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A Christmas Special with Heart

The beloved Adventures in Cartooning series returns with a fun, new Christmas Special, brought to you by creators James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost. We talked to all three to see what kind of holiday spirit they had.


Congratulations on the Christmas Special! What made you want to do a holiday book in the series?


AFF: All I know is that we never intended to make a holiday book. We were working on a book about creating characters and I was surprised to get a PDF about Christmas and told in rhyme.


JS: I sent the PDF and I was surprised as well! I labor over most of the stuff I write but this one was literally a holiday gift, written in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day at the end of 2010. Although the first Adventures in Cartooningis instructional, it’s also about encouraging the creative spirit. The AIC Christmas Special tries to get kids thinking about creating media, not just consuming.


AA: I always think of team AIC as a band. If James writes a song, we should play it. Same goes for Alexis. As our collaboration process begins, part(s) of the song might change—but that’s what I think keeps the Adventures in Cartooning books fresh. So when James sent the thumbnails for The AIC Christmas Special, I was ready to jam!


How did you three all come together to work on this?


AFF: I don't know how it was for Andrew, but James arrived at my doorstep wearing a leather coat and an eye patch. He told me he was assembling a team. He can be very persuasive.


JS: Alexis can crack any computer code. Andrew is an origami weapons expert.


AA: Don’t mess with us!


What are some of the stories readers can expect inside?

AFF: You can expect all the standard holiday tropes such as the Snow Yeti, giants roaming the earth, holiday jetpacks, magic, and a charismatic Christmas toe.

JS: Rhymes. Lots of rhymes.

AA: And the most wonderful elf of all: the Magical Cartooning Elf. Have a question about cartooning? He’s your elf.


Who did what on each part of the book? How closely did you all work together along the entire way of putting this together?


AFF: James had a very clear vision of this story from the beginning. The key visual and narrative elements didn't change much from the original thumbnails he created. Usually, there is a bit more back and forth during the thumbnailing/writing phase as we hammer out the story, but James was inspired and cranked this one out all on his own. After we agreed on the thumbnails, things progressed as they usually do. James turned the show over to Andrew and me to begin drawing it. We don't micro-manage the drawing phase and provide the freedom to re-interpret the thumbnails. Letting the visuals have a life of their own keeps the drawings fresh and full of energy. When the line art is finished, we debate which things we'd like to change over email or Skype and make the ones that at least two of us have agreed on.


James, how are things going with The Center for Cartoon Studies? What are the latest goings-on there that you can tell us about, and what would you like people to know about?


JS: The school just moved into an amazing building that was once an old post office built in the 1930s. Besides providing classroom space and an incubator for alumni, it is also the new home of the Schulz Library. A year ago we had to evacuate our old building because of Hurricane Irene. Feels good to have all of our books on the shelf again!


How do kids (and adults) use the Adventures in Cartooningbooks to get inspired to create comics of their own? Have you heard stories of how people have interacted with the previous books?

AFF: From time to time we get pictures from young cartoonists emailed to us. My favorite story about Adventures in Cartooningcomes from my sister-in-law, who works as a graphic designer at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. She gave a copy of the book to the daughter of the education director at the museum. It became the first book she learned to read and now carries it around like a favorite toy. This really struck me because I can still remember the first book I learned to read very vividly. I remember how the cover felt, how the drawings looked, which words would mess me up, and how proud I was when I figured it out. I hadn't really thought about Adventures in Cartooningbeing more than a fun comic that someone reads and forgets.

JS: The response to the first book has been amazing. I’ve had so many parents tell me that their kids read the book and then spend hours drawing. Kids especially love Edward the Horse and I’ve received many drawings from kids and Edward usually occupies a prominent place in the picture.

AA: I’ve had parents tell me the AIC books give their children confidence to take their drawings and turn them into comics, that before, he or she might have complained that, “I just can’t draw well enough to make a comic!” My favorite cartoonists—Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, and Bruce Timm (to name a few)—inspired me to draw. I hope these books inspire children (and adults!) to not only draw, but to make comics, too.


How have you seen the books used in schools and in class-type settings?


AFF: We've all done a variety of events in schools and spoken with teachers about students’ reactions to the books and comics in general. One of the more unique uses of cartooning in the classroom I saw was in a middle school not far from CCS in Vermont. They were using cartooning to help teach biology. The students were learning about the structure of cells and were turning all the little bits within a cell into characters for a comic. So, they were drawing little mitochondria and ribosome guys doing their biological functions in comic strip form.


More specifically, how would you like to see this book used in a classroom-type setting? How would you suggest teachers could use it to actively engage kids in the art of comics-making?


JS: I think the book works best if it is first read out loud to a class. After that, provide kids with paper, pencil, and a simple prompt: draw the knight in space or have the knight getting a pet. The AIC books deliberately use very simply designed characters so kids can easily copy them (which is how kids learn). At the age AIC is intended for teachers just need to encourage (which I’m sure most already do).


What are some of your favorite scenes in this book, and why?


AFF: My favorite is when Edward comes on the scene for the first time. He's my favorite character and there's more of him to love in this book.

JS: I love the banter between the elf and the knight, who remind me of my two daughters, who can both bicker, play, and inspire one another all at the same time.

AA: My favorite part is when the knight uses astronaut and cowboy skills to save Christmas—like any true Renaissance knight would most certainly do.


What are each of you working on next, after this book?


AFF: I've spent the last year living in the UK and have been writing and drawing a comic for a weekly comic magazine. The comic is about the adventures of a cat and dog named Kit and Clay. I really enjoy these characters and the response to the comics has been good in the UK, so I'm hoping to be able to maybe do something with them here in the US when I come back this fall.


JS: We have another AIC book in the pipeline, Characters in Action. I’ve got a few other projects I’m working on but a bit too early to talk about them.


AA: I’m in the middle of working on a few picture-book ideas that utilize the comics format. Like James, though, it’s still a little too early to talk about them.