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.


unaccompanied by tracy white, ms magazine review

Ms Magazine: UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White

From Ms Magazine's "June 2023 Reads for the Rest of Us":

"This is a powerful graphic novel focused on five teens who have desperately crossed the border into the U.S. to better their own lives and those of their families.

The author’s proceeds go to organizations supporting unaccompanied refugee minors."

Click to read more.

 


MY DAY WITH DAD: An Interview with Rae Crawford

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

My name is Rae Crawford! I’m a biracial full-time designer by day and freelance illustrator by night. I’m from the most mysterious regions of the Chicagoland suburbs. When I’m not at my day job, I’m working on my children’s books and my webcomic, I’m Broken, Send Help. I lived in NYC for 8 years until recently when I moved back to Illinois with my partner.

Rae Crawford, cartoonist and author of MY DAY WITH DAD early reader -- then and now

The decision to be an artist wasn’t mine. I just always have been. It’s been ingrained into my interests, hobbies and goals my whole life. My decision to pursue a professional artistic journey was made early into my life when I realized how much joy drawing brought me and others. I saw the need in the world for beautiful images. The journey has been a wild ride of ups and down but I am excited to be sharing my first book with the world!

On May 23rd you’re launching your debut children’s book, MY DAY WITH DAD – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from? What’s your favorite thing about it?

my day with dad by rae crawford with interior page

In many ways, my father-figure, Uncle David, and I wrote this story together through our fun adventures together as father and daughter. However, the story is mostly based on a series of images I drew for Father’s Day for him as a card. They were vignettes of my favorite things we’ve done together: watching movies, making breakfast, and having a pillow fight. I posted them to social media and a couple of people asked me if I had a story to go with it so I made one. This is that story. My favorite thing about it is the little details that included from my childhood. No one else will notice but I do and my parents do. It makes us smile and we bond over it. I hope people who read the book will feel the love I put into it.

Rae Crawford's uncle and art that inspired MY DAY WITH DAD

Who do you see as the audience for MY DAY WITH DAD, and why is it a great book for them?

When you create an early reader, which this is, there’s the technical answer. The audience is parents with kids around the age of 5 who want to share a nice story about a girl and her dad. However, I would like to think this story reaches kids who have and are growing up in unconventional co-parenting settings. I made it to celebrate fathers and their kids everywhere and I think that will come across to the audience.

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

It’s hard to choose one as I’ve been keeping a list since grade school. However, many of my recent projects are grounded in reality, so I’m craving working on something that’s surreal, whimsical, and fun. My dream is to make stories in lands of perfect nonsense and imagination with characters full of personality and heart.

What has been improving your creative process recently?

For me, since I recently moved, it’s been curating and customizing creative spaces within our new home. I think having the right environment sets the tone for a productive creativity session. I’m especially proud of my office space!

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

Since most of my books are still packed away, I mostly google my inspiration! My go-to recent top searches from movies and media are anything from Cartoon Saloon (Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, The Secret of Kells), Studio Ghibli, Steven Universe, Adventure Time, or mostly recently, Bluey (Those backgrounds are gorgeous!!!)

I also reference comic artists frequently. I look up Craig Thompson (Particularly Habibi and Goodbye Chunky Rice), Lucy Knisley (Particularly Stepping Stones and Relish), and Lisa Hanawalt’s zines (Hot Dog Taste Test and My Dirty Dumb Eyes). I’m also very blessed to have a long list of inspiring artists in my circle to gain inspiration and insight from. This is not to mention the inspiration I find in everyday life. It’s all around!

You have a day job working in book design at Scholastic. How do you juggle graphic design with writing and illustration work?

Honestly, some days it feels impossible. With doing both, the hours are rough. I procrastinate, then I cry because I procrastinated. I literally ask myself, what am I doing?

But my dad always told me, "where there’s a will, there's a way." And I have so much will and love for what I do. It’s like living a double life and both lives are hard work. But in Japanese culture, there is a principle called Ikigai. At the intersection of what I’m good at, what the world needs, what I can get paid for, and what I love is Ikigai. And in my professional life, I have found that harmony in living in two worlds.

How do you market yourself as an illustrator, and how do you do it while holding down a day job and doing your art? (Lots of creators feel overwhelmed by this and are dying of curiosity about how other people do it!)

For me, the art is the easy part. It’s the marketing that’s so much energy for me! It’s been a struggle especially lately. On top of juggling things professionally, I’m juggling personally as well. But I think I have some fun and creative ideas coming to promote this title and others in the future!

That being said, I think the key to marketing yourself in the modern age is to keep it small enough to be able to do it consistently and across multiple platforms. Big marketing campaigns are only as good as their execution. I also find having a strong network of friends, family and colleagues really helps as they will be your support not only in marketing but through the process and in your life.

Rae Crawford's MY DAY WITH DAD interior page detail (1)

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

Is there a creative out there who doesn’t experience artist’s block? If there is, I haven’t met them. I experience it all the time.

First, I try to work on projects that play to my strengths. It is much easier to unblock yourself if you’re enjoying what you’re drawing and you’re good at drawing it. It also helps to choose projects to work in a style I’m comfortable in.

My second method is to look at inspiration. When I work on my books, I have stacks of art books, comics and children’s books to fuel me and to get me to think outside of myself. It’s also so important to look at references for what I’m drawing. You can burn yourself out trying to remember what trees look like.

Lastly, I try to keep in mind that perfection is the death of completion. I just have to trust in my abilities and work through it. If all else fails, I go to my artist friends for a good pep talk. Especially with deadlines, these methods help me immensely.

Do you have any advice you wish you could give your younger self? If so, what is it?

There are many things I would say to a younger version of myself. But top of my list is ‘Life is tough, but so are you. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.’

I love that! Where can people connect with you and find out more about MY DAY WITH DAD?

You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @itsraecrawford! My website is www.raecrawford.com with even more details.

The book is on sale through most of the major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Target.


MY DAY WITH DAD early reader cover by Rae Crawford, published by Holiday House

MY DAY WITH DAD by Rae Crawford published today!

MY DAY WITH DAD early reader cover by Rae Crawford, published by Holiday House

Congrats, Rae Crawford, on the publication of MY DAY WITH DAD!

Games, kites, a bike ride, and mac and cheese–it’s fun to spend a day with Dad. First-graders can read this Level G story on their own!

A day with Dad is a day packed with fun! Eating too many pancakes is just the beginning. Morning rain means it’s time for board games. When the sun comes back out, so do bikes and kites. Pup the dog tags along, too! Back home, the evening continues with mac and cheese, movies, and a phone call from Mom. Then Dad has one more surprise: PILLOW FIGHT!

This is one adorable, irresistible early reader.

Buy on Bookshop.org.

Buy on Amazon.

Connect with Rae Crawford.


Kirkus Reviews UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White, published by Street Noise Books

Kirkus Reviews: UNACCOMPANIED by Tracy White

UNACCOMPANIED graphic novel cover by Tracy White, published by Street Noise, about unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States


From Kirkus Reviews:

"A documentary-style account dramatizes the situations of many teen asylum seekers.

Spare, striking, black-and-white illustrations portray five teens fleeing dangerous situations and making hazardous journeys to the U.S.... This fast-paced, relatable work is informative and enlightening, treating its subjects with respect."

Click to read more.