Debbie Ridpath Ohi's I'M BORED - GIVEAWAY!
There are a lot of people working very hard to get published in children's books. We attend conferences together, are on message boards together, follow each-other's blogs, twitter and facebook pages too. In other words, we talk, we get to know each other. Best of all, we support each other.
Especially when somebody like Debbi Ridpath Ohi, who has been working for so many years, finally gets her big break. And not just a little break.
I'M BORED (written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie) is launching onto the picture book scene with huge PR, great reviews, and lots of notice. So, I couldn't be more thrilled to have Debbie as a guest today.
Q. So Debbie, how long exactly have you been working on getting published?
A. Thanks for the kind intro, Elizabeth! :-)
I just recently went through my documents to check the answer to this first question, since I wasn't exactly sure. The answer is somewhat complicated by the fact that I haven't been actively pursuing publication full-time but have had to put it aside from time to time because I had to focus on major life events or other types of work.
I've been trying to get my middle grade novels for young people published since 1995, when I signed with my agent at Curtis Brown. We sent out two of my novels since then but although the second one got pretty close and I was contracted to do a nonfiction book for Writer's Digest Books, no book-length fiction contracts came my way.
Meanwhile, however, I started selling my short nonfiction to print and online venues. I also provided much of the online content for Inkspot, one of the first websites for writers that I created, as well as my e-mail newsletter for writers, Inklings. At its peak, the latter had nearly 50,000 subscribers. I eventually recruited columnists for the publication, including children's book author Lee Wardlaw (who did the Ask The Children's Book Writer column) and my agent, Ginger Knowlton (Ask The Agent).
During the whole Inkspot phase, I did very little fiction writing. It's one of the reasons I ended up selling my website, in fact I realized I was spending more and more time managing and doing admin than actual writing. Ironic, really, considering that I originally created it as a resource for children's book writers because I was interested in writing for young people.
Anyway, that's a much longer answer to your question than you expected, I'm sure. Short answer: I've had success in publishing nonfiction, short fiction and poetry…and now success in illustrating a picture book! I have yet to find success in getting my novels published, but I intend to persevere until it happens.
Click the image to see it larger.
Q. The story of how you got 'discovered' at an SCBWI conference is pretty inspirational. Can you share?
A. Up to 2010, I mainly considered myself a writer.
In 2010, I submitted my middle grade manuscript to the mss critique program at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA but it was rejected because I had included some illustrations. My illustrator friend, Beckett Gladney, convinced me to enter the Illustration Portfolio Showcase.
I resisted because I had no art training and felt I wasn't good enough, but she and my sister said I was wrong. Beckett helped me put together my first portfolio, choosing drawings I had posted to Flickr. Interestingly, the images she selected were not ones I would have chosen; I felt they were too rough, not polished enough.
To my shock, I ended up winning two awards. One was an Illustration Mentorship Program Award and the other was one of two runners-up for the overall Showcase.
Through the Mentorship Program, I had the opportunity to meet with the six Mentors that year for career and portfolio advice. We Mentees that year all got along very well and we launched our own website at KidLitArtists.com.
One of the judges on the overall Showcase award was Justin Chanda, a publisher at Simon & Schuster in charge of three flagship imprints: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Atheneum and Margaret K. McElderry Books. He asked me if I'd be interested in illustrating Michael Ian Black's newest picture book.
I said yes. :-)
To read the full story of what happened click this link: http://kidlitartists.blogspot.ca/2010/09/how-rejection-got-me-book-deal-my.html
Q. There has been quite the fervor around I'M BORED. What's that been like for you after working so hard to achieve this goal?
A. It's been overwhelming. Amazing and overwhelming.
And thank you so much for mentioning the part about me working hard to achieve this goal. Some have referred to me as an overnight success, that I seemed to have come out of nowhere. I find this both amusing and frustrating. Well...at first I was just frustrated. :-)
So here's my advice to those of you who have been struggling to get noticed in the publishing industry, who feel as if they've been working so hard for so long, with very little payoff. PERSEVERE.
My "overnight success" took many years, and only came after a lot of hard work and help from other people along the way.
Q. I love your quirky illustration style which you've honed for years with your fantastic comic strips "Will Write for Chocolate," "Writer Unboxed Comics" and others. Can you tell us more about the strips?
A. Thanks! I've been creating comic strips ever since I could remember. One of my earliest strips was about a baby named Boppy, drawn when I was around 10 or so. Even though I didn't realize it at the time, my love of comics helped prepare me for working on I'M BORED: learning how to convey expression and story with very few lines.
I have a lot of webcomics: some are continuing strips while others are one-panel one-offs. Here are a few:
Will Write For Chocolate - My comic strip about a house full of freelance writers who work in various genres.
My Life In A Nutshell - My semi-autobiographical comic.
Waiting For Bilbo - My comic about avid fans waiting in line for The Hobbit movie. Co-written with Shane McEwan, who worked on the Lord Of The Rings movies at Weta Digital.
Writer Unboxed Comics - I post a writing-related comic on Writer Unboxed on the first Saturday of every month.
My comics for board gamers - I create these for the BoardGameGeek.com community. My husband and I are both board gamers. :-)
And I'll be collaborating with my friend Errol Elumir on some NaNoWriMo comics this year! You can see our past comics as well as the new strips starting November: http://nanotoons.net
Q. I have to admit, I adore the main character's eyebrows from I'M BORED. They go from commas to full on Frida Kahlo! How do you express so much emotion in so few lines?
A. Heh, love the Frida reference.
As for the expression of emotion in few lines: I suppose it comes down to figuring out how to essentialize, to capturing the essence. And lots and lots and LOTS of drawing...I mainly did this in my comics.
I lose patience when it comes to drawing finicky details. My joy comes much more from conveying character and story than in the drawing, at least when it comes to sequential art.
So...the fewer lines I have to draw, the better....and the more I enjoy the process. If I get too bogged down in getting things technically perfect, then my drawings become static and uninteresting.
Q. From what I've read, your path to drawing the perfect potato was a struggle. How so?
A. I love your questions, Elizabeth!
As for the potato…I knew the challenge was to draw a potato with personality. Here's a comic I created about the process:
Click the image to see it larger.
Q. What is your illustration method?
A. Although I do occasional non-digital sketching, 99% of my work is digital. Main reason: I don't have enough room or the proper ventilation in my basement office cave for much non-digital art materials.
I never went to art school, so never got proper training in how to use real-life acrylics, oils, watercolor, and so on, nor did I accumulate these types of art materials the way most illustrators do.
So when I started getting more interested in comics and other fun illustration, I opted for art software like Corel Painter instead, and using a stylus with a Wacom tablet.
Partway through the I'M BORED process, however, I was horrified to discover that Painter didn't handle CMYK files, so I bought the latest version of Photoshop and learned how to use it with the help of Lynda.com tutorials.
For each I'M BORED illustration, this was my process:
- Do a very rough sketch on one layer. This was usually just rough pencilled (digital pencil) shapes.
- Do the ink line art on another layer. I created a custom Photoshop brush for this, since I like sloppy and uneven lines rather than smooth.
- Create a layer for each different color. I do this in case I need to make book-wide color changes later on that way I can leave all the layers intact except for that one layer.
Sometimes I also add shading and textures, usually on yet another layer. Before I modify any layer, I make a copy of it first just in case I screw up.
Before I uploaded the final to the Simon & Schuster server, I flatten the image into PNG format.
Q. This is your first book as illustrator - CONGRATULATIONS! And it's led to your first book as author/illustrator! Can you tell us more about that?
A. Thanks for the congrats! And yes, Simon & Schuster has offered me two more book contracts!! I'm pretty thrilled. Both were blank contracts: one was for the next book project I illustrate for them and the other is a book project that I write and illustrate for them.
While I eagerly wait to hear whose story I'll be illustrating, I've already started the process of working with my editor (Justin Chanda) on the story I'm writing as well as thumbnail sketches.
Debbie's creative team: ____, Laurent Linn (awesome Art Director), Justin, and Debbie:
Q. Finally, do you remember a while back (2009) you drew a comic for me - of me - talking about writing and promoting my then new title, SOAP, SOAP, SOAP ~ JABON, JABON, JABON? (Click here to see it.) It's one of my treasures and I will forever be grateful.
A. Ha, I do remember! I'm so glad you liked that piece. :-D
I seem to recall that I also had your cover on display in my Writer's Haven on Second Life for a while, too.
Congrats on your success with LULA'S BREW, Elizabeth!
Thanks so much for visiting, Debbie!
Here's several shots of I'M BORED spotted "in the wild":
Must live in the continental US to win. The drawing will be held next Wednesday.
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I love the story of how Debbie got this job! Also, I'd love to have a copy of the book.
Looks like a cute book! Your illustrations may be cartoons but they're full of life. I'd love to have a copy of your book to donate to our city library!
I absolutely LOVE Debbie's illustrations! They are ever-so-slightly nostalgic to me... I guess Charles Shultz inspired! But different! I would love to own this book for ME and my kid :)
Ps- you were missed in Birmingham last weekend, Elizabeth!
I would love to share this book with the kindergarten and 1st grade students I see in the library. I can just imagine the giggles. :)
I loved the comics by the way. Had me giggling like crazy.
Sarah: Thanks so much! :-)
SiskiyouSue: I'm glad you like my illustrations -- thank you!
Shanda: Thanks for the compliment; I love Charles Schultz. :-D
Heidi: Heh...thanks so much!
I absolutely love this interview! Elizabeth, you asked great questions and is soo fun to read and learn about Debbie's process. Debbie's daily doodles inspired me to do them all summer and post them on my site and/or blog. It was a lot of fun to start the day with those. I would love a copy of I'm Bored.
Great interview. Esp. liked learning about Deb's digivelopment!
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