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!

 


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.