Demistifying the Graphic Novel

Scholastic editor Nick Eliopulos is a graphic novel fanatic! At the 2010 SCBWI LA conference he shared his experience making the graphic novel The Sons of Liberty. He had so much insight into the graphic novel universe that I couldn’t fit it into one post! So if you have even an inkling about writing your own graphic novel then read on my fearless friends!

Publishers Want Graphic Novels!

  • Graphic Novels have gotten bigger and bigger in the publishing world in the last ten years. But progress is slow. Publishers are still trying to figure out how it all works.
  • Publishers see graphic novels as a way to expand their current market and get new readers.
  • Graphix is the Scholastic imprint that publishes graphic novels. They published Bone.
  • Graphic novels is growing in the publishing industry, everyone want to do one, but they are being picky due to cost.
  • Manga has hit a wall.

What Kind of Stories Can Be Graphic Novels?

  • The question to ask yourself is: is your story visual? This is the number one reason to tell your story as a graphic novel. If you have a lot of people sitting around and talking, then it may not be the right medium. Think about what the visual element brings to the story and how that can help it to be unique.
  • Plot, character, and voice are all the same when it comes to a graphic novel. Keep these story elements in your book. They are still just as important.
  • The media can accommodate all genres, even non-fiction. So be creative!
  • Not all graphic novels are action adventure. A lot are because it is visual, but it is not exclusive.
  • Baby Mouse is one of the youngest books (age group) Scholastic has created as a graphic novel.
  • Yes, Graphix has published girl young adult graphic novels.
  • Graphic Novels can really adapt within the market. They flow well between middle grade, young adult, or genre fiction. If one genre is hot, you can make a graphic novel in it.

Tips on Writing and Pacing Your Graphic Novel:

  • Writers should draw out some of what you are writing so that you can get a sense of how the book is working and the pacing. Use stick figures if you want.
  • A page in a graphic novel is a piece of artwork in and of itself, but that isn’t so with a novel. So you really need to consider what goes on each page and why.
  • Scene changes in the middle of a page can be very awkward visually.
  • End the page with a beat. This can be a cliff-hanger to get you to turn the page, but it doesn’t hallways have to be. An emotional beat works too.
  • The left page is different than the right page. Be aware of where a reveal is in your images. Turning a page is a good way to reveal something. But if you put the reveal on the right side, the viewer will skip everything on the left page and go straight to the reveal.
  • Can you show the transition from day to night visually? Do you need the word “Meanwhile” instead?
  • Will you use thought balloons? Whose thoughts do we get to see? Think about point of view. It is best to stay with the protagonist. Often we don’t want to know what is happening inside the bad guy’s thoughts. This can sometimes be done in movies, but it is harder to pull off in a graphic novel.
  • Sex and violence can get a book censored quickly. Anyone can open up a graphic novel and see a sexual picture and immediately take it out of context. With a novel, you usually have to read the book to find the dirty parts. Pictures are found much faster.

Finding an Artist for Your Graphic Novel Project:

  • Often submissions come in with an artist attached to a project. The process is different than a normal picture book project.
  • To find an artist, a great place to go is a comic book convention. Most of these conventions have an “artist’s ally” where you can view portfolios and talk to artists in person.
  • It’s best to find an artist who isn’t also a writer because they will often be less dedicated to your project.
  • Author David Levithan found his artist for his and Holly Black’s graphic novel through the San Diego Comic-Con.
  • You want to find an artist with an artistic vision that is similar to yours. There will be lots of cooks in the kitchen, so make sure you work well together and have a cohesive vision.
  • You could pay an artist to do some sample artwork for you, but be open to a new artist if the publisher isn’t hot about the artwork. But always work this out with your artist first.

What Do Publishers Want in a Manuscript Submission?

  • Include sample art if you are working with an artist.
  • Include a full (complete) script. Feel free to use a screenwriting program/software to format your script.
  • Check out the Marvel Website and see what they ask for in a submission. This is a great guideline.
  • Make sure you note page breaks in your manuscript as this is very important.
  • You do not need to thumbnail your whole book. If someone asks you to do that, they are really asking way too much of you. The problem is some publishers don’t know how to go about this process, so they just want to see more and more.
  • It’s good to illustrate the first five pages of the manuscript so the publisher can get a sense of the pacing and look of the book.
  • In general, higher profile agents send packages that include: 5-20 pages of art with the finished script. Publishers should probably take a clue from these agents.
  • All houses are making graphic novels and accepting submission differently. Try and research each house.

Great Ways to Promote Your Graphic Novel:

  • Put your work on the web. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was discovered online as a free web-comic, as was the new graphic novel Smile.
  • Websites are great for artists.
  • Yes, it is okay to put out a free digital comic book online. The publisher can always re-package a product. This was done with the book  Bone.

How Have Digital Mediums Changed Graphic Novels?

  • The iPad is a big game changer. Now you can read an entire graphic novel digitally and at high resolution.
  • There’s a lot of talk, but not much action yet to back it up. Scholastic talked about doing a middle grade graphic novel series as an e-book stunt, prior to the book coming out, but marketing wasn’t excited about it.

How Long Does It Take To Make A Graphic Novel?

  • Eliopulos wanted Sons of Liberty to take a year, but it actually too two and a half years.
  • Time line will depend mostly on your artist.
  • If it’s part of a series, a good way to work is to start writing the second book while the artist is making the art for the first book.
  • The typical page count of a graphic novel is under 200 pages. Sons of Liberty was 176 pages. Remember that pages cost money (for artwork, lettering, etc.).

Other Great Info:

  • Translated projects (with art already completed) are cheaper to produce in the US.
  • Some agents that represent graphic novelists are: Dan Lazar, and Jill Grinburg.
  • In general, Eliopulos sees submissions from writer/illustrators, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect quality so much as quantity.
  • If you’re an artist developing a portfolio, a great thing to do is to go online and check out Marvel’s website. They have sample scripts online that you can illustrate. They like these because it shows them how different artists will interpret the same text.
  • Payment for graphic novels is something that is still being hashed out. It seems to be moving toward a picture book model where the cut is 50/50 (writer/artist). But that can be tricky when you have different colorists and inkers, etc.
  • Rights are also a tricky issue. Whose work is it? The Authors? Did the illustrator add so much that really the property is theirs as well? It can be confusing.
  • Yes you can make a black and white graphic novel. In general, this is better for older age groups as children really respond to color, particularly little kids.

Graphic Novel Terminology:

  • Graphic Novel - This is a long form sequential art story with a book binding.
  • Sequential Art - A sequence of static panels.
  • Comic Book - Classic 32 page superhero thin book. It is made on thinner paper and comes out in episodic stories.
  • Manga – Eastern comics with a specific trim size.

Nick Eliopulos is an editor with Scholastic, following a 5-year stint with Random House Children’s Books. He has edited many middle-grade and young-adult titles, including the Tapestry series, The Pricker Boy, Unfamiliar Magic, and the forthcoming Sons of Liberty graphic novel. He has also worked on chapter books, cutting his teeth as an assistant on the Magic Tree House series.

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9 thoughts on “Demistifying the Graphic Novel

  1. Pingback: The Attitude of the Farmer « Kristen Lamb's Blog

  2. Pingback: SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away « Ingrid's Notes

  3. Hello I am actually creating an app where people can publish their graphic novels on the app for free. I wanted to know how long it would take for a digital novel to be made.

  4. Pingback: Graphically novel | Steel Writers

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