The Tales of Frankie: Eric Wight on 'Frankie Pickle'

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom

Eric Wight has become a fan-favorite for his comics and animation work, including the “Atomic County” art on The O.C., the unproduced Buffy the Vampire Slayer cartoon, The Escapist and My Dead Girlfriend. His latest project is the all-ages text-and-prose graphic novel Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, the tale of an imaginative kid versus a very dirty room. The tale combines illustrated prose sections for Frankie’s “regular” life with graphic novel sequences depicting his outrageous fantasies. We talked with Wight about his new book, which is in stores now, and got an update on My Dead Girlfriend.

Newsarama: Eric, tell our readers about Frankie and his family.

Eric Wight: Frankie Pickle is a typical kid with an anything-but-typical imagination. Sometimes, it leads him on adventures. More often, it gets him into trouble. His two best friends are his dog, Argyle, and his schoolmate Kenny, an African American boy who only speaks through music.

Frankie is bookended by two sisters. Piper is the older, wiser, and sporty one; Lucy is the younger, cuter and more drool-y one. Dad loves to bake, often experimenting on the rest of the family with his confectionary concoctions. And Mom, like so many moms, makes keeping the household running like a well-oiled machine seem effortless, even if it’s not.

Frankie Pickle, page 3

NRAMA: How did this project come about?

EW: Frankie was an idea that I had originally created to be an animated series, but after I found out that a) the interested network wanted to steer the project into a very different creative direction and b) said network expected me to write, design and storyboard the pilot for free before they would even option it, I decided to pull it off the table, and tucked it away for safe keeping.

Fast forward to a few years later. My Dead Girlfriend took off like a rocket, but exploded upon reentry. As heartbreaking as that experience was, it helped me discover a newfound passion for writing. I decided to take things a step further and try my hand at prose.

I knew that I could never turn my back on comics, so I started to play around with the idea of creating books that were hybrids, utilizing prose and sequential art to tell one cohesive story. I dusted off my bible for Frankie, and realized that it was just the right fit for a hybrid: the parts about reality could be prose, and his fantasies could be comic.

So I took that bible, repackaged it as a chapter book series for young readers, and with the help of my agent Steve Malk, I found an incredible home for it at Simon & Schuster.

Frankie Pickle, page 4

NRAMA: What was your major inspiration for Frankie's world?

EW: Frankie began as a reflection on my own childhood. So many of my fondest memories of being a kid were playing with my friends and the adventures we would create inspired by our action figures, comic books, and favorite Saturday morning cartoons. I was also a constant daydreamer, which occasionally got me into trouble like Frankie.

Now that I have kids of my own, I pull so much inspiration from watching how they play and process the world around them. The innocent, unfiltered perceptiveness of a child is astounding. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I didn’t want to just tell stories that kids might find entertaining. I wanted to recapture the excitement and wonder of childhood for myself through Frankie’s eyes.

NRAMA: What was your favorite fantasy sequence to draw?

EW: The scenes with Frankie’s superhero persona Wonder Pickle were a blast, and obviously pay a very loving tribute to my love of superhero comics. But what gets me excited most is drawing a subject I’ve never tackled before.

The best part about the series for me is that anything is possible. Frankie could be a jungle explorer one minute, and a surgeon the next. Until I write that script, I really have no idea what might be waiting for me around the corner. Even at the outline stage, so many little adventures pop up out of nowhere. I guess it depends on what I want to play with at that moment. I’m constantly searching for new avenues for Frankie’s imagination to delve into.

Frankie Pickle, page 5

NRAMA: What's the challenge in doing an all-ages/younger readers story?

EW: The potential of Frankie becoming a role model for kids weighs heavily on my creative choices. As much as I strive for the series to be funny and action-packed, I also want there to be an underlying message that drives the story.

The challenge with that is finding a way to convey your message without beating your reader over the head with it. You just have to trust that it’s there, and let it breathe a few layers beneath the surface. Maybe some kids will pick it up on the first reading, maybe some will discover it on the third or fourth. And if they never catch it at all, that’s okay, too. But at least I know it’s there.

NRAMA: Also, what are the challenges in working with prose?

EW: Writing prose is by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done creatively. There were so many times when I first began writing that I would bang my head against my desk out of frustration, knowing that I could draw what I saw in my mind a lot faster than finding words to describe it.

I had to keep reminding myself that I’ve been drawing since before I could speak, and have only been writing for a few months. It was going to take some time for those muscles to catch up. Sometimes when I get stuck, I draw little thumbnails, like visual outlines, which helped tremendously to map out my writing.

NRAMA: Why do you feel younger-reader-oriented comics are important to the industry?

EW: For the industry to grow, we obviously need readers. And you won’t have readers if kids aren’t interested. Ask any teacher or librarian, and they’ll tell you that boys in particular are tough to get excited about books. Not all, of course. I was a voracious reader as a kid. But so many would much rather be playing video games or outside with their friends. It also doesn’t help that learning disabilities are becoming more prevalent, and attention spans are shrinking smaller and smaller.

Frankie Pickle, page 6

But I’m a firm believer that the earlier you can engage children in reading, the more likely they will become readers for life. Comics are a wonderful resource to do that with. Younger readers who may not have the skills or attention span to read a 200-page book build confidence by completing an entire graphic novel. Plus, the art gives visual cues to help them figure out words they may be challenged by.

The age range of comics is also more encompassing. A kid who is struggling with reading might be embarrassed to be seen reading a picture book, but give them a graphic novel ,and now they are at the same level as their friends.

NRAMA: What will Frankie face in future books?

EW: The next volume is called Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000, which is the Pinewood Derby meets Speed Racer. After that is Frankie Pickle and the Multiplying Menace, which can only be described as math meets Lord of the Rings. I have over a dozen volumes planned, with 2-3 books coming out a year.

NRAMA: Any update on My Dead Girlfriend, or any other projects you want to discuss?

EW: My Dead Girlfriend is, sadly, as dead as its title. I got as far as the script for #2 and outline for #3, when everything imploded. I’ve tried repeatedly to get my rights back, but for now my creation is being held hostage.

In addition to the Fankie Pickle series, I’m also writing and illustrating a middle grade fantasy series for Simon & Schuster, the first of which is Kookleberry and the Sword of Fools. It’s also a hybrid, although the graphic novel elements are utilized differently.

Kookleberry about a boy minstrel who, after losing his mentor discovers an illustrated tome called The Scarlet Hood (think Jack Kirby drawing the Book of Kells), and goes on a quest to figure out his purpose. Contained within the novel is the actual comic that Kookleberry discovers, allowing readers to experience it with him as it guides him on his journey.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about?

Frankie Pickle, page 7

EW: May 3rd marked the kickoff of my book tour for Frankie Pickle at my local children’s bookstore, Booktenders Secret Garden in Doylestown, PA.

For the official release on May 5th I was in my hometown Bethlehem, PA to the Moravian Bookshop. Then TCAF on May 9-10th. I’ve created a gallery exhibit that doubles as a life-sized Look & Find of the Closet of Doom that kids can explore to win prizes.

From there I’m going to Boston, a few stops in New Hampshire and Vermont, and then back to Massachusetts May 16th where I will be at the Eric Carle Museum teaching a Comics for Kids workshop.

Then I will be at to Jim Hanley’s Universe on May 20th to do a signing with Chris Giarrusso (Mini Marvels, the new G-Man collection from Image), Jacob Chabot (Mighty Skullboy Army), and Andres Vera Martinez (Babe Ruth). Should be an awesome time.

There are still a bunch of signing events to be determined, so to keep up with all of the details of Frankie’s happenings you can either visit frankiepickle.com or his Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/reqs.php#/pa...le/68855129288

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