The more I learned about graphic novels for kids, the more I came to love them. This format can be silly and goofy, emotional and brooding, and everywhere in between. Some stories are fast and a kid can easily read through them in an hour, and others take longer to chew on and then live on in our hearts.
One of my favorite 9 year olds was visiting and saw REAL FRIENDS on my desk. Unprompted, she began telling me how much she loved the story, how it was the first book that made her feel like someone was writing about her own life. These books are anything but shallow. Unless they are, and that’s fine, too.
If you are interested in writing graphic novels, step 1 is reading a lot of them. I read over 100 middle grade graphic novels before I did anything more than collect my thoughts. Here are some books that I have loved to get you started, but you should also try to find books that have been published in the last 5 years.
This is just a small sampling of the graphic novels for children that I have loved and devoured.
- THIS WAS OUR PACT
- Anything by Gene Luen Yang, but especially AMERICAN BORN CHINESE
- Anything by Shannon Hale, but especially REAL FRIENDS
- Anything by Raina Telgemeier, but especially SISTERS, GUTS, SMILE (these three are memoir), and DRAMA (fiction)
- THE NEW KID
- BE PREPARED
- THE STARS WERE SCATTERED
- The AMULET series
- ZITA THE SPACE GIRL
- CARDBOARD KINGDOM
- EL DEAFO
Once you have read a ton, it might be time to learn the nitty gritty of writing for comics and graphic novels. Below are some resources that I found helpful as an author-only, although they might help illustrators as well.
- In terms of craft books, UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCleod is required reading. There are other books out there that talk about practical how-tos, but UNDERSTANDING COMICS is the only one that I read that delves into the theory of storytelling through the combination of words and pictures. The sequel, MAKING COMICS is also very interesting, but probably more useful for illustrators.
- I use Scrivener’s Comic Template, so learning how to use the software was my next step. It’s a “go slow to go fast” situation; it takes a while to get going on it, but then I found it to be a huge time saver.
- This blog post by Shannon Hale
- This blog post by Victoria Ying on four different ways to format a script.
- Graphic Novel TK is one of the most exhaustive podcasts on publishing out there. Gina Gagliano and Benjamin Alison Wilgus do a deep dive into one particular job in the industry in each episode. If you ever wonder things like, “why does publishing take so long?” or found yourself musing over different types of paper, this is the podcast for you.
- Kid Comics Unite is a social group for GN writers.
- Resources on graphic novels on Kidlit411
One thing that I did that I found extremely helpful was to read two versions of the same book: a texty novel and the graphic novel. I thought about what was lost in the translation, what was gained, what was done differently. How is interiority done in graphic novels? What about characterization? Narration with an authorial voice?
Adaptations are very popular, but here are a few that I’ve looked at.
- Long Way Down
- Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility
- The Odyssey
- Wings of Fire
- The Graveyard Book
- Percy Jackson
- Babysitters Club
The other thing I did that really helped me learn how to write graphic novels was to dive right in to dividing my text by panels and pages. When I started, I didn’t have a good sense as to how much story could fit into a graphic novel. So I skipped the outlining and synopsis phases and went right to writing it with pages, expanding the plot and adding subplots as I discovered I had room. I think if I had started with a synopsis, I wouldn’t have known how much room I had or didn’t have, and my story would have ended up being too long.