Today we welcome Stephen Axelsen to the blog. Stephen is here as part of a blog tour to celebrate the launch of his new graphic novel The Nelly Gang — you can read a review of the book here. We asked him some questions about how he goes about creating a graphic novel.
How is creating a graphic novel different from writing and illustrating a picture book? The biggest difference is that a graphic novel has a lot more pictures in it than a regular picture book, so they take much, MUCH, longer to illustrate. The writing takes a bit longer too. The Nelly Gang took more than a year to make. Also in graphic novels the story is mostly told in speech balloons. These balloons have to be designed and positioned so that they are nice and clear and don’t interfere with the pictures.
Why did you choose to tell this story as a graphic novel rather than a picture book or otherwise? The story would not fit into a picture book, unless it was a very, very thick one. (There are up to 25 pictures on some double pages.) The Nelly Gang could have been a novel, I suppose, but I love drawing the old costumes and wagons and things too much just to use words.
How did you go about creating The Nelly Gang? The story plan was the first thing put down on paper, but the very, very first ideas were pictures in my head; vague images of things I wanted to draw. Then I wrote the first story plan or plot, after which I began the rough drawings. The drawings would suggest new story ideas, and while rewriting the story NEW picture ideas would pop up, so I’d change the story again. The writing and drawing kept changing each other in an endless loop until I nearly went mad (or maybe I did go mad) and it was time to STOP and call the story finished.
What sort of tools do you use? I used a mixture of ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ media, which means that I did the drawing outlines with old fashioned pen and ink on paper, then scanned these into my computer where I tidied things up, added the colour then the speech balloons and text.
The Nelly Gang is set in 1860. How did you go about researching for the book? A lot of my research was done online, but I also travelled to old goldfields, visited Sovereign Hill at Ballarat (which was excellent for picture reference) and even had a paddle steamer ride at Echuca. I had to have a paddle steamer in the story because they are such wonderful things to draw!
Now that The Nelly Gang is out, are you working on something new?
I am working on two big books at once now – a picture book for an American publisher about Joe Dumpty, P.I. (Humpty Dumpty’s brother, who is a Private Investigator.)
AND the sequel to The Nelly Gang, called Nelly and the Dark Circus. As the title suggests it is set mostly in a circus, and Nelly is in it. So is her goat, Queen Victoria, of course.
Do you have any tips for young graphic novelists?
The best thing to do is look at as many graphic novels as you can find, choose the ones you like best and copy bits of them. Very soon you will start having your own ideas and awaaaay you’ll go!
You can find out more about Stephen Axelsen (and the books he has illustrated and written) when you visit his website. Check out the other stops on his blog tour for more news and information about The Nelly Gang and graphic novels:
THE NELLY GANG Blog Tour Schedule
Saturday September 14th — Launch at The Story Arts Festival, Woodlands of Marburg. (Launched by Megan Daley)
This is the last day of Alphabet Soup‘s First Birthday Blog Tour. What a great week we’ve had – if you’ve just joined us, be sure to check out the list of blog tour stops below!
Sandy Fussell – author of the Samurai Kids series – is hosting us over at her blog: Stories Are Light. Today we’re talking about who is on the Alphabet Soup team, and why an Editor and Publisher can’t do it all on her own. See you there!
WHERE WE’VE BEEN ON THE BLOG TOUR:
1 September What led the publisher to start Alphabet Soup magazine?
As promised, today we are talking to Sandy Fussell – the author of the Samurai Kids series. The fourth book in the series – Monkey Fist – was published on 1 August 2009. (It’s hot off the press!)
To celebrate its launch, Sandy is taking Monkey Fist on a Blog Tour. We’re excited to have her visiting Soup Blog today, and we asked her some questions about how she does the research for her books.
But first, a little about Monkey Fist:
Set in 17th century China, Monkey Fist follows the adventures of a group of samurai students and their teacher, Sensei Ki-yaga. Each student has a challenge to overcome on his personal journey.When Kyoko is kidnapped and hidden away in the Forbidden City, Sensei and the kids hurry to her rescue. They are aided by the Lin, a group of Chinese forest ninja and by Master Jang, the Poisoner.
And now, some questions for Sandy!
How do you do the research for your books?
I love the Internet but when using it for research you have to be very careful that the information is coming from a credible source – someone who knows the subject. The internet is both trap and treasure. I have been collecting history books since I was a child so have a huge personal collection covering my areas of interest – and am always looking for an excuse to buy another book. I like to write about the periods of history that are not so well known so there aren’t many relevant books in my local libraries. I do consult experts and they are always very happy to be involved in research for a children’s book.
Do you have a favourite way to research?
I love the internet because it is a real treasure chest. Following a link can lead to the most interesting and obscure information. I find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.
My real favourite of course, would be travelling overseas to do my research first-hand but I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future. Unfortunately. *Sigh*
How do you record your research, and why do you do it this way?
I make lots and lots of notes. I photocopy book pages and print out web sources. It’s important to document all the facts used when writing history.
I found this out the hard way. After I finished my first book, White Crane, I threw out all my notes. Then my publisher, Walker Books asked me for references to support the historical facts I had used in the narrative. I had to relocate everything and reproduce 30 typed pages of notes. It felt like I had written another book!
Before you write anything, do you get all your research done first? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I like to spend a solid month researching and thinking about where my plot will fit – as in the geographic location, any significant events occurring at the same time. Then I start to write.
I am very structured and the Samurai Kids books are always on a deadline. I allocate a month because a month is all the time I’ve got.
How do you use your research when you sit down to write?
I reread constantly. Little facts take on new significance as the story emerges. I particularly like to read primary sources – texts written by people alive at the time. One of my favourites is The Book of Five Rings by the legendary samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.
Do you enjoy the research as much as the writing? (Or is the writing more enjoyable?)
If I am writing a historical novel the two are so entangled they are impossible to pull apart. But I don’t want to try as I love doing both.
Do you ever find out something in your research that means you have to take the story in a direction you weren’t originally planning to?
Recently I discovered an arquebus (gun) from the mid-seventeenth century can only fire once before reloading. In the second chapter of my current manuscript (book 5) my character shot two birds in succession. So far it has always been small stuff like that and doesn’t affect the story direction. However I am a stickler for getting the facts right and check my references quite thoroughly so I don’t often find research errors.
How much time would you spend on each book in Samurai Kids?
The Samurai Kids books are generally on a six month schedule. I research for one month, write for four months and then revise and rewrite for one month in addition to the revision I do as I go. I always say there is a lot of mathematics in writing – the planning, the pacing and all those word counts!
This is the eighth stop on the Monkey Fist Blog Tour. You can find out more about Sandy Fussell, the Samurai Kids series, and Monkey Fist by visiting the other hosts on the tour. (You can also visit the Samurai Kids website for fun activities related to the books, and take a quiz to find out which Samurai Kid you are!)