Making Kids Comics Like UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN (Pt. 2)

A Kid Lives Out Pirate Fantasies

Our two-part interview with The Unsinkable Walker Bean’s Aaron Renier concludes today, with talk of pirates, sea-monsters and comics for kids. Click here for Part One.

Newsrama: Aaron, I remember when you did Spiral Bound, and that was in black-and-white, and it had this very washed-out feel, like it was taking place at twilight, and there’s this slight sense of menace that turns to wonder at the end.

Aaron Renier: Yeah, even though it takes place during the summer, it’s always set inside during the day, or people are running around at night. So yeah, it feels that way.

Nrama: You have these scenes under the water in the book, which remind me of the underwater scenes in Spiral Bound – what’s the fascination for you for this kind of setting?

Renier: First of all, it has a lot to do with my family. Most of my family is a sailing family – my uncles and my grandfather on my mother’s side were boat builders. I was close with my uncles, we’d go biking, but with my grandfather, I always felt I was little too late.

There were times when he would teach me how to tie knots, but I guess I always wished I was born earlier when he was slightly younger, even five and six younger, just to be able to go out on the boat with just him and learn how to sail. I still go out with my family sailing, but it’s more of a recreational thing, like a family moment, than it was something the way that it was for my grandfather.

I always had an ear for fantasy, and the ocean floor is just right here and is as fantastically weird as anything we’d find in outer space. I think it’s incredible that we’re so close to something that’s so fantastic. It’s just so huge – in my world, it’s so easily accessible because all you have to do is dip your head beneath the surface and there’s this magic.

In Walker Bean, I try not to go underwater with the character, because in the future books, when we do go underwater, I want it to be a big, huge deal. I guess I just love water!

Nrama: As far as future books, how many do you see doing?

Renier: I’m still talking with First Second about that. I guess in my wildest dreams, I would have four or five. But right now, I’m working on the second one, so let’s see about that first.

Nrama: At least there’s a second already…

Renier: Yeah, it’s in progress. I’m very excited about that. It’s going to be very different from the first book, and I think it’s going to take a lot of people by surprise.

I feel like with Spiral Bound and Walker Bean, they’re similar books, or at least there are things similar about them. So this opportunity to do a sequel to a book I’ve already done has given me the chance to go off in a different direction.

Nrama: What are some of your favorite pirate stories?

Renier: I reread Treasure Island before I started Walker Bean, and as far as contemporary pirate stories, I tended to say away because of the “yo-ho-ho”-ness of them. Something like reading Moby-Dick or old pirate movies or things like The Swiss Family Robinson were very influential, but I haven’t read or seen many contemporary stories.

Nrama: What do you feel is important about having all-ages comics, the kind that both children and adults can enjoy?

Renier: I hear every once in a while that people are disappointed that comics couldn’t be read out loud – that they got some children’s comic from Amazon and didn’t know it would be a graphic novel, and are going, “how can you read a comic out loud?”

I didn’t get that, because I love reading comics out loud. Things like Tintin, especially. If you’re reading it with a younger child, have a child be Tintin and you’re Captain Haddock, and you can go through the story like it’s your own little play! So I think reading comics out loud is fantastic.

I don’t know necessarily how important it is for comics to be all-ages – I think it’s great, because the parents can relate to the children, and they can talk about the story afterwards, because they’ve both read it. But when I write my story, I don’t think about it being for all ages. I just think about writing the story.

 In my head, my goal is someone in middle school would pick up my book and read it. The idea of a parent picking up the same book and being able to discuss it is even better. When I was in middle school, I read a lot of comics, but there weren’t a lot of other people reading comics as well. I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so there weren’t even many places to get comics – I would get them from the comic shop.

This new influx of having these graphic novels for younger readers is simply amazing. If I’d have been a little kid right now, I’d be so happy with the amount of graphic novels that are coming out for me, and are good enough that my parents could read them.

The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis is amazing, and so are the Amulet books by Kazu Kibuishi. And Smile by Raina Telgemeier is so good. It’s a great time for graphic novels for kids.

I guess the importance is just being able to talk about it with someone – being able to be excited by a book, and able to discuss it with someone. And that’s one of the best parts of all-ages comics.

Nrama: So, a question about the book – how did you design those sisters, the sea witches? Because those are creepy!

Renier: Yeah – those come directly from my childhood memories of watching The Neverending Story. That was definitely one of my favorite movies growing up, and – I think it was the Southern Oracle…?

Nrama: The one that zaps you with laser beams from its eyes?

Renier: Yeah! And when you’re a kid, and they’re opening their eyes, you imagine them starting to move, and while it never happened…even now, when I saw it last, I thought, “If they were able to get up and walk around, it would be so scary.” So they came from that idea when I was little.

Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?

Renier: I’m an illustrator of a series of books about the Knights of the Round Table, for middle reader with Houghton-Mifflin. I just finished the third in that series, Sir Gawain the True, and it’s definitely my favorite with giants and dragons. And I’m very excited about the next Walker Bean book, which is my big project for the summer.

 And I’m teaching a comic class at DePaul University, and I’m doing a workshop for 826 Valencia for middle schoolers at the Boring Store in Chicago, where we’ll hopefully be producing a small collaborative graphic novel together. It feels like times I’ve read about, like the 1960s, a high point for children’s books and publishing in comics. It’s like there’s something new and exciting ever week. It’s a great time.

Set sail with Aaron Renier and The Unsinkable Wlaker Bean in stores now.

What are some of your favorite comics for kids? What are some of your favorite comics for kids?

Twitter activity