Nathan Hale is a fitting name for a graphic novelist specializing in historical biographies. I ran into him at the American Library Association convention in San Francisco. I asked if he was named for the hero of the American Revolution. He wrote One Dead Spy, about that hero. “No, I am named for my grandfather,” he said. Grandpa Nathan, born in Star Valley, Wyo, might have been named for the hero, though.
Nathan’s latest work, The Underground Abductor, is a bio of Harriet Tubman. He is hoping rumors that Tubman’s portrait might grace the ten-dollar bill come true, as it will boost sales.
Nathan studied illustration at Cornish College of Art in Seattle. For a time he specialized in natural history illustration. Now his historical graphic novels, published by Abrams, keep him at the drawing board. He has completed 5 in the ongoing series, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. Abrams has lesson plans linking his books to middle grade history curriculum.
Besides his full-time job as an illustrator, Nathan tours the country teaching cartooning to youngsters in his Cartoon Boot Camp. Just prior to the ALA convention he taught a Boot Camp in Santa Rosa California at the Charles Schulz Museum. I just checked their website, looks dreamy. They have an ice rink and a Warm Puppy Cafe. You can watch Charlie Brown specials all day long and meet professional cartoonists. Oddly enough, the Boot Camp experience went south for Nathan, his wife, and eight-year old daughter, Lucy. Nathan was stunned when a thief smashed the windows of their rental car with a sledgehammer and stole their luggage. They got some Peanuts’ T- shirts at the gift shop. Nathan’s wife presented him with a nifty T-shirt she had custom printed, see below.
It should be noted that the Hazardous Tales series has gotten many splendid reviews. Booklist, for example, on Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood, “Students bored to death by textbook descriptions of WWI battle maneuvers should be engaged by this entertaining, educational glimpse at world history.”
School Library Journal praises his recent work as “lively, rigorously researched, visually engaging stories.”
I asked if he had ever learned something from reader feedback. After some thought, Nathan opened Big Bad Ironclad! to show me the illustrated endpapers. The first edition, 2012, had a mistake on the map; he had incorrectly colored Kansas gray, putting it in the Confederacy. He got a letter from an upset Kansas librarian, then more from school children. He did an apology tour of Kansas schools. “I let the kids yell at me, throw popcorn,” he joked. He took responsibility for the mistake, said he had referenced a map drawn prior to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In January, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. His publisher, Abrams, has first-rate editors who check every sentence for historical accuracy. Nathan, however, never sent the editors the illustrated endpapers to proofread, just the interior pages. The map was fixed for the current edition, pictured below. Let that be a (history) lesson for us all.
Nathan writes a blog, Space Station Nathan. He admits to being too busy to keep it updated. He works hard and deserves his success. The blog archives have some nifty stuff. Look for the illustrated guide to inviting Nathan Hale to visit your school.