More firsts for #FirstDraftFriday! We have our first cartoonist—the amazing Jen de Oliveira—here to talk about REGGIE: KID PENGUIN, her debut early graphic novel (another first!) Read on to get inspired and then draft a picture book manuscript of your own today.
Jen’s debut, REGGIE: KID PENGUIN, which contains six silly stories that kids will love, is due out next month from Little, Brown Ink.
To pre-order, visit: reggiecomic.com/book
Jen is generously offering a picture book dummy or manuscript critique for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.
Welcome Jen! Can you tell us a little about REGGIE: KID PENGUIN and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it? Or did you draw first?
REGGIE: KID PENGUIN is based on my webcomic series Reggie. But the character Reggie started as a side character to Poppy (Reggie’s older cousin). A very different Poppy penguin originated many years ago as a character in a picture book dummy I made… so, long story short, there are many, many penguin story drafts in my drawer! But once Poppy evolved into a tween penguin with a wild toddler cousin named Reggie, I felt like the characters finally worked. They’ve changed a bit since then, but that was really the catalyst to REGGIE: KID PENGUIN.
Drafting is a long process for me: It typically starts with a character I’ve drawn in my sketchbook, like the first sketch of Reggie here. Little by little ideas will come to me – and the best ones usually pop up when I’m not actively thinking about writing (like when I’m running on the treadmill or washing my hair!) I write or draw those in my sketchbook, and when I feel l like I have enough pieces, I’ll officially start writing a rough draft of the story.
All my preliminary work and brainstorming happens in a sketchbook. That is where I write down ideas (story concepts, funny bits of dialogue, etc.) and draw moments that capture the energy of the comic strip or story. And I always do this part of the process curled up on the couch with a cozy blanket (and sometimes a cat!) – it just feels more comfortable than sitting at a desk.
I love seeing that first sketch of Reggie. I'm not an artist, but I just drew a character in my notebook so this gives me hope that he too might have a future in publishing! Was there any part of your original manuscript that changed significantly that you’d like to share here. How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?
I consider ADVENTURES IN REGGIE-SITTING to be the very first draft of REGGIE: KID PENGUIN. It’s a much different story (Reggie was more of a sidekick) and I thought it was quite funny. It went on submission, and the consensus was it wasn’t working as a middle grade story (with tween cousin, Poppy, as the main character).
A lot of the writing happens in my sketchbook during “thumbnails,” when I make small sketches of the page layouts. Here are some thumbnails from ADVENTURES IN REGGIE-SITTING:
That story was overhauled several times until it got to where it is today. Once I connected with Esther Cajahuaringa (the editor who eventually acquired REGGIE while at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), she advised making it more episodic like the Reggie webcomic series. And that’s when things finally started falling into place.
REGGIE: KID PENGUIN is a collection of short stories, and one of them features Poppy. Just like the very first draft, Poppy is babysitting her little cousin… but this story involves a kid leash!
Ha! I love Reggie's expression in that last panel. Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut that you’d like to share here. Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.
Scrapping the entire script (and pitch) for ADVENTURES IN REGGIE-SITTING was like cutting one giant darling! That story had a lot of funny moments that I still like. Here’s a sample spread from the pitch:
If there’s a funny line or moment I end up cutting in a draft, I keep it in my sketchbook knowing it might be used later, either in a future book or comic strip.
What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?
Usually getting started is the hardest part! That’s why the sketchbook-on-the-couch ritual is so helpful for me – rather than staring at a blank Word document, I can just play around on paper and it takes away the pressure. I really think playing or exploring is essential to creating something meaningful. Once I have enough notes or doodles in my sketchbook, then I’m ready to open my laptop and write an outline. (Sometimes I’ll do that on the couch with a blanket, too!)
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
Just start! When I finally start typing my outline, I write anything and everything that comes to mind. Don’t edit too much. Just get your ideas out, and soon you’ll have plenty to edit later.
Ok, you've got permission to grab a blanket and get comfy on the couch...get a cat to cuddle too, if you've got one...and just start! See what happens. Keep at it and maybe you'll get a whole draft done today. I hope so because it's #FirstDraftFriday!
If you do complete a new picture book draft today, be sure to enter the giveaway! Jen is offering either a picture book dummy OR picture book manuscript critique! To enter, do the following by 10 pm ET today (May 5, 2023):
Complete a full picture book draft
Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle or full name. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 10 pm ET tonight.