Children’s Book Week Celebration: An Interview with Nathan Hale
First Second Books is doing something fun for Children’s Book Week – sharing comics creators in conversation. Today we have a little Q&A with John Patrick Green (Teen Boat, Hippopotamister) and Nathan Hale.
John Patrick Green: What are your favorite children’s or comic books from your youth?
Nathan Hale: I didn’t have a comic shop near me growing up. So I didn’t discover comic books until I was in college. I was, however, totally devoted to newspaper comics. Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, etc. I read them all, every single morning–even the boring ones like Mary Worth. I also read the political cartoons, which were super scary when I was a kid growing up in the last years of the Cold War. Lots of Grim Reapers with their fingers on the button, mushroom clouds with hammers and sickles–you know, cool stuff. I didn’t understand them, but I loved to read them and try to puzzle out what they meant. You see a lot of that old political cartoon language showing up in my Hazardous Tales books.
JPG: What inspired you to tell historical tales through comics? Why are comics a great format for it, and what is your favorite part about making them?
NH: Before doing Hazardous Tales, I illustrated two graphic novel fairy tale-based books, Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack. These were Old West takes on the classic Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk stories. When researching the 1800’s costumes, guns, buildings, machinery from the period, I’d find all kinds of interesting tidbits and facts, fascinating things about history and the Old West–things that didn’t really fit into a fairy tale story. So, when those books were done, I started making simple history comics online. I’ve always been a big fan of historical fiction. I’d come across an interesting fact about history in a book, do a little research on it online and at my local library, then turn it into a simple little comic. It turns out, comics are the perfect way to tell history! Maps, diagrams, names, dates, dialogue, all fit easily into the cartoon format, and makes the material far less dry than a typical textbook.
My favorite part about writing them is learning so many new things myself. The research is very interesting. Then it’s fun to turn around and make fun of the crazy history in cartoon form.
JPG: What is your creative process like? Do you immerse yourself in the historical period your books take place, listening to music from the 1800s, or can youdraw cannons and wagons while listening to podcasts and pop tunes?
NH: The creative process for graphic novelists is all about time management. The cartoonists I know spend virtually all of their time in the studio. It’s astoundingly time-consuming to create a graphic novel–especially when you do it all yourself (writing, lettering, penciling, inking, coloring, etc.) Because it’s so time consuming, I’ve listened to anything and everything during drawing phases. In the bio for my first graphic novel, I wrote that I had listened to 68 unabridged audiobooks during the creation of the artwork. That was in the days before streaming services like Netflix and Hulu–I listen to a lot of TV shows now, so my audiobook count isn’t as high as it used to be.
For writing, I have to have music without words. For Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, I wore out my Ennio Moriccone library (the Italian movie composer who did The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). I try to find something that fits the mood of what I’m writing. But I never know what will work. I just finished writing a science fiction manuscript. For that, I’m embarrassed to say, I played two silly albums of classic video game music as performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. They do a Super Mario medley, the Tetris theme, Metroid–hey, it worked.
JPG: What’s next for you? Should we expect more Hazardous Tales, or might readers perhaps get to see some science fiction from you?
NH: I just finished the manuscript for a standalone sci-fi graphic novel, that will come out after Alamo All Stars. Don’t worry, Hazardous Tales fans, there’s plenty more history coming your way (I’m researching books 7 and 8 now!) I’m hoping to one day have a shelf with fifty Hazardous Tales books on it, as long as the readers buy them, I’ll make them. But every once in a while, I need a break from careful historical accuracy. Sometimes I just want to draw robots.
JPG: If you couldn’t be a cartoonist, what would you be?
NH: National Park Ranger. With the hat and everything.
JPG: What graphic novels have you read recently?
NH: Oh boy. So many! I’m trying to read the latest Phoebe and Her Unicorn: Unicorns vs. Goblins, by Dana Simpson, but my ten year old daughter keeps stealing it. Just finished Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito, so scary. Ernie Bushmiller’s absolutely genius Nancy cartoons, I got two big collections of them recently and I’m trying to limit myself to a strip a day. So, SO funny. I’m rereading Daniel Clowes complete Eightball, since I haven’t read those since they came out in the 90s. Working on Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, so far, so good. I bought ONE PIECE book 1, because I hear so much talk about how great that series is. But I haven’t started it yet.
Thanks, gentlemen. Look below for more of the Q&As:
Monday, May 2nd – Forever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang
Monday, May 2nd – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom
Monday, May 2nd – Kid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt
Tuesday, May 3rd – Sharp Read featuring Ryan North
Tuesday, May 3rd – Teen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed
Wednesday, May 4th – Love is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer
Wednesday, May 4th – SLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson
Thursday, May 5th – The Book Wars featuring Judd Winick
Thursday, May 5th – SLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal
Friday, May 6th – SLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale
Friday, May 6th – The Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks
Saturday, May 7th – YA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack
Saturday, May 7th – Supernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma
Sunday, May 8th – Charlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks
Sunday, May 8th – The Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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