Dave Roman is the author of several graphic novels including ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: ZERO GRAVITY, AGNES QUILL: AN ANTHOLOGY OF MYSTERY and the upcoming TEEN BOAT. He has contributed stories to EXPLORER: THE MYSTERY BOXES, NURSERY RHYME COMICS, and is the co-author of two New York Times bestselling graphic novels, X-MEN: MISFITS and THE LAST AIRBENDER: ZUKO’S STORY. Roman worked as a comics editor for the groundbreaking Nickelodeon Magazine from 1998 to 2009. He lives in New York City with his wife, Raina Telgemeier. The characters in Astronaut Academy have a penchant for run-on sentences. What reaction do you get from grammarian teachers when you do school visits?
During my school presentations, I talk about how I grew up loving MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS and comedians who reveled in twisting the English language in silly ways. We have a lot of fun doing live readings, where I’ll project the panels from ASTRONAUT ACADEMY one at a time via PowerPoint slideshow and have kids perform various characters. The baroque sentence structures might trip readers up at first, but once they get the rhythm, the kids really get into it. Every reading brings out something surprising that cracks me up! Teachers usually Laugh Out Loud at the futuristic verbose language, which is a humorous contrast to the abbreviated LOLs they get from current-day text-speak. You write and draw many of your comics and graphic novels. As a student, how did your teachers encourage that combination of skills?
In high school, my teachers mostly kept writing and art separate, but when I’d go off and make my own comics, the lines always blurred. I’d make the stories up as I was drawing them, with only a general idea of where each comic was going! When I went to college at the School of Visual Arts, professors Carmine Infantino and Klaus Jansen pushed me to really think about the choices I made when telling a story with visuals, and how to focus the reader’s attention, and specifically communicate the ideas I wanted them to get from my work. They championed clarity as the ultimate goal, even over drawing skills or draftsmanship. It’s easy for cartoonists to get caught up in wanting to produce dynamic art, but if a reader can’t follow what is going on, it’s not effective storytelling. AGNES QUILL: AN ANTHOLOGY OF MYSTERY contains your stories paired with several different illustrators. How does it feel to give up control of the visual representation of your writing?
I love collaborating with other artists! I find limitless joy in seeing my ideas interpreted (and reinterpreted) by other people whose work I admire. Sometimes the end product is really different than what I initially saw in my head, but with the right artistic match, it can end up even better. With the Agnes Quill series, I especially like working with artists who create dark, moody, atmospheric imagery that is distinctly different from my cartoony style. Artists like Jason Ho, Jeff Zornow, Matt Bayne and Jordyn F. Bochon drive me to push my writing into new and interesting places. Each of the Agnes Quill artists has a unique voice, so it’s fun seeing how they add new layers to my teen detective character, while complimenting and contrasting each other in the final book. You often tweet about comics and graphic novels you like. What are your current favorites, and what future releases are you looking forward to?
I really enjoyed CITY OF SPIES by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Pascal Dizin. It’s a relatable coming of age story that mixes a bit of history with spy espionage, action adventure, and a Nazi threat! The book is drawn in a captivating, retro style with nods to TINTIN and LITTLE LULU, but I think it will appeal to modern audiences because the characters are really believable and the plot twists are fantastic. Another underrated book that I love to recommend is THE SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE by Eleanor Davis. It’s a fun-filled adventure story that celebrates intelligence and creativity. Eleanor Davis is a mad genius herself, fully taking advantage of each printed page with endlessly clever panel layouts and detailed cutaway shots. It’s the kind of book that invites you to pore over each page for hours, always finding new things to discover.
The graphic novel I’m most looking forward to (after DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier) is BROXO by Zack Giallongo. I love sword and sorcery, especially with younger characters, and I’ve been a fan of Zack’s art for years. From the pages I’ve seen, BROXO promises to be a magical, zombie-filled hack-and-slash good time.
I’m also looking forward to Hope Larson’s adaptation of A WRINKLE IN TIME, which she’s been working on for a while, and will be released in time for the 50th anniversary of Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel. You and your wife (cartoonist Raina Telgemeier) were recently Cartoonists in Residence at the Charles M. Schulz museum in California. Can you share a bit about what you did there?
As a lifelong Peanuts fan, it was an honor to be a guest at the Schulz Museum! Our day began with a kids’ comic-making workshop. Raina and I shared tips for creating distinctive characters and using real life events as inspiration for stories. Our main goal was to help the kids focus their ideas into something they could actually finish. A lot of kids have ideas for an “epic” series, but have trouble wrapping their heads around short stories, or even something with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The second event was a visual presentation open to both adults and kids, where Raina and I showcased our life-long love affair with comics. We also used PowerPoint to perform chapters of our graphic novels Astronaut Academy and Smile with volunteers from the audience. That was followed by a meet & greet, where we signed books and chatted with all the attendees: a great mix of kids and comics enthusiasts. Our day was topped off with a tour of the museum (which I recommend to everyone!) and a visit to the Warm Puppy Café, were we had the unique privilege of sharing root beer floats with Jean Schulz!
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