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by Ken Lamug

“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.”

~ Gandalf

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.

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.

Me and my Lola (grandma)

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.

A variety of my books from comics to picture books

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.

Early Mischief picture book illustrations.

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.

Start small.
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!

Ken Lamug is an author-illustrator who has created award-winning picture books and graphic novels. Growing up in the Philippines, Ken loved making up stories and drawing on scraps of paper. The grown-ups begged him to stop, but he just kept doodling anyway. Now he lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is a professional dabbler and has tried everything from beekeeping, filmmaking, 3d printing, photography, coding, and race car driving.

Ken’s wordless graphic novel PETRO AND THE FLEA KING was recognized as the 2020 Nevada Featured Book by the Nevada Humanities. His most recent books include the middle-grade graphic novel Mischief & Mayhem #1: Born to be bad, and the picture books THE WHOLE HOLE STORY, and GHASTLY GHOSTS.

He also teaches about graphic novels at Storyteller Academy.

You can find out more at or @rabbleboy on Instagram and Facebook.

Ken is giving away a copy of his new picture book THE WHOLE HOLE STORY (Jan 2021) and his MISCHIEF & MAYHEM graphic novel (June 2021).

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

by James Burks

It’s day 18 of PiBoIdMo and I’m here to give you inspiration or at least a small push towards the finish line. I’m sure that, at some point in your life, most of you have put together a puzzle. It could have been a small puzzle with only a hundred pieces, or a ginormous puzzle with a bazillion pieces. Regardless of the size, if you can put together a puzzle then you can put together a story. So let’s get started.

To put together a story puzzle, the first things you need are the pieces. That’s where your ideas come in. Every single idea you come up with is a piece of the story puzzle. This includes characters, settings, or lines of dialogue; you name it, they are all pieces of the puzzle. And here’s the best part: there are no wrong pieces. If a piece doesn’t seem to fit into the puzzle you’re working on, you can set it aside to use later.

Here’s an example of a recent story puzzle that I put together:

About a year ago, I sat down and tried to come up with my next great idea. I had just sold my first two stories to different publishers and was trying to come up with a third story that my agent could send out. I had the first piece of my story puzzle: a squirrel. I spent the next few days creating more pieces. I gave the squirrel a name (another puzzle piece), and I came up with a bunch of stuff that he loved to do (more puzzle pieces). After a few days I took all the pieces and arranged them into a simple story, drew some rough drawings (for illustrators, these are more pieces), and sent it off to my agent. My agent thought it needed something more, though, and at the time I didn’t know what that was. So I set the entire puzzle aside and went off to work on another project.

After about a month, my agent called and asked if I had come up with any new ideas. I hadn’t. Or at least that’s what I thought. After hanging up the phone I started running through a bunch of random ideas while surfing the internet. I remember contemplating Amelia Earhart (I think the biopic was coming out or had just came out), went from there to Penguins, then to the South Pole, and from there to a bird migrating south for the winter. (It’s always a good idea to let your brain off its leash once in a while and let it run free. You never know what it might bring back.) Something about a bird flying south for the winter ended up sticking with me.

I didn’t know it just yet but I had just found another piece to my story puzzle.

From there, everything seemed to magically fall into place. I took the bird migrating south for the winter and stuck him with the squirrel from my earlier story. A small part of my story puzzle took shape.

Then I started to ask myself a series of questions to fill in the rest:

Why do they have to migrate south together for the winter? There had to be a reason and it had to be big. I asked myself what would happen if Squirrel was forced to go along after he unintentionally sacrificed his entire winter stash of food to save Bird from an attacking cat. He would have no other choice; if he didn’t go with Bird then he’d starve.

But, where was the conflict? What was going to make my story interesting? Maybe they were like the odd couple. I imagined Bird as a total free spirit who just wanted to have fun, while Squirrel was a bit neurotic and was all about responsibility. Squirrel can’t stand Bird, but they’re stuck together. A natural conflict of personality that would provide for some humorous scenes.

This left one last question. How would the two characters change by the end of the story? What would their character arc be? In the case of this story, I decided to have Bird learn to be a little more responsible and Squirrel learn to have a little more fun. The story, at its heart, would be about finding a balance between having fun and being responsible. And by the time the journey ended, they might even become friends.

At that point I could pretty much see the overall structure of my puzzle. The edges were complete and all the major parts were coming together. All I had to do was fill in the missing pieces in the middle, which solidified as I wrote the outline and got to know the characters better. Two weeks later I sent it off to my agent, we made some minor tweaks, and eventually sold it to a major publisher. (Deal announcement pending; I’m drawing and writing the book for release sometime in 2012.)

I hope you find inspiration in my recent experience and are able to put together some great story puzzles of your own. Just remember that there are no wrong pieces. You may not use every idea or piece you think of right now, but every piece (used or not) helps you build your puzzle. Now go forth and conquer the book world!

James Burks has spent the last 15 years working in the animation industry on various movies and television shows, including The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Space Jam, The Iron Giant, Wow Wow Wubbzy, and most recently on Fan Boy and Chum Chum. His first graphic novel for kids, GABBY AND GATOR, was published by Yen Press in September 2010 and is a Junior Library Guild selection. James is currently working on a picture book with Lerner/Carolrhoda entitled BEEP AND BAH (2012), and the graphic novel mentioned above.

James is giving away a signed copy of GABBY & GATOR! Leave a comment to enter. A winner will be randomly selected one week from today.

Thanks to James for the PiBoIdMo 2010 logo and badges!

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!

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