Cover of Nell and the Netherbeast, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

Comics Artist Ash Szymanik on Their Creative Process

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

Hi! I’m Ash Szymanik, and I’m a New York based illustrator, colorist, and comics artist. I’ve been drawing all my life and I’ve always had a huge love for comics and illustration, but I didn’t really consider looking into illustration as a career until a bit later than most illustrators I know.

Don't Wake Up the Cat by Ash Szymanik

I initially pursued filmmaking, and studied film my first year of college at Pratt Institute. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great first impression of the school’s film program and was disheartened by the lack of emphasis on storytelling or technical skill, but on the upside, the foundation classes I took my freshman year helped me become more confident in my drawing skills.

Those classes helped me realize that I wanted to take a shot at a career where I got to draw regularly. I made the switch to animation for my sophomore year and that’s where I’d say my art career truly began.

I didn’t end up working in animation either, but I’m perfectly okay with that. I love being an illustrator, and I’m really happy with where I am now in my career.

Illustration by Ash Szymanik titled "Tired"

You worked on a wide range of books over the past couple years – as a cover illustrator, graphic novel colorist, and more. Could you tell us more about what you’ve worked on?

My very first major project was my webcomic Let’s Get Burgers, a slice-of-life gag comic about a cat named Knife and a dog named Cheddar who really, really like burgers. A majority of the comics were about being trans and queer, working retail, and finding happiness while surviving a late-stage capitalist world. All drawn from personal experience, of course!

Perfect! I'll update the timeline in our notes. :) Thank you so much!

Around 2020, it started getting positive attention from the indie comics corner of Twitter, and Silver Sprocket, one of my favorite indie comics publishers, reached out and asked if I wanted to make a book out of my comics.

An illustration from Let's Get Burgers, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

An illustration from Let's Get Burgers, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

An illustration from Let's Get Burgers, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

Funnily enough, the 2022 release of my decidedly adult-oriented book of comics is more or less how I landed in the kidlit industry. A member of the Silver Sprocket staff, Carina Taylor, who I’ll add is a wonderful artist and human, happened to also work at Scholastic, and she reached out asking me if I was interested in working as a colorist for Rex Ogle’s middle grade graphic novel, Four Eyes. And of course, I said yes!

Cover of Four Eyes, colored by Ash Szymanik

I had the privilege of working alongside the supremely talented illustrator Dave Valeza, who was nothing but helpful and encouraging while I found my bearings in my new job. I’m very proud of the color work I did, and I feel extremely lucky that I got to work with such a supportive team during my first job.

An illustration from Four Eyes, colored by Ash Szymanik

Another one of my jobs that year was as a cover and spot illustrator for Adi Rule’s Nell and the Netherbeast, a fantastic middle-grade fantasy-mystery novel about an animal-loving girl and the supernatural cat-shaped gremlin she befriends while she investigates her aunt’s haunted bed and breakfast over the course of her summer vacation.

Cover of Nell and the Netherbeast, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

For this project, I looked to linocuts as inspiration for the designs, and I was also very influenced by illustrations by Quentin Blake (who worked on a number of Roald Dahl novels) and Dave Mckean (who did the cover art and spot illustrations for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline) that I remembered from my childhood. Nell and the Netherbeast definitely was one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on, and I’d love to work on more cover and spot illustrations in the future.

Illustration from Nell and the Netherbeast, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

The most recent project I finished was coloring Rex Ogle’s sequel to Four Eyes, Pizza Face. My next colorist job will probably be the third book in the series!

Cover of Pizza Face, colored by Ash Szymanik

You also worked on a cool project related to a video game! Explain what you did for that project. Was it similar to working on book illustration, or different?

So in early 2023, the indie game developer Darya Noghani reached out to me to commission a series of illustrations for their indie RPG Small Saga. They were creating a PDF  “travel guide” to be included in the deluxe version of the game, as a callback to the game manuals that were often included with older games of the genre. I was already familiar with the project and I was absolutely delighted at being asked to contribute!

Illustration from Small Saga, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

I created a set of four interior illustrations depicting the cities you can visit in the game. I tried to create a busy, whimsical atmosphere, while hinting at some of the plot elements that Darya had provided me with. And I’d say that it was pretty much more or less the same as working on book illustration!

Illustration from Small Saga, illustrated by Ash Szymanik

What are you working on now?

Currently I’m working on private commissions and on updating my online store, which I’m planning to reopen sometime in mid January!

Cat illustration by Ash Szymanik

You told me recently that you cut back on social media usage and read a lot in 2023 that helped you develop a different approach to online promotion. What were the books that inspired you, and how have they changed your approach?

While social media, ESPECIALLY Twitter, has been instrumental in helping me achieve the level of professional success that I have today, most people I know would agree that the current social media landscape is a total nightmare. I’d go onto Twitter knowingly subjecting myself to a barrage of negativity just because I was so addicted to dopamine high of witnessing petty drama or checking numbers on my most recent posts.

Cat illustration by Ash Szymanik

The constant hunger for clout and the relentless negativity started to affect my mental health, but I didn’t really feel like I had the tools to free myself from this cycle until I started reading How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. She articulated a lot of what was so frustrating about social media and how these platforms are consciously designed to trigger anger and discord. 

Illustration of Little Cafe in the Big City by Ash Szymanik

The way she laid it all out honestly made me get really angry at how my attention was being taken advantage of, when I could be spending my time doing things that would make me happy  and self-assured, like reading books! Or birdwatching! All of that really helped me take a step back and only use Twitter and other social media “as needed”.

Halloween Party by Ash Szymanik

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

I really, really loved working on Nell and the Netherbeast! I’m a HUGE fan of cats and of drawing cats, and I found the awkward, animal-loving protagonist Nell super relatable. Honestly, any project where I get to draw cats is extremely fun for me and I am very much looking forward to working on more cat-themed projects in the future.

Cat illustration by Ash Szymanik

Do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

I don’t currently have any concrete dream project in mind, but I would love to illustrate a picture book or graphic novel. Preferably one involving cats in some shape of form, of course. But any project where I got to draw animals would be great too!

Pillow Cat by Ash Szymanik

Where can people connect with you and find out more about your work?

My portfolio site is housegoblin.net! As for social media, I’m @housegoblin on Tumblr, Twitter, and BlueSky, and I’m @house.goblin on Instagram. The url to my online store is housegoblin.bigcartel.com and it should reopen in late January!

Star Cats by Ash Szymanik


punycorn by andi watson, a funny middle grade fantasy graphic novel

The Steps to Creating a Graphic Novel: Andi Watson on PUNYCORN

punycorn by andi watson, a funny middle grade fantasy graphic novel

The day has come! PUNYCORN has arrived.

Who is PUNYCORN, you ask?

He's just the sweetest, bravest little can-do unicorn in the land of Carbuncle! Who takes on evil Sir Ogre with the help of Wheeze the allergic dragon! And P'oo the dung beetle with the strength of a thousand men! Not to mention the pacifist sword Bloodgutter!

PUNYCORN is, in other words, a very funny middle grade fantasy graphic novel by legendary indie comics creator Andi Watson.

I could go on and on about how much I love this book, but instead I'm going to share some creative process info from Andi below.

Andi is a true comics pro, having written or illustrated or written and illustrated more than fifty comics and graphic novels. (If you want to see the full list, check out the jaw-dropping bibiliography on his website.)

A few months ago, he wrote a detailed description of how he created PUNYCORN in his newsletter. He kindly gave me permission to share his words here.

Andi Watson on His PUNYCORN Graphic Novel Creative Process

ANDI: Starting from a detailed synopsis, a Word file of roughly 13,000 words, I needed to break the story down into thumbnails. That way I could work out what I could keep and what I could cut in order to fit within the maximum page count (224 pages). Depending on publisher, genre and various other factors, not least of which cost, a book has a page count range you are expected to fit within.

My normal thumbnails are extremely primitive, barely legible visual shorthand to get the rough idea of the rhythm and number of panels on a page. That is fine when I'm the only one who needs to read them. When I have to communicate directly with others, an editor in this case, they have to be at least legible.

I grabbed my scrap paper and pencils and got to work. I scanned the results, and because other humans have to be able to read them, added text via a font rather than my (awful) handwriting. After sketching out the first 50 pages I shared them with my editor. They looked like this:

graphic novel layout example: punycorn page sketches by andi watson (middle grade fantasy graphic novel)

The early feedback I got suggested that the editor and I had different ideas of what counts as "thumbnails." I felt like they were expecting something closer to what I would consider pencils. I would need to tweak my process again and present them in a more polished form.

However, I'd still draw thumbnails on paper to work out my thinking -- example below from the second book in the series:

graphic novel creator sketchbook: andi watson's thumbnails for graphic novel series PUNYCORN

I'd invested in an iPad and Procreate and discovered it was the quickest way to get the thumbnails/pencils done while integrating them with text. I re-drew many of my scratchy pencils on the iPad. It's a lot easier to manipulate images digitally and saves the chore of scanning artwork.

This is how they look after I'd changed up my methods:

procreate graphic novel pencils by andi watson for his middle grade funny fantasy graphic novel punycorn

After I'd had my notes from my editor I re-drew certain panels and changed pages to address them. I re-worked some scenes, cut others and added some new ones. That resulted in the pages falling differently in sequence, moving from the left hand to right hand of facing pages.

After the edits are approved I can move onto inking. With my previous book The Book Tour, I didn't pencil it all before I inked it. I did both together, page by page, using pencil and pen on paper.

For Punycorn, as I'd already pencilled the entire book and I was staring down an approaching deadline, I decided to ink Punycorn digitally. It would be quicker, skipping the boring process of scanning artwork, and would make it easier to edit. I simply inked over my existing thumbnails/pencils.

Inking requires less brain work. It is more about muscle memory and perseverance. After the initial rush of doing something new after months of thumbnails/pencils, it settles into the challenge of meeting the daily page count without my brain melting out of my ears.

The solution for me is to listen to podcasts and audio books while I put in the hours.

This is what the inked pages look like:

inked graphic novel page example by andi watson from his middle grade funny fantasy graphic novel series PUNYCORN

For The Book Tour, I lettered the pages by hand on the page. Because Punycorn had to pass through the hands of editorial, copyedits and proofreaders, the assistant editor/designer (everyone is overworked in publishing) created a font from my lettering specially for Punycorn to make it easier to edit.

After the notes are addressed and the inks are approved, I can start on colours. As the art is already digital I hop on over to Photoshop to colour the line work.

Colour requires much more decision-making than inking, but it still boils down to a lot of repetitive pointing and clicking, so I keep the podcasts coming:

sample final colored graphic novel spread without lettering, from PUNYCORN, a funny fantasy middle grade graphic novel by Andi Watson

The lettering is combined with the colours in the final part of the process.

After addressing notes for the colours, the book continues its journey through the publishing process. Roughly one year after I finished, it appeared on the shelves (hopefully) of your local book shop.

Learn more and order PUNYCORN here.

Watch the AWESOME (one minute!) book trailer here.

Find out more about Andi on his website. Connect with him via his newsletter here, and via Patreon here.


Cover of Pizza Pickles and Apple Pie, illustrated nonfiction by david rickert

Teacher-cartoonist David Rickert on PIZZA, PICKLES, AND APPLE PIE

On Oct. 31st your book, PIZZA, PICKLES, AND APPLE PIE came out from Kane Press – congrats!!! Tell us about the book.

It’s a non-fiction middle grade graphic novel that tells the history of everyday foods in a fun, lively way.

Cover of Pizza Pickles and Apple Pie, illustrated nonfiction by david rickert

You're a high school English teacher, and you're also a cartoonist. How long have you been a teacher? When did you decide to pursue comics seriously, as well?

I have been teaching for 27 years, the vast majority of which has been as a high school English teacher. When I was in high school I seriously considered going to school to become a cartoonist, but I chickened out. I did, however, make a compromise. I went to the Ohio State University which is home to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, and also the place where Jeff Smith got his start doing a daily strip for The Lantern, the OSU school newspaper. Like Jeff I too did a daily strip while I was a student there, and learned a lot about comics and drawing from that. 

Once I graduated I focused on my job, but eventually remembered how much I enjoyed drawing comics. I grabbed my drawing table and old art supplies from my parents’ house and started doing some new comics which found their way into the educational market.   

David Rickert, nonfiction cartoonist and author of PIZZA PICKLES AND APPLE PIE

What was your favorite part of the process of creating PIZZA, PICKLES, AND APPLE PIE?

I love looking at historical figures and finding funny ways to draw them.

pizza pickles and apple pie by david rickert interior panels: comic about history of dessert

How does your experience as a teacher inform what you do as a writer and artist?

It’s made me very kid-centered in my work. I’m always thinking about what kids will find entertaining more so than adults. I try to make the kind of comics that I would have read as a kid.

pizza pickles and apple pie by david rickert interior panels: how to become a sushi chef comic

You're a parent as well as a full-time teacher and graphic novelist. How do you balance everything? How did you complete this book on deadline while doing everything else you have on your plate?

The biggest thing for me is that writing and drawing comics is the way I wind down, and something I look forward to every day. When I get in the zone with that, there’s no better stress reliever than that. It’s easy to prioritize work that has that therapeutic value to it.

Beyond that, I’m not going to lie – there were times when I was working on the book in school because it was more urgent than keeping up on grading. And there were also times when I would work in the evening after dinner instead of watching television with my family. But they are very understanding that this is something I wanted to do with my life and they see how much joy I get from it, too.

pizza pickles and apple pie by david rickert interior panels: comic about pickles

Given all your classroom experience, I imagine you must have ideas on how schools could use graphic novels and your books in particular most effectively. What would you say about that?

I’m a big fan of using original graphic novels in the classroom like Maus and Persepolis. I’m less of a fan of using graphic novel adaptations of classic works to make is easier for kids to understand the content. If graphic novels are to be thought of as a legitimate literary form, then teachers can’t just use them as a substitute. They need to be seen as valuable in their own right. 

Now that you’ve finished PIZZA PICKLES, what are you working on now? 

My next book is about the history of medicine.

pizza pickles and apple pie by david rickert interior panel (1)

Do you do school visits? If so, what do you focus on in your presentations?

I haven’t done too many yet, but kids seem interested in the process of creating comics from start to finish, and how you can create expressions by just altering an eyebrow or mouth. I also talk about the process of conducting research, how to create a food history comic, and other topics related to non-fiction and comics.

Where can people connect with you and find out more about PIZZA, PICKLES, AND APPLE PIE?

Go to my website: davidrickert.com. You can also go to Instagram: @rickertdraws. 

 Find out more about PIZZA PICKLES AND APPLE PIE here.


apart together-linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland-cover

Linda Booth Sweeney and Ariel Rutland on APART TOGETHER

apart together-linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland-cover

On Oct. 17th Balzer & Bray released your book, APART, TOGETHER – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from?

LINDA: "I can remember the exact moment this book idea showed up.  It was during COVID,  every open spot in my house was filled with someone online, either working or taking a college or high school class.  So I hid out in the basement where no one else wanted to work. I love it down there. Darker places help concentrate my thoughts somehow.  

I was taking an online class with children’s book author Kate Messner. She gave us a writing prompt: “What do you love?  I just starting making a list:  'I LOVE piano chords. I love how one note combines with other notes to make chords. Unlike one note, you can really feel a beautiful chord.'

I kept writing: 'I love what happens when you mix colors..  Red on its own is red.  Yellow is yellows.  But together they are an entirely new color.  Orange. Magic! / I love how apart, brooks babble, but together, they ROAR!'

There was more, but when I finished, I realized all my examples were about how 'the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.' 

Was it a crazy idea to write a kids book about emergence?  Kate encouraged us to trust what we wrote.  I loved that list so much, so I decided to work on it.  Eventually I found that it could rhyme quite nicely, and then I decided to start workshopping it in my writer’s group.  

I think what sealed it was the fact that we were all apart during COVID.  My little neighbor who was three wasn’t able to play with other kids on the playground. At some level, I wanted the book to celebrate the magic of being together too.

Linda, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you decide to become a writer? 

Linda Booth Sweeney, author of APART TOGETHER, and teddy bear and Roosevelt - Our Headshot

LINDA: I’m the youngest of four kids, all born within six years of each other.  As I kid, there was a lot going on in our house.  When I was 12, my sister gave me a diary with a lock.  I loved the idea of writing whatever came to my mind and I could lock them up and keep them safe.  I highly recommend it! 

Ariel, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you decide to become a designer and illustrator? What type of work do you create?

ariel rutland-illustrator of apart together

ARIEL: I live with my husband and our three fun-loving boys (6, 3, and 1) in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. We live on a quiet tree-lined street near a walking trail along the Delaware river and a sweet downtown. It’s a lot like my cozy hometown of Metuchen, NJ, where I grew up.

Becoming a professional designer and illustrator was a natural landing along a path I started following as a child and never really veered from. As a kid I was also coloring, painting, and crafting. It was an expressive outlet for me that came naturally.

I studied art and design in college, landed a job at Martha Stewart in NYC and began my design career. Though my work was print-based, I was lucky to have a desk feet away from the craft department and textile department.

I explored a lot of hands-on art making during this time, creating surface pattern design for home goods like notebooks, wrapping paper, and pillows. From there I worked at a design studio specializing in gourmet food brands and packaging. The clients and products were incredibly varied. There was chia pudding, handmade pasta, Mexican cookies, macadamia milk and on and on.  

Ariel Rutland textiles for baby

When my 6-year old was born, I left the studio for freelance life, and today I continue print design and branding work with a handful of dear clients within the gourmet food market and in the education field.

I’m thrilled to be working with Linda again on our second book with Balzer + Bray (forthcoming). And I’m busy creating sample art for a book pitch in the new year, this one written by one of my childhood best friends.

As you know, Linda, we originally pitched the book to publishers as a manuscript, but didn’t have any luck. When I originally suggested partnering with Ariel what did you think?

LINDA: I thought that was brilliant!

If you think about it, I was trying to create pictures of change. Ariel was able to highlight the different parts like seeds, soil, sun and water, and then celebrate in a beautiful illustration what happens when those parts combine. 

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-honey interior spread

When I originally suggested partnering with Linda, Ariel, what did you think?

ARIEL: It was a dream opportunity and I said yes without hesitation!

At the time you suggested it, my freelance jobs had a strong illustration lean: creating patterns for Birchbox and illustration spots for ApartmentTherapy. My work was becoming a satisfying mix of design (order, problem solving, structure) and artistry (intuitive, full of expression, loose). I was rediscovering myself as a drawer, painter, artist and it was invigorating being on this path.

ArielRutland birchbox packaging

When you presented the manuscript, I knew I had to pursue it. I was certain it would be a positive experience, that I would learn and grow as an illustrator, no matter if there was a book deal in the end.

Ariel, what’s your process of approaching the visual expression of written text by someone else? How do you develop the illustrations?

It wasn’t an easy process! In all of my past work for clients, it was important to set aside my personal aesthetics, especially when working within an existing brand style guide.

This was the first project in my career that literally had my name on it. So, this was an opportunity to dig deep and embrace my own style.

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-foam bubbles illustration

Linda, after you collaborated with Ariel on the pitch, we got multiple offers on the book! What do you think her work brought to the table?

LINDA: When I think of Ariel’s work I think of not just brilliant color, but the masterful way she combines color. Brilliant orange next to a robin’s egg blue, hot pink next to a deep lemon yellow. 

She’s like a jazz musician except she’s riffing on the color wheel. Her drawings, her fabric, her art is clean, graphic, child-friendly, whimsical, and in many cases, inspired by nature.

What has been your experience of the writer-artist partnership? How do you complement each other?

LINDA: We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and listen to each other’s ideas.  

OK, sometimes I may have too many ideas!

Ariel and I compliment each other because she listens really well, and while she’s amazingly creative, she’s also discerning and practical, which means we ultimately pick the best ideas and then go for it!

I think it’s really interesting how the concept underlying APART, TOGETHER is reflected in your work together. The book is about how sometimes, separate things come together and result in something completely new, something that’s not 1+1=2, but rather 1+1=5, or something like that!

How would you say that this fundamental concept of “systems thinking” shows up in human collaboration?

LINDA: Absolutely. But first a story. 

2730 years ago, a philosopher named Aristotle was puzzled. He thought about the parts of a tiger, like the heart and stomach and brain. He knew that separately, the parts made a heap or pile. Together, though, they created something different: a fierce, fast, powerful Tiger.  

So he famously said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Scientists now call this “emergence.” 

Our health, the speed of your bike, the song you love, a growing garden, love between family and friends and human collaboration --  all are the result of interactions that produce something greater than the sum of the parts.    

Typically, real collaboration takes time.  If you think about little kids playing soccer, they're more like a heap or a swarm. There’s not a lot of collaboration or cooperation. 

But as they grow, they learn how to play together. And with time and practice, something new that is the result of their interactions over time begins to emerge: teamwork, cooperation, and even success.

ARIEL: The magic comes from working together.

In our case, Linda needed pictures, and my pictures couldn’t have existed without her words.

Linda, you’re actually a systems thinking expert. Why do you want to bring systems thinking to very young readers? What’s important about it?

LINDA: As adults, we intuitively understand how tightly interconnected our world is. (Certainly the last few years have demonstrated that acutely!)

Sometimes these connections and the systems that govern them can be invisible to us, though, until we take the time to really look and trace how “this” influences “that.”  

Whether you’re five or fifty-five, systems thinking begins with imagining how different parts of a system work together to produce the results we see. By doing this, we become more curious and learn to think critically about the world around us.

Early exposure to systems thinking can help children feel more confident when dealing with complex problems as they grow older. At the same time, they are practicing important abstract thinking skills like prediction, cause and effect, and transformation. These are also developing a growth mindset and building neuroplasticity!

The premise APART, TOGETHER is simple. We teach our kids about objects: Truck. Duck. Cat. Bat. We teach our kids our individuals: Mom. Dad. Grandma. Teacher.

But when do our children learn to look at interrelationships, between objects, parts or people? 

APART, TOGETHER invites children and their grownups to read, discuss, play, imagine and together, be curious about the connections that make up their world.

Having these types of conversations helps children build the muscle to see not only objects — a bee, soil, a soccer player — but to imagine how the interconnections and interactions among those objects can create something entirely new. 

Early childhood researcher and author Ellen Galinsky, in her book Mind in the Making, calls this “cognitive flexibility.” That means developing the ability not just to sort, categorize and name parts, but also to make multiple connections, a skill Galinsky notes “becomes possible during later preschool and early school-age years as the prefrontal cortex of children’s brains mature.” 

“Systems thinking” might be a new concept to some early childhood educators. How do you help them incorporate it into their work with children?

LINDA: I tend to focus on everyday scenarios and language when I teach systems thinking. 

In the book I use familiar scenarios like mixing paint, building with blocks, and playing soccer as examples of how interactions produce different results that are often quite different from or greater than the sum of their parts.

For little ones, APART TOGETHER simply asks:  what can happen TOGETHER that doesn’t happen when things (or people) are APART? 

Ariel, you have very young children yourself – the exact target audience for APART, TOGETHER! How does your experience as a mom inform what you do as a children’s book illustrator?

ARIEL: It informs everything, whether I’m conscious of it or not!

Being around these three growing humans and witness to all their developmental changes, tiny and big, has added new levels of perspective. I try and take cues from their approach to life and apply it myself. To be open, be curious, be playful, be willing to try big things and make mistakes and try again.

Kids reading apart together by linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland

This practice was essential when embarking on illustrating this book, and continues to guide me through new drawings, especially when I’m feeling stuck.

In a very literal sense, being a mother informed how I imagined another caring adult would read this book out loud to a child.

How would a child look through these pictures, what nuances might they appreciate? What can I incorporate that would spark an idea, or might prompt the adult reader to point out something to the child?

The final spread of the book (a family of birds in a nest) was very much the result of letting this mom energy flow. The ginkgo tree depicted on the page is a real tree that stands like a friendly giant in our front yard. I get a perfect view of the canopy from the window over my desk and I spent many many days looking out at it while i drew the book.

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-birds illustration

Where can people connect with you and find out more about APART, TOGETHER?

LINDA: Visit lindaboothsweeney.com/APARTTOGETHER!

ARIEL: You can find me at www.arielrutland.com and www.instagram.com/arielrutland/.

 


HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson on HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND

HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Tell me a bit about yourselves. You’re a married couple who collaborate on all your creative work. How did you start working together? What is your creative collaboration like?

ERIC: We started working together shortly after we started dating, actually.  We were friends for a while, and then that became a relationship, and then I was going to go on a tour under the name “Pocket Vinyl” but we still wanted to hang out, so Elizabeth decided to come along and paint on stage.

We’d auction off the paintings after the shows, and we found we actually made money doing this.  We got married a year later, and started touring full time, having a modest yet rewarding income.

We usually don’t collaborate directly, but rather next to each other. For instance, in our live show, I will play piano and sing while Elizabeth paints next to me.  We perform together, but are also doing our own thing.

Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson of Pocket Vinyl at a show

When writing our graphic novel, it was similar.  First, we tried to remember everything we could about the tour the book is about together. Then I went off and wrote the script. After that, Elizabeth took it and started illustrating. She still continually refined the story as she drew it, though.

On October 10, 2023 you launched your graphic novel, HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND – congrats!!! Tell me about the book. Where did the idea come from? What’s it about? What are some of your favorite things about it?

ERIC: The book is about a 2019 tour we did where we tried to break the world record for “Fastest to play a concert in every state in the USA”.  The record was 50 shows/states in 50 days, and for whatever reason, we both thought it was super beatable.

We did that, had a TON of adventures, and completely destroyed our mental health in the process.  Once we regained our composure and leveled off a bit, we realized the entire thing would make a great story.

Personally, my favorite thing about the book is the pacing. I feel we really nailed it, and told a story that is evenly spaced throughout its length in a satisfying way.

interior spread from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Often in graphic novels, it can hard to get the pacing right. Action sequences can happen too fast, or drama doesn’t land quite exactly, but Elizabeth nailed it all on fronts when it came with the art in that regard.  The entire thing flows very easily, and I’m really proud of that.

I love the fact that you intersperse some “how to” information in this graphic memoir: tips for other indie musicians and creative people. What are some examples of that?

ERIC: We felt it was a good opportunity to show a bit behind the scenes of how it all works being in a band on tour, and even pass on some simple tricks that go a long way.

One of my favorites is “How to pack clothes efficiently”.  We have this great folding style really saves time and space, and it was nice to spell that out step by step.  We’ve already heard from a few people that they’ve started doing it too!

"how to pack clothes efficiently" from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

One thing I’ve heard you say before is that you’ve always supported yourselves 100% through your creative work. That is really unusual. How have you been able to do it?

I don’t know! One day at a time, I guess!  I think it all comes down to what you’re willing to sacrifice. For some people, sleeping in the car on tour is not something they want to sacrifice (understandably!), but for us, we’ve probably saved several thousand dollars in hotel bills over the years because we were willing to do that.

You find all sorts of things like that to pinch pennies and save up.  It can require a lot of willpower, and convincing yourself not to buy stuff, but if you can stay on top of that, you can save a lot.

How do you balance work and art with personal life and staying mentally healthy?

Oh, I have no idea. I don’t know if I agree with the assumption of the question that we have stayed mentally healthy!

But I think taking time to rest, read a book, play a video game, go for a walk, and do things that aren’t work become more of a priority as we go. You need to let your mind rest, and when the time for work comes, you’re better prepared to handle it.

Also friends. Hang out with people.  I find that always helps.

interior panels from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Are there any things you wish you had known when you first started your creative careers?

That you’ll fail far more than you succeed, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Are there any anecdotes or themes from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND that you found yourselves understanding in a different way, once you’d created the book? (I ask because it seems that often the act of writing/drawing helps us “process” our experiences in a deeper way.)

It was a good lesson in “just go do it.”  We didn’t get any trophy, no acknowledgement outside of our fanbase, or any kinds of accolades once we did it. We did it because we thought it’d be fun, and it was!

It destroyed our mental health... but was also an indescribable and great experience. It was both good and bad, and it’s OK for those things to exist at the same time.  It also made us realize we’re a lot more capable in achieving things than we first thought. Sometimes being pushed to the brink of sanity teaches you just how far you can go, and while I don’t want to do it again, I know that I could, and that’s a comforting feeling.

Does that make sense?

It totally does!

The process of getting this book made was almost as dramatic as the story you tell in the book. Can you say something about the ups and downs of the publishing process?

Where to start?!

Well, there were many times we thought various publishers would take it, only to say no.

Then the publisher that bought the book got bought out and we got dropped.

Then the publisher that picked us up printed 2000 copies of the book with a missing page, which we decided to buy from them so they wouldn’t go to market that way.

It was an adventure for sure.

As to what it taught us? I have no idea. I guess that you can’t really assume anything until the book is actually out. We just try to keep our head down and keep marching forward.  There’s always a way forward, even if it’s a hard way, but it’s always there.

You’re about to embark on a really cool book tour to promote this book. What’s the plan? Where can people find out more about it?

The plan is to play in book shops, libraries, bars, and living rooms all across the country to promote this new book, and if anyone would like to come see us, check out pocketvinyl.com/tour-dates or you can find the dates on our Spotify page and pocketvinyl.bandcamp.com.

Where can people connect with you?

www.pocketvinyl.com is the best place, or you can search “Pocket Vinyl” in any search bar on the internet and I guarantee we’ll come up.  We’re easily found.

 

 


THE BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT SO SECRET CLUBHOUSE early reader funny graphic novel by Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell

Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell Spill the Secrets on BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

THE BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT SO SECRET CLUBHOUSE early reader funny graphic novel by Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell

On Oct. 10th, 2023, you’re launching book 2 in the BUMBLE BROTHERS series: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE – congrats!!! Tell us about the series, and then about this specific book.

Where did the idea come from? (I hope it’s not a secret!)

STEVE: The Bumble Brothers began as “The Duh Brothers” when a Junior High School friend and I decided to create a silly comic strip about wacky twin brothers, Christopher and Walter Duh. Many years went by and I never forgot them.

I also never forgot the amazing illustrations in my daughter’s favorite beginning reader, Two Crazy Pigs. That would be Brian Schatell, super-talented illustrator.

Brian and I met one day, discussed ideas, realized we shared an appreciation for the radio comedians, Bob and Ray. And thus the Bumble Brothers – Christopher and Walter Bumble – were born. We thought that a graphic novel would be the best format to get all the nonsensical humor across.

The origin of this book, “The Bumble Brothers: The Not-So-Secret Clubhouse”  (2nd in a three-book series) came from the idea that it would be extremely difficult for these clueless twins to keep any kind of secret – from their parents, their friends, even themselves. I also remember the thrill of having a “secret” clubhouse with a friend of mine when I was in 3rd grade. I thought the comic possibilities were limitless and went from there. 

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE - silly fight scene

BRIAN: I had actually known Steve, both personally and professionally, prior to the Bumble Brothers. One evening my wife and I ran into Steve and his daughter in a neighborhood restaurant, and he mentioned that he was working on a project that I might be interested in. Eventually he sent me a manuscript for the first book in the series, and its extreme silliness immediately appealed to me.  Also, the fact that it was a graphic novel appealed to me, as previously I had only done picture books. 

I agreed to participate and subsequently we sold the concept as a team effort, and we’re both gratified that the publisher, Reycraft Books, opted for a three-book series.  The second book continues the silliness of the first!

Kids love secrets. Are there any secrets from your own childhood that you incorporated into the book?

STEVE: Not really, but I do have a secret story that I might include in a future book. But please don’t tell my sister – she’s heard this story too many times. (This secret lasted about five minutes.)

OK, here goes…When I was in elementary school – PS 165 in Queens – I often went home for lunch. One day, my mother made fish sticks for my four-year-old sister and me. Unfortunately, they were very soggy and instead of eating them like a good boy, I flushed them down the toilet when my mom was in her bedroom.

“Don’t tell Mom,” I told my sister.

My secret quickly blew up when, after my mother returned and complimented me on eating everything on my plate, my sister exclaimed, “Mommy, Stevie flushed the fish sticks down the toilet.” 

BRIAN: A turtle features prominently in this book, and while it’s not a secret, probably very few people happen to know that I had several turtles as childhood pets.  

Interior spread with turtle of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

Interior spread (angry at turtle) of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

Steve, do you have any secret writing techniques?

STEVE: I have a few techniques, but I’m not sure if they’re a secret or not. After coming up with the main theme and how the pIot might proceed, I always make an outline.

I also keep a document of silly puns, jokes, misconceptions, and situations – many of them I remember from my childhood. As I create the panels, I incorporate as many of these as possible.

When the script is done, I welcome input from Brian, who always improves it a lot. Our goal is to keep our 6-10 year old readers laughing and reading on every page from beginning to end.

Brian, do you have any secret art techniques?

Artistically, I’m an open book!  However, I do employ some old-fashioned techniques in creating art, at a time when many people are working 100% digitally. I’m still mostly an analog illustrator, at least as far as books go.

I sketch by hand with a pencil; revise by hand using tracing paper; and ink in final line art by hand. However, on Bumble Brothers I do add color to the illustrations digitally and use the computer to clean up and finalize images.

The way I sometimes transfer an image from a sketch to watercolor paper, via rubbing a reverse image on tracing paper, is not a secret but it is archaic.

Are there any authors, books, or other things that secretly inspire your work?

STEVE:  Regarding children’s books, I have always been a big fan of Leo Lionni. His works – ”Alexander and the Wind-up Toy,” “Swimmy,” and “Frederick” – are wise and wonderful. As a teenager, “The Catcher in the Rye” opened up the world of honest, compelling literature to me.

My inspirations for the Bumble Brothers also include my comedy heroes: Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers, Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason, and too many others to mention.

BRIAN: It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Arnold Lobel, and his Frog and Toad books have been a big influence. They’re all about character and warmth and empathy, and he does this with humor, nuance, and economy.  His stories and characters have great underlying heart, which I hope the Bumble Brothers, for all their silliness, have as well. 

A couple of other major influences are Jules Feiffer and Charles Schulz. The way they handled sequential illustrated scenes – marked by subtly shifting character expressions amid a simple unchanging backdrop – certainly informs the type of visual humor I like to employ in these graphic novels. 

One final giant influence I’ll mention is the cartoonist and author/illustrator Mark Alan Stamaty, who was my children’s book illustration teacher in college and is now a friend.  In contrast to what I took from Feiffer and Schultz, Stamaty’s work made me unafraid of using clutter when called for, and the idea of stuffing as many jokes as possible into an illustration. 

Additionally, at those times when I felt overwhelmed by the huge amount of work involved in a graphic novel, Mark was great at providing pep talks that kept me on track.

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: donuts!

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: i really want a donut

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: turn around

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: yay donuts!

Steve, you’ve said that you were a reluctant reader as a kid. Are there any secrets you can share with teachers or parents on how to get reluctant readers to enjoy reading?

STEVE: From my years working with Scholastic’s book clubs, I remember the angry letters we received for selling Captain Underpant (for off-the-wall content) and Junie B. Jones (for her ungrammatical speech). But the kids LOVED them, and for countless children they were the gateway to learning how to read and reading all kinds of books.

So, I would endorse exposing children to whatever books help them become life-long readers. Humor is a wonderful way to excite kids about reading and that’s what Brian and I are trying to do with the Bumble Brothers.

Where can people connect with each of you and find out more about BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE?

STEVE: You can connect with me through my website: www.stevemetzgerbooks.com. You can also find occasional updates about “The Bumble Brothers: The Not-So-Secret Clubhouse” on my Facebook page (@stevemetzgerbooks) and Instagram (stevemetzgerbooks).

BRIAN:  The answer to this IS A SECRET! 

Ha ha, I’m kidding, but the truth is I don’t currently have a social media page.  I can be reached via the janna.co website at https://jannaco.co/brian-schatell/

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: secret handshake

Steve and Brian are working on the third volume of BUMBLE BROTHERS: BIRTH OF A SUPERHERO! In the meantime, click here for more info on BUMBLE BROTHERS: CRAZY FOR COMICS and BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE.

Also, Steve Metzger is available for school visits!

 


Early reader graphic novel pitch, WELCOME TO THE FOREST, by Katie Risor

Artist Spotlight: Katie Risor

TO THE END overhead view of suburban town by Katie Risor

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

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. My family has been in Texas for many generations, and we have a place in the hill country that has been in the family for over 100 years. So having a connection and interest in history and the privilege to be in nature a lot has really affected me personally and artistically, I think.

Texas hill country, location of Katie Risor's family ranch

The ranch house is full of paintings that my great-grandmother, Granny B, did. A lot of them of the land or other Texas countryside scenes. After my maternal grandma married in, Granny B introduced her to oil painting, which then passed down to my mom and all the way to me. My mom was a very creative person, she always had little projects or missions that she roped us in on. The process of making stuff together was always fun, no matter how it turned out.

Comics creator and illustrator Katie Risor as a young child with her mother

I think growing up like that allowed me to bypass the perfectionism that many of my artist friends suffer from and allowed me to just assume I could I do it. I always knew I wanted to have a creative career, though it’s never been a set path. I wrote stories and comics when I was young, attempted novel writing in my teens, but I didn’t learn to finish projects until college. And I came to illustration late.

The only time I really made a “decision,” though, was near the end of college, when I realized that pursuing a career in storyboarding didn’t align with the lifestyle I wanted or my creative needs. So when I began looking for illustration work, I realized that narrative illustration was the only thing I was really interested in.

Illustration from TO THE END, a middle grade graphic novel pitch by Katie Risor

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

I absolutely love gouache, but I think my favorite medium right now is just graphite pencil.

Graphite pencil illustration of trees by Katie Risor

I love the texture and softness, I love scribbling and how you can always see the human touch in it. It’s so easy to get an idea down. Sometimes I feel jealous of people who do very clean inking or digital art, because I think they get more work, but I just find now joy in making that kind of stuff.

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

I just finished renovating my current studio in our first house! It has hardwood floor, white walls, an L desk, and two windows. The shining star of the space is wall shelves that I built above the desk to hold all my picture books.

Studio space of Katie Risor, comics creator and illustrator, with shelf of picture books.

Having a space that is cozy, comfortable, and functional is so important to me. When I get into this space after having a temporary desk spot I felt so relieved and happy, I didn’t realize how much not having a proper space stressed me out. When I design a studio space, having my most important supplies in easy reach is my number one priority. After that, it’s lighting and aesthetics, well lit, warm and airy spaces are what I like.

Kids and bookstore illustration by Katie Risor

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently? (This could be anything -- an app, a plug-in, a specific brand of pen or paper, a particular software or hardware, an invigorating type of tea, whatever!)

I am obsessed with finding the ultimate painting surface and trying out supplies. I recently tried out Saunders Waterford hot press watercolor paper, and it totally reawakened my love for painting. Something about it is so nice, it seems to blend paint more easily and I really like the look of the paper texture coming through transparent paint. Sometimes I mount it onto chipboard or illustration board, but I am still on the hunt for the most cost effective and professional way to do it.

Spot illustration of fantastical house by Katie Risor

If anyone knows how to buy thick chipboard in bulk, please hit me up.

What artists, books, or other things are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

Honestly, right now all my creative friends give me the most inspiration.

Katie Risor with fellow kidlit creators Rivkah LaFille, Jade Vaughan, and Edna Cabcabin Moran

Whenever I meet with my critique group, go to a meet up, or talk on Discord, and get to hear see all the stuff my friends are working on, I feel a crazy boost of inspiration and motivation. If I’m feeling frustrated or down about my work, talking it out with them always helps. But if the thought of working on a project feels me with sick dread, then I know it’s time for a break.

Boys eating sandwich illustration by Katie Risor

What are some recent projects or work you’ve particularly enjoyed? What kind of work makes you really happy?

Last year, I got to work on developmental art for a preschool animation pitch. It was in a world that was right up my alley, and designing the characters was so fun.

Preschool animation concept art by Katie Risor

Any project that allows me to just be myself and do my work is a real treat. I love projects that have that special sauce, just a little delightful, surprising, funny, or spooky, that makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable but in a fun way. And I love when stories are both funny and sad. I’ve always been drawn to stories with layers, or meta narratives.

It probably comes from reading A Series of Unfortunate Events at age 10. The idea that there is always something new to discover is theme that runs through all my work.

WELCOME TO THE FOREST early reader graphic novel concept art by Katie Risor

Swamp monster concept art for early reader graphic novel by Katie Risor

Do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

I have a lot of dream projects, haha. One big one is doing an illustrated edition or graphic novel adaptation of The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende. Both the movie and book were formative for me, and I’ve wanted to illustrate it since I was a kid.

THE NEVERENDING STORY graphic novel illustration by Katie Risor

I think at age 28 my skills have finally caught up with my vision. Other than that, I would love to work on creature design or developmental art for Henson, Sesame Street, Laika or something similar, like how Brian Fraud directed the world of Dark Crystal.

Drawing some weird doodles, then getting to see it come to life as a puppet and set? That’s the dream.

Behold the acorn fairy children's book illustration by Katie Risor

Painted illustration of kids outside by Katie Risor

Children's graphic novel full page spread illustration by Katie Risor

Early reader graphic novel pitch, WELCOME TO THE FOREST, by Katie Risor

Katie is working on two available projects: an early reader graphic novel called WELCOME TO THE FOREST (featuring adorable forest monsters!), and a middle grade contemporary fantasy graphic novel called TO THE END. Contact me for more information.

Find out more about Katie on her website, or connect with her on Instagram or TikTok.


Woodland Hills is a funny, heart-warming middle grade graphic novel about a loner kid who lives in a trailer park and unexpectedly becomes friends with the well-liked, athletic son of the school principal.

How to Break Down a Comics Page: Josh Smeaton's Process

Middle grade graphic novel Woodland Hills, by Josh Smeaton: hero image of the main characters

I love reading and watching different comics creators' process at all different stages of producing a graphic novel. You might think there would be certain "best practices," but what I've found is that there is huge variation in how people tackle the process!

Josh Smeaton is working on a graphic novel called Woodland Hills with Pixel + Ink. It's about a loner kid from the trailer park who unexpectedly becomes friends with the popular, athletic son of the school principal.

Graphic novelist Josh Smeaton with his family.
Graphic novelist Josh Smeaton with his family.

He's fun to "talk shop" with because 1) he is particularly analytical about process; and 2) his process is a bit unusual in certain ways.

Below is a complete description of how Josh breaks down a comics page, in his own words.

How Josh Smeaton Breaks Down a Comics Page

Step 1: The Script Stage

I’ll start with the caveat that there’s no set way to make comics. Find what works for you and get it done. 

I write my stories like a screenplay. I don’t worry about panels and page breaks at this stage. When it’s complete, I’ll then go through and figure those out. Once that’s figured out, I’ll thumbnail it.

Sample page from the script for Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel.
I print out the final script and then go through and break it down by panels and pages. When figuring out page breaks, I do not include more than one scene on a comics page.

Step 2: The Thumbnails Stage

I thumbnail in a cheap notebook. This does two things. One, it enables me to work small and keep it to essential details only. I’m not working digitally here, so I can’t zoom in and add bits that are unnecessary at this point. 

Two, I’m able to draw the left and right pages next to each other as they’ll appear in the final book. When thumbnailing, I’m thinking about page turns and how the side-by-side pages work together. Is it clear what’s going on? 

Clarity above all. I like a gorgeous spread as much as the next guy but I am here to service the story, not make a cool pinup.

Sample page of thumbnails from Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel
I thumbnail in cheap notebooks. Drawing the pages side by side enables me to see how they'll read next to each other in the printed book.

For me, the thumbnailing is probably the most exciting part. This step determines how the story is presented to the reader. I occasionally make changes when working on the final art but for the most part, this is where the visual storytelling is determined. 

Keeping my art style and the print size of the book in mind, I try to keep a page to five panels or less. I also don’t want a text-heavy page or panel. A big block of text is an express ticket to skimsville.

Step 3: The Lettering Stage

Lettering guide for Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel
I letter the page before drawing to see how much space I have for art. That word balloon in the second panel takes up quite a bit of real estate. But knowing that in advance saves me from drawing something that would have just been covered

The common practice in comic making is to do the lettering after the art is completed. But I do it first.

I include word balloons in my thumbnails to make sure the order of the balloons is clear to the reader and also to not have the tails of the balloons crisscrossing. 

Doing the lettering before the art allows me to know exactly how much space I have for the art. I want to make sure nothing essential is going to be covered up. I can move the balloons around later on the final art if I find something that works better but doing it first ensures that it works.

Step 4: The Pencils Stage

Penciled page from Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel
I didn't have much in the way of pencils on this page. I went straight to inks in the second panel.

Next are “pencils”. I draw in Clip Studio Paint so the line between pencils and inks is often blurred. I still work out some things that are more complicated for me in a rough pencil layer. I find though, the further I get into the book, the more I just work it out in the “inks”. That’s one of the benefits of working digitally.

In the example shown above, the trailer in the first panel was created with SketchUp. Using a 3D model also enables me to quickly try out different angles and use the one that works best.

Step 5: The Inks Stage

Inked page from Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel
If there is a clear establishing shot, you don't necessarily need backgrounds in every panel.

Here are a few extras in my process not covered above. If I have a location that’s going to be used a fair amount, I’ll make a model of it in SketchUp. It’s fairly easy to use and you can still download the 2017 version for free. 

I like it when I’m able to create a page with no words and the storytelling is only pictures. But when there are no words on a page, the reader may rush through it. So sometimes I’ll add a line of dialogue that wasn't in my original script if I want to slow the reader down. 

I want to keep things visually interesting. I default to medium shots so I remind myself to mix it up with a combination of wide, medium, and close-up shots.

Inked and lettered page from Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel
Here's the finished piece, aside from color.

Final full color page from Josh Smeaton's WOODLAND HILLS graphic novel

The final page! Only 160 more pages to go.

And that’s how I break down a page.

Joshua Smeaton is an award-winning cartoonist, husband and father. There is a comma after cartoonist. He has not won awards for being a husband or father. Though, there has been considerable buzz during awards season that Josh could take home a “World’s Best Dad” mug.

Josh lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife, two children, and Catfred, the world’s friendliest cat. His middle-grade graphic novel, Woodland Hills - The Paper Plane Party comes out Summer 2025. 

You can find Josh and his socials at www.joshdrawscomics.com.


the deep wild life at the ocean's depth middle grade nonfiction book by lindsey leigh -cover image

THE DEEP!: An Interview with Lindsey Leigh

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

Hi, I’m Lindsey Leigh! I’m originally from Maryland and I currently live in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in a suburb between Washington D.C and Baltimore and my parents would often take me to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo, and the Baltimore Aquarium, which definitely kicked off my interest in animal life.

I wouldn’t say there was ever a moment where I decided that I was going to be an artist, I just always made art! I was often drawing and making up my own wacky characters and creatures.

the deep's author-illustrator lindsey leigh as a child

On June 27th, 2023, you’re launching your middle grade nonfiction book, THE DEEP!: WILD LIFE AT THE OCEAN'S DARKEST DEPTHS – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from? What’s your favorite thing about it?

Thank you!

I have been fascinated by the deep ocean since I was a child because it is a place that seems so full of mystery with many animals still to discover. The creatures that live down there are so downright alien and strange, I was hooked. I have always had a soft spot for animals that other people consider a little odd or creepy, and the deep sea has no shortage of these wonderful weirdos. How could I resist making a book about a place that has carnivorous sponges and yeti crabs?

the deep wild life at the ocean's depth middle grade nonfiction book by lindsey leigh -cover image

the yeti crab interior spread from lindsey leigh's middle grade nonfiction book, THE DEEP: WILD LIFE AT THE OCEAN'S DEPTHS

My favorite thing about this project is that I just love communicating scientific ideas through the medium of comics to make the information fun and accessible to all.

Who do you see as the audience for THE DEEP!, and why is it a great book for them?

I basically made this book for my younger self who was a big nerd about animal facts and loved learning new information. I’m hoping this book appeals to the same type of kid, but I’m especially hoping it sparks an interest in biology for children who were not previously interested.

How do you start your day?

I’ve been trying to do a short meditation in the morning and then I make a cup of black tea with milk and sugar and get to work.

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

I usually ink my work with a nib pen, but it’s a slightly more time consuming process than inking with just a regular pen as you have to use the inkwell and dip the pen in, sometimes there are smudges.

nib pen and super black ink with artwork by lindsey leigh

With one of the current projects I’m working on, I needed to save some time so I started inking with a Kuretake ZIG cartoonist flexible pen, which has great line quality and I don’t have to bother with dipping it in ink. The nib pen still has a cool quality so I’ll probably keep using it on projects where I have a little more time.

the deep zig mangaka pen

You have a day job as a designer for Barefoot Books. A lot of creators are in the same boat (and very curious about how others do it): balancing a day job with creating books – and having a personal life, too! How do you manage everything?

It’s pretty tough! My design job has been great as I have gained a lot of insights over the past few years into the full publishing process from a different point of view, but it means I have to work a little harder to maintain both my design and illustration work at the same time.

If I’m working through a particularly busy period, I try to wake up at 6am to get a few hours of work in before my 9 to 5. When I get home, I usually take a shower and make dinner to break up my day, and then squeeze in another couple hours before I start to get ready for bed. I also typically will spend a lot of time working on the weekend as well.

I know this sounds like a lot but I do make room for “enrichment time”. I think of myself like a little animal that needs to go for a walk and socialize with other creatures to be healthy, so I take a walk or run around the neighborhood, meet up with some friends, or explore the Boston area. I have been trying to explore all the nature-y areas near the city that I can access via public transportation like the beautiful Middlesex Fells Reservation.

Middlesex Fells Reservation in the fall

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

I’ve actually been reading a lot of adult literary fiction books lately, like the works of Ottessa Moshfegh and Sayaka Murata. I’m finding those to be very creatively inspiring (even though they’re very different from the child friendly work I have been making recently!).

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

The Deep! is definitely my favorite project so far, it’s just always been my dream to make a book about deep sea life and I’m thrilled that it actually came true.

lindsey leigh with interior spread about coelacanth from her book the deep

lindsey leigh's THE DEEP, interior spread depicting the sea pig

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

Most of my work happens at my main work desk which has a large monitor for my digital artwork, but I also have a drafting table that I try to use when I’m drawing or inking something larger. It also gets me away from screens, which I definitely see too much of during my work day.

I like that my desk has tools like my printer and scanner as well as books and tools within easy reach. I love my little trinkets that sit on the shelves up top!

lindsey leigh cartoonist workspace

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

I started doing observational sketches in museums with a brush pen when I was in school and really fell in love with the fact that there was no erasing so I had to really commit to the line and I had to make my marks more intentionally. I think that really helped me develop my art when I was still learning and the ink process is still my favorite step in my workflow.

Early animal sketch by Lindsey Leigh

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

One of my dreams in college was to work in the animation industry as a visual development artist, but I wasn’t able to get much traction in that area and the competition is also very fierce because so many people are interested in doing those jobs. I think those rejections shifted my focus more towards comics and children’s book publishing, which I think is a great fit for me. It’s still a collaboration between myself, the editor, and the art director, but I feel like I have the freedom to create what I’m really passionate about, even if it’s a little niche.

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

I usually take a break and go for a walk or do some other non-art activity so I can come back to work more refreshed. I also find that experimenting with a new medium is a good way to break out of a slump. I’ve recently been experimenting a bit with Posca pens and those have been fun.

Are you already working on a new project now, or do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m currently working on a new book about cave animals and illustrating another book about animal germs and immune systems!

For a dream project, I love horror as a genre so it would be great to do something spooky at some point as well.

Where can people connect with you and find out more about THE DEEP!?

You can find me on twitter and instagram @linseedling and my website is www.lindseyleighart.com

The Deep! is available now wherever books are sold and also at this link!:
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/709331/the-deep-by-lindsey-leigh-illustrated-by-lindsey-leigh/


unaccompanied nonfiction graphic novel by tracy white cover

UNACCOMPANIED: An Interview with Tracy White

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

I’m from NYC and still live here. I don’t know that I ever decided to become an artist. I’ve just always wanted to draw and tell stories.

Tracy White, cartoonist, author of UNACCOMPANIED

On June 20th, 2023 your book, UNACCOMPANIED: STORIES OF BRAVE TEENAGERS SEEKING ASYLUM comes out – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from? What do you love about it?

Thank you! I’m really excited to finally have the book available to readers.

Unaccompanied is about five strong tenacious teens from four countries who risk everything they have and leave everything they know to seek asylum in the United States. It’s an incredibly dangerous journey and once they are here, another journey through the US immigration system begins.

unaccompanied nonfiction graphic novel by tracy white cover

The idea for this book was born out of my partnership with the Safe Passage Project. The Safe Passage Project is a non profit organization that provides pro bono legal help and other services to unaccompanied refugee minors.

Together, we created a comic that helps their clients navigate the legal system. While making the comic, I realized how little most people (myself included) know about unaccompanied refugee minors, the communities they come from, what they think about, why they leave, how they get here, and what happens once they arrive. So I kept asking questions and expanding who I spoke to until I had collaborated with folks around the globe and this book was made.

This book is important because it illustrates, through visual storytelling, the human side of the complicated issues around children seeking asylum alone -- while underscoring the hopes, joys and incredible strength these kids possess.

Who do you see as the audience for UNACCOMPANIED, and why is it a great book for them?

The audience is teens, teachers, librarians, anyone interested in immigration. Unaccompanied offers a way to understand an often politicized situation from a human perspective.

While we can’t walk in someone else's shoes, we can walk next to them. This book gives readers that opportunity.

UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White interior spread showing highway

You have some interesting upcoming events related to UNACCOMPANIED coming up. What will you be doing? Are any of them open to the public?

I’m so glad you asked! The reason I made this book is to raise awareness around unaccompanied refugee minors, and to change the common media narrative of pity to the reality-based one of strength and fortitude.

Detail from UNACCOMPANIED graphic novel by Tracy White

My book launch will actually be a panel discussion around immigration/migration/borders and the power of storytelling to make a difference. Please come to WORD in Brooklyn on June 21st at 7 PM, to celebrate, learn, and also buy the book!

My author's proceeds go to the organizations that support unaccompanied refugee minors. Click here to RSVP.

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

Lynda Barry is always an inspiration. I really like Austin Kleon’s newsletter, it always leads me to discoveries, and I read a LOT of books.

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

The new tool (now a couple of years old for me) is Clip Studio Pro. It has a lot of options that make sense for cartoonists and for making books. I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do, but it does exactly what I need.

I especially love the navigation tool because I can rotate the canvas so easily when I draw. I know it sounds small, but for me it's huge and speeds up my work flow.

UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White interior spread

You teach comics at NYU. Is there anything you’ve learned from teaching young people the craft of comics that informs your own work?

I am so grateful to be a teacher. Talking through the mechanics of comics, reassessing the syllabus, and creating in-class exercises every year help me grow as a cartoonist because I rethink everything I’m doing.

My students all bring unique perspectives. For example, last semester one student did a beautiful wordless comic that took place entirely underwater using a traditional Chinese painting method she learned in China, and another student did a comic about a monster under a bed that had physical components to it.

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self? Have you had any "failures" that ended up helping you?

In general I’d say to my younger self, “It’s all gonna work out, and you are enough.”

For this project specifically, I was rejected by one publisher who supported the work but had to pass, saying the margin for error was too slim. Those words were always in the back of my mind and spurred me on to research more, reach out to more people with relevant lived experiences and expertise, as well as constantly check my own biases.

In the end, that comment was one of the most positive things anyone could have said.

UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White interior spread

Do you ever feel “artist’s block”? If so, what do you do to get “unblocked”?

I walk, I read, I watch documentaries, and I reach out to friends to find out what they are currently inspired by. I find curiosity to be my best method for unblocking.

You’re a mom of three, in addition to being a comics creator and a teacher. How do you balance work and art with personal life?

HAHAHAHA. It’s hard.

As an artist, especially when working on a big project, I need large swaths of time. I can’t dip in for twenty minutes here or there.

So I’m really thankful to my husband and our kids who would visit my mom on weekends so I could work. They even went on a week-long vacation with her at a critical moment so I could hit an important deadline.

Are you already working on a new project now?

Right now my focus is on getting this book out there to teens, teachers, librarians and anyone interested in the issues around immigration today and the power of storytelling to change things.

I’m really excited because I’ve already started visiting classrooms and have created two workshops for folks interested in non-fiction comics. If you're interested, details are at www.traced.com/workshops.

UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White interior spread, Rosa's village

Where can people connect with you and find out more about UNACCOMPANIED?

Please visit my website www.traced.com, find me on social media @tracedcomics, and/or sign up for my newsletter and get free advice on making nonfiction comics, book suggestions, and obligatory cat pics.