In Kate Gavino’s graphic novel, A Career in Books, three friends enter the publishing industry as editorial assistants, armed only with English degrees, J. Crew Factory Outlet cardigans, and their sheer determination. Learn how to build on your own passions and experiences to create a graphic novel that illustrates the industry!
What’s in Store
- Learn how visualizing your dream story can bring it into existence
- Discover how to combine visual art and prose to tell a unique story
Prompt #1: Dream Blurbs
You wrote a bestselling, Nobel prize-winning book. What are your dream blurbs from your favorite writers that will appear on your book’s cover?
Prompt #2: Pretend Autobiography
Write a brief autobiography of a fictional writer. This is an author you always wished existed or perhaps an author you aspire to be.
Q&A with Kate Gavino
Writing a book with multiple protagonists, how did you kind of go about forming their own storylines and their characters? Because they’re all very different people. Did they come to you fully formed as different people, or did you have to kind of find out who they were through the writing process?
I’m glad that you see them as such different people because they’re all kind of just three different versions of myself. And I kind of see them as me in different stages of my life, in a way, and maybe as a pretty self-centered person, that’s kind of how a lot of my characters. They’re either, like, idealistic versions of myself or who I aspire to be, or brutally realistic versions of myself.
For these three characters, part of them were inspired by my own friendships, and especially with my two best friends. Other parts were inspired by different parts of my career paths; I worked at those three publishing houses of different sizes as well. This book is so focused on their careers as part of their characters or shaped on what jobs they eventually took. For example, Shirin works at an academic press, which is, like, textbooks and very dry academic journals and she’s not really sure that’s really what she wants to do with her life. She’s more of the chaotic person in the trio, kind of aimless and not really sure what she wants to do with her life, which is perfectly fine at that age, and at most ages, really. So for this book, a lot of the characters were just shaped by where I saw them in their workplace, because at its heart I do see this as a workplace novel. And so that’s kind of what helped me shape each character.
How do you plan your graphic novels? What is the process that you go through to do that?
Yes, I mentioned I studied creative writing. I always approach my graphic novels first through a novelist lens, and I don’t think a lot of other graphic novelists do that. So basically, I will write out the entire book as if it’s a novella or just a novel. Like, I write it out just normally. Instead of printing out specific frames or images, I’ll be like, you know, Nina said this and I’ll have like dialog tags and everything.
From there, I’ll take it chapter by chapter, and I’ll start visualizing it as a graphic novel. I’ll break up the paragraph into frames or just a single image. It’s not the most efficient way of planning out a graphic novel, but that’s kind of what works for me best when I’m writing a story. That’s kind of just how it comes out of me, as a novel or a novella. And then what’s fun for me is kind of just branching out into the visual format, because once you start illustrating, you can tell a second story as a layer to that story. For example, a scene will be set in someone’s bedroom and then you actually get to illustrate that bedroom and put what books are on their shelf, what posters are on their wall. So that’s what I always find really fun about that part of fleshing out the world. Yeah. So I basically just start my graphic novels as a novel and then, from there, I add the graphic part.
How do you overcome writer’s block? What do you do when the words are just not coming?
I feel like I get in my own head a lot where, like, oh, it’s been a week or a day or a month since I’ve created anything that I liked. It’s easy to spiral once you’re in that state of mind. For me, the way I get out of it is to just consume as much art as possible, whether that’s music, books, or movies, even if it’s not related to the kind of art that I want to create myself. But just seeing what other artists are doing, even if it’s from a different century, that always makes me feel compelled to create my own art. For me, it’s just consuming art.
Which one of your books is your favorite?
Definitely this current book. Maybe because it’s the most recent one, but it’s also the most difficult thing I’ve ever worked on in my life. It took me about three years from start to finish, maybe three and a half. I completed the book through two pregnancies, a partial pandemic— through so many big parts of my life— and the fact that I was able to complete it… I think when I finally hit send on the files to my editor, I felt like a physical weight lift off of me. It’s definitely rewarding but a difficult journey to complete the book. I’ve never really felt that sense before when completing a project. I really felt like I gave this book everything and I’m really proud of it.
How long does it take you to complete graphic novels and what were the other two time spans?
My first book, Last Night’s Reading, was based kind of on my Tumblr. That took less time because it was a collection of illustrations I’d already done and a couple of new ones, too. That one maybe took about six or eight months. And then my second book, that took about three years as well. I’m sure maybe some other artists work faster than me, but for me, three years is about how much it takes me to complete a book from start to finish. I know other artists take much longer— Donna Tartt publishes a novel every ten years. And that’s the kind of schedule I hope to be on one day. But yeah, graphic novels definitely do take longer, especially if you’re doing all your own inking, lettering, illustrations. I know some people work in teams as well, so that can be difficult. But yeah, when you’re doing it all on your own, it definitely takes a lot longer.
Do you make a playlist for your books when you’re working on them? Do you have a playlist that you use to kind of get in the mood of that book?
When I’m writing, I can’t listen to any music with lyrics because it kind of gets in the way of my thinking. But when I’m drawing and inking and lettering, that’s usually when I listen to music and podcasts and audiobooks, too. I do have a playlist for this book. There’s a website called largehearted boy, and I shared a playlist on that website. But yeah, I think for all three books I have created playlists for them. A lot of it is just songs I listened to on the subway. And when I hear those songs, I picture the characters in my head or, like, pivotal moments from the book. Music is pretty important to me when I’m creating.
This event was originally recorded on December 9th, 2022.
Kate Gavino is a writer and illustrator. She is the creator of the website, Last Night’s Reading, which was compiled into a published collection by Penguin Books in 2015. Her work has been featured in the New Yorker online, the Believer, BuzzFeed, Oprah.com, and more. She was named one of Brooklyn Magazine’s 30 Under 30. Her second book, Sanpaku, was published by BOOM! Studios in 2018, and her third book, A Career in Books, was recently published by Plume.
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Kate Gavino is a writer and illustrator. She is the creator of the website, Last Night's Reading, which was compiled into a published collection by Penguin Books in 2015. Her work has been featured in the New Yorker online, the Believer, BuzzFeed, Oprah.com, and more. She was named one of Brooklyn Magazine's 30 Under 30. Her second book, Sanpaku, was published by BOOM! Studios in 2018, and her third book, A Career in Books, was recently published by Plume.
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