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ertcvr

The Little Lake City School District, the Los Nietos School District and the library in the City of Santa Fe Springs are awesome! How awesome? Well, awesome enough to invite me down to talk about Earthling! and visit 4 schools as part of a visiting author program.

So Earthling!, and I, will be back in California.

I’ll be at Lakeview Elementary,  Jersey Avenue Elementary, Rancho Santa Gertrude’s Elementary and St. Pius X Parish School where I will be talking and drawing about Earthling!

I’ll be presenting my How To Make A Graphic Novel talk and letting kids see all the steps involved in the process as well as some of the mistakes I made and learned from.

As usual I will stress that every book, movie or TV show starts with an idea and a pencil.  Everything starts at the ‘Scribbles and script’ stage. That’s where ideas sprout from to become tangible works. You don’t need special equipment or years of technical training to start work. Jump in and start drawing and writing – and revising – today!

I’m looking forward to the visit!

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I had an interesting conversation at a bookstore while traveling. I walked into a beautiful Indy bookstore, in a resort area. They seemed busy, at least in the vacation season and they had a good sized kids book area, but they had no graphic novels. I picked up a few books and talked about the book business with the salesperson. I mentioned that I draw and write books so I follow the industry carefully.

The salesperson was friendly and we discussed the book industry, the reps she liked, surprise hits and then we talked about graphic novels. She said they had tried GN’s when they opened and had horrible sales results. She felt that perhaps grandparents, who make up a lot of their buyers, didn’t like purchasing them. Maybe it was the old notion of a ‘comic book’ not being a REAL literary experience. Or maybe it’s the issue that comics and graphic novels for all ages tend to get mixed together so some buyers aren’t comfortable knowing what material is appropriate.

I suspect it’s a combination of both issues. But GN’s certainly have an issue when it comes to placing them on appropriate shelves for readers and having buyers comfortable with their choices.

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ebap3

I’m happy to announce that Earthling! has been named the winner in the graphic novel category of the Spirit of Oregon Book Award for 2012. This award is given by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English.

I’m honored that this book was recognized from the reams of other great books that fit the descriptors associated with apprpriate  material for this recognition.

Read more about Earthling! by clicking here or read the first chapter online by clicking here.

wrdorig

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The Czech version of Earthling! is out, or almost out. Or will soon be out. Below is the cover and a page from the book – POZEMSTAN!

My grandfather was born in Prague, so maybe this translation is part of the circle of life. But not the part where lions eat gophers.

Pozemšťan0

pozemstan4

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theatreearthling_poster

Morning. A crowded city bus.

Albert
I sure wish I knew what to buy that special 8 year-old in my life for the Holidays.

Fay
I hear ya! I don’t know what to buy my nephew who is 9.

Fish Monger
Me neither. What can I possibly buy for my 10 year old niece this Christmas?

Bob
I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I have a 7 year old and an 11 year old to buy for and I have to get them 8 gifts for Hanukkah!

Albert
I’d like to buy them somethings more than a video game or just another toy.

Fay
Me to. Like a book.

Bus Driver
You could buy them a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

All
They already have it.

Bus Driver
Oh.

Suddenly the bus begins to rock back-and-forth. People fall asunder. A glowing figure steps aboard. It’s hard to clearly see this mysterious figure amongst the bright lights and fog though they are wearing a gold lamé jumpsuit and stand at least 8 feet tall.

Mysterious Figure
You should buy them a copy of the graphic novel – Earthling!.

Fish Monger
You means that graphic novel about a school bus from outer space?

Mysterious Figure
Exactly.

Bob
But that’s all science-fictiony and stuff. I don’t know if kids like that.

Mysterious Figure
You mean the way kids don’t like Star Wars and Transformers and such? Not to say Earthling! is exactly like Star Wars or Transformers but they share a genre…

Fay
I am researching it using my iPhone and gosh, the reviews sound great! Except for this one, man they really had it out for the guy. Anyway, that’s a great idea! I’ll order one right now from my iPhone!

Albert
It’s the perfect gift!

Fish Monger
Well that and a few pounds of fish!

All laugh. Fish monger has a coughing fit.

Bus Driver
(To mysterious stranger) Thanks for the book buying advice but you got a ticket?

Mysterious Stranger
I don’t know. Do you?

Curtain closes.

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ertl_svr2

Hurry, hurry, hurry, step right up! Get in line now for the digital deal of the winter solstice!

Amazon dot com has picked the ebook version of Earthling! to sell via their Kindle store for $1.99!

This is deal of a lifetime. Or should I say a ‘deal of a space-time’? What’s a Kindle? Why the Kindle is one of them tablet devices on which you can read books and look at the moving pictures and play games every waking hour!

Now Earthling!, being a snazzy 256 page graphic novel in full color, well, it will look best and work best on the Kindle Fire or Kindle HD. You know, something with color.

From now until December 22nd, I think, you can get the full graphic novel on the Kindle for a great price. I don’t know how many Kindle’s are out there, I don’t think Amazon tells us that. But If you have one, or know someone who does, why not pick up Earthling!? And I think…I’m not 100% sure, but I think you can buy it via the Kindle App on a Mac, transfer it to the Kindle reader on thei Pad and read it on an iPad as well.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah and Happy New Year! Get Earthling! for $1.99 on the Kindle. Or is that ‘for’ the Kindle?

The New York Times said of Earthling!, ” “Earthling!” is the debut graphic novel by Mark Fearing, an illustrator and animator, and it’s an exhilarating hoot.” and “What’s pleasing about “Earthling!,” and will be especially so to tween readers, is how adrenalized and fast paced it is: loads of Whoosh!, Scree! and Thunk! action in the service of suspenseful, inventive plotting.”

So get your digital copy now!

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This is a toot-your-own-horn-while-you-still-can post. So toot-toot. Earthling! has received some nice reviews in the UK recently. The book was released in the UK in February, but it won’t be available in the US until July. Earthling! is a young reader graphic novel I have been working on since 1972. OK. That’s not true. But it did take a bit of time to get done!

This one is from Christopher King. Check it out here.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘…What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging graphic novel for children, with a commendable plot based around themes of science and the needless misunderstanding and paranoia of unfamiliar cultures.’

Here’s one from Win Wiacek. You can read it here, and by the magic that is clicking be taken to the review. I love clicking.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of Rocko’s Modern Life or Camp Lazlo to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff. This is a book any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…’

And here’s another review here on Readaraptor.

And an excerpt:

‘I really would recommend this graphic novel to all kids in the 8-12 range, especially if they have a thing for aliens and space. Bud and the friends he makes have to fight the baddies and get Bud back to earth without his identity being uncovered and it makes for a great adventure. If you kids like comics and great illustrations they will probably love this one too, it was a great read and I’ll be passing it on to my stepson to see what he thinks of it too!’

And one more. This from the blog, We Love This Book.

And an excerpt:

‘This is a very good example of one-shot graphic novels for the under-twelves. The page layouts are easily readible; the characters and the author’s own inking are boldly and simply defined while never being over the top….The plot is great fun, covering as it does the propaganda against Earth on board the school, the sport, the escape plans – and Bud’s new-found life with his new alien friends. It’s a very successful debut piece from this creator – it ticks all the boxes and shows great promise for future works.’

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Earthling! (my graphic novel, being released by Chronicle Books in July of this year) is now a few months behind me.

It was a very rewarding experience and if you like world building, there is nothing comparable, if you happen to have the 4 years to work on it.

Enough time has passed since I finished Earthling! that new graphic novel ideas are starting to take shape. It’s like any difficult task you face, the further you are from it, the more willing you are to tackle it again (For those who have children, you will immediately get this point!). You learn from every project you complete and that creates a desire to try it again. To make it better next time. Or at least not worse.

I recently read some GN’s I have sitting in my shelf. What I found odd was that the books that stuck with me, are not the ones most (critics, reviewers…) would consider the best written or the best illustrated.

The ones that stuck with me are the ones that created the strongest reality distortion field. The ones that I enjoyed the most had an internal coherence that I find difficult to describe. The combination of words and pictures can create a very persuasive alternate reality. I suppose this isn’t that different from some critics saying Stephen King isn’t a great writer from a technical perspective. But to most readers who pick up a novel by him, the characters and story force you to keep turning the pages. Whether he is an accomplished writer from a technical perspective or not, the greatest hurdle a writer faces is creating a story that makes people want to turn the page.

Many of the graphic novels I loved are not technically perfect, but they left me with such a strong lasting impression they became my favorites.

Some of the best written and drawn GNs (like Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet ) made my favorites list but others stay with me because the whole is greater than the sum of their individual elements. There is something unique about the depth of the world created in a graphic novel that becomes the most important aspect.

It just makes it that much harder for me to define exactly why I love the ones I do. Nothing can draw you in and surround you quite the way a good graphic novel can. They allow the total immersion you get in a novel but also speak to the brain with images like film does.

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Above page from Earthling!. A graphic novel due out in July of 2012 from Chronicle Books.

There’s no doubt that picture books, graphic novels and comics offer a rich combination of words and pictures that create something greater than the two base elements. And this immersion attracts interest in them from people of all ages. I often get emails asking about how to make a graphic novel. And I have some posts on this blog about how I do it. But I think a more important question to ask is, why do you want to do a graphic novel?

That’s a serious question. Because a graphic novel is like writing an entire novel and then adding drawings to it. A lot of drawings. What I am saying is, it’s as much work as writing a novel, and that is a demanding task, and THEN drawing a hundred or two hundred or more pages. Are you still sure you want to do one?

Now, the art in a graphic novel usually carries some of the story load. Some creators tell 70% of the story in the art, some not even 20%. It’s up to the creator to decide that ratio. And I don’t think a successful graphic novel is simply one where art carries more of the narrative. It’s more complicated than that.

But the the drawings offer a rich opportunity to visually communicate elements of your story. They could demonstrate beats of the plot (e.g. the small boy faces a massive monster with no dialogue or voice over needed to explain the situation), they could add depth to characters by contradicting what a character is saying (e.g. the character says “I’m fine. Never been better.” while you draw them crying.). Most importantly they can create depth of experience in a story when you don’t have prose to rely on. (e.g. Instead of writing “It was a dark and stormy night”, you can show it.) Think of it this way, does ‘rock-n-roll’ music always have to have drums? Can you have a rock song without a lead signer? Does it have to have a bass or can it just have lead guitar? Obviously the definition is greater than its parts. The same for a graphic novel.

Now my take on this is different then some of the authoritative texts about graphic novels, of which there are new ones every 14 days.

I believe there are countless ways to combine words and pictures and end up with tasty and fullfilling graphic novels. It helps to have a handle on the rules of visual story telling, but I have some indy books that are not the creations of highly trained artists and they tell much better stories than the stuff that’s overly developed and ‘properly drawn’ by an artist that has mastered the various rules of creating addictive, visual imagery.

I’m not going to put up a ‘how to’ because for the most part there is no ‘right’ way to do a graphic novel. There are some tools that you can learn to make it easier, or look more professional, but again, those are technical questions and very learnable. The way I did Earthling! is just one path. There are a lot of sites and people out there who are willing, for a few dollars, to walk you through the technical process. But that isn’t as important as understanding why the story you want to tell is the best fit for a graphic novel. And that’s a more complicated issue to teach. I feel uncomfortable offering too much general info about this. I’m better with the discussion when I can sit down and listen to you describe your project or look at samples of what you are doing. But I can say that if you want to do a graphic novel the idea should facilitate interesting imagery. BUT ‘interesting imagery’ is subjective.

See what we come back to? You do a graphic novel because it works for you as an artist/writer. You create a graphic novel because you don’t want to tell your story just in prose, or write a play or a screenplay. You create a graphic novel because in your minds eye, you see the story unfolding on pages with drawings. Because those drawings let you present more issues than just the words on the page would allow. The images are an opportunity to fill out the world of your story in an immediate and powerful way. It goes straight to the cerebral cortex in a way just words can’t. (interestingly enough, 3D films require the brain to do much more work processing the imagery and therefore your pre-frontal cortex, which handles impulse control and future thinking, is inactivated to a great extent, which might help explain the deeper immersion we feel in a 3D film.)

But I have often wondered if the combination of reading and looking at pictures doesn’t have a similar effect. It makes the brain focus more sharply on the experience and you get more involved. I think this may be true in younger readers especially. Processing the words and the images may set two slightly disparate processes of the brain to work together and search for the combined meaning. I’m just staying…maybe comics and picture books make you smarter. Anyway…

Most often my favorite graphic novels are the creations of a single person who is a writer/artist. This isn’t always true…there are exceptions. But if you are a writer who has some graphic abilities or an artist that can write a decent story, the combination can be really engaging.

That, and you have a lot of time on your hands.

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I ran across The Storm In The Barn at my local library and fell in love with it. It’s not easy to categorize and it’s not a typical young-reader GN. But it is a wonderful fairytale/folktale mixture that is built upon solid Americana. It takes wonderful advantage of the pages, pouring out gestural, sketch style images that haunt the frames. The artist is Matt Phelan who was inspired by the black and white photos’ from the dustbowl years. Those are amazingly strong, emotive images and his being inspired to tell this tale by them makes perfect sense.

The story starts simply enough following a young boy’s life during the Dust Bowl years in Oklahoma. The first 20 pages feel like like they could be from a storyboard for the John Ford adaptation of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. But as the story developes it hs a fantastical edge, a sense of an American Magical Realism. Similar in tone to a Mark Twain book as retold by John Houston at the height of his directing and screenwriting skills.

It develops a skewed look at the difficult world that surrounds these characters. It’s a setting we all think we know something about, but do we really? A dust storm isn’t just a dust storm in this book. A bit of Stephen King flutters across the pages. He discovers the unsettling in the mundane. It’s exciting when an artist sculpts ‘average’ moments and locations into unsettling realities. Honestly, most of the time, nothing is as it really seems. Heck, just read up on quantum mechanics and see if your desk looks the same to you.

The overriding issue in the story is the death of the land these people live on. The lack of rain. The dwindling sense of hope. When will the rain return? Why did it go away? What exactly IS locked in that abandoned barn?

A really great book that deserves a read. I’m inspired that it was published because it seems to me it’s a story, a vision, that a lot of editors would turn down in this day and age. So often publishers are being asked to deliver not a good book, but a broad entertainment. Not that a piece of broad entertainment can’t be good. Or that a good book can’t be broad in it’s audience reach. But quite often that’s not the case. The appeal for a lot of fine work will be less than Shrek-like in it’s proportions. And therefore it will be passed over by prospective publishers.

I’m happy Candlewick Press published this book.

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