Writer/artist Eric Wight hit it big with kids last year with his comics/prose hybrid Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom. Now, his imaginative protagonist is back with Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000. Wight talked with us about his new book, and even gave us some exclusive preview art for the third Frankie tale.
Newsarama: Eric, tell us about the new Frankie book.
Eric Wight: Frankie's new adventure is called Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000. After failing to complete his knot tying badge, Frankie realizes that the only way he can move up in rank with the other Possum Scouts is to win the Pine Run 3000.
He dreams up the slickest speedster ever, but when he tries to build it on his own, his creation crashes and burns. So Frankie has to figure out how to fix his car and still win the race or be left in the dust by the other scouts.
Nrama: How was working on this book different from the first installment?
Wight: Working on this book was so much more streamlined than Closet of Doom. With Doom, we had to create everything, from my designing all of the characters, to figuring out the layout of the covers, or even what fonts we would use.
Now I have a template, and a pretty solid style guide for Frankie's world. Not having to worry about all of that other stuff allowed me to just focus on telling the best story I could.
Nrama: Did you draw from any pinewood derby experiences of your own for this story, and if so, could you tell us about them?
Wight: The initial idea for Pine Run was inspired by my own Cub Scout experiences. I have very fond memories of being a scout, as well as of my dad and I building and racing my pinewood car.
Ironically, just after I began making the book, my son joined Cub Scouts (and I ended up becoming his den leader), so I've gotten to experience the pinewood derby as both a child and father.
The craziest part of the story is that my son's pinewood derby was actually just this past week, the exact same week that Pine Run 3000 came out. It was completely coincidental, but I like to think fate was smiling at me a little.
Nrama: What have you learned from doing these books, and what's been the most interesting/gratifying reaction you've had to the series so far?
Wight: I've learned so much from working on this series. I finally feel like I have a firm footing in the publishing world, where I can write my own ticket and be treated fairly. I've become increasingly confident in my writing of prose, which was the most terrifying and frustrating part of creating the first book.
And with each book I learn more about what my personal voice is, both with the writing and art -- and am humbled by how much I still need to learn.
The most gratifying reaction has been the volume of emails and letters I've gotten from parents and educators who have told me that Frankie was a "light switch" book for their child. That after trying to get their kids to read without success, that Frankie not only got them hooked and excited about reading other books, but often times write and draw their own comic books.
One teacher told me she bought a set for her entire classroom of over 70 students, and it was the first time in her teaching career that every single child read a book from cover to cover. That's powerful stuff.
Nrama: And admit it, you wanted to do a little Speed Racer homage in there too....
Wight: Of course! The first thing I did when I started working on the book was sit down and watch all of the original Speed Racer cartoons with my son. We also spent some time playing with Matchbox cars.
Nrama: How does your experience with animation and comics help you/hinder you in doing a (mostly) prose story?
Wight: I think my animation experience helped nurture my comedic timing, and taught me so many fundamentals about storytelling. When I worked at Warner Bros. with Bruce Timm, or on the Buffy cartoon, or on The O.C. I was a constant student of how they crafted stories, and particularly with Joss Whedon's preciseness of dialogue.
The part that was most hindering was that while the transition of writing screenplays to comics is pretty seamless, writing prose is anything but. In the beginning I would get so frustrated because I knew I could draw something so much faster than finding the words to describe what was in my head.
Nrama: How many books do you ultimately foresee doing?
Wight: I have over a dozen titles in the works. I figure I'll keep making them until I run out of ideas. Once I feel like I'm forcing it, or retreading old ideas, it'll be time to stop.
Nrama: What will Frankie face next in THE MATHEMATICAL MENACE?
Wight: After Frankie fails his Math quiz, he tries to avoid Math altogether, but his quiz has other plans. It transports him to the land of Arithmecca, where numbers are horrible monsters. Armed with his pencil, Frankie must figure out how to defeat the number monsters in order to pass Math.
Nrama: What's next for you outside of Frankie?
Wight: Right now I'm pulling double duty drawing Menace and writing my middle grade novel, Sword of Fools. FOOLS is also a prose/graphic novel hybrid, about a boy minstrel named Kookleberry who finds a mysterious medieval comic book called “The Scarlet Hood” that transports him on a wild adventure filled with monsters and magic. Between those two projects, and my touring schedule I have an insanely full plate.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Wight: This is such an exciting time for kids graphic novels. Some of my favorites I've been reading are The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis, Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan, Babymouse by Jenni & Matt Holm, Knights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso, and Amelia Rules! by Jimmy Gownley.
Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 is in stores now.
Zack Smith (email@example.com) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.