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Interview: Nadja Spiegelman

This spring, Toon Books will be releasing its first science-based comic,  Zig & Wikki in Something Ate My Homework. Penned by Nadja Spiegelman and drawn by Trade Loeffler, readers will enjoy this engaging story of intergalactic beings, coming to Earth in search of a class pet. 

Below, Nadja Spiegelman talks about her experience as a first time author.

Esther:  When and why did you begin writing?  Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?  Do you have a desire to draw too?

Nadja: I was always telling stories, from as early as I can remember. The very earliest were for my little brother, Dash, when we were walking home from school. We had three or four characters — a cat, a mouse, a magical bag — and they went on different adventures each time. I started writing stories down as soon as I learned how to type. All my stories back then were about magic, and I remember one specifically about a magical pencil — anything you drew with it became real. I still wish I had one of those. I’ve always loved drawing, and the sides of my notebooks are all filled with doodles, but I was incredibly lucky to have Trade to collaborate with on this project. Otherwise it would have been Zig and Wikki in Why Are We Stick Figures.

Esther:  This book was a collaboration between writer and artist. Can you tell us more about the experience? What was the process like?

Nadja: Well, at first it was very tricky. My mother, the publisher, didn’t want to reveal to the artist, Trade, that I was her daughter to keep things as professional as could be so Trade and I communicated only in cyberspace. Still, writing the book was a process of true collaboration. I wrote a script, he sent back a panel-by-panel breakdown, I made changes to the story so it would flow better, he drew in new gags. It was really wonderful to work as a team. By the time Trade learned my true identity he had already voiced his genuine appreciation for my stories, which was very gratifying. Still, I’m looking forward to sitting next to him while we hash out the details of the next one.

Esther: My favorite parts of this book were the little scientific facts.  As a school librarian, who’s always thinking about “curricular connections,” I know this can be a perfect fit for science teachers.  But on a personal level, I had a ‘squick out moment’ when I read that flies taste with their feet. Where did you dig up these facts? What made you put them in?

Nadja: When my brother Dash was little, all he brought home from the library were photo books about guinea pigs and sea turtles and I often found myself jealous of how many cool things he knew. I wanted to write a story that would have both hugs and bugs— a friendship and gross facts about flies.

Esther: What other adventures do you see Zig and Wikki going on?

Nadja: There are a few possibilities that I’m working through. I’d love to have them go under the sea because sea creatures are crazy weird. But I’d also like to try something completely different, and have them explore the physics of other dimensions. I’m still in the research phase right now.

sample pages
Esther: Where did you come up with the names Zig and Wikki?  (I have to admit, I keep thinking Ziggy for some reason.)

Nadja: Those characters had at least five different names each before we settled on those two. Wikki comes from Wikipedia. And Zig? Zig just looked like a Zig.

Esther: Often, people think that writing for children is easy. But as someone who dabbles in writing, I know that’s not the case. I’ve tried to pen a story for children… and it’s anything but easy!  What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Nadja: I was finishing up my senior year of college while I was writing this, so I was stuck at school while Trade and my mother were in New York. They read the book to several classrooms of young children and, while I got to see all the notes, I would have loved to hear the kids laugh at the funny parts.

Esther: What or who has most influenced your life the most?

Nadja: My parents never let me watch television as I was growing up. When I turned fourteen I was finally allowed to watch half an hour a week that my dad recorded on a VHS tape, but only as long as I fast-forwarded the commercials. It sounds crazy to me now — I watch all the trashy television I can and I’d cry if anyone took my Gossip Girl away — but I never missed it when I was younger. I read all the time. I’d walk home from the library reading a book, looking up only to cross the street. I think that had a pretty big influence on me, at least insofar as it made me strange.
Esther: Do you see writing as a career?

Nadja: Yes. Although I find it incredibly difficult to make myself sit down and write. My dad tells me, “A writer is someone who likes having written,” and I feel that way. I dread writing but I start to go a little crazy when I’m not writing. 

Esther: It’s hard not to mention your parents in this interview. What sort of influence did they have in your life? What influence did they have on this project?

Nadja: My parents have had enormous influence on my life. I respect them both more than I can say — as people, as parents, and as artists. But I also find myself struggling to outrun their shadows. One of my goals in life is to have only my own achievements, not my father’s, come up when you google search my name.

Esther: So what’s next on your agenda?  What else do you have on your plate?

Nadja: Well, right now I’m very focused on my Real Job in the Real World. I’m the Web Producer at The Jewish Weekly Forward, and I’m really enjoying it. I make podcasts and videos, moderate the comments, and work with some truly wonderful people. I have a nameplate above my desk with my name and my name in Hebrew (I didn’t even know I had a name in Hebrew). I’m also moonlighting as a waitress at the restaurant Balthazar downtown. And, of course, I’m plotting Zig and Wikki’s next big adventure.

Readers, don’t forget to enter in our Color of contest.

All images from Zig and Wikki in "Something Ate My Homework." (c) RAW Junior, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 3 and regularly reviews for SLJ, LMC. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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