Molly Brooks: 2019 National Book Festival

Molly Brooks: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Maria Russo: Hi everyone. I am Maria Russo. I am the children’s books editor at the New York Times
Book Review. I’m so excited to be here because as the children’s
book editor I get to see all the children’s
books that are published. And right now it’s
such an exciting time because we’re seeing more and
more of these graphic novels like our speaker today
is going to tell you about the ones that she did. So Molly Brooks is going
to be talking to you guys about her books, Sanity
and Tallulah was her debut and the follow up, Sanity and Tallulah Field Trip
is coming in October. So I hope you guys all, if you haven’t read them,
will check them out. And parents, please remember
graphic novels are literature. They’re not some extra thing
that kids only can read on the weekends or
if they’re good. The books that are being
made now by comics, artists like Molly are real
books and they are visual and a lot of kids read
visually and they love them, especially if you’re a fantasy and science fiction fan you will
especially love Molly’s books. So I will turn it
over to Molly Brooks. [ Applause ]>>Molly Brooks: Hello. Can you hear me? All right great. Hello everyone. I’m supposed to have
a PowerPoint thing. I was told there was
a PowerPoint clicker but I was not told
how to use it. Is this it? Can someone help me? So I press the green button? Okay. So sorry about that. I’m Molly Brooks and I wrote
the graphic novel Sanity and Tallulah. It’s a science fiction adventure
about two best friends who live on a space station and get into
a lot of mad science trouble. In the first book, Sanity
desperately wants a pet kitten and she works through that by making a experimental
science kitten in the laboratory that has three heads, which
is fine until it escapes. So I just wanted to talk a
little bit about the process of making a graphic novel
because it’s something that a lot of people
are less familiar with than just writing
words because you have to write the words but also
fit them in with the pictures. And it’s a little bit
of a different process. So this is where the
graphic novel was done. This is my studio in my
apartment in Brooklyn, New York. And you can see at the bottom
of that picture my assistant, Cardigan, who has
been very helpful through the whole process. This is my other assistant,
Phoebe, also extremely helpful. Helping. Helping a lot. Also helping. This is Skully. I mentioned that the
first book is all about how Sanity
desperately wants a cat. When I wrote the book, I
was living in an apartment where I wasn’t allowed to
have a cat and I think a lot of the book was about
that frustrated desire to like have a fuzzy
animal to hang out with. And while she solved her
problem with mad science, I solved my problem by moving
to a different apartment and getting three cats. [Laughter] Sorry, it’s not
all cat pictures I promise. Cardigan and Skully
are best friends. And the books about best friends
so it’s thematically appropriate to include this adorable
picture. So, Sanity and Tallulah is the
first novel that I both wrote and drew, but before I did that I actually had my very
first graphic novel job illustrating one that
someone else wrote. And that was called Science
Comics Flying Machines, How the Wright Brothers soared. It’s non-fiction. It’s very educational. It’s extremely accurate
because I went very obsessive in the research and like
got all of the details as right as I possibly could. So if you see a wrench in that
book, it is the correct wrench. If you see, you know, a bicycle
in that book, it is the bicycle. But that was a really
fun project. It was the longest thing I had
ever drawn, so it helped me to learn how to do lots
and lots of pictures in a short amount of time. I had one year to draw the whole
book and there were 120 pages. So that was new. It was just really fun to
see because the story is all about how the Wright Brothers
kind of problem solved their way through the idea of
how do we get up there. How do we solve the problem
of heavier than air flight? So I liked seeing them work
through that and using pictures to explain the detailed
process of working through that. But like I said, I got kind of
obsessive about the research. And while it was fascinating,
it was like so much work because I was so scared
of getting anything wrong. So for my next project, I
though oh well what if I have that fun problem solving part
and like the science cool stuff, but it’s science fiction so I
can just make stuff up instead of having to like look it up. And that sounded way easier. It was not, but it was
difficult in a different way. So my debut is Sanity
and Tallulah. And the sequel Field Trip comes
out next month in October. And they’re very much
about solving problems. And these are just some
spreads from inside the book so you can see what
it looks like. And these are two before even
I did Flying Machines I printed out some pieces of paper
and stapled them together and sold them and passed
them out to publishers that I wanted to work with. Because I had these
characters that I really liked, so I made little short
stories with them and made little pamphlets. And so Sanity and Tallulah’s
first adventures are actually S.O.S. and Time Loop, a
30-page and a 16-page story. And you can see that it looks
different than the final ones because things evolve
through the process. So once I knew that I wanted
to do a longer story with them, I had to actually think more
carefully about what the world that they lived in looked like
because I wanted the world that they lived in to be
really true and to feel like it was a place
with form and function. So I decided that space was
basically long haul trucking and that it would feel very much
like living in an RV or like on a boat or something
that has pieces that adapt to the present need. So there’s a lot of cabinets
that pull out of the wall and tables that pull out of
the floor and control panels on the walls and
stuff like that. Because I wanted it to feel very
functional but also lived in. And as though it was
ready at any moment to become something
else to fit the needs of the people living there. Again, obsessive
about the research. And I also wanted
it to feel old. Obviously it’s science fiction
and they’re living in space, so it can’t be old, old,
but I wanted it to feel as though it used to be
new and it wasn’t anymore. So I was trying to
reference technology from like a couple decades ago. So stuff that was top of the
line, high tech when it came out but now feels dated to us. So sharp corners, like not quite
square angles, lots of screens and buttons and stuff
that we don’t see on cell phones anymore. I wanted it to feel just
a little out of date. So raise your hand if
you know what this is. Okay great. I played Tetris on
this when I was a kid. And this one, anybody? All right great. Okay good. I’m just checking. But you can see in the set
design for the book that I kind of used those as
a starting point for designing the
space station, Wilnick, that the characters live on. And all of the vehicles
that they interact with, there’s a lot of angles and
hexagons and like stripes. You remember that
green truck from– this is Tallulah’s dad’s
space shuttle that he cruises around in and it’s very much
designed like a house boat or an RV to be very
practical but also for long term occupancy. So you can see there’s a scene
where they’re pulling the bunks out of the wall and
setting them up and stuff while they’re
having a conversation. And so I also, because it was
so important to me that it felt like a place that you
could walk around in and that people actually
lived in, I built 3D models in a computer program of
all of the major sets, including these are all
Tallulah’s family’s apartment, so that I could zoom in and
like move around the space and make sure that it felt real. That guy isn’t in the book. He’s part of the
computer program. He’s just like so you
can see how big stuff is. But that’s their living room. And I wanted it to be a place
that people actually like moved around and things felt
consistent and real. Sanity’s dad is the head
of the space station and this is his office. All those men are just
little mannequin people. Again, angles, etcetera. So once I had the world
kind of figured out, I had to design characters
that would populate it because I had Sanity and
Tallulah but no one else really. Like they’re the only characters that appear in the
short stories. So I tried to think
about who would live on this space station. And again, I went back to like
adaptability and practicality and lived in coziness. So all of the costumes
are, there’s a lot of like work overalls that
are tied at the waist so that like they could go on
at a moment’s notice but it’s more comfortable
not to have them on right now if you
don’t need it. A lot of knit wear
because it felt like in space things are very
far apart and there’s a lot of down time and it’s cold, so
probably a lot of people knit. So everyone has sweaters
and leg warmers and arm warmers and
mittens and hats. It’s also one of my
favorite things to draw, so that’s really why it’s there. This is Sanity’s dad. He spends most of the book just
very stressed out and annoyed because he has a lot
of responsibility and his daughter is not helping by creating a three headed
kitten which has escaped and now appears to be
destroying the space station that they’re living on. So he’s got some
things to work through. And these are just more outfits. So all of that stuff happens
before I actually start writing the book itself because I
want to like have a good idea of how the world works and
who the people in it are. And after that, I do an outline, which is just a very
detailed plan for what happens in the plot. The thing that makes doing and planning a graphic
novel different from a regular novel is that
the pictures take up space. So you have to plan differently
because if you have lots of words, those words are
going to be on the page and there’s less
room for pictures. And if you want something
to be really noticed, it has to be big enough that like you don’t
just glance over it. And I knew how many pages
I was allowed to have, 240, so I drew out 240 little
pages and then I took all of the plot points from my
outline and made a big map for myself of how much space
I had for every bit of plot. Because if I don’t
plan correctly, then I have to scrap
whole sections of the book and like reorganize it. So it’s better to like do a
lot of planning ahead of time to make sure that I know where
I want to put everything. So once I’ve kind of figured out where everything
approximately should go, I start doing thumbnails. And thumbnails are just like little very
rough, rough drawings. Like no one sees these
except me, absolutely no one. They’re very secret. And I’m really the only person
that can tell what’s supposed to be happening in them, but
their purpose isn’t to be shown or to like figure out what
things are going to look like. It’s to figure out
what actions happen. So if in the outline I have
a conversation happening, then in the thumbnails
is when I figure out like oh I need a moment of
like Tallulah looking at Sanity. And then I need a moment of
Sanity looking at Tallulah. And stuff like that, so that I
make sure that there’s nothing that isn’t being shown
visually in the story. And once I have all
those moments, then I can start
figuring out how to organize them on the page. And then I start actually
drawing like and figuring out how big I can put characters
for the text that I have and how to get everything to
work together nicely. And all of the things that
I’ve talked about so far, my editor sees none of them. My editor sees the script. And the script is me taking
all the stuff that I’ve done and trying to organize
it into a clear script so that she can read through it and understand what I’m
trying to make happen. So she goes through that. She tells me what’s not working, like what I have left off
the page, and eventually after a couple rounds of
revisions, gives me approval. And then I move on to pencils. And pencils is actually
drawing the book. So because of all
my pre planning, my obsessive pre planning,
I know where all the boxes on the page should go. So I start there because that’s
a good skeleton to work with. And then after that,
I put the text in. Because of my script, I know
where each box’s text goes. And then once I have
the text in there, I can see how much room is
left over to actually draw. And this is my work setup
drawing hand lettered text. And then I draw like the pencil
sketches with the text kind of grayed out so that I can see about how much space
it’s taking up. And then I send that
to my editor. And she again goes through
and like after like doing all of the things that
I’ve described so far, I very much like
staring at the world that I’m creating from close up. And it’s hard to look
at things objectively when you’re that close to it. So the editor’s main job, which
she’s amazing at, is to read it as someone who did not make
it and to point out the things that don’t make sense
or could be better. So the top row of the slide
is the first sketch draft that I sent in. And the bottom row
is the revisions that my editor suggested. So it’s stuff like the big
reveal of the dark scary room, it should take up the whole
page because it’s a big reveal. It shouldn’t have like
a border around it because that takes
away some of the drama. Another thing that takes away
the drama is if you think about the physical
structure of a book, if you have the pages
open and the big reveal is on the right hand page, then when you’re reading
the left hand page that comes before it,
you’ve already seen it out of the corner of your eye
so it’s not a dramatic surprise. So reorganizing the book
so that they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re
walking and they’re talking and then they’re entering a
room and you turn the page and then you see the big
scary room makes it bigger and scarier and more impactful. So stuff like that is what
really happens in the revisions. And that’s my favorite part. It’s really fun to
make something better. Oh and then the page after that, if there were fewer panels then
each panel could have more room and it felt less cramped
and it could be more like walking through a big room. And just like little
things like that. Oh there’s a part where they
find a super gross slime thing and I like understood
because I’d invented it that it was a super
gross slime thing. So it felt like enough to just
kind of have it in the corner of the page, but my
editor was like, “Um, the reader doesn’t know that
it’s a big gross slime thing. You need to show them a
big gross slime thing. It needs to be big. It needs to be gross. Like, it needs room.” So it got a whole page to itself in the final version
of the book. These are all of the pages of
book spread out and color coded by how much I need
to change about them and what round of revision. And then after that,
I do the final art. And that’s kind of the
most boring part for me because I’ve already
solved all of the problems and it’s just kind
of cranking it out. So I listen to a lot of audio
books and podcasts and just kind of crank out the final art. And then here’s the cover. And that kind of goes through
the same process as the rest of the book, the sketch and then
minor tweaks and then final art. And then eventually it
becomes a real life book. And book two is coming
out in a few weeks. And these are characters
from book two. And some spreads from book two. Field Trip is about them
going on a school trip and it goes terribly awry. The problem is that their school
trip is to a real live planet which no one in their class
has ever been to before. So it’s kind of a learning curve
and it goes very, very awry. Yeah, so I guess the rest
of the time that I have, I think about four
minutes, is questions if anybody has any questions. Yes? [ Inaudible response ] Oh nice. Cool. Was that your question? Okay. Cool. Nice. Thanks. Anybody else? Yes? [ Inaudible response ] She asked how many Sanity and Tallulah books
I’m going to make. I’m going to make
at least one more. I’m actually working on
the third book right now. So, that will probably
come out next year. So there might be
more after that. There might not. We’ll just have to see. Yes, in the hat? [ Inaudible response ] He asked how long I’ve
been writing books. Like I said, Sanity and
Tallulah is the first book that I wrote that got published. I wrote like little stories
and stuff when I was your age. It’s all practice
and it’s all fun. Yes. [ Inaudible response ] She just asked when
I started writing. So I started writing when
I was very young and Sanity and Tallulah is my
first actual book. [ Inaudible response ] She asked what character
I liked the best. And actually my favorite
character is Tallulah’s mom, Dr. Vega, because she’s very
practical and very kind and I like the way she deals with
problems, her daughter included. Yes.>>How long does it take
you to write a graphic novel from beginning to end?>>Molly Brooks: How
long does it take me to write a graphic novel
from beginning to end? The Sanity and Tallulah schedule
is basically a book a year. So I had kind of some
leeway with the first book because I wrote the
script as the pitch. So I already had the script
written when I started out. And that caused a problem with
the second book because I forgot that that was like a
part of the process that I needed to apply time to. But yeah, a book a year. The drawing part
takes six months. So it’s kind of evenly split. Yes in the red shirt? [ Inaudible response ] What’s my favorite part about
writing a graphic novel? I like the revisions. It can be very intimidating
knowing that I have to make 250 pages of something, but once I’ve done a rough
version of that and I can like react to it, then the rest of it is fun and
problem solving. I think that’s all
the time we have. One more question. Yes.>>What gave you the
idea to start the book?>>Molly Brooks: What gave
me the idea to start my book? I really wanted to tell a story
about best friends figuring out a mystery together. And I’ve always liked
sci-fi, so having them on a space station seemed like
a good way to make a fun world for them to run around
in and figure out. Great. I think that’s it. So thank you so much and
[applause] check out Field Trip when it comes out in October. And I hope you like it. Thank you.

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