Posts Tagged funny MG

Mixed-Up Files interview with Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, authors of, Barb the Last Berzerker!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers,

Wow, you have me three times this month! How I envy you! Well, we are in for a treat today! We have the authors of the new graphic novel series from Simon & Schuster, Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson.

JR: Thanks for joining us over at Mixed-Up Files!

Dan: Thank you so much for having us! It’s an honor!

Jason: Thank you so much!

JR: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to read Barb the Last Berzerker already, and found it to be so much fun! For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the book and where the idea for Barb came from?

Dan : Sure. Jason and I are writers, cartoonists, and animators. We were bouncing ideas off each other over sandwiches in Manhattan. We are huge fans of orcs, dragons, magic swords, and all things dorky. We knew we wanted to come up with an adventure story and we also knew we wanted to design a hero that our kids could look at and see themselves in. A real hero who did the right thing, even when doing the right thing is hard. Especially when it’s hard.

Jason: I think we were both in a place in our lives where we were creatively a bit frustrated. We hear the word no a lot! And so Barb is kind of this champion who never takes no for an answer. She never gives up! She really inspired us. It’s funny to say but we really do think of her as a real person.  The more we got to know her, the world of Balliwick just kept unfolding in front of us in a really exciting and organic way. It felt more like a place we discovered rather than a place we created. Side note: Are italics kind of annoying? I can’t tell.

JR: They don’t bother me at all! There is a lot of humor in the book, as well as some more touching moments. How difficult is it to strike the right balance?

Jason: I think in all fiction, but especially  fantasy, you have to really ground the reader. Action is a blast, but unless there is a real emotional story underneath, things can start to feel flat. Barb’s backstory was a really important element to get right.

Dan : Barb’s backstory and her relationship with her mom is one of things that makes Barb real. The comedy just flows out of these characters and the crazy predicaments that Barb and her pal Porkchop find themselves in. I grew up in a household with a single mom, and had never really seen an honest and fun relationship between a kid and a single parent portrayed in a fantasy adventure story. Barb’s relationship with her mom is rich and complex and gives us lots of places to go as writers and cartoonists.

JR: When reading the book, I doubt that this was in your minds, but I got a kind of Groo by Sergio Aragones vibe from it. Were you fans? Who were some of your influences?

Dan : We LOVE Groo! Sergio Aragonés is a genius cartoonist and we’re huge fans. I have always loved comics and cartoons that can really mix adventure and comedy. Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles has been a huge influence on me my whole life. The Scrooge McDuck comics and the Ducktales cartoon are also reference points I always go back too. Jason and I are always chatting about film and TV too. I think we’ve learned a lot about story telling by deconstructing some of our favorite films, like

Jason: Totally! Groo meets Conan!  I think that could be the elevator pitch. Going over to Dan’s house after school and reading comics together was always such a blast. We would both just sit on the floor and get lost for hours. I remember one time in particular when Dan was super excited about a TMNT storyline where there was a dinosaur from the future. It was such a wacky idea but still totally worked in the world. It was so rad!

Dan : Triceratons rule!

 JR: I could write a thesis about how much I love Duck Tales! The two of you have been friends since high school. What’s it like to work with your friend?

Dan : It’s a never ending nightmare I can’t wake up from.

Jason: Ha! I think Dan is joking. (God what if he’s not. This would be an amazing place to find that out. ) The best part is that we are in this together. It’s hard to make a comic. (probably not quite as hard as Barb defeating Witch Head, but close) What makes it easier is that as I sweat over my pages I know Dan is sweating over his pages too. When one of us starts taking this too seriously (usually me) the other one (usually Dan) can offer some perspective, we get to make comics everyday!

JR: Funny, I also like to tell my friends what I think that they’re doing wrong. What is your process like, and are there ever any disagreements over your projects?

Dan: We write and draw and do everything together. In all honesty, I feel super lucky to have a creative partner who is so talented and so fun to work with. I feel like I’m always running to keep up with Jason’s drawings and writing  which makes me a better artist. Jason has one of the funniest and most twisted senses of humor I’ve ever encountered and I am constantly in stitches. We never really have huge disagreements.

Jason: That’s not true Dan, we do argue about stuff.

Dan: No we don’t!

Jason: Yes we do! Side note: Dan is an amazing story teller and artist, I have to run to keep up with him! I think his brain never stops.


JR: You’ve been responsible for projects in TV, movies, comics, and now graphic novels. What are the differences/pros and cons in each of these formats, and which do you prefer?

Dan: Right now we are all in on comics. It’s so great to be able to make something start to finish, with just a few people. One of the most frustrating parts of television and film development is that you can work for years on a project, and then in the blink of an eye it can go away. You can be left with literally nothing to show for it. Where in graphic novels there will always be a book, a physical thing, that you can hold. And the experience of reading a book is so exciting, so laugh inducing, and often more intimate and personal than watching something. We love film and TV, but dang comics are just so rad I can’t praise the art form enough.

Jason: Totally. It’s such a fun medium. Literally every part about making comics is fun. The writing, the first pass of thumbs, adding color, even answering questions about making comics is fun!

JR: When you do projects for TV/movies, how much autonomy do you have, as opposed to when you work on your graphic novels and can decide everything for yourselves?

Dan : Every project is a little different, but generally you have much less autonomy in TV/film. TV/Film is such a collaborative process, which is part of what’s amazing about it, but also there can be  so many cooks in the kitchen  that often all the edges get rounded off, and things become homogenized. Lots of metaphors there, but you get the idea.

Jason: With comics you can make changes up until the last second, which is so great. It gives the story a much more spontaneous and I think natural feeling. Like Improv Jazz . Animation has its own set of wonderful attributes, but you really can’t make changes once you lock picture. It’s just a much bigger boat and takes so much longer to change direction. Oops, switched metaphors there… I mean animation is more like a thirty piece orchestra.


JR: What are you working on next, and also, what’s next for Barb?

Dan : We have a graphic novel series called Blue, Barry, & Pancakes out with First Second books. It’s very different from Barb — these are super fun, surreal, stories of friendship between Blue a worm, Barry a frog, and Pancakes, a big fuzzy rabbit. They are aimed at a younger reader and are chock full of comedy, adventure, and heart!

Jason: Barb is definitely going to three books. We just wrapped the second book this week called “Barb and the legend of the Ghost Blade.”  We will take a few minutes off…then it’s onto MORE COMICS!

JR: Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck to Barb the Last Berzerker!

Dan and Jason: Thank you so much for hosting us and posing such thoughtful questions. We can’t wait to chat with you again! Cheers!

Well, that’s it for this time, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed, and make sure you go out and get Barb the Last Berzerker!

Interview with Helen Rutter, author of the MG debut, THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH + a giveaway!

Let’s give a hearty Mixed-Up Files welcome to Helen Rutter, author the MG debut, The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh. Praised by children’s author Jacqueline Wilson as “Very funny, very touching, and very truthful”—and featured as a Waterstones Book of the Month—the novel was released in the U.K. by Scholastic on February 4, 2021. It will be available in the U.S. on August 3.

Here’s a summary:

Billy Plimpton has a big dream: to become a famous comedian when he grows up. He already knows a lot of jokes, but thinks he has one big problem standing in his way: his stutter.

At first, Billy thinks the best way to deal with this is to . . . never say a word. That way, the kids in his new school won’t hear him stammer. But soon he finds out this is not the best way to deal with things. (For one thing, it’s very hard to tell a joke without getting a word out.)

As Billy makes his way toward the spotlight, a lot of funny things (and some less funny things) happen to him. In the end, the whole school will know—

If you think you can hold Billy Plimpton back, be warned: The joke will soon be on you!

Q&A with Helen Rutter

MR: So glad to have you with us, Helen. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! Huge congratulations on having published your first novel.

HR: Thanks so much for having me! It’s so exciting that the book is coming out in the U.S. The whole publication process has been a wonderful series of lovely moments, and this really is a big one!

Struggling with Stuttering

MR: Billy Plimpton, the protagonist of the book, struggles with stuttering. I can relate, because I too have a speech disorder—spasmodic dysphonia. Although my voice problem is different from Billy’s, I connected deeply to the character’s challenges and frustrations. As a non-stutterer, how were you able to capture Billy’s story with such authenticity? Was there research involved?

HR: The research came through raising my son, who is a stutterer. Over the years, we have been to speech therapy together, and I’ve witnessed all the ups and downs that come with growing up with a stutter. As most parents would attest, watching your child struggle and then learn how to deal with challenges is a pretty powerful thing. It’s no wonder he inspired me to write my first novel!

Inspiration for Billy

MR: As above, the idea for The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh came from your son, Lenny, who has a stutter. I’m guessing that Lenny was instrumental in the formulation of Billy’s character. Did he have any specific thoughts and suggestions? Any objections? What did Lenny think of the final product? 

HR: He was a HUGE part of the process. I read him each chapter when I’d finished it, and he would let me know when I had really hit the mark. It was such a lovely experience, and offered opportunities for us to talk about things that had happened to him. Also, he told me when things did not work, usually when I used words that “kids just don’t say anymore, Mum!” He really enjoyed hearing the drafts of the story as they developed, and he was an excellent proofreader as his grasp of punctuation and grammar is far better than mine!

When we found out that it was actually going to be published, Lenny was thrilled. He has been involved in TV interviews here in the U.K. and has loved every second of it! He’s much older now, and his stammer has changed a lot. He no longer struggles with it in the same way, and it doesn’t define him like it once did. Because of that, his stutter is not as apparent as it used to be, which gives him more confidence. When it does come back, he realizes that it’s just a tiny part of who his is. I think the story is a great reminder of that.

Creating a Nuanced Antagonist

MR: At school, Billy is bullied mercilessly by a classmate, William Blakemore. I’ve never experienced deliberate cruelty because of my speech disorder, but I could empathize with Billy’s pain and humiliation. As a writer, how do you humanize a bully? What advice would you give to other writers who want to create a nuanced antagonist?

HR: Blakemore’s character grew a lot over the editing process. It took time to get enough of his backstory into the book, in order to give his character depth, without apologizing for his behavior. I didn’t want to hold back on the bullying, to show how brutal and heartbreaking it can be, but I also had to show glimpses of where Blakemore’s bullying behavior came from. For every character, you need to show that their life and personality are complicated, contradictory and nuanced, and to do that they have to do things that are not always expected.

The Joke’s on You

MR: Despite his stutter, Billy dreams about being a comedian when he grows up. His biggest fan is his beloved grandmother, Granny Bread. What is it about comedy—and about the act of telling jokes—that appeals to Billy? For someone who is reluctant to speak in class, telling jokes onstage seems like a herculean task.

HR: The size of the task is what made it so appealing to write. I love an against-all-odds story! Sometimes we are drawn to something that seems beyond our reach for that very reason. I also wanted to show that just because Billy stammers, he still has a lot to say. It’s easy to assume that people who stammer are nervous or shy, and that certainly is not the case with Lenny. He is incredibly confident. He never stopped talking, raising his hand in class, or making his voice heard, however hard it seemed.

Many kids who stammer do withdraw, so I wanted to show in Billy that even though he was tempted to retreat and stay silent, the need to tell jokes and make people respond to him in a positive way had more power. Lenny definitely doesn’t want to be a comedian in real life (he would prefer to be a drummer), but I do know a comedian with a very strong stammer, so when I had the idea of using comedy, I knew it was rooted in reality.

How to Respond to a Stutterer

MR: As a stutterer, Billy is hyperaware of how people react to him when he speaks. He’s even created four categories of listeners: The Encouragers; The Mind Readers; The Jokers; and The Waiters. How did you come up with these categories? Can you tell us a bit about each? Also, what advice would you give to people who interact with a stutterer? What should—and shouldn’t—they do?

HR: This section of the book was Lenny’s favorite. It came from how I had witnessed people responding to him, and he said that it felt like I had climbed inside his head!

The Encouragers do just that; they try and help by telling him to “keep going” or “slow down.” Generally, very kind people, but  encouraging is not that far from interrupting and, as it says in the book, “Telling someone to relax when they are clearly struggling is like shouting, ‘Run faster!’ at someone being chased by a tiger.” They would if they could.

Mind Readers finish the sentence, trying to guess what a stammerer is going to say (and often getting it wrong, as far as Billy is concerned).

Jokers mimic the stammerer. I’ve seen this done to Lenny so many times. You may think that it’s just kids who would do this, but  I’ve seen more adults do it. I think it’s an attempt to be playful, and I think it happens when a person doesn’t know that it’s a stutter they’re hearing. This is definitely the most shocking response I have witnessed.

Waiters are the best category as far as Billy (and Lenny) are concerned. This is what I would always try to do. It’s harder than you may think. People aren’t the most patient, but it’s a useful skill to practice and I’m grateful to Lenny’s stammer for reminding me to be more patient!

An Actor’s Life Is (not) for Me

MR: Before writing your first novel, you were an actor and stand-up comic. What prompted you to make the switch from acting to writing? Also, can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about your path to publication?

HR: I loved acting, but after having kids the reality of auditioning and touring lost its appeal. In fact, I started to dread the calls from my agent instead of hoping for them, so I knew it was time for a change. After I had Lenny, I began to write and perform comedy as well as write plays and theater shows. I completely fell in love with writing–more so than any performing I was doing, so when I had the idea for this story, I knew that it was not a theatre show, but a book. It was an exciting moment!

A very quick draft followed, and I realized it was all character and no plot–and so the editing began! I found my wonderful agent and then things went super fast when she sent it out to publishers. After an auction, I was pleased to sign a two-book deal with Scholastic. It felt like I had just the right amount of luck and serendipity, as well as a pretty thick skin!

Writing Rituals

MR: What your writing process like, Helen? Do you have a specific routine or word-count goals? Any writing rituals?

HR: No word count goals; I think that would stress me out! I go and sit in my writing shed in the garden most days after school drop-off, and when the procrastination is out of the way, some writing usually happens.

MR: Finally, what’s next on your writing agenda? 

HR: I’m working on book two, which is about a boy called Archie Crumb. He and his mum are really struggling, and just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, he bangs his head and his wishes start coming true! He has no idea if it’s all for real or just a huge set of strange coincidences. I guess, ultimately, the book is about hope, and how we can put positivity out into the universe.

Lightning Round!

MR: Oh! One last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Chocolate, of course!

Coffee or tea? Decaf tea for me. I don’t need to make my brain any busier!

Favorite joke? What did the drummer name his two daughters? Anna One Anna Two.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Flight. No, invisibility. No, flight. No… How about decisiveness?!

Favorite place on earth? My home.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? I am assuming I’m not allowed to say my family or dogs? I’m also assuming that sensible items such as a lighter, water and a boat are not what you’re after either. In which case, I will say suncream, a snorkel/mask, one of those notepads with an attached pencil.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Helen—and congratulations on the upcoming publication of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too.

HR: Thanks so much. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book. Fingers crossed at some point that I can come over to the US and see it in the shops!

And now…


For a chance to win a copy of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! 

All About Helen

Helen Rutter lives in the English countryside, just outside Sheffield, with her comedian husband, two children, and two lovely dogs, Ronnie and Billy Whizz. When she is not tapping away in her writing room, she loves walking the dogs, playing board games, and reading. Before writing her first novel, Helen wrote and performed her work on the stage. She has even done some stand-up comedy, and before that she was a jobbing actress. She now much prefers to write the stories than be in them. Learn more about Helen on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Interview and Giveaway with Jonathan Rosen

I’m thrilled to interview Mixed-Up Files member Jonathan Rosen and celebrate the release of his debut middle grade novel, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. Huge congratulations, Jonathan! I’d love to know how you came up with the idea for Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies—and some of the changes that happened between your first draft and publication.

For a while, I’d been wanting to write a humorous “horror” story. Nothing gore-filled, but definitely having a little fun with the genre. Sort of along the lines, of the movies I used to watch as a kid. Fright Night, Gremlins, etc. I knew I wanted the plot to be, the hot, new Christmas toy, coming to life and turning evil. But, at the same time, I wanted it to be funny, and kept picturing cute, evil, stuffed bunnies. Something, every kid would want, and also want to cuddle. So, Cuddle Bunnies, was then a natural name for it. The whole premise was very funny to me. I, also, wanted the “villain” behind them coming to life, to be as funny as anyone in the book, and he wound up being one of my favorites. As a matter of fact, I think he’s my kids’ favorite.

As far as changes, there really weren’t too many. The major one, was changing Tommy from friend, to cousin, which I think, actually, works much better. There has to be a reason why Devin has to put up with Tommy so much. The other thing, believe it or not, was I lengthened scenes with Abby, and added a couple of extra ones. Abby was a big hit, because after all, who doesn’t love a bratty, little sister? I had to live through it myself, so I made Devin suffer, also!


I love Abby! She’s such a vivid character and I think most people can relate to an attention-stealing younger relative. Herb is one my favorite characters. I love how quirky he is, and how he looked surprisingly different from the image in my mind after watching his unusual belongings being moved into his house.

What surprised you the most while writing Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies? Did you ever consider a different animal besides bunnies?

I don’t know if I was surprised, but I really had a great time writing it. I don’t recall ever having an easier time letting the story flow through. I loved the characters and the story, and looked forward to returning to it each day. Like every author, I enjoy what I write, but this particular story, made me laugh a lot, while writing it. I was also surprised at how much I loved the villain. He was definitely the most fun to write.

Funny, but it was ALWAYS going to be bunnies. I even had Cuddle Bunnies as a product, before the title. I wanted the cutest, non-threatening animals there were, and turn them into evil monsters. At around the halfway mark of the book, the title came. It was originally going to be called, To Kill a Mockingbird, but somebody told me that title was already taken, so I had to come up with something else. Once, I thought about it, the second title seemed to fit much better.


So many people have a person in their life who causes all kinds of trouble. What things does Devin love most about his cousin…and what would he change about him, if he could?

Devin loves Tommy’s self-confidence. As Devin mentions in the book, he likes that Tommy seems like he knows what he’s doing, whether he does or not. Devin is the opposite of that. Very unsure of himself, and nervous about facing his fears.

But, on the other side of the same coin, Devin hates how smug Tommy is. He also doesn’t know whether what Tommy is saying, is true or not. Tommy always thinks he’s right about everything, and that grates on Devin. Tommy also gets into mischief, without worrying about consequences, and unfortunately, Devin lets Tommy talk him into things, which causes Devin to get into trouble.

Believe me, I’ve had many friends like that!


If Devin had magical powers, what would he do with them?

The first one that comes to mind, would be invisibility. He’d have been able to use it to spy on his neighbor, or hide from the Cuddle Bunnies. They’re definitely sneaky.


You have such a talent for writing both funny and scary! How were you able to balance both of them throughout your novel?

First of all, thank you!

Honestly, the main priority with this one, was the comedy. I went out to make this one as funny as it could be, while still adhering to the story. I didn’t want to put in jokes for the sake of putting in jokes. They had to fit and advance the story. Even many of the scary parts, have comedy elements, because I find it humorous at times to be scared. There is a comedy element to that. And they mostly, went hand-in-hand throughout.

If anything, I had to work more on the scary parts, by visualizing a scary movie and when an audience would jump. The humor came naturally from that.


In between the laughs, I definitely experienced scary movie moments in your book! What scared you the most when you were younger, and how did you handle it?

Jonathan’s parents got rid of the freaky clown, but it looked a lot like this one. Having that in my house would give me nightmares!

I hate to even answer this one, since my close friends use it all the time, by posting things for me, but clowns. I couldn’t stand clowns. And, to make things worse, for some, horrendous reason, my parents bought this Papier-mâché clown, and it terrified me. And no lie, it was possessed. It was hung on a hook from the ceiling, but no matter which way you turned it, it turned back to face the room. Seriously. I hated that thing. Then, when Poltergeist came out, forget it. That clown had to go.

As far as handling it, I’m not sure that I ever did. I hated that clown. I guess, my way of facing it, is a future story with Devin and Tommy, which focuses on an evil clown.


That clown is really freaky! I’m glad it gave you great material for a book, though. I can’t wait to see what happens when Devin and Tommy battle an evil clown in the future.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m all in on the sequel to Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. The title is being changed, but in this one, Devin and Tommy have to battle against a theater school of vampires.


That sounds awesome. I can’t wait to read it! Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

I like long walks along the beach, on moonlit nights. Oh, sorry, that was for a different questionnaire. What I’d like them to know is, I thank you for reading. I appreciate each and every one of you! Also, I’d love to hear from you! I loved writing Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, and hope you all enjoy it!

And thank you to Mindy, for the interview! It was a lot of fun!


You’re welcome, Jonathan. Thank you so much for letting me interview you—I loved reading your responses and am thrilled to share them with our readers. And thanks for donating a signed copy of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies for a giveaway!

You can find out more about Jonathan on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  

Enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win a signed copy of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies!

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.

That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.
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The winner will be announced on August 31st. This giveaway is open to anyone in the U.S. or Canada. Good luck, everyone. 🙂