Tag Archive for first second

Pénélope Bagieu at the Gaithersburg Book Festival


You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is a knight.

Bagieu laughed off being a Chevalier des arts et des lettres, saying it mostly consisted of getting a hug and a heavy pin, it did set the tone for her conversation with George O’Connor at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 16.

Bagieu, who is a recent transplant to the U.S. (Brooklyn, specifically — she joked the next thing she’s working on is finding a couch), discussed with O’Connor the recent translation of her first graphic novel, Exquisite Corpse (First Second, 2015) into English as well as her life, her work and being a rock star (she’s a drummer! Despite the fact she said her former band sucks, she was still a drummer in a rock band and that’s amazingly cool).

Bagieu got her start drawing a comic called Josephine for Swiss magazine Femina. While she had a background in animation, she had never drawn a comic before, so she said she learned as she went. After she completed a year, she realized she had a book. After three years, she had enough and liked the idea of writing a complete story. That became Exquisite Corpse.

O’Connor asked about why it took so long for the book, originally published in France in 2010, to appear in English. Bagieu talked about meeting First Second editor Mark Siegel in France and how he expressed interest in her work, but because of translation and rights issues, it just took a long time. She also discussed the differences between French and American markets. In France, books are just released; in the U.S. there are worries about if it’s for adults or if it’s for kids. She also laughed that books can’t be “too French” for American audiences.

Bageiu said she’s enjoying her time in America and loves that people are connecting with her work. She finds it amazing and delightful her book was translated. She joked that she doesn’t even care if people come up to her and say Exquisite Corpse is “crap” because they “said it in English.”

O’Connor asked about the main character of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe. Zoe wasn’t a reader and O’Connor found that intriguing. Bagieu said that was actually something she could relate to, mentioning that famous people were the people on TV in her world. She also mentioned that despite making comics, she didn’t really read them until some bookstore clerks helped her out. She mentioned My Mommy: Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by Jean Regnaud and Mile Bravo as the breakthough comic for her. It left her “crying like a fountain” and made her realize that comics aren’t just adventures or “boyish.” She said she now gives all her friends comics as gifts, and she pointed out, she’s “never wrong.”

Bageiu and O’Connor then discussed her process. She writes a lot before she ever starts drawing, and said no one else can really understand her scripts but her. She plans things out because the moment she starts to draw, it’s “scary.” She said the one thing she’s really careful about and clear about is the dialogue.

When asked about her influences, Bageiu said her mom had a lot of picture books, and she spent a lot of time with those. She mentioned ’50s and ’60s illustrators, especially, and cartoons. She used to tell people she wanted to grow up to be Tex Avary.

As far as upcoming projects go (other than a couch), she just completed a book about the ’60s folk scene, focusing on Mamma Cass, called California Dreaming. While there’s no promising it will be out in English, she’s hopeful.

In conclusion, O’Connor asked if Bageiu had any dream projects. She said she doesn’t really think that way, but at a panel at Toronto Comic Arts Festival, she and other panelists were asked what all illustrators dreamed of doing. Everyone one of them said “the cover of The New Yorker.” While she didn’t say she hopes for that, it doesn’t seem out the realm of possibilities for her.

After all, there are so many things she wants to do. She wants to live “one hundred years” because she has so many stories to tell.

But since Bageiu has already been knighted, I don’t think any of us should worry about what the future holds for her.

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki at Politics and Prose

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s discussion of their new graphic novel, This One Summer (First Second/Groundwood Books, 2014) at Politics and Prose on May 17 was introduced by what seemed like an unlikely choice: A young man named Frans. In his metal T-shirt and camouflage pants with long hair and a beard, he didn’t seem like someone who would be too into a young adult graphic novel about two girls created by two women. But that was the point: Frans told us that while he came into comics through ’90s titles like Cyberforce, he found a lot to connect with in This One Summer.

If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

For about an hour, the Tamaki cousins discussed their book and their work overall in an intimate chat, taking questions from the audience of a few dozen. The two had a playful, easy chemistry with each other, which showed why they are such effortless collaborators.

Many questions focused on their creative process. Mariko said she gives Jillian a script that’s written in a play format, but mostly trusts what Jillian will do with it. And the idea of “trust” was a big theme in how they work with each other. Jillian said she felt entitled to ignore some of Mariko’s dialogue and direction, and Mariko was OK with that, saying that most of those things were for her own understanding.

As opposed to their first collaborative graphic novel, Skim, this story was more complicated so there was more back and forth and more editing (and many Skype conversations). Both spoke of the strengths comics as an artform has — Mariko said that part of writing comics is writing very sparsely and letting the visual elements do much of the work.

Many people had questions about the editing process for this book and comics in general. The Tamakis did a lot of their own editing, but they did work with their publishers. They both said they were fortunate to have publishers who understand what they’re doing and because they did Skim, both publishers knew what sort of subject matter to expect.

That led to a question if they were ever forced to make changes. Mariko said they never felt forced to make any changes and Jillian said she didn’t know why anyone would be surprised by what they were creating. Mariko said that the things that define “young adult” literature have changed and Jillian added most kids aren’t going to pick up a book unless it has edgier elements in it.

When asked about writing about female protagonists, Jillian shrugged it off. She said she only wants to make books she wants to read and she doesn’t understand the trends. She’s more interested in realism and didn’t think, at the time, that Skim was really a YA book. Mariko commented that the subtitled on the mini-comic version of Skim was “This is the diary of Skim Takota. So fuck off” and she wasn’t interested in writing to market. She said she can’t write a dystopian adventure story and her characters would be “the first two characters to be killed off in the Hunger Games.

Both talked about the hard realities of doing what they do. As much as Jillian loves making comics, it’s subsidized by the other things she does — teaching, illustration work and more. Because of that, she said “I should just make the comics I want to make.” Mariko laughed about having to teach a class about working as a writer and said it should’ve been a class on “Working four jobs.” But both felt their other jobs is what gives them material and depth and keeps them motivated. Jillian said she creates comics for comics audiences primarily, since they’re the ones who know the medium. If others like it, then that’s just a bonus.

They joked about the differences between U.S. and Canadian literature — mostly that Canada isn’t into that whole “hero” thing but instead, just surviving, and they liked that Canadian literature is full of “cranky, frustrated women.”

When asked about how she’s able to convey such subtle emotions, Jillian offered this advice: “If you want to learn how to draw, make a comic.” She’s someone who’s still learning and growing as an artist, despite her years of experience. Mariko offered her praise, saying that in anyone else’s hands, the moments Jillian draws would be melodramatic.

As a perfect summary to the talk, as the two discussed their expectations for This One Summer going forward, Mariko said simply “What I wanted this book to be, it already is.”

But if the reaction from everyone — including Frans — is any indication, it’s going to be much more than that.

(Also on Saturday was the Gaitherburg Book Festival. I have a few photos and few thought on Tumblr.)

Growing Up With Graphics at Politics and Prose

Eleanor Davis, left, Nathan Hale, Andrés Vera Martínez, and Mark Siegel with moderator Michael Cavna at Politics & Prose on April 27

Eleanor Davis, left, Nathan Hale, Andrés Vera Martínez, and Mark Siegel with moderator Michael Cavna at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., on April 27.

We’re in the middle of an amazing era of comics for children and teenagers. There’s truly something for all interests and reading levels right now with more and more comics coming out every week.

Still, as much as both children, parents and educators are embracing comics, some still view them with some doubt and suspicion. Growing Up With Graphics at Politics and Prose on April 27 tried to answer some of these lingering questions and enlightened the audience about this medium.

Moderated by the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, the lineup of creators was diverse, in both subject matter and audience. Eleanor Davis is known for both her Stinky books for Toon Books and Secret Science Alliance. Nathan Hale is illustrator of Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack and creator of his own series, Hazardous Tales. Andrés Vera Martínez is probably best known for Little White Duck, based on his wife’s childhood in China. While Mark Siegel is a comics creator in his own right (like with last year’s Sailor Twain, which as was pointed out at several times during the panel, is not for children), he’s probably more significantly known as the editorial director of First Second.

Cavna offered some background and context for the panel with a story about his daughter having a book report rejected because it was about David Small’s Stitches. The teacher decided since it was a comic, it was not a “real” book. He then had the panel introduce themselves by saying how they got into comics.

Davis said she grew up with comics. Her parents really liked classic newspaper strips so they were always around. In junior high school, she started reading manga and by high school and later, developed an interest in zines, minicomics and self-publishing. Hale said since he didn’t have a comic book store in his town, his only exposure to comics were through newspaper strips and it was his interest in illustration that lead him to comics. Siegel talked about growing up in France, where comics are much more accepted, and how his family had a set of Tintin books that got passed down through the generations.

Martínez’s story was more at the heart of what the panel was about. He said he was a reluctant reader and his uncle introduced him to Marvel Comics. He was attracted to the art initially and the majored in art in college. He did some illustration work and storyboards for ad agencies (which he called “comics on speed”). His agent found him the job working on Before They Were Famous: Babe Ruth and while the subject matter didn’t particular interest him, the artform of comics did.

Cavna noted that all of the panelists had collaborated with someone else, and most with a family member or spouse. He asked what the best and worst parts of such collaborations were.

Martínez said his wife didn’t think her stories were interesting enough to be shared, so she took some convincing. But, he said, once the book found a publisher and he told her their trips to China could be tax write-offs, she got more and more excited. Probably the best part of it, he said, is when they got to be on NPR and his wife was starstruck by the whole experience.

Davis said that while Secret Science Alliance is “technically my book” she kept showing pages to her husband Drew Weing and getting his advice on them, that it got to the point where she wondered if she needed to give him credit. As it turned out, she ended up facing a time crunch and had him ink the book for her.

She said it was pretty great working with him and it was “a relief to work with someone you can fight with.” She said she loved that she knew there was one other person who was as emotionally involved in the book as she was.

Cavna then asked what obstacles they face when creating comics for children.

Siegel said that he thinks when it comes to booksellers and librarians, the battle has been won. There are so many comics for children right now, they can fill bookstores on their own. Hale said that while a few educators may not be fans, reluctant readers usually turn them around.

Davis said that she felt the people who say comics aren’t “real” books just don’t like comics, period. She said it’s “like me talking about video games” – that’s just not something she’s interested in. Her attitude seemed to be that not everyone was going to enjoy comics regardless of what anyone did and that was OK.

Martínez said technology has helped – with PowerPoint and projectors, you can bring comics into classrooms and to school groups and everyone gets to see what they’re about and how the children react to them. The children tend to love it and he likes visiting them.

There was then a discussion about comics literacy – that some people, especially adults, find comics hard to read. Hale mentioned he only started reading comics when he was 19 or 20 and he struggled a bit initially. He said it’s more like watching a movie with subtitles.

Siegel agreed that prose and comics do different things and use different circuitry in the brain. He said “you read the words and you read the pictures” and sometimes that can be a difficult skill for people to learn.

Cavna then asked about demographics – both in terms of age groups and gender.

Siegel said First Second tries to have something for all age groups each publishing season – from younger readers to teens. He said that graphic novels do need to be sold into a specific age category, for good or bad.

Davis said she thinks that reading comics gives children a lot of confidence and they don’t mind reading above or below their age level as long as the comic is good. She said she has older children who like Stinky and younger ones who like Secret Science Alliance.

As far as gender goes, she said when she started reading comics “it was a boys’ club” and the general consensus was there was “something about girls that makes them hate comics.” The manga boom proved that to not be true, though, and she’s delighted at how many great comics there are right now for girls.

Martínez said he did set out to make his wife a role model for girls and he did have his daughter in mind when doing that. He wasn’t trying to write for a specific age with Little White Duck but liked that having everything take places through a child’s eyes made the events and history more accessible.

Hale said that while his publisher markets Hazardous Tales toward boys, girls like it too, especially the dark and gross parts. He said his next one is about the Donner Party and it was the girls who wanted to know everything. “Little girls are morbid,” he said.

Cavna asked how they balance the growing digital market when it comes to their comics. Davis laughed and said “I pray every day my younger readers don’t find my online stuff.” Martínez agreed and mentioned he did some comics for the TV show Dexter, which he has tried to bury a bit (lest you think he’s ashamed, he also laughed and said “Dexter bought us a car!”) Hale said his online site is very clean and he finds it good for exercising his skills but he likes print more.

Siegel mentioned his experiences serializing Sailor Twain online before it was published. He said it was good for research and gave him time to revise and work things over and it led to other things that may not have happened if he had just published it in book form.

Cavna concluded by asking what memorable things people have said or written about them. Martínez bowed out, saying GoodReads and such was too scary.

Hale laughed and said a review said his art was “wobbly” and he suffered from “same face syndrome” which he didn’t even know it was a thing until he read that.

Siegel told a story about the Prince of Persia graphic novel First Second published. He said he read on a video game message board that someone wrote “The art sucks! It looks hand drawn!”

After that, the panelists tookquestions from the audience (I couldn’t stay for this portion, though).

The four creators did make a good case for comics and their abilities to reach a wider audience of readers. I’d like to think skeptical members of the audience were convinced and will be happily buying titles by them and others for the children in their lives. At the very least, I think everyone left with the impression there is clearly something to this whole comics-for-kids thing, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.

Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

After saving the world (well, a world) in Zita the Spacegirl, Zita’s back and dealing with her new-found notoriety (aided in part by Piper, of course) as well as more galactic threats, robots and other assorted creatures in Ben Hatke‘s sequel, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (First Second, 2012).

After a robot accidentally replaces Zita, she finds herself on the run from the law. She’s aided by the beautiful and mysterious Madrigal and a living ship as she has to get back to her friends and stop another threat.

Light on dialogue and heavy on action, Hatke pushes the plot forward at every moment.  His style is a little bit looser than it is in the first book but still retains the dynamic, animated quality the first one had. Colors are a bit more vibrant and bold than they were in the first book. Hatke’s skills at presenting the openness of space or vast landscapes is complimented by the intimacy of his smaller moments. He uses the space of his pages and panels well.

His images and creatures continue to be creative and delightful. Hatke is a wonder at building worlds were anything is possible and so giant space heart monsters and living ships that look like flowers don’t feel out of place. He’s clearly having fun and it’s hard to not get caught up in that.

Silent scenes (although some are peppered with sound effects) do more to convey Zita’s wonder, fear and perseverance than any dialogue could. She’s growing into a strong and capable young heroine (and her interest and fascination with Madrigal points to a possible future path for Zita). She’s fun, likeable and a realistic little girl and I can see why people of all ages continue to connect with her.

Still, the book has a manic, breathless quality and I felt we didn’t get to spend at much time with Zita since she was always on the move. The other returning characters also suffered a bit — Piper, especially, isn’t given much to do — and the new ones drop in and out. I imagine Madrigal will be showing up again but while I loved the way Robot Zita’s story was resolved, it felt a little rushed.

But there’s more Zita stories coming and as much as I’d love for Zita to get back home, I want to follow her planet-hopping adventures for as long as possible.

Ben Hatke will be signing copies of his books at Big Planet Comics Vienna (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and College Park (3 to 5 p.m.) on Nov. 10. This was rescheduled from Nov. 3.

Review: Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

Astronaut Academy:
Zero Gravity

Buy on Amazon.com

“Cute” and “quirky” all too often come off as dismissive when describing things. Dave Roman‘s Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (First Second Books, 2011) will make you think twice, though, when it comes to those words. If everyone did “cute” and “quirky” as well as Roman, these words would only be compliments.

A redone and expanded version of Roman’s mini-comic series Astronaut Elementary, Astronaut Academy follows students of the titular school, where classes include Wearing Cute Hats or Fire Throwing and teachers are Mrs. Bunn (a bunny, of course) and Senor Panda (a panda, as the name would suggest). The principal carries a very large sword (think Final Fantasy). All of this is covered in the first few pages. It’s the perfect introduction to the wacky, anything-goes world Roman has created here.

The main plot follows Hakata Soy, a transfer student with a mysterious past. A cyborg named Cybert also arrives with the mission to eliminate Hakata Soy. All of this, though, is really just a frame for things like dinosaur driving lessons, incomprehensible games of Fireball, student crushes on the elfin teacher Mr. Namagucci and diversions with Doug Hiro, who never takes off his space suit.

Roman’s multi-ethnic (and multi-species, I guess it must be said) cast is refreshingly diverse. It’s evenly split between girls and boys and there’s a personality for everyone to relate to, from the bratty Maribelle Mellonbelly, to the sweet overachiever Miyumi San to the sporty Tak Offsky among many others. You knew these kids. Possibly, you were (or are) one of these kids.

Roman’s art is full of joy. While he obviously draws inspiration from manga, especially in his facial expressions, his definitive lines and cartoony style has a giddy, childlike quality. Panels and pages emphasize movement and motion. I don’t remember when still images seemed so animated.

While it’s perfectly suitable for children — the humor is always innocent without being insulting (Roman was editor of Nickelodeon magazine, so he understands kids and doesn’t talk down to them) — I also get the feeling Roman didn’t necessarily set out to make a comic exclusively for kids. He was just making the comic he enjoyed creating — one that’s playful and sweet, and yes, cute and quirky. His fun tends to rub off on the reader.

I know I’m already waiting for the promised sequel.

Advance reader copy provided by publisher.