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Random House Plugs New Graphic Novels at C2E2

At the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), held at the end of February, Random House Graphic hosted creators Jeffrey Brown (Once Upon a Space-Time!), Chad Sell (Doodleville), Lucy Knisley (Stepping Stones), and the late-arriving Jessi Zabarsky (Witchlight). Senior Editor Whitney Leopard asked the artists, all of whom have books debuting from the label this year, a series of questions that allowed panel attendees to get to know them better.

Jeffrey Brown, Chad Sell, Lucy Knisley, Jessi Zabarsky, Whitney Leopard at the Random House Graphic C2E2 panel
L to R: Jeffrey Brown, Chad Sell, Lucy Knisley, Jessi Zabarsky, Whitney Leopard

After an icebreaker, about sports they were bad at, the question was “why graphic novels?” How did they come to them and why make them? Knisley talked about a teacher encouraging her to make her first zine, a folded copy paper comic called “Amazing Snakes” that allowed her to process her fear of the reptiles.

Sell moved to comics after making films in college. He always thought in pictures, and with comics, he was only limited by his imagination, and they took much less time than making movies. Brown also appreciated the “immediate gratification” of a medium that combines writing, drawing, and storytelling.

Each creator had a focus question, beginning with Sell, who was asked about his inspiration for Doodleville (due June 9). It’s the tale of a girl whose doodles come to life and create trouble during a museum field trip. He referred to this story about creativity as “cheaper than therapy” as a work about characters coming to life had resonance for him dealing with his own doubts and insecurities. He likes writing for middle grades because that’s right before kids get sarcastic.

Knisley described Stepping Stones (due May 5) as “fan fiction of my life”, creating a story inspired by her personal experiences moving to a farm from a city. Previously known for her adult-aimed memoirs, it wasn’t hard for her to transition to writing for middle grades because kids feel a lot of emotion. This book was also her first time working with a colorist, and while she at first struggled with giving up some control, she now says she “can never go back.”

Stepping Stones, Witchlight covers

In Witchlight (due April 14), Zabarsky combined magic fights, sword battles, and eating together in a story about two girls, one of whom is a witch. The comic was originally supposed to be 18 pages, a single issue so she had something to debut at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival one year. She knew the beginning and the end she wanted, but the middle turned out to be a lot longer than she expected.

Brown, author of Once Upon a Space-Time! (due June 2), was asked “how are you hilarious?” to which he responded, to laughs, “I don’t know.” He talks about being able to inject humor in any moment, if it works, and how he practices his jokes on his kids. He aims for “books that come from the heart and wear their emotions on their sleeves.”

The creators were also asked what their favorite thing was about their books. Knisley responded, “Mine has kittens.” Brown’s has robots and aliens, which are fun, while Zabarsky liked little things that only she noticed, such as certain haircuts. Sell liked that some of the doodle creatures in his book are characters he came up with when he was a kid himself, and he could now share them with others.

More information on the first wave of books is available at the publisher’s website,

Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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