“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door.
You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet,
there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is that things do not always happen the way you expect them to. Like in our creative pursuits, we naturally follow the good paths others have taken and avoid the bad ones. But there are always pebbles, rocks, and hills along the way that slow us down or change our plans.
This article was originally written for Tara Lazar’s 2021 Storystorm Day 7. Click here to read it on her website
As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I imagined becoming a cartoonist despite my parent’s disapproval. I found inspiration from Sunday comics, NatGeo magazines, and 80’s video games. That all changed when my whole family moved to America. I had to put aside “childish things” and get a job. It seemed like my dreams were pretty much toast.
Many years later, when I least expected it, something pulled me back towards creative pursuits. It started with graphics design, then filmmaking and photography, and then back to writing and drawing. I soon learned about picture books, comic books, crowdfunding, and publishing.
Many failed attempts and multiple agents later, I finally found my groove illustrating books. But even with these wins, I was still pursuing my unicorn, to be a “picture book author-illustrator.” I had several ideas, a few nibbles, but no bites.
The farthest on the track was my PB dummy for MISCHIEF THE SUPEVILLAIN. It’s about a kind-hearted protagonist on her quest to be a superhero, except she didn’t have superpowers. She gets booted out of superhero school and ends up being a supervillain who saves the city. It is a story about friendship, transcending labels, and finding your own hero voice.
After many submissions and months of waiting, MISCHIEF finally got a thumbs up from a publisher. There was one big caveat though, the picture book MUST be turned into a graphic novel (a long-form comic). This is a huge task that meant converting a 32-page book to 250 pages and no less than 1,000 illustrations (in full color!). And yes, a full story rewrite.
I was filled with both excitement and anxiety. It was a great opportunity and since I was a sucker for challenges, I accepted. Working on a graphic novel meant I had to be disciplined with my time – balancing my day job, freelance projects, and family life.
Over a thousand hours later with aching muscles and twitchy eyes…I have finally finished…book one! It is not perfect, as nothing ever is, but it is a book that I am proud of. An action-packed, humorous rumpus with a lot of heart. I am sure kids will enjoy it.
Looking back, I am very thankful to those who have shown me the path even though I was paving my own way. We are all travelers on the same journey, with a dream and a destination. And if one of us lags, we should give a helping hand or lend a light to show the way. That is why I love what Tara and many other KidLit communities are doing!
And so, for Storystorm, I challenge you, fellow traveler, to look at your ideas…and maybe just by changing the format (like a graphic novel), you will breathe new life into them. Here are some tips to get you started:
A comic book or graphic novel is just a medium for storytelling like movies and books.
The format has a long history and is recognized all over the world. Comics very often showcase diverse works from diverse storytellers. You can find graphic novels for all age groups and genres: middle-grade, historical, horror, biographical, fantasy, adventure, experimental, you name it. Graphic novel artwork is wide-ranging and can often be surprising. And because of its visual nature, it is easy for non-readers to pick-up and understand… It can make a dry story or something very technical much more interesting. So, when someone says that your story seems more mature or doesn’t fit the PB format, think graphic novels.
You do not need to be an artist to create graphic novels.
Just like with picture books, publishers will pair an artist with a manuscript. But graphic novel artists are difficult to procure because of scheduling issues and limited availability. Publishers understand this and they are more accepting of writer & illustrator paired submissions. So, make friends with artists! If you can add a dash of art, it will help publishers and agents see your vision.
Prepare your pitch packet.
Even though my submission for MISCHIEF was under review, I still had to provide a story outline, a full graphic novel manuscript, and an illustrated chapter (not required if you’re not an artist). Keep in mind that graphic novels do not necessarily need to be a certain page or word count. This gives you the flexibility to tell the story the way it deserves.
Learn the language of comics. Just like with picture books, comics have their own tried and true language of storytelling. There are elements like pacing, scripting, design, paneling that all work together to give the reader a great experience. Take the time to study these.
Comics has a long indie history.
You don’t have to go traditional publishing if you don’t want to. Comics have always had a rebellious streak from grassroots publishing and fandom. Comic creators and fans were outsiders for the longest time, and they support each other. There are many ways to publish either via small press, crowdfunding or print-on-demand.
Creating graphic novels can be a daunting task. If you’re not sure where to begin, why not start with its shorter-form sibling? Comic books are around 24 pages and are a great starting point. You can write a full story or even a chapter. My very first comic was a four-pages and it taught me a lot.
There is much more to learn than what can be encapsulated in this post, but I hope that this inspires you to dive into the world of graphic novels. If you have any questions, feel free to connect with me and I will try my best to help out.
Let us make 2021 a fun and creative year. Good luck!