~Hosted by Amanda Smith
Welcome back to 24 Carrot Writing's Graphic Novel Month. Last week our panel discussed the unique strengths of graphic novels for readers, but also, for them as creatives. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Lets join our panel of Graphic Novel authors for Part 2.
Often those opposed to graphic novels think about these books as shallow or “comic” books, yet today’s graphic novels deal with difficult subject matter such as addiction, racism, startling historical events, and peer pressure. Why are graphic novels such an effective medium for telling these kinds of stories?
Terri Libenson: I think a big part of it is because many kids love comics and/or illustrated stories; therefore, difficult subject matter won’t have to be forced on them -- they will automatically want to read about it in graphic novel form.
Examples of graphic novels dealing with heavier subjects
Many graphic novels have an autobiographical aspect. Why, do you think, does this format lend itself well to autobiographical storytelling?
Terri Libenson: Well, all kinds of books have an autobiographical element. But I think good artists have a gift for retelling their memories in a visual way that connects immediately with readers. It can also be fun to “see” the setting and clothing of a different era rather than just read about them.
Breena Bard: I’ve never thought about this before! I wonder if it’s because, just like our imaginations, our memories tend to exist in our minds largely as images. If a writer is able to put those remembered images on page as pictures, they can retain some of the vivid detail that might be lost if translated into words. There are some emotions and feelings that can be conveyed better by pictures, and when a picture won’t do, graphic novelists also have written words in their toolbox. It’s the best of both worlds, and for telling something so nuanced and complex as a personal story, I can see why writers would be drawn to a format that’s so flexible and accommodating.
Raina Telgemeier's series of graphic novel memoirs.
Graphic novel characters are often established fairly quickly and with few words (often one or two speech bubbles.) Please share with our readers some of your character development strategies. What happens behind the scenes, before the reader sees the character on the page for the first time?
Breena Bard: For me, characters emerge when I am playing in my sketchbook. The harder I try to “design” a character, the more wooden and forced they feel. But when I let my mind and my pen wander, I am often surprised by the different characters that emerge. I try to spend a lot of time on this earlier side of character development, doodling a new character in every possible facial expression, pose and setting. And if I’m lucky enough to have two characters come to life, I can play with putting them into a variety of vignettes, or mini-scenes. Sometimes these scenes make it into my eventual script, and when they do, they are some of my favorite scenes.
Kayla Miller: I think you can say a lot about a character's personality through their appearance and their actions. Every day we make choices about how to present ourselves to the world and comic artists make those decisions for their characters. Clothing, posture, facial expressions, and way of speaking do a lot of the work, but another great tool is drawing a character’s room (or other spaces they decorate and store things in, like a desk or locker). One panel of a character in their living space could be worth paragraphs of description about their personality and interests.
Terri Libenson: Well, I have an advantage, as my books are hybrids: part illustrated novel and part graphic novel. The illustrated novel portion contains much more text, so I can set up a character’s story in detailed prose. The GN portion is much more of a challenge, character-wise. One technique: I frequently have characters introduce themselves. And I think dialogue or inner monologue quickly establishes their personalities.
Behind the scenes, I try and get to know these characters well so that they seem convincing on paper. They usually have aspects of my personality and memories. Some are also inspired by people I’ve known – although they tend to develop differently as I write.
Tom Angleberger: For me it was the matter of redrawing a famous character, Geronimo Stilton, in my own style. And, since he narrates his novels, I had to pick and choose which words of his to use in my panels. But, I’ve been a Geronimo fan for so long that all of that came very naturally.
Thanks to our fabulous panel! Join us next week for the last of the panel discussion posts. We will be talking about the middle schooler's brain (ooohhh!) and gatekeepers!
A reading list for this week:
CLICK and CAMP by Kayla Miller
INVISIBLE EMMIE, POSITIVELY IZZY and JUST JAIME by Terri Libenson
NEW KID by Jerry Craft
HEY KIDDO by Jarrett Krosoczka
THE FAITHFUL SPY by John Hendrix
SMILE, SISTERS, and GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
AWKWARD, BRAVE & CRUSH by Svetlana Chmakove (great notes on characterization and setting in back matter)
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
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