Interview–Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, Calamity Jack

As part of the blog tour for Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, with illustrations by Nathan Hale (no relation), I’ve got an interview with Shannon and Dean!

1. What sparked your interest in creating a graphic novel?

SH: Dean. Dean sparked my interest.

DH: Shannon sparked my interest, too. That and 20 years of reading comic

2. What were your inspirations, graphic novels or otherwise?

SH: Ooh, I don’t think I could choose even just a few. There are so many. Um…I’ll say Dean. Dean was my inspiration. DH: Man, she’s really in a buck-passing mood…I’ll try to think of
something. There’s Shannon, of course, she’s an inspiration. And pretty much every well-told comic I’d ever read. I looked at work by Kurt Busiek, Mark Millar, Brian Vaughan, Robert Kirkman, and many others.

3. How is structuring a graphic novel different than structuring a traditional novel?

SH: It is a lot like writing a screenplay. We write the dialogue and captions, then give descriptions of each panel for Nate. Like screenwriting, graphic novels have a page limit. We had 144 pages, so we had to be careful that the action we were describing for Nate could fit in that number. It’s expensive for a publisher to print full-color pages, so we couldn’t go over. I think those limits are helpful, though, and force you to pick only the most important action, to allow a small moment to be representative of many.

DH: I remember overwriting way too much. I would usually write a scene’s dialogue first, and then when I started breaking it into panels and action description, I would discover it to be a 24 page scene that was pretty much just people talking. Not too fun for Nate to draw or the reader to read. Unless you really groove on dialogue.

SH: To be fair, it was really funny dialogue. But, alas, it was all cut.

4. Like with some of Shannon Hale’s previous books, Calamity Jack features characters who will return in future books. Is this something you planned from the outset or discovered along the way?

SH: Never! I have very few plans. I always gravitate toward the story that shouts the loudest. And Jack was shouting away. We just liked him so much and wanted to experience his story.

DH: What she said. We develop a lot of unseen backstory for our characters, either for our own understanding or to help give Nate some context, so we had so many tidbits in our heads that we already knew about Jack from doing Rapunzel that it might have driven us crazy not to do a book about him.

5. Jack is a bit of a scoundrel, but the lovable kind. Why do you think this kind of character is so appealing and (presumably) fun to write?

SH: It is fun! We loved it. We chose his character based on the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk: a hero who is also a thief. I think the appeal of this is he’s so relatable. No one feels perfect, but everyone hopes to be a hero. Here is someone who was both. I loved sticking someone like Jack alongside Rapunzel, who is so moral and good and strong and clever. They shouldn’t work together, and yet they do.

DH: There’s something about Jack’s character that usually keeps him from taking things too seriously, and for me, that’s way more fun to write and read.

6. What books do you recommend as companions to Calamity Jack while we wait for the next installment?

SH: Ooh…for young adults, I like Runaways and Invincible.

DH: I second that, though I’d be sure to start with Vol. 1 of both of those. Coming into the middle could be disorienting. For younger kids, I’d recommend Tiny Titans, and younger still, Owly.

SH: True that. Thanks for the interview, super fast reader!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy and for arranging the interview.

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