An interview with Joey Fly creators
Aaron Reynolds and
Neil Numberman

Last year Aaron & Neil taught us how to create a graphic novel with a demonstration from their 2009 debut Joey Fly. Well, the creepy-crawly duo is back and so is Joey, in his new buggy sequel. Aaron & Neil shed some insight on the process of creating a second book in a series.

If you like Aaron & Neil’s buggy caricatures, be sure to leave a comment. Neil will create you in buglife! For every 10 comments, we’ll randomly select one caricature winner. Good luck!

Aaron and Neil, in creating the Joey Fly sequel, what cues did you take from the first book?

Aaron: I had established Joey and Sammy in the first book, and obviously that was staying the same, but I wanted to build on their relationship and take it to the next level. I think we did it…Sammy develops a love interest, but he’s in over his head. Joey still considers Sammy as much hindrance as help, but his concern for Sammy continues to deepen along the way.

I also really wrestled with the format of a customer showing up on the doorstep with a case for them to solve. That’s a very clear format for these types of books, a kind of throwback to old detective mysteries, Encyclopedia Brown, Scooby Doo, and Veronica Mars models of mystery, and works well for a kids’ mystery. In the end, I decided to keep things in that format, but I’ve also been intrigued to explore the idea of a mystery evolving right around Joey and Sammy, like you see happen in old Agatha Christie movies. I’m exploring that for an upcoming book in the series.

Neil: There were a lot of things I wanted to bring from the first book for consistency’s sake. I start and end each book off with a one panel spread, which is an attempt to bring the readers into our world smoothly. We also stuck with the monochromatic look, which keeps that film noir vibe, but with many new colors in this book for many new themes. It’s actually something I wanted to get away from with this second book, but our editor, Reka Simonsen, was very smart and steered me back. I’m glad she did, especially based on the reception of the first book. Folks seem to dig the look, and it’s ours now! It lets us stand apart from the other kids’ graphic novels out there.

What things changed?

Aaron: I think the mystery itself is better. I was torn in the first book between whether the mystery was too easy for a kid to solve before the end, or just right. That’s further complicated because this is a series that’s really accessible to mid-elementary kids, but also a great read for the 4th-8th grade set. In book #2, I feel like I got the balance just right. Writing mystery is a challenge unto itself. I hope, like all things, the more I do it, the better I get!

The other challenge is that, unlike many kids’ books, these characters aren’t kids. They live in an adult bug world…so the challenge becomes to create situations and obstacles that are kid-friendly and kid accessible, that you still believe these characters would encounter in the world we’ve created.

Neil: On my end, the quality in the art has really evolved, for the better. The character design has tightened up for Joey and Sammy, the city scenes are more involved. My favorite change, and I mentioned it above, is that I get to use the monochromatic look a lot more. Sometimes it’s used to set mood, sometimes as symbolism (the color I chose for Trixie Featherfeelers’ dressing room was very deliberate), and sometimes just to set up a joke.

I also played around with the panels a lot more, trying to make it more fun. I was so nervous with the first book, and I was very worried that my decisions would ruin the story, so the panel boxes are very tight and rigid. I had a lot more fun with the visual narrative in this one; tall panels, short panels, heart-shaped panels, no panel borders, it was a lot more fun.

As far as the actual drawing, this book takes place during a cold snap, so I got to draw a lot of bugs in scarves, jackets, and snowcaps!

How did you develop new characters?

Aaron: I knew I wanted to set the book in a theatre, and that was a cue for the characters that evolved to tell the story. I wanted a ridiculous Alan Rickman from GalaxyQuest type character…addicted to the craft of theatre…and that came out in Fleeago. But it’s also fun playing with ethnicity and age. So we have a South American tarantula, and a geezer skeeter. Bottom line…bugs make fantastic characters and give you so much to explore because they themselves are so unique.

Neil: The characters Aaron made in this one are brilliant. I’ve always been fascinated with great characters, from Charles Dickens’ to J.K. Rowling’s, and Aaron really knows what he’s doing there. There’s nothing more fun in the process than creating the character sketches; a grandiose, dramatic tarantula, a villainous stinkbug, a love-struck gypsy moth, and a geriatric mosquito. They were a lot of fun to draw over and over again. Oh, and let’s not forget, an entire bedbug chorus.

Since you had already been paired for the first book, with the second title, did you collaborate more?

Neil: There was about as much collaboration between the two of us directly as there was with the first Joey Fly… none. The entire process of the books goes through the editor, and I think that benefits all parties involved. And of course, the publisher has every right to look over all communication, since, y’know, they’re paying us!

So I don’t see the manuscript until it’s basically whittled down to what you see in the book. I might request a line here or there to help the flow of the art. From then on, Aaron gets some say on the art, especially the character design, but really doesn’t see much until the finishes. And after that it’s just minor changes and adjustments that he requests.

Aaron: All true, we never collaborate during the creation of the book itself. It’s amazing what happens when you take two artists, a writer and an illustration, and unleash them completely separately on the same story. They each develop their own vision for it and something truly magical happens that doesn’t quite happen in the same way when you are working side by side on a project. Having said that, I love collaboration and hope Neil and I will have the chance to partner down the road on a project in a more give and take way. Would be fun!

Are there more Joey Fly books in the works?

Aaron: I’ve already written a third book for the series and started a fourth. Neil and I love the characters and hope to continue the series with many more.

Neil: I really hope we get to do another. I suppose it all depends on the performance of this one, but Aaron’s told me some key components of the plot, and I already have a cover and more monochromatic themes in mind. Without saying too much, it involves maybe one of my most favorite things of all time: ghosts. Jeez, I hope I get the chance to draw insect ghosts!

Aaron: Book #3 contains ghosts, taxidermy, a run-down barrio, a pipe organ, a big game hunter, an orphanage in trouble, and two insect nuns. With that much of a sneak peek, you should be able to solve the mystery yourself!

Aaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of Chicks and Salsa, Superhero School, Buffalo Wings, and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels.

Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye was his first graphic novel, but he is also the author/illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein.

Be sure to leave a comment for Aaron and Neil. For every 10 comments, we’ll randomly select one winner to receive a bug caricature by Neil! Good luck!