As you may have noticed, the folks here at GC4K really like spunky heroines. We like ‘em strong, we like ‘em opinionated, we like ‘em to be self-starters, and we don’t mind at all if they’re a bit rebellious. Claudette, the heroine of Giants Beware! is all of these things. (She’s also a bit of a bully, isn’t above manipulating her friends if it means she gets her way, and could really use a bath. But we try not to judge.) Claudette is tired of living in a town full of people afraid to venture beyond the city walls for fear of being attacked by a baby toe-eating giant. Disgusted that the adults have done nothing to rid the world of this menace, Claudette vows to slay the giant and, through a series of engineered misunderstandings, convinces her little brother and best friend to accompany her on her quest.
I had an opportunity to read Giants Beware! a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the story. The quirky three main characters are not your average quest-takers and the story, while traditional in structure, twists in ways that will keep even jaded twelve-year-olds guessing. So, when given the chance to ask illustrator Rafael Rosado and writer Jorge Aguirre some questions, I grabbed it.
According to your website, the two of you met at Ohio State University, but only one of you is still based in Ohio. I’m guessing it was through the miracle of modern technology that you were able to keep in touch easily enough to work on the book together, but can you tell me a little about the process you went through while working together but separate?
RAFAEL: I live in Columbus, and Jorge lived in Los Angeles when we started the book and he moved to New Jersey by the time we finished it. We talked a lot when we were making Giants Beware!. Since we were in different cities, we relied on iChat for video conferencing and the phone.
JORGE: We talked a lot late at night after our kids and wives were asleep. My desk was in my bedroom, so I feel like I spent a lot of time whispering to Raf.
RAFAEL: Sometimes I would remotely share my computer with Jorge so he could see the latest pages and designs.
JORGE: Technology is awesome. But I also still have family in Columbus and I would visit on holidays. Rafael and I would sneak off and meet in my parents’ basement or his garage to go over pages. Being in the same room beats technology.
One of the things I really appreciate about Giants Beware! is that while Claudette seems like she is going to be your typical tomboy heroine, the other two main characters, Marie and Gaston, really aren’t what most readers would consider to be BAMF material. I imagine it was fun developing their quirky character traits. What do you like best about these three characters and what do you hope readers take away from reading about them?
JORGE: I had to Google “BAMF.” Now, I have a new word in my vocabulary. Thank you! It was an AMAZING amount of fun to come up with the quirks of the characters. It began with Raf’s drawings. I riffed off of his drawings, and we kept developing and developing (via ichat, email, and phone).
RAFAEL: Yeah, there are bits of our personalities in all three characters. And the parts that aren’t us, are traits we aspire to have. There’s a tagline on the cover of the book, which we didn’t come up with it, but it describes pretty nicely what we feel about our characters. “Heroes come in all sizes.” That’s kind of like our motto.
JORGE: You don’t have to look or act like a BAMF to be a BAMF.
Rafael, you’re currently working as a storyboard artist for several animation companies. How does storyboarding a story that’s meant to be animated differ from laying out a graphic novel? And Jorge, how does writing scenes for television differ from writing a book?
RAFAEL: There’s a lot of crossover between the two. You’re dealing with layout, design and acting in both. When I’m storyboarding I have a set frame size/aspect ratio that I have work with. When I’m laying out a comic book page I have to think of the over-all design of the page , and how the panels flow from one to the next. In film you control your pacing through editing, while in comics you can control your pacing through your page layout: how many frames on a page, the shape and size of the panels, balloon dialogue placement, that sort of thing. There are sequences in Giants Beware! where I drew Claudette’s dialogue over many panels, to show her thought process. Showing a character’s thought process over several shots is definitely something I would do in a storyboard.
JORGE: Well, most of the TV shows I write for are other people’s creations. That’s fun, but writing a character you and your friend created, well, that’s in a whole ‘nother realm of delight. Structurally, writing this graphic novel wasn’t all that different from writing a screenplay. You’ll find a 3-act structure in our book if you look for it. The hard part is not writing actions. You write in moments or in mid-action. You can’t write, “Gaston kneads the dough and then grabs more flour and kneads some more.” Because you’ve got one panel of visual information at a time to deliver. That was hard. Raf helped me a lot with that. Mostly by saying, “Uh, how am I supposed to draw that?” Until I got the hang of it.
There are some dangling plot points left at the end of Giants Beware!, so I hope that means there are more books about Claudette and her friends on the way. What do you have planned for these characters?
RAFAEL & JORGE: Yes! We planted the seeds for more stories. In the next book, we’re going to meet a very bad man who wants to take over Mont Petit Pierre. And we’re going to go to some new places with Claudette, Marie, and Gaston and see some old friends again. If you recall, Augustine lost his favorite sword in the belly of a dragon many years ago. Well, the second book is about trying to get that sword back. Which is tough because the sword is still sitting in the belly of the dragon.
Many thanks to Rafael and Jorge and to Gina Gagliano at First Second for making this interview possible.