When I picked up Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins, the fantastical illustrations immediately sucked me in. Filled with light and darkness that illuminate the story and the magic, the entire book is a work of art.
This is true for the words too. The words and pictures team up to bring Rikt the Goblin to life. Any writer looking for mentor texts with clear story arc will be mesmerized by Rikt’s clearly defined motivation: to get revenge, and how that goal is kept at the forefront even as new characters take the story to new and unexpected places! All the secondary characters have their own motivations that are woven seamlessly into Rikt’s goal.
The different characters’ voices are distinct and the use of different colors to differentiate them just further emphasizes this mastery. The rhyming trickery, silly names, and wisdom filled advice beg the reader to read the book out loud!
My favorite part of this book is that even though the end feels complete and satisfying it also leaves room to tell centuries filled with other adventures. After reading Goblin in one sitting, I am proud of Rikt and his journey and I especially love that this is just Part 1. Goblin is definitely a must read for any writer (or reader) looking for stories about growing up, unintentional friendships, and epic adventure.
Lexi Donahue: Hi Eric! Thank you so much for talking with me today! Could you tell me a bit about your journey into middle-grade graphic novels? This is your first MG graphic novel, right?
Eric Grissom: “Hi Lexi! Thanks for talking with me! I am a writer who primarily focuses on comics and graphic novels. Since I don’t do the artwork myself, I’ll work closely with artists to tell these stories. I have written a number of comics and graphic novels over the years, either as graphic novels or as a series of single issues that get collected. Goblin is the first time I set out to write a middle grade book specifically for the graphic novel format. Hopefully it’s not my last, though!”
LD: I hope you write more too! I know my fourth graders will love this book. So what is your process as a writer of graphic novels?
EG: I will work “full script,” meaning the script will detail the story page by page and panel by panel. This includes all of the action, captions, and character dialogue. A lot of the time I’ll draw maps and provide reference photos to share with the artist. I also make up my own backstories for characters and events within the world that may never end up in the book. Little things like that make the world feel more “real” to me. The artist then takes my script and draws everything out how they see it. They’ll add their own details and suggest changes to the number of panels, how the shots are composed, etc. Usually when a script is first done, we’ll jump on Zoom or Skype and talk through the scenes and I’ll answer any questions.
LD: I saw in the acknowledgments at the end of the book that you refer to D&D. Is that where you found your inspiration for this book?
EG: I am 46, so around the time I was a kid in the 80s the Dungeons & Dragons game was really blowing up and seemed to be everywhere. I was fascinated with it, particularly the artwork and the idea there were these books filled with wonderful monsters. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any friends to play with so there was a lot of more looking at the box art then actually rolling dice. My real entrance into that world came from the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS ENDLESS QUEST books. If you are familiar with the “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” books, they were like those, only they took place in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. There was also a Saturday Morning Dungeons & Dragons cartoon that I was obsessed with as a kid. So when it came time to write Goblin, all of those things definitely were an inspiration. I even got to play the proper game too with my kids. I bought the Essentials box a few years ago and ran a couple of games for my two daughters. I am still very new to it, but I liked it enough that I wrote my own Goblin role playing game that uses the D&D 5e ruleset. You can download on it for free on RealmOfGoblin.com!
LD: Wow! I’ll definitely check that out! So what is it like working with an artist while writing a graphic novel?
EG: It’s a great feeling to think of something and script it out and then have it come to life through wonderful artwork. With Goblin, Will is doing nearly everything: the pencils, the inks, and coloring. I do the lettering, which means I lay in all of the little balloons and caption boxes, and I do the book design at the end. The art step always takes a lot longer that everything else because it’s so time-intensive. It’s really interesting when you do a graphic novel if you’re a writer. You write a script and then by the time it’s done it’s often years later and you feel like a different person! Like who was the guy that wrote this?!?
LD: I can imagine! It must be so exciting to see the artwork bring the story to life! What is it like to edit a graphic novel when you’re working with an artist who adds to the story too?
EG: Because I letter the book, the script is really just another draft. So when I am lettering in all of the dialog and captions, that’s really when I’m writing my final draft. There may be something in the artwork that inspires a new line, or maybe some of the dialog should be cut, or maybe I need to write additional dialog or captions to make it more clear. I tend to have a hard time letting go of things too, so if I am scripting and I cut a major scene, or go in a completely different direction, I usually save a new version of the script so I can retain the original idea. To differentiate them, I’ll attach a letter to the end of it. Like “Goblin a,” “Goblin b,” etc. I’m always surprised at the end when I see how high I’ll go. It’s good though because I can always revisit some of these cut ideas in future projects.
LD: This reminds me of something Ashley Hope Pérez shared about her revision process writing MG prose: she opens a new document and rewrites the scene again without looking at her past scene because it helps her to revise without feeling like she’s removing work she already did!
EG: That’s a great idea! Editing is really the hardest part. Knowing what to remove. That can get overwhelming too, especially at the beginning. You can get bogged down with those types of decisions. So whenever I’m writing a new project for the first time, it’s all about just putting something down. I try not to get too worried about whether or not it’s gonna make it. Just throw it all out there and let the future me deal with it. There’s a great quote from Terry Pratchett about that. He said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
We also work with proper editors as well. For Goblin, we worked with Shantel LaRoque and Brett Israel at Dark Horse. It’s great to have people for those moments when I may be at a cross-roads for something and I need another opinion.
LD: You mentioned that there are backstories and other versions in the writing process. Are there any scenes you wrote that you loved that didn’t make it into the novel?
EG: There are scenes that I would have wanted to be longer. One of the biggest issues with a graphic novel is that every page takes a wealth of time and effort to produce. In prose, you can add another page without taking much more time that it took to write it down. But with a graphic novel, that new page may take the artist a day or two to create. Plus for us, we had a very hard limit to how many pages we could use for the book. I would have loved to have had another 10 or 20 pages for sure, but still I think we did a great job and the story feels complete. In trying to think of any scenes that were cut nothing comes to mind. I had a solid idea of all the things Rikt was going to go through and I pretty much kept to that. There are plenty of other things I’d like to see Rikt do, though. Hopefully, we’ll see that in a sequel.
LD: That’s what I like to hear! I can’t wait for news of the sequel in the works. Would you share a bit more about your journey with publishers?
EG: Sure, in my experience in the comics world at least, you go about working with a publisher by putting together a pitch document and having it accepted. Generally that means writing up a synopsis that lays out everything that will happen in the book. That’s the entire story from beginning to end. You want to tell the publisher everything, no surprises. No, “Will Rikt get out of the dungeon alive?” They want to read the whole story and they want you to do it in the least amount of words. You also need to include around 8 pages or so of sequential art.
Unlike the book world, having an “agent” is not traditionally a comic thing. I think that’s changing though and is something I would love to have for myself one day, but for many folks you’ll be pitching your book on your own. When you start out, you send your pitches to the handful of publishers that have open submissions. This is like emailing your dream into “the void.” You almost never hear back and so you’ll forever wonder if it was received and rejected, or if it’s sitting in some spam folder for all eternity. Eventually though, after you’ve made enough comics, you will start to meet people. Some of these people will be editors and some of them may become editors in the future. So that now when you have a new project to pitch, you can send it to a real person and not just “the void.” I ended at Dark Horse after someone who favorably reviewed a self-published comic of mine ended up working for them as an editor.
It’s all just a series of failures and successes. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. The first time you get a rejection by email that’s address to you is a win! It sounds weird to say, but it’s a great feeling because they took the time to let you know. Often too, an editor might give some insight into why they weren’t interested which is invaluable. For Goblin it was a pretty easy process with Dark Horse because Will and I had previously done a graphic novel with them and we had a good relationship already.
LD: Thank you so much for sharing a bit about that journey! I love the idea of searching for wins like your name typed in a response. Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?
EG: I hope people give our book a look and check it out. I’m really proud of how it turned out and the response has been great. I’d also ask them that if it sounds like something they’d like, that they consider picking it up from their local bookstore. That helps us a lot and also supports small businesses. Aside from bookstores, I’d love for people to ask their local library to add it to their collection!