Celebrate kids comics with Q&As with fantastic children’s cartoonists for Children’s Book Week! We’re helping out as great authors talk about their own creative work and the graphic novel industry throughout April and May. Comics for kids are reaching a time of unprecedented acceptance in the American literary scene, and it’s now true that there are comics for everyone. A tour of Q&As have been set up and we’re proud to participate. You can find the full list here.
Today you can find an interview with Colleen AF Venable by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (Dragons Beware!).
Rafael Rosado/Jorge Aguirre: Hello, old friend, Colleen! Thanks so much for answering our questions. We should tell everyone first that you designed the cover for Giants Beware and Dragons Beware back when you worked at First Second Books. You also gave me (Jorge) lots of tips on lettering a comic book, which I had never done before (sorry for all the mistakes and thanks for fixing them). And most important, you came up with the title of the first book. Our title was lame. Yours, “Giants Beware” was much better. So, thanks for that too!
Colleen AF Venable: Aw thanks! It was easy to be inspired by such a fantastic book. I am a HUGE Claudette (and Valiant and Marie and Gaston and River King and the River King’s Mustache…on man I could go on) fan.
RR/JA: Back in August, First Second blogged about you, “Look in coming seasons for her Kiss Number Eight, a stellar teen project like nothing we’ve ever done before.” Can you spill any beans on that project?
CV: If given a burrito near the original art pages, it’s very likely I’d spill beans all over them. That’s probably why Leela Wagner (the amazing artist drawing Kiss #8) hasn’t invited me over for Tex-Mex night.
Oh wait! You mean the PROVERBIAL beans.
It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl dealing with a big family secret, a secret of her own, and a whole lotta not-so-secret-because-no-teen-can-keep-it-secret angst. It’s also a comedy about being awkward, minor league baseball, cheese fries, sitting through band bands, and that feeling when you are a teen and you say “this is me!” only to, ten minutes later, say “No wait THIS is me!” and then 30 seconds after that scream “NO! SCRATCH THOSE FIRST TWO. THIS is me!” Leela’s art for is STUNNING and she really gets the whole feeling of uncertainty we’re all plagued with in those crazy hormonal times.
RR/JA: You’re a very visual person – at least we get that impression from all the wonderful covers you’ve designed, but you don’t draw your own books. So when you work with artists on your books how do you approach your scripting? Is it a detailed outline or a script? Thumbnails?
CV: If there’s one thing I love more than Tex-Mex nights (come-on, Leela!) it’s collaboration. I love seeing interpretations of my words—seeing jokes that were half working suddenly be AMAZING with a few simple visual choices, seeing what my characters look like in someone else’s eyes… My scripts tend to be very long and go panel by panel with long descriptions of visual elements and important things to include—since all of my books tend to be mysteries of one sort or another and often the clues are in the art—followed by the lines of dialogue. I don’t thumbnail for the artists, but I try to give a general sense of rhyme and timing and make sure there are quiet moments, beats where we can silently hear the characters grow. I came from a land of playwriting, so I love dialogue and have to keep myself from going on constant banter benders, because it’s those silent panels where the reader really connects with the characters. You breathe in at the same moment. For a moment you are them.
Did I mention I’m wordy?
RR/JA: Your Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series seems like a character and world ripe for an animated series. Any chance Sasspants will get her own show? Is animation something you’re interested in?
CV: Neal Porter, the legendary picture book editor, once told me I did “the least annoying hamster voice he’s ever heard.” It was high praise. I’ve always been obsessed with cartoons and go crazy anytime I get a chance to hear behind the scenes things about voice actors. I now have an entire gauntlet of voices I do when I do school visits, all the while imagining how great it would sound if someone like Rob Paulsen or Tara Strong were voicing them. If Guinea Pig was ever made into a show I’d like lose my mind with excitement and be found weeks later running down the street and still screaming with glee.
I’d love that on a personal level (cough understatement cough) but on a humanity level I think Sasspants would be such an amazing role model. She’s smart, tough, loyal, a bit flawed like all of us, and totally 100% bad-ass. She’s like MacGuyer with slightly less mullet! She doesn’t wear a giant bow, or heels, or have three huge eyelashes. Her gender doesn’t define her. I wish there were more shows with characters like Sasspants.
RR/JA: Like us and like many other writers and cartoonists, you have a day job. How do you balance your day job with your nights and weekend job?
CV: There’s this thing I’ve heard of. It’s called “sleep.” I’m not sure if it’s real, but it sounds pretty cool. I’m gonna try it some day!
It’s a hard balancing act, and I’m still working to get better at it but the thing that’s been helping me most lately is having a firm calendar. On Tuesday nights I write. On Fridays during lunch break I write. On Saturdays and Sundays I play waaaaay too much Dance Central and then fall down, sweaty and tired, STILL unable to get that one impossible Usher song right…and then remember oh yeah! I’m supposed to write!!! I usually aim for three days a week and put giant red marks on my calendar when I do, so I can look back and see if I’ve been slacking OR if I should buy myself a giant tub of icecream because I am kicking red-colored-in-days butt.
RR/JA: What’s on your nightstand?
CV: Right now? A whole big pile of tissues. HAPPY SPRING, FELLOW ALLERGY SUFFERERS! Luckily I have a big nightstand, so next to the giant pile of my nose DNA (anyone wants to clone me, you know where to look) there’s currently a copy of the new Ms. Marvel trade (so good!), Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales The Donner Dinner Party (best book on cannibalism for kids ever!!!), and the latest fantastic Holly Black novel The Darkest Part of the Forest. Not a day goes by that there isn’t a giant pile of books on my bedstand and two books in my purse. I love reading all sorts of genres, and going anywhere without a book feels so wrong, even going to sleep.