A group of about 30 – including many new faces this month – gathered for the May 11th Westside Schmooze, the first under the new Charlie & Karol Regime. Our topic was Misfits, Mutts and Bastards – which was not commentary on the people assembled (although Karol and Charlie both willingly identify as “misfits”). No, the misfits, mutts and bastards we were discussing were alternative book formats – from novels in verse to graphic novels to books so special and different they defy classification (The Invention of Huge Cabaret, anyone?).
In keeping with Schmooze tradition, we started with introductions. Everybody had a chance to say what kind of material they write and name a favorite “misfit book” (if they had one). In addition to The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Selznick (which got multiple mentions), some other books hailed by Schmoozers were The Arrival by Shaun Tan (a graphic novel without words), Wonderstruck, the latest book by Brian Selznick, and Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by local author Sonya Sones and Out Of The Dust by Karen Hesse, all novels in verse.
The evening started formally with a discussion of novels which use devices to tell their stories. Some examples were Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, a middle grade novel told through letters and diary entries only, and the recent series of duel-protagonist books by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares), where chapters alternate between the POV of the male character, written by David, and the female character, written by Rachel.
Novels in verse were discussed as well. Karol offered tidbits from a Summer 2010 Kite Tails (download it here) interview with author Thalia Chaltas, whose debut novel Because I am Furniture, is written in verse. When asked why she writes in verse, Chaltas explained that she “thinks in verse…in swooshes of words, smatterings of sounds, burrowings of emotion.” She feels novels in verse are able to handle heavy subject matter in a way that’s not too overwhelming. It was also pointed out that, with novels in verse, a short poem can get across plot advancement and emotions that could fill several pages of a traditional novel. To illustrate this point, Karol read a couple sample poems from Virginia Euwer Wolfe’s This Full House, the final novel in Wolfe’s fantastic Make Lemonade trilogy. For anyone interested in exploring this genre (and Karol highly recommends that you do!), author Sonya Sones (who describes herself as “a poet first, and a storyteller second”) has a wonderful list of outstanding novels in verse on her website.
Next up, Charlie discussed graphic storytelling, starting with an overview of the various forms:
- ILLUSTRATED NOVELS – novels with pictures, like The Wizard Of Oz, Alice In Wonderland, Lynda Barry’s dark and violent Cruddy, and even Vonnegut’s Breakfast Of Champions, which features a crude drawing of a butt-hole that made Charlie wax poetic. These book would not have the power and poetry they do, would not stick in the mind with such tenacity, without the imagery of great artists like John Tenniel and Lynda Barry or Vonnegut’s bratty pen.
- COMIC BOOK NOVELS – novels with prose & comics, like Dav Pilkey’s great Captain Underpants series and Jeff Kinney’s even greater Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series. These hilarious amalgams move between telling a story and showing, combining all out comedy and slapstick with well observed commentaries on middle school life.
- COMIC BOOKS & COMIC STRIPS – you know: Peanuts and such. Also Windor McCay’s seminal Little Nemo In Slumberland.
- INTERNET COMICS & iPOD APPS – our own Josh Hauke discussed creating his hilarious online comic Tales Of The Brothers Three, as well as the advantages and limitations of writing for the internet. (Hint: it seemed like a pretty good idea to us.)
- GRAPHIC NOVELS – the meat and potatoes of graphic artistry, from Frank Miller’s brilliant (though neo fascistic according to Charlie) Batman Begins to Alan Moore’s complex and very human Watchman to Art Spiegelman’s clear eyed and accurate look at the holocaust through cats and mice: Maus, to Chris Ware’s endlessly sad tale of regretful middle age, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth.
Schmooze regular Eric Drachman also discussed his own bastard work: wedding terrific picture books to beautifully produced audio recordings of the text, complete with cast and music. (Check ‘em out on Kidwick.com).
Charlie then went on to describe the proper form for writing graphic novel manuscripts, explaining that, in a graphic novel, the key element is the PAGE. You design each page, stating how many panels you want on it, and then describing each panel, one by one. When designing pages, keep in mind that, in graphic storytelling, each bit of dialogue takes up literal space. So a dialogue heavy scene will leave little room for action or art.
Josh, along with the many other illustrators who showed up for our little Schmooze (thanks!), mentioned the books Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Sequential Art by Will Eisner as essential resources for anyone interested in writing graphically. A spirited debate then ensued about which one was truly more essential! (The same crowd also debated the virtues of various software used to create iPad apps, but since neither Charlie nor Karol could figure out what they were talking about, we cut that one short.)
Finally, we talked about markets for your bastard opuses (opai?). It was noted that Scholastic has a new imprint called Graphix and may looking for graphic novel manuscripts for kids. There are other markets as well (a list is included in our collection of resource links below), but many of the comic book publishers are fairly closed houses. The good news, though, is that this is one area of the market where self-publishing is well respected. Many comic book stores take pride in supporting local artists and writers and will give your book a featured place by the register.
We ended the evening with an exercise – a fun attempt to translate some classic prose writing (samples handed out were from The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) into graphic novel or novel in verse form. Honestly, it proved to be harder than we anticipated, (at least for your humble leaders), but when it came time to share, the Schmoozers astounded and delighted!
Perhaps the most important take away from the evening was to avoid style over substance. These alternative formats can be utilized to great effect, but your manuscripts need to feature great stories
first and foremost. There’s no better example of this than The Invention of Hugo Cabaret. Yes, the format – kind of a picture book/middle grade novel hybrid – is stunningly beautiful and unique, but the story itself is also incredibly special. (Seriously, if you haven’t yet read this book, go to your local library or bookstore now and get it. Well? Why aren’t you going? STOP READING THIS AND GO!)
Now that you’re back from the library…
For those of you who missed the Schmooze (shame on you!), here’s a copy of the list of references that was handed out:
CHARLIE AND KAROL’S NIFTY PAGE OF RESOURCES
The Bastard Edition
Everything you need to know about writing & selling graphic novels (OK, fine…not everything):
This is the little lesson we went through in class from Five Sprockets software on how graphic novels are formatted. Also here: Free Software!!
A GOLD MINE! Dwayne McDuffie, the writer Static Shock, Hardware, and others, as well as numerous Spiderman comics, generously shows samples of ALL THE DIFFERENT STYLES. Also, click on his name at the top, and nose around his site.
a short little lesson in how to format and write graphic novels, including a nifty little exercise to help you with dialogue writing. Also, dig the links on where to sell—I included one of them below:
Some info on novels in verse:
YA author of novels-in-verse extraordinaire, Sonya Sones (home page, comprehensive list of outstanding novels in verse)
First Novels Club Guest post by Cathy Ostlere (Karma); Demystifying novels in verse.
Thoughts about Verse Novels, inspired by questions from author, Susan Taylor Brown, for an article in Children’s Writer, March 2010, The Novel World in Verse.
Interview with Ellen Hopkins by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010
Next month’s Schmooze topic is: Writer’s Etiquette or Why-Oh-Why Do I Keep Putting My Foot In My Month And How Can I Stop? This will feature, “Miss Karol’s Pointers On Manners And Decorum.” That should be good. Oh, wait…this just in… Karol has renamed her presentation. It will now be called, “What NOT to Do. Ever. Really.”
In all seriousness, we’re counting on lots and lots of input from everyone in attendance, so won’t you please join us on June 8th and bring your horrors stories and tales of triumph to share.
See you then!
Namaste? Nah! We’re going with…
Keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol