authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Secret Agent Mole: Book 1


James Foley is the author-illustrator of a stack of picture books and graphic novels. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we’re excited to chat to James about the first book in his brand new graphic novel series, Secret Agent Mole: Goldfish-Finger.

From the publisher:

Max is a mole on a mission. With Helen Hippo and June Bug by his side, Max must stop the evil Goldfish-Finger from stealing a priceless, solid gold fishfinger. This dangerous, top-secret mission will involve explosions, a naked mole rat, and being flushed down a giant toilet. Will Max and the team defeat the fiendish fish? Time to rock and mole!

This is book 1 of a new series. How did you decide on the main characters for this series?

The whole idea came about from a conversation with fellow author/illustrator Matt Cosgrove. His publisher Scholastic had asked me to pitch them an idea for a book series, so I called Matt for some advice. I told him, ‘you can be my mole in the organisation‘. And that’s when the idea of Max Mole popped into my head. From there it was a pretty simple task to find his friends; all teams should have a variety of skills and personalities, plus when you’re drawing them it’s good to have a variety of sizes and shapes. So I picked a bigger, tougher animal (a hippo called Helena) and a much smaller, more fragile creature (a bug called Bug) to round out Max’s team. The main villain is a naked mole rat called Dr Nude, because naked mole rats are extremely funny. 

What’s your favourite graphic novel/comic book sound effect and why?

Good question. Probably any of the big, loud action ones (e.g. CRASH, SMASH, THUD, KABOOM). It usually means there’s something big and silly to draw.

Can you tell us about how you create your graphic novels?

First I write the events of the book as a series of bullet points. I put all my ideas down in order until I have enough ideas for a book. Then I write the book as a script – just like you would for a play or a film. It’s just the dialogue plus descriptions of the action. Then I lay out all the pages into a program called InDesign. This lets me see how much room the words need and how much space I have left to do the drawings. I figure out where all the panels are going to go and I start drawing the book as rough sketches straight into the program. Once all that is approved by my editor, I get started on the final artwork. I do all the black outlines in Procreate on my iPad, then I finish off all the shades of grey using Photoshop on my big Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet and my laptop. After about 6 months, I’ve got a 200 page graphic novel.

Do you have a tip for kids who want to write a graphic novel or their own comic book?

You don’t have to be a great at drawing to make a comic book; if you can draw stick figures then you can make a comic. 

The most important thing when making comics is to keep the reader in mind. Comics are meant to be shared, so you need to make sure that your reader will be able to understand the story you’re trying to tell. Every piece of information the reader will need must be on the page; you won’t be able to stand over their shoulder and help them if they get lost or confused. So you have to make sure every picture is large enough and clear enough; you have to make sure all the words are neat and readable; and you need to include enough pictures in the correct order to show what’s happening. It’s as simple and as complicated as that: make sure you have clear pictures and clear words in a clear order. If you can make those three things happen, then your reader will be able to understand and enjoy your comic. 

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve just finished all the artwork for Secret Agent Mole book 2: The Boar Identity. That was a heap of fun! It will be out in August/September 2023.

Next up, I have to start writing the script for Secret Agent Mole book 3. Wish me luck!

Secret Agent Mole: Goldfish-Finger is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

Image shows the cover of a graphic novel for young readers: Secret Agent Mole (book 1) - Goldfish-Finger by James Foley. The cover is predominantly yellow and features an illustration of ahippo in a brown vest with her arms crossed, a purple mole in a white tuxedo and wearing square glasses and holding a toy rubber-dart gun, and a tiny green flying bug wearing a hat. The typeface of the font suggests this is a spy-themed book.


Watch the book trailer on YouTube

Meet the VILLAINS of the Secret Agent Mole series on the author’s blog

Visit James Foley’s website for more about James and his books