Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Changes

Hello everyone! As you are all well aware, I've lost my ability to blog! Or, I traded it in for the ability to create the Hazardous Tales series--a pretty good trade, I think.

In any case, I feel like I've got a handle on the Hazardous Tales series now, and I can finally start blogging again.

Here's the thing. For years, I've wanted to turn this site into a proper webcomic site, with proper webcomic layout and navigation. I've finally started on that. No more basic blog templates! I'm currently converting my ancient webpage, www.spacestationnathan.com, into that webcomic's home.

Frankly, I'd like to change that address to something new, but it's been printed in a LOT of books, so the station it shall remain.

Unfortunately, I'm learning that the setup and creation of a proper website is trickier than I had guessed. I'm planning on switching to a Wordpress format, using a webcomic plugin. So far it's been nothing but trouble. Wrangling with my previous lousy web hosting site, trying to transfer the domain registration--oh, it's all so terrible!

Hopefully, we'll soon have a smoothly-running, perfectly formatted webcomic page. It may take some time, but I'm working on it. Then, maybe, just maybe, the magic will return.

Everything I'm working on now, the Hazardous Tales books, the Frankenstein books--they've all come form regular posting on this site. I miss it. It was hard work to post five times a week, but it was FUN. It was downright FANTASTIC sometimes. I'd like to get back there.

I made a New Year's resolution to get back up on the posting horse. So far, that resolution has been foiled by this website/formatting/domain nonsense--but I'm working on it! There's a slim chance it'll all be worked out tomorrow. Not likely, but I'd like to think a technological miracle could happen. More likely, things will be up and running in late January, early February.

The station will return! Not as a lousy blog--but as a mighty WEBCOMIC!

See you in the future.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hazardous Tales #5 cover revealed!

Okay, gang. I've been teasing you about this for months. No more. Here it is, the cover of Hazardous Tales #5: The Underground Abductor.

The flag on the right is the state flag of Maryland, which is where a lot of this book takes place. As you may have already guessed, it's about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Abductor comes out in March!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hazardous Tales #5 in progress

Here is page 91 of Hazardous Tales #5 in progress. I don't love drawing cars--and I have trouble with horses, but boy, do I love drawing carriages! Figure that one out.

The subject matter of book #5 is still somewhat under wraps. This book comes out next spring, so we'll have a subject and cover reveal later this fall. I don't think there are any giveaway clues in this image, other than the fact there will be a carriage in it.

I am deep, deep into this book right now. I have 37 pages to draw and color in the next sixteen days. This is the real grind. I've been working on the book all summer long, but here, in the final weeks, is when the crunch really hits. I'm now in full reverse sleep mode (work through the night, sleep from 8am to 3pm--while the kids are at school). It's a silly schedule. But it works for comics crunch time.

Crunch on!

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Hazardous Tale Alert!

The next Hazardous Tales book will be out next Spring, but the next Hazardous Tales story will be out in two months! Where? In Jon Scieszka's GUYS READ: TRUE STORIES!

Check out this amazing cover by Caldecott winner Brian Floca!

This isn't a full, book-length Hazardous Tale, but it's not little--it's 30 pages long! And it features, easily, the goriest story in the series. Seriously, it's gruesome. There's more than one panel about maggots. That's right, maggots.

Excited? You should be, because my story is only one of a bunch of great nonfiction stories in this book. Steve Sheinkin is in here (and if you haven't read his BOMB book--go get it!) Sy Montgomery, Jim Murphy, Candace Fleming, and many more--it's packed!

Would you like a sample page? Have two!

GUYS READ: TRUE STORIES is out in September. The collection is a lot of fun. I'm extremely proud of this story. Pre-order it, put it on hold, check it out. It's great!


I'm currently in the deepest, darkest, deadliest deadline crunch I've ever been in. Hazardous Tales book five is on track for next March, which means I need to draw at least two pages per day for the rest of the summer. I haven't been as diligent at updating my blog as I once was. I'm still drawing plenty of comics--it's just that all of these comics are going into books.

Back to the drawing!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Catch Up Post!

Big news!
For the second time, a Hazardous Tales book has cracked the New York Times Best Seller list. TREATIES, TRENCHES, MUD, AND BLOOD debuted at #4 on the Hardcover Graphic Novel list! Thank you so much for pre-ordering and buying the book at launch. You readers are the ones who put it there. Hooray!

Now, on to more news. The studio chalkboard has been erased, and a new chart has been added. See below:

PREHISTORIC PREDATORS, a Scholastic book I did some illustrations for is finished, and drawings for Hazardous Tales book #5 start TODAY. The deadline: mid-August. We want book #5 to land on shelves in March 2015. It's going to be a drawing-drawing-drawing summer.

If you missed it, Comics Alternative did a great interview podcast with me about Hazardous Tales. We talked about some series secrets: the mysterious narrator idea before Hale, Provost, and Hangman came along, as well as the crazy original plan for book #4--it wasn't WWI! and many other unknown tidbits. Tune in here: Comics Alternative Podcast.

One last bit of news: The nominees for the Kids Comics Awards have been announced. DONNER DINNER PARTY has been nominated TWO times! For Favorite Non-Fiction Graphic Novel, and for Grossest Thing in Comics! All children can vote HERE. And please do! I'm up against Fregley's Gum-Chewing Belly-Button in the Grossest category. I'm going to need all the votes I can get!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


It's out, it's OUT! Hazardous Tales #4, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood is out TODAY!

To celebrate, here are close-ups of the big LEGO display at my local library.

Book 4 is out today! Buy it, read it, review, and, if you have the bricks--build it!

Friday, May 2, 2014

In the Wild!

Hazardous Tales #4 is out in the wild!

These are at the King's English Bookstore in SLC. And they are all signed!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Hazardous Week in Texas

This week I was in San Antonio, Texas. I was there for TLA, the Texas Librarian Association convention--the biggest library convention in the country aside from the national ALA convention. This year has been a great year for the Hazardous Tales books because One Dead Spy is on this year's Bluebonnet Master List--the state book award in Texas.

While I was there, this happened:

This is a copy of Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. How rare is this? I don't even have one. I have no idea how this librarian was able to talk the people in the Amulet booth into selling it. It's a mystery. My guess, she's a professional hypnotist.

We're just a month away from launch. This book should start popping up everywhere soon.

Spoiler from the photo, this book is dedicated to Snoopy.

If you'd like more of a preview, take a look at the book on Amazon. It has a nearly 20 page preview.

While I was in San Antonio, I was able to slip away from TLA one morning and visit the Alamo.

Why was I visiting the Alamo? Looking in the basement for Pee Wee Herman's bike? Hiding from hypnotist librarians? Or maybe doing on-site research for a future Hazardous Tales book?

Possibly all three!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Meet the Hangman!

And the last of our introduction pages. The Hangman:

By the way, we were off the NYT Bestseller list for one week--but we're back ON! At #8! That makes four weeks on the list! Hooray!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yeti color test 1

Apologies for the missed posts--I was in Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con. I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with Jeff Smith (Bone), Kazu Kibiushi (Amulet), Jimmy Gownley (Amelia Rules), and Royden Lepp (Rust). With a line-up like that, I couldn't say no.

So, here's a one-hour color test on the Yeti scene. This one featuring everybody in shadow, with the long tree shadows coming forward to the viewer. It's fun--but I'm not in love with the distant mountain--kinda muddy back there. We'll try a few more color passes to see what works best.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Yeti Wash

Okay, so here's step 2 of my Yeti illustration. A slight watercolor wash. Just two colors, brown and blue, to fill out some of the shapes and give it a little texture. The image is now a mid-tone that I can work lighter and darker.

I'm starting to realize painting a Yeti in the snow, among white trees,  is sort of like the old "polar bear in a blizzard" painting.

From here on out, the painting will go digital. I may try a few different lighting scenes, to see what works best.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Building a new portfolio

If you've ever clicked through the PORTFOLIO link on my main page, you've seen my agent's site Shannon Associates. You've probably also noticed that the images in that portfolio have not been updated for...quite a while.

For the past few years, I've been so busy creating graphic novels, that I've neglected my work portfolio. I wish the graphic novels paid all of my bills--they don't. In fact, most years, at least half (sometimes more) of my income comes from illustration only--not projects I've written. Book covers, interior art for chapter books, textbooks, products--you name it.

Unfortunately, my illustration work has been a bit dry lately, due in large part to my non-up-to-date portfolio.

So I'm creating some new pieces--custom pieces--for my portfolio. Here is step one of an illustration of a Yeti chasing a skiing kid.

These are two things I've never done an illustration of: a skier and a Yeti.

This is black Prismacolor pencil. I'm trying some new techniques--the next step will be some watercolor washes. That'll be up tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest post from a 4th grader

This drawing was shown to me after a school visit about Napoleon, Jefferson, and the Louisiana Purchase. It is by a 4th grader who enjoyed the assembly.

If you can't read it, it says, "I have bought ze moon! YAAAA!

I like the little pistol pocket. Who am I kidding, I like EVERYTHING about this.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Meet the Provost, and some news!

Here's the Provost!

Fun news this week. ONE DEAD SPY has climbed to #3 on the New York Times Hardcover Graphic Novel list! Number THREE! That's only two spots away from the top! If you have been waiting for a good week to pick up ONE DEAD SPY, this would be that week. Do it!

And along with that fantastic news, it's official: Hazardous Tales books #5 and #6 have been ordered by the publisher. The Research Babies are eyeball deep in research right right now.

It's a big week!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2nd Graders and Leprechauns

I happen to be traveling at the moment and I don't have access to my scanner or my handy-dandy computer drawing system. My plan was to draw some blog posts with my iPad this week, but I'll start that tomorrow. Today, I'm giving you a rare peek into my school visit presentation.

Since getting into graphic novels and US history, my school visit audience is usually 3rd-8th graders. I don't visit many K-2nd grade classes anymore--which I did when I was doing mostly picture books. Today was fun, though, because I got to do my old picture book presentation. The finale is a group effort where the students help me draw a monster, or, since it was St. Patrick's day, a leprechaun.

I have a marker and an oversized piece of paper on an easel. I start with the head, and take suggestions for each monster part down to the feet, and then we name him/her/it. Since these are leprechauns, they all have the classic hat and belt--and a last name starting with "Mc".

These are what three separate groups of 2nd graders came up with:
 Fishy McShamrock has chickens for arms, and fish tails for feet.

 Gorilla McDonald has "wavey" fingers, and also "wavy" feet.

Fanae McWilliker has five arms and frogs for hands. We couldn't figure out how she eats with frog hands, or if she feeds herself by letting the frogs eat.

I've done this drawing exercise with kids for years. It's very strange to see the shifts in specific body part requests. Four years ago, there was not a SINGLE monster that didn't get a "Uni-brow". Kids were insane for the "uni-brow." More recently, it's been mustaches. Today's had a strange similarity, pointy noses and zig-zag mouths. All three groups, not knowing what the other groups had chosen, asked for those two traits. I drew them differently, so the monsters--I mean leprechauns--would be different when seen together.

Another odd similarity is animals for limbs. I was stunned at the weirdness of "chickens for arms", and then the third group asked for "frogs for hands."

I don't know what any of it means. But it's interesting.

As I'm posting these leprechauns, there are a few hundred 2nd graders who are writing stories about them for homework. The frogs for hands issue is now theirs to work out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Quiet Celebration

One Dead Spy is now on it's second week on the NYT bestseller list. We've moved up to #4! And Batman got his revenge (a Batman book has jumped to #3).

Along with our celebration, we'd like to send out a big THANK YOU to everyone who bought ONE DEAD SPY--you put us on this list!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The author is too stunned to post

This is the New York Times best-seller list for graphic novels (hardcover).

Look at number 5.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dark Souls Day part 3

Another day of Dark Souls with me and Uly.

What is Dark Souls, you might ask, and why am I making posts about it here on my blog about children's fiction? It's a Playstation game--and it's my favorite video game series of the last decade.

It's Japanese, it's incredibly difficult and frustrating--just like the games I played as a kid. There's very little dialogue, no cut-scenes, no story arc, just grueling dungeons that test your skill and patience. My son and I have fairly difference tastes, but we can agree on this. This is our favorite game series ever.

My son's been sick with a cold for the past two days, he stayed home from school, so we have logged some serious hours passing the controller back and forth.

For long-time blog-readers, the long-ago Land Of Doom story (about surviving children's book publishing) was partially inspired by the first game in this series, Demon's Souls.

I'll do one more for Friday, then we'll move onto more wholesome topics. I know kid-lit fans are big fans of violent video games.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dark Souls day part 2

Our Dark Souls II special edition arrived. We stayed up way too late playing.

First boss: Defeated

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dark Souls Day

Today is a big day for my son and I. The sequel to our favorite video game, Dark Souls, comes out! Here we are, wearing our in-game armor, waiting for the UPS truck to bring our Special Edition Dark Souls II.

Uly's wearing the Havel armor and the Dark Knight Greatsword. I've got the Elite Knight armor gear and my trusty Lightning Shotel.

It's rare that I do fan art, but today's a special day.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Meet the Spy!

It's an oldie, but a goodie. MEET THE SPY, this was only seen by a few when the HAZARDOUS TALES series launched back in Summer of 2012. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Story of Tiny Rapunzel part 3

We launched Rapunzel and watched to see if other publishers would print large too. They did not. Everybody went smaller--this was right when the Wimpy Kid books started blowing up. That size, or thereabouts, became the golden size for middle-grade books.

One theory was that kids thought of large books as picture books--in other words, large books were for little kids, little books were for large kids. Middle-graders want to be anything but "little kids."

The middle-grader graphic novel shelf shrank to fit the smaller-sized books. Some of these shelves were too small for Rapunzel.

So, when the time came for reprinting a new edition of Rapunzel's Revenge (and Calamity Jack) we decided to go smaller. I was excited for a new edition, and suggested we do new covers. Not because I disliked the old covers--I just love alternate covers. Rapunzel never got an alternate paperback cover, I thought this would be a good time to repackage the books with a snappy new cover. Here's one sketch:

In the end, the alternate cover idea didn't take, and we stuck with the old, classic covers.

Now you know the story! What do you think of the new small versions?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Chimp says, "This is boring."

This chimp is wondering why I'm rebooting the blog with such a boring story.

C'mon, guys, nothing is more interesting than graphic novel format sizes!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Story of Tiny Rapunzel part 2

When we started Rapunzel's Revenge, I had never drawn a graphic novel, Shannon and Dean had never written a graphic novel, and Bloomsbury US had never published a graphic novel.

We had to make it up as we went.

The new generation of American middle-grade graphic novels had just started. There were a few books from Scholastic--graphic novel versions of GOOSEBUMPS, and the Babysitters Club, as well as reprints of Jeff Smith's BONE series. Kazu Kibiushi's first AMULET: The Stone Keeper had just come out. And BABYMOUSE was just two or three books along. All of those books were totally different sizes. See here:

Scholastic's books were somewhere between the American and European size--but many of them were black and white (like Manga). Scholastic learned pretty quickly that kids wanted COLOR. The BONE reprints, originally done in black and white, were soon brought out in color versions. BABYMOUSE was Manga-sized, black and white, but with one extra color (pink!). Amazingly, the one extra color worked! It worked so well, in fact, that many middle-grade graphic novels have since followed that format: Lunch Lady, Dragonbreath, and a little series you might have heard of called Hazardous Tales.

So, before we started Rapunzel, we had to decide what size the book would be--and if it would be in color. After finishing the inks, I admit, I sent an email requesting the book be black and white. Can you imagine Rapunzel's Revenge with no color? Size-wise, I wanted to go as big as possible--having long been a fan of the super-sized European-style comics (think Tintin and Asterix). Shannon and Dean's script had a lot to say, and I had a lot of scenery I wanted to draw. We went as big as the publisher allowed: not quite as big as the Europeans, but a bit larger than the Scholastics titles.

We went full color, bigger and thicker than a standard American comic book, but not quite as thick as a Manga. Essentially, we created our own new size and format--a size and format nobody else was using.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Story of Tiny Rapunzel: Why Did We Shrink the Book?

Some of you may have seen the new SMALLER versions of the Rapunzel's Revenge paperback. Pretty neat, right? Highly portable.

For the next few posts, I'll explain the reasons we went with a smaller version of the book. Nothing shocking or exciting, really just a look at graphic novels and their sizing. It should be interesting.

Really, I just wanted an excuse to draw a tiny Rapunzel.
Tiny with a huge head. Can you imagine if the whole book were drawn in this style?

Monday, March 3, 2014

State of the Nathan...

And we're back!

After being out of the blog-o-sphere since last summer, I'm jumping back in! Wish me luck. I'm going to attempt to maintain my old pace of every weekday.

This blog has brought me a lot of joy--and more than a few contracts (including the one for the Hazardous Tales books!) So back to business!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Double the Research! Double the Fun!

{Hey, gang! The following was created for an Amazon.com blog post about Donner Dinner Party, a Kindle Content Nomination for the Month of January!}

The first time I did historical research for a graphic novel wasn’t for a Hazardous Tales book—it was for a fairy tale: Rapunzel’s Revenge, written by Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and her husband Dean. This wasn’t a standard re-telling of the fairy tale; it was a re-boot—heavy on the boot, because it took place in the Old West.

Even though our Old West was a fantasy kingdom, I wanted it to look and feel authentic. I looked at costumes, buildings, carts, firearms, and scenery, and then incorporated that visual research into the drawings. That dash of period-correct detail went a long way towards making the world of Rapunzel’s Revenge feel like a real place.

The sequel, Calamity Jack, required even more visual research. That book was set in a turn-of-the-century American city that had been destroyed by giants. Now, obviously, I didn’t have access to any cities destroyed by giants. I did, however, find a wealth of amazing photos of turn-of-the-century American cities in ruins. Giants? No--fire: the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, or earthquake: the San Francisco Quake of 1906. These photos were fascinating. One book in particular, The Earth Shook Sky Burned:A Photographic Record of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, by William Bronson, became my go-to book for Calamity Jack scenery.

San Francisco was nearly wiped off the map in 1906. 3,000 people died! I would stop drawing for hours and get lost in the photos and accounts. This was where the idea of doing historical non-fiction graphic novels first started to appeal to me.

What I didn’t realize was just how much research would be required. When researching a historical graphic novel: you have to research your subject matter twice, once for the facts, then again for the visuals.

Amulet, the publisher of the Hazardous Tales series, employs a very strict fact-checker. This guy is serious. If he sees an error in my manuscript, he lets me know--in angry red pen. I go back and double-check my sources, re-write the offending passages, and fix, fix, fix, until that fact-checker is happy. But that’s just the first half. Then I have to draw all of these historical scenes. So it’s back to the research.

In some ways, One Dead Spy, the first Hazardous Tales book, was the easiest for visual research, because it was pre-photography. I was able to just make up what many of the key characters looked like. Nathan Hale himself (the hero of that book, and the narrator of the series) had no official portrait. The images and statues we see of him today are romanticized versions of written accounts.

The Reeds, the main characters of Donner Dinner Party, have remarkable portraits. My cartoon versions of them had to match the photos. Researching the scenery of the Donner journey was easy for me. I live in Utah, close to the original route.

I just finished the fourth Hazardous Tales book: Treaties,Trenches, Mud, and Blood, a World War One tale. That one was the most difficult research assignment yet. Getting all of the uniforms, guns, tanks, helmets, etc. for each of the countries involved was a monster. I spent a day making sure each army’s shovels were the right shovels. That book comes out this May.

The books may look cartoony, the facts may be interrupted by jokes, but everything in a Hazardous Tales book has been researched, fact-checked, then researched again. Double the research, double the fun!