Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Preview: Okie Dokie Donuts (Story 1): Open for Business by Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos

Image Courtesy of Top Shelf Productions: ISBN 978-1-60309-068-1

I was able to get a preview copy of Okie Dokie Donuts (Story 1): Open for Business by Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos (@Eliohouse) published by Top Shelf Productions (www.topshelfcomix.com).  This delightfully fun book will be available this June and is available for pre-order here. It is a full-color, 48-page hardcover graphic novel.

Big Mama bakes donuts with love that her customers can't get enough of.  Whether you are looking for strawberry with banana blast or chocolate top with the sprinkle bubbles, Big Mama has the goods for you.  The book opens with a theme song that I can almost picture on a television on Saturday morning as I wake up early, fill up my bowl of cereal with Cap'n Crunch and park myself on the floor waiting to see what will happen to Big Mama this week.  With the help of her trusted employee, Henry (props for a good name choice!), Big Mama and Okie Dokie Donuts will hopefully be serving up the baked goods for future stories.

The first thing that grabs you attention with this title is Chris' unique art style and his whimsical character design.  His characters are very expressive and his art style lends itself to the slap-stick humor that permeates this book.  They capture my son's attention and really draw the eye from panel to panel.  My only complaint is that subtle touches that he places in the background are often overlooked because it is hard to look away from his characters.

In Open for Business, Big Mama is visited by Mr. Mayweather from the Great Cooks Cooking Corporation (GCCC) who has his latest and greatest invention, Mr. Baker, for Big Mama to try out.  Needless to say, the conflict that exists between Big Mama and her made with love philosophy and modern advances in kitchen technology leads to some humorous hijinks.

This book is sure to delight readers of any age and is appropriate for both young and old.  His writing is accessible to children as young as 2 or 3, and intelligent enough to be enjoyed by their parents.  Chris is no stranger to writing kids' comics (Henry also loves his book Gabba Ball) and he continues to hone his craft with this simple and humorous story that will be a regular read in our house when the print edition hits.  I can't wait to add this title to Henry's book shelf in June and I am sure that it will be a daily read for the little man.  Chris definitely left me hungering for more Okie Dokie Donuts and I hope that he includes a jelly donut for me in future volumes.  I will be careful not to squeeze though.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with Alan J. Porter

Image courtesy of Alan J. Porter
I had a chance to meet Alan J. Porter, author of the CARS line of comics from Boom! at Staple a couple of weeks ago.  He was kind enough to volunteer and answer some questions for the blog and sign a copy of CARS: The Rookie for Henry.  It was Henry's first exposure to Alan's work and the CARS line of comics and he enjoyed it and is ready for more!

Alan has a broad and very impressive resume in comics and beyond.  For more on him visit http://alanjporter.com or follow him on Twitter at @alanjporter.

Given your diverse background in writing, what are the challenges and rewards writing for a younger audience with your CARS line?

In writing anything for younger audiences I just try an tell good stories that anyone, irrespective of age, would enjoy reading. While I try and keep the language age appropriate for the audience, I also like to make sure its something of a challenge too, not enough to block reading and enjoying the story, but have at least the occasional word that a young reader may not be familiar with but could figure out from the context of the story, or by reaching for a dictionary, or asking a parent. I learned a lot of my vocabulary as a kid from comics, and I'd like to pass something of that joy of discovering new words on.

The biggest challenge of writing CARS is that at first pass they are just that, cars. Writing for what are essentially two ton boxes of metal with limited movement can be a challenge. What I did before each script was put the movie back on, and lie down with my eyes shut and just listen to the dialog and interplay between the characters, that helped me visualize them as distinct personalities rather than objects. Plotting the action could also be a little tricky as cars basically just move in a horizontal plane, they can't really jump about too much, or go up and down stairs etc. So I got to play around with my die-cast CARS toy collection as I moved vehicles around my desk plotting out races moves, or action sequences. - Which was pretty cool - getting paid to play with toy cars!

The rewards? Oh they are numerous. Writing an all-ages comic has been a wonderful experience. The look on a kids face when they see a comic about one of their favorite characters is priceless. I also love hearing from parents who tell me they read the books to their kids as a way of sharing a love of reading. I've also been told about kids being spurred to want to learn to read because of  the CARS comics, and that is perhaps the greatest reward.

As CARS  is a beloved and well-known franchise, did you feel a lot of pressure to please the loyal fans of CARS? Did the fact that the characters were well-established help or hinder your creative process?

I didn't really feel too much pressure at the start, but then I discovered there's this whole CARS collectors sub-culture. The collector community were great in welcoming me in, and very appreciative of the work I did. But when I saw a blog post on a CARS forum discussing what had basically been a throw-away gag in one panel, I realized just how closely they were reading the books. 

I'm a big fan of the movie myself, as well as a gear-head in general, so I always tried to stay true to the characters, as well as to the motor sports aspects of the story, and the various ways that things work in the CARS world. I took it all very seriously as the slightest deviation would be picked up.

While the characters were well established within the confines of the movie, there are still a lot of stories you can tell using them. I have a habit, that when watching a movie, of asking myself how did a particular character get there in the first place, or what happened next to them? That can be a springboard for a lot of ideas. For instance in the CARS movie, Lightning McQueen is often referred to as "The Rookie Sensation of the Year." Wanting to know why he was called that, lead to the ideas that formed the first CARS comic story arc "The Rookie."

If you had complete creative control, what direction would you like to take the CARS line?

Wow, that's a big question. I would want to expand the motor-sports part of the world, and bring in cars from other series (as they seem to be doing in the new movie), but also follow the revival of Radiator Springs - maybe have some of the old residents return. I'd also thought about doing something where as the town grows and prospers, the old-time residents start to see the new prosperity of something of a double edged sword as the influx of new residents means that they start to lose that feeling of community that kept them together.

I like the fact that they are doing an adventure spin on the movie too (I actually did a small four-page Mater spy story in one of my comics), and I think Mater's fantasy life (as shown in the Tall tales shorts) would be fun to explore more.

If you could write a comic about any character from your youth that inspired you, who would that be and why?

Doctor Who. Growing up in the UK, Doctor Who was a constant inspiration both on TV and in the various British adventure comics I read. The great thing about writing stories for The Doctor is that they can be about anything, and set at anytime. Science fiction, historical, whatever you want.

Do you have any other items in the works for your history of comics line?

I have had discussions with the publishers for a couple of other ideas to follow the James Bond and Star Trek comics history books, and it looks like we are close to an agreement on what the next project will be; but contracts aren't signed yet. 

On the comics front it looks like I will be doing some work on another licensed all-ages book later this year, and I'm looking forward to that.

And of course it's fantastic news that the new Disney*Pixar Presents magazine to be distributed by Marvel will be kicking off with some of my CARS stories. I have also been talking to them about some new story ideas, so hopefully I might get the chance to return to Radiator Springs at some point in the future.


Monday, March 14, 2011

SXSWi Screenburn Arcade

When I saw that Wizard World (http://www.wizardworld.com/) was going to have a booth at the SXSWi Screenburn Arcade (http://sxsw.com/interactive/screenburn/arcade), I didn't anticipate that I would get a blog post out of it.  It has become an annual tradition for our family to see some video games and people watch and this year was no different.

Tucked in the mix of giant bean bags, social media booths, game developer tools and a boxing ring, the Wizard World booth was setting up.  Henry walked up where inker Rodney Ramos was setting up some books and they were prepping a prize wheel.  He started to grab at some of the books until he was instructed to look with his eyes when Rodney asked Henry what he was up to.  Henry said that he was looking for a prize and asked Rodney for one.  Rodney was taken aback, but handled it like a pro.  He realized that his books were not age appropriate for a 3 and a half year old, and told Henry to hold tight.  Rodney then found a scrap of paper and drew a quick sketch of Batman telling Henry to listen to his parents.  It was a very special moment for Henry and our family and we were thrilled with the kindness of Rodney and how much this quick sketch meant to us.  That type of prize is more then Henry could have possibly asked for.  Thanks for making this year's Screenburn Arcade the best ever!

I wish I could have afforded a SXSWi badge to attend some of the comic panels and social media panels, but our free experience was great and we walked away with a unique memento that we will keep with us always!  Thanks SXSW, thanks Wizard World and most of all thanks Rodney!  Hope your time in Austin was great!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with Chris Staros from Top Shelf Productions

This weekend was Staple! and I was able to interview Chris Staros, publisher with Top Shelf Productions.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @chrisstaros, Top Shelf on Twitter at @topshelfcomix or check out the Facebook page of Top Shelf at www.facebook.com/topshelfcomix.  Top Shelf produces some of the best kids' comics on the market and I was really happy he took time out of his busy expo schedule to chat with me.  Do yourself a favor and head over to www.topshelfcomix.com and sign your child up for their kids' club.  Chris will talk about it later, but Henry is signed up and it is great.  You get a free poster and more!

Could you tell me how Staple has been for you so far and how it has treated you in the past?

Staple has been an ongoing independent press comic’s convention that I am happy to support.  Austin is a great town and has always had a great comic legacy.  There are some great stores here, especially Austin Books (www.austinbooks.com) which is a great comic shop in town.  Top Shelf has always had a very long relationship with the con and with the community here so we are always happy to support Staple and we are having a great time this weekend.

Great, I want to say that my son was introduced to your line of kids’ comics through the Free Comic Book Day (www.freecomicbookday.com) book and I saw a picture of the cover for the upcoming one for this year.  Could you tell me a little about how you have expanded that and how you are using it to draw in new readers?

Yeah, the Free Comic Book day book is a fantastic thing, not only for Free Comic Book Day itself, but past that.  When a library calls or when somebody calls and they are doing an event at their school, we always support that by sending them a bunch of free comic books to hand out to their kids and so forth.  We’ve had such success and we enjoy doing the kids stuff so much, as well as our mature line which is our main focus, but the kids stuff as well, that we’ve gone from 3 series, Owly, Korgi and Johnny Boo, to six for this summer. We’ve added Okie Dokie Donuts, Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken and a book called Upside Down, which is a vampire story about a little vampire who eats so much candy his teeth rot out (laughs).  So we are having a really good time expanding it.  This year’s Free Comic Day Book has stories from all six of those series and has a list of all of the books in the back and it will be helpful for those who want to get into all of them.

Could you tell me a little bit about the upcoming releases you have. It seems to me y’all have a bunch of books, in terms of your kids’ line, do you know when we can expect to see those hit the shelf?

Yeah, Okie Dokie Donuts, which is Chris Eliopoulos’ (http://www.eliohouse.com/ ) book about a big momma who runs a donut shop full of love. Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken by Ray Friesen (http://www.donteatanybugs.net/)  is about a penguin and a chicken who aren’t particularly piratey or ninja-ey (laughs), but they think they are and they get in a lot of fights and, you know, are very Tom and Jerry-esque.  Ray’s sense of humor is very funny.  Those are coming out in June, Upside Down by Jess Smart Smiley (http://jess-smiley.com/) will come out in the fall and even next year, we’ve signed a couple big projects.  Austin’s own Rob Harrell (http://www.robharrell.com/) is doing a book for us called Monster on the Hill which is one of the coolest stories I have read in a long, long time and that is going to come out in 2012.  And then a book called Maddy Kettle by Eric Orchard (http://ericorchard.blogspot.com/) will be coming out.  And if you go to www.topshelfcomix.com and look at the kids’ club section, or even at the home page, there is a little window that if you sign up for the kids’ club newsletter you can get a free poster, and get involved in our kids’ community and we will target email messages specifically for kids’ stuff to that little group.  You can find out what Andy Runton (www.AndyRunton.com) is doing or Christian Slade (http://www.christianslade.com/)  is doing with Korgi or where they are going to be or little how-to’s or pdfs that you can print and color.  That kind of stuff.  We are really trying to play to kids more.

Great, thanks for your time and best of luck at the expo!
Ok, thanks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Staple! Write-Up

Image courtesy of Staple!
Even though I sadly was unable to attend any panels as I had a 3 and a half-year-old and a one-year old in tow, we still had a very nice Staple! experience.  The vendors were all great, had amazing stuff and were very kind and easy to approach.

All of the staff that we interacted with were helpful and knowledgeable.  The venue worked great and it was very successful from our standpoint.  Thank you to all of the individuals that put in a large amount of time and effort.  Your hard work paid off and you should be proud!

Henry was allowed to pick out one “prize” and had a tough time deciding.  At first he was going to get an Owly or Johnny Boo book from the Top Shelf booth (www.topshelfcomix.com), but settled on the “He-Man and Skeletor” print from Tim Doyle (@NakatoniTim) of Nakatomi Inc (http://store.nakatomiinc.com/boundbeforetherighteyebydoylederington.aspx).  I ended up getting a couple of other prints and a sticker as well.  I have a hard time not buying more prints from those guys.

We got to chat with our friends from Austin Books (www.austinbooks.com) and Henry was excited to get a free bookmark from their booth. 

In terms of generating content for the blog, I was able to interview Chris Staros (@chrisstaros) from Top Shelf and set up an interview with Alan Porter (http://alanjporter.com/), author of the Cars line from Boom! Studios.  Both fellas were generous with their time and I was able to get an autographed copy of Cars: The Rookie for Henry and Chris gave Zelda an Owly finger puppet set.   I hope to post both of the interviews in the next couple of days.

Again, I am bummed I didn’t get to see the screening of Comic Book Literacy (www.comicbookliteracy.com) or any of the other panels, but it was a great event that my whole family enjoyed.  Thanks Staple!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Great Link for Graphic Novels and Kids

Here is a link that you all should read.  Jenny Williams does a great job covering a broad range of graphic novels.  http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/03/graphic-novels-for-kids-make-comic-books-accessible-to-all/

You can follow her at @jennywilliams and @geekmomblog on Twitter.  I know I am going to.