Archive for November, 2011

Principles of Design…as Revealed in “Nancy”

November 30, 2011 @ 7:39 pm | Filed under: , ,

The other day I was sharing some thoughts on Twitter about storytelling and layout problems I see in many (but by no means ALL) of the graphic novels coming out of book publishing houses lately, and Raina Telgemeier (Smile) chimed in with a link to an essay that had a profound affect on her development as an artist. Here’s our conversation, with the essay link at the bottom. The essay is called “How to Read Nancy” by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, and it’s fascinating. The authors take a close, critical look at the old Nancy comic strip by Ernie Bushmiller. Yes, really! It’s some of the best analysis of visual design principles I’ve ever read.


Dear book publishers branching into graphic novels: Thrilled, but your ballooning & storytelling mistakes are KILLING me.

@ryancecil asked:

Wouldn’t that be the author/artist’s mistake first?


Yes but it’s the editor’s job to hire good pencillers, correct clumsy storytelling.

First Second, Random House, Scholastic are doing graphic novels well. Sometimes lettering/ballooning could be better but hey, so could Big 2’s [Marvel & DC]

I’m talking about readability here, not plot. Visual storytelling, ballooning, lettering. Layouts, camera angles, the way a page flows.

Am seeing books from other publishers which make what seem to me rookie mistakes. Confusing layouts & ballooning, stacking panels on left, etc.


Just reading your thoughts on GNs. I agree, confusing balloon/panel layout is a real problem! Especially for kids’ books.


Yes, in kids’ graphic novels, good ballooning/layout even more important. Should lead eye, not perplex. YOUR layouts rock, btw!

Have read several dozen kids’/YA graphic novels for Cybils this month, dozens to go by end of year. At least 1/2 make panel layout mistakes.

I think many GN artists are following film storytelling technique rather than good comics technique. Also too much fancy lettering.

I’m seeing some stellar graphic novels this year, mind you. Some that make you feel lucky to be alive & reading in 2011.


When I’m laying out pages, I start with the panels/boxes. Lettering & balloons come next—before the drawings!

Mark Newgarden wrote a terrific article called How To Read Nancy with the bare bones of comics principles… [link opens a PDF]

I read it as a teenager and have applied the logic to my work ever since.

Specifically, how to lead the reader’s eye thru a comic, to arrive at the punchline/end of the page exactly as artist intends.

This explains a lot about why Raina’s work is so terrific.

(I am champing at the bit for her upcoming middle-grade graphic novel, Drama, about a school drama club, aka MY PEOPLE.)

Enjoy the “Nancy” essay.

P.S. Raina is the only other person I know whose husband proposed to her in a comic book. Read it and melt. 🙂

Tuesday Again Already

November 29, 2011 @ 8:04 pm | Filed under:

I have all these meaty, thinky posts I’d like to write, but when? I’m reading for the Cybils and working on the novel and doing GeekMom stuff and reading more Cybils nominees. About a month ago I thought I’ll get a jump on Christmas and went to Shutterfly to start assembling some presents. I think I got as far as the “forgot your password” screen. Whoops. Somewhere during the twenty-second gap between requesting the password and receiving it, my brain meandered elsewhere.

Today’s fun was seeing a revised cover sketch for one of my beginning readers. The art made me squeal with glee, and made Rilla squeal louder. This is a book I wrote at her request: “Tell me a story about a roly poly, Mommy,” she said, so I did. It’s due out in August.


November 27, 2011 @ 8:45 pm | Filed under: ,

Thanksgiving was delightful. Our beloved friend Krissy (Kristen to the rest of the world) came down from L.A. for the weekend with her two-year-old daughter, my goddaughter Vivi. Scrumptious. Brilliant. Beautiful. Oh, did we have fun. The theme for the holiday seemed to be “Celebrate”—thanks to the new Signing Time video Krissy and Vivi shared with us. That’s right, the Potty Time DVD. We are highly sophisticated around here; you ought to know that by now.

Which is why our Thanksgiving dinner consisted of delicacies like Stove Top stuffing and cranberry relish from a can. We do things right in Casa Bonny Glen. If it doesn’t taste like 1978, I don’t want to hear about it—not at my holiday table.

After a heavy, hearty, heavenly meal we enjoyed three kinds of pie: chocolate cream, pumpkin, and Scott’s famous grasshopper pie. And pecan bars. This after two kinds of jello salad with dinner.

I think I spent more hours in the kitchen on Thursday than I did for the entire rest of the year. (Have I mentioned how much I love having Scott work from home again?)

Now, I already broke this news to the Facebook crowd and I’ll try to break it to you gently here: my young Harpo Marx/Greatest American Hero has been shorn. We left the curls intact until after the holiday, knowing Krissy would be wielding her considerable camera skills during her visit. Alas, on the morning of the great day, it became apparent that Huck’s hair had crossed into new territory…territory hitherto occupied only by Napoleon Dynamite. Wonderboy’s, too, was looking decidedly shaggy. This afternoon, Scott pulled out the clippers.

Rilla is highly disgruntled at the change in her baby brother. She keeps reaching out to sproing a non-existent curl, then sighing heavily.

“He’ll be cute again…someday,” she mutters darkly.

Seems like someday rolls around mighty quickly, these days.


November 22, 2011 @ 3:32 pm | Filed under:

Strange day. This morning I was so immersed in researching law-enforcement pepper-spray procedures that I completely spaced Rose’s orthodontist appointment. “This isn’t like you!” said the nice woman from his office. “We were worried!”

Took Wonderboy to the grocery store to shop for Thanksgiving—two of our favorite people in the world are coming for dinner—and forced myself not to peek at my phone to see where the Facebook conversation had gone this time.

A little while ago, I learned that Anne McCaffrey, whose dragon-filled world I practically LIVED IN in high school, passed away last night. She had a stroke. I wrote a brief post for GeekMom and hope to write more later, if I can find the words.

Three posts about writing and publishing

November 17, 2011 @ 9:19 am | Filed under: , ,

Shannon Hale on writing:

Sometimes I wish writing a book could just be easy for me at last. But when I think about it practically, I am glad it’s a struggle. I am (as usual) attempting to write a book that’s too hard for me. I’m telling a story I’m not smart enough to tell. The risk of failure is huge. But I prefer it this way. I’m forced to learn, forced to smarten myself up, forced to wrestle. And if it works, then I’ll have written something that is better than I am.

Colleen Mondor on the difficulty of finding a book’s audience once it’s published:

There is less money out there to promote books like mine (mid list debut author) and more noise to compete against. Not only are there still the high dollar books sucking all the marketing oxygen out of the room (this will never change) but now there are a million self-published authors sending out emails on their indy publications and they are filling up inboxes left and right as well.


Somehow, in the midst of all this, I am supposed to still be a writer but now on something new, and still run a small business and still do all those other things that we all do. And I’m supposed to do this because this is just how it is now, this is what it is like for the average 21st century author. The question I’m weighing – seriously weighing – is if it is worth it. Is this life, where you feel overlooked and underappreciated and sometimes just flat out angry, the life I want to have? Did I expect a NYTimes best seller? No – please. But I expected just one – just one – response from all those emails and mailings. So I have to think long and hard about where I go from here and how far on this road I’m interested in traveling now that I know how lonely it gets.

Do read this whole post, if you care about books. Selling a book to a publisher is only the first hurdle. Getting it in front of readers’ eyes can be even harder.  As Colleen notes, there’s maybe a six-month window of time when your publisher can put some effort into promoting your book—along with all the other books on that season’s list. Much depends upon the efforts of the author: connecting with readers, arranging booksignings and school visits, attending conferences, participating in blog tours, doing all sorts of leg work. And usually, by the time the book does come out, you’re deep into the writing of the next one, possibly on deadline. It’s hard to climb out of the book you’re writing to help promote the book that just came out. But promote it you must, or it may fade away entirely. And then the next one will be that much harder to sell.

Colleen’s book, by the way, sounds amazing. The Map of My Dead Pilots, about “flying, pilots, and Alaska—and, more specifically, about those pilots who take death-defying risks in the Last Frontier and sometimes pay the price.” Very much looking forward to reading it.

Julianna Baggott’s advice to a young novelist:

What I’d like to add is that it’s hard to go public with this very private endeavor — this thing that lives in the drawers of your desk — no matter how long you’ve worked toward it. And the catch is that you won’t be able to complain about it. People won’t understand. You got what you wanted. You’re a published novelist. Shut up. But that only makes it feel more isolating. There is a very strange rearrangement of cells — or, at least, that’s what I felt and still sometimes feel in this process of going public, of opening up to large-scale judgment. We’re artists after all; we got into this business, many of us, because we observe closely — out of necessity or instinct or need — and feel things sharply.

Picture Book Spotlight: E-mergency!

November 16, 2011 @ 8:32 pm | Filed under: ,

You know how we feel about the work of Tom Lichtenheld here in the Bonny Glen. Shark vs. Train. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. You can imagine, then, our delight upon receiving a review copy of his latest picture book from his publishers.

E-mergency!—created in collaboration with fourteen-year-old Ezra Fields-Meyer—is another winner. See, the letters of the alphabet all live together in a big house. They come barrelling down the stairs for breakfast and whoops, E misses a step. (This is Huck’s favorite part. “You’re E, Mommy!” And I have to cry “Eeeee!” Then he makes big wide eyes and round mouth: “Oh no!”) E is seriously injured and winds up in the ER (with the help, of course, of EMTs).

Since rest is a vital part of the healing process, the other letters decide to give E a break: O will stand in for his injured pal. That’s when things get wonderfully silly. Cafeteria menus announce “moatloaf” and “groon salad,” road signs proclaim the “spood limit,” and local businesses advertise “danco lossons” and “ico creom.” This is whimsy that tickles my ten-year-old just as surely as it does her younger siblings. The book is filled with comic dialogue and side jokes, increasing its crossover appeal with older kids. And the playful language has utterly entranced Rilla, my emergent reader, who thinks it is hilarious to see what happens to a word when you swap out the vowel.

The ending is perfect. Or should I say: the onding is porfoct?


November 14, 2011 @ 9:02 pm | Filed under:

Last night Scott and the three oldest girls went to see, with a group of our Shakespeare Club friends, a performance of Twelfth Night at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. That’s the very play our group performed last June, so an already Very Special Occasion was made even more so by their familiarity with the play. Afterward, they sat up late in the dark living room, regaling me with their favorite moments: the Sir Andrew Aguecheek / Cesario swordfight; the rather frighteningly realistic shipwreck sound effects; the comic portrayal of the priest.

They all (including Scott) found the ending to be quite grim: Malvolio’s imprisonment played not for laughs but with dark realism. His misery, his hands reaching up through a grate in the floor, cast a shadow on the merriment of the rest of the play. Still, they loved the show, loved the whole experience.


This morning Huck built a railway line across the kitchen floor: the tracks consisted mostly of board books, with a few oddment bringing gaps between Sandra Boynton’s hippos and Byron Barton’s dinosaurs. Rilla mastered the art of the Thanksgiving hand-turkey. I’m surrounded on all sides by Cybils graphic novel nominees. Last week’s heavy rain caused my lettuces to triple in size. Beanie needs reading glasses and is excited because they’re going to be silvery-blue with hearts on the temples. I’ve got “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” echoing in my head because it’s Rose’s class song for the piano recital. All the shirts I bought Wonderboy for the fall have turned out to be a size too small. Jane finished writing her computer program and is on to the next one. Those are the things happening around here today.

“I was really lazy and promiscuous about my book reading”

November 10, 2011 @ 10:13 am | Filed under:

I completely, utterly identify with this:

I imposed these restrictions on my reading about two years ago and it’s had the most fantastic results. Unfortunately it requires some discipline.  My self-imposed reading rule was: only one book at a time.  Take the book with you everywhere, christen it – it’s the book you are currently reading.  Stick with it until the end.  Read at least an hour a day, then and only then can you move onto magazines and other reading material.  This might sound sort of silly, these self-imposed rules, but it had dramatic results. You see, I was really lazy and promiscuous about my book reading. I would read a third of this book, lose it in the house, and then move onto a third of another book. It never added up to anything and I wasn’t finishing anything.

(from Julia Sweeney’s October books-and-movies recap)

I am in the middle of a ridiculous number of books right now. And by “right now,” I mean “at all times.” Cybils judging has helped me focus: I’m reading AND FINISHING several books a week (but I need to step up that pace in a hurry). This is one reason I like participating in the Cybil Awards, and why I always prefer the nominations round of judging: I work best under deadline pressure, and it means I absolutely HAVE TO read a whole bunch of books.

Speaking of which, I fell head over heels in love with Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory. I’ll write a proper post about it, but don’t wait for that—go put it on hold at your library. You won’t be sorry.