Monday, September 9, 2013

Smash: Trial by Fire Blog Tour Kickoff!

Hardcover, 160 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Candlewick Press

I am so lucky to be the start of the blog tour for the book Smash Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton and Kylie Bolton. As a middle school teacher, I have lots of students who love graphic novels and lets face it... adults do too! In this adventure packed graphic novel, Andrew can only dream of fulfilling his dream as the Defender's sidekick and then one day his dream come true... sort of. The art work, plot and pure fun of this novel will keep you turning the page to see what happens and will definitely leave you wanting for more at the end! I can't wait to see the next novel!

Since this is the start of the blog tour for the book, I asked if we could hear more about how this graphic novel came to be. As a teacher, this is definitely something I want to share with my students and as a reader, I just want to know! So now, I will turn it over to Chris A. Bolton to let us all know "How A Webcomic Becomes A Book"!

To start with, it's important to note that we'd always wanted Smash to be a book. My younger brother, Kyle, and I had a stroke of inspiration to create the sort of all-ages comic we would have loved when we were kids. That was the birth of Smash, our series about a 10-year-old boy who unexpectedly gains the powers of his superhero idol -- along with his villains. It took many years to develop the idea, and we submitted it to numerous comic publishers, who all politely rejected it, mainly on the grounds that "kids' comics don't sell."

A few years can make a big difference, however. The success of kids' graphic novels like Bone, Amulet, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a fellow webcomic-to-book convert) showed the book publishing industry that there is a big audience for kids' comics. We'd started publishing Smash as a free online webcomic to find a readership, but we never stopped wanting to see it as a book. Eventually, we were fortunate enough to interest the world's greatest literary agent, Bernadette Baker-Baughman, who managed to entice Candlewick Press, home of Kate DiCamillo, Waldo, Judy Moody, and other superstars of children's books.

And now, PRESTO! We're a book! Fast and easy, end of story. Good night!

Whoa, hang on a minute! Actually, it wasn't that easy. Not even close.

I had worked for the online bookseller for many years, so I was familiar with most of the promotional aspects of the book industry. I also wrote Powell's daily book news blog posts, so I was aware of the long gap between the announcement of a book sale and the actual arrival of the finished book in stores.

My family, however, had no idea about any of that. In the three years since Kyle and I signed our book contract with Candlewick, I was often met with concerned looks and questions like, "Is the book still happening?"

We signed the contract in August, 2010. A lot of people we knew expected to see the book hit stores that fall. I would chuckle and tell them publishing doesn't move that quickly.

They replied, "But the comic is already done, so what's the hold-up?"

To start with, our terrific editor at Candlewick, Mary Lee Donovan, had lots of notes for us, as any good editor should. On our website, we'd posted the entire first season of our webcomic, all 120 or so pages, with only ourselves and our small-but-dedicated readership for editorial input. Sometimes we bumped up against deadlines and had to take shortcuts, or rush parts of the story or art. I'd finished plotting the last four episodes of season one (at that time, we published ten-page "episodes" every two weeks) when Kyle informed me he was worn out by the constant grind (along with his nine-to-five day job), and how quickly could we wrap this season up? I condensed 40 pages into 20, and in doing so, had to throw away a lot of story beats I really liked.

For the Candlewick book, I was eager to put many of those missing parts back and expand on scenes I felt we'd rushed or that hadn't worked out the way I'd hoped. I also wanted to add some new plot beats and scenes that made sense to me on reflection. Kyle's artwork had improved in leaps and bounds since we'd started posting the webcomic, so he was particularly eager to redraw various panels, even entire pages.

Basically, the webcomic ended up being just a rough draft. After talking with Mary Lee, who shared her own feedback and ideas for changes -- along with her palpable enthusiasm for all the many parts she loved and didn't want us to touch -- Kyle and I decided to add 30 brand-new pages and revise so much of the rest that Kyle ended up redrawing more than 50% of the book.

So much for fall 2011 -- we had a lot of work to do! And, although some of it was difficult, it all feels worth it.

We went back and forth on changes and suggestions. Kyle doesn't like drawing thumbnails, so he put together rough sketches of new pages and panels. Sometimes Mary Lee and our book designer, Nathan Pyritz, weren't sure what they were looking at; a few panels had to be redone entirely to make the idea clearer for the reader. Many other times, we were all delighted by the fixes and how the storytelling was improving in every way.

This process continued until September 2011, when Kyle was given the thumbs-up to start drawing the finished pages.

Kyle wasn't the only one who had work to do. Although there were no significant changes to the plot, there were scenes and moments I wanted to expand on, not to mention those 30 new pages that had to be created from scratch.

It's important to note that none of this was a drag. Mary Lee prefers handwritten notes to email, so she sent each of us a print-out of the comic with her notes in the margins. We couldn't have been more excited to receive that bulging package!

When I opened my copy and sat on the couch to read, I paused for a deep breath, expecting at least some of the notes to sting. Not at all. Instead, I was thrilled to find a ton of useful critiques and suggestions, most of which had never even occurred to me.

While writing the scripts for the webcomic, I had sometimes packed each page a little too full, so that Kyle was trying to cram ten panels into a single page. (Nowadays, I wouldn't want him to draw more than eight, although six is the norm.) I also over-wrote dialogue balloons, sometimes to compensate for a detail that wasn't clear in the artwork, and other times just because... well, I couldn't leave a panel BLANK! C'mon, there had to be WORDS there! Even if the words were flavorless and served no useful purpose, readers can't be trusted to just look at a PICTURE and figure out what's happening, even with an artist as skilled as Kyle! I soon learned the folly of that thinking.

It took Mary Lee's notes to help Kyle fully appreciate the need for establishing shots to orient the reader with their surroundings before cutting into the action. Frankly, Kyle never liked drawing backgrounds; he wanted to jump right to the "good stuff." Now he was finding out why it's important to take the time to set the scene for the reader, clearly and skillfully. In graphic storytelling, setting becomes as much a character as your hero or villains.

With new pages added, a few from the webcomic that were cut entirely, and the addition of a 12-page prelude -- which we'd planned to post online between seasons one and two, until Bernadette, our ever-brilliant agent, mentioned it would be a nice addition to the book -- the total page count ballooned to 160.

Of those 160, Kyle had to revise, redraw, or draw from scratch about 110 pages. We were being ridiculously optimistic when we told Candlewick he'd have that done by December, 2011.

When that deadline passed with Kyle still plugging away, we aimed for the following February. Candlewick had initially planned to publish the book in spring 2013, but now that was clearly an impossible dream.

It's important to note that Candlewick only publishes in fall and spring. So, if we missed a window of time, it wouldn't set us back just a few weeks, but possibly months. When February blew past and Kyle was still working feverishly on the pages (while also holding down a full-time day job), the publication date had to be postponed to fall 2013.

It was around this time that our friends and family began wondering out loud if there would ever really be a book. I reassured them the best I could, but even Kyle was starting to worry that we might not make it. And me? I just clung to blind faith.

By January 2012, we'd suspended of Season 2 of the webcomic. On reflection, it wasn't the best idea to post two comics per week while Kyle was simultaneously working on the book (and still holding down his full-time job). The deadlines started to clash. We agreed the book should take first priority, especially since we'd always hoped for Smash to be a book, first and foremost.

If nothing else, working on the first book taught us the value of getting it right the first time. We were no longer even comfortable having Season One online, knowing how much had already been improved for the book. It felt an awful lot like having your mom post your baby pictures online for all to see. So we took the whole comic offline and determined that, going forward, Smash would only be a traditional book series.

Kyle finished the revisions in May of 2012. We went through a few more rounds of editorial changes and suggestions, all of them for the better. By July, we were finally ready to color the book, which was the last stage of the process from our end.

However, there was a problem. The initial colored files we had used for the webcomic were too small for publication. We tried stretching the files, but that didn't work. It soon became painfully clear that all 160 pages of the book would have to be colored entirely from scratch. For our hardworking colorists, Christina Mackin and Sarah Barrie Fenton, that took a few more months.

The final colors were completed in January 2013. We sent the last pages to Mary Lee and Nathan, feeling a sense of pure relief. We'd had a lingering fear they would inform us, politely but firmly, that these pages didn't pass muster and Candlewick was canceling the book. When Mary Lee responded to the finished work with jubilation, Kyle and I felt like... well, a lot like this:

Smash: Trial by Fire will finally be published on September 10, 2013. As I write these words, we've given finished, full-color hardcover copies to our friends and family. They've all been delighted and agreed it was worth the wait.

Kyle and I couldn't be more thrilled to see what had once been a vague idea and some rough sketches turned into a real, live book! It's been an amazing ride, and we're eternally grateful to Mary Lee, Nathan, Bernadette, and everyone else who supported us while we worked to bring our dream to vivid life.

Amazing, huh?! Thanks so much Chris for taking the time to stop by today and give us more insight into your thought process and the writing process! There are more stops along the tour so make sure to check them out!

Happy reading!

1 comment:

Bruce Bolton said...

WOW, what a story...I have been aware of much of these details over the years (I'm the Father of Chris & Kyle)...yet still found this fascinating reading !!! Who'd a thunk there was this much work to a little ole comic book. GEEPERS !!! Truth be told, the end result is well worth the effort. Great job, guys. So proud of you & your book. Dad

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