I was so happy to get an e-mail from Jason last week about doing a guest post on my blog. My husband and I just picked up his graphic novel and met him at the YA Lit Conference in Naperville, IL.
Three years ago, aliens invaded Earth and abducted everyone they deemed useful. The only ones spared were those too young, too old, or too “disabled” to be of value. Living on Earth under the aliens’ harsh authoritarian rule, humanity’s rejects do their best to survive. Their captors never considered them a threat―until now.
Twins Sam and Wyatt are ready to chuck their labels and start a revolution. It’s time for the kids last picked to step into the game.
In this first volume of Jason Walz’s dystopian graphic novel trilogy, the kids last picked are humanity’s last hope.
About the Author:
Jason Walz is comic and graphic novel creator living in Minneapolis. He kind of likes the title cartoonist in case you’re wondering. He is currently working on the Last Pick trilogy, and helping to raise his two amazing/exhausting sons. His debut graphic novel, Homesick, was nominated for an Eisner award.
Author Guest Post:
I write and illustrate graphic novels. People call them that because there was a time when comic books weren’t taken as seriously as people that made them wanted. Graphic Novels just sounded so…dignified. As far as I’m concerned, you can just call them comics. I like that term too.
I grew up in the middle of nowhere Kentucky about an hour drive to the closest movie theater and decades away from the creation of the internet. My world outside of my town was limited to whatever happened to be on one of our four television channels, or whatever happened to show up at our local grocery store. That last bit is important, because around the time I hit middle school, something amazing began to show up near the checkout line.
The comic book spinner rack.
If you’re not familiar with what a spinner rack was, it was a metal contraption that would hold that week’s or that month’s comic books. This is where I lost my 12 year old mind. Transformers! Spiderman! The Incredible Hulk! I already knew about most of the comics on these racks, but now I was fully invested in following every single story that I could convince my Mom to schell out the sixty cents for. That’s right. Sixty cents. I’m old.
I always drew, but now I was learning storytelling through mythic clashes of good versus evil. Before long, I was writing and drawing my own comic books and trying to sell them to the other eighth graders in my school. The comic was called BRUTE Force, and it came out monthly. It was basically just a guy running around in a loincloth fighting monsters in the distant past. His catchphrase was “oh boy”, and he would say it at least three times each issue whenever he got into trouble. Needless to say, this did nothing to help with my already uncool position within the middle school hierarchy.
Fast forwards to my adult life, and I began to realize that not only was I addicted to telling stories through comics, but that comics themselves had “matured” to a point where whatever a reader’s taste was, there was a comic out there that would be not only satisfying, but it could also challenge and provoke readers the way good literature should. I ravenously poured through books like The Watchmen by Alan Moore, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and countless others.
The publishing world was beginning to understand that they could make money by empowering comic creators, and comic creators were understanding how they could have a career publishing their own work. This was all becoming the perfect storm that allowed me to do what I’ve wanted to do since that first day I saw Spiderman in his new black suit on the comic book spinner rack. The only difference in what I was creating as a middle schooler is that now I have fantastic editors that make me work really hard on my books so that I don’t just have characters saying “Oh boy” whenever they get into trouble.
All this is a long lead up to me giving you a glimpse into how I create my comics if you’re into that sort of thing. I know that readers of YA are often readers of just about anything that’s written well. They’re open minded and willing to check out whatever challenges and excites them. But not everyone understands the differences in creating a YA graphic novel (respectable right?) and any other type of YA book.
In many ways, they all start in much the same way. They either begin with a nearly finished product that is submitted to publishers, or they begin with an idea that grows into a pitch. A “pitch” is often a just a summary of what the book will become. In my pitches, I include a several page outline that breaks down the important plot points and character developments that I see happening. I also include character sketches and several fully inked and lettered comic pages so that the publisher gets a sense of what everything is going to look like. I would include some of those here for my book Last Pick, but I can’t find them. They’ve been lost in a house move and within the endless spaghetti of emails that I can’t seem to navigate.
If the stars align, and a publisher actually agrees to pay you to complete your book (or books), you get hard at work on the next part. For me, that means presenting a full script that explains just about everything they will see on the final comic pages. My publisher also wanted detailed notes on what would happen in the later books since this is a trilogy. All in all, this is about a four month process for me full of back and forth debates and a lot of swallowing of pride on my part.
Next comes the fun part. I get to finally draw! I like to use 11×17 size paper that already has a measured grid along the edges to help me create my comic panels. That page get’s shrunk down for the necessary size of the book. I use a blue pencil for my sketches so that once I’ve inked over them later, I just scan the page into my computer and with the click of a button the blue line vanishes and only the ink is left. The pencil portion takes about five or six months before I send them to my editor for another round of debates and swallowing of pride as I make changes that I know are for the best, but are painful to do every time. That same amount of time repeats once I start inking the pages. Here is an example of a penciled page and that same page once it has been inked. This is from the still to come LAST PICK sequel, and you all are the first to see it.
For the Last Pick series, I’m on a pretty tight schedule, so I didn’t feel like I could meet the deadlines and also do the coloring. Luckily, we were able to hire Jon Proctor to do the work, and he’s done a fantastic job. The colorist’s job, whether it’s you or someone else, is to not only make everything look amazing, but it’s also to use color to convey the mood and emotion that the story is trying to convey at any given moment. Here’s Jon’s colors for that page.
After the final colors have been added, there’s several more rounds of editor input before the book is ready to go out into the world. As you can imagine, this final part is both terrifying, and exhilarating. There’s no way to predict how the world will react, or if it will even notice. It has all been one long leap of faith up to this point. A leap that just somehow keeps going and going and going.
And that’s it. That’s a very basic explanation for how I make comics and how I made Last Pick specifically. Like all writers, it’s a lot of working in solitude and a lot of revisions. It’s maybe not as romantic as many imagine, but it really is as great as 12 year old me had hoped it would be.
Thank you so much Jason! This is such a great post!
Purchase Last Pick on Amazon here.