I’m still making stuff for the same second-grade audience. I get a burst of joy when a story or picture turns out better than I had hoped. The feeling doesn’t last long, but the hope for new discoveries keeps me going. Plus, I really like kids. They’re sincere. The real deal. Sometimes they send me encouraging letters. Those help a lot.

 



 

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Jeff: “Frank” is a good one. It’s a name, a silly-looking food, and, frankly, it’s a darn good way to say what you mean.


Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Jeff: “Classic.” When it’s used to describe anything less than 50 years old. As in: “It’s a new classic!” For example, I love monster movies, but I have a hard time calling any of them made after 1968 a “classic.”

Second least favorite word: “Artisan.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Jeff: Traveling. Trying new things.


 

And pet portraits.

 



Jules: What turns you off?

Jeff: Ads.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jeff: It’s a little groaning sound that my dog, McGee, makes when he’s thinking too hard.



 

Or any of the sounds that animals make when they’re having fun.

 

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jeff: The sound of someone eating oatmeal in the dark.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jeff: I’d like to write music and learn to play more musical instruments, so I could collaborate with other musicians.

I’d also like to write plays.

And sometimes I think I would like to be a vet. But only if I don’t have to treat spiders.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Jeff: How about volcanic sulfur-mining? Anything done in a mine, really. I’m not very tough. Check out a fascinating documentary called Workingman’s Death for a scary look at many of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Children’s book author is not in the movie.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jeff: “Woof!”



 

All images are used by permission of Jeff Mack.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

 

8 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeff Mack, last added: 2/5/2015
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30. Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor

Sculptor300RGB 724x1028 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor

By Harper Harris and Kyle Pinion

In The Sculptor, David Smith is an out of work artist, who feels as though he never quite reached the level of fame he always thought was right within his grasp. When the physical representation of Death comes offering a deal: the power to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands with the caveat that his life ends in 200 days, David cannot resist the possible benefits of such an ability. The after-effects that this bargain has on his friends, New York City, and his love-life become the center-piece of this newest graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Scott McCloud.

30 years in the making, McCloud’s new opus is available on February 3rd through First Second. McCloud was kind enough to sit down with us for a lengthy discussion about the new book, critical expectations, his creative process and how he balances his busy speaking schedule and the creation of a 500-plus page graphic novel.

Kyle: How is the press circuit treating you?  I know you’ve been on interviews for weeks now.  Are you exhausted? 

Scott McCloud:  No, I store energy like a cactus stores water and five years squirreled away in my hobbit hole drawing, you store up a lot of energy.  So I was definitely ready to come out into the sunlight and talk to people.  And the reception so far has been amazing.  So far it’s been really encouraging I think is what I mean to say.

Kyle: Well, that’s good to hear.  That actually pivots over to one thought that I was curious about.  Over the past 15, 20 years now, though you’ve of course published books like Zot! and you did some work with DC in the past as well on the Superman Adventures, you’ve been known as the guy that breaks down comic book storytelling via Understanding Comics and the like.  With critical response in mind, did you ever feel a certain level of pressure as someone expected to live up to that analysis with The Sculptor?

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  There was definitely a big target on my chest when I did this thing, but it was a good kind of Sculptor Ex1 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorpressure.  The pressure was pretty strong after Understanding Comics, that anything I did in the way of fiction afterwards would be judged with that in mind. I did one or two pieces of fiction that are best left forgotten, that didn’t do so well.  But after Making Comics, there was definitely a bulls-eye on me because I wasn’t just telling people how to read them, I was telling people how to make them. I had to put my money where my mouth was.  But in the end, I thought that was a really healthy kind of pressure because it meant that failure was not an option.  I had to really give this my all and I was lucky enough to have an editor who had the same attitude about it and gave me a little extra room, a little extra time to do so.  This was originally going to be a three year book and we allowed it to grow to five years with his blessing because he felt that we could pull off something really wonderful.  But yeah, I was trying to apply all of these ideas that I had been talking about in books like Making Comics, I’ve been trying to apply them in this work but I’ve also been trying to make sure that they’re hidden, transparent, not on the surface.  I didn’t want people thinking about panel transitions and compositions and my use of bleed while reading the thing.  I wanted them to be thinking about the story and I hope that’s the effect people will have in the reading experience.

Harper: To delve into The Sculptor itself and how you got started with it, one of the concepts in the book is just how David, an out of work sculptor, feels like he’s got this unrealized potential…he’s got all this creativity stored up and then he feels like he can be this big famous sculptor but he doesn’t have the means to do it yet.  As a writer, when you were getting started with this project, do you feel like your creative soul was restless or you had something big you had to accomplish and you just were ready to get it out?

McCloud:  I felt like that when I was in my 20s.  When I was the same age as David, I felt a lot more like David than I do now.  I’ve been lucky because I’ve actually gotten some attention and I’ve been able to get my work out there, but I have a lot of feeling for those who don’t have that, who haven’t had that luck.  Whether they’re young and just starting out or if they’ve been at it for 30 years, there are a lot of people who have trouble getting their work out into the sunlight and who rightly feared that their work might be forgotten someday, maybe even in their lifetime.  Something that happens to a lot of artists is being forgotten in your lifetime. I can easily put myself in that mindset again of imagining that and imagining that fear, the fear that comes with that.  And then the fact that David has this family that’s already gone, both in terms of their physical lives but also in terms of the memories of them, even though they were all three very creative people, his parents and his sister.  That made it a much more urgent need on his part to not be forgotten.

Kyle: Now this is a concept that you created decades ago.  I think I heard once it was about 30 years ago, is that correct?

Scott McCloud:  Yeah, it was really terrifying when I realized it was 30.  I was saying 20 and then I think it was Ivy, my wife, just reminded me “nah, it’s actually more like 30.”  That’s a long time!

Kyle: It’s a concept that’s older than Harper here actually.

McCloud:  It’s older than a lot of readers.  It may be older than most of the people who will read this book, some may be younger than the idea for the book itself.

Kyle: I wonder, how has your life experience changed the way you’re approaching the material than if you had written it back in 1980, whatever year it was that you initially thought of it?

McCloud:  Well, I think it’s a better book for having been written much later but the important thing for me was I had this young man’s idea and had had a lot of the things we associate with young ideas.  It has lots of bold, preposterously ambitious ideas in it.  It’s trying to address questions of life and art, mortality, the nature of existence and that sort of thing.  I think as we get older, we’re more likely to just address the struggles of getting your coffee in the morning and going to a job you hate or whatever.  People tend to scale down their ambitions a little.  My goal for this one was to see if maybe I could take that young man’s idea and capture the enthusiasm I had when I was a young man and channel that crazy ambition but channel it in a direction that was informed by the perspective I’d gained as an older man, nearly twice the age that I was when I first came up with it, when I started to work on this thing.  And hopefully I’ve been able to do that.  To not castrate it, not rob it of the vitality of that young idea but try to preserve the vitality while giving a perspective, direction and a more meaningful shape through what I’ve learned in the intervening years.

Harper: Being that this was an idea that gestated for such a long time and you added things and changed things as you were thinking about it, when you actually sat down to start putting pen to paper and writing it, what was your process like?  Were you coming up with a script first, or was it just a rough draft, or were you doing thumbnails?

McCloud:  The first part of the process was when I realized I really wanted to work on this book, it was just as I was starting a 50 state tour in support of that previous book, Making Comics,  2006 and 2007.  And I was so desperate to Sculptor Ex2 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorwork on The Sculptor but all I could really do was sit in the passenger seat while my wife drove.  I’m not allowed to drive.  I’m a terrible driver.  And just think about it for a year.  And in a way, that was actually really good.  That first part of the process was just thinking about the story and taking lots and lots and lots of notes.  Then I got to work in earnest after we had a publisher and we were ready to start active work on the thing.  I started to create the layouts and for the first year, I did nothing but create these layouts which were – my layouts are pretty tight.  They look a lot like a finished comic, just a rough version.  But all of this takes place before there’s any finished art, right?  So I make this thing, I make the whole thing.  I send it to my editor, Mark Siegel.  I also send it to my “five kibitzers” as I call them – friends who I know will be honest and tell me what parts suck, whatever parts of the story don’t work.  And then I revised it based on their input and I revised it again and I revised it again.  I did four revisions of this nearly 500 page book in layout form.  Took me two years.  This is all before I ever drew a single finished panel.  And then I started drawing the real thing and that took three years.  It took me three years to draw those near 500 pages and that was done on my Cintiq tablet in Photoshop.  It’s entirely digital even though it has that slightly rough hand-drawn quality to it, the entire thing was done digitally.  In fact, the layouts were all done digitally too.  40 pages at a time in a giant Photoshop document.

Harper: Why is sculpture was the main thrust of the book as opposed to him being a painter or something that was a little bit maybe closer to your own craft?

McCloud:  Well on the one hand, sculpture makes good visual theatre in the sense that it exists in three dimensions, it’s dynamic.  The idea of going up against that hard surface, in the case of the sort of things that David is doing, has a nice sense of explosive physical conflict to it.  But beyond that, the choice of sculpture as opposed to any other form, I have to be honest, I never even considered anything else simply because that was the starting point.  That that was this idea in its original state as it existed in that little three ring binder that I have been carrying around with me since high school where I would write down ideas.  That’s where it began, the idea of a sculptor in particular.  I don’t really know if it would be quite as effective if it were say flat visual arts like painting or drawing, although interestingly enough, a book that I really enjoyed, Dylan HorrocksSam Zabel and the Magic Pen is I think coming out around the same time and in a way, he does have that notion of the artist being given supernatural abilities of one sort or another, in his case through literally a magic pen.  So he gets to explore a slightly different side of that artistic deal with fate.

Kyle: Did you have to do any sort of background research at all?

McCloud:  I researched the art world in that area as far as just the cultural and business aspects of it and then just looked at a lot of sculpture.  But in the end, I think it’s important to note that what David makes in many ways fails.  It fails the test and he’s unable to get a wider audience for it for much of the book.  The only things that David ever makes that gain the favor of that world, we don’t actually see.  We don’t see the work he makes before the story begins that had gotten him some attention early on, we don’t see the work that he makes that his friend Ollie considers very promising.  That stuff is off panel.  What I felt I was able to draw or what I was able to imagine is the sort of work that a sculptor might not get recognition for.  And so I was able to just pour my crazy imagination into it and then knowing that I wasn’t presenting this as some kind of masterpiece that would be universally acclaimed, I was presenting his sculpture as something that would probably confound or be uninteresting to that world.  But I did research some of the experience of living in that world, talked to a couple of people who are part of it. In large part, I was just researching what it is to live in New York in 2000 something because of course this took place over several years and just try to get the city right, just try to show the physical environment of the city as well as the cultural environment.

Kyle: In order for David to gain his amazing abilities, he had to strike a bit of a Faustian pact with the embodiment of death.  Do those type of stories fascinate you?  It’s basically the fulcrum that this story into motion, at least in the beginning stages before we get to know the characters better.  Do you find yourself a fan of tales like The Devil and Daniel Webster and the like?

McCloud:  Now that you mention The Devil and Daniel Webster, I actually really enjoyed that but it’s been literally 40 years since I’ve read that one, but I remember really being into it.  I don’t know that the story was in any way commenting on those other stories, but in some way, I think the important departure here is that it is a deal with death and that the ultimate result is still oblivion, as shown in the blank pages towards the beginning of the story.  Like most Faustian bargains, the ending is not in question, right?  You know the final fate of the character.  But this time, because of that notion of oblivion rather than eternal damnation, it’s kind of the secular version of that story, isn’t it?  And I think understanding the difference between that secular, updated version and versions that are more tied to questions of morality than to questions of existential terror, that was interesting to me.  I think that was the main thing was that the way in which the echoes of religious beliefs were resonated a bit through this story, but of course it’s a profoundly non-religious story despite the supernatural element that sets it in motion.

Harper: David can be frustrating at times when he is making the wrong choice, which he does quite often. Did you find it difficult to write a protagonist that has those flaws?

McCloud:  Well interestingly enough, David was even less likeable in early drafts of the layouts.  A lot of my friends who were reading it over, and my editor, pointed out ways in which he was a difficult character to get into.  You can have a character with very negative aspects to their personality who audiences still have a passageway into.  That was my goal primarily was that even when David is being frustrating, I wanted my audience to be able to get inside his head, to see what it was like to be him from the inside.  It goes in a slightly different direction from the question of likeability.  Relatability and likeability, I’ve come to understand are two slightly different things when writing characters.  He had to be relatable first and foremost and that was one of the goals that I internalized when I was going through rewrite after rewrite, to make sure that we could understand where he was coming from, and to get a sense of what drove him forward even when he was being frustrating or stubborn. Part of that was understanding the difference between wanting to be remembered and being terrified of being forgotten.  They’re two different things.  Understanding that difference, I think, was one of my crucial procedures as I constructed and reconstructed this story.

Kyle:  I’d like to also talk a little bit about one of the other key themes that hit me while I was reading, you display clinical depression in this book with a lot of nuance and that’s not something you see done particularly very well in really many forms of media – television, film, comics, whatever we might be talking about.  How much thought and work went into giving that characteristic to that particular character – or was there personal experience at all involved there that sort of informed how that character was resolved?

McCloud:  Yeah, there was a lot of personal experience that went into that and that was crucial to being able to capture those thought processes and the kind of relationship that one might have with somebody going through that.  I think in early drafts it felt a little bit more pat, a little bit more like just a mechanical necessity of the plot and I think it gained in resolution and nuance I think with the rewrites.  That was something that we were very concerned with, that it not simply be a plot device but that it be part of the texture of the story without necessarily departing from what the story was about.  One of the things about getting increasing specific in the portrayal of something like that is that you don’t want the story to become about itself, you don’t want to lose sight of why the story exists in the first place.  And so that was the balancing act, making sure that this felt like a real emotional story but an emotional story that existed within the universe of the ideas of the story as a whole.

Kyle: This is strange to say, but it’s probably my favorite part of the book because it felt so real to life.

McCloud:  That’s really cool.  I have to say, much of what I was doing there was channeling because sometimes when you have direct real life experience, sometimes you just close your eyes and let a character speak from experiences.  You can hear the voice in your head.  You know what words come next because it’s part of the texture of your own life.  It’s not a trick you can do often because you – unless you have profound relationships with many, many people which I suppose normal people do.  Maybe that’s just me speaking as an overworked comic artist that I’m only able to slot in a few in the course of a lifetime.

Harper: Looking at taking the writing process into the art process, how much thought goes into the panel to panel storytelling, or the perspectives that you choose, or whether you’re going to have an establishing shot to set the mood first, or whether you just go back and forth between the two characters? 

McCloud:  Every single composition, every single panel choice and pacing choice was done very deliberately, but always with the goal that it wouldn’t seem deliberate.  I wanted this book to feel as if it Sculptor Ex3 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorhad just written itself, so transparency was the goal.  One what that I tried to do that was by being very rigorous about capturing the rhythm of ordinary conversations, right down to the silence is something that Mark Siegel encouraged me to do.   Sometimes it’s important, those pauses between speech are vitally important to capturing a credible rhythm of speech.  Something that a lot of comics feel they don’t have the time to do, especially if you’ve got a 23 page story, having a panel of somebody just in between sentences, taking a sip of coffee or something, you’re not going to see that.  And yet that’s something that we intuitively recognize as the music of humans in conversation.  And when we recognize it, they become real.  And when they become real, you stop thinking about panel transitions, you stop thinking about composition choices, you stop thinking about bleeds and you are lost in the world of the story.  The first line of offense in conquering the reader’s perception of a real illusionistic world inside that story is the way people act with other people.  You get that right and you’re more likely to be able to cast that spell and keep readers in the story.

Kyle: In looking through the panel compositions, it seems like there’s a push and pull between the opaque and the transparent and one of the things Harper pointed out to me was this really interesting use of how you show distance, utilizing either opaque figures or transparent figures, or to emphasize perspective and focus.  Was this a tool you consciously decided to use on the book as a visual theme or is this just a natural part of your storytelling tools?

McCloud:  Yeah, I think that’s something that I’ve wanted to try out for a long time but I don’t really know that I ever had the opportunity.  Nothing I’d done before would have been appropriate for that particular technique.  Part of it is the fact that we have a POV character and with a POV character, you can play with perception and emotion visualized in a way that you can’t with a third party objective: omniscient viewpoint.  It’s very manga.  Manga was interesting to me for a lot of reasons when I first got into it in the 80s and one of the reasons I liked it was that notion of emotional and perceptional participation.  That sense that you are here, you’re part of the story.  You are the protagonist.  And that was done in a number of ways, sort of sliced up aspect to aspect, pieces of perception of the world around you or moving along with the moving character rather than just watching the character move. There were also all of these emotional expressionistic techniques.  If the character was nauseous, for instance, the whole world might become a little bit wobbly around them because you were perceiving the world through their eyes.  So I tried to do that and I found with the two colors, there were lots of opportunities to do that.  As you mentioned, through transparency, opacity, by using colored contours rather than black contours.  I think 100 years of CMYK printing tends to condition us to always have a black contour, but there are plenty of reasons not to.  So I use them as depth cues and I use them as you said to indicate the perspective of the character, like when he’s focusing on one particular person at a party and everybody else is dimmed out because we’re seeing his mental map of what matters and what doesn’t.

Harper: I know a lot of your work in the past has been black and white.  Was there ever a stage that this book was going to be in color or a different style of color use than the way you used it in the book?

McCloud:  No.  There were practical considerations of cost but there was also the creative considerations that I really like to do it all myself and I’m a shitty colorist.  I’ve never had a good color sense and it looks good to me and then everybody else tells me, no Scott, that’s not good, so.  But I can choose from a Pantone swatch book, that I can do.  And two colors to me is just a little bit nicer than one because with that second color, I can use it not only for the techniques we talked about but just for the simple utilitarian task of clarifying form.  When you have that second color, you can make it more quickly obvious to the eye, even at a casual glance, what the forms are on the page, where are the faces versus the background, where the figures and silhouettes are and sense of depth.  All of these things really come into sharp, immediate focus when you have that second color.  So there were a lot of reasons to go for it.

Harper: In picking the light blue tone that permeates the book; was that a difficult choice or was that something that as you were working through the art, that was just the obvious choice?

McCloud:  Actually in May, when time had pretty much run out and it was time for Scott to pick the damn color, I was in Atlanta at the offices of a company called MailChimp.  I had given a lecture there either that day or the day before, I’ve forgotten which.  And they very kindly gave me their Pantone swatch book and an hour or two in a quiet room in the offices to just sit and select which color it would be.  And I will forever be grateful to MailChimp for saving my ass because my Pantone swatch book was locked up in an office here in California, the office I’m sitting in right now.  I had the key in Atlanta and there was nobody there who could go and retrieve it for me and those things are expensive, so thank god that MailChimp came to my rescue and gave me that Pantone swatch book and I was actually to select the magical hue 653.  I will never forget that number.

Kyle: Between Serial and Scott McCloud giving them praise, MailChimp is having a great couple of months here. I’m trying to couch my next question as carefully as possible here, because it deals with sort of the latter half of the book.

McCloud:  Sure.

Kyle: The actual production of the art towards the end, especially in a selection that is full of a lot of panels, was that a physically stressful piece to produce, especially if you were producing it multiple times in multiple drafts?  I’m referring to the very end of the book.

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  No, I know what you’re referring to and it was tremendously difficult, but it was a kind of difficulty that I had come to relish.  I really loved the hard work.  The hard work of this book was gratifying work.  I loved working hard, I loved being challenged, I loved being forced to do something that I had never been able to do before.  That was great.  What wasn’t great was the fact that I was straining the limits of my system, that it was taking forever to save these files.  It was so complex at 1,200 dots per inch – at least I think it’s 12, not 1,000.  I think the book is 12 – 1,200 dots per inch, in RGB no less, even though it was a two color book.  The thing was just enormous.  Those files were enormous.  They were like half a gigabyte each and boy, was it slow churning out these things and saving them.  That was the hard part was the waiting.  Do I save and have to stop drawing for a couple of minutes or do I wait and risk a lightning storm and a blackout or whatever.  That was hard, that was hard.  But I don’t know, generally speaking though, the hardest things about this book were also the most gratifying because that’s when I felt like I was really finally climbing the mountain.

Harper: One thing I noticed that I really enjoyed in the storytelling was how you used the gutters as far as for pacing.  So the distance between the panels in calmer, normal section of the book, there’s a little bit of distance and there are white gutters and then when there’s these parts that are a little more intense or – for example, when David discovers he has these powers and he’s running home to figure out what’s going on and to try them out, the gutters completely disappear and it’s just this thick black line in between panels. It really changed the pacing a lot and the feeling of timing.

McCloud:  As you mention it, I’m not sure that I did this much in my first comic Zot!, but there was a pretty rigorous practical set of standards for when that might happen, when I might go to a different gutter style or when I might go to a bleed, for example.  And it’s just like for any given moment in the story, the question was: does it pass the test?  Is this the kind of moment where David is overwhelmed by what’s happening, where he’s sent into just an emotional rhapsody of one sort or another, of rage or wonder.  In those cases, the borders do collapse to a single black line in between panels and it goes full bleed.  All of those are full bleed as well.  To me, it feels right.  And I guess what it is is I had seen other artists who had done that.  Sometimes artists just do that for everything.  There are a few artists who always have that single black line and full bleeds throughout an entire book. It just has this – I don’t know, it’s like in Wagner when the extra trombones come in.  It just seems to be that orchestral color that tells you that something of great weight is happening.  And this is a story where I decided to use the full orchestra, so that was one of my tools.

Kyle: I know you speak to a number of different companies professionally, you’re probably on speaker bureaus and the like…

McCloud:  Actually you know what, I’ll tell you a secret.  I do it all myself.  People just email me and I say well, here’s how much it is and I’m either free or I’m not and then we do it.

Kyle:  That’s even easier.

McCloud:  It’s incredibly informal, yeah.  It’s really weird.  I should have representation for it.  I have representation for Hollywood, I have representation for my books but when it comes to speaking, I don’t know, I just haven’t found anyone that could do it better.  It’s weird.  So yeah, I just do it all myself.  It’s kind of insane.  Although I will say for the First Second book tour and my European tour, February, March and April, a lot of that is delegated to the individual publisher.

Kyle:  Of course. How do you balance that schedule with your creative time?  Is there a lot of creative time being done in hotel rooms?  How does that work?

McCloud:  We did a lot on hotel rooms last year when we were doing the technical finishes on the book.  In fact, I particularly remember writing the entire book to  – was it a Holiday Inn in St. Louis maybe or someplace, but we were driving west and we’d stopped for the night and I actually had to unpack my Mac Pro and the Cintiq and everything and it was finally done and we were writing – we got kicked out of our room.  So I actually wheeled the Mac Pro out to where the elevators were and Ivy and I were sitting there and while all of these files are being written to a drive, copied to a drive so that we could run to FedEx and send it out.  And we looked like homeless people.  Our dog was with us and all our coats and we looked like we had camped out next to the elevator and were asking for handouts or something.  But all it was was like I had all of this equipment and all of our suitcases just waiting for a file to copy.

Kyle: I’ve never heard of Holiday Inn ever kicking anyone out of a room.

McCloud:  *laughs* They were very sweet, they were very sweet.  We just explained it and – but it was just nuts.  I mean yeah, we’ve had extreme moments like that where it was just really crazy.  But as far as the travel schedule versus the work schedule, I worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week for five years, except for the last year where it was more like 14 hours a day.  And then I would still travel but in a given month, if I do two or three lectures, that’s really only, what, six days lecturing, traveling and lecturing.  So the six days out of 30 is – is that 20%?  So 80% of the time I’m working.  Of course, Ivy always makes fun of me for this, is that I will say “oh yeah, I was working except when I was traveling.”  And she’s like “that’s working too, you know”.  It’s not like when I’m hopping on a plane to give a lecture at Google, it’s not as if that’s not work.  Of course that’s work.  So yeah, I pretty much only work.  But then when the book is done, then we have fun, then we play and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

Harper: Was the publishing deal worked out before the creative process or afterwards?  I know you had the idea obviously, but was this something that you presented to the publisher and then you went from there?  What made First Second the logical choice for that?

McCloud:  Well, we went to four publishers and they were all interested in the book to varying degrees.  And for various reasons, we went with First Second, but one of the most important reasons of all was just talking to Mark Siegel and seeing that they were willing to put a lot of resources behind it but they also had that sensibility where Mark – Mark is kind of unique.  I talked to some real world class editors but Mark has I think the rigorous demanding aesthetic sense of grand, traditional New York 20th century editor while at the same time, also having tremendous chops as an artist and a writer himself. That’s a very unusual combination to find and it turned out to be essential to this particular book, because I really don’t think anybody else could have pulled this story out of me the way that Mark did.

Kyle:  What can your fans expect when you’re on the book tour?  Will you be speaking at all or will you be displaying any excerpts at all from the book itself?

McCloud:  We’re going to be bringing along visuals but for the US tour, the 14 cities in 16 days coming up in February, which’ll probably be this month by the time this goes out.  For those where it’s going to be mostly conScott.McCloud 276x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorversation format, so I’m going to be in conversation with somebody.  But then I’ll have some visuals standing by so I can show process stuff, I can show excerpts,  I can show art from the book, things like that.  But otherwise, I had suggested that it be conversation format just so that each talk is different.  So if you see me in New York or Chicago or LA, each one of those conversations is going to be different and that way if – for the ones that wind up on the web, they’ll all be their own unique conversation which ought to be a lot of fun.  But there will still be some visuals thrown in.  And I should mention, I’m still doing the full prepared visual lecture thing.  That’ll also be happening and already we have about five more talks in the spring that are slipping in between the cracks, even though I’m also going to six countries.  It’s kind of insane.  We’re doing 14 cities in 16 days followed by England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all of it in February, March and April.  But I’ve also managed to slot in talks in Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio and Vermont into that same period and with a couple of others that are about to land as well. Those things that are a bit separate that I’ve arranged for separately, those are going to be the full stand up, hour long visual lecture which has hundreds of images going by very fast and that’s quite a show. These were organized separately, they’re not just a part of the promotional tour, though of course I’ll talk about The Sculptor a little.

Harper: The Sculptor is a dense book and it’s got a lot of really big ideas and themes about art and life and love and all sorts of different things. What do you hope is the key takeaway or the key message that you hope readers pull from it as they’re picking it up?

McCloud:  Well, there will be a lot of talk about the themes and the ambition of the book.  I think a lot of people already are looking at it as a bid for consideration as a big, serious book.  But, my very first goal for the book, and in a lot of ways still my most important goal, is just to create something that is an enjoyable read, that’s a page turner, that has a kind of narrative momentum that just carries you from panel to panel and page to page.  If I can pull that off first and foremost, I’ll be happy.  I want it to be something that people really get into, that’s engrossing, that they can lose themselves in.  And hopefully something that they can find as a rewarding re-read as well.  That’s a lot of stuff in there that I think will become apparent on second reading and third reading.

Kyle: Is this going to mark a trend of more fiction based writing from you or are you going to return to analysis after this?

McCloud:  Actually, my next book will be a nonfiction book and it’s going to be about visual communication and some of the common denominators across different disciplines in terms of visual education.  I feel as if there are common principles to data visualization, information graphics, educational animation, and educational comics.  People in all of these fields I think are knocking on the same door and I think it might be useful to see if I can discern some of the fundamental principles that lie behind all of those disciplines and put them in one work, so that’s the next project.  That’ll also be with First Second Books.

Kyle:  Lastly, where can people find information about the upcoming book tour?  Will that be on First Second’s website or will that be on your website?

McCloud:  It’s on First Second’s website now.  I tweeted about it just the other day and as soon as I’m done with today’s interviews, I am so finally putting up a blog post on my own front page at ScottMcCloud.com and updating my side bar, which is still telling you all about the things I did last year.  By the time people get to hear this, they’ll definitely be up.

You can pick up The Sculptor in book stores or your local comic shop starting February 3rd. 

For those who are so inclined you can also listen to the full audio of the interview below:

4 Comments on Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor, last added: 2/3/2015
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31. Comics Illustrator of the Week :: Dan Brereton

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Dan Brereton broke into the comics scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s with books like The Black Terror from Eclipse, and The Psycho from DC Comics. His distinct painted art style stood out among the other comics being published at that time. In 1995 Brereton introduced his creator-owned series The Nocturnals to the world. The Nocturnals is a pulp style horror series about a bunch of supernatural crime fighters, starring a cast of colorful characters like Doc Horror, his daughter Evening AKA Halloween Girl, Firelion(a revived victim of spontaneous human combustion), and many, many more.

The Nocturnals are celebrating their 20th Anniversary with a special KickStarter campaign for their next graphic novel The Sinister Path. There’s less than 2 days left as I write this, so hurry over there, if you’re interested.

Other works of note by Dan Brereton are Giantkiller, Batman: Thrillkiller, Legends of the World’s Finest, and The Last Battle, just to name a few.

Brereton has been nominated for 5 Eisner Awards, and has won an Inkpot Award.

You can keep up with the latest Dan Brereton news, and browse more artwork on his website here.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com - Andy Yates

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32. Seeing Carin Berger’sBox of Art Supplies Makes Me Happy



In-progress image and final spread: “‘I wish it was spring right now,’
Maurice told Mama. ‘Waiting is hard,’ she said. ‘Right now it is time to sleep.'”

(Click each to enlarge)

Last week, I chatted over at Kirkus (here) with author-illustrator Carin Berger about her new picture book, Finding Spring (Greenwillow, January 2015). Today, as always, I’m following up with some in-progress images from Carin, as well as a few spreads from the book. Those are below.

BUT she also visited 7-Imp over a year ago, while working on this book, to talk about it in detail waaaay before its publication. If you like Finding Spring and like Carin’s art and her books, I highly encourage you to check it out, if you haven’t seen it already. Lucky for us all, it is an art-filled post. It is here.

And I thank Carin for sending the additional images below. Enjoy.


Two more in-progress images
(Click each to enlarge)


“Back in the den, Maurice snuggled happily against Mama.
He slept and slept and slept.”

(Click to enlarge)


“And at last, there it was. Maurice had finally found S P R I N G!”
(Click to enlarge)



 

* * * * * * *

FINDING SPRING. Copyright © 2015 by Carin Berger. Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of Carin Berger.

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33. Harry & Winnie: Friends Forever and even longer …


“In 1919, just before Harry returned to Winniepeg, he made another hard decision.
He decided that Winnie would stay at the London Zoo permanently.
Harry was sad, but he knew Winnie would be happiest in the home she knew best.”

This week over at BookPage, I’ve got an interview with author Sally M. Walker. Her newest picture book is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt, January 2015), illustrated by newcomer Jonathan D. Voss. It’s a fascinating story and one I didn’t know.

Our Q&A is over here at BookPage, and below I have some art (and backmatter images) from the book.


“When Harry Colebourn looked out of the train window,
he couldn’t believe what he saw ….”


“… The cub climbed into Harry’s lap and licked his chin.
‘She’s for sale,’ said the man holding her leash. …”


“Harry could care for a bear; he was a veterinarian.
‘How much?’ Harry asked. …”



“Sometimes Harry went places where Winnie couldn’t. The other soldiers cub-sat.
They photographed Winnie. They took her for walks.”


“But no matter where Winnie went during the day,
she slept under Harry’s cot every night.”


“… For seven weeks, Winnie watched soldiers practice marching. …”


“Harry visited Winnie whenever he could, but the war lasted four years.
During that time, the zookeepers took good care of his bear. …”


“One day, when Winnie was nearly eleven years old, a little boy visited her.
‘Oh, Bear!’ cried the boy, whose name was Christopher Robin.
He hugged Winnie and fed her milk.”


“… The zookeepers treated her kindly, friendly visitors scratched her back,
and gentle children spoon-fed her milk. …”



Front and back endpapers
(Click each to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

WINNIE. Copyright © 2015 by Sally M. Walker. Illustrations © 2015 by Jonathan D. Voss. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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34. Interview: Artist Nate Stockman and writer Kel Symons talk about their work on REYN

by Edie Nugent

REYN art 213x300 Interview: Artist Nate Stockman and writer Kel Symons talk about their work on REYNLong-distance collaborators Kel Symons and Nate Stockman who worked together on I LOVE TROUBLE for Image have banded together again for their new sword and sorcery series REYN, also for Image, which saw it’s first issue debut this week. I spoke with Symons and Stockman about how they formed their partnership, what it’s like collaborating across the ocean, and how Dungeons and Dragons inspired their work.

Comics Beat: What brought the two of you together to work on REYN?

Kel Symons: I “met” Nate (closest we’ve ever come is a Facetime call) a couple years ago as I was wrapping up the end of my first comic series for Image (my first comic series ever, actually) I LOVE TROUBLE. My original co-creator left to do other things before we got our sixth and final issue, and the colorist, Paul Little – who returns for REYN – recommended Nate. At the time I needed somebody fast, because we were already weeks behind schedule and the book was pushed – I just wanted the last story to fall into place so I had a complete trade volume to publish. But aside from being fast, Nate was really good. And a joy to work with. I was off to do THE MERCENARY SEA next at Image, but was thinking up new ideas I could bring to Nate. We had a series of email and video conversations last year that led to the creation of REYN.

Nate Stockman: Yep it was like Kel said. Our short collaboration on I LOVE TROUBLE was very enjoyable so we had a desire to work together again on something new.

Comics Beat: Technology has really paved the way for collaborations that, due to distance, would not have happened 15 years ago. What challenges do you face due to the remote nature of your interactions and how have you adapted to overcome them?

KS: We haven’t had ANY hiccups in terms of production or communication. In fact, the process and our partnership on REYN runs so smoothly that before issue 1 hit the stands this week we had the first five issues fully drawn, colored and lettered. This is our first mini-arc for the series, which will later comprise our first trade volume. Honestly, I have no idea how creators separated by great distances did things before the internet – the idea of sending original artwork back and forth to the creative team actually makes me nervous just thinking about that. I wonder how many comics got lost along the way.

CB: What excited you about telling/illustrating a story within the realm of fantasy? What do you feel REYN brings to the genre that readers haven’t seen before?

NS: For me, Creating a world from the ground up is a huge amount of fun. I love character design and having a diverse land populated by monsters and beasts is an artists dream. There’s a great mix of action sequences and quiet moments which I both enjoy. I like giving a bit of extra personality to our characters in the way they act or hold themselves. I find breathing life into the land of Fate very exciting!

KS: Longtime fantasy and sci-fi geek here, so playing in that sandbox is always going to be fun for me. If I were 12, Reyn would be a great character to roll up in D&D. It’s fun toying with the swords & sorcery tropes, and I told Nate that I’d love the art to look like it was airbrushed on the side of a custom van in 1976. In terms of something new we’re bringing to this genre, it’ll probably take a couple issues for that to get up fully up to speed. But right from the start I wanted to add some Old West to the mix. Reyn’s freelance swordsman borrows heavily from Western mythos – the solitary but reluctant hero who does the job not because he wants to but because he’s given little choice. In Reyn’s case he’s haunted by voices and visions. He’s also not someone I think you can fully expect to be a “hero.” He’s very much cut from the same cloth as Leone’s The Man With No Name.

CB: Were there any surprises along the way? Any characters that changed their look or personality from what you’d originally envisioned?

NS: It definitely takes a couple of issues for me to get used to drawing the cast. Around issues 3 or 4 I start to get a better handle on how I want them to look. I find myself really enjoying drawing Seph and I really enjoy drawing her interactions with Reyn. They have a fun partnership going forward.

KS: So far, no real surprises (but my favorite part of writing is when a character says or does something that surprises me). But as for changes, I think my original concept for Reyn was much more altruistic and chivalrous… then I wrote a first draft of the script and found him pretty bland. That’s when I sat back, looked at it, and decided to approach him from a different, slightly coarser angle.

CB: What do readers have to look forward to in the coming issues?

KS: Quite a lot I think (and hope!). Next issue will have a little more with the Venn, M’Thall. And in issue 3 Reyn and Seph meet up with the other Followers of Tek and the main quest is begun – this introduces a variety of new characters, but it’s still the Reyn and Seph show. Issues 4 and 5 is where things go off the rails we’ve laid down – without getting spoiler-y, there will be some unexpected turns, answers to some of the questions folks may have, and probably even more questions posed. Also Reyn’s interaction with Aurora becomes more defined.

NS: Yeah, I can’t wait to introduce readers to more of Seph’s people. They’re a cool bunch! Opening up and exploring more of the land of Fate is going to be really exciting too. It’s a challenge bringing it to life but it’s one I relish! I’m very much looking forward to issues 4 and 5 coming out. They’re my favourite issues story and art wise! There’s a lot of cool stuff to come! The reaction to the first issue has been quite positive in general. The main criticism being it can feel cliche in areas. I think if readers stick around they’ll be pleasantly surprised regarding that.

REYN #2 comes out on February 11, 2015

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35. A Visit with Don Tate …



 

Author-illustrator Don Tate, who visited 7-Imp for breakfast back in 2011, is back today to talk about his upcoming picture books. As it turns out, I had an opportunity to do one of those so-called cover reveals for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill, which will be on shelves from Peachtree in the Fall. (Yes, FALL! I know. Seems so far away.) And then it turned into an opportunity to ask him about the book (I read an early PDF version) and to show some spreads from it, and I’m all for that. Even better. To boot, Don is even sharing some images from another forthcoming book, written by Chris Barton, called The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans), which I believe will be on shelves in April. So you’ll see that below too.

Poet is the story of George Moses Horton, the first African American poet to be published in the South. Horton’s story is a remarkable one, and Don talks a bit below about why. Let’s get right to it, especially so that we can see more of his art.

I thank him for visiting.

Jules: Can you talk a bit about your research for this one?

Don: I had so much fun researching Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. It was like putting together a puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle began with a simple “budget line,” as they say in the newspaper business: George Moses Horton was an enslaved poet in North Carolina, who became the first African American to be published in the South. Many poems protested slavery. In order to complete the puzzle, I did a lot of research.


“George loved words. …”
(Click to enlarge)

I began by reading Horton’s own autobiography. It’s a very short but detailed account of his life that was published as a prefix in his second book, The Poetical Works of George M. Horton. The book was published in 1845. The archaic language was tough to understand.

Here’s a sample (which is in the public domain):

…Nevertheless did I persevere with an indefatigable resolution, at the risk of success. But ah! the oppositions with which I contended are too tedious to relate, but not too formidable to surmount; and I verily believe that those obstacles had an auspicious tendency to waft me, as on pacific gales, above the storms of envy and the calumniating scourge of emulation, from which literary imagination often sinks beneath its dignity, and instruction languishes at the shrine of vanity. I reached the threatening heights of literature, and braved in a manner the clouds of disgust which reared in thunders under my feet. …

Okay.


“Then George found an old spelling book. It was tattered and some pages were missing, but it was enough to get him started. …”
(Click to enlarge)


“… George was now a full-time writer, but he was still not a free man.”
(Click to enlarge)

So first I had some deciphering to do. One of my best resources came from a researcher at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson’s Special Collections Library. I can’t emphasize how much researchers there helped me to tell this story. I’d ask a question, and they’d return an abundance of information and sources — about Horton’s life; the clothes people wore; images of the old campus; literacy in slave communities. I had way more information than needed, but it gave me the confidence to tell an accurate story. I also consulted with the Chapel Hill Historical Society and the North Carolina Museum of History, and I studied the poetry from his three books: The Poetical Works, The Hope of Liberty, and Naked Genius.


(Click to enlarge)


“Now it was too dangerous for George to write poems that protested slavery.
But he didn’t stop writing altogether. …”

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Don: Yes. As mentioned in my Author’s Note, George Horton’s life and the things he accomplished as an enslaved man totally surprised me. Horton was likely the best paid poet of his Southern contemporaries, black or white. He made enough money from his poetry to pay his master for his time, which allowed him to live at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a full-time writer. He published two books while enslaved and delivered two commencement speeches to graduates. All of this happened a time when African-American literacy was discouraged, devalued, even outlawed. George’s life was full of surprises.


Don: “This was a sample image used to sell the dummy. I sketched the entire book roughly — but painted this one piece. In the end, I decided to go with a less polished-looking style. I felt the loose watercolor and line worked better.”
(Click to enlarge)

There was another thing that surprised me. Slavery was a peculiar institution, to say the least. But I was surprised to learn that many slave owners in North Carolina viewed their slaves as family members. Is that strange or what? Slaves were considered the property of their masters. They performed day-long, back-breaking work for no pay. Their diet was typically poor and their clothing inadequate. They could be whipped or even killed by their masters for any reason and with no recourse. Some way to treat a family member, huh?


Don: “Originally to be our title page image. But I realized much later that this image would not have been accurate. While George did work alongside his mother, singing songs in a tobacco field, he would have been a toddler. I scrapped this image.”
(Click to enlarge)


Don: “This was another title page sketch. Again, the tobacco field was not accurate.”
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: I like in your closing Author’s Note that you talk about why you wanted to do this book — that you once were adamant about focusing on “contemporary stories relevant to young readers today,” especially given that “whenever the topic of black history came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people ….” Yet you were moved to tell this story anyway. Can you talk a bit here about why?

Don: As a young child, I was often embarrassed when the topic of slavery came up at school. There were many reasons for that, but mainly it seemed that when it came to the history of African Americans, slavery was the only thing ever mentioned. White kids sometimes made jokes about slavery. Black kids insulted each other by saying mean things like: “You look like Kunta Kente,” who was a character from the movie Roots. If someone got called Kunta, a fight was on! That’s sad when you consider what Kunta Kente went through in his lifetime. He was actually a hero.


Don: “This was the original opening illustration for the book. However, I questioned the race of the church congregation. Would George have worshipped with an all-black congregation? Or would he have worshiped together with the whites, but separate? Both scenarios could have been possible; we just don’t know. One of my sources, a curator at the Historic Hope Plantation in North Carolina. advised going with the all-black congregation. North Carolina had one of the largest free black populations in the colonies. It was more likely that he was inspired at church services
while hearing a free black preacher read the Bible.”

(Click to enlarge)

Because of those negative childhood memories, when I first got into the publishing industry, I promised myself that I would not illustrate stories about slavery, that I’d focus on telling other stories of my people. So what changed all of that? It was a journey.

I’m a dad and husband. I’m a provider. First and foremost, it’s my job to earn a living for my family. If I was going to become a published author, I figured that writing stories about apples didn’t make sense if oranges were in higher demand. Know what I mean? So for my first book, I wrote a story about a former slave who became a famed folk artist. I could have written a story about a contemporary African American child who . . . I don’t know, enjoys skateboarding and playing basketball. Which one do you think would have sold quicker?


Don: “This was one of my favorite images from my original book dummy. It portrays a couple reading one of George Horton’s love poems. We decided to nix this one,
opting to show George reciting a poem while a student wrote it out.”

(Click to enlarge)

But here’s the thing: When I wrote that first book, It Jes’ Happened [art here at 7-Imp], and I studied the narratives of other enslaved African American people, I fell in love with their stories of resilience. Slavery, civil rights, “issue” books? Why not? My people have overcome mountainous obstacles. These are stories that everyone can appreciate and relate to — not only African American children. Inspired, I decided that I wanted to focus my career on telling these important stories.

Hope’s Gift (Penguin, 2012), written by Kelly Starling Lyons, was another in that journey for me. It’s the fictionalized story of an enslaved family. The book celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Next up is a story that I illustrated, written by Chris Barton. It is called The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans). It tells the story of a young man who in ten years went from teenage field hand to United States Congressman. The story is set during slavery and ends during Reconstruction, the era following the Civil War.

This book also presented many challenges. Reconstruction, which promised bright opportunities, was often a dangerous and deadly time for African Americans, who were basically reenslaved under new laws. Chris Barton dealt with the challenging subject matter honestly, and so did I. Some of the images in the book, like a KKK church-burning and others will generate a lot of discussion. Here are a few images from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.


(Click to enlarge)


“… Fellow former slaves reveled in the promises of freedom –
family, faith, free labor, land, education.
John Roy wanted to be part of that.”

(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


“… Back home, white terrorists burned black schools and black churches.
They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away.
They even committed murder.”

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: What’s next for you?

Don: A lot! Currently I’m illustrating a second book for Chris Barton called Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas (Charlesbridge, 2016). It’s the story of the creator of the Super Soaker squirt gun. I’m also creating thumbnail sketches for a book written by Michael Mahin called . . . get ready for it: Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band (Penguin, TBD). Whew! I thought I’d never be able to remember that name. But guess what? I can’t forget it! Next up is another book that I wrote that I’m not ready to talk about. It will be published by Charlesbridge and is out to my editor. I expect revision notes soon. I’m very excited about that project.

* * * * * * *

All images here are used by permission of Don Tate, and the illustrations from Poet are used by permission of Peachtree.

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36. Interview and Giveaway: Karen Ranney, Author of In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams

 [Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Karen! Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Karen Ranney] She never gave up.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about your book?

[Karen Ranney] In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams is the story of a woman who had always loved a man, but allowed her pride to get in the way. Once she returned home, older, wiser, and a little damaged, she realized that her past was a huge barrier to happiness. Lennox must never know what she’d done.

 

Lennox, on the other hand, had never stopped loving Glynis. The only problem now was to figure out who the woman who’d returned to Scotland really was: the girl he’d loved or a creature with secrets.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Karen Ranney] My books always start with the characters. I read something fascinating about Mississippi paddle wheelers being built in Scotland. That led to the story of an enterprising ship builder and Lennox popped into my mind fully formed. Immediately after he was born, Glynis scampered up, dressed in a soiled pinafore and scowling at me. She was only seven at the time and had already claimed Lennox as her own.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Karen Ranney] The sense of connection I felt. I knew what the next book would be, and the third. It’s as if they were jigsaw pieces all laid out in front of me. I love when that happens.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with this story?

[Karen Ranney] Being correct about shipbuilding and iron hulled ships. Jeepers, I had to read lots of books. Just like any research, you have to learn enough to know what to write, but not too much that it bores the reader. I dislike info dumps and try not to do it.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had a theme song, what would it be?

[Karen Ranney] My Way

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing you won’t leave home without.

[Karen Ranney] My sunglasses

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Karen Ranney] My coffee cup, my dog’s kibble egg, and my DayRunner.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Karen Ranney] This is going to sound odd, but no one. It’s taken years for me to feel comfy in my own skin. I don’t want to screw that up by being anyone else for a day.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Karen Ranney] Burn for Me: A Hidden Legacy Novel by Ilona Andrews

Black Water: a Jane Yellowrock Collection by Faith Hunter

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the New Skete Monks

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Karen Ranney] I’m reading or exercising or being Flash the Wonder Pooch’s companion in crime. I don’t feel right saying owner, because I’m sure he feels like he owns me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Karen Ranney] The Warm Fuzzies Newsletter: http://karenranney.com/subscribe-warm-fuzzies-newsletter/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WriterKarenRanney
Website: http://karenranney.com
Email: karen@karenranney.com

In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams
The MacIain Trilogy #1

By: Karen Ranney

Releasing January 27th, 2015

Avon Romance

Blurb

New York Times bestselling author Karen Ranney’s first novel in a brand-new series spins the intriguing story of a beautiful widow and a devilishly handsome shipbuilder…

Seven years have passed since Glynis MacIain made the foolish mistake of declaring her love to Lennox Cameron, only to have him stare at her dumbfounded. Heartbroken, she accepted the proposal of a diplomat and moved to America, where she played the role of a dutiful wife among Washington’s elite. Now a widow, Glynis is back in Scotland. Though Lennox can still unravel her with just one glance, Glynis is no longer the naïve girl Lennox knew and vows to resist him.

With the American Civil War raging, shipbuilder Lennox Cameron must complete a sleek new blockade runner for the Confederate Navy. He cannot afford any distractions, especially the one woman he’s always loved. Glynis’s cool demeanor tempts him to prove to her what a terrible mistake she made seven years ago.

As the war casts its long shadow across the ocean, will a secret from Glynis’s past destroy any chance for a future between the two star-crossed lovers?

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2014/11/in-your-widest-scottish-dreams-by-karen.html

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22046610-in-your-wildest-scottish-dreams?from_search=true

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K53D3HE?tag=karerann-20

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-your-wildest-scottish-dreams-karen-ranney/1119565608?ean=9780062337474

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/in-your-wildest-scottish-dreams/id874639413?mt=11

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/in-your-wild-scottish-dreams/yVJcJ_1O4EuKbDR8vd7wZQ

Author Info

Karen Ranney began writing when she was five. Her first published work was The Maple Leaf, read over the school intercom when she was in the first grade. In addition to wanting to be a violinist (her parents had a special violin crafted for her when she was seven), she wanted to be a lawyer, a teacher, and, most of all, a writer. Though the violin was discarded early, she still admits to a fascination with the law, and she volunteers as a teacher whenever needed. Writing, however, has remained the overwhelming love of her life.

Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Website: https://www.facebook.com/WriterKarenRanney

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterKarenRanney

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Karen_Ranney

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/68758.Karen_Ranney

Rafflecopter Giveaway ($50.00 eGift Card to Choice Retailer)

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Excerpt

“You’ve come home,” Lennox said.

Glynis wanted to pull away but stood still. Precipitous gestures could be misunderstood. Better to allow him to hold her hand than cause a scene, especially when whispers swirled around them.

“It’s the MacIain girl, home after all these years.”

“Wasn’t there some scandal about her?” 

“Is this the first time she’s been seen in public?”  

Were people recalling those times she followed after Lennox as a child? At five years old she marked him as hers. As a young woman she was prepared to tell him she adored him.  

Foolish Glynis.  

He must not affect her. She wouldn’t allow it. She was no longer nineteen and desperately in love.  

“Why didn’t you come home sooner?” he asked now, still holding her hand. 

Instead of answering, she only smiled. The diplomatic ranks did not value honesty and so she became adroit at sidestepping it. 

He still smelled of wood and the ocean. Whenever anyone said the word “ship” or she tasted a brine filled breeze, he would appear in her memory with a twinkle in his eye.  

The hint of beard showing on this important occasion wasn’t due to any sloth on his part. He had to shave more than once a day to eliminate a shadow appearing on his cheeks and chin. 

“I think God wants me to have facial hair,” he said to her. “But God and I are going to disagree.” 

He was a foot taller than she was, dressed in black evening wear accentuating his shoulders and height. All his life he’d worked hard and it showed in the breadth of his chest and muscled legs. Something about him, though, hinted at power and always had. In a crowded room people sought him out the way they looked to leaders and confident men.   

Lennox Cameron resembled a prince and a devastating Highlander and he’d been the hero of most of her childish dreams. 

No longer, however. Too much had happened in the intervening years. 

The post Interview and Giveaway: Karen Ranney, Author of In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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37. Finding Spring with Carin Berger

In Finding Spring, a little bear named Maurice strikes off on his own in search of Spring, instead of hibernating. It is a story about seeking and about the magic of discovery. It is about those empowering childhood adventures that I remember so vividly – those moments of exploration without an adult supervising. It is also about the elusiveness of that which we seek and the happy accidental discoveries along the way.”

* * *

This morning over at Kirkus, I chat with author-illustrator Carin Berger about her new picture book, Finding Spring (out on shelves next week). Carin has actually already visited 7-Imp to talk about the book, over a year ago, but more on that next week — when she’ll share a bit of art from the book over here.

That Q&A at Kirkus will be here later this morning.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of Carin used with her permission.

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38. Sharon Draper on Stella by Starlight

sharon m. draper

In the January/February 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, editor Martha Parravano talked to Sharon M. Draper about her new intermediate novel Stella by Starlight. Read the full review here.

Martha V. Parravano: Have you ever tried to write by starlight?

Sharon M. Draper: I’ve marveled at the moon — the phases intrigue me — but I’ve never written anything while outside on a starry night. But I’m sure that those images eventually evolved into words in a story. All natural events inspire me — freshly fallen snow and thunderstorms and the changing of leaves in the fall — but the starlight and the moon I left to Stella. They belong to her.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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39. Graphic Novels for Kids: A Year in Review

I like comics.  I like ‘em a lot.  Always have, and as a librarian I’ve watched with interest the changing mores in my profession concerning their presence in a library setting.  Who has two thumbs and a copy of Seduction of the Innocent on her bedroom bookshelf?  This guy, that’s who!

So with the turn of the new year it seemed like a good idea to check in with the folks at First Second, Macmillan’s graphic novel wing, to see what they thought of comics in 2014/15.  Speaking with me today are Gina Gagliano (Associate Marketing and Publicity Manager) and Mark Siegel (Editorial Director).

Betsy Bird: Let’s talk about the state of graphic novels for kids today.  First off, how was First Second’s 2014 year?

Gina Gagliano: Really good!  We started off the year winning the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints– the first time a graphic novel has ever won that award – and things have just gotten better from there, with wonderful books throughout the year.

Mark Siegel:  The First Second collection continues to grow in all three age categories, but this year our youngest readers are getting some new treats—a line of picture books. They’re closer to the conventional picture book format, but they’re from proven comics creators, and will often feature some of the styling of the graphic novel. And I’m very pleased to say, there are more coming. First off we presented Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures which was wonderfully received. And the first of the Anna Banana books, called Sleep Tight, Anna Banana—a delicious, hilarious, adorable new character who will bring laughs to bedtime reading. They’re by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, an exceptional mother and son team from France, where these are national bestsellers. The next one comes out this year, in 2015, and is called Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion. Try it on a child sometime, the howling laughter should speak for itself.

BB: Yes indeed.  Julia’s House for Lost Creatures appeared on NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list for 2014 as well.  Now First Second has been around since 2006.  What are some of the changes in the graphic novel industry that you’ve noticed since your debut?  How has First Second itself changed?

GG: I just spent a day visiting bookstores in the New York City area, and one of the changes I noticed is that graphic novels are everywhere!  When First Second started publishing books, most stores didn’t have a graphic novel section – or if they did, it would be for literary comics for adults.  Now, most stores also have a separate comics section specifically for kids.  That’s a pretty big change!

First Second has changed a lot in that time, too!  We’ve got different staff, different offices, and new books and authors every year.  But our core values of quality, thoughtfulness, and originality haven’t changed, and they’re things we hope will never change about :01.

BB: Considering how popular comics are with kids, why aren’t we seeing more graphic novel imprints at the other big publishers?  What’s the reluctance?

GG: Even though a dedicated graphic novel imprint may not be right for every publisher, it’s clear that all the major publishers are including graphic novels in their lists in some way.  And with First Second, Graphix, Abrams Comic Arts, and Toon, there are definitely some comics imprints making a name for themselves out there!

That said, graphic novels can really be a challenge to acquire, edit, print, market, and sell if you don’t have a staff that appreciates and understands the format.  It’s really wonderful to have Macmillan’s support behind us here!

BB: What does First Second have in store next year?

GG: Lots!  You’ll be seeing new books from George O’Connor, Andi Watson, Jay Hosler, Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, Gene Luen Yang, Ben Hatke, Maris Wicks, and many other awesome authors and illustrators.  We’re going to be publishing twenty-two graphic novels, which is our all-time high number so far.  It’s going to be a year filled with great stories and amazing artwork!

MS: Among our young titles, there are a great many goodies! The second of the Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents… is coming! And after Macbeth it’s now Romeo and Juliet. If instead of his Stratford-on-Avon troupe Shakespeare had had the cast of the Muppet Show to work with—you’d get something like this.

Then there’s another continuing series—our bestselling adventures of Claudette, by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. Giants Beware! came first, and introduced us to a lovable, thrilling little world.  Dragons Beware! confirms that this is indeed a whole world young readers will never tire of returning to—and that Aguirre and Rosado are superb storytellers, creating something for the ages.

And wait there’s more! Gene Luen Yang has many a juicy surprise up his sleeve, and here’s the next: Secret Coders, with art by Mike Holmes! It’s a brand new fantasy series which also happens to teach computer coding… Something like a Hogwarts for coders!

Just to mention one more (and there’s still more, besides) is a very special offering from Ben Hatke: Little Robot. After the award-winning Zita Spacegirl trilogy and his Julia’s House for Lost Creatures picture book, Ben’s new work is in a new style, and it’s exciting and tender and magical, and continues to reveal an A-list author at the top of his game.

BB: So where do you see the future of comics and graphic novels going?

GG: I think the future of comics and graphic novels is more of them, everywhere!  With the positive reception that we’re seeing for the format, I know that lots of people are being inspired to sell them, teach them, read them, and even create them.  Soon the day will come where no one will have to ask, ‘A graphic novel?  What’s that?’

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40. Greg McLeod On ’365′ and Why He Animated One Second A Day For A Whole Year

Cartoon Brew speaks to director Greg McLeod about "365," a new short with an unusual concept.

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41. Fuse #8 TV: Victoria Jamieson!

I didn’t really plan it this way, but this week is basically just wall to wall videos of me yammering till the cows come home.  Fortunately, in the case of the latest episode of Fuse #8 TV I’m at least joined by the lovely and infinitely talented graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson.

In this, the latest of my video series, I decide to take you guys on a tour of a castle.  A castle chock FULL of children’s literature.  Don’t believe me?  Then prepare to be amazed.

After that I sit down with Ms. Jamieson and we discuss Roller Girl, an all new graphic novel that combines the fun and personal relationships you might find in a Raina Telgemeier comic with the fury and glory of a roller derby match.

Many thanks to the good people at Penguin Young Readers for letting me speak with Ms. Jamieson.  You can find her book Roller Girl on your shelves March 10th.  And you can find full episodes of Fuse #8 TV here.

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42. A Peek at Pat Cummings’ Process


Early thumbnail
(Click to enlarge)


 


Pat: “This is the scene when Beauty has returned home, overstayed her visit, and has
a bad dream about the Beast dying in the castle garden, because she’s broken her promise. The round symbol repeated on the base of her bed is her family motif that I wanted to suggest one of the west African Adinkra symbols.”

(Click to enlarge)


 

I’m following up today at 7-Imp with some art from H. Chuku Lee’s Beauty and the Beast, illustrated by Pat Cummings and published by Amistad/HarperCollins earlier in 2014. I talked with them both at Kirkus last week (here) about this book, and as always, I wanted to be sure to share some images from it. I thank Pat for sharing some final art, as well as for including some early thumbnails and other preliminary images (plus a bit of explanation as to what the images are).

Enjoy. …


 

Pat’s Initial Thumbnails for the Opening Spread
(Click each to enlarge):


 





 

Experimenting with Medium
(Click each to enlarge):


 



Pat: “Initially, I thought I’d do the art in black and white [pencil],
referencing the Cocteau film.” (See last week’s Q&A for an explanation.)


Pat: “I planned to use color in the way that
old photos were retouched with pastels.”


Pat: “Then I thought I’d try to do the book digitally.”


Final version in watercolor, gouache, and pencil


 

Some Final Spreads
(Click each to enlarge):


 


Pat: “The architecture of the Beast’s castle is based on buildings by the Dogon tribe in Mali, West Africa. I tried to add windows and elements that would suggest eyes or fangs but what I realllllly wanted to do was to make the handrail on the stairs a serpent. I had painted it that way, scales and all, and it got nixed as too scary. Much later, after I had finished the book, I saw an image in a book about Cocteau that showed a serpent-handled stairway I think he used in another movie.”


Pat: “This is the first time the Beast appears in full. He’s often depicted as a boar or a lion-like creature, but I wanted him to look more human — like the prince he was,
but after a run-in with a bad fairy.”


Pat: “On Beauty’s return to the castle, she can’t find the Beast, so she wanders from room to room, morning till evening, looking for him. One of the elements that resonated with me in the Cocteau film was the use of objects like candle sconces to show that Beauty was constantly surrounded by unseen attendants.
She was always being watched.”

* * * * * * *

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Copyright © 2014 by H. Chuku Lee. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Pat Cummings. Published by Amistad/HarperCollins, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Pat Cummings.

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43. How to Promote Your Work Like a Pro

Writer's Digest February 2015Now more than ever before, there are so many things we can do to promote our books, articles, stories, essays, services, and other creative works and skills—regardless of whether we’re self-published, traditionally published, or even not-yet-published. Bookstore and library events remain staples, of course, as do reviews, mentions and bylines in prominent media. But add to the mix blog tours, home pages, social networking sites, free promos, cheap promos, paid placements, Web ads, print ads, Goodreads giveaways, email lists, indie author coalitions, and the myriad services claiming to increase “discoverability,” and one thing becomes clear:

You can’t do them all.

And even if you could, who would want to? Just reading that list is enough to make even a savvy marketer’s head spin.

What you need is a strategy—one that’s developed through a solid understanding of what makes the best sense for you and your work, while allowing flexibility to bend with the changing winds.

I don’t need to tell you that self-promotion and platform building are important. In a reader survey we conducted in 2014, 61 percent of respondents listed “to learn how to promote myself and my work” as one of the primary reasons they read Writer’s Digest magazine, and 45 percent of readers requested even more coverage of the topic.

The February 2015 Writer’s Digest delivers. It’s our best and most up-to-date resource on how to promote your work—and it’s hot off the press and on newsstands now. Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at what’s inside.

Keys to a Successful Promotional Strategy

In creating this issue, first, we identified two key areas worth focusing on: your author website (essential for scribes of all stripes, from freelancer to novelist, from beginner to multi-published author) and Goodreads (a must for book authors in particular). We enlisted experts to deconstruct what you need to know to make the most of each medium. Digital media pro Jane Friedman’s “Your Author Website 101” and bestselling hybrid author Michael J. Sullivan’s “Get in Good With Goodreads” are comprehensive guides ripe for earmarking, highlighting, and referencing again and again. Whether you’re just starting to investigate how to promote a book or you are looking to create a Web presence that will be the foundation of your career, these articles are a great place to start.

Then, we put a call out to the writing community asking for “Success Stories in Self-Promotion”—and we got them, in droves. Learn through the real-life trial and error of writers whose promotional efforts ultimately yielded impressive sales, further opportunities, and, in some cases, even agents and book deals.

Best of all, as those authors share their secrets and tips, you’ll notice one key takeaway that comes up again and again:

If they can do it, so can you.

Doing What Works for You

That underscores the point that in working to improve both our craft and our career, it can help for us writers to stick together—to use one another as the valuable resources we are. The February issue also features a WD Interview with Garth Stein, best known for his runaway bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain and his latest novel, A Sudden Light. Stein had more great insights than we had space to print, so in our online exclusive outtakes from the interview, he talks about how he came to co-found the literacy outreach group Seattle7Writers, and why every writer should have a writing friend.

The February 2015 Writer’s Digest is already getting some great buzz on Twitter, Facebook and blogs from other writers who likely share in the same platform and promotional challenges that you do. If you’re looking for fresh tips on how to promote your work—plus the usual doses of writing inspiration and craft advice we put into every issue of WD—you won’t want to miss it!

Happy Writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser.

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44. Bill Plympton on ‘Cheatin” and the Challenges of Making Indie Animation for Adults

"Why should kids be the only ones who get pleasure out of animation," says the revered indie animation director Bill Plympton. "It offends me that American animation is stereotyped this way."

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45. Interview and Giveaway: Jessica Peterson, Author of The Millionaire Rogue

 

This morning Jessica Peterson stopped by for a chat, and she brought along a copy of her latest release for you to win!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Jessica!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Jessica Peterson] Books, country music, romance, wine.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Millionaire Rogue?

[Jessica Peterson] Sure!  This book was so much fun to write.  A couple of years ago I was researching the Hope Diamond and discovered it appeared, mysteriously, in 1812 London.  This was the spark for my HOPE DIAMOND TRILOGY.  How fun to set a trio of romances amidst the intrigue of a cursed diamond with a checkered past?  I couldn’t resist!

THE MILLIONAIRE ROGUE follows banker Thomas Hope and debutante Sophia Blaise as they try – and fail! – to resist each other following the theft of a fifty-carat diamond from Hope’s ballroom.  I remember brainstorming an outline for MILLIONAIRE and being overwhelmed by how quickly – and strongly – the first few scenes came to me.  As a writer who often struggles with plot, it was such a thrill to have the pieces of Thomas and Sophia’s puzzle fall together like they did.  No book is easy to write, but writing these two characters, detailing their adventures, was really a joy.

I’d like to think Thomas is a somewhat quiet – but intense – hero.  I found him to be charming, adorable, and, like Sophia, irresistible.  He’s got a shady past (who doesn’t?), but there is something endearing about him – he always tries to do right by those he loves.

Sophia is a heroine after my own heart.  I think we all, at some point in our lives, struggle with disconnect between who we think we should be – what we should want, who we should be with – and who we really are.  Sophia is no exception; while she thinks she wants to marry a man with a title and castle, the man who really makes her happy has neither of those things.  I loved exploring this internal conflict

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Jessica Peterson] It’s no secret that I love – LOVE! – writing kissing scenes.  There are a few of them in THE MILLIONAIRE ROGUE; I’d have to say my favorite is the first kissing scene, when Thomas and Sophia are forced to kiss – only to discover that they like kissing each other very much.  They share another smooch later that night in the rain.  That scene is definitely a close second.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Jessica Peterson] The characters.  I really liked writing a softer hero this time around – he’s like the nice guy who also happens to be very handsome and very rich.  And Sophia was such a joy to visit with everyday.  They are so witty and so real to me; and they had quite a lot of fun together themselves.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Jessica Peterson] Yikes, that’s a good question.  My husband makes fun of me for having a car full of empty water bottles.  I have a phobia of being thirsty, I guess, because I take water with me EVERYWHERE.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Jessica Peterson] You’re in luck.  I just organized my office, so there’s nothing here to scare you.  I’ve got my planner, a cup of iced coffee, and a notebook filled to the brim with notes on book 3!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Jessica Peterson] Love this question.  I just got back from a trip to England, where my husband and I did a good bit of sightseeing in London.  Of all the things I saw, the thing that struck me most was a neck ruffle from the Elizabethan period.  I’d trade places with Queen Elizabeth I, just so I could see that neck ruffle in action.  I’m so curious what life was like back then – what people looked like, how bad their teeth were.  I’d love to meet Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe.  And I’d like to know if the food they ate was really as weird tasting as we think it is.

[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?

[Jessica Peterson] I’d choose the power of being able to live in movies and TV shows.  Then I’d go live in THE HOLIDAY for a few days, followed by PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (the Keira Knightley version) and then, because I love Benedict Cumberbatch, SHERLOCK.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Jessica Peterson] I just finished Tessa Dare’s ANY DUCHESS WILL DO.  It was unbelievably good.  I also loved ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, LONGBOURN by Jo Baker, THE HOOK UP by Kristen Callihan, and Julie Anne Long’s IT HAPPENED ONE MIDNIGHT (can you tell I love romance?!).  All amazing reads.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jessica Peterson] I love to interact with readers, whether it’s via Goodreads, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, or my blog.  Drop a line and say hello!  

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8108644.Jessica_Peterson

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/jessicapetersonauthor

Twitter: @JessicaPAuthor

Blog: http://jessicapeterson.com/blog/

Thanks, Julie, for having me!

About the book:

In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue—and a font of unimaginable adventure…
Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that’s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he’s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn’t be losing his reputation, but his heart…
Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season’s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own—with an alluring banker—she begins to question whether she’s suited to the proper life she’s always known…
Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever…

About the Author:

Jessica Peterson began reading romance to escape the decidedly unromantic awkwardness of her teenage years. Having found solace in the likes of Rhett Butler and Mr. Darcy, it wasn’t long before she began creating tall, dark, and handsome heroes of her own.

A graduate of Duke University, Jessica worked at an investment bank before leaving to pursue her writerly dreams. She lives with her husband, the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Peterson, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

US and Canadian addresses only, please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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46. A Chat with H. Chuku Lee and Pat Cummings …



 

These two. If I were only half as cool as they are …

Go see for yourself. That’s H. Chuku Lee (left) and Pat Cummings (right). We talk at Kirkus today about their 2014 picture book collaboration, Beauty and the Beast, which Chuku wrote and Pat illustrated. They’re a husband-and-wife team, and here’s hoping Chuku ends up writing more; this was his children’s book debut, though he has had a long and distinguished career in journalism. (Actually, he told me, though there wasn’t room for it in the Q&A over there, that he is developing several ideas for other stories, so that’s good news.)

Pat, as you’ll read over there, has illustrated over 30 books in her career and also teaches illustration at Pratt Institute. I’ve wanted to interview her for years now, and I really enjoyed this Q&A. Next week here at 7-Imp, she’ll share some art from the book.

The Q&A is here.

* * * * * * *

Photos of H. Chuku Lee and Pat Cummings used with their permission.

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47. Jill Maxick of Prometheus Books: The Powells.com Interview

For decades, Prometheus Books has put out titles we both love and respect. Prometheus is the leading publisher in the United States of books on free thought, humanism, and atheism — as well as many more titles that serve to fire up the human mind. In fact, that almost seems to be the sole reason [...]

0 Comments on Jill Maxick of Prometheus Books: The Powells.com Interview as of 1/9/2015 8:56:00 PM
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48. Interview and Giveaway: An Affair Downstairs by Sherri Browning

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Sherri!  Describe yourself in five words or less.

[Sherri Browning] Curious, Creative, Witty, Determined, Indulgent.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about An Affair Downstairs?

[Sherri Browning] In Edwardian England, times are changing. Women have a little more freedom to make their own choices, and Lady Alice Emerson doesn’t want to bow to convention and get married. She develops an attraction to her sister’s estate agent and decides that she should have an affair. But despite his dark past, Logan Winthrop is a man of honor and Alice has a difficult time convincing him to go along with her plan.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you share your favorite scene?

[Sherri Browning] My favorite scene isn’t actually between Alice and Logan. It’s when Alice turns to her Aunt Agatha for advice after creating a bit of a scandal with Logan, and Agatha’s own romantic history comes up. Aunt Agatha is one of my favorite scene-stealing characters, and one of her former suitors might surprise a few readers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

[Sherri Browning] What I enjoyed most might have been expanding on the relationship between sisters Sophia and Alice, and examining what sisters mean to us, how they can build us up, and how we manage to live with them sometimes.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

[Sherri Browning] My credit cards. I love a little impulsive shopping, especially at bookstores.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

[Sherri Browning] My zebra striped coffee mug, a framed picture of me with best friends Kathleen Givens and Julia London, and Poppie, a doll I’ve had since childhood. She’s the Pillsbury Doughboy’s girlfriend and was a character in commercials with him back in the 70s.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s your favorite snack when you’re working on a deadline?

[Sherri Browning] When I write, I don’t snack. When I edit, I snack like a fiend. I love gummy bears and jelly beans, or carrots with hummus if I’m being healthy.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

[Sherri Browning] I think I would be JK Rowling, just to know what it’s like to be that bestselling and adored. I would do interviews to recommend Sherri Browning’s books to all of her readers, and then call up Emma Watson and try to fix her up with my son. They would make such a cute couple.

[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?

[Sherri Browning] Time travel. I would go back in time and try to save the life of a friend. If I succeeded or not, I could spend more time with that friend for the week. I really miss her.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

[Sherri Browning] I love Julia London’s Cabot Sisters series. I’ve been enjoying Liane Moriarty’s books, too. I’m reading The Last Anniversary now.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Sherri Browning] Readers are always welcome to comment at my website, www.sherribrowningerwin.com, or email me at sherri@sherribrowningerwin.com. Also, I’m on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherriBrowningErwin and Twitter @sherrierwin.

Title: An Affair Downstairs

Author: Sherri Browning

Series: Thornbrook Park

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8682-7

Pubdate: 1/6/2015

The attraction of the forbidden cannot be suppressed…

Lady Alice Emerson is entirely unsatisfied with the endless stream of boring suitors her family finds appropriate. She wants something more. Something daring. Something real. Each tiresome new suitor only serves to further inflame Lady Alice’s combustible attraction to Thornbrook Park’s rugged, manly estate manager, Logan Winthrop. Despite Logan’s stubborn attempts to avoid her, Lady Alice is irresistible, and so is the forbidden desire exploding between them…

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, don’t miss the fascinating Edwardian world of Thornbrook Park.

Sherri Browning writes historical and contemporary romance fiction, sometimes with a paranormal twist. She is the author of critically acclaimed classic mash-ups Jane Slayre and Grave Expectations. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sherri has lived in western Massachusetts and Greater Detroit Michigan, but is now settled with her family in Simsbury, Connecticut. Find her online at www.sherribrowningerwin.com.

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1t8sd3F

Apple: http://bit.ly/1yuHHT8

BAM: http://bit.ly/1uEa5Bz

B&N: http://bit.ly/1HreAq1

Chapters: http://bit.ly/1x5Uyc8

Indiebound: http://bit.ly/1uEbg42

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

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49. An Interview with Old School Mystery Author Greg Messel

Longtime BookBuzzr subscriber – Greg Messel’s books have been gradually creating a niche for themselves and finding a dedicated audience on Amazon. A reviewer recently wrote about his Sam Slater mystery novel, “I’ve read all three Sam Slater novels, and just finished San Francisco Secrets. Again, it was full of great San Francisco locations. great ‘bad guys’ and I enjoyed the story.”

Greg’s recent interview with Stu Taylor on Radio America gives a good overview of his latest book – Shadows in the Fog

Hi Greg, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Would you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Greg Messel

I’ve spent most of my adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. I won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and have contributed articles to various magazines. I retired from the corporate world and now live in South Jordan, Utah. I’m a widower and have three adult children who are married and have 11 grandchildren.

I’ve written eight novels including my new one “Shadows In The Fog” which is the fifth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. “Fog City Strangler,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Deadly Plunge” are sequels to the first book in the series “Last of the Seals.” There are three more novels: “Sunbreaks,” “Expiation” and “The Illusion of Certainty.”

I’m currently working on my ninth novel–the sixth in the mystery series–“Cable Car Mystery”–which will be published in late 2015.

Why did you become a writer?

I worked for my high school newspaper and fell in love with writing. I won a couple of writing contests and then I began writing sports and movie reviews for my local hometown newspaper in Concord, California in the San Francisco Bay Area. I supported myself in high school and college writing. I didn’t start serious novel writing until I had the time after my retirement.

How do you go about your writing process? Is there a method to the way you produce your books? Do you use an editor? Do you work with beta readers?

I begin working on the outline of the story and putting together chapters. I don’t necessarily work in order. If I have an idea for a chapter I go ahead and write it and then weave it into the finished product. I first want to get the story out of my head and onto the paper. I then will spent a few months polishing it and sometimes making major changes. I then turn it over to an editor and we usually make three detailed passes at the manuscript, not only refining the grammar and sentence structure but also making changes in the plot.

How do you design your book covers?

I work with my publishing coach who has someone on his team who designs my covers. I receive a lot of compliments about the book covers. I think they are vital to attracting readers. Book covers give a real strong first impression. I think some book covers, particularly for some self published authors, really screams “Amateur.”

Whats the best part about your job as an author?

The actual writing and creating is wonderful. While you are writing you escape into a different world. It’s thrilling. I love to talk to people who have read the books and enjoyed them.

Whats the most tedious part about your profession?

Marketing is hard. I think most authors will tell you that whether they are self published or working for a publishing house. It is extremely difficult to get noticed in the fast paced new world of eBooks and a shrinking number of book stores. I sometimes smile to myself at eBooks titled something like “How To Write a Best Seller.” Generally it involves several thousand people giving you a few dollars to read your eBook. That’s how “they” write a best seller but I’m not sure it helps you. I’ve noticed that there are very few ground breaking ideas to market. It comes down to execution and maximizing the exposures for your book. That’s something that BookBuzzr helps provide.

Your book-trailers invoke a sense of nostalgia. How do you get these book-trailers made?

I have a contractor, I work with who specializes in trailers. He has done all the trailers on the Sam Slater mystery series. I love his work.

What are some of the activities that you do to promote and market your book?

I do virtual book tours and try to be active on Goodreads. I also used Twitter and Facebook to promote my books. I’ve had some book signings which are always a thrill. I’m very proud of my web page. Check it out at gregmessel.com

How does BookBuzzr help you with your book promotion?

It increases my contact with readers and potential readers. I’ve received messages from all over the United States and some from Canada. The contests seem to generate a lot of activity.

Note: Most of Greg’s books are set in San Francisco in the 1950’s. Check out this quiz created by Greg using BookBuzzr’s quiz-builder and test your knowledge about the history of this city.

Sorry, your browser does not support iframes. Click here to continue

If you are looking for a page turning whodunnit mystery, you can get a review copy of most of Greg’s books including his popular first book in the Sam Slater series – Last of the Seals here – http://www.freado.com/auction/4130/6124/last-of-the-seals

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50. Seven Questions Over Shots with Nick Bruel



 

Author-illustrator Nick Bruel is serious about breakfast. When I ask him what pretend-breakfast-of choice we’ll pretend-have over pretend-coffee this morning, his answer is detailed (right after my own breakfast-lovin’ heart):

Choice? Well, the finest breakfast dish I ever had was an oatmeal crème brulee from a hotel somewhere in Miami. It was dessert; it was breakfast; it was oatmeal; it was sugary; it was delicious, and I’ve never had anything like it since. But my typical breakfast of choice is some nice, fresh, untoasted sourdough bread and a quality olive oil for dipping. I especially like a mushroom-roasted garlic oil that comes from a shop in Tarrytown, NY.

Years ago when I traveled in China, my favorite breakfast dish was what Westerners here call congee, which is a hot rice porridge accompanied by at least half a dozen small dishes filled with assorted items, like egg or pickle or vegetables. You scoop out some of the hot rice mush into your bowl and add whatever you feel like from the smaller dishes. If you do it right, it can be delightful.

I have a lot to say about breakfast. I like breakfast.

Nick’s Bad Kitty, one of children’s literature’s most refreshingly naughty characters, appeared ten years ago—”Bruel’s little black star is perhaps the hammiest, most expressive feline ever captured in watercolors,” wrote Kirkus at the character’s debut—and it’s safe to say things haven’t been the same for Bruel since. Bad Kitty’s adventures began with a picture book, which then turned into a bestselling chapter book series.

But Nick started out with picture books and returns to them, in part, this year with the release this month of A Wonderful Year (our purple friend above comes from this story), already the recipient of a handful of positive reviews, some starred.

Nick talks about that new book, and much more below, and I thank him for visiting. As you’ll read, we may have a few shots with our coffee. (What? I’m up for just about anything.)

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Nick: Both. So there.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Nick: Bad Kitty – blah, blah, blah. But I will give particular shout out to Bad Kitty: Drawn To Trouble and the upcoming Bad Kitty: Puppy’s Big Day.

Who Is Melvin Bubble?

Bob and Otto, written by my father, Robert O. Bruel.

Little Red Bird.

The upcoming A Wonderful Year –- possibly my best book.

 





 

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Nick: Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and stress.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

[Pictured left: The first-ever painting of Bad Kitty.]

Nick: The different challenges between making books for these particular age ranges have less to do with the illustrations and more with the writing. When writing picture books, I have to pace my story to fit into those exact 32 or 40 page measurements. When writing the chapter books, I can just go hog wild and keep writing the story until I think it’s done.

As for the art — interestingly, the picture books and the chapter books both take me an equal amount of time to illustrate. The picture books are much shorter but are painted in color. The Bad Kitty chapter books may all be illustrated monochromatically, but some of those beasts are as much as 160 pages long, almost all of them fully illustrated.

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Nick (pictured right in first grade): Until recently, we lived in bucolic Tarrytown, NY. Now we live in equally bucolic Briarcliff Manor, NY. And if that name sounds at all familiar, then, yes, the name of the insane asylum where all the mayhem takes place in the second season of American Horror Story is “Briarcliff Manor.”

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Nick: I worked at a children’s bookstore in NYC called Books Of Wonder for over seven years. The store’s still there. During my evenings, I spent all my time creating and selling cartoons to various magazines and trade journals. About halfway through my tenure at BOW, I began to combine my interests and create my own kid book manuscripts. A regular customer named Jennie Dunham was curious about my work and eventually became my agent. A former store manager named Schuyler Hooke recommended me to a friend of his, who happened to be the great Neal Porter, who had just started the then fledgling Roaring Brook. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Nick’s first book, published in 2004

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Nick: www.nickbruel.com. But Bad Kitty herself has a wonderful site my publisher Macmillan created at www.badkittybooks.com.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Nick: Because my books target a pretty wide age range, I get to talk to lots of different age groups. For the most part, I like to conduct an exercise on how to come up with story ideas, which I cater to each grade level. For 5th graders, I like to conduct what I call a “cartooning symposium” that’s really an exercise on overcoming writer’s block. When the rare opportunity arises for me to speak to middle schoolers, I like to give a talk on criticism and censorship.

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Nick: I will have five brand new titles that I’ve both written and illustrated coming out in 2015. Crazy, right? In January, the newest Bad Kitty chapter books comes out, which will be Bad Kitty: Puppy’s Big Day, the first chapter book to feature Puppy.

In May will be some new Bad Kitty stuff. First, a picture/chapter/activity book titled Bad Kitty Makes Comics, my instruction manual on how kids can make their own comics with Bad Kitty and Strange Kitty as their guides.

At the same time will come the first Bad Kitty early readers, Bad Kitty Does Not Like Dogs and Bad Kitty Does Not Like Candy. These two books may represent the opening salvo of what may become the next Bad Kitty series.

Lastly, on the same day as the release of Puppy’s Big Day will come my first non-Bad Kitty book in many years, A Wonderful Year. [Some spreads are pictured below.] This concept behind this book came to me when I woke up one morning contemplating what I might have done if I was asked to do my own Nutshell Library. The book will be four short stories in one picture book, each story set in one of the seasons of the year. Each story will be independent of each other, but none of them could really exist without the other three. When kids ask me what my favorite book may be, I always tell them that I don’t have a favorite. And I don’t. But having said that, A Wonderful Year may indeed be my best book.

 


(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)


 



(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Nick 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?

Nick

: My process is pretty similar for all of my books, but I’ll describe it specific to how I make the chapter books.

First I take a shower. Seriously. Some of my best ideas come to me while hot water is pouring onto my head. The shower is just a great place for me to focus my thoughts.

Once inspiration has hit me and I’ve dried off, I like to put all of my early thoughts on paper. These really will be random thoughts, and they may not even take a linear shape in the form of a story.


Rough drawing: Creating a page for the upcoming Bad Kitty Goes To The Vet,
to be released in January 2016

(Click to enlarge)

Once I do have a story in mind, I will go to the computer and type out a detailed outline. The typical Bad Kitty chapter book outline is around 5-6 pages, single spaced. I like to describe outlines as being like maps for the story itself. Every now and then, you like to get into a car knowing exactly where you’re going and how to get there — point A to point B to point C … and so on. But every now and then you get sidetracked or lost or just feel like going off-road for a bit. That’s okay. Most maps delineate multiple routes.

Next, I go back to pen and paper. I have to. Because my books are so heavily illustrated and because I firmly believe that illustrations tell a story just as much as words do, I start writing and sketching at the same time. This 160-page mess of hand-drawn and hand-written pages doesn’t even represent the manuscript because …


Kitty, penciled and inked
(Click to enlarge)

Next I take all of those loose sketches and make clean, penciled illustrations on hot pressed Arches watercolor pages. I use the hot pressed stuff after Jerry Pinkney suggested it to me, because the smooth texture works will with pen and ink. (This will not be the first big name I drop. Everyone can drink their first shot now.)

Once everything has been penciled, I scan all of the pages individually. Once scanned, I create a computer design file where I combine all of my words and pictures for submission, because THIS file will be the manuscript, the book dummy.

It all sounds like a complex process, but I have it so streamlined now that it all goes pretty smoothly.


Final art
(Click to enlarge)

Once my editor has give me the green light to finish the artwork, I outline all of my penciled pages with good ol’ fashioned crow quill pen (a Gilliott 1290, to be specific) and ink. After the ink’s dried, I paint everything except for Kitty in watercolor paints. Kitty, I paint with gouache. That’s because gouache is solid and opaque. I could never get that deep, even [the] black in Kitty, by painting her with watercolors. Also, painting her with a different medium helps her to stand out from her background.


Dummy of cover for first Bad Kitty book

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Nick

: If you’ve ever seen the last scene of Blair Witch Project, then you’ve seen my studio office. I gave up a long time ago trying to be tidy with my workspace. It’s just a filthy mess of papers and loose paint tubes and pens and cat hair. All I need is one can of spilled motor oil, and I think I could apply to the government to label my office as a superfund site.

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


Nick

: One guy that few people remember, but everyone should, is Jack Kent. He was one of the rare breed of children’s book creators who also had his own syndicated comic strip in the newspapers for years.

I remember his work well from when I was a kid and admire him greatly to this day, even though almost none of his books remain in print. There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon I believe is still in print. But everyone should look in their libraries for Joey and Silly Goose and Socks For Supper to see what smart, simply-executed pictures look like. I would love to see his work re-discovered.

I’m also a great admirer of my good friend Jules Feiffer. (Take another shot.) His multi-faceted career in cartooning and children’s books and theatre and novels is the kind of career I would most like to emulate.

I honestly think that Bark, George is the closest thing we have to a perfect picture book in this generation.

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.)

Nick: This is a bit of a problem for me, because I’ve met a lot of my heroes already — not because of what I do now, but because of what I used to do. Working as a bookseller, like I did, gave me the opportunity to meet tons of great talent. I had several discussions with Shel Silverstein, who was a regular customer. (Take a shot.) I spoke at great length once with Maurice Sendak (shot). Lane Smith lived, literally, next door to the store. I’ve already met pretty much everyone. (You know what to do.) But a few more people do come to mind.

I’m a huge fan of Cynthia Rylant. I think her Mr. Putter and Tabby series is the finest “I Can Read” series out there for kids. I’ve met the illustrator, Arthur Howard, several times and told him as much. I think she really has the knack for writing for children, as evidenced by all of her marvelous books and series. I would love to sit and have lunch with her someday.

I owe a great deal to Lois Ehlert. When I was first writing Bad Kitty, I was stumped as to what to use for “x” in alphabet of vegetables that’s in that book. My last resort was to “borrow” what Ehlert did for her sublime Eating The Alphabet, which was to use “xigua.” I could not have completed that first Bad Kitty book without that filling in that one letter. I’ve often said that if I ever get the opportunity to meet Lois Ehlert, I owe her a nice box of chocolates.



 

Lastly, I’m going to cheat and invoke a deceased artist: Dick King-Smith. I was given the lovely opportunity to illustrate five of his shorter novels a few years ago. I leaped on this opportunity, because I really wanted to share cover credits with him. And I very much wanted these books to be an opportunity to meet him. But, alas, he died shortly after the final book, Clever Duck, came out. I do regret not having made more of an effort to contact him, if only by mail.

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?

Nick: When I’m writing, I can’t listen to ANYTHING. When writing, I need to be inside something as close to a sensory deprivation tank as I can get. Even the smallest distraction can really throw me off my game.

But when I’m illustrating, anything goes. My recent habit, oddly enough, has been to watch—but, really, listen to—Netflix. I love British mysteries, because they’re paced slowly, and you can listen to them like you would a radio drama and not feel like you’re missing anything. Poirot has been great. My most recent obsession has been Midsomer Murders. Good stuff!

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Nick: Even people who know me personally don’t necessarily know that I am half Chinese. My father is Belgian (hence, “Bruel”), but my mother was born in Shanghai. I don’t think my Chinese upbringing comes through in my work much. But it’s certainly a part of my personal life.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Nick: “What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?”

Oh, wait. Never mind.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Nick: “Roofer,” as in someone who builds and repairs roofs. There is just no elegant way to say that word out loud.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Nick: “Republican.”

Did I just get myself into trouble?

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Nick: Solitude. I love my little family. But I also really love being alone.

Jules: What turns you off?

Nick: Interruptions.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Nick: “#@%&*!” I’ve used this word-that’s-not-really-a-word in several of my books. You’d be amazed by how many angry emails, judgmental blog posts, and outraged Amazon reviews I’ve received because of this “word.” They only encourage me to use it again and again. And I have.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Nick: My daughter’s laughter.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Nick: My daughter’s complaints.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Nick: My wife Carina always says I could have been an actor. That might have been fun.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Nick: I’ve never been a waiter. I honestly don’t think it’s a job I could physically sustain. I feel the same way about cab drivers.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Nick: “Hi, Nick. Feel like another go around?”

 

All images are used by permission of Nick Bruel.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

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