In Search of Superpowers by Briana Lawrence

Briana Lawrence

Writing

Briana Lawrence has wanted to be a “WRITTER” since she was nine years old. Her fourth grade class laughed and wondered how one hoped to become a “writer” if they couldn’t even spell the word. 

Years later (okay, like a decade and some change), Briana graduated from Iowa State University and moved to Minneapolis with her partner. Today, she is the Senior Features Editor at Crunchyroll where she works with an amazing team of writers to find ways to talk about how sports anime is good for your mental health (among other topics). 

Briana has quite a few self-published works such as her Black, queer magical girl series magnifiqueNOIR. In 2024 she will be releasing two new books from two different publishers. In Search of Superpowers: A Fantasy Pin World Adventure (Andrew McMeel Publishing) is her very first middle grade series. The Essential Manga Guide (Running Press, 2024) is a collection of essays that talk about the importance of manga and how you can find any kind of story you want within manga. 

Briana lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her wife and three butthead cats. Here she enjoys exploring Hyrule, waiting for more information on Hades 2, and rewatching SK8 the Infinity for the hundredth time.

Briana Lawrence

What was your favorite book as a child?

I don’t remember the name of it, but I do remember that it was a choose your own adventure style Super Mario Bros. book where you’d get to a certain point in the story, have to make a decision, and turn to the page that correlated with the decision you made. Besides that book, I remember reading a LOT of Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitter’s Club.

What is your favorite food?

Baked macaroni and cheese

What do you love to do for fun?

Yell at my TV when a video game gets too hard, lol!

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

Las Vegas for the food and for the random discoveries you can find, like the quirky Omega Mart or the botanical gardens at The Bellagio.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

My older brother died when I was 13. Ever since then I find myself wondering what he’d think of me now, so I try and live in a way that he’d be proud of — or at the very least call me a dork about, lol.

Mediums:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT BRIANA

You also love anime and video games. Do you have any specific memories from those two mediums that have helped you as a writer?

I’ll pick a game one and an anime one for this. I remember watching someone play the very first Legend of Zelda game and being in awe because it really did feel like you were going on an epic quest. I remember watching them travel around, have to find clues and things like that, and it was really cool seeing what kind of stories video games could tell. With anime, I remember watching Sailor Moon and how much it impacted me, because it was the first time I remember seeing an entire group of girls be the heroes of the story. I’d seen teams with girls/women involved, like Power Rangers and X-Men, but Sailor Moon was the first time it was ALL girls. Like… I didn’t know that was an option!

Art Process:

Without fail, there is always at least one cat in the area when I’m writing. Whether I’m in my office or in the living room with my laptop I’m guaranteed to see at least one of our three cats in the area. 

I generally write to music, but something about the early mornings makes it easier to write in silence. When I’m writing a story I outline the whole thing first, from beginning to end, along with character descriptions and key scenes so I have some kind of guide to look back at. Car rides with my wife are very necessary so I can talk about what I’m planning while eating either ice cream or chicken nuggets.

Specialties:

Forthcoming books:

The Essential Manga Guide: 50 Series Every Manga Fan Should Know (Running Press, June 2024)

Gamer Girls: Retro Rhythms (Andrews McMeel, November 2024)

Published books:

In Search of Superpowers: A Fantasy Pin World Adventure (Andrews McMeel Publishing, January 2024)

Location:

St Paul, MN

Visit Briana at:

Awards and honors:

Nothing yet!

Available for School Visits:

Occasionally I’ve done panels/presentations at schools about diversity in writing, but these were at colleges. I’ve also done conventions and events that let me have a table to sell my work. 

I would definitely be up for more school/library visits and events where I could talk about diversity in writing, or in the case of the manga book, the kinds of stories that are available in that medium.


Olivia Li

Writing

Olivia Li is a cartoonist, multidisciplinary artist, and organizer based in Queens, NY. She’s particularly interested in telling coming-of-age and self-discovery stories of queer, POC protagonists, and portrayals of lived experiences of mental illness. Her comics dive into this focus through magic, myth, and the lives of urban ambiverts. She has edited two indie comics anthologies and has recently started dipping her toe into small press publishing under the banner of Lenticule Press.

Olivia Li

What was your favorite book as a child?

As a small child I had a collection of Leo Lionni picture books that I read over and over. I love his soft yet bright imagery, his use of different collage and painting techniques for texture, and the fact that all those melancholy stories probably gave me depression haha. As a medium-sized child, it was all Tamora Pierce and other fantasy adventure stories, plus any kind of myth or fairy tale retelling I could find.

What is your favorite food?

It’s a tie between xiao long bao and really good grapes

What do you love to do for fun?

Getting through my daunting piles of books I’ve bought but haven’t read yet, textile crafts (mostly embroidery and cross-stitch), mahjong, cooking and baking, running around New York with pals, pet every cat, accidentally getting caught up in random design projects (right now I am casually trying to design the perfect work backpack for the art/design freelancer who travels a lot and carries a million supplies)

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

The parts of travel I remember most vividly are the ones that spark my visual imagination, landscapes and structures so different from what I’m used to that my mind starts making up stories that could only be set here. My top three so far: 1) the cable car up to Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong, 2) the Road to Hana on Maui, and 3) the tiny little side streets in Venice. Also: I love hanging out in graveyards, because I am a spooky ghost.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

The stories I always go back to are the ones you find in mythology, fairy tales, folklore. There’s something I really love about the fact that cultures all around the world kept making up the same stories to tell each other. The root of storytelling is human connection, how cool is that! That’s what I’m trying to do, make stories that come from my experiences and see who they connect with.

Art Process:

My illustrations and comics nearly always start life as messy little pencil drawings that are barely legible to other people, so I can figure out compositions without getting too precious. After what I call the “sloppy thumbnails” stage, I move onto digital (in my primary workflow, at least, since it’s better than traditional for my hand and wrist, and offers more flexibility). Here’s where I draw cleaner thumbnails and layouts (and sometimes color-blocking), then pencils and lettering, then inks and colors. For client work, I will show each stage for review and adjustments before moving to the next; I submit several options at the “clean thumbnails” stage if a composition/design needs to be made by the client.

I currently use Clip Studio Paint on my iPad as my primary drawing software, and sometimes Adobe Fresco. I’m proficient in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere, and After Effects.

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT OLIVIA

Mediums:

Mostly digital these days, sometimes ink on paper

Specialties:

Forthcoming books:

West Middle Mirror (Andrews McMeel, Fall 2026)

Published books:

Location:

Queens, NY

Visit Olivia at:

Awards and honors:

MICE Mini-Grant recipient (2019) for Good Morning, Gorgon!

Available for School Visits:

It’s been a few years, but I’ve taught single- and multiple-week comics workshops for age ranges 6-8 and 8-14, and am open to doing more! These consisted of comic formats and basic story structure, leading up to each participant making their own stapled mini-comic.


Tak Toyoshima

Writing

Tak Toyoshima is the creator/illustrator of Secret Asian Man, a comic strip exploring race relations. It became the first nationally syndicated comic (United Features) with an Asian American lead. He is the art director for MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) and teaches comics to middle schoolers on the weekends.

Tak has also won awards for cover design, layout, photo illustration, and info-graphics during his 10+ years as a creative director for Boston’s alternative newspaper The Weekly Dig. He advocated for the use of illustration for covers, working with hundreds of local renowned and up-and-coming artists such as Shepard Fairey, James Jean, and Peter Max, to name a few.

Tak Toyoshima

What was your favorite book as a child?

Dr. Slump (series) by Akira Toriyama. As a child I read a lot of comics, both American and Japanese manga. Dr. Slump stands out in my mind for so many reasons. It is hilarious, thoughtful, borderline inappropriate (without being raunchy), features extremely well-designed and interesting characters, but mostly I fell in love with the art style that seemed to flow effortlessly from childish simplicity to technically stunning detail.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

I love working with kids. Not necessarily teaching AT them, but learning WITH them.

On Saturdays I teach a comics class for middle school kids to help develop their skills in writing as well as drawing. Their stories always remind me of what is at the core of my love for comics: the challenge of transferring stories in my head to blank pages. It’s important for kids to learn how to communicate and to expose them to comics as a playground where they can develop these skills in an open and non-judgmental way.

Mediums:

pencils, pen and ink, digital, coffee

Specialties:

Awards and honors:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT TAK

Art Process:

For pure illustration work-for-hire, it’s all about the client. To me the challenge is in finding my voice in the assignment. Usually the end goal is relatively simple. “We need a beer label with these elements. Use green and red.” “We need a spot illustration about the slippery slope of A.I. art. But make it funny.” Countless illustrators and designers can accomplish these goals but what is it that only I can offer? That’s what keeps me up at night.

Now, not all projects are created equal and I am certainly guilty of being less invested in some than others (gotta pay that mortgage!). But at the end of the day if I am putting my name to something I want it to stand alongside the best work. And when it comes to longer-form work like comics series and graphic novels, there are no excuses.

Available for School Visits:

I am currently represented by the American Program Bureau for speaking engagements and have been traveling to present about my comics work since about 2015. Most of my presentations have been at universities (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Georgetown, Baylor, UNLV, etc.) speaking on my journey in comics talking about Asian representation, the challenges of advocating for a minority voice, and the complexities of race relations in America.

I have presented to younger students as well, from grade school through high school, where I mostly speak of the experience of working in comics and the effort that comes with the “fun” of drawing pictures for a living. Many of these talks include hands-on workshops where kids join in and create comics.

I have also presented at professional conferences for teachers, discussing how comics can be used in school curriculum and how the art form is a powerful tool for students to use for self-expression and critical thinking.

Forthcoming books:

Published books:

The Daily Days (collection of 3 years of nationally syndicated daily comic strips distributed by United Features, 2nd printing 2023)
Make Good Choices (print and online choose-your-own-adventure style book revolving around controversial social justice topics such as abortion, police brutality, critical race theory, gun control, 2023)
Kwok (anti-Asian hate crime fundraiser for local elderly care organization in Boston’s Chinatown, 2021)
RISE: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now (Mariner Books, 2022)
Enough About Me written by Richard Lui (Zondervan Books, 2021)
New Frontiers: the Many Worlds of George Takei (SI Universe Media, 2017)
Gwan Anthology (Forward Comix, 2016)
Artists Against Police Brutality (Rosarium Publishing, 2015)
Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction (Stone Bridge Press, 2012)
Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics (U. of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2008)
Secret Identities: the Asian American Superhero Anthology (The New Press, 2009)
East Main Street (New York University Press, 2005)
Attitude 2: the New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists (NBM, 2004)

Location:

Hanover, MA

Visit Tak at:


Gibson Twist

Writing

Gibson Twist is a spicy bean from Atlantic Canada, currently living in St Louis, Missouri. His long-running 8-volume webcomic series Pictures of You received critical acclaim for its rich characters and honesty with sensitive subjects, reaching a diverse audience and continuing to make its cult following cry years after its conclusion. More recently, his graphic novel Queer Drunk Punk Romance, aimed at new adult audiences, has received glowing praise from queer and non-queer readers alike. He is currently working with his partner Rori on a graphic novel adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and other stories for gloomy teens of all ages and genders.

Gibson Twist

What do you love to do for fun?

I enjoy travelling without a map, landing somewhere new and exploring it until I figure out what makes it hum, or being run out of town.

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

Times Square on New Year’s Eve and a drive through the Canadian Rockies can’t be beat, for the most different reasons possible.

Mediums:

pen and ink

Art Process:

Gibson thinks his ideas up in the shower and enters a warp spasm fugue state until the work is done, screaming the whole time, remembering nothing, and running from police.

Forthcoming books:

Pictures of You Books 7-8

Wuthering Heights (Andrews McMeel, Fall 2025)

Published books:

Pictures of You Books 1-6 currently in print

Books 1-8 published digitally, self-published.


Jenny Mannis

Writing

I am a costume designer turned author-illustrator. With over a decade of experience in professional theater, I have designed at theaters all over the country including The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2nd Stage, and Steppenwolf. I hold an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and am a member of Kids Comics Unite, SCBWI, and the Authors’ Guild.

As a costume designer, I practice visual storytelling, transforming the written words of a play into images. My writing and illustration are heavily influenced by character design, color story, historical research, and imaginative world building. My time in theater has also led me to value compelling dialogue, twisty plots and brisk pacing.

When I’m not planning and researching the next two books in the Escape Artist series, I can be found trying to keep up with my two teens and two rescue dogs and dodging the monsters that live in the basement.

Jenny Mannis

What was your favorite book as a child?

All of them? I read to escape, so I was going for quantity over quality. But anything where a fantasy or alternate world existed in tandem with ours was my jam: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, Grimm’s fairy tales, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl (deep cut: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), Edward Gorey, Charles Addams comics, The X-Men. I read Stephen King’s It on the eighth-grade ski trip and that book changed me.

Mediums:

Pencil and paper for roughs and doodles. Dip pen and ink wash if I’m feeling fancy. Nothing beats the hand feel of graphite and real ink but I’m in love with Photoshop for the infinite possibilities and speed. I like messiness and rough edges, so I use a chunky, jittery ink brush for inking and loose watercolor, pastel and marker brushes for texture. I draw my own panel borders and speech balloons. Overall, I’m trying for a quick, scribbly, hands-on feeling.

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT JENNY

Art Process:

I always start from research. A mysterious building, 1950s horror comics, a news clipping – anything that sparks my fancy. I’ll be a magpie for a while and gather ideas and images from books, movies or the internet. I let the new stuff knock around for a while until I’ve got a premise or a question, a group of characters, a visual vibe, a color scheme, an idea that spooks me.

My creativity comes from the process of collection and whatever gets cooked up in the basement of my subconscious – the rest is iteration. I use scene cards to track plot points, character development, and my favorite research images. I’ll make a detailed outline and, once I know the major beats and the characters’ journey, I fill in the dialogue and paneling. I pull images and color story from my research and lay in the art stepwise. This orderly process comes from my practice as a theater designer: a highly structured system of organization and routine that sets the conditions for creativity. Stephen King calls his muse a “basement guy.” The muse does his thing down below while you put the time in at your desk: just like in theater where the designers and crew work behind the scenes so the magic can happen on stage.

What is your favorite food?

Popcorn jellybeans, black licorice, Necco Wafers, candy corn, Smarties: I love an underdog!

Specialties:

Forthcoming books:

Published books:

Location:

Chicago, IL

Visit Jenny at:

Awards and honors:

Available for School Visits:


Jonathan St. Amant

Writing

My name’s Jon, and I like to draw wizards, monsters, derpy chubs, pinups, and ninjas. By day I’m a middle school art teacher, and by night I’m a dad/graphic novelist. I’m also an amatuer beekeeper and hobby aquarist. I’m inspired by video game RPGs, fantasy movies and novels, science fiction and outer space, manga and anime, my students, and the ills of society.

After receiving my BFA in Drawing and Painting and Art Credential from Long Beach State, I moved away from the fine art world and dove headfirst into the warm and supportive communities of cartoons, comics, and kid lit. I love to consume and create unconventional stories with relatable themes, but my absolute favorite thing is character design.
I live in Southern California with my wife (who collaborates with me on stories), my two boys, two cats, a bunch of fish, and bees.

What do you love to do for fun?

I love hiking, surfing, playing video games (especially RPGs), trying different foods, traveling, gardening, taking care of my aquarium, evangelizing about bees, collecting comics and graphic novels, and of course reading them. 

What is your favorite book as a child?

One of my favorite books as a child was Richard Scarry’s What do People do All Day? I loved finding all the details in the backgrounds. If you were savvy, you could even find Lowly Worm.

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT JONATHAN

Art Process:

Typically, I like to sketch out an idea in my sketchbook first. For references, I’ll use Google, my own photos, or Pinterest. When I’m happy with my sketch or layout, I’ll take a photo of it and import it into either Procreate or Clip Studio. From there, I’ll ink over the sketch on a seperate layer with my favorite digital brush (for Procreate it’s Maxpack’s MaxU Sable Inker Soft). After that, I add colors and other effects on different layers.

Published books:

Critical Thinking: A Shepherd’s Guide to Tending Sheep, Kendall Hunt, 2000

Are You Mad? A Guide for Developmental Writers, Kendall Hunt, 2001

What a Trip, Kendall Hunt, 2005

Location:

Visit Jonathan at:

Awards and honors:

Teacher of the Year, 2011
Winner of the KCU logo/mascot contest 2021

Available for School Visits:

I visit the same school every day (I teach middle school art), but I am also willing to visit other schools as long as I can use a sick day here and there. I like to do step-by-step draw-alongs.


Brian Schatell

Writing

I draw silly animals for a living.  I am the illustrator of 16 books for children, mostly picture books, some of which I have also written.  I taught children’s book illustration and writing for twelve years at Parsons School of Design, and for sixteen years served as chair or co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature’s annual One-on-One Conference for aspiring authors and illustrators.  I’ve also done extensive illustration work for the children’s educational market and for the children’s apparel industry.  Aside from my career creating art for children, I have a long list of diverse and eclectic interests/hobbies for which I have great passion but not enough hours! 

What do you love to do for fun?

Visit used bookstores and used record stores.

What is your favorite children's book?

Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel. The greatest book ever written in the English language and everything that I aspire to as an author/illustrator of children’s books!

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT BRIAN

Art Process:

For many, many years I’ve kept a small notebook in my back pocket. When inspiration strikes I’ll quickly sketch or jot down an idea, a character, a line of dialogue, a turn-of phrase. These stray bits and pieces accumulate over time until they gradually coalesce into a book concept with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s an organic process. I currently have folders full of these scrips and scraps at various stages of gestation.

All of my illustrations contain some kind of black line art, and all of them begin with me sketching by hand with pencil on tracing paper. Lots and lots of tracing paper! Then depending on how I want the finished product to appear, there are three ways I might proceed. I will either scan the pencil sketch into the computer and use it as a template to draw the final line art digitally, or more commonly, I will develop the sketch into an black ink drawing on paper and then scan the completed black line into the computer to color digitally. Or option three, where I don’t scan anything at all and just watercolor the line art. Whatever the method, I expend a great amount of effort to make sure that the final art retains the spontaneity of my original pencil sketches.

Though I specialize in drawing funny animals in funny situations, (I’m partial to cows and chickens) I’m nevertheless interested in stories that are character driven and that have emotional resonance – not a contradiction, actually. The most important attributes of children’s book illustration in my mind are character and emotion, balance and clarity, flow and pacing. My rule is that every little thing put on the page should be there for a reason.

Forthcoming books:

The Bumble Brothers: Crazy for Comics (Reycraft, 2022)

Published books:

Selected Titles:

Farmer Goff and His Turkey Sam (Lippincott, 1982)
Two Crazy Pigs (Scholastic/Cartwheel, 1992)
Pup and Pop (Scholastic/Cartwheel, 2003)
Owl Boy (Holiday House, 2016)

Location:

Available for School Visits:

I love to do school visits. I have a two-part presentation, geared towards younger grades. Part one covers authors, illustrators and the book making process, from initial idea through writing, sketching, final art and printing, with visual examples. In part two, the students are the authors and I am the illustrator, as I draw an impromptu story from audience suggestions.


Ariel Rutland

Writing

Ariel Rutland is an award-winning designer and illustrator whose work focuses on themes of nature, curiosity, humor, and beauty in everyday objects. She grew up in a cozy central New Jersey suburb down the street from a great big house with a pond. Many weekends of her childhood were spent strolling the neighborhood with her Grandma, who would often take the train from Manhattan down to “the country.” She credits their endless neighborhood walks spent storytelling about the squirrels, birds, and rocks that crossed their path as inspiration for her art… and ability to (bring to her art?) view nature and the world through the wondrous eyes of a child…

Ariel graduated from University of Maryland with a degree in fine art and concentration in graphic design. She worked as a product designer at Martha Stewart, followed by lead designer at a boutique branding agency. Her artwork has been licensed to American Greetings, Minted, Target, and West Elm, being featured on greeting cards and home decor. She is currently illustrating a forthcoming children’s book. When she isn’t drawing and designing, she can be found playing in the backyard with her three young boys and husband in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My bedtime book request was always Stellaluna. The illustrations completely transported me into the night sky. I now read it to my boys, who are equally as captivated and curious about these tender characters as I was.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

Watching my kids grow.

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT ARIEL

Art Process:

I start by asking questions and diving into the subject matter to find answers and (hopefully) discover hidden gems that I can weave into the illustrations. I want to fully immerse myself in the world that I am about to draw. Then I do a lot of loose pencil sketches on paper, continuing to iterate until I find what’s working. Next begins my back-and-forth dance from digital to analogue and back. After I’ve sketched on paper, I create a digital version so I can easily manipulate the pieces—move the tree a little to the left, add some birds, change the season. After I’ve created this digital foundation of flat shapes, I move back to paper and use various media like watercolor, ink, and cut paper—sometimes scribbles from my kids— to create textures and other hand-made marks that I will eventually scan and layer into the digital file. I love using the Procreate app on my iPad and Photoshop for final refinements. Whether I’m working purely digital or a combination, it’s important I retain a hand-made, “perfectly imperfect,” emotive quality to the final art.

Location:

Visit Ariel at:

Awards and honors:

NYPL Best Teens Book List, 2007
Selected as one of 5 Japanese artists to meet Japanese Prime Minister Abe, 2015

Available for School Visits:

Not at this time.

Forthcoming books:

Apart, Together written by Linda Booth Sweeney (coming 2022, Balzer + Bray)


Katie Risor

Writing

Katie Risor is a professional illustrator, author, and designer creating fantastical storybook art in San Antonio, Texas. Growing up on books like The NeverEnding Story, Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh and playing outside every day with her friends led her to create art and stories inspired by nature, everyday experiences, and a little bit of magic.

Professionally, Katie works on picture books, covers, advertising, product design, and book design. She also enjoys geeking out about art supplies and teaching the fun of creativity to others. You can see her tutorials on Tik Tok and Instagram.

Why do you like to draw creatures?

A lot of ingredients went into my brain and came out as my creatures. The true inciting incident is when I got The NeverEnding Story from Blockbuster when I was about ten years old. I watched that movie, and Falcor’s been flying up in my brain ever since. Before that, Snuffleupagus was my favorite Sesame Street character and I’ve always loved fairies, dragons, gnomes and such. But Falcor was life-changing.

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT KATIE

Art Process:

Every project, whether it’s a single illustration or an entire book, starts with an idea. Ideas can pop into my head anytime, but whenever I want to get a new idea I lay on the floor, close my eyes, and wait. Laying on the floor with properly inspiring music will usually give me something.

Next is brainstorming and iteration. For a whole book, this means sketching and storyboarding. For a single illustration this means doing iterative compositional sketches. I want to choose a composition that effectively delivers information to the viewer but is also pleasant, surprising, or delightful to look at, something that goes beyond the main idea.

The best illustrations I do always come from ideas I can see clearly in my head and for which I have a solid execution plan. However, I do like to leave room in the process for playing around. I think that’s why I like traditional media so much; no matter how much you know about the medium, you can’t be fully in control.

Mediums:

Location:

Visit Katie at:

Available for School Visits:

I love teaching art workshops for kids of all ages, but especially youngsters. I showcase the design process  and inspire kids to tap into their own creativity. I do demos on “what if” storytelling, comics, drawing fantasy creatures, and painting.And finally, I explain the book making process and what sort of jobs creative kids can go into.


Leonardo Quiles

Writing

Leonardo Quiles is an author, illustrator, and educator. His career in computer generated visual effects for feature film and advertising laid the groundwork for his interest in sequential narrative. Visual storytelling inspires his interest in developing original content for children’s graphic novels, as well as animation, editorial illustration, and other comics work. 

Leo studied Illustration at Parsons School of Design and holds a BA is Art History from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an MFA in Illustration from the University of Hartford. He is an elementary school Visual Arts teacher working and living in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts with his wife, their two children, and their puppy Roxy.

Leo is the recipient of the 2021 We Need Diverse Books Mentorship with author/illustrator Mike Curato, Flamer, Henry Holt, 2021.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was “Where the Wild Things Are”. I remember wanting to draw like Maurice Sendak, even as a child. I would copy his characters, sometimes tracing them. I especially liked the griffin character from the Wild Rumpus scene. I imagine there is still an element of Sendak’s work influencing my own work today.

Visit Leo at:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT LEO

Location:

Art Process:

I keep a sketchbook and I draw regularly. My design process always begins with drawing. My solution is found somewhere between my head and my hand. As I am cognitively working out the design problem, I am also visually problem solving on paper. Once I have a sketch I’m happy with, I’ll bring it into Procreate to clean-up, to finalize the composition and to set the scale for the final artwork. The sketch is then printed onto a heavy stock paper, like watercolor or vellum. If the final work is a comics page, I’ll ink the line work traditionally with steel nibs and paint watercolor for the fills. If the work is a more traditional illustration, I’ll paint the final steps in gouache.

Mediums:

Awards and honors:

2021 We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Award with author/illustrator Mike Curato, Flamer, Henry Holt, 2021.  

2021 Practice Kindness, pencil, ink, watercolor on paper. Norman Rockwell Museum – permanent collection. 

2019 Charmed, porcelain. 20-year anniversary show for Sienna Patti Contemporary, Lenox, MA. Museum of Fine Arts Boston – permanent collection.

2018  Murray Tinkelman Award for Excellence in Illustration.

Available for School Visits:

I am an elementary school visual arts teacher. In many ways, I feel as though I do a school visit every day! 

For author visits, I read a passage from my graphic novel, HOME, then lead an activity where we create a “mini-zine” with 8.5×11’ paper and pens. I can also work with students to create a folded paper sculpture of a traditional folk mask, a vejigante, that they can color, cut, fold, glue and wear.