Posts Tagged #iLoveMG

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!

A Chat with Tania Unsworth (& a giveaway!)

Book jacket for BrightwoodOctober is one of my favorite months. Candy apples. Gorgeous fall leaves. Halloween. And, my favorite, spooky middle grade stories! So I was thrilled to chat with Tania Unsworth, author of the frighteningly beautiful new middle-grade story Brightwood. Leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy!

JA: Unlike Daisy, the heroine in Brightwood who has never set foot outside the grounds of the mysterious mansion where she lives, you moved around quite a bit during your childhood. How did that impact the stories you tell? 

TU: I was born in the UK but spent most of the time up till the age of seven living in Greece and Turkey where my dad – the novelist Barry Unsworth – taught English and wrote. That was an amazing early childhood to have – full of wonder and novelty – and it gave me my love of travel, of setting out on journeys into unknown places…But it also made me crave safety and stability. As a writer I’m drawn to stories about this conflict; the comforting certainty of home versus the need to go out into the world. I like writing for middle grade because it’s around that time that most of us start to feel this conflict. In Brightwood, my heroine Daisy is just at the beginning of the end of childhood. Change is coming. It’s a frightening, sorrowful – and completely thrilling – time of life!

JA: Describe Daisy in three words: 

TU: Secret, powerful, kind.

JA: A lot of authors whose first books find great success suffer from what they call “second book syndrome.” How was writing your second middle-grade story? How was it different than writing The One Safe Place?

TU: I’ve written several books, two for adults, two for middle grade and three (by my last count) that never made it to the publishers at all! So you’d think I’d know how to do it by now. But while some things get easier – experience really helps with some of the technical aspects – each book has different challenges and demands. I think I can truthfully say that I never know how to write a particular book until I’ve got to the end of it. Sometimes I think of it as trying to walk across a bridge while building it at the same time…You have to rely a lot on faith – in your story and in yourself. And if you’re under pressure to follow up a good book with another that’s equally good or better, it can really get in the way of doing that.

JA: I’m too chicken to read scary stories for YA or Adult audiences, but I love a good middle grade spooky story. What made you want to write scary stories for children? 

Author Tania Unsworth. Image (c) D.E. Thaler

Author Tania Unsworth. Image (c) D.E. Thaler

TU: I think children love scary stories. I certainly did. When I was very small, there were some books that made me run away just at the sight of them. But I always crept back, unable to resist the dreaded words or scary illustration. Books are a safe way for kids to explore all kinds of fascinating emotions – including fear.

JA: What’s your favorite ghost story for children?

I love the classics. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W Jacobs was written over a hundred years ago, and the style is slower – and perhaps a little less accessible – than children are used to these days. But it’s still an outstandingly spooky story. Be careful what you wish for!

JA: You’re currently on tour as part of Algonquin’s #iLoveMG Author Tour. What’s your favorite part of being on the road and talking about your books?

TU: That’s easy. Meeting readers!

JA: What are you working on next?

TU: I’m writing a story about a girl who thinks she’s a mermaid, although it’s more thriller than fairy tale. Dark, with plenty of twists!

I have a ten-year-old in my household who loves all things dark and mermaid, so we’ll be waiting to see that new one. In the meantime, we’re wrestling over Brightwood. Thank you Tania!

Readers, leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Brightwood.

An #iLoveMG Tour & a Giveaway!

I Love Middle GradeYou know we love all things Middle Grade, so of course we were excited to learn that some of Algonquin Young Readers’ MG stars are touring the country the fall as part of its #iLoveMG Author Tour. Tell us why you love MG in the comments below to be entered to win a copy of Kelly Barnhill’s amazing new MG, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

If you enjoyed the Mixed-Up Files interviews with authors Tracey Baptiste, Kelly Barnhill and Brian Farrey, don’t miss an opportunity to see them in person during the tour. And watch for upcoming interviews with some of the other authors participating in the #iLoveMG tour.

Wednesday, September 21st
Wild Rumpus
Minneapolis, MN
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Brian Farrey

Saturday, September 24th
Odyssey Books
South Hadley, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Sunday, September 25th
Clinton Book Shop
Clinton, NJ
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Sunday, September 25th
An Unlikely Story
Plainville, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Monday, September 26th
Jersey City, NJ
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Tracey Baptiste, Adam Shaughnessy

Tuesday September 27th
Community Bookstore
Brooklyn, NY
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Wednesday, September 28th
Blue Bunny Books
Dedham, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Wednesday, September 28th
Darien Public Library
Darien, MA
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Tuesday, October 4th
Watermark Books
Wichita, KS
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Brian Farrey

Thursday, October 6th
Novel Neighbor
St. Louis, MO
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Sunday, October 30th
Brookline Book Smith
Brookline, MA
Author: Tania Unsworth

Wednesday, November 9th
RJ Julia
Madison, CT
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Even if your home town isn’t on the list above, tell us us why you love MG in the comments below and you could win a copy of Kelly Barnhill’s amazing new MG, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.