By Harper W. Harris
The first book in The Chronicles of Claudette, Giants Beware! was quite well received; in fact, it earned the creators several awards, including the Cybils Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels. The book, and its new follow up, Dragons Beware!, follow the courageous and battle hungry Claudette, her brother and culinary prodigy Gaston, and Marie the princess with a penchant for negotiation in their medieval adventures. The first graphic novel in the series left readers hungry for more sword slinging action, clever humor, and fun character building, and the wait is finally over! With Dragons Beware! hitting shelves today, we figured this was a great time to sit down with the series creators Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre to discuss creating the sequel, their backgrounds in animation, and the future of Claudette and her pals.
You both have backgrounds in animated TV series and films…how did you come to writing and illustrating this comic series respectively?
RAFAEL: We’ve been friends for a very long time and we always wanted to collaborate on something. I’ve been on the art side of animation and Jorge on the writing side. I had these characters bouncing around in my head and in my sketchbook, and a rough outline of a story. I brought that to Jorge, and he developed it, and thus a graphic novel series and a great collaboration was born.
Have you been fans of comics since childhood, or was it something you only came to later?
RR: I’ve been a comics fan my whole life! Starting with Disney comics, moving on to Mexican wrestler comics, and finally superhero comics, particularly Kirby. I discovered Underground and Alternative comics in the early 80s and sort of left superheroes behind.
JORGE: I loved comics as a kid. I remember writing a letter to Dick Giordano (the editor of DC comics in the 1980s), in which I asked him if I needed to be able to draw to get into the comic book industry. He wrote me back: “No.”
What inspired the stories and characters in the first book, Giants Beware?
RR: I wanted to make kids comics that told a big story and were sort of cinematic in tone. Bone was a huge inspiration, of course.
JA: When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me Greek myths during the painfully long twenty hour Spring break drive from Ohio to Florida. I think some of that mythology seeps its way into the stories we tell.
Was it a challenge to figure out what the story for this second book should be?
RR/JA: Yes and no. We always knew – even when we were working on GIANTS BEWARE, that the second book (if we were ever lucky enough to get a second book, which thanks to First Second, we were!) was going to be about facing off against a dragon to get a powerful sword made by Claudette’s father, Augustine. And we knew the evil wizard part of the equation. But it was a big challenge for us to figure out how much wizard, how much dragon, and how much sword to have in the story.
Have you had plans for where these characters would go after writing Giants Beware!, or did the story in Dragons Beware! find its inspiration later?
RR/JA: We had a rough outline of like 5 or 6 books when we worked on the original pitch of the story, which became Giants Beware!. But as we finished GB, we fell in love with Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, and it just takes more time to develop characters you love. And we found out there were other things about this world, which we had created, that we wanted to explore. If we get to tell more of these stories, eventually, everything we had in mind will get out there.
One of the best things about the series, and Dragons Beware! especially, is its rich cast of unique characters. Which of the kids do you each find yourself most identifying with?
JA: I wish I could say I identified with brave Claudette. But I probably have some of the neurotic, perfectionist, worrier characteristics of Gaston mixed with the naive, curious optimism of Marie.
RR: Same here, Gaston. For more or less the same reasons. I’m definitively not impulsive, like Claudette.
JA: We met in college at Ohio State University. We bonded in a video making class, in which a poorly written script of mine was selected to be directed by a more experienced student, Rafael. After that, we always wanted to work together again.
RR: Jorge’s one of my best and oldest friends: he was even in my wedding! It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with him on this series.
What was your writing process on Dragons Beware? Did it change from how you worked on Giants Beware?
JA: Rafael and I work on the story together, passing ideas, paragraphs, outlines back and forth and talking a lot until we’re happy with the story. That part did not change between books. But when I was writing the script for Giants Beware, I didn’t fully realize how quickly a page of script could expand into pages and pages of artwork. Rafael and I had to make a lot of tough cuts along the way just to keep the book from exploding into twice its final size. I was better at knowing the relationship between words and art when we did the second book (though, I’m still learning). The hard part was trying to give Claudette, Gaston, and Marie new character journeys. And we tried hard not to repeat ourselves.
Are the three main characters inspired by anyone in particular, in their personalities or designs?
RR: As far as the designs go, I wanted characters whose silhouettes were clear and quickly identifiable. Claudette has the big head and crazy, spiky hair, Gaston has the cue ball head with huge ears, and Marie has the triple hair bun and puffy skirt. Hopefully they’re successful designs that way.
JA: Rafael originally drew Gaston as a scaredy cat. And when we were working on first book, I think I was watching a lot of TOP CHEF and so we added that to his character because it seemed like fun and interesting. As for Marie, we both liked the idea of taking the princess archetype and giving it a fresh take.
What are the challenges of writing a family book?
JA/RR: We don’t see it any more or less challenging than writing for a different age group. We’re basically writing for each other. We’re trying to entertain and make each other laugh. The only limitation, if you can even call it that, is that we don’t have our characters curse and we go easy on the blood.
Jorge, how has your writing for children’s television informed your graphic novel writing?
JA: Writing for TV probably informs the structure of our books (which is related to your next question about pacing). We think of our stories in terms of Three Acts, and we like the story the to be in a certain place in a certain act. Overall, writing for me is all related – whether I’m writing for TV or graphic novels. It’s all about structure and characters.
The pacing in Dragons Beware has a very cinematic sense of editing; do you each take inspiration in style more from animation or comic books?
RR: I’ve been working as a storyboard artist for over twenty years, so it’s inevitable that my comic book work would reflect that. That being said, there’s only so much overlap between the two forms. You’re missing that element of time, obviously, but there are effective ways to control the pacing in comics.
JA: We’re both heavily influenced by films and filmmaking so the structure of our books probably resembles a three act film. In fact, when we were plotting the first book, I was reading a screenplay writing book called Save the Cat. Reading books about writing is an excellent way to avoid ever having to write. But I’ve learned to read those books with a grain of salt. I take what’s useful to me.
I hear there are rumblings of a third book in the Chronicles of Claudette series…what can you tell us about what’s coming for our heroes?
JA/RR: Yes! The script is done and Rafael is drawing like crazy. We can tell you that there are monsters in the third book. Funny, vile, awful, silly monsters. Better beware!
Dragons Beware!, published by First Second, hits stores near you today!