Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Daily Sketch: Beach Edition

Building sandcastles with the impending tide.

Remembering Richard Williams

Who Framed Roger Rabbit inspired my imagination beyond words when I was a kid. I spent many hours drawing the cast of that movie. Rest in peace to animator Richard Williams, and thank you for all of that brilliant work.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Harvey Awards

‪I am beyond thrilled to have HEY, KIDDO land as a multiple Harvey Awards nominee! HK is up for Book of the Year and Best Children’s or YA Book. Winners will be announced at NY Comic Con in October. ‬

Upcoming Events!

I have some exciting events lined up for the fall! Hope to see you at one of these stops if you live nearby. More info for each stop on my website:
(Although I will have a new Jedi Academy book in September, these talks will all be centered around HEY, KIDDO.)

Process Videos

Fiddling around with Procreate.

Attack of the Furball...September 3rd!

A new Jedi Academy book from Amy Ignatow and me.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The NAIBA Carla Cohen Free Speech Award

A complete and total honor to have HEY, KIDDO awarded The NAIBA Carla Cohen Free Speech Award!‬

Also, I made a Spotify playlist while working on HEY, KIDDO to get me in the right headspace. I just made the playlist public if you’d like to give a listen.

Kids Place Live

In a time with so much awfulness, I am so relieved that a little corner of satellite radio, that offers a safe and positive space for families and young listeners, has been saved. I so look forward to continuing to be a part of this merry bunch of make-believers.

Pug Shot

Pug in the morning light. ‬

Meeting Oge Mara

When I first saw Oge Mara’s artwork in an anthology, I was an instant fan. So fun to track her debut from publication right to Caldecott glory! I finally met Oge in person recently at CSCL Institute, where we bonded over mutual professors that we had at RISD Illustration.
Until next time!‬

The Making of Lunch Lady

Ten years ago, on July 28, 2009, the first titles in the Lunch Lady graphic novels were published!
Indulge me as I take a trip down Memory Lane and pull some archives from my flat files. Please see photo captions for each step along the way!

A look at some of the archives. Here we go! It all started back in the fall of 2001...

In the fall of 2001, I visited my old elementary school w my first book. I ran into Jeanne, the beloved lunch lady of the school. When she told me about her grandkids, it sent me down an imaginative rabbit hole, wondering what lunch ladies did after school. I wrote a picture book.
The picture book went nowhere.

The picture book was about multiple characters who sat at their cafeteria tables and wondered what their lunch lady did after school.
One character thought that maybe she was secretly a crime fighter.
I focused in on that.

Now I knew this would no longer be a picture book because the story kept expanding and getting more involved. I attempted to write this as a chapter book but it just didn't seem like the right fit. I kept drawing the character in my sketchbooks over the next few years.

In June of 2003, a producer in television animation struck up a conversation with me about creating a show. I had this Lunch Lady story on the back burner. Perhaps this could work as a show?


The show could be turned into anything once I signed on the dotted line.

I walked away.

This needed to be a book first.

At least that way, people could know what MY vision was for this. (And if it's a show first, you lose all publishing rights.)

But still—this was a great step. It forced me to think more critically about the world in which this character inhabited.

And thinking about this story airing on television for kids made me realize that I needed a young character as an entry into the story for the audience. 

At first, there was one kid. And he was the one to invent all of the Lunch Lady gadgets.

Here's an early sketch of what became the entire main cast. Lunch Lady, Betty, Terrence, Hector, and Dee. Betty was given the duty of inventing the gadgets, the Breakfast Bunch became the pesky kids who did nothing but help.

Soon after, I revisited some childhood artwork for an anthology. Inspired by this comic that I wrote in fifth grade, it hit me—Lunch Lady needed to be a comic.

I was also inspired by the directness in the language I used as a kid to formulate the writing style for Lunch Lady.

Here is the original artwork that I created, in early 2004, for my pitch—a graphic novel series for kids about a lunch lady who fought crime!

In fact, nobody at my publisher knew what to make of it. We were having a great run with my picture books but nobody was very confident that graphic novels for kids would be a thing. But then, they decided to take a chance.
Only problem? It was 2004. Graphic novels for kids weren't getting published, so my editor wasn't sure what to make of it.

In fact, nobody at my publisher knew what to make of it. We were having a great run with my picture books but nobody was very confident that graphic novels for kids would be a thing. But then, they decided to take a chance.

The team at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers shared a production team with the crew over at Random House Children's Books. They were formulating a plan to release a new series called Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Limited color would be the way to go.

Taking inspiration from the iconic dish-washing rubber glove, the signature color for this series would be yellow.

My art director ordered up this blank book so we could get a sense of size and paper stock. Look at that date...November of 2006! 

I remember the feeling of potential that I had when I flipped through this blank book.

At first, I was overwhelmed. I was used to writing picture books...32 pages! Now this was going to be 96 pages. I made a list of events for the plot and then laid it all with the page count.

Sketches from Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute!

The second pass of sketches...May 2007! Notice Lunch Lady on that title page. As the illustrator, I want your eyes to scan the pages from left to right, to replicate the direction the text sends you. This image was mirrored for the final version.

I also wrote a script. But AFTER I sketched it out which is so backwards from how I write my graphic novels now. Now, I lead with a script. I write my graphic novels now in Final Draft, the same program screenwriters use for film and television.

Throughout the creative process, I kept a bulletin board near me filled with photos of cafeterias seen on my school visits.

Here is some original inkwork created for the books next to the printed page to give you a sense of scale.

I had finished coloring in the entire graphic novel (in Photoshop) of that first title, and something just didn't look right. Lunch Lady's apron was originally grey. I went with my gut & edited the art for the entire book to make her apron yellow before submitting the finals to my art director

Cover sketch for the first volume in the series.

After all of that work, Lunch Lady made her big debut on July 28, 2009. My family surprised me with presents. (And my family was much smaller then...just Gina, Ralph, and a six-month-old Zoe.)

And I kept making title after title, on about a six-month schedule, until I made ten books. What an honor and a thrill to be a part of that first wave of kids' comics in the 00's, where librarians started stocking their shelves and bookstores gave them a chance.

This is what all of the original inkwork, for all ten books, looks like. I stepped away from the books because I wanted to make room in my creative life for other projects, most notably a graphic memoir. I also wanted to make sure that I was super excited about what was on my desk. After ten books, I was tired. And I knew that the work would suffer unless I was all in. However, Lunch Lady is still very much in my life. I LOVE hearing from readers who read/are reading the books. And once a week, I get a request for more volumes. My readers are the very best. It has been an absolute privilege to have been welcomed into the imaginations of so many young people over the years. And I look forward to the years to come!

Lunch Lady is now on permanent display at Boston’s Logan Airport. She’s one of the children’s book characters that was selected to welcome kids to the state of Massachusetts.

Bigger than the feature at the airport? My readers. They are the very best. It has been an absolute privilege to have been welcomed into the imaginations of so many young people over the years. And I look forward to the years to come!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Hey, Kiddo at NE Book Awards and SDCC!

The Kids are alright. I’m thrilled to have HEY, KIDDO make it as a finalist in the YA category of the New England Book Awards. Equally as excited for my pal Jerry Crafts NEW KID, which made it to the children’s category.

I’m not at Comic Con this year, but proud to have HEY, KIDDO as a part of Scholastic Graphix’s history.


Sidewalk-chalk season. ‬


Hurrah! Author copies of the latest JEDI ACADEMY arrived!

Attack of the Furball will hit bookshelves on September 3rd. Look for JEDI ACADEMY: ATTACK OF THE FURBALL by Amy Ignatow and me. This is the second book in the Christina Starspeeder trilogy, and I had a blast making this with Amy!

Recording Hey, Kiddo pt.5

The Belmonte Boys were crucial to helping me get the Hey, Kiddo live reads up and running. They make an appearance in the audiobook as well!

Lisa Yee used to write for television. She used to live in LA....which is why I gave her a particular line for her cameo in the HEY, KIDDO audiobook...

I recorded the Author’s Note for the HEY, KIDDO audiobook on Monday. Another Worcester T worn for that record—this one from Worcester Wares.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Recording Hey, Kiddo pt 3

When you hear the audiobook for HEY, KIDDO, you’ll hear the voices of my family. In most cases, they voice themselves. Lynn and Holly, those two aunts who became my sisters, came into the recording studio to read from their lines in the book. As did Stephen, our older brother. And some family members are strategically placed as Easter eggs.

‪I was trying to figure out how to incorporate our son into the HEY, KIDDO audiobook, but he is a very active, sometimes uncooperative, kid about to turn three. Then I remembered—when he was born, I recorded audio of his newborn sounds for posterity. So listen for him on pages 38-39.‬
And in this photo, you might notice a black mass behind us. That’s Frank the Pug sitting on my shoulder, who was trying to sort out where his place was in the world once XJK was born...

‪Our middle kid isn’t into performing in front of an audience but got super into voice acting for the HEY, KIDDO audiobook, bringing my youngest relatives in the book to life. ‬

🎵I get by with a little help my friends.🎵
‪My buddies Pat and Mike came into the recording studio to record some lines for the HEY, KIDDO audiobook. ‬
‪Never in a million years did I think we’d be recreating these stupid skits and reliving these misadventures for an audiobook. 

When casting the role of Pat, my best friend and confidant, for the HEY, KIDDO audiobook, we knew we needed a young actor who was both big-hearted and a little sporty. We found the perfect kid—Pat’s son.

I had so many amazing teachers during my academic career but there are three who came at a pivotal time and made a monumental difference in my life, helping send me right to where I am today. They are in Hey, Kiddo and THEIR voices will be in the audiobook.
Mrs. Casey brought me on as the school newspaper’s cartoonist and always offered a sympathetic ear, Mark Lynch pushed me to develop my own style and forget everything I learned from a drawing book, and Mr. Shilale taught me an artist foundation and his art classroom offered me solace.

‪The Worcester record for the HEY, KIDDO audiobook was filled with many profound moments. But I don’t know that any any were more poignant than my father coming in to read lines—and that letter he first wrote me when I was 16. ‬
‪We had many conversations while I was writing this graphic memoir. I sent him early drafts to read—I wanted him to know this book wasn’t an indictment. I initially offered to create a pseudonym. But Rich wanted to use his real name, he was adamant I do so—telling me that he was proud to be my father and didn’t want anyone thinking otherwise. ‬

Recorded at Fontanez Recording, Mixing & Mastering Studio in Worcester, MA.