Books: rapunzel's revenge
  Working with the artist

From the beginning, Dean and I both had very strong notions about what kind of art this book should have. Some of the children's comics we'd seen were very cartoon-y or heavily manga-influenced, neither style appealing to our sensibilities and our sense of this story. Others use very spare drawings, and that style wouldn't fully take advantage of the Hollywood Era Old West we wanted to invoke. We spent a lot of time in comic book stores, searching for illustrators. It's the publisher's prerogative to choose an illustrator, but we thought we'd send a list of artists we liked to my editor so she could get the sense of what we were going for.

Around the same time, I was collecting signed books from other Utah writers for a Christmas-time charity. One of the books I received was called "The Devil You Know," written and illustrated by Nathan Hale. I liked it immensely and so did Dean. We had it on our kitchen counter for a week, and one day while Dean was flipping through it, he said, "You know, from his style, I think this artist would be a good comic book artist."

I emailed Nate Hale (no relation). We'd met briefly at a conference the year before, but I didn't know him well. Here's our email conversation, slightly trimmed:

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Hey Nathan,

I was just looking at your wonderful The Devil You Know and I was wondering, are you a comic book fan? Would you enjoy doing a graphic novel? I'm asking because I'm pitching a children's graphic novel to Bloomsbury and I want to provide the names of a few artists I'd recommend for the project. It'd be a mega-project - 130 illustrated pages, so quite a commitment. Would you be interested to have your name in the ring?

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Hi Shannon,

I'm glad you like my Devil book--I was thinking it would be a great tree-topper, you know, in place of the traditional angel.

I'd love to be part of your pitch! If you want to see some graphic novel style stuff I've done, look at page five of my portfolio at www.shannonassociates.com

What kind of story are you doing?

Nate

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(Shannon replies)

The story is Rapunzel in an Old West setting. In her tower, she trains herself to use her braids as lassos and whips. When she breaks free, she becomes a vigilante heroine, seeking to crush the witch's evil tyranny.

Something we did recently when pitching a graphic novel to DC was have an artist friend illustrate the first two pages, help the editor get a visual, just in b&w. We don't need to do that, but if you'd like to have a stab at it, I could send you some sample pages.

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(Nate replies)

This week I'm eyeball deep in work, I'm doing a big painting of Paleo-Indians field dressing a mastadont. I've been painting fur for six hours today...But next week I'm starting a part-time holiday job. I'm going to be working a kiosk at the mall. Don't laugh. In my experience, nobody talks to those kiosk workers, so I'm hoping I'll be able to work on drawings while making a few extra holiday bucks. I can't take big paintings in, only little, page-sized jobs. That's where I'd like to do your sample pages, if you're interested.

If Rapunzel gets too muscle-bound, I might not be your guy. I definitely wouldn't get hired at D.C. But skinny girls, using hair-lassoes in the Old West--sign me up.

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The next day I sent Nate three sample pages from the script we were working on. About four hours later, he sent me this sketch of Rapunzel.


copyright Nathan Hale 2007

It was PERFECT. Clearly, Nate was as excited about the Rapunzel Old West idea as we were, and there's nothing better than an artist excited about a project, except maybe a BRILLIANT artist excited about the project (so two points for Nate!). A couple of weeks later (the kiosk was good to Nate) he'd done character sheets on Jack, Rapunzel, Mother Gothel, Brute, as well as a world map and three sample pages of script, fully colored and gorgeous. I had no doubt once my editor saw them, she wouldn't want to use any other artist. And of course, she didn't. When she made us an offer on the book, Nate was was part of the gig.

Nate is an amazing artist, but in my experience, that's not enough to make it as an illustrator. He's got gumption, he's got moxie, he's got obsessive commitment. Rapunzel was a huge project. In the comic book industry, you have a penciler, inker, colorist, and letterer--four separate people creating the final images, and often many more. Nate was doing it all. He penciled, inked, and colored a 140-page, full color comic and did it in about eight months. That's crazy. He was working 16-hour days, weekends, barely seeing his wife, toddler and baby, working from a chair in the Orem, Utah library. Mindy Hale, Nate's wife, helped out by doing the word balloons and caption boxes, a huge job done brilliantly. So count 'em, that's FOUR Hales involved on this book. A regular Hale family party!

[Warning, SPOILERS in the next paragraph]

Any great comics artist is also a gifted storyteller, since the pictures help tell the story. Nate is brilliant. It was so fun for us to see his penciled pages, see how he took our script and description of what was happening and added to it to make it even more exciting, more gorgeous. For example, in an early draft, we had Rapunzel in just a boring old tower. Nate had the idea to make it a tree, which made SO much more sense, given Gothel's power with growth magic, besides also being much more cool visually.

He loved the boar in the part 1 and said, "Give me more creatures!" Nate started out as a natural history painter, doing big murals in museums, and is genius with creatures. So we altered our concepts a bit when we wrote the rest of the script, having Rapunzel fight the coyotes and the giant snake instead of bandits. Originally, we had the beanstalk just grow in Gothel's garden behind the villa, being a mostly "distracting" distraction. Nate had the idea of having the beanstalk grow up through the villa, transforming it into a magnificent, shuddering treehouse. There are many other examples of innovations he had, but I'm afraid I can't remember them. I'd have to go back to the script and look to see what we wrote and how Nate made it better. At this point, the ideas of three separate storytellers have so merged we can't remember who thought of what anymore.

It's a little scary to turn your baby over to an illustrator and let him take over. Dean and I couldn't be more ecstatic about how it turned out. No disappointments here, only grateful praise. A tip of my cowgirl hat to the brilliant artist. All hail Nate Hale! Here here!



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