Guest Blog by Rob Justus
Hey there beautiful reader!
This is author, illustrator, nice guy, Rob Justus. The lovely people at 24 Carrot Writing have asked if I could contribute a couple points on how to begin your journey into the world of creating graphic novels.
Now I know, I know, who the heck is this guy? I don’t even have a graphic novel published!....But I will.
Right now, I’m the author/illustrator of the amazing KID COACH picture book, but come Fall 2021 my first graphic novel series, DEATH AND SPARKLES, will be flying off bookshelves!
So how did I get here? How did I go from picture books to middle grade graphic novels?
Well, I was told by a few people that middle-grade graphic novels are a booming segment of the book market, and that my humor and storytelling might be a could match. That’s when I saw dollar signs dancing in my eyes! Muh-ha-ha!
Everyone thinks that writing a picture book is easy. It is really freakin’ hard!!! You’re generally constrained to 32 cohesive pages, where every single word is scrutinized over and over. With graphic novels, there’s a little more room for my ideas to run around. And run around I did!
It starts with character
When I start a story, it starts with a character that I’ve sketched. These characters tend to have something that stands out from all the other things I’ve sketch. They have a life to them.
For DEATH AND SPARKLES, it started with me drawing random skulls. Those skulls evolved into this:
It was a fun, simple, easy to draw character, but if I was going to make Death the central part of an ongoing narrative he probably needed a little more visual emotional depth...which translates to: Dude should at least have a mouth.
From there, and really just goofing around with some friends, we gave this serious looking character a buddy. Something that was the exact opposite of the grim reaper. A pudgy little unicorn!
Originally, I planned on aiming these characters at younger kids, and having the graphic novel set up as a simple sitcom with each chapter being a funny situation. I pitched this to my agent and she politely told me it was a steaming pile of poo-poo caca.
Then she gave me the most important piece of advice I’ve gotten in this crazy journey I’ve taken to become a real author...
WORLD BUILDING changed everything. My agent told me to write lists of personality traits for each character. How they react to certain situations. How they feel. Sometimes I just wrote lists of random questions: How does Death feel about swimming? Why would Sparkles want to be friends with Death? How does Death feel about death? How can I include cupcakes? Would Death have a pet?
Once I had an idea of who Death and Sparkles are as characters, I began to define the world they live in. Where does Death live? How does he travel around? Does Sparkles do anything for himself? Who’s in his entourage? Are unicorns descendants of dragons? From there I could start to populate this world with other secondary characters and antagonists.
Because I spent so much time defining and building this world it became SO easy to write. I knew how the characters would react to different situations, how they’d deal with conflict and how Death and Sparkles would grow to become best buds. I even know how their friendship is going to evolve over the next six books! That said, my agent was worried I’d struggle writing something longer than 32 pages, with our goal to have a nice arc over hopefully 120 pages. All the work beforehand let me run wild! Just a mere 275 pages later we had a fully sketched out dummy ready for submission. DEATH AND SPARKLES is easily one of my proudest achievements as a writer and illustrator.
I’m a firm believer in just doing your thing. As long as you’ve got a pencil and paper you’re good to start creating anything you want, but I will plug one little thing that helped me immensely. A little program called Scrivener. It’s a writing program that let me keep all my notes in one place, while having a great outlining/cork board/cue card thingy. Go check it out. Best $20 I ever spent.
I grew up reading and wanting to draw comics when I was a kid, but “chose” the safer options in life and got a comfy job as a consultant. When I decided to leave all that behind and switch to a creative career, it felt like things were coming full circle. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I can’t wait to show the world I built for DEATH AND SPARKLES in Fall 2021, but in the meantime feel free to check out my picture book KID COACH.
I’m author, illustrator, nice guy Rob Justus, and hopefully you found this ramblin’ insightful. Shine on, people!
To learn more about Rob please visit his website at https://robjustus.com/ or find him on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/robjustus/. Rob is a member of The Soaring '20s High Flying Picture Book Debuts. Find all The Soaring '20s authors and illustrators at https://www.soaring20spb.com/.
You can order a copy of KID COACH here.
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