Interview with Jonathan King

Jonathan King’s first graphic novel for children, The Inkberg Enigma, has just been released. It is a brilliant graphic novel filled with mystery, adventure and secrets. You can read my full review here on the blog.

I really love The Inkberg Enigma (it’s one of my favourite children’s graphic novels of 2020) so I wanted to ask Jonathan my burning questions about the story. Read on to find out about Jonathan’s inspirations for the story, the process of creating a graphic novel and some of the Easter Eggs you can find in the story.

Reading The Inkberg Enigma made me feel like I was 10 again, reading Tintin. Did you set out to create the kind of story that you would have loved as a kid?

Yes, I absolutely did. Tintin was huge for me as a kid: The Black Island was the first one I read, but I devoured them all over the years. I knew from the outset that I wanted it to be an adventure with fantastic elements. I think I decided fairly early that it wouldn’t be a globe-trotting kind of thing – that Tintin often did – but digging into the secrets and corners of one location. That’s what I love about stories – that can show us how our own world has hidden wonders.

The Inkberg Enigma is set in the fictional town of Aurora. Being a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton in your illustrations. Did Lyttelton inspire the setting?

Lyttelton – and Diamond Harbour access the water – definitely the primary inspiration for the setting. I have family in Diamond Harbour and Lyttelton, and have spent quite a bit of time there. I love the self-contained nature of the two of them (in my story there’s no Christchurch just over the hill). And I’ve always had a connection to places by the sea – with their attached nautical influence, like Lyttelton has, of hotels, seamen’s union buildings, antique shops with diver’s helmets in the window (which I really did see in Lyttelton!). Other influences are Cannery Row in Monterey in California – where John Steinbeck set his book of that name — Astoria in Oregon (where The Goonies was filmed) and, for the castle, Larnach Castle in Dunedin.

I love that the main character in The Inkberg Enigma, Miro, sells off treasures from his attic to get money to buy books. Is this something you would have done as a kid?

I don’t know if I would go quite as far as Miro does! But I do remember what it felt like to be obsessed with things – like Star Wars figures or comics – and doing anything to complete collections. 

Mr Hunter is one of the creepiest characters in the story. I’ve been wondering where he got his huge scar from?

I think Mr Hunter has been involved in some very dangerous situations at sea over the years – but ignored or buried them, to continue the regime of (what they think is) control over the sea and the creatures below. I think there’s a climate change metaphor in there too …

The kids at my school often complain about how long it takes a creator to release a new graphic novel. To put it in to perspective for them can you explain the process of creating The Inkberg Enigma and how long it took you to pull the story together.

It takes a long time for new ones to come out because it takes a loooooong time to draw them! Unlike commercial monthly comics – which usually have a writer, a penciller, an inker, a colourist, a letterer – a graphic novel is usually the work of just one or two people. It took me about three years from start to finish. Part of that was finding the story. I had the world and the kids in the story pretty early … but the story they were in and the relationship between them took a while to find; I made a false start and pencilled / roughed about 40 pages … that I abandoned. But once I cracked the relationship between the kids, the stay was clear. Then I just had to draw it all. Certainly a detailed, clear line style slows things down. I’d love to try a looser (faster!!) style in the future.

Did you experiment much with the character designs before settling on their final look?

I think their look came quite quickly. Learning how to draw it consistently took a little while longer!

The name of the bookshop in the story is a nod to your film adaptation of Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain that you wrote, directed and produced. Are there other Easter eggs for readers to look out for in The Inkberg Enigma?

I’m thrilled you spotted that. Yes, there are others: a number of Tintin props, I think. The books in the bookshop Miro looks at are favourites of mine. The museum building is based on the jailhouse in Goonies (a real building in Astoria!) I’m sure there’s other odds and ends!

How does your film background influence your comics?

I’m not sure. Probably it does n terms of story structure – something I’ve spent a long time thinking about. I probably think it terms of close ups and wide shots … and even the ‘lens’ that I frame images in: a wide angle lens sees something differently from a ‘long’ lens. Certainly telling the story with pictures is as important as words. 

Would you like to make a movie of The Inkberg Enigma?

All the way through making I didn’t think that I did: it was only ever meant to be a comic. Now that it’s finished, it’s its own thing … yeah, I kinda would actually! 🙂 

There are so few comics and graphic novels published in NZ for kids and teens, even though these books are some of the most popular with kids in our libraries. Do you have plans to write more for this age group?

I’m sure one of the reasons that there are so few is that for something takes so long, it’s really hard to get enough income to justify the time it takes (though I must acknowledge the support I ad from Creative NZ). Some cool local creators are Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society books, Ant Sang’s Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas, Roger Langridge’s Abigail & The Snowman and, of course, bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne’s Terry Teo books. 
I would love to write more for this age group. Having done a book that took years to draw, I’d love to write book that’s just words – a mystery perhaps! And, yes, before long I’ll do another graphic novel. 

Check out my review of Jonathan’s graphic novel, The Inkberg Enigma. Available now from Gecko Press.

When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson is one of the most inspiring graphic novels I’ve ever read. It opens your eyes to what life is like for refugees and the conditions that they live in while at the same time filling you with hope.

It is the story of Omar Mohamed and his younger brother Hassan. They have spent most of their life in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, after escaping from their home in Somalia. Through Omar and Victoria’s words and pictures we learn about daily life in the refugee camp (referred to as an ‘open prison’). There’s never enough food or water, the routine is tiring and there is no access to the medical care needed for Hassan. When Omar has the chance to go to school he knows this is the only chance to break free of the refugee camp and make something of their lives. Going to school though means leaving his brother every day. Omar strives to work hard while coping with life.

This is an important story for both kids and adults to read. Omar’s life may be different to what we know and have experienced but there are also similarities. He struggles with middle school, friendships with boys and girls and with the small family that he has. Omar shows readers that no matter where you come from and how tough your life is you can rise above it and achieve your dreams.

This graphic novel is slightly different from Victoria Jamieson’s previous books but her illustrations are a perfect match for Omar’s story. I especially love her portrayal of the bond the two brothers share.

At the back of the book both Omar and Victoria tell us how their collaboration came about and we learn more about Omar’s life after the end of the story.

When Stars Are Scattered is one of the best children’s graphic novels of 2020. It’s a must-buy for all school libraries and a good companion to Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s excellent graphic novel, Illegal.

Great Graphic Novels for Primary and Intermediate

I absolutely love graphic novels for kids!  I can’t get enough of them and neither can the kids at my school (especially the girls).  There are more and more great graphic novels being written and produced for kids and there really is something for every sort of kid.  These are a selection of recent reads that have stood out for me.  If you’re looking for some great new reads for your graphic novel collection I highly recommend these ones.

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Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

This is a hilarious story about two cats who do good deeds dressed in a dog suit.  August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outdoors and Charlie is the pilot of the suit and isn’t afraid of anything.  Together they are a sort-of robo-Lassie (along with their sentient litter-box), rescuing a baby from a well and saving people from a burning building.  In to the story comes a strange family with an evil baby whose aim is to control every animal on earth.  It’s up to Sparks to save the day and stop their dastardly plan.

I smiled the whole way through this graphic novel because the humour is spot on.  I could hand this to any kid from Year 4-Year 8 and I’m sure they would love it too.

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The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-paniola by Craig Phillips.

This action-packed tale of cats on the high-seas started life as a Kick-Starter campaign and I was super excited when it went ahead and I got my copy.  It’s a swash-buckling adventure full of brave, fearsome and some down-right nasty cats.  Like the Tintin graphic novels I grew up with its got plenty of action to keep kids interested and illustrations that they will pore over.  One of the things I love most about graphic novels is that they are perfect for reading again and again and this one will certainly be read to bits.  Perfect for ages 7+

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Cucumber Quest #1: The Donut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

I can only do this book justice by using the Goodreads blurb so here it is:

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

This is the first book in a new series (that started out as a web comic).  It’s another hilarious story with fantastic characters.  The BLT Trio had me laughing out loud and I hope to see more of them as the series progresses.  The world that the story takes place in reminded me of Adventure Time so any kids who love that will love Cucumber Quest. The kids that I’ve passed this on to have loved it just as much as I did and we all can’t wait for #2 to be available in NZ.  Perfect for ages 10+.

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Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler

This is a wonderful new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler.  It perfectly captures the essence of the story and will hopefully open up the story to a new generation of readers.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is about 13-year-old Aster who is expected to grow up to be a shapeshifter when he really wants to become a witch.  In his family all the females are witches while all the males are shapeshifters, but Aster has always found witchcraft more exciting.  When some of the males start disappearing and an evil force threatens his family Aster knows that he can help – as a witch.  With the help of his non-magical new friend Charlie, he sets out to help his family using his witchcraft skills.

It is a fantastic story about being different and being who you want to be.  This is another graphic novel that the girls at my school have been gobbling up.  Molly’s illustration style is quite similar to Raina Telgemeier which lots of the kids love.

23594349Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate

A dangerous rally race + archaeology = a whole lot of fun!

Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt they enter a multiday rally race… to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give them to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!

This is an ingenious mash-up that I couldn’t get enough of.  Before I knew it I had finished the book and I’m dying for more!  This story is sure to keep even the biggest non-reader engaged.  Those kids who love action-packed movies with great baddies and lots of explosions will love this book too.

 

Twisted Journeys – the graphic novels that you control

I’m always on the lookout for new graphic novels for kids.  Walker Books Australia recently highlighted a fantastic graphic novel series that they distribute called Twisted Journeys that are perfect for middle and upper primary.

These brilliant books are a cross between a graphic novel and a choose-your-own adventure.  The story is told with a mix of plain text and graphic novel panels, and like choose-your-own adventure stories, there are several directions that the story can go in.  The first book in the series is called Captured by Pirates, and depending on your choices you could rescue your father and live happily ever after or get eaten by cannibals.

There are 22 different stories to choose from including being trapped in a haunted house, caught in a time machine, escaping a zombie island, defeating an evil mastermind, becoming a martial arts master, or join forces with Frankestein’s monster to solve a crime.

Here are a couple of images from inside two different books:

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Twisted Journeys are perfect for reluctant readers and those who love graphic novels.  They are a great format to get kids hooked on books and there a heaps to choose from.

For more info about each title check out this info sheet from Walker Books  – http://classroom.walkerbooks.com.au/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Twisted-Journeys.pdf

 

 

 

Reading Matters 2013 – Highlights #5

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My life in comics – Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier’s session kicked off day two of Reading Matters and it was the perfect way to get everyone in the mood for another day of bookish delights.  Raina started by talking about her influences, which include cartoons from her childhood (Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake and Scooby Doo), books by Roald Dahl and her favourite book, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien.  As a graphic storyteller there are quite a few graphic novels that have influenced her, including  Calvin and Hobbs, For Better or Worse by Lynn Johnston, the Bones graphic novels by Jeff Smith, and Barefoot Gen, a cartoon story of Hiroshima which made her realise that comics could tell powerful stories.

Raina’s first graphic novel, Smile, is a love letter to her home town San Francisco and ’90s fashion.  She says that she ‘wrote this story just to get the memories out if my head.’ Her family members became a huge part of the story (it’s autobiographical) and they love being cartoon characters.  Every character in the story has a route in a real person.  It seems to have really struck a chord with her readers as she has heard from lots of boys and girls who have been with something very similar.  Raina wishes that she could ‘go back in time and tell her 12 year old self that it would be OK.’

Drama was inspired by her time as a theatre nut.  It includes ‘stage fright, annoying brothers, mean girls, cute boys, school dances and bubble tea.’

Raina took us through the different stages of putting a graphic novel together.  First, she creates thumbnail sketches of each page, in which she decides where characters will stand and where the action will take place.  Next, she does the penciling (where she spends more time on the artwork), inking (using a watercolour brush and ink), digitization, colouring, cover design, and the mock-up of the final jacket.

I loved Raina’s explanation of why she creates graphic novels, ‘I wanted to see myself, my friends and family, in comics.’ She believes that ‘kids need role models of kids who are just good people.’ I wholeheartedly agree with this!

Raina’s next book is a companion to Smile, called Sisters (coming in 2014), which will be stories about Raina and her sister.

Check out some photos of Raina’s live drawing that she did while answering questions from the audience. So cool!

 

Win a Super Baddies prize pack

Super Baddies is the awesome new graphic novel series for younger readers from Hardie Grant Egmont.  To celebrate the release of the first two books in the series I’m giving away a Super Baddies prize pack.  The prize pack includes a copy of the first two books, Baddies vs. Goodies and When Robots Go Bad, as well as a block of chocolate (something that Goodies hate, but Baddies love!).

All you have to do to get in the draw is leave a comment (with your name and email address) telling me what would be a great name for a Super Baddie.  It could be absolutely anything you like.  If you can’t think of a name, tell me the name of your favourite baddie from a book or movie.  Competition closes Tuesday 26 March (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Helen.