As controversy swirls within the comic book industry around whether comics are for men, or for women, one superhero writer is taking time to make comics for kids.
And his comic stars a girl.
Joshua Williamson, whose new DC title Uncharted was just announced last month, is releasing his second all-ages, hardcover comic, Sketch Monsters, for Oni Press.
The book tells the story of Mandy, a young girl who channels her emotions into her sketchbook of monsters. When her emotions get out of control one day, the monsters escape.
The title is in the same vein as Dear Dracula, Williamson's 2008 Halloween-themed book, which is being made into an animated direct-to-DVD movie. And Dracula's artist, Vinny Navarrete, is also returning for Sketch Monsters.
Williamson is becoming an up-and-coming writer with all his recent work, from last fall's Superman/Batmam to his current Image title Xenoholics. Not only does he have Uncharted and Sketch Monsters coming out in October, but he's also got a short in Savage Sword from Dark Horse this week.Newsarama talked with Williamson to find out more about Sketch Monsters and his other upcoming work.
Newsarama: Joshua, you've now written two graphic novels for kids -- Dear Dracula and Sketch Monsters. What interests you about writing comics aimed at kids?
Joshua Williamson: For starters, I enjoy it. I like writing fun and light hearted comics, even if it’s not the most popular thing in comics currently. When I did Dear Dracula, I just wanted to try something different that was fun and could be enjoyed by everyone. A true all ages book. Some of the best things about the PIXAR movies is that adults can take their kids to see the movies and the kids can laugh and can have a good time… but so can the parents. I felt and still feel like that is missing from comics. Graphic Novels aimed at a younger audience is an important market that I feel is often ignored. Even though I sometimes write more grown up action or humor, I feel like I need to contribute to the kids. Thankfully Oni Press also sees value in that and is publishing Sketch Monsters.
Nrama: Do you think it's important to expose kids to comics? Why?
Williamson: Well, I hate to quote Whitney Houston (even though she didn’t write it) but… “I believe the children are our future.” I apologize to anyone who now have that song stuck in his or her head the rest of the day after reading this.Also, and this is me being sort of selfish, but I want our industry to thrive and grow, and we can’t do that without new readers. The thing about comics is that it teaches morale values that I don’t think they’re getting anywhere else. Maybe traditional kid’s comics, but not most TV and video games. In most media out there now for kids, it seems like they are being spoon-fed info or having their hands held. Comics are a great way to get kids interested in reading other kids of comics and books… it forces them to learn how to use and develop their imagination and minds. It’s been proven that kids who read comics develop better reading skills at a younger age.
Nrama: What's the idea behind the story in Sketch Monsters?
Williamson: The book’s solicitation says it best" “Eight-year-old Mandy isn't what you'd call an emotional child. Whether at her own surprise birthday party, scoring the winning goal, or being stung by a bee, Mandy doesn't show her feelings. Instead she draws them as monsters in her sketchbook! But one day her emotions run wild and those monsters escape! Mandy's only help catching them is an eccentric monster named Happster, who causes more problems than he solves. Can Mandy catch all the sketch monsters and return them to her sketchbook before they destroy her town?”So monsters that look like an emotionally distant little girl’s drawings escape and create havoc, pretty much.
Nrama: How did you come up with the story?
Williamson: The whole thing started because of Vinny, the artist. Vinny and I used to work in a studio with a few other artists and people used to always say that Vinny was a “sketch monster,” because he was always sketching in his sketch book while the other artists in the studio would talk or waste time. That name… that saying… always stuck with Vinny and I and one day we were hanging out and started talking about doing a book where someone’s sketches came to life and still looked like their art. We just knew they had to be monster drawings. The hard part was giving the story a bit of heart, something that had an emotional resonance and relatability to the reader. Eventually the idea of having the main character hide her emotions, but express them in her art, developed and we ran with it. I always want to make sure that my work is saying something, and Sketch Monsters for sure has a little morale included.
Nrama: Why did you choose to have a girl as your main character in Sketch Monsters?
Williamson: This might not be the most satisfying answer, but we just knew it was going to be a girl. Just sort of happened. The closet I can come to a conversation about it was that Vinny had drawn two little Goth twin sisters, just killing time in his sketch book at a con, and we talked about using them for something. Dear Dracula already had a boy lead in Sam, so when we started working on Sketch Monsters it just seemed natural to have it be a girl.And honestly, I love Mandy… she is one of my favorite characters I’ve written. Her smart-ass cold expression is really funny to me. Page one of Sketch Monsters is classic.
Nrama: Would you like to see more young girls exposed to comic stories? Why?
Williamson: Of course, but it’s almost my same answer to the question about getting kids into comics. Studies have said that girls and women reader more then men… so why not comics? You can do so much with this medium that there should be something for everyone, and there is already a lot of great content out there aimed at women. It seems like there is a whole new generation of women who are interested in things that used to be exclusive to the boy’s club, so why not get them into comics at a young age? Comics are amazing, so everyone should get a chance into the world.
Nrama: How is it working with Vinny Navarrete again? And what does he bring to the Sketch Monsters project?
Williamson: Vinny is awesome. With Sketch Monsters and Dear Dracula, the books are as much his as they are mine. From the early idea to the final files going to the printer, every decision is made by Vinny and I. Vinny always has notes on the script and makes notes in the roughs that sometimes turn into the best parts of the book. In a lot of ways these books are just me and Vinny trying to make each other laugh. Vinny has such an animated style with such great energy… it’s very unique and like nothing else out there. His perspective on comics and kids book is key to the vision and fun of these books.Also, he is always sure to keep me in check… some times I might write a scene that might not be as kid friendly in tone as we want and I always have Vinny to rein me in.
Nrama: We recently talked to you about Uncharted, but you also have a short in Savage Sword coming up. What can you tell us about that story?
Williamson: It’s starring one of Robert E. Howard’s lesser known, but no less rad characters, Steve Harrison. He is a pulp detective investigating a brutal murder involving wine in a tale called “Pinot NOIR.” It’s the exact opposite of Sketch Monsters in that it’s dark, gritty, visceral story drawn by Patric Reynolds and released by Dark Horse. When I’m not writing fun lightered books, I love getting into the dark side of comics. Hopefully in the future I get to do a lot more of it.
Nrama: What other projects do you have coming up?
Williamson: Aside from Uncharted and XenoHolics, it’s too soon to talk about my next projects. More creator-owned books are being planned for next year. I’ve got a few things coming out that will surprise people. 2012 is going to be very interesting.
One of the really cool things that should be announced soon is the Dear Dracula animated direct to DVD movie that is be worked on right now. Can’t wait to explain all the details and start sharing more of that with people.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers about Sketch Monsters?
Williamson: If you want to get a kid you know into comics giving them books like Sketch Monsters or Dear Dracula is a great start, because they are stand alone, strong sturdy hardcovers, filled with attractive art and amazing color with a strong sense of design and production. Parents can look at Sketch Monsters and say “Okay, my kid, won’t destroy this.” Kid’s love hardcovers with well-done art with bright colors, glossy paper that they can toss across the room, and yet most publishers release kid’s books that are shoddy produced with bland colors and the cheapest paper possible. A lot of work and care went into putting together Sketch Monsters… an amazing looking book that kid’s will enjoy, remember, and want to read or be read to over and over. And parents won’t mind reading to them over and over again.
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