Next Stop by Debbie Fong

Next Stop by Debbie Fong

Debbie Fong's new book, Next Stop, is now available!!

If you're looking for the next heart-tugging, hilarious, slow burn middle grade graphic novel to read, this is it.

It's racked up multiple starred reviews:

  • "Remarkable." – The Horn Book
  • "Poignant" and "profound." – Kirkus Reviews
  • "Weird and wonderful." – The Bulletin of Children's Books
  •  "Gut-wrenching" – Kirsten Gudsnuk
  • "Heart wrenching." – Kayla Miller
  • "Nuanced and deeply felt.” – Andrea Wang

This book is REALLY GOOD!!!!

Next Stop by Debbie Fong, a middle grade graphic novel

Debbie sent me a few spreads of sample art so you can see her rough process from thumbnails, to pencils, to inks, to colors. She's a self-taught artist with a minimalist style influenced by indie comics.

Next Stop process illustration by Debbie Fong

Next Stop process illustration by Debbie Fong

And here's character sketches of the laconic main character, Pia:

Next Stop process illustration by Debbie Fong

And some lovely interior spreads to give you a sense of the story's deadpan humor and surrealist style:

Next Stop illustration by Debbie Fong

Next Stop illustration by Debbie Fong

Next Stop illustration by Debbie Fong

Her book launch at Books of Wonder on Tuesday night was packed!

Debbie Fong's book launch for NEXT STOP at Books of Wonder bookstore in March 2024

The wonderful Wendy Xu interviewed her. Wendy asked Debbie where her style comes from, and Debbie replied:

I'm a big fan of stories with a dreamlike quality. Where you're not quite sure what's real, and what's not. And I also really love stories that cross genres.

Then Wendy asked her to describe her creative process. Debbie said:

I script a lot at first. I know some graphic novelists will combine thumbs and scripting at the same time. That's not what I do. The story lives in my head at first, then I write it as a script. And then I toil away trying to make the pictures happen the way I see it in my head. I draw everything with ClipStudio on my iPad. With the iPad, I can keep working even when I travel.

Wendy concluded by asking her what her favorite part of the process is. Debbie answered:

That's easy. My favorite part is the color. I can sit and color the pages just like coloring a coloring book. It's very relaxing!

Debbie Fong's NEXT STOP book signing at Books of Wonder, March 2024

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

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

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

The day has come! PUNYCORN has arrived.

Who is PUNYCORN, you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

Andi Watson on His PUNYCORN Graphic Novel Creative Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what the inked pages look like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more and order PUNYCORN here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next book is about the history of medicine.

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

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

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

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

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

 Find out more about PIZZA PICKLES AND APPLE PIE here.