Today we welcome Kayla Miller to the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog. Kayla is the author/illustrator of the graphic novels CLICK and CAMP, and here Kayla talks about their process for creating their novels; what it is about sleepaway camp that makes it a perfect setting for a middle-grade book; and their short-lived career as high school talent show host. Read on, and then enter to win a copy of CAMP below.
Mixed-Up Files: We see from your bio that you did not always want to be a cartoonist, and that wanted to be a paranormal investigator with a specialty in ghosts and aliens. That is hilarious! Why do you think you came up with that career path?
Kayla: I loved anything spooky or weird as a kid. My middle school library had this series of books about paranormal phenomenon and cryptozoological creatures that explained the history of each topic and had examples of people’s experiences. I was obsessed. When I was younger than that, I had wanted to be a private eye and had a bunch of toy evidence collecting kits and “spy tool” kits. Becoming a paranormal investigator seemed like a natural combination of those two interests.
Mixed-Up Files: So when did you decide you wanted to draw and write for a living?
Kayla: High school. My favorite subjects were always Art and English. When I was looking at colleges I was torn between doing something art related or something writing related. In the end art won and I went to school for illustration, but I kept writing while I was in art school and would complicate my illustration assignments by making them into comics. When I graduated, I thought my career would be as an illustrator/cartoonist putting pictures to other people’s stories and writing would be a hobby. I honestly didn’t know I’d be lucky enough to write as part of my job until an editor approached me and asked if I wanted to illustrate and write a comic.
Mixed-Up Files: Your first graphic novel was CLICK. Can you talk about where the inspiration for that came from?
Kayla: The idea for setting a book at a school variety show came from my agent (then editor) Elizabeth, whose daughter had just participated in one. It’s partially inspired by her experience of how being asked to break into groups for a project can strain friendships, something I can definitely remember being an issue when I was a kid, and partially inspired by my own experience hosting my high school talent show. My co-host and I had come up with a series of skits and gags to do between the other students’ acts that we considered to be Vaudevillian or like the banter from the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour… but were mainly just very silly.
Mixed-Up Files: Re: CAMP — we’re assuming you went to sleepaway camp. Is that right? What did you want to capture when writing about this rite of passage for so many kids?
Kayla: I went to Girl Scout camp as a kid and I worked at an Arts & Sports summer camp as a counselor when I was in college. Camp is many kids’ first time being away from their family and I think that’s a big step. Camp gives kids a place where they can assert themselves and make their own decisions in a way they might not be able to at school or home. I wanted to capture how that freedom is both exciting and stressful at times.
Mixed-Up Files: For people who don’t really know much about making a graphic novel, can you explain the process to us a little bit? Do you write the story first with little sketches? Draw each panel as you write?
Kayla: I always write the whole story first. I start with an outline and then move on to writing a script with dialog, a breakdown of how many panels will be on the page, and descriptions of the images. After that I make “thumbnails” which are very tiny sketches that help me figure out how the panels will be laid out on the page and a rough idea of where the characters and objects will be in the panel. Then I move on to sketching, inking, lettering, and coloring.
Mixed-Up Files: Was the process different with your second book? What did you learn from your first one?
Kayla: I think I was more organized with the second book. CLICK was the longer than all the pages of every other comic I’d ever made combined, so it was really a big undertaking and I don’t think I realized how much harder it was to keep track of things on that scale. I tried to be more orderly with CAMP. CLICK was also the first time I worked with a designer or a colorist on comics, so I had to get used to passing files between multiple people and communicating about changes. It’s been a big adjustment from working on webcomics alone, but I think I’ve finally got it down.
Mixed-Up Files: Can you suggest a few of your favorite graphic novels that our middle-grade readers might want to check out?
Kayla: If you like CAMP, I’d check out Vera Brosgol’s BE PREPARED. It’s also about a summer camp, but a very different kind of camp than the one Olive and Willow go to– it’s actually kind of like the camps I went to as a kid. I also love Kristen Gudsnuk’s MAKING FRIENDS and Brenna Thummler’s SHEETS!
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