Last week at Kirkus, I wrote (here) about Cecil Castellucci’s and Sara Varon’s Odd Duck (First Second, May 2013) and wanted to be sure to invite them here to 7-Imp to talk a bit about this graphic novel for children, as well as showcase some art from it.
So, we three misfits sit here at the 7-Imp cyber-breakfast table. (Odd ducks RULE.)
I’m going to turn it over to them, while I pour the coffee and listen, and I thank them for visiting.
Cecil (pictured right): When I originally got the idea for Odd Duck, I was sitting at a children’s book dinner next to Peter Reynolds (The Dot). We were talking about another author who is a total Odd Duck, and I declared I was going to write a story about a duck named Theodora, who swam with a teacup on her head. Somewhere in my house, stuck in a box, is a tiny drawing that Peter made of Theodora at that dinner.
Originally, I conceived of the book as an early chapter book / easy reader and sold it as a three-book series to a publishing company. When they told me that they’d hired Sara Varon to do the spot illustrations, I freaked out, because I am such a huge Sara fan and love love love Robot Dreams.
My first thought was, “let’s throw out all of my words and make this a kind of comic book thing.” They weren’t too keen on the idea. They thought I would feel as though I hadn’t written the book if there were too many illustrations. But I write comics, so I am completely comfortable with it. Sara and I begged to work together on proposing something alternative. They reluctantly agreed, and so Sara and I talked for a few hours one day, jamming out ideas of how we could do it. It was one of those creative conversations you long for as a creative person.
We finally came up with the idea that the first step would be for her to break down the story into panels and pages to make it look both like a picture book and comic book. I took one look at the thumbnails and swooned. Ultimately, that publishing company didn’t like what we’d come up with, so we decided to stick to our new vision, because we loved it so much. There was no going back. Thankfully, First Second got what we were going for and took us on for the one book that we’d started.
After that, Sara and I went back and forth a lot on the thumbnails and tweaking the text. Adding a panel here and there, removing and adding text as needed, slowing down the pacing or making it go quicker – it really became a true collaboration.
It’s been a very long time in the making—almost seven years—but I couldn’t be more pleased with the way it turned out.
Sara: For me, this was the first time I illustrated a book that was not from my own story. The difference in working with another author’s story is that you have to find your way in, which is no small task.
When writing my own stories, I always start with a character in mind. That character is already part of me; I know what he or she looks like, what her world looks like, what she thinks about, who her friends are, etc. So, it takes some time to figure out how to identify with someone else’s character — you have to sit with them for awhile. With Theodora, it wasn’t so hard because, of course, I like animals (especially ducks) and I am an odd duck and a loner myself.
I didn’t know what her world looked like, but the story told me she lived in a house with a big yard and a pond. I usually take inspiration from things around me, and there are no houses with big yards in New York City. However, I was going to visit a friend in Seattle, and I thought Theodora could live in (what I think of as) a Pacific Northwest style house, one made of wood and painted bright colors with a lush yard. I am a runner, so I ran for miles up and down the streets in Seattle, looking for the house Theodora might live in. And I took a lot of reference photos during my visit.
Next I thumbnailed the story. Cecil looked over the thumbnails, we made some changes together, the editors made some changes, and voilà! It was a book!
I am pleased with the result. Cecil’s and my ideas were complementary. We worked well together, and the outcome is something neither of us would’ve made working solo.
ODD DUCK. Copyright © 2013 by Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Sara Varon. Published by First Second Books, New York. Illustrations used with permission of the publisher.
Photos of Cecil and Sara used with permission of the publisher.