Graphic Novel Creator Conversations: Dan Santat

I was lucky enough to chat with author and illustrator Dan Santat about his work, his process and his advice for aspiring author/illustrators. I left the interview with pages and page of notes. I hope you and your students find it as intriguing as I did! Check out our conversation below.

Viewing Guide

The viewing guide below includes timestamps that will help you navigate the almost 30 minute interview, links to texts mentioned in the interview, and my reflections on the impact of what Dan said on writers, teachers and classroom practice.

  • 00: 34 The story 300 Words I refer to in Comics Squad #1: Recess.This is the first book in a wonderful comic anthology series from Penguin Random House. You can find more about the series here.
  • 00:50 Question: What is the best part of being an author/illustrator?
  • 1:31 Question: What does your “average” day look like?
  • 2:45 Question: How does your creative process differ when you’re creating a picture book versus a graphic novel?
  • 4:18 Dan mentions his upcoming graphic novel called The Aquanaut. You can read a blurb of this book on goodreads.
  • 4:25 Dan is also working on a memoir. I highly suggest you check out his blog to see this piece in-process.
  • 5:30 Dan’s graphic novel Sidekicks.
  • 7:06 Dan describes his editor as his navigator. I found this fascinating. I began wondering how can we as teachers begin to position ourselves as “navigator” for our writers. Also, how could we leverage writing partners as navigators. Basically, communicating the idea that “You, as writer, are steering the ship. I am here to help you get where you want to go.”
  • 9:18 Question: When you come up with the ideas for your stories, How do you do that?
  • 10:14 The Adventures of Beekle
  • 11:48 Dan discusses how he uses his writing notebook.
  • 13:10 “There’s not enough value in boredom.” This made me wonder if we could be promoting the kids going to their writing notebooks more than just during writing workshop. When they’re bored or when the have a moment between subjects. Could we loosen the reins on the notebook and allow kids to doodle, scribble ideas and random thoughts?
  • 13:50 Question: Once you have your concept, how do get started on a project?
  • 14:05 Again, when Dan spoke about his relationship with his editor, I wondered how we promote writing partners functioning as editors. (And I don’t mean checking spelling!) How could we set up writing partners to act as a sounding board for writers on new ideas? And teach them to provide more feedback early in the generation stage of the writing process?
  • 15:02 “Don’t be too precious about your writing.” This made me think about revision. Sometimes you need to “blow it up” or “move pieces around.”
  • 16:45 I had never heard of a creator who used Dan’s technique of drawing individual panels and then placing the individual panels on pages to “compose the page.” I’m fascinated by this and, honestly, want to try it. This technique would only work if the artist drew digitally, because the artist would need to easily resize panels.
  • 17:43 Dan discusses using panels to influence pacing.
  • 18:13 Dan mentions “composition of the shot.” I believe this refers to your choice of frame. Would a long-distance, middle-distance, or close-up short work best?
  • 18:47 Question: Any advice for kids who would like to grow up to be author illustrators?
  • 19:17 Aspiring creators should find art they like and ask”Why do I like it?” to help name the qualities that draw you to a piece. Then you can begin by emulating it, like fan fiction.
  • 20:00 I LOVE Dan’s suggestion of starting small with even a one-page comic to start in order to hone pacing.
  • 21:38 Dan’s point about avoiding redundancy in picture books and graphic novels is huge. That the art and the text should harmonize.
  • 22:33 Dan’s new picture book with Brad Meltzer, A New Day.

Published by Eric Hand

I'm an educator and literacy professional with a long-standing passion for comic books and graphic novels.

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