In this episode Lucy chats to writer and illustrator Victoria Jamieson.
Victoria is an writer and illustrator from Pensylavia UK - most well known in the UK for her graphic novels roller girl and when stars are scattered.
In this interview we talk about her journey to becoming a graphic novelist, her sources of in spiration and her process for creating graphic novels and we spend time talking about both Roller Girl and When Stars Are Scattered.
You can find additional teaching resources for When stars Are Scattered here and a free e-book about creating Roller Girl here.
Find Victoria on:
To find out more about Refugee Strong go to www.refugeestrong.org
Links to everything discussed in this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.
Producer and Host: @Lucy_Braidley
Hello. And welcome to comic boom, the comics and education podcast. If you're interested in the ways that comics can be used in the classroom, then this is the podcast for you. My name is Lucy Starbuck Bradley. And each week I'll be joined by a fellow educator and academic librarian or a creator of comics to discuss their journey into comics and provide some inspiration to influence your practice. And in this episode, we are ending season two on a real high. Today I am joined by Victoria Jamieson. I'm sure. Many of you know, Victoria is a writer and illustrator from Pennsylvania USA most well known in the UK for her graphic novel was roller girl. And when stars are scattered, In this interview, we talk about her journey to becoming a graphic novelists. Her sources of inspiration and her process for creating graphic novels. And we spend time talking about both roller girl and when stars are scattered, On comic Boone website, comic boom.co.uk. I've split the episode up into chapters so that you can navigate it a little more easily. If you do want to listen to particular sections with a group of children or young people, which I really recommend Victoria is so good explaining what she does and why in a really clear way. And I think this would be perfect for sharing with the class. I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it. Here's what Victoria had to say.Lucy SB:
Hi Victoria. Welcome to Comic Boom.Victoria:
Hi. Thanks for having me.Lucy SB:
You are very welcome. I always like to start the podcast by asking guests to tell us a little bit about their journey as a comics reader. First of all, where did that all start for you? When did you start to become aware of them?Victoria:
Well, as a young reader, I mostly read novels. I didn't read a ton of comics, so I didn't read comic books. I wasn't that into superhero stories, so I, but I read a lot, a lot of books. But in terms of comics, I think the first place I was aware of them was the Sunday newspaper. Where they had a page of comics in the back and my brothers and I would fight over who got to read the comics first. And so yeah, reading those daily comic strips or weekly comic strips was really what got me interested in comics.Lucy SB:
And when did you, start to to read more of the graphic novels or things like that? Was that a bit later on or is that something that, that was more driven by your interest in art and telling stories through art?Victoria:
Yeah. Honestly, that came quite a bit later. the first graphic novel I remember reading was Maus by Art Spiegelman, and that was when I was in college, in university and I remember really being blown away by that, but it still kind of slipped my mind. I didn't really think about making comics myself until I was already working in children's books, so I started off making picture books and illustrating books for young readers. And it wasn't really until I read a very famous book here in the US I assume it's big in the UK as well. smile by Raina Telgemeier. Um, I feel like that's what really revolutionized comics in schools and libraries here in the United States. So that really kind of transformed my career.Lucy SB:
And what was it that made that stand out to you as a title?Victoria:
Well, I feel like, cause I worked in publishing and I, I'd say most of my background was in book publishing and I feel like Smile was that first book that really. Crossed over and was being welcomed into bookstores and libraries. I still sort of feel like the comic book world and publishing world are quite separate.Lucy SB:
Um, there were other books like American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, that also kind of made a step in, but I feel like Smile was just kind of a groundbreaking book. All of a sudden, librarians and teachers were talking about it and welcoming it into their classrooms. And for me, It, kind of opened the door to new possibilities because I always loved illustrating and all of my previous books were picture books. And when I read Smile, I was thinking about writing a book about roller derby, but I couldn't figure out how to make a picture book about it. So a graphic novel seemed perfect.Lucy SB:
that's really interesting. I'm gonna ask you a little bit more about roller derby later on. But I'd love to unpick, a little bit about your, your journey into illustration, because I've heard you speak before about. Not necessarily being notably gifted in art as a child, but that it was something, that sort of grew with you as you got older. And I just think that's really useful to hear that kind of journey through education and how you, how you came to be a professional.Victoria:
Yeah, so I don't think I was especially gifted as an artist, as a kid, but I received a lot of praise, and I think that was because my, my parents were supportive and they were good parents. And, um, I drew all the time, so I think teachers knew I like to draw, so they were like, oh, you're good at drawing. You should keep it up. I think what, Not what bothers me, but I'll, I'll often go to schools and a teacher will have, you know, five kids in front of her and she'll be like, oh, well Joey here is a great artist and that's great for Joey. But then I look at the four other kids who think, oh, okay, he's the good artist. Maybe I'm not. And yeah, I try not to pinpoint, you know, I have a, a son and I try not to say like, oh, he's not good at music, he's not good at this. I sort of feel like if you like something, that's the more important thing. Nobody, I really don't believe in talent as being that important. I think if you like something, you do it, and that's how you get better.Lucy SB:
Yeah, and I see here it's quite often I'll speak to, adults on the podcast who are really interested in comics, maybe through, through being a teacher or through being a librarian. They're not comics creators themselves, and if I ask them, or do you make comics? It's almost like, well, no, no, that because they don't, because they don't see themselves as being able to access art. Once you've kind of, I guess once you've left childhood, and if you've finished childhood thinking that was something you weren't good at, then it, it's something that you kind of just stop, stop doing, which I think is a real shame, I think bring back drawing for adults. That's what I think.Victoria:
I think so too, and it starts young. I speak to students from, you know, age five through 18. And when I talk to five year olds and I say, you know, I always like to draw with students. And when I tell them we're going to draw together, everybody in that room is like, yes, I'm the best artist in the world. But it doesn't take very long for the kids to start doubting themselves. I'd say by nine or 10 or 11, half of the room is thinking, uh, uhoh. And then by 12 or 13, like, forget it. Nine tenths of the class is saying, I'm bad at drawing. I can't draw. They're embarrassed. And my favorite is making grownups draw because the look of terror in their eyes. When I say we're going to draw, it just cracks me up.Lucy SB:
And is there anything that, if you think about yourself as a child, is there anything that you'd wished you had known then or advice that you would've sort of give your younger self?Victoria:
Hmm. Yeah, that's a tough one. I'm pretty happy with the way my career and life has turned out, so, you know, I don't wanna ruin anything like make the butterflyLucy SB:
wanna set some wheels in motion that you can't control. This isn't actually gonna happen. By the way. There is not a time to machine with embedded in the, in the podcast. So,Victoria:
Because I was pretty miserable as a middle schooler, so, so around 12 through 14, 12, 13. But if I had been super popular and had tons of friends, I'm very confident. Maybe I never would've turned to art for comfort. So yeah, I guess I wouldn't really change anything.Lucy SB:
part of the journeyVictoria:
and so I'm really interested in Roller Girl. I love it. I'm reading it actually again at the moment. I'm reading it to my son, who's really enjoying it as well. And I know you were involved in, roller derby yourself, so it's, so there's elements of autobiography in there, and I just wondered to what extent you draw from your own personal experience in your, your books and what kind of role your own life story plays in your writing.Victoria:
Yeah, I like to draw from my own experiences, but I like having the freedom of not having to stick to my own life. A lot of comics artists will have made autobiographies, that stick very closely to their life, but my life is pretty boring, which is how I like my life to be. And so if I can take what really happens and slightly fictionalize it, I can add more drama, make more of a story, art can make it more interesting. But, um, I think having a personal relationship to what I write about just gives me. You know, I love roller derby, so that's why I wrote about it, because I love it and I could talk about it all day long. So I'm writing a book about, it was perfect. I could just talk about it forever.Lucy SB:
And you built other themes in there that was very much a a growing up narrative. Was that also inspired by your personal experiences around friendship and things like that.Victoria:
Yeah, so in the story, the main character has a best friend, and through the course of the story, they start to grow apart and realize they're not the close friends they used to be. And that was definitely inspired by my childhood. When I was 12, my family moved across the country. We lived, we moved to Florida, and I had a best friend who was a best friend, and we did everything together and. Being separated from her just was a real sadness in my life. And it was before email, before when we had phones. I'm not that old, but, um, you know, we couldn't, we couldn't travel to see each other very often, and I just felt this friendship that was so important to me just kind of slipping away and I was really, really sad about it. and I think that's something kids go through even if they don't move away. You know, you, you lose friends, you make friends. it could be really challenging. I think as grownups, it's easy to see that as, I don't know, not very important but to a kid that's maybe the first time they're going through kind of a heartbreak. And I, I always try and take the concerns of kids seriously, and that's my job.Lucy SB:
I'm guessing that. Young children, young people are writing to you and sharing their reaction to the book, and you do school visits and things like that. And what sorts of reactions have you had from children, from, from reading that the bookVictoria:
Yeah, a lot of the emails I get, I actually just read one before we started the podcast. Lots of parents write to me saying that their kid discovered roller derby through the book, and I just love those emails because they'll say, oh, my kid was never very into sports. But they've really found a community, a supportive group, roller Derby's, a very inclusive, very supportive environment. So it just warms my heart to hear. That people's kids are thriving when they find roller derby.Lucy SB:
Yeah. That's brilliant. I love roll derby. I used to play roll derby too. Do you still play roll derby or are you retired?Victoria:
Uh, now I'm retired. I'm retired.Lucy SB:
about you?Lucy SB:
Yeah. I was so retired. Um, yeah. But I, I absolutely loved it. It was, yeah. I think, yeah, it's a great, great community and like you say, it's really very inclusive.Victoria:
It takes a lot of time. That's the main reason I have retired and you know, as you get older, it's harder on your body to recover.Lucy SB:
Yeah. I just wondered if Roller Girl was your first longer form graphic novel, were there challenges with creating Roller Girl that you maybe didn't have through working on picture books and was that a real shift? what sort of things did you learn through creating that book?Victoria:
Yeah, there were challenges in terms of, I didn't know what I was doing, I did lots of Googling of things like how to write a graphic novel, how to draw. I didn't know how to format a manuscript, so I googled how to format a manuscript. I kind of just copied what I learned from screenwriting on the internet. I didn't, yeah, it was a new way of making a book, but I. I don't know. I, I sometimes have a false sense of optimism and belief in myself where I'm like, I'll figure it out. It'll be fine, no problem. And then it does get figured out. And I think sometimes doing those scary things keep you on your toes, keep you fresh. So I kind of like to do things. I have no idea if I can actually do it or not.Lucy SB:
And so when you started writing it, did you already have a, a publisher that was interested in publishing it or were you sort of starting from scratch and then trying to get interested in it after you started making it?Victoria:
Let's see. I had a publisher who had published my picture books and I believe I did the first chapter of Roller Girl and I wrote a synopsis of the rest of the story and we sent it to my publisher and a few others, and my publisher, the one who had done my picture books, said they were interested. So that was great. It worked out really well.Lucy SB:
And have you been surprised? But I feel like it's so successful and I like, you know, right up there with the Raina Telgemeier's smile. You've been surprised by how, from your first graphic novel, how popular and how far reaching it's been.Victoria:
Oh yes. It was a huge shock, like huge because it wasn't my first book and I was used to my books kind of coming out into the world and not making any big waves. my parents would go to bookstores in our town and they'd be like, Yeah, we looked at around for your book and we couldn't find it. We talked to the manager and said they should really order your book. And I was like, you are so embarrassing. This is mortifying. So yeah, it was a, it was a complete shock when people suddenly knew my book and people had read my book. Uh, I'm still kind of shocked by it sometimes.Lucy SB:
Wow, you are definitely super famous in the uk. Definitely very well known. if we move on to when stars are scattered, that's very different. Type of story. Well, no, no. Maybe it isn't. At its heart. It's a growing up story, isn't it? There was a clear difference in it though, that you had, a co-writer, somebody else working with you whose, whose personal story it was. in what ways was that a different experience in terms of, well, the creative process and. Just how, how did that feel to you as, as a creator that you were, you were then working with someone else and almost having that kind of, of responsibility over their story?Victoria:
Yeah, it was quite different. So when stars are scattered is based on my co-author's life. my co-author is Omar Mohammed, and he also lives in Pennsylvania, the United States like I do. And he was born in Somalia. And he fled when he was four years old because of the Civil War there. And he and his younger brother fled to a refugee camp in Kenya and after 15 years or so, he and his brother were resettled in the United States. So it's the story of what it's like to be a kid growing up in a refugee camp. And yeah, it was quite different than the process of my other books. I think, you know, I'm usually a pretty reclusive person. That sounds more extreme. I'm just pretty quiet. You know, I keep to myself, I'm a writer. I like sit, sit in my room. but this required talking to somebody all the time and really working closely with somebody, and I think it was a really good thing for me to do. It taught me, you know, whenever I tried to insert my thoughts or my feelings into the book, it was wrong. It taught me really to ask questions and to listen rather than try and put my own thoughts into the story. So I'm not sure if I'll ever collaborate with someone again. Maybe I will, but I think it's gonna help me in my future stories and just in life. I've started asking more questions. And it's kind of amazing what happens when you ask questions. I was talking to a neighbor I talked to all the time the other day and I asked her something about her past and all of a sudden it turns out she was, had a super interesting life story. And I think I really credit working with Omar teaching me that, that everybody has a story, if you ask and are curious about it.Lucy SB:
Mm-hmm. And how did you come to find out about Omar's story and to have the opportunity to work with him on the book?Victoria:
Well, I was really curious about refugee rights. It was during the Syrian refugee crisis that I first started volunteering. And started, yeah, just wondering what I could do to get involved. There was talk in the United States, there's still talk in the United States of whether refugees should be allowed. and so I just wanted to do something and get involved and I always, when I visit young students, I always tell them, if you're really curious or passionate about something, those issues can seem very large and overwhelming sometimes. But you can start small. You can look around your community, see if there's something you can do locally, because I realized right in my town there were three refugee resettlement agencies. And those are places where new arrivals to the United States, it's kinda the first place they go to get English lessons. Finding apartments, jobs, enrolling in schools, paying taxes, and they're always looking for volunteers. So I just started volunteering locally. I was paired with a woman from Somalia who lived maybe five minutes from my house, and she had a four-year-old daughter. And so I'd bring my son and we'd all ride the bus together or go grocery shopping together just as a way to kind of help her and her daughter get used to life. It's so different. Omar often says his first years in the United States were the hardest because everything was different. Locking doors, turning on a stove, flushing a toilet. These were all things he had to learn. He'd never seen them before.Lucy SB:
And on the flip side, you are depicting things that maybe you've never seen before. How, what was the research sort of process in terms of being able to really create the images that depicted genuinely what life was like for him as he, as he was growing up?Victoria:
Yeah, I really relied on photos from the internet. I'd never, I've never been to dab refugee camp. I had, Omar is starting to take volunteers with him now, so maybe I will go in the future, but I, I haven't been, so I did rely on photographs and Omar didn't have many photos of his own, you know, he didn't have a cell phone when he was a refugee. He had maybe two pictures of himself from those days. So I would look at photos, um, from the internet, but Omar would check every drawing that I did because sometimes the photos would be more recent. And the campus changed a lot since the time he's been there, largely because refugees who are resettled in the United States or UK or Canada, most people send back 70% of their paychecks to folks who still live there. So it's changed a lot. So Omar would look at every panel and make sure it was all correct to his memory. And you had mentioned before, how it felt to have responsibility for his story. And that's something I took very seriously. Both of us took it very seriously to, be as accurate as we could. And we had lots of beta readers, other refugees, female refugees, people Omar knew, people Omar didn't know, just to make sure we were both getting as many details right as possible. I felt that responsibility. Pretty clearly because it's not my story or my culture or my history or my religion, so there were so many things I could mess up. So we had lots of people help us out and make sure we were getting everything accurate.Lucy SB:
Was that a lengthy process then? Cause that seems like, you know, in terms of, versus if you were just writing a story that you had community control over, or that you were very, very sure of, you know, depicting something that was based on your own life experiences, that it feels like this would be much longer kind of undertaking in terms of your, your time commitment, and how long the story took. I'm really interested to hear how long that process was.Victoria:
You know, actually it ended up being close to the same length of time. Most of my graphic novels take about two years. To make, and I thought Omar's story would go more quickly because I wa didn't have to invent anything. The story was kind of there. I just needed to write it down. But it did not end up being much faster because, like you said, I was doing lots of research. You know, obviously Omar was the first point of research, but I was trying to supplement wherever I could with documentaries, books and yeah, with the, the readers who've read the story. But that happens with all of my books too. I always have readers check for. Details to make sure getting everything right.Lucy SB:
There's definitely a real boom in graphic novels being read for, for reading, for pleasure, and librarians and teachers getting far more interested and engaged with introducing children to graphic novels as a, thing to read in your own time where they're not as often seen as kind of being built into the actual curriculum. Subject time, like to study in English, but I do see when stars are scattered quite frequently, being studied in schools or you see planning available for teachers to refer to, from various internet sites and things like that. So it te I I think it's probably one of the, the most popular, most common books to be studied by often year six s are gonna just leave last year of primary school. it would be really interesting to hear what, what kind of are the, the big kind of headline questions that you would like young readers to consider as they, as they read the book? What's the kind of things that you would like them to be contemplating?Victoria:
That's a, that's a good question. And it's a lot of things at once. First of all, speaking to, using graphic novels in schools, I often still meet librarians or teachers who think graphic novels aren't real books. It's not real reading and I think people are, you know, entitled to their opinions. And I'm not here to judge anyone about it, but I think graphic novels are a different kind of reading and it's still challenging. I think they're more challenging to read than people give them creditLucy SB:
because even quote unquote simple books, I'm not sure our dogman books popular in the uk.Lucy SB:
Yeah. Very popular. Yeah.Victoria:
Okay. Yeah, my son loves Dogman and I think Dogman gets a bad reputation for being just simple, like, almost like candy books, but they're pretty complex. Sometimes the picture will say the opposite of what the words are saying, so I think there's a really layered and nuanced type of reading kids do with graphic novels. You have to balance what the words are saying versus what the pictures are saying. So I think graphic novels in general are more complex.Lucy SB:
Yeah, I think there's a lot, a lot of times when dogman is, is judged actually the people judging it haven't actually read it. They're just kind of forming their own opinions. It's, it's an assumption they haven't actually started read one.Victoria:
With all sorts of books, especially in the United States here now.Lucy SB:
Yeah. Yeah. In terms of then the kind of the big questions or, or the main themes I guess, that you'd like people to be considering as, as they're reading, is there anything you can think of or would you rather not direct readers in that way?Victoria:
Well, it's funny, I usually, yeah, I usually don't write a book with a theme or a message in mind. I feel like that's almost the kiss of death for a book when you're like, I want to teach people that so and so is right and something is wrong. My goal in writing this book was to tell Omar's story as honestly as possible, just as straightforward. I leave it up to the readers, I think, to form their own opinions of what they think, what they feel about it. I do know speaking with Omar, we do lots of visits together and he always tells kids what he hopes readers will get out of it. His main message is no one chooses to be a refugee. He, his parents never thought they would be refugees. They were kind of upper middle class in Somalia. His dad owned one of the largest farms in his area, and they wanted for nothing. They didn't need to move to the United States. They had everything they needed. He was an innocent kid. He was four, and it wasn't his choice to become a refugee. So he always emphasizes that to kids that no one chooses to be a refugee.Lucy SB:
That's really interesting and, I guess what readers can be reflecting on is why is this this, why is this story important to be told? Why is this story here and what does it mean to them? You know? In terms of, in terms of that message as well.Victoria:
Yeah, and Omar often says he hopes he could be a voice for the voiceless because they're millions. Hundreds of millions of refugees in the world and not many get a chance to tell their story. He said he would often see stories or news articles written about refugees by someone who's not a refugee. So he felt it was important to use his voice to tell his story. And in terms, I don't know what questions the readers will ask as they're reading it, but I know working with Omar and writing this book for two years, the questions that came to my mind were, well, why do I have a safe place to stay? Working on this book, you know, Omar left Somalia when he was four, and at the time my son was four. So I'd look at my son sleeping in his bed and I think, well, why does my son get a safe bed to sleep in? Why does he get food to eat for breakfast? And millions of kids don't have that. Like why? So, yeah, it made me very grateful for everything I have and whenever I felt guilty about sort of all the luxuries really that we have, Omar would say there's nothing really to feel guilty about. That's what every family, every child deserves. They deserve a safe bed. They deserve something to eat for breakfast. so I was shining a light on what is lacking for students and kids in refugee camps was one of my goals.Lucy SB:
Yeah. And I think that awareness is so important and I honestly, I think that's why it's, it's being used so widely cause it's just brilliantly told story. It's really engaging and it opens up the door to just really powerful conversations, I think with, children and young people. So thank you for making it cuz I think it's brilliant.Victoria:
I was very kind of you.Lucy SB:
I can't resist. I literally cannot resist talking to someone that makes comics and not asking them about the process. I'm a bit of a comics making process dork. so I can't, I can't have you here and not ask you, what, what materials do you use? Are you working on purely on paper? How, what's the process? So I'd love to hear a kind of potted version of your typical creative process starting from, and one of my questions is around the ideas moment. I think a lot of children, and adults, I mean, I'm, I'm saying children, but I'm really meaning me, can, like, struggle with the, when they're writing in terms of. Is this idea good enough? Is this idea big enough? And when you are working, when you, when you are coming in your sort of ideas phase, first of all, do you know, oh, this is the one this is gonna make it into, a final book? Or is it a little bit more like you just have to test things out and see how they go?Victoria:
Yeah, I, I'd say 75% of my writing process is me thinking, is this idea good enough? Uh, so yeah, that's, that's a real problem. And yeah, it just kind of takes, again, that kind of blind optimism, that blind faith in yourself to be like, no, you know what? I'm just gonna write it. We'll see what happens. but yeah, in the very beginning it's always a bunch of self-doubt that, not sure that's the right idea. Luckily, I don't have too many ideas. I kind of have one idea at a time, so it's, I kind of have to make that idea work or, or nothing else. And often the idea is very vague. So I've just finished a manuscript for my next graphic novel, and it started off with just, A vague idea of a kid who likes stuffed animals, and so there's not much to that idea. So it's really kind of through the work and through the writing that I find the point of the story in a way.Lucy SB:
So you keep kind of digging away at it almost to, to see where it's gonna take you.Victoria:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.Lucy SB:
And then what's the kind of creative process do you start drawing at that idea stage or is it more of a kind of a, a writing down of the story and getting that down in writing before you start developing the drawings? How does that balance between the image and the, the word or the narrative work for you?Victoria:
In the very beginning, it's often both at once or often start by drawing, drawing the character, doodling the character. I think I like to start with a drawing because that kind of allows me to get into that creative mind space. It can be hard for me to get into that zone of imagining things, cuz as a grownup you've got like bills to pay and. School issues and you've got all sorts of worries. So drawing is sort of that like magic portal into another world for me where I can start to draw and then my mind starts to wander and I start to think about stories for this character that I'm drawing. So usually that's how I start, like doodling the character, writing down little bits of story that come to mind as I'm drawing, and I just keep going back and forth like that for a while and. At a certain point, usually after a few months, I know enough about my character, but not so much the story. Usually it's just getting to know my character that I can start to write a manuscript. So then I just go right into typing phase and I'm just sort of watching it play out like a movie in my head, and I get stuck all the time. When I get stuck, I'll often go back to drawing. Actually for this current project, the character has a younger sister. She's about four years old, and I just couldn't quite figure out this character. I don't, I didn't have a sister. My, I only have a boy, so like a little sister always seemed like kind of a mystery to me. So it took a while and it actually took drawing the character and figuring out what she looked like. Then that kind of opened the door and let me understand what she was like as a person. So it's a lot of back and forth in the beginning. I like to draw on paper. I'm old school that way. Especially, well for all stages I draw on paper. I can't really imagine doodling on a computer because computer to mean to me equals work and equals drudgery. It's not fun for me to stare at a computer. It makes me grumpy. But if I'm sitting on a comfy sofa with a notebook and I'm listening to music, like that's relaxing and it's fun. So definitely sketching on paper in notebooks or just random scraps of paper. And then when I make the art, it's also on paper. I think it just makes me happy. Like I said, I don't like staring at the computer. It would be much faster if I drew digitally, but I just, I don't like it. I like seeing a stack of paper at the end of a day. I like seeing progression and it just reminds me of, you know how I drew as a kid. I've got some paper and a pencil and some pens, and that's something I want to get better at it. I don't really want to get better at digital art. When I, I think it's great and lots of artists work that way, but I just, I'd much prefer to spend my time improving on pen and ink or pencil or line work.
Um, is that something you go out practicing? Do you take a sketchbook out and about and draw from life? How do you develop those skills? What do you doVictoria:
I do. Yeah. Last summer my son did swim lessons and that was really fun. Actually. I did that on my iPad where I did work digitally because I do do the color on the computer and I find color very difficult. So, during his hour long swim lessons, every day I take my iPad and I do color studies, so that was really fun. but yeah, I like to have, I have one in my bedside table because often right before I fall asleep is when. I get good ideas or I start thinking, I kinda tell myself a bedtime story about the project I'm working on. So often I'll need to jot down ideas or do little drawings. So yeah, I've always got one around.
I know sometimes with comics, there's a real team effort. There's often a few different people working on different elements of a comic. Do you have other people working with you on your books? Like a colorist or, or a letter out what's the process there?Victoria:
We did. For when stars are scattered and my other books, I do work with a colorist and they kind of lay in the basic colors so often, you know, I do my drawings on paper in black and white and I'll scan the artwork. I did have a helper, aka my husband who who would scan artwork for me for a while, but I'm so, I'm such a control freak freak. I'm very picky and I'm like, you're not scanning it right. I need to do it. So now I scan my artwork and the same thing with the color. The colorist will add the basic colors and then I always go in and add shadows or effects if it's nighttime or if I want some sort of mood lighting. But yeah, that's a big help to have a colorist because it's like a big coloring book, a big 240 page coloring book, and it takes forever. And for the lettering, no. I made a font out of my handwriting that I've used for most of my books because, you know, for such a long book, if there's text changes or spelling mistakes, it's easier to do that digitally as well.
You started a career in publishing working as a book designer and i think there's so many people don't know the number of different roles there are within publishing could you tell us a little bit about your role as a book designer and also the ways in which that's helped you maybe with creating your own booksVictoria:
Yeah, I think there are a lot of different roles in publishing. So as a designer, I was the person who kind of picked fonts for books, for the jackets. I did a lot of designing book jackets. It was a really hard job. And um, yeah, I think I. Lots of people don't quite understand what a designer is. My own parents didn't understand what it was when I was working there. They're like, so do you illustrate every book the publisher makes? It's like, no, I'm not the illustrator. They hire the illustrator and the author and the designer kind of puts everything together, puts together the illustrations with the text, and kind of lays it all out so it can be printed into a book. I found it to be a really hard job, especially I still find book jackets very difficult because. You really need to kind of sell the story in one image. It's much more marketing based. And that was one of the hard parts of being a book designer, that you'd hear comments from sales or marketing teams and they'd be like, I was working in publishing around when Twilight was big, the Twilight Books. And many times the direction we heard was Make it look like Twilight, but a little bit different. It's like, I can't do that. It's hard. Yeah. And speaking of people who help make the book, you know, we've got our editor designer, and of course the sales and marketing teams all help work together to put the book out.
And do you create the designs for your own book covers now?Victoria:
I do design The illustration, and our designer will pick out the font and it's sort of how it's all put together so I don't have to do too much of the sales part,
Are there ever, ever disagreements between you and the designer, if you ever like really liked one of the covers of your book. So how does that work? How'd you come to a consensus?Victoria:
Yeah, it's more of a, everyone has to agree. It's funny because in the interiors I hear mixed to nothing about the artwork. I could do whatever I want, but on the cover everyone has a say, everyone has an opinion, and we sort of work together. That's where I have to do a lot of, you know, negotiating or compromising. Whereas in the inside, I can basically have at it, do what I want.
I'm sure everyone listening would absolutely love to know what's coming next for you. Have you got any projects that you're working on currently?Victoria:
Yeah, I'm not really sure. I'm at a bit of an odd point where I've got a, I actually do have a few ideas going at once and a few projects I'm working at once. I'm also, working on another slightly older graphic novel that requires a lot of research, a lot of in-person research and for various reasons that research has to happen this year. So I'm kind of working one book, but also really starting the research for another book. I'm someone who likes things to be in order, and I like to know when the next book's coming out. But part of being a freelancer, part of having a creative field is that sometimes you have to let that go and just do the work and see how, how and when. It turns out, sometimes you don't have control over that sort of thing. So I'm just kind of try and keep my head down. I get very grumpy if I don't work on something creative. So I think that's what I just try and focus on, make sure I'm fulfilling myself being creative, and then hopefully it'll come out as soon as I can.
We're coming to the end of the episode now. Thanks so much, Victoria, for all your time. At the end of the episode, I always ask guests to share some, a few tips, a few summary points from the things that they've talked about today. Just things to leave, educators, librarians, anyone that's listening to think about around comics in education. Uh, what have you got that we can be pondering on as we leave this episode?Victoria:
Well, I guess I speak to a lot of librarians and teachers about graphic novels and. Yeah, I like to emphasize that there are all sorts of books that are graphic novels, that they're not easy books. Like you said. A lot of schools, um, in the US as well are using when stars are scattered in their curriculum, which kind of still blows my mind, but what I hear from teachers a lot is that graphic novels are a great leveling field. Like they level the playing field so that readers of all different levels can enjoy the same book because, It's can be an easier step into a longer book for kids who aren't confident with their reading. I also hear from teachers of English as a second language that. Students who are learning English graphic novels can be a big help because they can see the pictures, kind of makes it a little, little easier to digest in a big block of text. And yeah, I would say if you're not a fan of graphic novels, if you think you don't like them, try a few different genres. There's a whole, a whole range of graphic novels out there. So many wonderful stories and it's, you know, every kind of story you can imagine. Historical fiction. Nonfiction, science fiction every genre you can imagine it. they're all graphic novels it might be confusing at first. You know, I hear from a lot of people, they just don't know how to read a graphic novel, but, you know, ask some kids, they'll probably tell you they know how to do it and, uh, give it a try.
And if people listening and I'm sure they will want to find out more about refugees and how to support refugees and their communities, or the sort of work that's going on around the world to support refugees. Have you got any tips of where they can start?Victoria:
Omar now runs a nonprofit called Refugee Strong, and I volunteer with Refugee Strong and every year he goes back to the refugee camp and brings books, school supplies for all the students who still live there. So on this most recent trip, he came back about three weeks ago. He opened the first library in DAB Refugee camp and he said he brought 15 copies of when stars are scattered. And he was like, they were gone. Within two minutes. Kids just came and read them and they were so excited. He said to see a book about them, about their life. So that was kind of a full circle moment for me to really see that happening. And if you're interested, you could check out refugee strong.org. It's been a really nice part of my life to be involved with Refugee Strong because most of our donations come from kids, young readers who've read the book, who then want to get involved. So that's another kind of full circle moment for me that kids are so passionate and empathetic and have open hearts and minds, and they just want to help and want to be involved. So that's been a really nice part of my life.
Well, it's just so powerful. I just love that idea of children in different parts of the world. Being connected through reading, through, finding out about each other's lives through books, through comics, graphic novels, and really exploring what it's like to be somebody else to be in someone else's shoes, that kind of building of empathy.Victoria:
Yeah, those connections are great and something that Refugee Strong has been trying to set up is, connecting classrooms with classrooms in Dadaab. So via Zoom, we've had some students in the United States connect with a classroom in the refugee camp where the kids can actually talk to each other one-on-one. So yeah, if you're an educator who is interested in that, you can reach out to Refugee Strong.
Well, that'd be such a great opportunity. I'm sure you will have people listening who are interested in that. Now we're coming to the end, right at the end of the podcast. And the last thing that I asked guests, To do is to recommend us something to read. It could be a comic graphic, novel, maybe a book about comics. What would you have us add to our to be red piles tomorrowVictoria:
Ooh. One of my favorite graphic novels of all time is El Defo by CC Bell. It won, Newberry Honor here in the United States. Yeah, it's one of my favorites.
I absolutely love El Deafo. It's such a great book. Um, really popular, always really popular in my classroom from all different sorts of children. Really great recommendation. Thank you so much. Um, thank you so much for spending time with me today. Talking to me about your experiences as a graphic novel creator. It has been absolutely brilliant. I've learnt so much and I can't wait to share this. With all of the listeners so thanks very much victoriaVictoria:
Thanks for having me. It's been my pleasure.
That's it, what a great episode to end on. Absolutely loved talking to Victoria Jamieson about her work, and we'd excited to see what she does next. I really hope that this episode. Can be used across classrooms and comics clubs, because they know so many of you dip into when stars are scattered for both curriculum work and for reading, for enjoyment, reading for empathy as well. So I'm really hope that you make the most of this episode because it's, this will be available. Completely free content for anyone to access. so please do share with your networks. If you know, other teachers who'd be interested, retweets, tagging people in is always very welcome to spread the word, because I just think this is a really great resource for children and young people to be able to access. So really keen to get it out there and your support to do that would be very much appreciated. This is the end of season two of comic. Boom. It has gone so quickly. I've absolutely loved it. Thank you to all of my guests. It's been an absolute honor and a privilege to speak to people about their work, whether it's in the community, whether it's creative, whether it's an educator, I never fail to learn from the people I'm speaking to. And it's just, it's made a huge impact on my life and hopefully on some of the listeners to. So, yes. Thank you. It's been absolutely brilliant plans are already a. For some exciting things in the autumn term. maybe not a full series, but, perhaps some, Exciting little miniseries going on in the autumn. We shall see, but definitely you will be hearing from comic boom before the end of the year. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram. The numbers are slowly creeping up. Comic underscore boom underscore podcast on Instagram. You can follow me on Twitter at Lucy underscore Bradley, which is B R I D L E Y. and all the previous episodes on www comic boom.co.uk or on apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, anywhere. In fact that you get your podcasts, you can subscribe, follow, and be kept up to date with all of the latest episodes as they come. Thanks once again, to all my guests and all the people who've been supporting and working so hard to share the podcast over this season, it's been absolutely brilliant. My name is Lucy Starbuck Braidley, and I am. I'm the producer and host of comic. Boom. Thanks for listening.