It takes two to three months of research for the manuscript. I read a mountain of books on the subject. This is for names, dates, motives, facts, etc. I keep several books open while I'm writing to make sure I'm getting all the the important info correct. It's just like writing a big college paper--but with jokes. Add another month or two of waiting on the publisher's fact-checker. Then it's time to start drawing.
But the research isn't finished! Now I start the visual research. This requires a different mountain of books--picture books. Authors of history are lucky, they can write, "The army took their guns and went to war." Done. If you are drawing history, you have to know what those guns look like, and the uniforms, and the boots, insignias, facial hair, belts, backpacks, etc. etc. Then you need to know what the country they marched through looked like. All of those things require visual research. The Hazardous Tales books take from four to six months to draw. I'm constantly hunting for visual reference during the entire process. Some visuals are easier than others. For example, during DONNER DINNER PARTY I had to research oxen and wagons, a few types of 1800's traveling clothes, and the scenery of the country they traveled through. Pretty easy. War books, on the other hand, are a real nightmare. I just finished a seventeen page short on WWII for a comics anthology. Every single panel needed multiple visual references: torpedo launchers, torpedoes, Fletcher-class destroyers, sailor uniforms, Japanese submarines, on and on and on. There is a WWII book on the horizon for the Hazardous Tales series, and I've informed my editor it'll probably take twice as long due to the sheer amount of required visual research.
QUESTION: When you're writing something as detailed as the Hazardous Tales do you long for the simplicity of working on your younger kid books like your book, "Devil You Know?" And when you're working on the younger kid books do you long for the complexity of working on a Hazardous Tale book?
Absolutely. In between Hazardous Tales 3 and 4, I illustrated a super simple book called FRANKENSTEIN: a Monstrous parody by Ludworst Bemonster. It's a spoof of MADELEINE so the pictures are very simple linework. The entire book took a few weeks to draw. It was so much fun to work in such a clean simple style. At some point, I'd really like to do a comic in that style.
QUESTION: Much of your work seems to be non-fiction. In your spare time (if you have any) what do you read? Fiction? Non-fiction? Novels, graphic novels? All the above? None of the above?
I don't read non-fiction for fun anymore. That's all work now.
I do however, love to read. Audiobooks are a godsend for graphic novelists. While I illustrated RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE, I listened to sixty-eight audiobooks (I kept track). I like all genres of fiction (you have to, if you want to keep a constant stream of audiobooks flowing. You can't be too picky.) I have a library card to two local libraries, an Audible account, and Overdrive access to keep me in audiobooks. I like horror, westerns, thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, you name it. (just not non-fiction, that's WORK!)
I spend far more time with audiobooks than with graphic novels. I love to read graphic novels (of course!) But they often feel like work because I'm dismantling and critiquing everything as I read, trying to figure out how the artist did the color, or why they draw their balloon tails the way they do. Don't get me wrong, though, I love a good graphic novel.
QUESTION: What are you working on next?
I just started the artwork stage of Hazardous Tales #6. I can't tell you what it's about, only that it takes place in TEXAS, and you might REMEMBER this piece of history. I hope readers will COME AND TAKE IT when it comes out.
This summer I'm taking a one-book-break from Hazardous Tales to do a standalone, full-color, science fiction story. It'll be over 170 pages long--my longest book! That manuscript has already been written and turned in, it just needs to be drawn (didn't even need fact-checking!) I'm looking forward to working in a different, more colorful style than the artwork in Hazardous Tales. It should be fun! Then it's back to American history, I'm already contracted for books 7 and 8.
QUESTION: What's on your nightstand?
So, in my headphones right now, I just finished THE DEEP by Nick Cutter, a horror novel that takes place at the bottom of the ocean in a spooky lab. That was good. I'm midway through THE WHISPERING SKULL by Jonathan Stroud, that's a kids fantasy book I'm listening to with my nine-year-old daughter. It's book two in a GREAT series called Lockwood & Co. it's basically Harry Potter Ghostbusters--super fun, but the narrator, as good as she is, has a very soothing voice that makes me sleepy. On my bedstead is another horror novel APARTMENT 16 by Adam Nevill.
Comics-wise. I'm reading ASCENSION OF THE STARLESS from the Spera series. I'm really into the traditionally drawn/watercolored story by Atelier Sento. Scaring myself with the idea of doing my next book that way. I'm also in the middle of the Fantagraphic's EC hardcovers, I'm in the Harvey Kurtzman war stories book, THE CORPSE ON THE IMJIN. Really amazing work there. My daughter keeps leaving an Ernie Bushmiller NANCY collection in my studio and I pick it up and laugh every day. I keep going back to the Tamaki's THIS ONE SUMMER just to look at the drawings and get angry. How can they be so loose and so perfect!?!?
It's a pretty cluttered nightstand.
For more about the HAZARDOUS TALE BOOKS and the new release, THE UNDERGROUND ABDUCTOR, check out Hale's video: