we speak with Stephanie Brooks of Mad Cave Studios to help understand the comic and graphic novel genre

What better way to end the year, than with something you’re planning to pick up in the new one?

At Illo there’s a collective draw toward comics and graphic novels, and we’ve already done a few! But we’re looking to build this considerably with the help of our very talented illustrators. Below is a brand new Q&A where we speak to Stephanie Brooks; the Assistant Editor at Mad Cave Studios. We certainly gained some valuable advice, and we are so happy to share this with you!

Mad Cave Studios is an independent comic book publisher founded in 2014. They work with creators around the world to produce innovative, exciting comics and graphic novels. You might be interested to know that Mad Cave hosts an annual talent search. You can find out when the next one opens when you subscribe to their newsletter. Mad Cave acquired Papercutz in 2022. A fun fact: Papercutz will be the first to produce AR for Free Comic Book Day in 2023. 

Let's dive into the Q&A:

How long does a graphic novel project typically take to complete, from the first script to actual publication date?

It depends on the length and type of graphic novel. A translated book, like Magical History Tour, can take 2-3 months. But a creator-owned book could take a year or more from inception to scripting, editing, art, lettering, etc. That is not to discourage anyone, but it can be a long process.

Do graphic novels tend to be with characters or can they be something abstract or something about nature, like a documentary?

I believe the majority of graphic novels do feature characters, but there are certainly abstract ones. This one by Richard McGuire focuses on a location and each page shows the way in which seasons and years can change that place. Papercutz also published The Fly, by Lewis Trondheim, which is a black-and-white graphic novel with no words, told from the perspective of a common housefly. The graphic medium is an incredible one that really allows for the bending of perspectives and ideas.

At Illo, we are drawn towards graphic novels, as they seem to be leading the children’s book industry in terms of diversity (especially with POC, LGBTQ+, and disabled characters). Why might graphic novels be so successful in this area? Do you believe there are areas where the industry in general needs to improve?

It’s interesting you say that because that is also why I was drawn to the industry, and I discussed that concept a bit in my undergraduate thesis. I believe there are a variety of reasons that contribute to this. One is the culture and community that graphic novels and comics cultivate. It attracts people who feel under-represented and unseen in more ‘classical’ mediums. Two is that the visual medium can really help convey minutiae. It is one thing to write about the struggles to be a visible minority or to write about a visible disability. It is another to show a sequence of panels portraying the process of moving about those spaces. Personally, I would love to see even more diversity. In online spaces, you can see the ongoing development of a queer language, a language surrounding disability, and race and our constructs of it. We do not yet have a lot of media to portray these developing constructs of identity. And I do not yet believe that anyone can find themselves within the pages, though Mad Cave’s imprint, Maverick, is actively working toward that.

Do you often hire author/illustrators for graphic novels, or hire an illustrator separately?

I want to adjust this question. We hire writers and artists in pairs sometimes and we sometimes hire writers and artists separately. It depends on the work we’re looking for – if the book is creator-owned, or if it’s work for hire, and so on.

Can you recommend three graphic novel books or series?

Go with the Flow, by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann, is a middle-grade graphic novel about periods and advocacy. It is also a graphic novel that focuses on female friendship and relationships.

Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, features girls of colour, intergenerational families, the impacts of past generations’ decisions, and the ways in which young people reckon and face them – in a positive way. It also has a beautifully drawn dog.

I’ll also plug some books that Papercutz is working on because they’re incredible, and I am able to say so, entirely unbiased. Yahgz #1: The Tale of the Craynobi, by Art Baltazar, is a lower middle-grade book with legends and fantasy and zany solutions to problems. Queen’s Favourite Witch, by Benjamin Dickson and Rachael Smith, is a historical fantasy series featuring a young aspiring witch named Daisy, who hopes to leave her village and work for the Queen.

Do you find it helpful to see pages of paneled artwork in an artist's portfolio?

It is more than helpful. I would say it is essential to see paneled artwork for any prospective graphic novel artist. Editors and agents all want to see that the artist is able to lay out a page and convey a story effectively.

Do you have any advice for aspiring graphic novelists? How can an artist get their work noticed by publishers?

There is no one formula for getting noticed. I would say it’s good to have an online portfolio and to try to engage with social media so you can work to build a following. You can get involved in work for hire, independent magazines, or even webtoons to begin to get your work out there. If you struggle to put yourself forth, an agent is a fantastic advocate for you and can send your materials to publishing companies… The best advice I have is to go forth.

You'll find above some excerpts of brilliant comics created by Illo maestros Maruko Zhao (a personal cartoon), and Cheyne Gallarde (for Reddit/Intel), and a few blogs back is a brilliant 4-page comic for the Center for The Humanities at the University of California, Merced.

If you have any questions or a specific project in mind, please do get in touch: [email protected]

At illo agency, we pride ourselves in representing a collation of global illustrators, distinctly diverse in creativity and uniquely celebrated by like-minded clients across a range of commercial markets.