*Thanks to Adrianna Cuevas for this sharing her interview with Jarod
I’m excited to chat with the amazing Jarod Roselló today for Middle Grade Book Village! Jarod’s upcoming graphic novel, Red Panda and Moon Bear: The Curse of the Evil Eye is full of hijinks, mayhem… and Cuban food!
What is your favorite part of creating the Red Panda and Moon Bear series?
I love telling stories that surprise me. My challenge to myself as a writer working on Red Panda & Moon Bear has been to open new mysteries and introduce new questions more than answer existing questions. It’s really fun to add elements in the background or into the story that I don’t know anything about. It gives me things to think through and try to solve in later chapters or books. The world of RP & MB is so magical and ever-growing, so this feels narratively relevant and appropriate for this series.
Did any surprising challenges present themselves as you worked on this second book that hadn’t appeared in the first?
Working on a sequel means there’s a momentary panic at the start of the writing process where I realize I need to honor the first book, but also change some things. I was worried about not getting the tone right or altering the characters too much. I feel like my cartooning and drawing has gotten more sophisticated between the two books and so I wanted to try out new visual and narrative elements, but I didn’t want book 2 to feel really far off from book 1. So you’ll definitely notice some cool new things.
I also wanted to incorporate more Spanish and Cuban culture into book 2. I’ve always been sheepish about my Spanish which is, admittedly, not great. So I had to be extra mindful of what I was doing and how.
Probably the most challenging part of RP&MB2 was writing the ending. I didn’t know how to end it! I spent hours on the phone with my editor, Leigh Walton, working it out. A great editor knows how to help you through these issues without taking over. I’m grateful to get to work with Leigh, because we ended up with the perfect ending for this book.
My son recently came home and told me that his school librarian only lets students check out graphic novels and comics if they also check out another book along with it because those are ‘dessert books.’ What are your thoughts on this view of comics and graphic novels?
Of course, I think it’s ridiculous! Anyone who has read graphic novels knows they’re complex narratives that rely on multiple modes of reading, interpretation, analysis, and reflection. Text in graphic novels tends to be advanced because we have images to scaffold and contextualize the narrative. Adults who discourage graphic novel reading probably aren’t reading graphic novels themselves and so don’t know how to appreciate them or understand them. Comics are also pop culture artifacts which rely heavily on the literacies and artistry of other media. This means they belong to children as much as they belong to adults—even though we’re the ones making them. Some adults are uncomfortable ceding control to children. But when it comes to comics, they’re almost certainly the experts.
Are the characters in Red Panda and Moon Bear inspired by anything in your life?
Yes, they are! They were originally drawn as silly versions of my own children. But I became immediately invested in them as characters and started imagining what kinds of stories and adventures they would find themselves in. My daughter (who is ten now) used to complain that in children’s movies and books the adults never listen to the kids, and the kids always end up being right (it was actually a monster, the house is really haunted, their teacher is actually a shape-shifting slime-beast from Planet Q, etc.). I wanted to make a book that honored children’s agency and knowledge, where the kids were always right.
What advice would you have for aspiring comic creators?
Make short comics! Start with comic strips. Put them up online or make copies to give to your friends. Practice drawing by mimicking your favorite comics and figure out what style feels right to you, then RUN WITH IT! Make lots of little things and when you feel comfortable, challenge yourself to tell longer stories. But most importantly, have fun! Drawing comics is hard and can be really tedious. If you don’t design a creative process you enjoy, you’ll never stick with it.
What’s coming up next for you?
Red Panda & Moon Bear (Book 2): The Curse of the Evil Eye comes out this April! I have an early reader graphic novel series, Hugo & Dino, that comes out in 2023 from Random House Graphic. It’s about a boy who transforms himself into a dinosaur to go on adventures with his best friend, who is also a dinosaur. I’ve also been working in animation lately, which is really cool. I just finished my first pilot script for a top secret project. I hope I’ll be able to talk more about next fall.
Jarod Roselló is a Cuban American writer, cartoonist, and teacher. He is the author of the middle-grade graphic novel Red Panda & Moon Bear, a Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library 2019 best book for young readers, and a 2019 Nerdy Award winner for graphic novels. His young reader graphic novel series, Hugo & Dino, is forthcoming from Random House Graphic in 2023.
His graphic novel, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) be Found, was a 2015 Honorable Mention in the Publishers Weekly Graphic Novel Critics Poll, and his chapbook, The Star, was the winner of the 2015 Epiphany Magazine chapbook contest for graphic literature.
Jarod holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction, both from The Pennsylvania State University. Originally from Miami, he now lives in Tampa, Florida, with his wife, kids, and dogs, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of South Florida.