$15,000 Advance for a Kid’s Comic by New Artist. Hey, you!


Graphix, the young adult and children’s comics imprint of Scholastic announced a contest at Comic-con. Some contests are scams; they charge high entry fees, or insist you give up rights to your characters at time of entry. This one looks wonderful. It is only for unpublished creators. The prize is publication and a $15,000 advance. I’ll explain what an advance is in a minute, if you don’t know already.

GHOSTS Front Cover
Cover of Raina Telgemeier’s new fall 2016 book.

The deadline is April Fool’s Day, 2017, but it is no joke. Comics for kids are a red hot commodity. According to Publishers Weekly Raina Telgemeier‘s Ghosts, her next graphic novel for kids will have a first printing of 500,000 copies. Telgemeier’s book Smile has been on the NY Times bestseller list for 218 weeks! I read her Sisters and loved it.

art for El Deafo © Cece Bell

Graphix would love it if this contest uncovers the next Raina Telgemeier, or Cece Bell, or Gene Luen Yang.

A panel from Cece Bell’s award-winning ‘El Deafo.’

If you haven’t read a graphic novel for kids recently, pick up anything by Telgemeier or Gene Luen Yang or Cece Bell’s El Deafo. These books are all quite brilliant and deal tastefully with serious issues including gender roles, racism, and disability. It is heartening that such great storytellers are having financial success.

From Gene Luen Yang’s ‘American Born Chinese.’

Back to the Contest: The contest website explains what they are looking for: “Since our founding, the focus of Graphix remains on creator-driven graphic novels appropriate for children and teens that bring exceptional art, rich content and strong storytelling to realistic fiction, memoir, fantasy and beyond.”


David Saylor, founder of Graphix, has a short video that clarifies this search further on this page. He is looking for up to 5 new artists. The $15,000 is better than the typical advance a new artist might get.

OK, That $15,000 prize. What is an advance?

What exactly is an advance? Same as in the record business, an advance against royalties.  Remember when Bruce Springsteen sang, “a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance.” It’s money up front. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you have a contract for 10% royalty on a $10 dollar book. You’ll get 1 dollar for every book sold. Suppose you got a $10,000 advance when you signed the contract. You will not get any royalties until book number 10,001 is sold. If you sell 15,000 copies, the publisher will send you a check for $5000.

‘Boxers’ and ‘Saints’  by Gene Luen Yang

There is an interview with graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang at the TED Ed blog. the whole interview is interesting.  Here is one important thing he says that I try to convey to my ambitious illustration students:

“When I was really little, I wanted to be in animation — I wanted to be a Disney animator; that was my lifelong goal. And then after I started collecting comics in fifth grade, I slowly switched over. I think it solidified for me when I was in college and I took a summer-long animation class, and during that summer, I produced like two, three minutes of animation total. That’s when I realized that animation is so labor-intensive that it’s actually very difficult for one person to have control over an entire project. I mean, comics is really labor-intensive as well, but at least it’s manageable enough that one person can do it. If you really want to, you can do the whole thing all on your own.”

That’s great advice. My advice: Read something new by one these stars of this genre. I am recommending this contest to my illustration students. What if Graphix doesn’t select your work?  Well, there are other publishers focusing on graphic novels for young people. You’ll have a project ready to go.


A Man of Few Words: DAVID WIESNER

from Tuesday © David Wiesner
from Tuesday © David Wiesner

The great children’s book illustrator Davis Wiesner (WEEZner) came to Kutztown to talk at the 16th annual KU Children’s Literature Conference. The 3-time Caldecott Award winner visited a Communication Design class to share his art and creative process.

David Wiesner sharing his work with Kutztown University students.
David Wiesner sharing his work with Kutztown University students.

Oddly enough, he considered attending Kutztown University but was put off by our art test used in our admission’s process. Instead he attended RISD, Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with great illustrators including David Macaulay.

March 1989 Cricket cover by David Wiesner
March 1989 Cricket cover by David Wiesner

One of his illustration jobs after college was a cover for the kids’ magazine Cricket. He said he always enjoyed the art school assignments that were the most vague, and this magazine assignment was wide open. The editor said there were several stories about frogs in the issue. Once he began sketching, he discovered, to his great delight, the shape of a frog centered on a round lily pad resembled the classic flying saucer seen in cheesy 50’s science fiction films.

From Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, 1956, © Columbia Picures
From Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, 1956, © Columbia Picures

His cover was a hit and David was inspired to take the imagery further into a full 32-page children’s picture book. The resulting nearly wordless book, Tuesday, won the Caldecott Medal for the best U.S picture book in 1992. David shared his four stage process of book creation. Stage 1: Storyboard, rough little pencil thumbnail sketches of all pages that will appear in the book. Stage 2: a dummy book, or prototype made to the same scale as the final. Stage 3: Detailed drawings for each page.

Stage 2 and 3: dummy, then finished drawing © David Wiesner
Stage 2 and 3: dummy, then finished drawing © David Wiesner

Compare the dummy to the final drawing and you will notice the houses are a lot more detailed. This is because at Stage 3 he gets serious about his image research. In this case, he found photos of homes in Provincetown, Mass, to serve as models from the neighborhood under aerial amphibious attack. He also constructs clay models like the frog below to help him envision the final image.

model by D. Wiesner
Frog model by David Wiesner

Stage 4: is the final exquisite watercolor painting. For Tuesday he used traditional transparent watercolor, (no black or white gouache) applied with kolinsky sable brushes. He makes his own low-tech graphite carbon paper to transfer his finished drawing to stretched Arches cold press watercolor paper.

Detail from Tuesday © by David Wiesner
Detail from Tuesday © by David Wiesner

This was a wonderful opportunity for our KU students to interact with one of the great masters of the childrens’ picture book. David Wiesner is a very busy artist. He is working simultaneously on two big projects now: an interactive tablet-based tale, and his first full-blown graphic novel. The graphic novel is a collaboration with writer Donna Jo Napoli. It has an octopus in it; I can’t say any more.

David’s own web site, www.davidwiesner.com  has much more information about his creative process. I was especially blown away by his step-by-step documentation of the development of one single page from his picture book, Art & Max.

Get Down: BOX BROWN is on a roll

Kevin McCloskey meets Box Brown at MOCCA Fest, 2014
Kevin McCloskey meets Box Brown at MOCCA Fest, 2014

COME SEE BOX BROWN! “How to Make Comics Every Day and Still Be Alive” -Box Brown, Sept 17th Sharadin Arts Bldg. Kutztown U, Rm 120, 7pm. Free! This is the same talk he is giving at the Library of Congress earlier in the week.

I met cartoonist Box Brown at MOCCA. He is the creator of my new favorite book, Andre the Giant.

K.Mc: Is there a big comics scene in Philadelphia?

Box: Yeah, pretty big. There is the Philly Comix Jam, a monthly meeting of artists at a bar. Anywhere from 10 to 40 artists show up. It’s been going on for about 5 years now. There’s about 5 or 6 comic shops in the area and a few small conventions. I hear about new artists all the time via internet and stuff. too. Of course, Charles Burns also lives in Philly but he’s not really part of the comics “scene.”

From 'Operation Pizza' by Box Brown
From ‘Operation Pizza’ zine by Box Brown

K.Mc: Did you study illustration, take a course in cartooning?

Box: I didn’t r-e-a-a-a-l-ly study art formally, at all. I just started drawing comics one day in my 20’s and slowly got more and more interested until finally one day I decided to pursue it in earnest. I was really inspired by James Kochalka to do a diary comic strip in 2005 and since then I’ve drawn at least one comic page a day. I did take Tom Hart’s continuing ed. comics class at SVA twice in a row.

From 'Beach Girls,' a Retrofit Comic by Box Brown
From ‘Beach Girls,’ a Retrofit Comic by Box Brown

K.Mc: You created Retrofit Comics. Promoting and working with other artists must take time away from your personal work, but did it pay off for your personal career?

Box: Well, I think ultimately it’s raised my profile. I made money the first year, lost money in year two, and then found a business partner who knows what he’s actually doing. So, at this point I’m only editing really, whereas before I was doing every thing including shipping. I think working with other artists this closely has been really beneficial to my own work.

Sticker by Retrofit Comics artist Jack Teagle.
Sticker by Retrofit Comics artist Jack Teagle.

K.Mc: Willing to share something about the economics of your comics income?

Box: It’s hard to say where money comes from. Ha-Ha! Lately, I’ve been doing freelance poster design and other illustration jobs as they come. I have hopes that Retrofit will again turn a profit (at least enough so I can get paid again). Selling my personal zines and stuff helps too.

From his store at www.boxbrown.com
From his store at http://www.boxbrown.com

K.Mc: How much does the sale of original art help?

Box: Over the past year original art sales have become a decent amount income, believe it or not. It’s not constant, but once in a while it’s a great boost.


K.Mc: How did it come about that Andre the Giant is published by a major publisher?

Box: At one point I had a literary agent who was trying to sell my “Everything Dies” project as a graphic novel. Through that process I got to meet my editor at First Second. So, when I started working on Andre and conceived of it as a long book I sent Calista (my editor) an email submission (along with other publishers) and :01 liked it. (Note :01 stands for First Second Books .)
K.Mc: Can I take images from your site, like your round self-portrait and one of your original pages for Andre?

images-1Box: Yeah, no prob.

K.Mc: Got some advice for students who want to break into to indie comics?

BOX: Work. Work. Work. Self-publish! Self-publish the hell out of everything you can. Online, zines, go to conventions interact with other artists, get on twitter and follow your favorite artists and interact with the community. Read comics a lot, immerse yourself in the culture. If after a decade you feel it wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit you can give up.

Beginning in May, Box Brown will be on his Andre the Giant tour. He will visit Kutztown University on Sept 17. He will be speaking in Sharadin 120 at 7pm. Free and Open to the Public.tumblr_n2n429DbmZ1qlps06o1_500


Andre the Giant is BIG!



I was reading multiple great books: a novel set in Mexico; a literary biography; a history of the U.S invasion of Iraq. Then I opened a padded envelope to find a review copy of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. Those other books got thrown out of the ring.

From Andre the Giant © Box Brown
All drawings from from Andre the Giant © Box Brown 2014

Looking at the title and cover art, I expected a quick, fluffy read. This book is much more than that. Andre the Giant is a serious biography that reads like a graphic novel. It is a series of fantastic vignettes from the life of Andre Roussimoff (1946-1993.) Andre’s eventful life is artfully woven from the whole range of human experience, at times funny, poignant, ridiculous, noble, generous, tragic. This gentle giant was, by and large, a wonderful human being, but he also could be a big jerk, especially when he got drunk. Box Brown has done a brilliant job of portraying Andre’s multidimensional life.

Andre the Giant in late 1980's from Wikipedia
Andre the Giant in late 1980’s from Wikipedia

Box Brown says in the book’s frank and philosophical introduction, “The idea of truth in professional wrestling is certainly elastic.” He also explains that as an artist he had to improvise dialog and envision scenes he never witnessed to tell the this “true” story.

From The Princess Bride
From the cult film, The Princess Bride

I was only dimly aware of Box Brown’s work. I knew he was a Philadelphia-based zinester who had some success using Kickstarter to produce Retrofit Comics. His deceptively simple illustration style is perfect here. His line drawings of Andre are spare, with just enough tonality to impart a sense of mass. He artfully designs the pages so that often his drawings of Andre fill individual panels to capacity.


There is a lot aspiring cartoonists can learn from a careful observation of Brown’s style. Consider the two panels above where the narrator’s voice overlays the ring announcer’s speech balloons. I first noticed this multi-track cinematic effect in Daniel Clowes’ work. You don’t see this in the works of a novice.


Brown ends the book with a complete bibliography. He clearly enjoyed his research, reading obscure wrestling magazines and freeze-framing Wrestlemania DVD’s.  For me the story rings true. I never saw Andre wrestle, but I did see Gorrilla Monsoon wrestle Bruno Sanmartino in Asbury Park. And I just watched a midnight showing of The Princess Bride at Kutztown’s Strand Theatre. Sure, he was typecast, but Andre did great as the giant, Fezzig. According to Brown’s book, making The Princess Bride was one of the happiest time in Andre’s life. It shows.

I have been raving about this book since the moment I finished it. My daughter is pleading with me, “Dad, Can you please stop talking about Andre the Giant?” I guess I can’t.

Next post we will have a brief interview with Box Brown. Hope to get him to visit Kutztown next fall. Andre the Giant will be published in May by First Second Books. Ask your local indy bookstore to order you a copy.

UPDATE: Box Brown will share his story of Andre the Giant at Kutztown U, Weds. Sept 17 – 7pm, Sharadin Arts Building Rm 120. Free & Open to the public. He will bring books to sell and sign.

The Man from The Thought Cloud Factory

Detail from an ink drawing at the Toonseum © Theo Ellsworth
Detail from an ink drawing at the Toonseum © Theo Ellsworth

We are all different, but Theo Ellsworth is more different. I met the artist at Pittsburgh’s Toonseum where his enchanting one-man show hangs through April 30. He calls his studio The Thought Cloud Factory. He came to Pittsburgh from his home in Montana to participate in PIX, the Pittsburgh indy press expo. Big Sky country seems like the right place to relocate a Thought Cloud Factory. First I ever heard of him, he was part of the Portland art zine scene. My daughter sent me an early copy of his sold-out collection, Capacity.

Theo Elsworth, photo by Kevin McCloskey
Theo Elsworth, photo by Kevin McCloskey

The bio on the wall at the Toonseum announced: “Theo Ellsworth is a self-taught artist and storyteller living in the mountains of Montana with a witch doctor, their son and a slightly evil cat.” A witch doctor? I asked him if that was true. He said that was a bit of a family joke. –His wife is a certified acupuncturist.

The Imaginary Field Trip, ink on cut wood, © Theo Ellsworth.
The Imaginary Field Trip, ink on cut wood, © Theo Ellsworth.

Theo says he “came to comics through automatic drawing.” I took notes at his PIX presentation. He described his monster drawing project based on a recurring childhood dream of a collapsing house. A young phantom soul, wrapped like a mummy, floats through an attic populated by strange entities. Alas, my notes are more confusing than Theo’s dreams. You’ll have to read the book, The Understanding Monster, Book 1. Book 2 will be out soon.

The Understanding Monster © Theo Ellsworth
The Understanding Monster © Theo Ellsworth

Robert Kirby described The Understanding Monster (Book 1) like so: “Ellsworth’s deep imagination, as well as his idiosyncratic charm, humor, and sincerity are evident in every passage rendered, no matter how far out into the ether it may be. His trippy psychedelic home movies are projected directly from his head without ever forgetting the heart.”                                                                           – The Comics Journal.

Capacity, Collected zines © Theo Ellsworth
Capacity, Collected zines © Theo Ellsworth

Theo’s work is tough to categorize. Neil Gaiman included his drawings in the Best American Comics of 2010, so they must be comics. Some of Theo’s works on paper have outlined panels and speech bubbles. Many have thought balloons. Perhaps his idiosyncratic style belongs in the fine art annex of the big tent of comics.

At the end of Theo’s PIX talk someone in the audience asked him if he practiced astral projection. He repeated the end of the question, ‘astral projection?’ He seemed bemused, gently shook his head -No. Bill Boichel tried to draw him out about his stylistic influences. Theo vaguely referenced nonwestern and outsider art. He said he loves Native American art and recently acquired a real Kachina on a trip to the U.S. Southwest. When asked if he used photo-reference, Theo’s smile neared the border of laughter. No.

Logic Storm, zine, ©2013 Theo Ellsworth
Logic Storm, zine, ©2013 Theo Ellsworth

At one point I overheard him explain, “Logic Storm is denser. I was exploring ideas for The Understanding Monster.” His fans will understand. In the forward to his zine Logic Storm, Theo writes, “Over the course of this exercise, I became aware of a mythological emergency taking place in my subconscious that needed to be tended to with a creative act.” We are lucky to live at a time when a determined individual can publish such an acts of imagination.

Cover Imaginary Homework © Theo Ellsworth 2013
Cover Imaginary Homework © Theo Ellsworth 2013

I bought his 28-page illustrated zine Imaginary Homework. It was originally produced as a text for a workshop he taught in scenic Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. He’s made it available through his Brooklyn-based publisher, Secret Acres. At just $5 this would make a quirky textbook for a college course on creativity. Below are two panels to give you a sense of this happy project.

From 'Imaginary Homework' © 2103 Theo Ellsworth
From ‘Imaginary Homework’ © 2103 Theo Ellsworth

Incidentally, Theo is pleased with his publisher, Secret Acres. They are “fairly hands-off” as far as editing. In fact, he says, most of their editorial suggestions involve pointing out his spelling mistakes.

From 'Imaginary Homework' © 2103 Theo Ellsworth
From ‘Imaginary Homework’ © 2103 Theo Ellsworth

Finally, I asked Theo Ellsworth if he had any advice for young artists who want to enter the field of comics. “Just get a blank book. Then fill it completely from beginning to end. That’s what I do!”


s a self-taught artist and storyteller living in the mountains of Montana with a witch doctor, their son and a slightly evil cat. – See more at: http://secretacres.com/?page_id=973#sthash.OCpnx87C.dpuf


s a self-taught artist and storyteller living in the mountains of Montana with a witch doctor, their son and a slightly evil cat. – See more at: http://secretacres.com/?page_id=973#sthash.OCpnx87C.dpuf










Nils Balls and The Ship of Soiled Doves.

“Soiled Doves” is Civil War slang for prostitutes. Hold that thought. We’ll get back to the prostitutes shortly.

Meet Nils Balls. He is the guy wearing a tin foil helmet in the Carnegie Library on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He’s seated with a fairy princess and a teen zombie who has a knife through his head, drawing free caricatures for the Library’s Halloween Party.

At Syracuse University Nils majored in film. His writing teacher was the now star George Saunders. Being a working class kid from Pittsburgh at what he calls a “rich kid’s school” Nils felt like a fish out of water. Saunders inspired him to stay true to his blue-collar roots.

Syracuse has a great illustration program, but Nils never set foot in an illustration class. Still, the fact that there were so many first-rate illustrators on campus made a difference. The school paper, The Daily Orange had a comics page with as many a 20 student drawn comics. Nils began drawing “The Brighter Side of Sunshine” in his freshman year. He shared the page with artists like Ben Marra, Dan Meth, and Nick Gurewitch who created the Perry Bible Fellowship strip.

He graduated from Syracuse in 2001 and returned to Pittsburgh. He works for Mellinger’s beer distributer. He loves his job and if he needs 3 days off to draw or go to a comics convention, his boss is supportive.

He is the cartoonist for Pittsburgh’s Northside Chronicle. He contributes to local comic anthologies and showcases his artwork on his website, skeletonballs.com. His most recent achievement is the graphic novel, Ship of Soiled Doves. The story began when Nils and Erin Colby Griffin had a conversation over a beer or two about a little-known event during the U.S. Civil War. In 1863 the new steamship Idahoe was docked in Cincinnati. The captain got orders from General Morgan of the Union Army to proceed to Nashville to pick up some V.I.P’s.

Turns out Gen. Morgan wanted to marginally reduce the number of prostitutes in Nashville and the Idahoe was ordered to relocate 100 ‘soiled doves.’ Much of what occured on the journey downriver is lost to history, but Griffin and Balls conjure up a remarkable tale of love, lust, mutiny and adventure.

Drawing the 150-page book took over 3 years, Nils learned a lot arcane 19th century slang for sex and sex organs ( syrup of squill? ) but some terms were so obscure, they got edited out. For a better description of the story or to purchase a first edition of The Ship of Soiled Doves visit Copacetic Comics. It is a masterpiece of historical proportions.

20131105-114544.jpg Nils has worthwhile links on skeletonballs. He lists a number of Pittsburgh newspapers and newsletters. He tells aspiring cartoonists to offer their work for free. Yes, Nils has heard the viral arguments against free work, but says it might take a decade to find your groove in comics.

Elsewhere on his site he links to over three dozen other Pittsburgh cartoonists. Asked why Pittsburgh has such a vibrant comics scene, Nils said, “One reason is when Ed and Jim got successful, – they didn’t leave Pittsburgh for New York,”referring to Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg. Nils also credits another pillar of the Pittsburgh comic community Bill Boichel, of Copacetic Comics for nurturing and sustaining local talent. Nils Balls is one of the many hardworking and gifted Pittsburgh artists who deserve a wider audience.

20131105-223723.jpg Nils Balls photos by Kevin McCloskey. All artwork copyright Nils Balls.


Thieves at Etsy: SpecialPrints

Picture 2

Jon Shafer is a recent KU illustration grad. He found this cute print on sale on Etsy. It seemed familiar because he drew it over a year ago. Below is Jonathan’s original art as featured on his web page.

Original wedding tree art © Jon Shafer, 2012
Original wedding tree art © Jon Shafer, 2012

Jon wrote to SpecialPrints. I asked him to keep me posted. “She said she found it on google and loved it so much she ‘redrew it by hand.” She also claimed the site she got it from did not have anything about copyright listed. She even asked Jon Shafer to send her his Library of Congress certificate of copyright.

Clearly she is in the wrong.  According to the U.S. Copyright office, “Copyright exists from the moment the work is created.” In fact, SpecialPrints went so far to claim copyright to Jon’s original image:Picture 3

My personal experience with copyright violation ended well. In the 1980’s I lived in Hoboken. I made an illustrated map of the town and included Frank Sinatra’s birthplace. I found my map in a book, The Frank Sinatra Scrapbook, published by St. Martin’s Press. I called the Society of Illustrators to ask for a lawyer referral, they suggested Harry Devlin, son of the illustrator with the same name. I remember Mr. Devlin warning me, “You aren’t going get a house out of this. ” I asked, “Can I get a refrigerator?” He said, “Frost-free!”

 Walking Around Hoboken © Kevin McCloskey
Walking Around Hoboken © Kevin McCloskey 1986

Mr. Devlin got a thousand dollars from the person who infringed on my copyright. In my case, the attorney got one-third of the payment, so I got the diabolical amount of $666. Like Jon Shafer, I had copyright at the moment of creation. If I had gone to the trouble of actually registering the copyright with the Library of Congress, then the offending party would have also been liable for Mr. Devlin’s fees.

To see more of Jon Shafer’s art visit www.jonshafer.com.

FYI: Etsy does have rules against this sort of infringement. They say, in part, “Repeat offenders will have all material removed from the system and Etsy will terminate such Members’ access to the service.

Free factual info on copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office is here.

UPDATE  8/23/13: 

Sent by Jon Shafer:  Just to follow up a little. That lady took it down. For now at least. I contacted Behance about how this link is getting to my image. After countless emails. They’ve established it’s going into their image folder and finding it. But on my end if I delete or modify it. The link still goes to it. So you might want to warn your illustrators. To water mark everything or take angled shots of work. Not perfect scans. Even on their websites unfortunately.