In honor of Valentine’s Day weekend, we’re going to share the love and offer our readers a chance to win Victoria Jamieson’s awesome book, Roller Girl. Post a comment through February 19, 2016, to be entered in this random drawing.
SCBWI member Victoria Jamieson shares her process for creating the Newbery Honor book, Roller Girl. This middle-grade graphic novel has scored more than a dozen accolades including New York Times best seller, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2015, and an ALA Notable Children’s Book of 2016.
Roller Girl is Jamieson’s fourth children’s book and her third publication with Dial Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Her three picture books are Bea Rocks the Flock (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2009), Olympig! (2012) and Pest in Show (2013).
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! Why did you change your focus from picture books to a graphic novel?
VICTORIA JAMIESON: Though all of my books have slightly different audiences, they all grew from subjects that I loved. For Roller Girl, I used my experience as roller derby skater (skating under the name Winnie the Pow). I’ve been involved in this sport since 2009, and both played competitively and coached our adult and junior leagues. I knew I wanted to write a book about derby, but a picture book didn’t seem exactly right. I was aware of more and more graphic novels around that time, including The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan and, of course, Smile by Raina Telgemeier. The only problem was, I’d never created a graphic novel before. So, to “practice” for my book, I began writing comic strips about my experiences skating with the Rose City Rollers.
After a few months of these derby comics, I felt I was ready to start thinking about my graphic novel and began developing characters.
CVZ: What happened next?
VJ: I drew a few sample chapters and sent it to my editor Liz Waniewski and later, Kate Harrison, at Dial Books to make sure the size and general layout looked okay. My first draft was in black and white, but the publisher decided they wanted the book in color—yay! I had been hoping for color.
The first few chapters looked good, but then came the hard part . . . I had to write the rest of the story. I thought of my own experiences while getting to really know the characters. I knew the “grand finale” of the story would be twelve-year-old Astrid’s first bout (match), but I also had to figure out how to resolve the conflicts that arose within the story: between Astrid and her best friend, Astrid and her new derby friend, and Astrid and her mother.
Then came the drawing stage! This stage was fun because I got to do a lot of research. I rode my scooter all over Portland, taking pictures of places I wanted in my book. I felt like a movie-location scout—I even picked out houses I imagined my different characters living in, and used them as the models for their homes in the book.
Then it was off to the publisher again! This time my editor and my art directors, Lily Malcolm and Jason Henry, looked for ways to improve the writing and the drawing, and made sure both worked together to tell the story correctly. I find it really helpful to have someone look over my work and ensure it makes sense. When I work on something for a long time, it’s easy to lose perspective.
Once the sketches and manuscript were approved, it was time for the next phase: final art! This phase is very different for me. When I’m writing and brainstorming, I do lots of walking, thinking, . . . and napping. It helps, really! When it’s time for final art, it’s time to sit down and work, work, work. I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks to keep me company. I made the drawings larger than the size of the book, but still in proportion to the page. That way, when reduced, the black line work would be nice and saturated. I drew the borders around the panels, but not the speech bubbles—I would add those later digitally.
I drew the final art first in blue pencil, then refined it with a regular pencil. Next came the pen; I used a brush pen for the big areas and smaller, finer pens for detail work. Then, color was added! I scanned all of the artwork—all 240 pages of it. Luckily, I had some help adding color: illustrator Drew Bardana (www.drewbardana.com) helped me out over the summer. He added preliminary colors in a process known as “flatting.” It’s basically like coloring in a coloring book—you just have to stay within the lines. He used the program Photoshop, which is also what I used to add the final colors. When adding the final colors, I had a “cheat sheet” to make sure that, for example, I always used the same color for Astrid’s hair. I also added special effects like shadows or bright lights.
Finally, the last step was adding speech bubbles. I made them in Adobe Illustrator, and then added them to my Photoshop files. I made a font out of my handwriting (this was easy and fun—you can find lots of resources online to make your own font). Jason at Dial then added the text–and we were all set!
CVZ: So how long did this entire process take, from idea to finished product?
VJ: I’d say around 4 years.
CVZ: What do you have planned for your next book?
VJ: I have two graphic novels for younger readers coming out from Henry Holt. The first in the series, The Great Pet Escape!, will debut in February 2016. I am also wrapping up (hopefully tonight!) the art for my piece in the next Comics Squad anthology. And lastly, I am finishing up the manuscript for my next middle-grade graphic novel, to be published once again by Dial. I’m REALLY excited about this one!
More about Victoria Jamieson:
Victoria Jamieson is an author and illustrator of books for children, including the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel, Roller Girl. She studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, and went on to receive her MA in Museum Studies at the University of Sydney. After living in Rome, Montreal, and Australia, she moved back to the United States, where she began working as a designer with a children’s book publisher in New York City. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. Along with writing and illustrating, she teaches children’s book illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art. When not writing or drawing, she can be found zipping around town on her scooter, or playing roller derby with the Rose City Rollers under the name Winnie the Pow.
Article by Christine Van Zandt, Managing Co-Editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales
Owner of Write for Success Editing Services; Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFS editing