A Visit with Jarrett J. Krosoczka and the Lunch Lady

h1 June 21st, 2010 by jules

Some of you may remember around this time last year when author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka stopped by to talk about how Lunch Lady, his highly-acclaimed graphic novel series for middle-grade readers, came to be. (And I mean “highly-acclaimed,” as in 2009’s Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute was nominated for a 2010 Eisner Award under the category of “Best Publication for Kids.” Woot!)

If you haven’t gotten to know this series yet, I highly recommend it (which Eisha and I both made clear in the aforementioned post). It’s good times and funny stuff is what it is. Lunch Lady is children’s literature’s most memorable new superhero. As I’ve said before here at 7-Imp, Krosoczka had me at the series’ tag line: “Serving Justice! And Serving Lunch!” That Lunch Lady, she can wield Fish Stick Nunchucks like nobody’s business.

I invited Jarrett back to talk about his creative process this time. The fourth title in the series, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown, was released in May by Knopf Books for Young Readers, and Jarrett’s here to give us a peek into the creation of that title. In this book of the series, Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch kids head off to summer camp, only to find out about the legendary swamp monster, who reportedly haunts the camp at night.

So, without further ado, here’s Jarrett to tell us more about his process. (He’s having a lot of fun with this series, you can tell. The image above is the shot he took in Times Square of his first Lunch Lady title hitting the big-time, which you can see here he describes as “quite possibly the most surreal experience of my life.”) I thank Jarrett for stopping by . . .

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Jarrett: “The creative process in every Lunch Lady book begins with a general concept of the villain or an all-too familiar childhood setting (gone horribly awry). With Lunch lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown, I wanted to take the characters out of the school setting, which I plan to do again from time to time. After brainstorming ideas with my editor, Michelle Frey, on what story will come next in the series (I’m always sending her about a half-dozen ideas), I dig in and begin to write the story.

I start with a device I learned about in elementary school—the story mountain! I try to get a general idea of the story, rising action, climax, etc.

Note: This early plot line contains an ending that sent the story in a direction that was never used. So, no need for a Spoiler Alert. (That is assuming you can read my handwriting!)

Next up, I make thumbnails of all 96 pages and try to figure out—can I fit the story that I want to tell into the 96 pages? I often learn that I am trying to tell way too much and need to edit some scenes out. My editor is so good at spotting what scenes aren’t integral to the story. On this sketchbook page, I am also beginning to design the background characters. I have the faculty and staff of Thompson Brook School pretty well thought out, but here I needed to start from scratch and invent a whole new cast of characters (though, a few characters from previous books do make appearances).

Once I have the story pretty much nailed down, I make slightly more detailed thumbnail sketches. As I go along, I may realize that certain plot points should be moved around. I also pay close attention to what event falls on the bottom right hand corner of the right hand page. In a graphic novel, each page turn is like a mini-cliffhanger. So, I try to design the story in such a way that readers will be eager to turn the page to reveal what I’m setting up on the previous page. (NOTE: On the title page, Lunch Lady has frying pans. I ultimately decided to scrap this gadget because A) it wasn’t all that creative: You could really use frying pans to hit people, and B) I didn’t want kids hitting people with frying pans. {Ed. Note: Click to enlarge this image and see in more detail.}

The next step that I take is to sketch out the pages at 100% of the book’s size. I scan these sketches into my computer and create a PDF of the entire book. I zip that to my editor through the Internets. I also, after putting together all of the aforementioned work, write the script. This is so that my editor can clearly know what is happening in the story, should my sketches be illegible. It also helps me reassess the dialogue that I’m using.

When my editor comes back with revision suggestions, I revise the sketches on my computer. (Here it’s as simple as including narration, as you will see below; sometimes I completely draw new scenes on my computer.)

Next up, I create the line work for the page. First, I pencil in the pages; then, I use India ink and a brush.

Then, I scan in the line work and add the color and text in Photoshop. (Fun Fact: Did you know that we chose yellow as the signature color for the Lunch Lady series because that is the color of a lunch lady’s rubber glove?)

I don’t consider that digital file to be the finished page, because the light is coming from the picture via the computer screen, versus light shining onto the printed page. Also, the blacks look so beautiful to me as they are absorbed on the paper. So, here is a photo of the finished page:

(Fun Fact: Did you know that I purposefully make the art look as though it was printed in an old-timey fashion? Because the paintings that I create for my picture books are so textural, I didn’t want my art to look static and stale when I colored digitally.)

Here’s an example of a scene that was completely transformed in the editing process. Originally, this was page 36:

That scene was scrapped, but the dialogue between Lunch Lady and Betty was incorporated into an earlier scene. Here is page 28:

Again, the line work:

And the digital page:

And the printed final page:

Then, somewhere in the process, I get an email from my editor saying that they need the cover, pronto! They’re designing the catalogues! Sales meetings are coming up! AK!!!!

So, I send over some ideas. {Click to enlarge the below image and see in more detail}:

Here’s the final cover (again, drawn with brushes and ink, colored digitally):

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LUNCH LADY AND THE SUMMER CAMP SHAKEDOWN. Copyright © 2010 by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. All images reproduced by permission of Krosoczka.

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Note for other interested fans: Jarrett will next be visiting literaryasylum.blogspot.com for an interview.

11 comments to “A Visit with Jarrett J. Krosoczka and the Lunch Lady”

  1. I’m always on the lookout for new graphic novels to read, and this series looks fantastic! Thanks for all the in-depth looks into the process, it’s so fascinating!

  2. I just read all four books to a third grader who hates to read–and he loved them! Thanks for the insights into the creative process, Jarrett and Jules.

  3. Bwaaa-haaaa-haaaaaaa–I saw this on Jarrett’s studio wall when he was just first thinking up Lunch Lady. And I told him then (after consulting my always-right crystal ball) that he had a winner on his hands.

    And now he not only has a winner, but a Times Square winner!

    Way to go Jarrett.


  4. I have been a fan of Jarrett’s work for a long time, and it’s fascinatng to see how he works. Thanks for this!

  5. […] Jarrett Krosoczka explains how he creates his Lunch Lady books at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. […]

  6. Jules — It is always a pleasure to be on with you at 7-Imp! Thank you so much for hosting me!

  7. And thank you everyone for your kind comments! I’m so happy to hear that kids are enjoying the LL books!

  8. Wow! What a great process post! I kind of want to make it a PowerPoint and show it to 3rd grade next year… hmm… Jarrett how are you at Skype school visits?

    I have handed out LL at work at the public library like free movie passes. “Just take it. No, yeah, it does kind of look like a comic book. Take it. What is it? It’s like Scooby Doo but not as stupid. Just take it.” They didn’t teach this strategy in library school, but it works – they always come back for more!

  9. Hi Paula,

    Thank you so much for your kind words! And for passing LL on to your patrons!

    Next school year will be my first year officially offering virtual visits. (I did a few this past year.) All of the info is at: http://studiojjk.com/virtualvisits.html

  10. JJK you have got this wired – nice! I am passing your info on to a number of school librarians in Balto. Come for the heat, stay for the humidity! Or… just visit virtually. Wish I’d thought of that!

  11. […] A full-color, acrylic portrait on canvas of Lunch Lady and Betty: […]

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