Graphic Novel Series Tie-Ins Encourage Creativity | Roundup
A successful graphic novel series comes with certain obligations. Young readers, when they enjoy a book, want more! They may not realize the amount of work that goes into making a graphic novel, which makes it hard to understand delays of a couple of years between installments.
Some series, such as Kayla Miller’s Click books about Olive Branche, have brought on new creators to create a spinoff (the Besties books, in that case). More stories about characters in an enjoyable world makes for easy recommendations. Some of the best creators of this generation, though, have taken another approach, one encouraging do-it-yourself thinking.
In 2019, both Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Guts) and Svetlana Chmakova (the Berrybrook Middle School series) put out journal-style books that tied into their popular creations.
Share Your Smile: Raina’s Guide to Telling Your Own Story is a journal with idea prompts and workable activities to encourage young creators, particularly those interested in graphic autobiography. Each chapter is structured around background information about one of the books Telgemeier created. The overall feel is encouraging, with plenty of “you can make a comic!” cheerleading and inspiration for brainstorming.
Chmakova’s Diary is more explicitly tied into the series, as there are two new comic stories about some of the school students and activities, and one new “as if it was drawn by one of the characters” comic. The book attempts to live up to its name, opening with a school year’s worth of calendar pages, undated, to keep track of events on a month-to-month basis.
There are a handful of instructional pages, and a lot of blanks, including 40 ruled pages and two months’ worth of “sketch a day” half-pages, some with prompts. The book seems to be aiming for a kid to carry it around with them regularly, but it also seems an odd mix of elements, with some of it seeming like space-filler. The elastic band to keep it closed is a nice touch, though.
The most recent example of this trend is Let’s Make History! Create Your Own Comics, a tie-in to Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. It contains a wide variety of art and story activities, introduced by the continuing characters — mostly the Hangman — from the main series. There’s a lot of humor, and some of the activities are surprisingly challenging. As with the other books in the series, this spin-off doesn’t talk down to its audience.
Beyond the usual “draw this” “here’s a story prompt” sections, there is also material on how to use reference (appropriate, given the historical slant of the main series), how to do research (supporting the local library), and even on how to stay healthy as a creator. This is easily the most in-depth of these three books, and a worthwhile read even without a pencil in hand.
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Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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