Fall 2021 Deal Announcements

50 States in 45 Days: How to Be in a Band, Go on Tour, and Completely Lose Your Mind  by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson

Graphic Novel Memoir

In this autobiographical comic, a young couple in a small band attempt to break a world record on an epic road trip through the lesser-known corners of America. Unfortunately, it may come at the cost of losing their sanity.

Publisher: West Margin Press
Anticipated Pub Season: May 2023


Documented by Tracy White

YA Nonfiction Graphic Novel

A docucomic follows four teens fleeing different home countries on their own, seeking asylum in the US, and trying to adapt to their new, uncertain futures in the United States.

Publisher: Street Noise Books
Anticipated Pub Season: Spring 2023


One Scoop or Two? And Other Ice Cream Questions by Marissa Walsh

Picture Book

An interactive picture book, in which YOU get to decide exactly which ice cream you want… but be warned: with so many decisions to make, it might not be easy!

Publisher: Sterling
Anticipated Pub Season: Spring 2023


The Deep! by Lindsey Leigh

Middle Grade Nonfiction

In this illustrated nonfiction book for readers ages 7-10, plunge beneath the waves and find a world of bizarre creatures who explain -- in their own words! -- how they have adapted to life in the mysterious world of the deep, dark sea.

Publisher: Penguin Workshop/PRH
Anticipated Pub Season: Summer 2023


Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

Nonfiction Picture Book

A lyrical picture book in which readers discover the magical world of the "now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t" wetland habitats called vernal pools.

Publisher: Owlkids
Anticipated Pub Season: Spring 2024


The Other Name of Love by Damon Lehrer

Graphic Novel Memoir

Damon recounts the story of his mother’s affluent Viennese childhood, its sudden end when the Nazis arrive, and her family's flight on the doomed St. Louis ocean liner. The narrative is interwoven with the story of Damon's own childhood and how he was affected by growing up with an overtly successful -- but deeply traumatized -- mother.

Publisher: Levine Querido
Anticipated Pub Season: Summer 2024


Kids Comics Unite Community Development and Marketing Internships!

I am looking for Kids Comics Unite’s first “crew members” who will help me turn Kids Comics Unite into a website chock-full of resources, and continue growing and improving our fabulous community. You'll play a critical role in charting the future of KCU, and help create new programs that support all our members and leverage the knowledge and insight of our super users.

What You’ll Do:

  • Help shape the future of KCU
  • Help plan and launch the KCU website
  • Celebrate, organize, and boost the resources and stories that come from our community
  • Edit videos for posting internally and on the KCU YouTube channel
  • Write a monthly KCU newsletter
  • Oversee the future KCU blog
  • Organize internal processes to support the development of consistent, high quality content and programs
  • Track and report on our performance and make recommendations for improvement

What You Should Have:

  • Passion for helping artists and writers build their careers, and for helping the kids graphic novel market grow
  • Strong interest in the business and marketing side of publishing and online community building
  • A friendly personality, team spirit, and desire to help others
  • The ability to commit time and focus every week to this position

Skills I’m Looking For:

You don’t need all these, but at least some of them.

  • Excellent listening and analytical skills and ability to spot “patterns in the noise”
  • Strong organization skills
  • Some experience in blogging, email or social media marketing, and/or community moderating
  • Video editing expertise
  • Great writing and editing skills
  • Bookkeeping, finance, or administrative experience

What You’ll Get:

These are part-time paid internship positions. They include:

  • Monthly private mentoring session with Janna
  • Monthly stipend (tbd, depending on experience, scope of work, and time involved)
  • Free membership in all KCU programs
  • Behind the scenes experience in building a thriving online community, advising comics creators, and marketing a creative business
  • Completely flexible schedule

Fill out this form to apply:

https://forms.gle/shErx1scT91Lksvi7

The application period is open until Wednesday, April 28, 2021. If you want to apply, you must submit your application by EOD on April 28th.


Interview with Serena Phu

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

Artist and illustrator Serena Phu

I was born and raised in central Connecticut with my parents and brother, all of whom enjoy art in some capacity (my brother is currently a hobby artist, and when I was younger my mother would often paint and tell us about her brief time in art school; my dad will occasionally doodle).

As a child, I would spend my free time drawing cakes, and later on my brother introduced me to anime, which started my foray into drawing people. When I entered the 6th grade, I made an unknowingly powerful decision that art would be my schtick.

 

How do you start your day?

I wake up between 8:30 and 9:30am and usually check social media on my phone, to catch up on artists I follow, as well as general current events. Once I’m satisfied or feel I’ve spent too much time in bed, I’ll wash my face, brush my teeth, and head to the kitchen to eat breakfast and drink water/tea.

I typically go to bed with an idea of what I need to do once I start the next day, so I try to get right into it, despite my lethargy. Although, if I’ve woken up to a very time-sensitive plan of the day, I might skip breakfast until I’ve finished the first important task.

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

My workspace is rather cluttered at the moment! I tend to have a variety of stuff-making schemes, dabble in several different mediums, and hold onto a plethora of objects, materials, and doodles that I think could contribute to my work at some point.

My studio room has a wall of shelves that are mostly organized by type of object/what they’re used for/how often I might need to access them. I’m also a fan of tiered rolling carts, so I have 3 in my studio; one for watercolor & acrylics, one for oil paint, and one for miscellaneous things with a focus on merchandise production (screenprinting materials, tape, sticker paper, and some of my inventory).

I have a desk set up right in front of a south-facing window, and a drafting table on the opposite side of the room. On the walls, I tape up my paintings, useful notes or color studies, and in one section of wall I have hooks that hold badges I’ve accumulated from the conventions I’ve shown at.

Serena Phu workspace with art tacked to the walls using painter's tape

 

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

My absolute favorite medium is oils, for sure. I love the tactility of the paint, and the way that it and I seem to both leave our own personal trademarks on a piece. I’m fond of how easily I can achieve immaculate, realistic detail or large but still visually interesting spaces, depending on what I need.

 

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

I’m constantly relying on the lists I jot down in my Google Keep app. I have so many lists, both personal and work-related, with things like tasks I’m in the middle of, long-term plans, ideas I have for pieces I want to make, and so on. I find myself overwhelmed very easily, mostly by my own choices as I try to be in the middle of several different projects at once.

Maintaining lists allows me to redirect my focus on a whim and gives me a mental “shelf” where I can passively keep tabs on everything I’m doing, and not have to think about all of them simultaneously at every moment.

 

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Most of the time, “artist’s block” comes to me in the form of a lack of activity. I feel most “blocked” when I haven’t made something that makes me feel genuinely excited or happy or satisfied for a long time, and I usually have to realize that first before I can address it.

Once I have, I go back to the list of ideas that I haven’t gotten a chance to work on yet, and pick whichever one I’m most interested in. If I’m in between a lot of projects, I make it a quick study or even a sketch, just so I can get something finished and rejuvenate my motivation.

 

What’s particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I don’t have an immediate go-to for inspiration resources per se, but I do take a lot of inspiration from fashion, so I may go to social media to find people’s fashion snaps or some streetwear blogs, especially Japan-based street fashion photographers. One of my favorites is Tokyo Fashion, which I tend to go to if I’m trying to think of an outfit design for a character.

When we’re not in a pandemic, I usually try to travel. It never has to be anywhere far, but I find that seeing new things gets my gears turning. I especially get hyped up whenever I see very modern architecture or interior design. If I can’t find that, I always feel inspired by very dramatically lit clouds; most of the time I don’t even have to look for them, but I’ll simply glance up and see an intense vision in the sky, and it always urges me to paint.

Moody fantasy anime inspired oil painting by Serena Phu

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

One of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on will probably always be the series of paintings I had done that were based off of a music video by the K-pop group, BTS. They were very self-indulgent pieces for me, but I was very satisfied with the process of painting them, and overall they are a nice showcase of my capabilities with oil paint. I made them in undergrad and presented them to my professors and colleagues at the time, and felt validated to know that they could be addressed as serious pieces outside of the context of my being a fan of a music group.

 

What is your dream project in the future?

For sure, my dream project is to work with BTS on basically anything. A lot of the themes that inspire me to make my own work are themes that I can also find in theirs, which means that a) I’m very interested in what I interpret as the intent of their work, and b) I think I’d jive really well with any creative project that they could ever invite me to work on.

In a more general sense, I come from a fine arts mindset, as that was what I studied and got my degree in. I’m very much into taking the stuffiness out of fine arts and bringing it to a more modern and accessible (perhaps even “mainstream”) landscape, and would love to get myself to a point where I could do a collaboration with a huge brand or non-painting artist, similar to how Takashi Murakami has done so many unconventional collaborations from the art-world perspective.

This is also why I’m interested in illustration, because of how it combines fine art with practical appeal — for example book covers for mysterious or fantastical novels that share my work’s aesthetic.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

I wish I could tell my younger self to just do what they liked, and to not worry about looking smart or clever.

Serena Phu oil self-portrait

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

A lot of my personal life is actually, in ways, intertwined with my art. As someone with an interest in clothing, for example, I’ll be drawing and need to look at reference pictures of clothes and fashion, and doing that research will satisfy that itch for me. A lot of the people in my life are also involved in the arts, so I find that talking to them will often lead to discussions about art, which motivates me to get back to work, haha.

The thing I enjoy about being an artist is that more often than not, when I find something I become interested in, I try to express this excitement through drawing. Eventually, whether I consider it work or play, everything in my life coalesces.

 

 

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

As a sort of continuation of the advice I’d give to my younger self: I spent a long time framing the idea of a successful artist as one who makes completely new things that no one has ever thought of before. I thus spent a long time trying to come up with unorthodox ways to paint, mixed media pieces, and complicated metaphors and symbolisms to achieve this, without actually putting much thought into the simpler things that I enjoyed doing whenever I made art.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I was trying to justify the art I wanted to make with a difficult, intangible metaphor, that I understood trying to keep it under this lens only hurt the work. It revealed the ego that I had developed about my art.

After a long trip, looking at myself and my favorite works, and looking at a bunch of art, I was able to see this, and reframe how I approached things.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

In all honesty, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m still getting the majority of my income from non-art-related work, but I try to maintain social media presence within reason. My focus in terms of the work I make and the things I post has been on authenticity, being more genuine about what my work is about, and trying to create for an audience of people that are truly interested in what I make and why I make it.

This question is difficult to answer mostly due to the pandemic, but usually, I try to build my presence by traveling to conventions and sharing my work at in-person events; I find this to work better than any attempts I’ve made at marketing myself purely through social media.

What are you working on now?

I’m working with a therapist to illustrate a children’s book about tolerance, as well as a new line of merchandise for my online store. And I have a large 9’ oil painting that I’ve been slowly making progress on, although I may be pausing it to focus on the book and merchandise.

I am also trying to start up more quick painting studies to do in between working on all of these things, to satisfy my painting itches.

In broader terms, I’m also working towards unifying what has always felt like 2 distinctive streams of thought in my body of work into something that’s perhaps multi-faceted, but also consistent.

 

Connect with Serena Phu:

phoodledoodles.com

Serena on Instagram

Serena on Twitter

Serena on Facebook

See more art by Serena Phu!

Contact Me About Serena

 


An interview with Jennifer Holm, author of Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up, for Kids Comics Unite

Jennifer Holm Interview

Jennifer Holm is the best-selling and award-winning co-creator of the Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up graphic novel series, and she's also the Newbery Honor winning author of numerous middle grade novels like Our Only May Amelia, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and Turtle in Paradise.

Jennifer Holm interview, June 2020, for Kids Comics Unite

In this interview for Kids Comics Unite, we focus on how she got started in her career, her creative process, and why she branched out into graphic novels with her brother, artist Matthew Holm. She dishes on so many fascinating things:

  • Her first job in NYC, before she became a writer (it involved PeeWee’s Playhouse)
  • How she got her agent, and the unusual route she took to selling Baby Mouse to Random House
  • How her first book ended up becoming a middle grade novel (originally she thought it was an adult book)
  • Her biggest piece of advice for new authors
  • How many times she typically revises (or rewrites entirely!) a book
  • How and why she works with freelance editors, in addition to her agent and editor at her publishing house
  • The television production technique she and her brother Matt use to create graphic novels together
  • The reason why Baby Mouse is 2-color
  • Why Jenni writes for middle grade (hint: she hated being a teen)
  • The exact components of her author visits; how she makes them super interactive and fun
  • The theme she returns to over and over in her work

Jenni is well-known for being an incredibly generous creator who constantly gives back to the children's book community. This interview is a perfect example of that.

Click to view the full interview on YouTube.


Interview with Andi Watson

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

Graphic novelist Andi WatsonI’m from Kippax, a small town near Leeds in the north of England. I grew up close to streams and a wood and split my time between being active and ‘laking out’ (playing with friends) and staying indoors drawing. I enjoyed the company of my friends but also loved being engrossed in my own private world of drawing TIE fighters and other imaginative stuff. I would go through periods of being a ‘hermit’ and wanting to be left alone to draw and eventually that side of me won out.

Perhaps I answered the call of the Dark Side, to overextend this metaphor, but I find I work best when left to my own devices.

I became an artist because I enjoy writing, drawing and making stuff up. I still get a kick out of a good drawing or gesture, a line of dialogue or plot progression. There’s a lot of talk about the dopamine hit of social media, that little bit of pleasure from positive or reinforcing feedback. I think my brain is wired, or has been trained through obsessive practice, to get a little dopamine hit, or equivalent, from creating. Also, drawing and reading was all I really was interested in or any good at.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest character trading card from back matter, written and illustrated by UK indie comics artist Andi Watson

How do you start your day?

Make breakfast in bed for my wife. She works a 9-5, although it’s rarely that short a day. So I make breakfast and would normally have made a packed lunch for my daughter during school term. She’s just graduated school so I won’t have that as a pillar of my routine anymore. In fact my life will be quite different when she goes to college. I’ve been a stay-at-home-dad throughout so it’s going to be weird.

Interior page from literary adult graphic novel The Book Tour by Andi WatsonWhat does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

It’s the front room of our Edwardian terrace house. It has a handsome period fireplace. I have a writing desk as well as a standing desk I cobbled together from an Ikea bookcase. I have an uncomfortable wooden chair for when I’m drawing and a comfortable chair for when I’m writing. I try and keep the clutter under control but as it’s a workspace, I accept it’s not going to feature in a photoshoot in Elle Decor. I’m surrounded by books which makes me happy.

I have tried working away from home in the past but I find it more convenient to have everything close by. Like a couple of footsteps close by. I have often wrestled with separating work and home life but eventually accepted defeat. To some extent I’m always at work. My brain is whirring away in the background on whatever problem that day’s work has presented, regardless of whether I’m at home or in a studio. I am better at letting it go and taking the evening off now, though.

I like that I can shut the door. I’ve worked in a variety of spaces over the years, kitchen tables, a cupboard, I even had my own building for a while. It wasn’t part of our country estate but a small attached laundry room that was just big enough for me and a drawing board once we’d taken the washing machine out. It’s always nice to be able to close the door and not be interrupted, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Especially if you have small children.

Indie comics creator Andi Watson's home office in Worcester, UK

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I guess my first love will always be prose. That’s where I first fell in love with stories. I admire writers and their mastery of language. I have always found writing difficult so am in awe of anyone who can work the magic with words that really talented writers do.

As far as my own favourite medium to work in, obviously it’s comics. The alchemy of words and pictures. It has its own magic in combining the two. I have hopefully created something greater than the words and images separately. It is also really really hard to master. If it was easy I would have gotten bored and done something else years ago.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest interior page image, written and illustrated by Andi Watson: a middle grade fantasy graphic novel

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

For my most recent book, Kerry and the Knight of the Forest (out now from all good bookshops), I added the use of a chinagraph pencil to my familiar pens in order to develop more texture to the art.

As I’m struggling with writing a new graphic novel for grown ups right now, I’m not using anything more complex than a pencil and scrap paper. I’m wrestling with plot and character rather than mastering a new tool.

As far as software goes, Janna has introduced me to the full range of teleconferencing software out there to conduct meetings. Before that I’d avoided Skype and the like. I sometimes even manage to appear on screen at the right time.

Black and white page from Kerry and the Knight Forest, middle grade fantasy graphic novel by Andi WatsonWhen you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Usually blame myself for being talentless and assume no one else goes through this. Truly talented people have no shortage of ideas, right?

Of course not. Being blocked can mean all kinds of things, from struggling with a story (me right now) to feeling some effects of burnout.

I think the important thing to remember is that you are a human and not a comic-making machine. I know that’s difficult to keep in mind when it’s your job — you’re freelance and you need to make rent. But no one is 100% creative every hour of the day. Do this long enough and you will realize there are ebbs and flows. Sometimes you are peaking, everything has come together and you are doing your best work and it feels effortless. Others you’ve hit a trough, you feel like you are struggling to do the very basics adequately despite working harder than ever. That is totally normal. Do not beat yourself up.

It’s nice, if I can, to do some personal stuff unrelated to what the market wants. A mini comic, or something on the web, a poster or just give myself time to doodle in a sketchbook. Take time to remind yourself art is fun and pleasurable, not just another grinding march towards a deadline or a way to make money.

Even if you’ve created a dozen books you’re still going to have to start again at the foot of the mountain and begin something new. The good and the bad news is it never gets easier. But anyone who wants an easy life would not choose comics.

Interior black and white fantasy comics page by indie comics creator Andi Watson

What’s particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I have a bunch of prose books on the shelf facing my table, so if I’m feeling a bit flat I’ll pick up a volume of Pinter or Beckett and read a few lines. Or Evelyn Waugh or Lydia Davis or whoever. They are distant enough from comics I don’t have to worry about being overly influenced.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

Often the project before last is my favourite. On a most recent project the wounds are still fresh. I see the flaws and I’m sick of looking at it after working so intensely on it.

So my book before last was The Book Tour which came out in France in 2019. It’s coming out in English from Top Shelf in November and it’s the book I’m most proud of at the moment.

It’s a book I did without telling anyone about it. I just decided to go ahead and make this one and didn’t really worry about publishers and whatnot until it was done. It came together really well, the art and story are in perfect sync. It was one of those rare occasions where I knew I was working on something good while I was working on it. Usually there’s lots of self doubt and second guessing myself, but this one I was happy with throughout. I managed to balance the dark and light, drama and humour and dialogue and action.

French edition of The Book Tour by Andi Watson

What is your dream project in the future?

No one single project, I just hope I get the opportunity to make more books, tell more stories and get better at it along the way.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Probably what I periodically remind myself: remember that it’s supposed to be fun. There are any number of other ways to earn a living, or half a living, so if you are gonna choose this one, enjoy it.

Fantasy adventure graphic novel for kids Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

See above. Sometimes I feel I’ve got it right and others I know I’m out of whack but perhaps the circumstances, a tough deadline for instance, means there’s not much I can do right at that moment. It’s a constant struggle. The pressure to produce can be intense, externally and internally. The worst thing I’ve done in the past is stress out at stressing out about work/life balance.

I wrote and drew a monthly book by myself for a year when my daughter was a toddler so I’m probably not the best person to ask. In retrospect that was super dumb. But it did teach me that I had to put family first. I’ve done a fairly good job since then. Not always perfect but I haven’t felt that same intense mixture of frustration and guilt I did then when I was working harder than ever and still failing on the important stuff.

I try to take evenings and weekends off.

I just recently discussed some thoughts on this subject in my newsletter here: https://andiwatson.substack.com/p/the-real-thing

Sketch page by indie comics artist Andi Watson

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

I’m not sure I subscribe to the idea that iron sharpens iron. I’ve never got a harsh crit or review and thought “I’ll show them”. My ego likes a good review as much as the next person and rejection still stings, but I’m not really the type who when they receive a critical kicking, shuts myself away, weeps tears of rage and produces my masterpiece. I just keep working away trying to get better.

To be honest, I have enough self-doubt of my own not to get overly concerned about external criticism. Of course, I’m also small enough of a person to wish painful gout on all my critics 🙂

The only thing I used to do in the days of rejection letters was keep them as scrap paper, flip them over and sketch or write new ideas on the back. That was my revenge, keep making new stuff.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

I have maintained a, I hesitate to call it a “career” — a career assumes some sort of upward trajectory whereas mine resembles the flight path of a butterfly — through sheer stubbornness. Or lack of transferable life skills.

I have made it difficult for myself in switching genres, art styles and age groups. It might have been more sensible to find a niche and stick to it. Of course one person’s niche is another’s rut and I’m keen to avoid those.

I don’t have any specific practical advice, but broadly I would suggest the best way to maintain a career is to maintain enthusiasm. For some that might be drawing Batman everyday for the rest of their lives. For me I like to try new things.

Follow your passions, hunches and interests whenever possible. Returning to personal projects and putting aside commercial concerns can help refill my enthusiasm for the medium.

Graphic novels by Andi Watson, one of the best indie comics creators

What are you working on now?

Right this minute I’m working on this script for a graphic novel for grown ups. And I also have a pitch out with publishers for a new middle-grade book. Whatever happens, I’ll keep on making comics.

Punycorn by Andi Watson, a middle grade humor fantasy graphic novelConnect with Andi Watson:

andiwatson.info

Andi on Instagram

Andi on Twitter

Andi on Substack

Read Andi Watson:

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest

The Book Tour

Glister

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

See more art by Andi Watson!

Contact Me About Andi

Interview with Debbie Fong

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

My name is Debbie Fong. I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, went to college in Boston, and moved to NYC in 2012 to start my first real job as a graphic designer at a small company making digital products for kids. I had always loved art and loved drawing, but I never really considered it a possible career path when I was younger. (For my traditional Taiwanese parents, convincing them to let me study graphic design was already a stretch!)

While working in NYC, I decided to go with a friend to check out a local comic festival (MoCCA Fest), not knowing anything about indie comics at the time. Instantly, I fell in love with the idea that artists could publish their own work on a small scale (in the form of minicomics and zines) and sell it directly to people. And, of course, I was amazed at all the different kinds of comics that were being sold – most of which looked nothing like the superhero comic books I was familiar with!

From then on I started exploring zines and comics as a format for my own work and found that I loved being able to create small and self-contained stories that were easily shared. I opened a small online store called POMMO Press to sell my zines and began tabling at zine fests and comic shows around the country.

Pommo Press: comics, charms, stickers and more by artist Debbie Fong

As my store grew I began to dream about taking on bigger projects as an illustrator/cartoonist, and eventually, I left my graphic design job and decided to pursue freelance full time.

 

How do you start your day?

My days usually start with me taking my dog Cooper out for his morning walk. Then, while Cooper and Murray (my cat) have breakfast, I make myself tea and sit down at my desk to start working. In the mornings I like to focus on administrative things and/or maintaining my online shop. Often I’ll have orders to pack up, which is a nice task to ease into my day since it doesn’t require much thought! During this time I’ll also plan out social media posts and answer emails. Generally, the real art-making begins after lunch and extends into the evening!

Artist Debbie Fong's office assistant, her cat Murray

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

Artist and graphic novelist Debbie Fong's workspace

My partner and I share a home office in our Brooklyn apartment where I have a desk, workbench, and many storage containers full of inventory (prints, zines, enamel pins, patches, etc) and shipping materials. My desk and the surrounding area has gotten very cluttered with treasured objects over the years, but I like the feeling of being surrounded by things that bring me joy. It definitely helps to have a lot of art inspiration all around as well.

In terms of my workflow, my most precious tools are a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet, my iMac, and a label printer for shipping labels. Recently, I’ve also started to incorporate my iPad into the equation, using Procreate to thumbnail/sketch comic pages and sometimes to ink as well. It’s definitely nice to be able to leave my desk and spend a few hours sketching in the living room for a change of scenery now and then.

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I do all my drawing digitally, but my favorite print medium is risograph! It’s a very popular print method among indie cartoonists who self-publish their work because it’s cheap, fast, and the overlaying of the transparent inks can give you wonderful color effects along with a very tactile print texture that resembles screenprinting. These days I print most of my posters and zines at SVA Risolab in Manhattan.

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

This is still a tough one for me! I’ve found that the best way to reinvigorate myself and gain new perspective on a project I’m struggling with is to talk things out with fellow artist friends or to go to an industry event like a book release or networking night, since seeing what other people are working on always motivates me. The challenge for me is to actually make the plans to do these things, being a socially-awkward introvert!

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

How To Be A Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

My favorite project to date is also the biggest project I’ve worked on so far: a 160-page middle grade illustrated book called How to Be a Person (out on May 26th).

From the outside, this book is a handy and fun field guide for navigating all sorts of adult skills, like doing household chores and how to wisely save / spend your money. But my favorite parts of this book are the chapters devoted to teaching compassion and thoughtfulness and generosity, which I feel like are such valuable and crucial skills these days.

How to Write a Condolence Note from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

How to sweep the floor from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

How to bring a little sunshine to older folks from interior spread in How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

 

As an illustrator, the most satisfying projects to work on are ones where you are 100% behind the content of the work, and that was certainly the case with this book where I felt honored to be able to bring the pages to life with my drawings. I’m very excited for this book to be released and get into the hands of kids.

 

What is your dream project in the future?

As an avid player of many delightfully-illustrated modern board games, I would love to someday be hired to do artwork and design on a tabletop game.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Don’t be so worried about sticking to a well-defined artistic style! Let yourself evolve where your tastes take you.

Luchie Innovations illustration by children's graphic novel artist Debbie Fong

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I’ve found that the best way to maintain that balance is just by sticking to a set schedule even though I work from home, so I can have at least a few evenings free every week. I’ll admit I’m not always the best at this, but time management is key.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

For me, my goal is to make a certain amount of monthly income from my online shop while also working on long-term projects. Thankfully this means that my work varies a lot and encompasses a lot of different activities and projects that keeps things interesting! Besides working on books I also divide my time between product design, production and manufacturing, risograph printing, exhibiting at festivals, social media marketing, and more.

Pommo Press online shop logo by Chinese-American illustrator Debbie Fong

Debbie Fong comics festival table with products from Pommo Press

 

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the manuscript and art for a new story which will hopefully be my debut graphic novel! Stay tuned 🙂

Sample art from Debbie Fong's middle grade graphic novel, When We Get There

Connect with Debbie Fong:

www.twitter.com/debbiefongdraws
www.instagram.com/pommopress

Read Debbie Fong:

How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman, illustrated by Debbie Fong

See more art by Debbie Fong!

Contact Me About Debbie

Interview with Elizabeth Jancewicz

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I grew up in Northern Quebec with a family of artists. My parents always made sure to have lots of art and craft supplies readily available and were very encouraging. The dramatic snowy landscapes around me and the abundance of wildlife fueled my creativity and my love for both nature and art.

How do you start your day?

I try to give myself a quiet hour to wake up. Coffee, cat on my lap, and a book next to our picture window with the fire going (if it’s a cold morning).

Coffee making comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

I have an office that I share with my partner. On my side I have a window that looks out onto a pond with a spot for one of our cats to lay in the sun. I have 4 different “stations”: my easel for oil painting, a small table for my laptop, a large drafting table where I draw and make comics, and a large desk for miscellaneous “other” art. Plus lots of shelves for supplies. And lots of art hanging all over the walls. Everything is always pretty messy, but I also know where everything is.

Cat comic by graphic novelist Elizabeth Jancewicz of The Touring Test

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I go back and forth between a lot of different mediums, and I love that I have the availability to do so. At the moment I love oil paint for vibrant colours…

Northern lights with deer oil painting by Elizabeth Jancewicz

… but I love making comics for being able to express my thoughts through storytelling.

Northern lights comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

Inheriting my dad’s drafting table has been a real help to my work and my mindset. Since I work from home, I love having a place that motivates me to be productive.

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Being outside helps me the most. Either for a hike or even just stepping into my backyard. I like the quiet and being away from screens. The fresh air reinvigorates my mind.

Winter oil painting by Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

What websites, social media accounts, podcasts, or books are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

One of my all-time favourite series is Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran. I love her storytelling and art style. I have all the books and I can read those over and over again.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

My favourite project has been my ongoing comic, The Touring Test. It’s the first project I’ve worked on in years that has been completely and totally for myself.

The Touring Test comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz, about life on the road in a small indie band

What is your dream project in the future?

I’d love to have some published books of comics.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Don’t worry.

Couple in a field watching birds flock into the sky; oil painting by artist Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I try to be very purposeful about scheduling personal time. If I don’t schedule it, it would be easy for me to overwork myself. It’s something I’m still learning to do.

 

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

I can’t think of one major rejection or failure, but I do try to keep a balance between optimism and caution.

Snow cat comic by Elizabeth Jancewicz of The Touring Test

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

My partner and I are constantly trying to think of new ways to push ourselves creatively. We spend about half our time touring in our band Pocket Vinyl, and trying to connect with people face-to-face at shows. To keep our fans engaged when we can’t see them in person, we have a Patreon account that we keep updated with news about songwriting and art. We’ve also started holding regular livestream shows from our home.

I take on quite a few freelance art jobs as well, ranging from personal paintings and portraits, to album covers and shirt designs for other bands, artwork and logos for local businesses, and illustration jobs for educational and historical publications.

I also have an art shop online, where I sell prints and original art.

Outdoor camping fire under the moon; oil painting by illustrator Elizabeth Jancewicz

Fox atop a boulder surrounded by raging fire; oil painting by artist Elizabeth Jancewicz

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a handful of commissions going at the moment: I’m working on a few final illustrations for a tabletop board game that will be released soon, I’ve got a t-shirt logo to make for a local book shop, I’ve got a handful of comic portraits to complete, and I just finished a set of illustrations for a book of historical stories for a First Nations community in Ontario.

And I’m writing and illustrating an autobiographical graphic novel about a big, crazy tour that my band did recently.

Sample art from Elizabeth Jancewicz's graphic novel about Pocket Vinyl's 50 states tour

Connect with Elizabeth Jancewicz:

www.instagram.com/thetouringtest
www.twitter.com/thetouringtest
www.facebook.com/TheTouringTest

See more art by Elizabeth Jancewicz!

Contact Me About Elizabeth

Interview with Hmong-American graphic novelist and illustrator Duachaka Her

Interview with Duachaka Her

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I am a Hmong-American cartoonist and illustrator from Wausau, Wisconsin.

Hmong-American graphic novelist and children's book illustrator Duachaka Her at home in Wisconsin

My whole life, I have been surrounded by art. When I was little, my older siblings and cousins drew. I read a lot of Japanese manga and watched anime and Saturday morning cartoon shows. All of these influences caused me to write and draw my own stories.

After graduating high school, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do besides art. I knew I wanted to go to college, but didn’t know what to study particularly, so I ended up following my siblings to the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I initially went for a Multimedia Design degree, but during my second semester of freshman year, the university opened a new program for Comics and Sequential Arts. I knew I had to jump into that new program because it’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing! During my time in college, I also took a Children’s Literature course and found a love for children’s books.

I knew drawing and storytelling was something that I wanted to do and make into a career, so that pretty much kickstarted my journey as a cartoonist and illustrator.

Hmong New Year sketch by Duachaka Her

How do you start your day?

My day usually starts out with me going to my day job. I work as a prepress technician at a local commercial printer. Pretty much I prepare files for print and do some designing here and there. After I get off work, I make dinner and spend time with my kids and then finally get to work on personal or client projects.

Hmong-American cartoonist and illustrator Duachaka Her's self-portrait

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

My studio space takes up a corner of a room. My favorite part of my studio space is definitely my large white desk! There’s a ton of space to put stuff on it (although I usually prefer to keep it clear of clutter) and I can adjust the incline of the table top, which makes for easier drawing.

Graphic novelist and children's book illustrator Duachaka Her's white work desk at home.

Next to the desk is an open closet shelf where I place my favorite children’s books, comics, and resources! I love having books displayed because I can just easily grab something when I’m feeling stuck or in need of inspiration.

Hmong-American illustrator Duachaka Her's "inspiration bookshelf" next to her work desk.

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

Currently, I’ve been loving brush and ink because it allows me to do so much. I love that I can vary my line widths, do dry brush, washes, and ink large areas of black.

Pen and ink on children's book and graphic novel creator Duachaka Her's desk

 

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

Recently, I turned on the “Downtime” feature on my phone to set time away from the screen. I have a tendency to get distracted easily, so having this option to physically show me that I shouldn’t be on when I’m not supposed to is a helpful reminder. Also, my phone does this thing where it’ll show me my average screen time for the week. I like to review my screen time each week and try my best to reduce it! Less screen time means less distractions and more time to focus on actual work.

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Usually when this happens, I step away from drawing or writing for a bit. Sometimes I watch a movie, read a book, or just do something else besides art, like clean the kitchen.

I think having an artist’s block means I need to recharge and come back refreshed.

 

What websites, social media accounts, podcasts, or books are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I love listening to Dan Berry’s Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast where he interviews cartoonists from all around. It definitely helps hearing from other artists about their journey, struggles, and any advice they may have.

When I’m in need of creative inspiration, I usually go on Instagram and browse through all my favorite artworks or artists. Sometimes I would poke around and find new artists to follow.

Hmong children wearing traditional dress on a bookmark illustrated by artist Duachaka Her

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on is not a client project, but a group project that I’ve recently done with some artists online. The project was basically illustrating Tarot cards (the major arcana). It was fun because I was able to interpret the piece any way I wanted and the only restrictions were the size of the piece and the fact that it had to portray the card I chose. I think being able to do personal projects helps remind me of the reason I love making art in the first place, which is being able to just dive into your imagination and explore the possibilities!

Tarot card illustrated by Hmong-American illustrator Duachaka Her

What is your dream project in the future?

My dream project would probably have to be a long-form graphic novel.

Then and Now graphic novel page by Hmong-American graphic novelist Duachaka Her

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Stop comparing yourself to others and just make work! Also, stop being hard on yourself and enjoy the process.

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

I find this very hard to do especially now that I have kids. All I can say is having family or someone close by to help babysit has definitely helped me get more work accomplished.

Also, time blocking and working when the kids are sleeping is the only way to get things done! This is something I will forever be working on, since every day brings new challenges.

Small child sucking thumb by Hmong-American children's book illustrator Duachaka Her

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

In the past, I was writing a graphic novel for a publisher, but the project ended up getting terminated. I was devastated, because I thought the story had a chance to shine. For a while, I doubted myself and questioned if I was indeed a good writer after all.

Now that I look back, I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe this setback was an opportunity for me to work on greater things. The best thing I can do right now is to continue refining my craft and write about the things I love.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

This is hard to answer because I still find myself struggling and experimenting with what works best for me. In terms of marketing myself, I try to keep a presence on social media and stay up to date with the latest news in the kidlit and comics community.

In regards to income, it’s always about keeping my eyes peeled for opportunities that may come my way. I am involved in several online communities and once in a while someone will post about an interesting opportunity.

Stimulus check comic by Duachaka Her

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on a children’s book and planning my next graphic novel! I am also planning to get some personal projects that I have planned completed.

Connect with Duachaka Her:

www.facebook.com/duachakaher

www.instagram.com/duachakaher

See more art by Duachaka Her!

Contact Me About Duachaka

Children's GN 101 webinar with literary and illustration agent Janna Morishima

Children's Graphic Novels 101

Very early this Thursday morning, I was supposed to be getting up and going to the airport to fly to Las Vegas for the Nevada SCBWI conference.

I was very excited about this. It was going to be my first time visiting Las Vegas. It was going to be my first official public appearance as a Literary and Illustration Agent. It was going to be my first talk to an audience of SCBWI members.

On March 6th, only about seven weeks ago -- when we were all in a state of denial about what was coming down the road -- I sent the organizer a cheery email.

"I currently have no plans to cancel my travel to the conference! Looking forward to it!"

Four days later, the conference was cancelled.

But before you start feeling sorry for me, as it turns out, Cynthia Mun, the head of SCBWI Nevada, is an AMAZING PERSON. We ended up getting on the phone together and strategizing how we could still go ahead and do something fun for her SCBWI chapter.

The answer, of course, is to deliver a talk virtually. I.e., a webinar.

I had been planning to give a talk about career development, because I wanted to offer something of value to all the authors and illustrators there. But Cynthia reminded me that I have an area of expertise of great interest to many of her members: graphic novels.

"I'm not sure if we've ever had someone give a 'Graphic Novels 101' presentation before," she said. "I think that would be extremely useful."

So that's exactly what I'm going to do.

At 10 am PST/1 pm EST on Saturday, May 9th, I'm leading a webinar on "Children's Graphic Novels 101."

Be prepared for a jam-packed introduction to everything I can think of that you need to know if you're thinking about breaking into children's graphic novels.

  • How are graphic novels different from illustrated books? What's the difference between "comics" and "graphic novels"?
  • Why are graphic novels so popular? What's selling particularly well in the category right now?
  • What do you need to include in an effective graphic novel submission? How do you format a graphic novel script? What are agents and editors looking for?
  • Who are the major players in kids graphic novels? Which publishers are doing what, and where might the industry go in the future?
  • What's different about promoting and selling a kids graphic novel versus a children's book?

The best part about this webinar is that you don't have to be a Nevada SCBWI member to sign up! Registration is open to anyone.

If this sounds intriguing to you, please join me on May 9th for the webinar. You must pre-register at this link:Children's GN 101 with Janna Morishima webinar hosted by SCBWI Nevada May 2020

http://bit.ly/kids-gn-101

Please share this information with anyone who'd be interested!


P.S. Do you have a specific burning question about children's graphic novels that you definitely want me to answer? Leave a comment below so I make sure to include it in my presentation.